By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle
This is the second article in a series of three on strength, flexibility, and balance. In this article, we will focus on flexibility. Flexibility for your muscles is equally as important as strengthening them. Flexibility in your muscles allows increased range of motion while protecting those muscles from injury as they are moving. Decreasing the resistance in tissues through lengthening and increasing the flexibility greatly helps reduce the risk of becoming injured. Increased flexibility in the muscles also helps to increase the range of motion in the joints. Our motions are more fluid thanks to the flexibility of our muscles. Synovial fluid surrounding the joints increases as a result of the elongating of the muscles. This allows for smooth movement of joints and limbs. Our limbs and joints move without friction and decrease risks for osteoporosis or degenerative joint disease. The practice of yoga can help to improve the overall flexibility of the muscles when done with proper technique and regularity.
Another proven benefit of flexibility is reduced muscle soreness. We can reduce muscle soreness through slow stretches that assist to elongate stiff muscles. Lengthening of the muscles loosens tight bands of contractile fibers in the muscle, allowing for improved flexibility and increased blood flow. Increased flexibility of the muscles has been proven to reduce back pain. The stimulated muscle relaxation through flexibility of the hip flexors, quadriceps, and hamstrings all decreases the stress on the lower back, reducing the risk and symptoms of lower back pain. Flexible muscles have also been linked to the decrease in muscle fatigue. And decrease in muscle fatigue means an increase in stamina.
Improving flexibility has been shown to offer the immediate benefits in lengthening and strengthening the muscles. With continued practice in elongating the muscles, you can correct lower back issues, address postural problems, and reduce the risk for bone disease. Why not improve the flexibility of your muscles while increasing physical performance and endurance? Enjoy flexibility the yoga way!
1. Come onto your hands and knees. Make sure your wrists are in line with your shoulders and your knees are in line with your hips (think stability).
2. Lift and extend your right arm and left leg. Take 3-4 deep breaths. (Always breathe through your nostrils.)
3. Come back into table top.
4. Lift and extend your left arm and right leg. Take 3-4 deep breaths. (Always breathe through your nostrils.)
5. Come back into table top. Repeat each side 3-5 times.
6. Rest on your back for 2-3 minutes and receive the benefits.
Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.”
Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.