5 reasons you're still not flexible
you could be making on the path to increased mobility...
1. You’re not breathing
Breathing is a practice that is both voluntary and involuntary. Obviously, it’s a good thing that we don’t always need to ‘remember’ to breath because if we did have to remember, many of us would be dead (including yours truly, I absolutely would forget my head if it wasn’t attached to my neck). The quality, depth and rhythm of your breath is in such a close relation to the nervous system, and when we take control of our breathing (go from involuntary to voluntary), we can influence the state of our nervous system. Slowing down your breath and increasing its depth can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest side rather than the opposite, fight or flight, 'I’m-stressed-as-f**k' response). This is beneficial not just for the general functioning of your body, but also for the relaxation of your body during a stretch session. When your mind is stressed, your body is tense. By breathing slowly, and calming the mind, you can facilitate a physical release of the muscles and connective tissue as well - leading to a deeper stretch. In my yoga classes, I often say that an advanced yogi is not determined by the postures they can do, but instead the quality of their breath and their state of mind. This is far more important than forcing yourself into the splits (which, if you do while not properly relaxed will result in a tear). Don’t hold your breath when you stretch. Take a minimum of 3 seconds to inhale and a 4 second exhale.
2. You’re not thinking outside the yoga practice.
So guess what?! - You can increase flexibility in the gym while working out too. If you’re time poor (I mean who isn’t these days), you can help to improve your flexibility by moving through a full range of motion in your daily exercises (think lunges, squats, deadlifts etc.) while under the load of some weights. By working your flexibility in this way you also ensure that you’re developing stability at the same time (see point 4 - a commonly neglected aspect of flexibility attainment). If you lunge in your leg workout, try changing up the speed at which you execute the movements. For example: Try a holding the bottom position of the lunge for two seconds before pushing back up. Make sure you’re also feeling a stretch at the bottom - if you don’t move through the full range this won’t help increase your flexibility.
3. You’re not consistent
When first starting out I always encourage people to follow a consistent yoga routine rather than changing it up every week. I also urge you to try 10 minutes every day rather than 90 minutes once every blue moon. My book contains a full stretch routine that you can do every second night along with a mobility sequence that will help to alleviate tension. (As a little side note, it’s important to remember that you can’t outstretch a tension knot in the body. Those need to be massaged out).
4. You’re stretching like a cross fitter
Let me clarify what I mean by this. I love cross fitters - I think they are the hardest workers in the industry. However, some (not all) have a reputation for going hard, rather than going safely. What I mean by this is that Crossfitters usual priority is to hit a personal best (be it repetitions completed in a WOD or weight lifted). They do this, often at the sacrifice of good form*. If you choose to approach your flexibility programme like this, you will not only reduce the rate in which your body will become flexible, but you’ll also possibly wind up with an injury which will make you both unable to stretch anyway and will affect your overall training regime. Be patient and be perfect (By perfect, I mean, aim for flawless execution of each stretch so that the safety of your joints are not compromised).
5. You’re unstable
This is the most underrated aspect of most peoples journey towards flexibility. It’s the point I am always bringing up when I have people question me about how to gain more flexibility. If your body does not feel stable or secure, then to keep your safe and functional, it is not going to allow you the range of movement that you are aiming for. For example - if you’re desperately trying to get flexible hamstrings, but your gluteals are under active and weak, then the body is not going to let the hamstrings lengthen or ‘switch’ off because then there will be nothing to support you (because the gluteals are flakey). Think of it like this, if your glutes are like Trump and your Hamstrings are like Obama - would you let Trump step in and take over, allowing Obama to have a break? Wait - I think this is a bad analogy. Anyway - I do think you get the point. The body will often only allow the range (i.e. flexibility and mobility) if it feels stable. In hyper-mobile people, that range is granted, often without the stability or strength to support it which very commonly leads to their injury. If you want to be flexible, you also need to be stable.