Many prospective students contact me in the hope that yoga will improve their flexibility, or in other words increase the range of movement they have in their joints. Restrictions to joint freedom are often due to the muscles, ligaments and tendons that surround, support and work on those joints, not the joint itself. Each joint has a medically recognised range of movement and it is possible for our movement to be restricted so that it is less than the typical range, or in the case of hypermobility, it may be more than is typical.
Under anaesthesia, muscles relax and the stiff patient regains their full range of movement. However, once the patient wakes up from the anaesthetic, the old limitations resurface. While this is not necessary helpful to potential yoga students with stiff joints(!), it does have a medical application as some conditions of stiffness in joints, such as a frozen shoulder, may be treated by manipulation under anaesthesia, allowing the therapist to move the joint in ways that would not be possible under normal circumstances.
Sometimes it is only during the yoga class that we notice that stiffness exists. You might notice it when working in asymmetric postures that allow you to compare one side of the body to the other, or perhaps feel stiffness in a muscle when attempting a particular stretch. These revelations only serve to remind me how little of our possible range of movement we use as a part of our normal daily lives. And the old saying ‘Use it or lose it’ is so very true in this context.
All our muscles have a certain resting tone and a length that they comfortably stretch to. Unfortunately, when we only use part of our range of movement in a joint, the connective tissue or fascia will ‘set’ that length within the muscles surrounding it and the signals sent by the nervous system serve to ensure we then stay within the new accepted range of movement. Ever decreasing circles come to mind…
In order to stretch the muscle further, and thus gain greater movement in the joint, we need to increase the maximum length by working to ease out restrictions in the connective tissue or fascia that supports the muscle. The Joint Freeing Series or Pavanmuktasana in yoga helps us to become familiar with the flexibility we have at each joint and if practised regularly, attempts to move all the joints through their full range of movement. Enhancing joint mobility can relieve pain and stiffness, moving the joint helps to circulate the synovial fluid.
Easing tension in muscles around the joint also helps to create more space within the joint so its movement can be smoother and more comfortable. Although I never do the whole series in any one class, most classes include some parts of the series that are relevant to that session. This means that each class has an underlying theme of joint mobility and I would hope that through regular practice you would see improvements in how you can use your body. So tell me, has it worked for you?