While a certain degree of flexibility is important in accomplishing many
asanas and completing daily activities, it’s crucial to understand your body
and know your limits so you can avoid injury and look after your joints. If you
are very flexible, it may be best to focus on strengthening asanas.
Can I do yoga if
I’m not flexible?
Yes. Yoga has been widely shown
to increase flexibility, so a lack of
flexibility only gives you more
reason to practice. If you have
limited range of motion (ROM) in
a pose because your muscles are
tight or you are recovering from an
injury, it can be helpful to visualize
your body moving deeper into the
pose. Research suggests that this
creates a neural map, sending
signals to the muscles which
leads to increased ROM. Similarly,
research has found that visualizing
yourself doing a pose and getting
stronger can measurably strengthen
your muscles, even without moving.
Most of the
joints in the body
are synovial, or
Why do my
joints “pop”?
Most joints have synovial fluid
between the bones, which contains
dissolved gas molecules. Creating
more space in the joint—for example,
by pulling your thumb—pulls gases
out of the fluid, similar to how CO
bubbles fizz out of carbonated
drinks when you open the bottle.
The gases redissolve into the fluid,
and can be “popped” again after
20–30 minutes. There is no evidence
to suggest this causes arthritis, but
it may make your joints larger. If
your joints pop with no wait, the
joint structures may be rubbing
against each other. This could
slowly damage the joint structures.
Yoga has been
widely shown
to increase
flexibility, so a
lack of flexibility
only gives you
more reason to
fluid in
joint cavity
US_176-177_Joints_and_flexibility.indd 176 02/11/2018 14:05
Hot yoga makes me
more flexible.
It does, but only in the moment; it doesn’t
necessarily affect how flexible you are
afterward. Higher temperatures raise your
metabolic rate, warming your tissue quicker
so you can stretch deeper. Practicing in
hotter conditions makes it easy to stretch
beyond your muscles’ natural lengthening,
which can lead to muscle damage (see
above). Move slowly into poses with
awareness to prevent injury.
Stress–strain curve
This graph shows how much stress your tissue
(muscle, tendon, or ligament) can take before
injury. In the elastic region, the tissue can still
return to its normal length when the stress is
removed, but in the plastic region, it can’t recoil.
The ultimate fail point is a complete tear. To
avoid injury, don’t push beyond your limits.
ultimate fail point
Strain (change of length of tissue)
yield point
Stress (amount of load on tissue)
Is it possible
to stretch
too much?
Yes. There is a correlation
between hypermobility—the ability
to stretch beyond the normal range,
or being “double jointed”—and
chronic joint pain. When you stretch,
you should feel the stretching
sensation in the middle of the
muscle, not near the joints, and you
want to be able to breathe smoothly
through the stretch. If you feel sharp
or shooting sensations, numbness,
pain, or anything that makes you
grimace or hold your breath, you
are overstretching. Overstretching
lengthens your ligaments and/or
tendons and, since they don’t have
much elasticity, they don’t recoil
well after they have been stretched.
In other words, when the stress
(load or stretch) on the tissue
reaches the yield point it stops
being “elastic” and becomes
“plastic” (see above right). In clinical
terms, this represents a tear. To
avoid injury, it’s best to strike a
balance between using your yoga
asana practice to improve your
strength and using it to improve
your flexibility.
US_176-177_Joints_and_flexibility.indd 177 02/11/2018 14:05
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