Do I Need to Be Flexible to Do Yoga?

“I’m not flexible.  I can’t touch my toes. I’m  not suitable for yoga.”

With yoga expect to touch your toes – often in the very first class. toesGive your body some loving care by lubricating and activating core muscles, hips, and hamstrings. Yoga awakens the body to its optimal capacity.

My first yoga teacher Kaila Kukla drew inspiration from Erich Shiffman, an early Western student of yoga.  Shiffman writes “People often ask me how I became interested in yoga and whether or not I was flexible when I first started. Yoga is not merely touching your toes, standing on your head, or folding yourself into a pretzel. It’s about how you do what you do, and how you live your daily life on a moment-to-moment basis.”

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Reducing Running Injuries by Increasing Hip Stability

Written by John Davis –
http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/hip-strength-and-stability/

As a high school track and field coach, I get to work with athletes with a huge range of abilities.  Some are very talented and naturally strong, able to take to any new sport or form of exercise with ease, while others are somewhat uncoordinated and weak when it comes to general strength and athleticism. Surprisingly, good runners come from both groups!

Strong evidence exists that connects poor strength and coordination in the hip stabilizer muscles to IT band syndrome and patellofemoral pain syndrome or “runner’s knee,” two injuries that are quite common both in recreational runners and the high schoolers that I coach.

Two tests for hip strength and stability
Since the effect of hip strength on your running mechanics is a combination of strength and muscle activation, it can sometimes be tricky to assess both.  You can be strong, but not quite coordinating your hip muscles right, or you can simply lack hip strength entirely—both can increase your risk of injury.

Fortunately, with the help of some scientific research, I’ve been able to identify two tests for hip stability and strength that are quite good at identifying the kinds of deficits that can lead to knee injuries.

In my own informal testing with my high school athletes, these tests have been pretty good at indicating who’s at risk for knee injuries and what the source of the problem is in runners who’ve already got ITBS or runner’s knee.

Test 1: The Glute Bridge
The first is a test for hip strength.  By doing a “glute bridge” exercise, then slowly lifting up one leg, putting it down, and then lifting up the other, you can check how stable your pelvis is when it must be supported by your hip abductor and external rotator muscles.

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In strong, healthy runners (particularly those who do hip strength exercises often), the pelvis will barely move when you lift up one leg.  But in runners with hip strength deficits, there will be a marked “dip,” with the pelvis tilting down on the unsupported side.  This is easy to spot by yourself, but can also be confirmed by an observer.

What’s the evidence for this exercise?
A 2013 study by David Selkowitz, George Benneck, and Christopher Powers identified the single-leg glute bridge as one of the best exercises for hip stability, meaning it directly stresses your hip abductors and external rotators while minimizing the activation of other muscles which can help you “cheat” while stabilizing the hip.
And the static (or “isometric” in sports-science circles) nature of the exercise mimics the static portion of the running stride where your hip is supported by one leg.

Your hip will also dip to one side when you are running if you’ve got weak hip muscles—a phenomenon informally called “hip drop”—but it’s harder to see by yourself.

Test 2: Single Leg Squats
The second test evaluates the coordination of your hip stabilizer muscles during a dynamic activity.  For this test, simply do five or 10 single-leg squats, being sure to keep your torso upright and your knee about even with your toes.

While you are doing these squats, glance down at your knee.  Is it pointing straight ahead, or is it buckled or rotated inward? If your hip stabilizers are weak, or if they simple aren’t very well coordinated, you’ll find these single leg squats quite difficult to do without allowing your knee to wobble around or buckle inward.

single-leg-squat
What’s the evidence for this exercise?
Biomechanical research has connected the same mechanical motions observed in poorly-done single-leg squats (an unstable, wobbly, or inward-buckled knee) with knee injuries.

A 2011 study by Reed Ferber and colleagues at the University of Calgary found that runners with patellofemoral pain syndrome displayed significantly reduced variability in knee mechanics—basically, less “wobble” at the knee—after completing a hip strengthening program, and a 2010 study also headed by Ferber, this time with colleagues at a number of universities, connected excessive knee internal rotation and hip adduction in women (an “inward-buckling” knee) with IT band syndrome.

Another 2011 study by Crossley et al. directly tested the single-leg squat as a measurement of hip muscle function.The researchers had 34 healthy patients perform single leg squats, with three different clinicians rating each subject’s squats as “good,” “fair,” or “poor.”  The classifications between each evaluator were quite reliable, and more so, these findings correlated very well with direct measurements of hip muscle activation and strength using electromyography and dynamometers: those who had good hip strength and activation tended to be able to perform single-leg squats quite well, and those with deficits struggled with the single-leg squats.

The best part about these two tests for hip strength is that they also function as good exercises to improve it! Whether you struggle on one, both, or neither of these tests, they are both good exercises to improve hip strength and coordination, hopefully preventing or at least reducing your risk for knee injuries.

The Four Part Absolute Beginners Workshop teaches tool and techniques to stabilize your hips and build core strength.   Using yoga as a cross training tool serves to improve performance, reduce injuries, and will provide a deep relaxation as an added benefit.

