by Betsy Kase
Do you get up in the morning and wonder why you are sore and stiff when all you did was sleep? As we age, we start to loose flexibility. Even the most flexible people start to get stiff, and if like me, you were never that flexible, you have less of a cushion. There are both physiological and lifestyle issues that contribute to this. Our shoulders seem to creep further forward, and our toes further away with each passing year.
Thinking they need to stretch, many walk into a yoga class. Most don’t envision contorting themselves into a
pretzel, they just know they are stiff and need to learn how to stretch. What is sometimes forgotten in the search to regain flexibility, is the parallel need to strengthen those muscles. Stretching or strengthening in isolation will not create a healthy, supple body. In a yoga class, we teach students how to stretch, but at the same time, weak and tired muscles are strengthened. A tight muscle is usually a weak muscle. Think about it this way… make a fist with your hand, that is your tight muscle. Now, ask the muscle (your fist) to engage, ie. squeeze your fist harder. Not much room to go, right? How can an already tight muscle, engage and do what you are asking? How can you ask tight lower back muscles to now lift a heavy load of laundry or bags of groceries? Your back muscles have lost the power and the ability to do what they used to do. If you focus only on stretching the tight muscles, the relief will be temporary. The next time you stress that still weak muscle it will tighten, putting you at risk for pain and injury.
Yoga is a dynamic practice, stretching and strengthening muscles in unison. In one pose you may be stretching
your hamstrings (back of your thighs), but in the next pose you may be engaging the hamstrings to bend the
knee. This happens over and over throughout class. The muscles learn how to extend (stretch) and then learn
how to engage (contract). This teaches the muscles how to work efficiently and safely. The variety of poses in
each class engage and contract all your muscles in different ways, not to mention, keeps class interesting. The
yogis understood we needed to create balance in the physical body to be able to sit and still the mind. Personally, I work towards creating this balance so I can get out of bed in the morning and be able stand up straight! I can honestly say it is working. With a consistent yoga practice my stiffness is actually lessening, as I get older. I may never be the graceful ballerina or the loosey-goosey gymnast standing on my hands in the middle of the room, but that’s not my goal. Continued comfort in my own body is my primary goal as I age. Yoga is not a quick or short-term fix. At 48, after years of practice, I’ve addressed many of the daily aches and pains I’d lived with before.
If yoga can help me get out of bed and move about my day with a greater sense of ease, that is reason
enough for me to get on my mat.