In yoga, there is a lot of focus on opening and stretching the muscles, body and mind. By lengthening our muscles, we make more room for our bones to stack up properly and to move more effortlessly.
Sitting still for long periods each day decreases the blood flow to our muscles making them “dehydrated”. That in turn makes the muscles stiffer, causing them to pull the bones and joints they are attached to out of place.
Taking mini breaks through out your workday, spending a couple of minutes every hour to stretch out your muscles, will do wonders for your posture, flexibility and all-around health.
When aligning our hips over our feet, straightening our spine and drawing our shoulders down and back in Tadasana, Mountain pose, others perceive us as confidence and healthy.
By drawing our shoulders back and down we open our front body, making our organs, heart, lungs and face less protected. Our brain then thinks that we are in a safe place and we will start feeling more confidence. If you are ever in a situation wishing you had a bit more confidence, stand up a little taller and you should start feeling better.
Physically opening your heart space usually results in opening up emotionally as well, the unprotected feeling it gives you can sometimes leave you feeling vulnerable and emotional. Suddenly walking past a homeless person or hearing sad news on the radio, leaves you feeling raw in a way it hasn’t before.
Allowing yourself to feel can be wonderfully sweet as well as utterly painful. To not get dragged down in to an emotional roller coaster where your life is ruled by what is going on around you, you need to build strength to preserve your energy.
We have all come home from a day out feeling completely drained, even though w
e haven’t done anything physically or psychologically tiring. One way to avoid this is to cultivate the strength to say no to things that we know leave us feeling worn out.
Another way, since we sometimes must deal with uncomfortable situations, annoying co-workers etc, is to not let your feelings run around freely, wasting all your energy. Learn how to control your emotions and spend that energy on doing something about it. For example, rather than wasting an afternoon feeling upset about the homeless, find a way to help, rummage through your wardrobe and see what clothes can be donated to a hospice, volunteer in a soup kitchen.
So being strong does not mean that you shut your feelings out, it means that you control the outcome of them, rather than feeling helpless you act and guard yourself against those energy-draining traps.
Just like it is important to cultivate psychological strength in your emotional openness, you need physical strength when you open your muscles. If you only focus on stretching, your muscles will eventually get too long and your range of motion become quite big. This usually leads to injuries, both because when your muscles are stretched out they become weaker, as well as joints and ligaments getting worn out.
A good way to find the balance is to try and engage the muscles you want to stretch. For example, in Trikonasana, Triangle pose, (picture below) instead of just hanging over your front leg, actively push your foot in to the floor and imagine that you are drawing the rest of your front leg up and back in to your hip.
This will help will your flexibility as well as protect you from over-extending your knee.