For those of you whose exercise regime lives exclusively in the free weights area in your gym, I get where you are coming from when someone suggests a venture to a yoga class. When you think yoga, you think of super bendy, lycra clad girls in the splits or a bearded dude offering you spiritual books in your local hipster market. Stretching for you consists of bouncing up and down, trying to touch your toes, getting the whole ordeal done faster that you down a protein shake. I’m afraid you are missing a trick. I’m going to talk about yoga here as if it is just ‘stretching’…it isn’t…but for now lets take baby steps and pretend they are the same thing.
I know the excuses. “Muscle-y people can’t be flexible”…. “My biceps are so incredibly large that, de facto, means I’ll never be able to touch my toes”. I’m sorry to say that they are all crap! Try to tell that excuse to a male gymnast or a heavyweight MMA fighter. The fact is that lots of ripped people just don’t often take enough gym time to fit some stretching in. That’s why they’re not flexible. That’s why they constantly feel like they want a Thai lady to stand on them.
I’ll be honest here, I held exactly the same views about yoga. About 9 years ago I swapped some gym sessions with yoga classes, tired of my boxing body and sick of the tightness and knots. Unexpectedly, I was soon feeling stronger and looser – and the hooks flew faster. Fast forward a few years and yoga was helping me through ultra marathons and helping me combat the in vogue look: the ‘London Office Hunch’.
So you want me to cut to the chase? Why you and your increasingly tight t-shirt should add yoga or more stretching to your schedule:
- You’ll recover from sessions significantly faster
- You’ll learn how to integrate your whole body in movements and thus develop functional strength quicker
- You’ll maintain mobility in all directions. Want to be able to pick up future grandkids?
- You’ll stand taller and feel less need to carry a foam roller in your bag at all times.
Chances are, you’ve got to where you are as you have great anatomical awareness. Just as you’ve followed ‘Ripping Up’ programmes, it is now time to apply your bodily awareness to a yoga programme – whether in a studio or on online on sites like Udaya. From there, you can take the postures that touch that sweet spot for you, and add them to your normal gym sessions.
Now, as your embark on your journey to a yin/yang relationship of strength and flexibility, consider the following tips:
Getting the Depth
Bouncing in stretches means less impact, more injury risk and you look like you belong on an under-12’s football pitch. Hold for around 10-15 full breaths. On the inhale find a little more space and on the exhale get deeper in to it.
Think and Keep Integrity
What is the stretch actually aiming to stretch? Is how you are doing it making you feel more of a stretch in the area? If it’s suddenly become easier, it’s not because you are suddenly super bendy: you’ve probably just lost the posture and are no longer targeting the muscle.
It’s About Your Body
If you can feel it, it’s working for you. It doesn’t matter that the hipster with a man bun next to you has folded their chest to their legs. You can’t win at yoga. Don’t try. Equally, if you’re the deepest in a posture in a room and you can’t feel it, you need to work harder! Everyone has different experience, different body types, different levels of flexibility and just like everyone’s nose is a different shape everyone’s joints are different shape and will only ever allow a certain degree of movement.
Your Upper back
We spend a lot of our time hunching over desks, computers, phones and our heads are pretty heavy parts of the body. This means a pretty hunched thoracic spine. Often, our default lifting position involves that similar curve so to avoid bad backs and Neanderthal posture. It’s time to stretch that part of the spine. When you do stretches that involve folding forward, keep the back and neck straight and don’t think the aim is to see your Calvin Kleins. Even if it means you don’t fold as deep as you would want. Take time to open up that area: stand tall, place you hands near your sacrum fingers pointing down, and take a subtle upper back bend, allowing the front ribs to open up.
Good luck on your journey! Iif you want inspiration check out Boys of Yoga who are on a mission to inspire more people to jump on a yoga mat: especially those who think yoga ‘isn’t for them’
by Adam Husler, a London based Udaya teacher, specialising in Alignment Based Vinyasa Yoga and Budokon Yoga.