Yoga, muscles, and massage

Last week I got a massage for the first time in nine months. I needed one. My back, my legs! My body craves deep pressure, verging on unbearable (no swirly Swedish stuff). The massage therapist, Janet, found my muscles very taut and tight. With two clients who practice yoga, she quipped, “Now I’m afraid to try it. All that stretching and you still need massage?” I explained to her that yoga encompasses more than passive stretching. Much asana work requires strenuous muscular contraction; it’s not too surprising that muscles might be hard rather than soft. During the massage services, my … Continue reading Yoga, muscles, and massage

Make the most you can with what you’ve got

In a prior post, “Reawakening the body,” I discuss toe mobility and the possibility of developing “yoga feet” by willpower and lots of practice. Those of us with spreadable, grippy toes might feel relieved of further effort. But, let’s face it, grabbing fallen objects and opening cabinet doors is mere child’s play. For real dexterity, check out Jessica Cox*, a phenomenal young woman born without arms, but who can eat, handwrite, type, play piano, put in contact lenses, do black-belt-level tae kwon do, drive a car, and fly a plane … all with her feet! Seeing is believing, and this video of … Continue reading Make the most you can with what you’ve got

Is stretching overrated?

In yoga, it’s an advantage to have stretchy, elastic muscles. Touching the toes is not enough; yogis strive to clasp behind ankles, with forearms hugging calves and forehead pressed low on shins. But is such flexibility good for anything else? In the New York Times‘s Phys Ed column, Gretchen Reynolds wrote an intriguing article, “How Necessary Is Stretching?” on November 25, 2009. She questions the common belief that stretching and maximal flexibility enhance physical fitness. In one study of distance runners, the least flexible (based on a standard sit-and-reach test) athletes showed the most economical running strides and the fastest … Continue reading Is stretching overrated?

Can you touch your toes?

Last week, I happened to observe a bunch of Chinese kids hanging out after school. A little girl, perhaps six, was doing homework with two boys, possibly 12 or 13. First she memorized songs and then she read aloud a few questions on PE. “Can you touch your toes?” she asked the boys. They were skinny and seemed not particularly athletic, hunched over their electronic gadgets. I wouldn’t count on them to throw a pass or do skateboard tricks with a full list of skateboard decks, but I figured that they (and all preteens) could at least touch their toes. … Continue reading Can you touch your toes?