Balancing strength and flexibility
Balancing strength and flexibility
by Jen Healy | Founder of AerialYogaPlay & AYRx Therapeutix
Although it is stereotypically true that men tend to be more muscular and women tend to be more flexible, it is important to build both strength and flexibility evenly in the body for both genders.
Muscles have two functions. They contract and extend. Contraction is typically associated with building muscle (strengthening), and extension is associated with stretching. Since the muscles work in both directions, if there is only contraction being used, the muscles get short and tight. This can lead to muscle fatigue and lactic acid build-up as well as retention of toxins and dehydration of the body since absorption happens when the muscle relaxes and expands.
In a society where stress levels are at an all-time high, tension is related to tight muscles and too much contraction in the body. This excess tension creates a lack of energy flow, like rush hour traffic trying to get across a bridge. When the energy gets stuck, it leads to more pressure and stress on the systems. Particularly the nervous system and immune system are compromised, leading to increased illness and anxiety.
It might seem far-fetched to claim that all these problems are due to a lack of stretching, but the fact is expanding the muscles to balance all the contraction in the body will do wonders for your health and overall well-being.
Not only will increasing your flexibility by stretching your muscles relieve stress and reduce excess nervousness, but it will also allow you to use the full spectrum of your muscle’s capacity, giving you more power and endurance.
Becoming more flexible will allow energy (like blood and oxygen) to flow freely through your spine, limbs, and muscles which will help relieve back pain and joint problems. Stretching will increase blood and oxygen flow to the tight areas of your body while releasing toxic build-up and lactic acid. The build-up of toxins in the body, plus the lack of movement and energy flow, causes fatigue, soreness, and chronic illness.
There are many forms of yoga that focus on breath, alignment, strength, and flexibility all in one practice. Some forms are more “yin” or calming, and others are more “yang” and active or energizing. It is important to explore the various types in order to find what works best for you. Take into account your body type, goals and personality when choosing a teacher or class. Some people like upbeat while others prefer soothing and slow.
Most people tell me they tried yoga once and didn’t like it, or it was too hard for them because they are not flexible enough. You do yoga to GET flexible, it’s not a pre-requisite to practice, just like you typically lift weights to get strong.
I’ve created to program incorporating a prop called an “AYRx Yoga Swing” to help my clients get strong and flexible simultaneously. This equipment, that is essentially fabric hanging from two points (like a swing you grew up seeing on the playground as a kid), can assist you to go deeper into a stretch while being supported, allowing gravity to do the work. The yoga swing is designed to be comfortable and stretchy in order to support the joints, help with alignment, and stretch the body evenly. It is an incredible tool for beginnings and experienced people alike since it makes it easier to access a pose that might be uncomfortable to try otherwise.
When using the yoga swing, you can easily traction the spine to gain space for the vertebrae and take pressure off the discs while reducing muscle tension. It is a simple and effective way of relieving back pain.
Whatever method you choose, it is highly recommended to make lengthening your muscles and increasing your flexibility a daily part of your routine. Most people ask me “how long does it take” to get flexible. The answer depends on your body type and experience level. Just five minutes a day will change your life, but increasing that to a half an hour, will bring greater health and reduced stress levels.
I find it’s important to make stretching fun and enjoyable so it is something that you look forward to instead of dreading. That’s why the yoga swing has become so popular and successful at helping people improve their strength and flexibility- it makes stretching way more fun!