Dear Yogi Marlon,
I spend 4-8 hours a day, seven days a week training for the 2004 Olympics, both lifting weights and running. Although I warm up with stretches, I seem to be getting tighter and tighter, which puts me at high risk for injury. Can yoga really help? How much would I need to do?
Marina del Rey, CA
Flexibility comes to people in varying rates. People who have done some other discipline such as dance or martial arts usually find the flexibility increases quickly. My experience is that “jocks”, weightlifters and people who do not exercise at all, increase flexibility more slowly. Simply put, our bodies have a memory. If stretching muscles is brand new there is a steep learning curve that takes time and consistent effort. If it is in essence a refresher course, it comes fast.
Different muscle groups also have their own tendencies. Generally, hamstrings open up fast. Hips are slower. This has to do with the accessibility of the muscles and the emotional issues attached to them. For instance, your hamstrings are relatively close to the surface to the back of your leg, and every time you walk or bend over you stretch them. Hamstrings relate to anger and frustration, which are emotions that can pass quickly. Hip muscles are deeper in the physiological structure, and because they are in the center of the body, they may not be moved as often as muscles in the extremities. The issues attached to the groin and hips are generally deeper issues, such as sexuality. Because of the taboo our culture places on these issues they often go unaddressed. Holding on to unresolved emotions can result in stiffness and even illness. Although they are admirable, do not allow your Olympian ambitions to prevent you from facing emotional issues in your life. It is very easy to bury our emotional issues when we are busy. Often, we are busy just to bury them.
There are a few key tricks to getting flexibility to come faster:
a. Elongate the breath to elongate the muscles. Take slow deep breaths and hold the stretches for a few minutes continuously. No bouncing.
b. Emphasize the exhale, and move deeper into the stretch only on the exhale. (On inhale, work on your alignment or the form of the pose)
c. Stretch as frequently as you can. Just a 3-minute practice 3-5 times a day and you’ll zoom into flexibility.
d. Contracting the reciprocal muscle, by pulling it inward closer to the bone, will stretch that muscle’s counterpart. For instance, contracting the quadriceps upward toward the top of the thigh (the kneecap will move higher) and inward toward the thighbone, will assist in opening the hamstrings. Similarly, stretching the triceps inward and toward the elbow stretches the biceps.
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