What Limits Stretching and Range of Motion?

When yoga teachers are developing the ability to see the body from a kinaesthetic perspective, it can often be an overwhelming and confusing experience. Regardless of previous knowledge of anatomy and our ability to name precise muscle attachment and innervations, we all have an embodied experience of anatomy. The body is a complex tapestry of memories, aptitudes and even the way that we are put together as a whole can vary from individual to individual. What I am suggesting here is that it is possible to deconstruct and transform our approach in understanding the body. We can apply this knowledge as well as some very simple principles to guide us in our own practice and also in guiding our students.

Physical limitations in yoga practice can be caused by many factors and are often due to one or more restrictions. The following list isn’t exhaustive but can give an idea of the limitations that our students may be experiencing.

    •    Strength

    ◦    Can improve with consistent practice

    •    Tension

    ◦    Fascia or muscle tissue needs to be lengthened

    ◦    Can improve with consistent practice

    •    Compression

    ◦    Shape of bone prevents further movement (bone meets bone)

    ◦    May or may not change, requires long term consistent therapeutic practice and sustained postures off the mat with healthy lifestyle and diet – in meantime, adapt and prop in class settings

    •    Pain

    •    Memory of injury or trauma (physical, emotional, sexual abuse, etc.)

    •    Emotions: fear, sadness, anger, capacity to feel, etc.

    •    Neurological: includes weakness, hypertonicity (increased muscle tone), hypotonicity (decreased muscle tone), paralysis

    •    Awareness: yoga can help us deconstruct habitual patterns of movement, release restrictive muscle memory, increase self awareness and help us explore the wonder of movement with curiosity.

Remember that every body is unique. Teaching your students to listen to their bodies holistically and recognizing differences in proportion, orientation, as well as revisiting the difference between tension and compression can train your eyes to “see” and honour the body as it is in this moment. I believe that opening ourselves up to possibilities takes us away from the expectation of having all of the answers and leads us to developing tools that can make us more effective listeners, teachers and practitioners.