Flexibility. It's the first thing that comes to mind when people think of yoga. What is flexibility? How important is it in yoga practice? You need some degree of flexibility in yoga but in the grand scheme of things, it does not matter at all that much. What is more important is your breathing and whether you are getting the benefits of a pose. You can gain all the benefits of a pose without being as flexible as a ballerina.
Flexibility refers to the ability to perform the full range of motion for a joint. There are many factors that affect flexibility that a yoga teacher must consider (Davies, 2015):
Joint Structure – Different types of joints vary in range of motion. Ball and socket joints have the greatest range of motion compared to the hinge joints.
Age and Gender – Flexibility can be improved at any age; however, flexibility decreases with age. Women are generally more flexible than men this is due to oestrogen in the body that makes tendons and ligaments looser (to aid childbirth).
Connective Tissue – These can be divided into two types: elastic connective tissue and collagenous connective tissue. The later provides tensile strength while the former provides elasticity. The more connective tissue presents around a joint, the greater the range of motion and flexibility. Connective tissues have the property of plasticity, this is when the tissue assumes a new length after a passive stretch. Therefore, to a degree that our bone and muscle structure will allow, we can progressively become more and more flexible.
Muscle Bulk and Weight Training – Increase in muscle girth can reduce range of motion in certain movements. You may find students who do a lot of weight training might be less flexible.
Proprioceptors – These are the nerve endings that relay information from the muscle to the central nervous system. Proprioceptors detect any tension in the muscles. The more you can relax, the more you can aid the stretch.
Internal Environment – A warm body is more easily stretched. Therefore, it is important to warm-up the body as in sun salutations before going straight into deep poses. It is also wise and safe to progress from poses with a more limited range of motion to a greater range of motion. Ujjayi pranayama facilitates in yoga asanas since it warms up the body.
Previous Injury – Muscle and connective tissue injuries create more fibrous tissue when they heal, and these are less elastic.
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