Many of us neglect the few precious minutes allocated before and after a workout. It’s one way of taking care of our muscles, to stretch them in a proper way so we can improve strength and movement as we go along our exercise routines, and to relax them after a workout.
While flexibility is of prime importance to the overall performance of every athlete, for the rest of us, it’s essential for the health of our muscles and joints, says Laura Canales, a Vinyasa Flow, Power Yoga and Yin Yoga teacher in Dubai.
Yoga is one great way to help lengthen and stretch muscles in a safe and effective way. “[It] can also increase the range of your motion, improves blood circulation and helps relieve tension and stress,” she adds.
Here are Canales’s five top tips on how to improve flexibility:
1. Practice diligently
You will see improvements as you practice regularly. Explore the extent of your flexibility, accept your body and be comfortable with it. The more you stretch the more flexible you will get, depending on how often you practice and the intensity of the posture.
2. Go with the flow
Do not force yourself to move outside the ranges of your motion to avoid overstretching your ligaments and damaging your joints. Be humble in your practice and one day you will grow into moving your body freely.
3. Detach yourself from any tools/methodologies/labels
Once you are able to let go of the ego and not identify yourself to any label of our own personal practice, you will then be able to listen to your body as you move and stretch. It will tell you the limit of your flexibility, how to nourish your body, what it needs to improve its range of motion and the endless possibilities your body can do.
4. Just breathe
Use breathing to increase the intensity of your stretch; when you breathe properly, more oxygen is able to enter your lungs and bloodstream, so your body will be able to distribute more fuel to your muscles. During stretching, make sure you breathe in and out and visualise the muscles, tendons, and ligaments lengthening. There are many Yoga Pranayama techniques anyone can practice with the full supervision of a qualified yoga teacher/Pranayama practitioner. Pranayama or breathing exercises will help calm the mind, release tension around the muscles and connective tissues, increase blood circulation, and will help you move in a deeper stretch. It will also heighten your body awareness to avoid future injuries.
5. Nourish your body, mind and soul
Eat right, sleep well, hydrate, manage stress, smile more often, acknowledge your passion, practice gratitude, complain less, accept your limitation and be with your friends and loved ones more often. Promoting healthy well-being has a huge impact on flexibility too. It will help lubricate your joints, strengthen your bones and reduce inflammation.
If you feel like your flexibility really needs a lot of work, be aware that everyone is different. “Be kind to your body and accept whatever is accessible to you at the moment. You will get there, do not compare yourself to others as it varies for each individual. There are some factors in determining the adequacy and level of your flexibility — genetics, weather, hydration, gender and physical fitness. You can incorporate 15-20 minutes of simple yoga poses in your regular practice to will see improvements in your flexibility,” Canales says.