Before I get into this, I want to say that each body is different. The choices that I make are for my specific body, and this is no way meant to be one size fits all advice. In the end you have to listen to your body and make educated decisions that relate to your unique body and goals.
When I first started practicing yoga I was flexible in my joints but not particularly flexible in my muscles. I had always known I was at least somewhat double-jointed/hyper mobile (I used to bend my fingers all the way back to touch the back of my hand…) but I had no idea how that would affect my yoga practice. I also didn’t care much about sustainability of practice, I just wasn’t thinking about that yet.
I was able to spend 2+ hours a day working on contortion and handstands, and he would stretch me twice a session. I saw so much progress in a short time of working with him, and learned a lot about the crazy world of contortion. For example: splits and oversplits are the warm up. This sparked me to train with many other contortionists in different states and continue practicing on my own. In 2015 I had surgery on my wrist, and this meant that I couldn’t practice like I used to. So, I stretched more (face palm emoji).
With consistent practice I became more flexible very quickly. I’m sure part of that was age (I began practicing at 21 and was obsessed with working out before I found yoga), accompanied by the fact that it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to take 3 yoga classes in a day. I learned to love flexibility based asana, mostly because of the quick results (cough instant gratification cough), while building strength was so much harder for me.
Eventually I wanted more than most yoga classes were offering, and this drew me into contortion. At the time I was spending a lot of time in Florida, so I began training with Eugene at his circus school in Davie. I loved it.
Throughout these few years I sustained many injuries. Low back pain, hamstring attachment, shoulder impingements, knee pain, wrist pain and probably a few other things I am forgetting. Each of these injuries sidelined certain parts of my practice for quite some time, but I never reavaluated why I kept getting injured. Part of it was definitely that I was pushing my body too hard, ignoring pain signals. But another part of it was that I did not focus on creating balance and was forcing myself into flexibility that I couldn’t sustain long term.
Fast forward to now. I am still figuring things out, but I now know that I need to spend more time in the gym doing squats than stretching over splits. I focus on active flexibility more than passive (meaning using strength in my muscles to access range of motion and instead of using gravity/ someone pushing me deeper), and spend much more time building strength than working on flexibility. It is so humbling, because I am not and will likely never be as good at strength components. But I will try! And don’t get me wrong, sometimes when I feel good I do still explore my flexibility, but these days it’s once every few months instead of every day. I can’t promise that I will never push my body too far again, but I do promise to continue to work on being smarter about it. Instead of seeking immediate gratification my goal now is to build a sustainable practice that will keep me feeling good for many years to come.
Moral of the story: Strengthen your joints first. This is the very first step in creating a sustainable yoga asana practice. Once your joints and the muscles surrounding them are strong and stable, they are ready to be introduced to a larger range of motion. This can be achieved both through passive stretching and more importantly active and dynamic stretching. People who are naturally extremely tight (and strong) will have to spend more time working on flexibility to balance their body and retrain their nervous system to relax. People who are weak/too flexible will have to spend more time working on building strength and creating tension. Like I said in the beginning, there is no one size fits all approach. Through practice and self inquiry you can figure out what makes the most sense for you!
Let me know if you have any questions or comments :) I’d love to hear what you think.
Also, if you are hyper mobile like me, check out this awesome instagram account Hyper Mobile Yogis for some great info.