Ashtanga yoga is a physical practice that requires a lot of stretching. It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of flexibility, but it’s important to remember that overstretching can lead to injury. In this guide, we’ll go over the anatomy and physiology of stretching and provide tips for safe and effective stretching in your Ashtanga practice.
The Dangers of Overstretching
Stretching can be beneficial for increasing range of motion and improving circulation, but overstretching can lead to muscle weakness, joint instability, and even permanent tissue damage. Signs of overstretching include burning sensations, popping sounds, aching muscles, sciatic pain, excessive clicking and popping of joints, and joint instability.
Pregnant students are particularly at risk for overstretching, so it’s important to be extra cautious if you’re practicing Ashtanga yoga while pregnant.
What Doesn’t Work to Improve Flexibility?
Short-term and infrequent stretching don’t lead to long-term improvements in flexibility. Focusing on individual muscles instead of a myofascial approach can also be ineffective. Efforting, or trying too hard to force the stretch, can actually inhibit flexibility gains.
The Importance of Mindfulness and Visualization
Two safe and effective ways to improve flexibility are mindfulness and visualization. Mindfulness involves being present and aware of your body and breath during your practice. Visualization involves imagining yourself moving into the poses with ease and grace.
Long Holds for Postural Tension
While a vinyasa or short static hold of a pose can warm you up and make it easier to stretch, it’s not enough to improve flexibility. Long holds are necessary for addressing postural tension and making flexibility gains.
Progressive Deepening Techniques
To safely deepen your stretches over time, try progressive deepening techniques. This involves starting with a comfortable stretch and gradually increasing the intensity over time. Myofascial release techniques can also be helpful in releasing tight muscles and fascia.
Working with Your Unique Needs
It’s important to remember that each student has unique imbalances and needs. Some students need focused stretching to increase their range of motion, while others need more strengthening to avoid overstretching. Work with your teacher to develop a personalized practice that meets your unique needs.
Remember, the pursuit of flexibility should not come at the cost of your health and safety. Use these tips for safe and effective stretching in your Ashtanga practice. Be mindful, visualize your movements, and work with your teacher to develop a personalized practice that meets your unique needs. Don’t overstretch yourself, and happy stretching!