How yoga makes you stiff

Squatting outside the lines

Squatting outside the lines

Now, wait just a minute. Before you put me on trial like the witches of salem, hear me out.

My argument is not that Yoga does not develop range of motion, because it does.

My argument has actually little to do with the body, and more with the mind. Yoga in my practice, is a more internal practice. It involves the stillness practice, breath-work, organ massage, and more tools I have learned from my teacher at the last Movement camp, Dudi Malka.

Where my criticism lies with most particularly western yoga, is its inability to address rigid mental structures, and outside of the linear box development. I see this all the time in my classes, since we are dealing with movement and not simply range of motion. Yogis of all background have practiced with us, some with very poor range of motion, and some with great range of motion. Nearly all of these people have had this range more or less their entire life. 

Regardless of their flexibility level, both groups moved just as poorly. Especially when patterns deviated from linear patterns, combined different planes of motion, or required you to use LESS flexibility but from MORE places. 

Case in point – the lizard crawl.

Matt mid lizard crawl

Matt mid lizard crawl

The lizard crawl is a great tool for developing upper body strength, hip mobility, rotational capacity, conditioning, and more. Whenever I am working with someone coming from a yoga background, they immediately introduce patterns I did not show them, but rather patterns they bring in from yoga. Stepping through as if to warrior, keeping lines straight and jagged, trying to find ways to box the lizard in (when it really needs to be stretched laterally).

This is not a criticism on people, mind you. However, thanks to a well known mat referred to as simply “the yoga mat”, they are trapped in a confined space whether they like it or not. This metaphorical yoga mat also applies to their movement patterns later on. Remove the mat, sure, but you did not successfully remove the mental block of staying in your rectangle.

Once you are aware of it, then you have a CHOICE to stop doing it, or do it a different way, but until you can observe it, you are a slave to it.

These are just some thoughts to ponder so that you can become aware of some of the patterns which you are not even aware of. You cannot stop doing the thing you have no idea you are doing! Once you are aware of it, then you have a CHOICE to stop doing it, or do it a different way, but until you can observe it, you are a slave to it.

Take a look at one of my teachers from 2019 movement camp, Martin Kilvady, “Traveling through all asanas”. Observe his obvious flexibility, but also his ability to move in and out of these positions gracefully, while softening the edges and rounding the corners. He also exaggerates linear-ness and even improvises quite a bit, something you would never see or be encouraged to do in a yoga class.

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More from the always interesting and original Mr. Kilvady 

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This is not to say I am not a fan of linear and well defined patterns, because they will serve us very well, but if we fail to realize the breadth of possible movements and variations, we will become just as fixed in the body as we are the mind.

Take this example from my good friend and teacher Jon Yuen.

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“A lot of people want to *prepare for the unknown*, but few have the desire to enter it.

Without cultivating a foundational understanding as to how you can improvise/experiment (within a specific framework – doesn’t have to be “artsy”), the only thing you are left standing with is a limited movement repertoire that oftentimes makes flows look and feel both rigid and restricted. The practice produces a clear distinction between “moves, positions and transitions”, which is kinda the opposite of what most people want. Because it’s the opposite of flowing.

In my workshops, I try my best to promote that “a handstand is not a handstand” . It is an inversion, which basically consists of playing you center of mass over your hands/head so that the rest of your body can move freely. The same goes for other concepts, such as rolls, precisions, low gait/squats, tri- and quadpods (bridges and planks) and much more.

Once that has been established, it is time to “put yo’ bad self out there” and explore new moves.”

Jon Yuen

And another by Jon I quite like… 

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“A position = good.

Learning how to get in and out of a position = better.

Wool socks a la grandma = most bestest.”

Jon Yuen

So, don’t let my words hurt you too deeply, but I hope it brings an awareness to your practice that aims to strive beyond what you can currently see. I am not advocating anyone stop doing yoga, or that it is not beneficial but rather, we can do better!

Loosen up; move 😉


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