A stretch too far


Yoga is a physical activity and with all physical activities care needs to be taken not to push beyond your limits. But sometimes our limits can be very hard to gauge with yoga. If you have been practicing yoga for a while you’ll probably at some stage have encountered an overstretch injury. The difference between a stretching and an overstretching muscle can happen within millimeters of movement. The best way to describe the sensation between the two is that a stretching muscle feels like a maintainable amount of sensation while an overstretching muscle feels more intense and has an element of a pinchy sensation to it. Playing with the edge of your full range of motion can often lead to overstretching injuries. You are in danger of going just that tiny bit too far, or repeating the movement to your end range of motion too often, and end up with an injury that can take months to settle. If you are used to finding your edge and looking over the cliff it can feel a bit uncomfortable to consciously pull your practice back to 90%. But it will serve you in the long term and make your practice grow with you rather than be a short term physical activity that causes you repeated injuries.

So how do you find your perfect end point? Ask yourself can you feel it in your body? This is your benchmark and not beyond it. Are you breathing? Are you holding tension in parts of the body not being stretched or strengthened like your face or shoulders? When you feel sensations you have arrived at your version of the pose. To quote Jason Crandell ‘engaging in the process of the pose is doing the pose, any amount of the pose is the pose, there is no end point in the process’.

Next ask yourself does this serve me? What is necessary? Realistically do you need to be taking handstands and impressive feats of nature poses to feel the benefits of yoga off the mat? At the end of the day, mental and spiritual benefits aside, if you can move freely in your everyday life - and that might be facilitating peak performance in another sport or as simple as tying your shoelaces or getting up from a chair without sound effects - then your practice is working for you.

If you want to read more about ways to find your version of the pose have a read of Contain the Stretch, The Ultimate Runner Flow, Anatomy 101 - Hypermobile Joints or Staying Present.

This sequence is created as a very simple flow so you can go into the basic poses of the practice and reevaluate how far you need to go into the pose to feel the appropriate amount of sensation for your unique body. You can consider each pose as a peak poses and spend a bit of extra time refinding poses that may have become second nature to you. Use bricks as much as possible to support you and give you a surface to press against in poses like Trikonasana/Triangle, Parsvakonasana/Side Angle and Parsvottanasana/Intense Side Stretch. It’s important to remember the 108 Asana poses are illustrated as the full expression of the pose so you can identify the pose you are working towards not to mirror the figure to perfection. Listen to your bodies innate wisdom and be led by what you need rather than what you perceive to be required of you.

The official peak pose of the sequence is Paschimottanasana/Seated Forward Fold. This forward fold is a pose that challenges me both physically and mentally. As someone who has tight, weak hamstrings it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I need to stay very upright and concentrate on the tilt of the pelvis rather than how far forward my neighbour was folded in a class setting. If you find your shoulders and upper back are rounding it is most likely that your pelvis is actually tilting back rather than forward and you are leading with your ego rather than your heart centre! Try to work with your muscles rather than against them and bring yourself back to the principle of 90% of your full range of motion for the longevity of your practice.

  • From Dandasana, inhale, lengthen up through your spine – sides of the body, front and back body.

  • Exhale, fold forward from the hip joint, lead with your sternum, broaden through the collarbones. Soften your shoulders and stay connected to the hips tilting rather than the upper body rounding forward.

  • Feet flexed and heels reaching forward, sit bones reaching back. Place your hands either side of your legs, inhale lengthen the spine, exhale release further forward.

  • Keep your hands either side of your legs or hold onto the sides of your feet, elbows bend out to the sides, gaze down to your legs.

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Ruth Delahunty Yogaru