As the old adage goes, no pain no gain, right? This culturally pervasive idea has made its mark on virtually everything – our jobs, our personal lives, and very prominently in the way we treat and move our bodies. If you don’t wake up the morning after an intense workout barely able to move, did it even happen? And if you did wake up feeling the burn from yesterday’s efforts, did it somehow make it more worthwhile?
I used to believe it did. I spent my childhood and early adulthood playing soccer and running long distances, and I knew what it felt like to work hard and feel it the next day. I enjoyed the feeling of soreness, because it gave me validation and a sense of accomplishment. When I started yoga in 2007 I applied these same beliefs to my practice. The yoga classes I chose had to be sweaty, challenging, and feel like an incredibly intense workout or I had no interest. I also favored poses where I felt excessive stretching and sensation — pigeon, deep backbends, arm binds — you get the picture. I applied the idea of ‘no pain, no gain’ to yoga, and after a few years of practicing this way developed pain and injuries, particularly in my joints. I conceivably pushed past healthy ranges of motion in my joints due to a lack of awareness, understanding, and my own forcible sense of competition. While in hindsight I wish I knew then what I know now, my personal experience has led me to investigate the how’s and why’s of injury, and has set me on a path of uncovering ways to regain joint stability and better overall function of my musculoskeletal system.
One thing to make clear — flexibility is not about being able to touch your toes or bring your head to your foot in a backbend. What many of us regard as images of flexibility are often more akin to contortion and involve expressions of hyper flexibility (pushing past a natural range of motion.) Healthy ranges of motion (ROM) vary between individuals and can be limited based on the shapes and articulation of our bones, as well as by tightness, constriction, or adhesions in the muscles and connective tissue of our bodies. Thus, the very idea of achieving poses or shapes with the body is flawed, because a healthy ROM for one body is not necessarily a healthy ROM for another body. When the body is pushed into a position that requires its joints to move past a healthy ROM, it causes stress in multiple systems of the body (musculoskeletal and nervous system to name a few). The joint stress that is incurred often comes in the form of over-stretching ligaments, whose major function is to stabilize joints. Unlike muscle, which has the ability to stretch and then return to its resting length because of its elasticity and vascularity (meaning it has a rich supply of blood), your ligaments are collagenous and avascular (poor blood supply). Once they are overstretched, they cannot easily return to a length necessary to best support the joints. This is why a sprained joint is so difficult to heal — the ligaments of the joint have become overstretched leaving the joint with a weakened support system. Therefore, instead of focusing on achieving yoga poses, we can work on facilitating a healthy joint range of motion in our joints. This is best by performing diverse and targeted movements, whilst building strength and stability in the body.
The Yoga Tune Up® system is extremely intelligent in uncovering imbalances and injuries in the body, and then providing students the tools to heal them. YTU Therapy Balls act like a magnifying glass — as you roll on different muscles and tissue they highlight, as Jill likes to say, “the issues in their tissues!” YTU therapy balls also offer an increased understanding of where different structures are located in the body, which is an integral part of the practice of self-healing and self-care. Along with therapy ball rolling, Yoga Tune Up employs corrective exercise techniques that are designed to move the body in all different planes and in all different ways. Instead of trying to fit your body into a pose, you get to customize movements and poses to your body. Thus, the focus becomes creating an integrated, stable, supportive system.
Come back on Friday, when I will share my favorite Yoga Tune Up® pose for stabilizing and strengthening the shoulders and core. For now, check out the Quickfix RX: Upper & Lower Body DVD to begin uncovering your body blind spots and treat yourself to a full body massage!