During my first ballet class at Moyer’s Institute of Dance…Mrs. Moyer exclaimed, ‘you are extremely flexible, but you have no strength. We’ll work on it! Don’t worry.” But I did worry. I could hyperextend my leg in grande battement and almost kick my ear, but hold it there? No, I could not. My father joked that one day my leg would wrap around my neck. It actually could already do that! Eventually, I could summon my strength to hold my leg almost as high as I could kick it.
My flexibility was incredible and to this day defies my age. Yoga certainly helps me maintain my flexibility.
The ability to hyperextend the legs although physically desirable and beautiful for a ballerina, actually brings wear and tear to the dancer’s joints. The dancer must engage muscles and build strength. Extreme hyper-mobility in the shoulders, hips, knees and elbows can shorten the length of a dancer’s career. Strength without flexibility is not desirable, but flexibility without strength can be dangerous.
In a yoga practice, a demi bend in the knees keeps the yogi from a hamstring injury in uttanasana or forward fold. In trikosasana, triangle pose, both legs are extended straight, but knees should never be locked or hyper-extended. As a yogi and a yoga teacher, I am extremely sensitive to my less flexible students, always reminding them not to take the pose too deep and pull a muscle, but I am just as sensitive to my flexible yogis because we share that flexibility. I am careful to give cues that resonate with all of my students at every level.
In a yoga class, you can be proud of your flexible body’s ability to easily move into the pose, but then the ego takes over and you go deeper, because isn’t that the cueing you are getting from your yoga teacher? “Reach back with right arm, grab right ankle, lift right leg higher, open heart center to sky. As you expand pushing your chest toward the studio’s ceiling, you hear, “holding, Inhale, exhale for 5…inhale, exhale for 4…inhale, exhale for 3…inhale, exhale for 2…inhale, exhale for 1.” As you come out of the pose, you see that the class is already in adho muhka svanasana, downward-facing dog, but you have been holding the pose going deeper and deeper, maybe dangerously deeper since your flexible body allows for this depth in the pose. After all, no one stopped you from going deeper. It didn’t hurt, you didn’t feel any stretch, so you did it. Isn’t that what you are supposed to do? Maybe not.
There comes a point when the flexible yogi must understand the importance of engaging the muscles and not only rely on flexibility to flow into the shape cued by the teacher. For instance, in plank pose, high push up, into chaturanga dandasana, low push up, the hyper-flexible yogi must consciously engage triceps, biceps, elbows, deltoids and rhomboids and send the shoulders down and back, lifting neck long while exhaling into low push up. Protecting the shoulders and elbows in chaturanga dandasana is imperative to protect from shredding the shoulder girdle. From my experience, the super flexible yogi must concentrate harder and consciously engage the correct muscles to activate and strengthen the muscles surrounding their flexible joints to keep them from injury.
If you are hyper-flexible and your yoga teacher says,”inhale to lengthen and exhale to twist,” you must decide if you have already twisted enough. Don’t push yourself to the point of injury. Know your body. Know yourself. Know the asana or pose. Yoga does not want you to compare yourself to others or to push yourself so hard and cause injury. Yoga wants you to release tension, lengthen and strengthen the body. Yoga wants to teach you patience, compassion, balance, kindness and love. Yoga wants you to take what you learn on the mat into your everyday life. Yoga is about loving yourself and others. It’s not about causing injury. Love yourself first, then love others and positively change your life, your relationships and the world…safely, one asana at a time!
Please remember to stay hydrated as you practice….try a Chia Fresca!
1 CUP OR MORE SPRING WATER / FILTERED WATER
2 TABLESPOONS CHIA SEEDS
JUICE OF ½ LEMON (I ALSO ADD ½ LIME SOMETIMES)
1 TEASPOON BROWN RICE SYRUP OR HONEY TO TASTE
Shake all ingredients in a shaker bottle and let sit for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator so the chia seeds can sprout. Shake it again and enjoy. (You can always sprinkle chia on whole grain breakfast porridges or mix with fruit in your shakes). It’s crunchy and packed with more omega-3 than salmon! It makes you feel full faster. It lowers blood pressure and it’s hydrating.
Why wouldn’t you drink this everyday?!