Have you been practicing consistently but still cannot do certain yoga poses?
Here's the big news, for some dedicated practitioners, you might never be able to do certain poses like the splits, head/toe back bends or legs behind the head. That is not because you lack flexibility or muscular strength. It's because we're running into something called- skeletal differences.
We're all born with a certain bone structure. Some of our bones are more slender/round/torsional. Because of our unique bone arrangements, our joints are predisposed with a certain range of motion. Our musculoskeletal blueprint consists of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscle tissue and fascia. In yoga, we stretch and lengthen our muscle tissue and connective tissue and we become more flexible and mobile. However, depending on the circumstances, we may reach a point where our bone compresses to another bone (also known as 'bone on bone' by Paul Grilley). When this happens, no matter how much we stretch, we can't get further into the pose and we're 'stuck'.
Just like when we extend our elbow to 180º, movement stops once the humerus bone hits the forearm (radius & ulna). The stopping of motion indicates the elbow joint has reached its maximal range of motion. For some of us, due to the shape of the bones, can hyperextend beyond 180º. Applying the same concept to our hips, maybe you can go all the way down in the Hanuman splits because the hip joints allow the femur bone to move in such direction. However, for other people, due to the limitation in the hip joints, despite having long and flexible hamstrings, at 5 inches above the ground, your legs cannot open any further.
Be mindful that we can sometimes experience both bone compression and muscle stiffness in certain areas. It's not one way or another. The best is to consult an experience yoga instructor or health practitioner and get their opinions.
There are 3 simple questions you can ask yourself to see if bone compression might be what's stopping you in your practice.
1. How long and how often have you been practicing?
This is crucial because if you have been practicing for the past ten years but only once a week, chances are you're still working through the muscular tension and haven't quite reach bone on bone yet. However, if you've been practicing the past several years five to six times per week and still not seeing results, you might have reached your maximal range of motion.
2. Do you have any previous injuries?
If you've had a previous injury, there might be a lot of scar tissue built up in that area. Scar tissue is tougher and harder to lengthen. To soften the scar tissue, you need patience and regular myofascia massage/yin-type stretching.
3. How do you know you've hit bone compression?
When you reach bone compression, there should be no pain or discomfort. Just like extending the elbow, you simply feel that the bones can no longer move, like hitting a wall. One way to test the hip flexion range of motion is by laying on the ground. Bring one knee (keep it bent) towards the chest. At a certain point, the knee will reach a resistant edge. If you're unsure, watch the extended bottom leg, if it starts to move slightly, it could mean that the top leg has reached bone compression. You should relax during this exercise, so it's better to test it with an experienced teacher or practitioner.
So what to do if you have early bone compression?
For this, I can only offer you my opinion. Putting legs behind the head or touching our toes to our head in a back bend will not lead us to enlightenment or in the slightest way extend our life span. When I step on the mat, I appreciate my physical self and work with what I have, from there I develop peace and contentment from within.
Hope this helps!