Developing Flexibility

I would like to extend a warm welcome to my first guest blogger, Marcus Jennings. He is also known as SuperHumanYogi. Marcus started his yoga practice after rupturing his Achilles tendon back in 2012. Yoga provided him with a way to maintain his athleticism while he recovered. Soon, he wanted to share his insights and passions with others. Marcus received his yoga instructor certification in 2013 followed by a Pilates certification early this year. Both certifications are from​​ the National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association.

Today, Marcus will guide us in a foundational sequence in asana practice that is also a springboard for flexibility: The Sun Salutation.

Super Human Yogi

Developing flexibility is the foundation of your practice. It is important to build a solid foundation before proceeding into advanced flexibility poses such as splits, backbends, and even bringing your leg behind the head. The biggest question people have is, “Where should I start?” This is a great question because if you try to force yourself into certain positions too quickly, without warming up, or approaching these poses in the incorrect manner, you can do some serious harm to yourself.

From my experience as an athlete encountering many injuries, I would say the best way to warm up the body is with Sun Salutations. This is a sequenced movement done in most yoga classes across the globe. In my opinion, it is good to flow through this series of poses 10 times at a slow and controlled pace.

How does this sequence help to develop flexibility? This sequence helps warm and stretch the entire body including the hips, hamstrings, abdomen, quads, shoulders, triceps, upper back, lower back and more. Once warm, the muscles are receptive to deeper stretches and the muscle development needed to support the body in challenging asanas.

For beginners, I want you to work on modified versions of the Sun Salutations. I have broken them down into two different segments. This is a great way to practice breathing, alignment, and the basic standing folds. This flow also serves as a great way to warm the body before getting into other poses. A lot of people make the mistake of trying to go straight into poses without warming the body and without practicing or studying proper alignment. Please avoid doing this.

Modified Sun Salutations Version 1

The images show you how to breathe when using this flow.

Sun salutations

1. Begin in mountain pose, keeping the back and body straight.

2. While maintaining that alignment, raise your hands above your head.

3. Lower down to full forward fold with a rounded back. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees.

4. Transition to half fold, straightening you back and keeping the knees bent if needed.

5. Use the length that you developed in half fold to come back to full forward fold.

6. Return to mountain pose.

 Repeat this flow 10 or more times non-stop. (Work up a good sweat!)

Modified Sun Salutations Version 2

The images show you how to breathe when using this flow.

Sun Salutations

1. Begin in the plank position, like the top of a pushup.

2. Lower down slowly into staff pose, squeezing your elbows towards your body. Allow your hips to rest on the ground.

3. Slowly lift your head and chest into cobra pose. Don’t worry if you cannot extend your arms.

4. Transition into your downward-facing dog, keeping your hips high. Don’t worry if your heels do not touch the floor. Do not force it!

Repeat this flow 10 or more times non-stop to work up a good sweat.

If you don’t have access to a class and an instructor, take pictures or video of your poses and look at your alignment.  This is how you learn how to fine tune your alignment and creating a connection between seeing and feeling correct alignment on your body. Keep doing it until your alignment is consistent and comfortable.

Remember not to force your body where it is not ready to go and have patience as a beginner. As the weeks go on, you will feel your body loosen up more and you can transition into more challenging asanas, such as changing from cobra to upward-facing dog. You will know how to warm up and stretch the body with basic movement using the Modified Sun Salutations, preparing yourself for greater flexibility challenges.

Want more great tips and tutorials from Marcus?  Visit SuperHumanYogi.com.

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