Have you ever been in a relationship where there’s little or no return on the amount you give and the amount they take? When relationships get out of balance it can be very draining, diminishing, and damaging. Eventually, in an effort to find stability, you have to either cut all of the users out of your life or set hard boundaries that will keep you from injury. The way we balance (or do not balance) giving our energy out to others with replenishing energy into our lives, impacts our emotional well-being and our physical health.
We get used to being out of balance, and we bring this habit with us onto our yoga mats. Many people believe that yoga is strictly about increasing flexibility. The theory is that the more flexible you are, the less likely you will become injured. Unfortunately that theory is only a partial truth, and pursuing a yoga practice with that single strategy can create imbalance. The broader truth is that being too flexible can also increase your chances of becoming injured.
During yoga class I often see students taking an imbalanced approach to stretching in Tadasana, Parsvottanasana, and Trikonasana. In an effort to lengthen their hamstrings to maximum capacity, students (especially those who are double jointed) lock their knees. As they hold in these poses with their knees hyper-extended, the tendons and ligaments behind their knees are being stretched to the point of being weakened. Contracting and strengthening the front of your thighs, creating a very slight bend in your knees, is the healthy balance your knees will thank you for later.
Over reaching, pushing too far out, without hugging into your strength in Plank pose, Parsvakanasana, Ardha Chandrasana, and Downward Facing Dog weakens and destabilizes your asanas. Instead, find and build your strength in these poses. Hug your arm bones into their sockets. Draw your shoulder blades together and use the strength of your upper back.
If your muscles are too tight, your joints are at risk of being damaged. If tendons, ligaments or muscles become over stretched, they can no longer provide boundaries to keep joints in place, which also puts your joints at risk. The lack of balance between length and strength in your body creates a similar result to an imbalance between what you give and what you get. You are primed to be hurt. Let your yoga practice be the place where you experiment with reacting to life’s challenges with equanimity. Don’t just stretch, pull into your strength. Create the balance that keeps you stable mentally, emotionally and physically.