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Stretching with self-kindness and awareness

Sunday, 31 May 2020 11:43

Whenever we stretch we should have a sense of what is happening in our body - whether we doing yoga or getting ready for a run. 

We don’t need a detailed knowledge of anatomy, simply an awareness of what is happening in our own body. 

What can we feel? Where are we feeling it? Does it feel ok? What would it feel like if we dialled it up a bit? Or down?

A milder stretch can be just as effective

I often see new students push hard, only to come out of the pose very quickly because it was unsustainable. A milder stretch can be just as effective, particularly as it can be more comfortable. 

It is therefore easier to hold it for longer, in a more relaxed way, enabling the muscles to relax and the stretch to become deeper effortlessly and with longer lasting effects.

A milder stretch is more gentle on the body, minimising the risk of injury.

Muscles stretch, bones don’t

It is important to highlight the differences between what we may identify as ‘pain’ when we stretch. Pain is essentially a restriction, preventing us from stretching any further. It is generally caused by tight muscles or by bones pressing against each other. 

The main difference between them being that while muscles stretch, bones don’t. So there’s no point pushing further in a ‘stretch’ when it’s actually the bones causing the restriction.

Is it a pain or a stretch? 

A good example of this, which you can do right now, is to stretch your arm out in front of you with your palm up. In most cases, you will not be feeling a stretch. This is because it is your elbow joint which is preventing you from extending your arm any further, not your tight bicep muscles. 

If you insist on pushing further, chances are you would hurt your elbow. I know, it seems ridiculous, we all know elbows don’t fold backwards, however double jointed we may be. Yet, people can injure themselves in yoga by ‘pushing through pain’ in other parts of the body.

Listen carefully to what your body is telling you

Here is another example which will make it clearer: stand and make your legs as wide as they will go until you feel a restriction preventing them from going further. Many people will experience this as a stretch in the inner thighs. Others will feel it on the outside of their hips. 

The sensation on the inner thighs is muscular and will change as you ease into the stretch. The restriction on the outer hip is skeletal, bone pushing against bone. If you experience the latter, either bring your feet closer to hold a more gentle variation or find another way to stretch the same muscles.

Your bones will not ‘stretch’ and, if you continue to ‘push through the pain’, you could injure yourself. Listen carefully to what your body is telling you. 


Once you’re in your stretch, all that’s left to do is to soften the breath and lengthen the exhalation. 

Allow your breath to relax... Allow your body to relax... Soften into the stretch...

To sum up 

Whenever you stretch, whether in yoga or any other time:

  • Become aware of the sensations in your body.
  • Identify whether bones or muscles are preventing you from going further.
  • If it’s bones, find another variation. If it’s muscles, explore the stretch further.
  • Breathe and enjoy your stretch with self-kindness.

Food for thought