Donald Trump, Flexibility, and Yoga

Many people think they are not flexible so they are not good candidates to do yoga. Yoga works in amazing ways for those who cannot touch their toes, with tight hips, and general stiffness.

At the Republican debate last night Marco Rubio made a yoga joke. Ted Cruz was speaking to Donald Trump to breathe, breathe, breathe. Rubio quipped in, “When they’re done doing yoga, can I answer?” Cruz remarked that he really hoped they would not start doing yoga on the stage. Rubio responded, “Well he (Trump) is very flexible, so you never know.” Although it might be the least important of his misconceptions, Rubio associated yoga as something meant for flexible people. (Can you imagine Donald Trump in a yoga class? Imagine Inapproprite Yoga Guy or something worse.) Rubio’s view of yoga is a commonly held misconception that yoga is meant for flexible people.

Yoga works as a great method to get unstuck and increase mobility.

I am inherently stiff. There are people much more bendy than myself but I am more flexible than most people. A private student of mine, a few years older, has trouble touching his toes and wants more flexibility. His goal for yoga is simply to become as flexible as me. He can achieve his goal. At least two yoga sessions a week for a few months with some good guidance will provide great results.

Flexibility, twists, binds, and touching the toes all result from moving the body in a conscious way. When I began yoga I moved my body in ways I never moved before. It felt great. I had no interest in body consciousness or understanding how the body really moves.I liked how I connected with new muscles and experienced my body in ways like never before. It was physical and spiritual. Still, i had very poor alignment but i had no idea about alignment. I thought I had been doing yoga for a few years so I was probably not so bad.

Conscious Incompetence

There are four stages of competence and learning. The first stage is unconscious incompetence. This is the stage of “I don’t know that i really don’t know how to do this.” Most people begin here although often feel they are at one of the higher stages. Once you get to the second stage, conscious incompetence, you can begin to look for tools and techniques to improve. At this stage you know that you don’t know how to really do it yet. There is where learning begins.

Yoga poses can be viewed a resistance stretches. You engage a muscle in one direction to allow a stretch of another muscle in a different direction. You need one thing to resist against another for it to work. If you only push in one direction the opening or balance will not happen. Finding the resistance or even knowing to look for it is the first step. It is not intuitive or obvious.

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Using Your Body in Resistance Stretching

A clear example of this precise stretching comes in simple sitting position. Ray Long, an Orthopedic surgeon and yogi, has a few great books using his precise knowledge of anatomy to provide specific techniques for how everyone can get into certain poses. Ray has the buld of a linebacker. He explains how using his anatomy based techniques even he can get into Hanumasana, the splits. He uses the same guidance to improve posture and sit up straight.

As you are sitting cross legged you take your hands on your knees and pull back. This creates a cloScreen Shot 2016-03-04 at 2.08.25 PMsed contraction and engages the latissimus dorsi and provides a resistance to lift the chest. If you just try lifting the chest without this enagagement – without pulling the hands against the knees – you cannot lift the chest in the same way. How to hold up the heart, chest, sit tall, stand tall, fold, touch the toes, and improve mobility are some of the results of a regular yoga practice. Yoga done with precise techniques works wonders.When you practice right all is coming.

Try a Yoga for Beginners Workshop or take some private yoga and sessions to really discover how yoga and your body actually work.

Yoga for muscle stiffness and pain.

Ever wonder about muscle stiffness and where it comes from? Or how about joint pain?

You are twenty-five and play an intense game of tennis. Thte next day feel back pain and can hardly walk. You are thirty-nine and play your Sunday hockey game.You alwayss feel like you can’t move the next morning. You are forty eight and feel low back pain. In the mornings you wake up with your body feeling stiff.So often we assume it’s a natural result of getting old. That is only partially true. If you do you can be fully active and feel fine the next day, walk around without back pain, and feel as good as ever.

At Fireflow Yoga, our Toronto Yoga studio, we focus on providing active yoga helps you increase mobility, flexibility, stiffnes, soreness, and pain.

Like all good machines, the body needs some tender loving care to bring it back to its shiny, agile nature. Whether you are in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, or sixties, you have the ability to bring your body towards optimum health. Yoga is a process to both energize and bring your body back to shape, like a car after a good tune-up and oil change.Yoga also works to reduce injuries, reduce stress, and provide mental focus. The one caveat is you must be doing the pose right, with correct alignment, otherwise you just reinforce bad habits. So you do need a good teacher.

Yoga works for both men and women.Many men thing yoga is only for women.Before starting yoga Sting thought yoga was something done by little old ladies in leotards.

Yoga was created by men and originally done by men.It’s an interesting shift that in the West yoga is definitely practice by more woman than men. Many people then assume it’s a practice for women, particularly flexible one. Yoga works for both women and men. It is a way to bring your body towards optimimum mobility through precise poses and movements.The more inflexible you are the most yoga can work for you.

Each night when you go to sleep, the interfaces around your muscles potentially grow fuzz. When you wake up and stretch the fuzz melts.

