Overcoming body imbalances
One of the most intriguing observations in attending the 200hr teacher training course has been seeing how different each of our body imbalances can be and how these imbalances affect our yoga practice. I was interested to learn that as babies, we are born essentially perfect with remarkable flexibility and virtually no imbalances in our bodies. It makes sense considering how flexible babies are, but it never occurred to me how flexibility is lost over time as we grow and increase movement. Genetics can affect body imbalances to a certain extent, but our inflexibility, imbalanced posture or muscle development are primarily caused by our own movement.
The body is a fascinating machine and if we engage in high impact activities such as playing sports, our joints and muscles will tighten in order to prevent injury in specific areas. For instance, a soccer player will develop tight glutes while a tennis player will develop tight shoulders and glutes. Through yoga asana practice, we can heighten awareness of our personal imbalances and correct these imbalances with patience and perseverance. However, if one becomes incredibly flexible, it will be imperative to either eliminate high impact activity or be cautious in high impact activity as one loses the tightness that is designed to prevent injury. There is a clear divide in class between those of us who excel in strength and those of us who excel in flexibility. Naturally, those of us who may have better strength have tighter joints and muscles and are therefore less flexible in certain areas. Those of us who are more flexible have varying levels of strength, but are as a whole not as strong in comparison. Another shared imbalance among my classmates is tightness in the hip area. Even in this shared imbalance, I have found there are different areas of the hip that may cause tightness.
The most noticeable limitations in my yoga practice, apart from a growing baby belly, are tight hips and shoulders. This tightness was most likely caused by years of playing soccer and tennis in my youth and years spent hunched over a desk during my career in financial markets. I did not have awareness of the tightness in my hips until committing to yoga practice. From day one, it was pointed out that my hips were tight and were the main factor holding me back from achieving lotus pose, perfect alignment in Warrior 2 and a number of other postures. I have been trying to pin point the exact area of my hips that caused such tightness, but found it a mystery. The obvious answer certainly must have been hip flexors, but I came to realise it couldn’t be my hip flexors as I was able to move into headstand with ease even with the added weight of my pregnant belly. I finally asked for my mystery to be solved and was advised my tight glutes were to blame for a tight hip area. The one area that had not occurred to me in the hip tightness puzzle was the gluteus region. After being led to this answer, it seemed obvious given my many years as a striker in soccer. My left hip is noticeably tighter than my right side, which is logical as my right foot was my goal scoring foot. In shooting a goal, my right leg would require more range of movement in the hip and my left hip would help ground the left leg, which stabilised my body in kicking the ball. The gluteus would serve as the primary agonist for the kicking movement and grounding of the left leg, which led to varying tightness on either side.
The tightness in my shoulders holds me back most obviously from binding postures. It has also contributed to tension in the shoulders and neck, which for many years resulted in frequent tension headaches and occasional migraines. It was my brother who made me come to realise movement and mind over matter could offer release from what I thought was a headache curse. At age 25, after about ten years of frequent headaches, I found myself in day two of a migraine with no relief from medication that had been prescribed to me by a specialist. I had flown home to the US from London to surprise my family for the Thanksgiving holiday and did not want to waste such precious time being antisocial with a migraine. My tension headaches were a well known issue to my family and I had seen many doctors in search of answers. It wasn’t until my brother started to break down what should have been the obvious point that a tension headache is caused by tension in the body that I finally began to understand my chronic ailment. My headaches have always been in the neck extending to the left temple and a migraine would not only be more intense in these areas, but would eventually spread to what seemed my entire head, neck and shoulders. It became clear after thinking about this tension that the cause was likely sitting in a cramped position on a plane for several hours. I had recently discovered Pilates and my brother suggested practicing Pilates to see if I could relieve the tension in my body. Physical activity was the last thing I felt like doing, but I was desperate and decided to try. Within an hour of practicing mat Pilates and trying to focus less on the stress of the migraine and more on relaxing the muscles in my body, I finally felt relief from the pain. How magical! This realisation was a personal breakthrough as focusing on relaxing tension in my neck and shudders has been more effective in curing chronic headaches than any medication ever was.
Even though this realisation relating to headaches does not directly relate to my yoga practice, it has come to mind as I learn how many ailments can be cured through yoga practice, pranayama and meditation. Modern medicine serves to treat symptoms of our ailments, but our bodies have the power to cure the causes of many ailments through intelligent movement and strength in the mind.
– Somer Lynn 200hr ttc