YOGIC PRACTICES TO ENHANCE FLEXIBILITY
Those wondering about how to increase flexibility need look no further than yoga. Improved flexibility has always gone hand in hand with yoga exercises. Pretty much every yoga pose takes your joints through a wide range of motion, making them stronger, more flexible, and able to absorb more impact without leading to pain or other problematic conditions. But there are a few important points you might want to know before you hurt yourself by over-stretching.
You have been observing that you and members of your family generally stretch their bodies immediately after waking up in the morning. Have you ever thought why do we do this? We generally do this instinctively without knowing its importance. In fact, stretching is very important as it gives flexibility to our body which becomes stiff after long hours of sleep or inactive. Our body may become stiff also after continuous activity for long hours. That is the reason we experience difficulty in moving our body after walking, playing or indulging in physical activities continuously for a long time. That is why sports persons are very often seen stretching their body before and after the sports events as it makes their body flexible.
Stretching and flexibility are inter-related. Stretching enhances flexibility. In this chapter, we shall discuss flexibility and contribution of Yoga in improving it.
What is Flexibility?
Flexibility is the ability to move the joints and surrounding muscles to its maximum. Raising our hands and rotating our shoulder in a circular motion backward and forward to its maximum is an example of flexibility.
Flexibility is an important component of physical fitness. It is crucial for our body to perform even the most basic activities such as walking, bending, squatting, running, etcThere are individual differences in flexibility. Many factors such as age, gender, genetics and lifestyle are responsible for this variation.
Importance of Flexibility
Chances are you've heard your gym teacher say that you should always stretch before exercising. It's a very important thing to keep in mind since stretching releases any stiffness and tension that may have built up in your joints, making it easier to put them through a wider range of motion.
Learning how to increase flexibility through stretching also makes it easier for you to resist succumbing to fatigue by releasing lactic acid from your body. From a psychological standpoint, a more relaxed and limber body leads to a calmer and clearer mind. Your mindset can reflect the tension in your body, so releasing them can only help you gain an equally tension-free mind.
Why Is Flexibility Important
Stretching and flexibility often take a backseat to other fitness goals. It shouldn’t though. Increasing your flexibility through practices like yoga has many benefits aside from increased athletic performance and decreased chance of injury including:
1) Better range of motion. Increasing your range of motion allows you to not only improve your athletic performance by optimizing your golf or tennis swing or increasing the length of your running stride.
2) More freedom of movement. As we age, our muscles naturally shorten leading to a lose of flexibility. While in your 20s it have been no trouble to bend over and tie your shoes, much later in life this task may be nearly impossible. Keeping your muscles limber and loose can prevent this loss of freedom.
3) Fewer aches and pains. Not only does stretching decrease muscle soreness and fatigue post workout, it also lessens chronic ache and pains. More flexible you are the less likely you are to suffer from back pain and injury.
4) Increased heart health. A study about poor trunk flexibility and stiff arteries that appeared in the American Journal of Physiology showed that poor core and trunk flexibility has been linked to poor heart health. Increasing your flexibility benefits your heart by preventing arterial stiffening.
5) Improved moods. As Yoga Journal notes, in yoga flexibility transforms the mind as well as the body. Taking the time to work on your flexibility and range of motion prevents the loss of freedom that comes with losing your ability to move freely. Keeping that flexibility wards off the feelings of helplessness and depression that come with loss of movement freedom. Plus, stretching itself can help quiet the mind and promote relaxation and stress relief.
6) Better balance. Better flexibility leads to better balance. A study done by a team of Spanish researchers about the association of fall risk in older adults concluded adults that do flexibility work are proven to be less likely to fall.
Benefits of Flexibility
There are a number of benefits of flexibility.
1) Flexibility improves the range of motion in muscles and joints, thereby improving performance of motor activities.
2) It reduces the risk of injury and pain.
3) It improves overall balance of the body.
Now the question is — Can flexibility be enhanced? The answer is yes. Flexibility can be enhanced by yogic practices.
Flexibility And Muscles
Muscles are organs—biological units built from various specialized tissues that are integrated to perform a single function. (Physiologists divide muscles into three types: the smooth muscles of the viscera; the specialized cardiac muscles of the heart; and the striated muscles of the skeleton—but in this article we'll focus only on skeletal muscles, those familiar pulleys that move the bony levers of our bodies.) The specific function of muscles, of course, is movement that is produced by muscle fibers, bundles of specialized cells that change shape by contracting or relaxing. Muscle groups operate in concert, alternately contracting and stretching in precise, coordinated sequences to produce the wide range of movements of which our bodies are capable.
In skeletal movements, the working muscles—the ones that contract to move your bones—are called the "agonists." The opposing groups of muscles—the ones that must release and elongate to allow movement—are called the "antagonists." Almost every movement of the skeleton involves the coordinated action of agonist and antagonist muscle groups: They're the yang and yin of our movement anatomy.
But although stretching—the lengthening of antagonist muscles—is half the equation in skeletal movement, most exercise physiologists believe that increasing the elasticity of healthy muscle fiber is not an important factor in improving flexibility. Individual muscle fibers can be stretched to approximately 150 percent of their resting length before tearing. This extendibility enables muscles to move through a wide range of motion, sufficient for most stretches—even the most difficult asanas.
Yogic Practices to Enhance Flexibility
Yogic practices especially asanas are useful for developing flexibility as the asanas involve stretching. Before starting yogasanas practise some yogic micro‑activities like neck bending, neck-shoulder rotation and Surya namaskara to prepare the body to perform yogasanas.
How Yoga Increases Flexibility?
Yoga is a perfect way to increase your flexibility. Yoga’s combination of flowing movement (vinyasas) combined with poses and postures that stretch your muscles work together to make it a powerful flexibility builder. The vinyasas in yoga gently warm up your body. When your body is warm, your muscles are more pliable and able to stretch further. Just moving through most yoga vinyasas stretch multiple muscle groups while increasing body temperature. For example, the Sun Salutation done at nearly the beginning of every yoga class stretches the front and back of the body.
How Yoga Breathing Helps Increases Flexibility?
Pranayama, or breath control, is the fourth limb in a yogi's path toward samadhi. One of the most important yogic practices, it helps the yogi gain control over the movement of prana (life energy) throughout the body. But whether viewed through esoteric yoga physiology or the scientific physiology of the West, the connection between relaxation, stretching, and breathing is well established. Physiologists describe this mechanical and neurological correlation of movement and breath as an instance of synkinesis, the involuntary movement of one part of the body that occurs with the movement of another part.
It's obvious that exhalation deflates the lungs and lifts your diaphragm into the chest, thereby creating space in the abdominal cavity and making it easier to bend the lumbar spine forward. (Inhalation does the opposite, filling the abdominal cavity like an inflating balloon, making it difficult to fold your spine forward completely.) But you may not realize that exhalation also actually relaxes the muscles of your back and tilts your pelvis forward.
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