Many people associate yoga with flexibility, with good reason — dedicated yogis can often train their bodies to contort into positions that the average person finds insane! Flexibility is an often-overlooked part of fitness, but the truth is, it’s important to cultivate in yourself. Tight muscles can cause pain, stiffness, and even injury to the body, not to mention hold you back from achieving your yoga goals.
If you’re reading this in dismay, thinking “I can’t even touch my toes!” — don’t worry. At one point, neither could we! We’ve written before about how to begin improving your flexibility, but in today’s post, we’re going to dig into the science and physiology behind limberness. What are the internal factors affecting your flexibility? How much of it is biological, and how much can be trained? Having knowledge of the specific mechanisms that help you stretch can enable you to better visualize the inner workings of your body, release muscle tension, and enjoy a deeper, more optimal yoga practice.
Read on to find out more, and if you’d like to sign up for yoga workshops in the Wilmington area, feel free to check out our yoga class schedule! We welcome yogis of all abilities and experience levels, and offer an exclusive 30 Days for $30 newcomer’s special. We hope to see you at the yoga studio soon!
Have you ever wondered why we seem to grow stiffer as we grow older? We’re all born naturally flexible, but as we age, our bodies endure a gradual dehydration process. Even if you stay healthy and active, by the time you are an adult, your tissues will have lost 15% of their moisture content, growing less supple and more prone to injury. Muscle fibers begin to adhere to one another, creating tight links at the cellular level that may prevent parallel fibers from moving independently. Elastic fibers become covered with collagenous connective tissue.
The good news is that stretching can help to slow this process of internal dehydration by stimulating the production of tissue lubricants and pulling interwoven cellular cross-links apart. You know that good pain that comes from a deep stretch? That’s your muscles breaking apart and beginning to rebuild a healthier parallel cellular structure.
You can increase your flexibility at any age with focused yoga training or proper stretching.
2. Joint Structure
The human body contains several types of joints, and some have a greater range of motion than others. For example, your shoulder joint (a ball and socket joint) allows you to spin your arm in virtually every direction, while your elbow joint (a hinge joint) limits you to flexing and extending in one direction.
Just as our individual joints vary in mobility, joint structure can vary between people. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, from the actual physical structure of the bones to the elasticity of the ligaments that hold them together.
Although some people are genetically predisposed to more mobile and flexible joints, most people can improve their joint health and range of motion by staying healthy and stretching often.
3. Muscle Mass
Sometimes our muscles can get in their own way! For example, picture someone who works their legs out often and has built up large, muscular thighs. This person will have a harder time sitting with their thighs crossed than someone with thinner legs, simply because of the bulk of the muscle.
Although strength and flexibility are not mutually exclusive (quite the opposite!), bulkier muscles can decrease your overall range of motion, limiting the positions your body can achieve.
4. Skeletal Structure
Your bones themselves (and the ways they all fit together) can also affect your flexibility — or at least, how flexible you appear to an outside observer. A person with longer arms will have a much easier time touching their toes than someone with shorter-than-average arms. Even though these two people may actually have the exact same degree of flexibility in the muscle itself (i.e., they can lengthen their muscle by the same ratio), their skeletal structures will affect how this flexibility can be used.
Sorry, guys — the ladies have the natural edge when it comes to limberness. Researchers are still trying to identify the precise internal mechanisms behind this difference in ability, but the most common theories address many of the factors we’ve already covered, and how women’s bodies are more optimized for flexibility.
For example, women tend to have more flexible joints than men because of the higher levels of the estrogen hormone in the female body. Studies have shown that estrogen has a relaxing effect on collagen, the core material of ligaments (which hold bones together and prevent joints from hyperextending). This may increase the range of motion of each joint.
Women also tend to have lower muscle mass, and less bulky muscle composition, allowing for a fuller and freer range of motion.
Finally, in terms of skeletal structure, most women have longer legs compared to their torsos, along with wider hips and roomier hip sockets.
It’s thought that these physical differences are designed to help women bear children. It just so happens that these differences also help them touch their toes!
Work On Your Flexibility With Wilmington Yoga!
No matter where you’re starting from, you can improve your flexibility by incorporating regular stretching in your fitness routine. Looking for a fun way to do it? Join us at Wilmington Yoga!
Our yoga fitness center is open to people of all ages, ability levels, and degrees of flexibility. We offer many types of yoga classes, from hot yoga to power yoga and intense workouts to meditative sessions. Check out our class schedule and yoga workshops, and sign up for our $30 for 30 days newcomers’ special to give us a try risk-free!
If you’re a more advanced yogi, we also offer yoga teacher training courses complete with certifications! We offer financial aid to competitive applicants, and we can help to organize accommodations for you in the area. Contact us to learn more or enroll in a course today!