Yoga and flexibility are synonymous, when someone mentions they are a yoga practitioner you may immediately assume they are super flexible, but this post will un pick some of the reasons this might not be true! Yoga is as much for the mind as it is for the body and training flexibility for the mind is equally as important! This post however will be looking at physical flexibility in yoga asana practice.
Flexibility refers to the range of movement in a joint or series of joints, and length in muscles that cross the joints to induce a bending movement or motion.
It’s been well-established in research that yoga does improve flexibility. This is because a typical yoga practice takes our joints through their end range of motion on a regular basis.
So is mobility the same thing?
The words 'flexibility' and 'mobility' - while often used interchangeably - are not the same things. Flexibility refers to your ability to passively stretch a muscle or group of muscles through a range of motion (think lying down, having someone else stretch your hamstring for you), whereas mobility refers to the strength to hold this flexibility with control and at optimal levels, produce force as well.
Mobility and Flexibility underpin everything else that you can train for (aerobic capacity, strength, power, speed) because it essentially refers to our ability to move.
The truth is that getting stiffer and achier (losing mobility) is only a natural consequence of ageing if you let it be. Mobility training is an important and long term investment in your body. Traditional yoga practices focus largely on flexibility ( think binds), we can however adapt our practice to serve us in a way that matches are modern day understanding of the body.
In recent years studies have started to suggest that stretching before sports does not prevent injury, however having greater range of motion in your joints certainly does. So whilst there might be more effective ways to prepare your body for a run, it does not mean stretching is a thing of the past!
Simply put having better range of motion in your joints allows the joints to easily accommodate the desired joint angles without undue stress on the tissues around them.
Hypermobility means your joints can move beyond the normal range of that joint. When this causes pain, it might be joint hyper mobility syndrome. Lots of hyper mobile people are drawn to yoga, as on the outside it could make you appear 'good' at yoga, but there is actually even more reason for caution when stretching!
A good thing to remember if you have Hypermobility is 'deeper is not better'. As you go beyond normal range you start to stretch your ligaments which leaves your joints unsupported and weak. Don't panic! You don't have to quit your practice. Instead, you have to start strengthening the muscles that support the joints. The increased loads on the tissues force them to adapt and get stronger.
In summary improving the flexibility and mobility of our joints is an integral part of both keeping the body safe and healthy during everyday life, sports performance and as we age. It is important to remember the different factors that contribute towards the range of motion we have and to build that knowledge into our personal yoga practice.