“I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.”
How often have we all heard this statement?
Believing that you need to be flexible to practice yoga is a common misperception among beginning yoga students that can keep them from returning to the mat. Why is this myth so pervasive, and what can be done to dispel it?
As yoga teacher and physical therapist Chrys Kub explains, the image of the yogi as Super Gumby can prevent students who feel they don’t fit this mold from practicing. And unfortunately, these are often the people who may benefit from yoga the most.
“We attract those who are already able to move with ease when actually, it would be better for people who have less mobility to feel more welcome because they’re the ones who need yoga the most.”
Chrys encourages yoga teachers to take a new approach to teaching asana – one that takes the innate response of the nervous system into account.
For students who have “tight” hamstrings, the sensation of stretching in a yoga posture can cause the nervous system to sense discomfort and communicate danger back to the soft tissue. This can make the body even more resistant to the stretch.
But through a few simple principles, students can learn to slow down the fight, flight, or freeze response of the nervous system, communicating a sense of safety back to the brain. This overrides resistance in the connective tissue and allows students to ease into a greater range of movement, as Chrys explains.
“That’s where the real yoga comes in because of our tools of breath awareness and mind-body connection. Through yoga, we can shift our perspective of what is happening from something that is harmful to something that is helpful and healthy for us.”
Approaching yoga from this perspective doesn’t just benefit beginning yoga students. It can also allow students of all levels to address common tight spots in the low back, jaw, shoulders, or other areas of the body.
“Tight areas are where your body tends to store tension. And when the fascial system reads that tension, it actually tells the muscles to contract a little bit more. And so, by integrating the emotional part of yoga – letting go of stress, letting go of anxiety, and becoming aware of where and how we feel these emotions in our body – we can help to let that tension dissipate.”
The key to accessing these tools for self-regulation lies in the fascia, which is the ultimate system of embodied communication in yoga.
By tapping into an understanding of the science of the fascial system, we can improve our ability to teach and practice yoga in a way that enhances ease of motion, proprioception, and interoceptive awareness for all levels of yoga practitioners, as Chrys explains:
“One of the most interesting things I discovered about fascia is there is communication from the fascial system to the brain and nervous system about different types of things such as vibration, tension, and touch. And one of the most important messages fascia communicates is where your body is in space, or proprioception. You’re going to get a lot of information from the fascial system about where your body is and how your body is moving when you’re moving into flexibility.”
In this free download interview, Chrys shares more from her 25 years of clinical experience as a physical therapist on how to understand and make the healing benefits of myofascial release accessible and approachable to all levels of students.
You may also be interested in Chrys Kub’s course: Yoga for Myofascial Release: Enhancing the Pliability of the Bodywide Fascial Network