Strong or Flexible – Why Not Both?

When you see the class title Strength & Flow, what feelings or images come up? Does it make you think of a bootcamp class at the gym: grunting and burpees and shouting? Or maybe it brings up an experience of tightness in your body. One of the most commonly cited reasons for coming to yoga that I hear is, “I want to become more flexible.” Those same people often wonder if going to a class focused on strength is going to make them feel more stiff, rather than more flexible. We’ve got news for you: strength is flexibility’s best friend.

First things first though; don’t be nervous to try this class! You should know that Strength & Flow is actually quite doable, and nothing like bootcamp or gym class. The great thing about it is that it’s just as customizable as our other classes. The depth of your squat, the amount you can hinge at your hip, the time you spend time in plank, or the number of push-ups (with knees down if you want!) is up to you. You can sense the balance between fatigue and energy in your body on that day, and act accordingly. (And that’s where it becomes yoga.)

So why not “Flexibility & Flow,” when we know that flexibility is a goal for most people? Flexibility gets singled out as the physical quality that folks most desire. I get that – I began yoga without being able to touch my toes, and I used to fume with frustration and envy in seated poses because there was no way that I could straighten my knees, or tilt my pelvis forward – my back was rounded, my hamstrings felt tight, and that was that.

But: is flexibility all that it’s cracked up to be? And is passive stretching even the best way to feel and move better? You can probably tell that I don’t necessarily think so.

You know utthita hasta padangusthasana? I can finally do it (most of the time), but I didn’t get there by repeated attempts at that pose or long, passive holds lying on my back with my foot in a strap. It was a combination of strengthening, resisted stretching and revisiting more basic poses with careful, attentive action. I also attribute the changes in my range of motion with working with an osteopathic manual practitioner, and doing deadlifts, which is not even close to being yoga.

The thing about tissues (muscle and connective tissue, including tendons and fascia) is that you can’t just mechanically pull on them and make them longer like a piece of silly putty. Your nervous system, the communication network that sends messages between your brain and your body, wants and needs to be involved in the process. It’s your nervous system that does most of the decision-making about just how far forward you can fold. Your range of motion, your flexibility, is based on what your nervous system perceives as safe, which is informed by how often you control or exert strength in those positions.  Your nervous system will stop your body from moving into shapes that it thinks is unsafe, because it unfamiliar with them.

The team of yoga teachers at Queen Street Yoga create classes that help individuals figure out where they could use more range (read: “flexibility”) and more strength and how to get it. As we have broadened our understanding of tissues, joints and the nervous system, so too has our concept of what makes a great, powerful class, and a sustainable practice for years into the future. And that includes strength.

Strength & Flow has the same beginning, middle and end as a traditional yoga class, and you might even find a peak pose in there. But there will also be movements that may not look like yoga, or have different names than Sanskrit asanas. Leena, Kris and Carin pioneered Strength & Flow, but now Jen and I are teaching it too. We sweat, we find our full range of motion, we hulk out, we play, and we rest heavily at the end. We think it’s a party!

Come see what it’s all about by checking our schedule and choosing a Strength & Flow that works for your weekly routine.

Want to nerd out super hard with us? Kathryn Bruni Young will be visiting QSY in June to present her Mindful Strength Masterclass and Immersion. The last time Kathryn was here, her workshop sold out! So nab your spot soon; June might seem far away but you will be forever changed by what you learn in this weekend. 

 

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2 thoughts on “Strong or Flexible – Why Not Both?

  1. So glad to see someone explain what flexibility really is! I found Pavel Tsatsouline’s book, Relax Into Stretch, an indispensable guide, and the first place I discovered that muscles don’t actually “stretch”!

    • Indeed! I learned in my initial teacher training (10 years ago) the theory that muscles were like taffy, and the more you “pulled” on them” the more they “stretched”. It’s been an interesting journey incorporating this new information in the last 5-6 years. Thanks for the book suggestion, I’ll look into that! -Emma

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