Natural fuzz buildup is one way of viewing stiffness and aging. Every night fuzz accumulates in your body. It’s real. In the fuzz speech below, Gil Hadley shows what this actually means. Fuzz build up is something which happens every night as we sleep.

Body work (like yoga) introduces movement manually to tissues that have been fuzzed over.

Yoga serves as a great way to remove even long-standing fuzz which may have been building up over years or even decades.

Building Core Strength with Chaturanga

Building core abdominal strength provides many benefits. It helps posture, relieves back pain, and helps create the six pack. We often begin a class warming up with Sun Salutations. One of the poses in that sequence is Chaturanga Dandasana, Four Limbed Staff Pose. But just doing the pose like most people do in classes does not build abdominal strength and can be harmful. Along with headstand, handstand and shoulder stands chaturanga has been labelled a dangerous yoga pose. I still struggle to unlearn patterns developed from years of doing chaturanga in a way which perpetuates patterns in the shoulders and upper back which leads to stress, neck pain and overall discomfort.

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When I break down the pose in class often people react that they can’t figure out how to generate the movement from their core muscles. After a few attempts many suddenly activate the core. They laugh and grin and remark that it’s so much harder then they ever knew. Some come into the pose for one breath and then quickly come down. Doing chaturanga wrong is still work – and can make you sweat. I have learned over time there is no relation between sweat, work and endorphins and overall balance and alignment. Only with precise work can you begin to use the abs in this pose. It’s not natural and it is quite difficult, but it is achievable and feels amazing once you begin to find it. In the video below Darby demonstrates two ways to prepare for Chaturanga.

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Forearm Balance

Lie down on your stomach.
Come onto your forearms and make a fist of your palms.
Curl under your toes and push out through your heels.
Lift your ribs, then lift the waist.
Hold for 10 breaths.

Slowly Finding Chaturanga

Lie down on your stomach.
Bring your hands back underneath the elbows, not the shoulders.
Lift your shoulders to the same height as your elbows.
Press the palms down to stabilize the upper body.
Lift the waist.

There’s a tendency to further lift the neck or upper body and shoulders instead of the waist since that’s a lot easier. Try and keep the upper body stabilized and just lift from the waist. Feel the difference.

How’s your chaturanga? Try practice this exercise 3 to 5 times a week for a few weeks and feel how much your chaturanga can change. It will effect not only your chaturanga but basic standing, walking, and almost every pose. Try it!

Finding A Guru

A guru is known as a remover of darkness. Sounds good. Where can you find a guru? Do gurus live in west-end Toronto? Do they hang out at Starbucks, Istanbul Cafe, or DeMello’s? Are they easily found or hidden in the back alleyways?

Many years ago I searched for spiritual gurus. I went to Jerusalem searching for kabbalistic masters. Someone gave me a printed list of names and addresses of teachers who achieved supernatural feats. It listed visiting times and how to make appointments.

Where do you find a yoga guru? A few years back it was difficult to find yoga. Now in the heart of a large city you can find dozens of different classes every hour. How do you find a good teacher? Is it just finding someone to lead you through a good stretch? Should they be able to bring a good playlist to every class ? Does the quality of your yoga practice depend on who guides you? Can you learn yoga from a book or a Youtube video? Who are your favourite teachers? Do you have any gurus? How can you tell a true guru from a false guru?

A few years ago an American filmmaker impersonated a guru for a documentary.  He came up with his own rituals and attracted well-educated followers. The filmmaker said, “I met a lot of religious leaders who claimed to have the answers. But were these gurus real? To find out I decided to impersonate a spiritual leader and build my own following.”  The film documents how people perceive a guru, what it takes to build trust, and how to determine what is true.

The current guru of Ashtanga Yoga, Sharath Jois, leads the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. Westerners flock to Mysore attending the daily self-practice surrounded by a group of fellow seeking yogis. It has become a place of pilgrimage for people dedicated to Ashtanga Yoga.

Each week Sharath leads a conference on yoga philosophy and practice. At one talk he described becoming a teacher or guru.  “Not from book knowledge,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how much you read, or watch on DVDs, or think you know. Proper knowledge comes from practical experience over a long period of time. When and if you teach, it comes from your own experience and has more meaning, for you, and for your students.” It’s like meditation. Reading and studying only teach you on one level. You need to put in the time and learn from experience. There is no substitute for practice.

According to Danny Paradise we can become our own gurus. He says, “A guru is a recent phenomenon and is really an anomaly of the true ancient purposes and teachings of Yoga. The necessity to have gurus no longer exists. Yoga was created for the purpose of helping people heal themselves, restore and preserve their energy and come back into contact with the life forces that created the Universe.” Read more.

Do yoga and unravel the guru within. It happens a little with every practice. The journey itself never ends. The sooner you start the sooner you feel the benefits. The more you practice the stronger you become. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga, says “Do Your Practice and All is Coming.” We have brought to Fireflow some of the world’s most distinguished yoga teachers, such as Matthew Sweeney, Mark Darby, and Danny Paradise. I opened Fireflow as a place committed to teaching real yoga. The mission has been to create a place to connect with the amazing things which occur when yoga works. And when yoga works we begin to hear echoes of the guru within.

 

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