And how does understanding range of motion help us in our Yoga practice?
Have you ever wanted to get into an intermediate or advanced class and been told that you had to be able to do Lotus Pose, or do Upward Bow with straight arms? I’ve never been a fan of this type of classification, partly because it takes into consideration only one small part of a person’s Yoga experience. This type of classification not only ignores one's body/mind connection, but it also denies the reality of the wide range of variation among people’s bony structures.
Reality is, some people will never be able to rotate their femur bones to the position necessary for Lotus Pose because of the depth and orientation of their hip sockets—not because of their muscle flexibility. Same with Upward Bow. Depending on the shape of one’s coracoid and acromion processes of their scapulae, some students’ humerus bones will hit these bones before the arms come to vertical. These people will never be able to do Upward Bow with straight arms. Again, this has nothing to do with flexibility. It’s structure. A Yoga student could be enlightened and still not allowed in an “advanced” class because he/she can’t do Upward Bow with straight arms!
Even though asana practiced is associated with being bendy, too much flexibility is actually as much a state of imbalance as being too stiff. Our joints are designed to move within a healthy range. Those parameters are different for different people, since we’re all built differently. This is why it’s not at all helpful to compare yourself to the person next to you in class.
All About Balance
As I age, I’ve become much more interested finding balance for my body than I am in practicing fancy poses. For my naturally flexible body, balance comes from stabilizing my body—building strength in my core and my limbs—and creating cohesion. Since my range of motion is out of the normal parameters, balance for me is to contain flexibility. For a person born with a stiffer body, balance comes from increasing range of motion.
Finding balance in your 30s is very different from finding balance in your 50s. As our bodies change, and as we become more aware over years of practice, we can learn to adjust to the changing nature of our bodies and minds. In 32 years of practice (and counting!) this is what makes it endlessly interesting for me. We’re always changing, and yoga has the capacity to adapt to where we are as long as we’re willing to listen.
Longtime Yoga teacher Cora Wen published a great, informative article on realistic range of motion. Whether you practice or teach (and hopefully if you teach you do both!), look at this article again and again. Assimilate it and truly understand it. The quality of your practice and your students’ health depends on it!