Yoga is often seen as a contortionist art. And the fact is that it celebrates body flexibility as a sign of health and youthfulness.
There have been recent fears that hyper-extending may be injurious. But yogic asanas, when done under proper guidance, are designed to gently lead the body back to its youthful suppleness.
Even our every-day activities can cause injury (lifting any load, sitting down suddenly or doing the same type of physical action repetitively). To prevent this sort of injury, health experts advise you to focus on developing flexibility. Even sportsmen, normally seen as ideals of health, must include yogic flexibility practices to ensure that they remain that way.
Our posture and movements depend on the musculo-system which work in tandem. If muscles are weak or short, they strain the bones. This causes irreparable, painful damage that hurts the joints, misaligns our body creating postural defects, reduces muscular efficiency while also affecting the recovery rate of muscles after an injury or a work-out.
Interestingly, excessive muscle tone may slam flexibility. On the other hand, flexible muscles reduce soreness which comes from excessive training. This is why sportsmen, body-builders and gym freaks are advised to focus on yogic flexibility exercises to retain youthful suppleness. Strength-training shortens the resting muscle length. Remember inflexible muscles indicate aging.
Yogic flexibility poses also have other benefits: they aid circulation by working on fascia or subtle muscle mass. Flexibility does not mean just working on the muscles but also the surrounding tissue, strengthening the joints, which take the brunt of our activity and increasing the density of the bones so they give firm inner support. They also improve body awareness, boost body-mind co-ordination so we can keep our brain youthfully rewired.
It is very important, however, to warm-up the body sufficiently before attempting such specific flexibility-improving poses. A good warm-up routine, ideally from the yogic series called the pawan muktasana series, should work every part of your body.
Also, while doing yogic stretches you must be very sensitive to your body's ability and stretch only up to capacity. Breathing continuously and in a relaxed fashion is essential.
Shameem Akthar, trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, demonstrates five yogic stretches guaranteed to improve your flexibility.
Text: Shameem Akthar
Photographs: Jahnavi Sheriff
Catch more of Shameem's yoga writings and about her upcoming workshops at jaisivananda.blogspot.com
Harmony Foundation recently published Shameem Akthar's book, Yoga for Silvers. To place an order, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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