How are your shoulders, hips and low back feeling today?
Around 41 I started having almost daily issues with mine, especially my low back —and as a teacher and (at that point) 22 year practitioner of yoga, this sent me on a deep inquiry into what I needed to learn and understand about the body, and where modern yoga might be incomplete.
Have you ever noticed how often in how we talk about yoga, being more open, more flexible is often seen as a virtue, and an indicator of health, or being a more advanced yogi, while tightness and inflexibility are often identified as the problem that needs to be fixed?
Its as if we decided at some point that the answer, the medicine, for any physical ailment is to get more flexible, stretch more, get the muscle deeply massaged so that it releases its tension.
This is a central assumption about out bodies that has been a huge influence in how we have approached yoga practice over the last hundred years.
NOTE: The “modern” asana forms I am referencing start being codified in the 1930’s in Mysore, India —and then spread to the West slowly, becoming hugely popular since the 90’s.
The definitive influence of Scandinavian gymnastics on these postures and sequences, and the advent of a new technology called the camera meant that from the 30’s all the way up to our Instagram era, extreme flexibility and acrobatic ability has been associated via imagery with advanced, impressive, and indeed often more energetically or spiritually “open” and self realized yoga.
What I have learned on my journey of deeper inquiry and exploration though is that ever greater flexibility is simply not the cure all for our bodies!
I will go into more detail in future installments —but here’s the heart of the matter:
1) yoga tends to draw a high percentage of people who are already fairly flexible, because we like to do things we feel good at —at least to a certain extent…
2) for those of us naturally flexible, or on the further end of that, hypermobile or unstable, becoming more and more and more flexible is actually not good medicine.
3) for those of us dealing with various joint problems, low back pain, shoulder pain, hip issues, becoming “less tight” or more flexible is only partially helpful and only for some people.
Each of these points would take several pages to explain (more to come) but here’s what has made me (at 48) healthier, pain free, and more able to express myself through my body in versatile, fun, creative, and resilient ways than 7 years ago:
Becoming stronger and more stable around my joints —and understanding the difference between pure passive flexibility, and the active range of motion of healthy strong mobility.
All the new skills I am teaching in my classes reflect this discovery, its application to my own practice, and my desire to adapt what I share with you so you can experience the same benefits and enjoy your body and practice for decades to come!
The video below shows two techniques to improve your Sun Salutations:
1) Shoulder centration in caturanga (which we also support via some of the by now familiar techniques we do for a few minutes before sun salutations) and
2) The Hip Hinge —a way of focusing how we move from folding forward to standing up and vice versa that supports low back stability and moving from your core.
Stay tuned for more on all this —I know it is kinda conceptually dense, but bear with me, and you’ll feel how it translates into your practice and embodied life off the mat.