Becoming 'more flexible' is one of the more common interests for people entering a yoga program. Many studies from exercise science and yoga increasingly demonstrate the immense benefits of stretching including increased range of joint motion and tissue extensibility (aka 'increased flexibility'). One aspect that is rarely addressed in the development of flexibility is stretch tolerance. Let's discuss how yoga stretching offers benefits in improving stretch tolerance along with some mindful cautions.
Poor posture is often a combination of cascading, dysfunctional elements acting on our musculoskeletal system. This dysfunction is not helped by the fact we have a strong tendency towards a dominance of our internal rotators of the humerus (upper arm bone). As muscle tension imbalances set in across the shoulders and upper arms, the dominance of internal rotation places dragging tension onto the shoulder blades. This ultimately draws the shoulder blades forward that leads to inhibition and weakening of the musculature needed to counter dominant internal shoulder rotation. Let's look at all the various internal rotators to gain a better sense of these tension imbalances.
We are very familiar with the general concept of yoga being about 'balance' and 'harmony' for the physical, mental, and energetic body. These relationships of balance cross their respective boundaries influencing each other. In terms of the physical body, it is essential that we respect the musculoskeletal relationship of balanced muscle tension.
Balancing yoga postures can be an intense challenge for many practitioners. When we hold balancing poses for extended breaths and even cycle in multiple balancing poses in a row, we readily see many students in the group coming out of the sequence needing to shake off the tension and lactic acid build up in the feet. Equally problematic for many is just the simple process of finding steadiness. When I did my teacher training (eons ago), we were taught to suggest to students that they step off their mat to find more stable grounding. I have recently come to a conclusion that this may be of disservice and in fact, we may want to consider going in the opposite direction to, in fact, challenge our balancing poses even more.