Improve both mobility and flexibility with these helpful yoga practice tips…
Yoga can be a wonderful form of exercise for staying mobile and flexible as we age. Most yoga poses will help to increase your range of motion and stretch and massage muscle fibers and fascia while strengthening muscles and joints.
When it comes to mobility and flexibility, it is important to understand the difference between these terms. While sometimes they are used interchangeably, mobility in fact means the amount of movement that is possible in a given joint. Joints with limited mobility may have trouble reaching their full range of motion. On the other hand, joints that are “hypermobile” may lack stability, so it is important to attain a proper balance.
Flexibility, on the other hand, refers to the length to which a muscle can stretch. Restricted muscle length manifests as tightness or rigidity, and can make some yoga poses difficult. An overstretched muscle, however, is also unstable, so as with mobility, there is a limit to how much flexibility is healthy.
Most people in today’s modern world spend a lot of time sitting, and much less time moving than is healthy for the body. This can often lead to both limited mobility and flexibility, which in turn, can cause stiffness, tension, poor posture, and aches and pains over time. A regular yoga practice is one way to help return your body to its natural and healthy range of motion.
A well-rounded yoga practice should address both flexibility and mobility, and help you find a proper balance. Here are 5 ways that you can improve your mobility and flexibility through yoga:
1.) Vary the Hold Time in Your Poses
Deciding how long to hold postures in your practice can be confusing. If you are looking to increase flexibility, choose longer hold times of about 30 seconds or more (5-8 slow breaths). (This is why Yin Yoga is so good at improving flexibility.) For example, if you are hoping to improve your hamstring length you will choose a posture such as Ardha Hanumanasana- Half Split and hold each side for 30 seconds.
In contrast, if your goal is to improve joint mobility, choose breath-to-movement-based hold times.
For example, if your goal is to improve your knee extension mobility, you would choose a pose such as Ardha Hanumanasana- Half Split. Instead of holding the posture for an extended duration as you would for flexibility, in this case, you will incorporate breath-to-movement style pulses.
Begin kneeling. Step your right foot forward, then shift your hips back so your right knee is straight. Use blocks under your hands as needed.
As you inhale, shift your weight forward so your right knee bends into a lunge. On your exhale, shift your hips back into a half-split. Continue for 5 rounds of breath in this pulsing transition, then repeat on the other side.
2.) Use Props
Blocks, straps, pillows, and foam rolls can help transform a pose to achieve your range of motion goals.
Adding a block to Setu Bandha Sarvangasana- Bridge Pose changes a usually active backbend into a more restorative option to improve the flexibility of your hip flexors. Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the mat. Place your feet hip-width apart.
Engage your abdomen and lift your hips. Slide a block underneath your sacrum, then lower your hips so you are resting on the block. Compared to an active bridge where you feel glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings engaged, in this supported variation you will feel your hip flexors stretching. Hold for 8 breaths.
3.) Identify Where You Can Improve
We all have regions in our bodies that may feel more restricted than others. All regions of our body work together during daily tasks. For our bodies to achieve optimal mobility, it is important that all regions in our bodies move well.
For example, for your knee to achieve your range of motion goals, your ankle and hip must also have good mobility and flexibility.
Try to spend a few minutes dedicated to your least flexible body regions each time you practice. After a few weeks, you will notice the difference!
4.) Warm Up
Muscles and joints respond best when they have been properly warmed up in preparation for stretching.
Prior to your range of motion-focused practice, try 10 rounds of Surya Namaskar A- Sun Salutation A. You can also go for a 15-minute walk, or try a short home cardio workout.
Taking this time prior to your stretching will help your muscles lengthen and your joints improve in mobility. You will also be reducing your risk of injury!
5.) Stay Consistent
Aim to work on your mobility and flexibility several days per week for 20-30 minutes. Muscles and joints need consistent attention to maintain the range of motion benefits that you are looking to achieve.
There are a few strategies to keep your practice consistent. Try choosing to practice at a time of day when you are least likely to get distracted from your planned yoga time. Maybe this is first thing in the morning, or perhaps on your lunch break from work.
Recruiting a friend or family member can also help you stay on track. Plan to meet up at your favorite studio, or even at your home or an outdoor park.