I’m sure if you are a well practiced yogi or yogini, you know as well as I do that Yoga is so much more than just stretching! All you have to do is look at a yogi’s body and see how fantastically shaped their bodies are. Long, lean and generally beautiful, right? So, if it looks pretty obvious, then why is it that so many people think Yoga is just a good stretch?!
My experience as a Yoga teacher
I’ve been teaching for 5 years now and the majority of my students started out as complete beginners. That was always such a wonder to me because I had been led to believe that on beginning my journey as a Yoga teacher I would generally have people coming to class that had practiced yoga for years. Now I realise that it’s down to my style. I don’t really view my style of teaching as ‘straight Yoga’ (whatever that is anyway!) I see it more as a means to learning how to move properly and function well as a moving, living, breathing human being. So, because I have had so many beginners come to me, I have heard the same statement from them over and over again; “Wow, I thought Yoga was supposed to be just stretching, but that was hard!” I don’t know where people have got this idea from and I apologise now to anyone who is reading this and thinking they were going to try out a yoga class because they just wanted a ‘good stretch.’
It’s not that I’m saying Yoga doesn’t stretch you out or make you flexible because of course, it does, but to gain it, you have to do more than just stretch.
Why am I telling you all this?
Just so you understand why I decided to write this post I’m going to explain where my inspiration came from. It came from two things. Firstly, my fiancé, who, over the weekend asked me if I could stretch him out but made a very strong request for me to not hurt him. This statement of his makes me laugh a lot because he’s come to a few of my classes and I’ve taught him privately on a few occasions and every time he says “why do you have to make me work so hard?!” Well, I’m sorry to say it but to get flexible and gain a ‘good stretch’ you must work hard first, I’ll explain why in a minute. The second reason is because the new company, Inspirer, that Dr Elena Voyce created and I manage, have been asked by a trampoline group to teach them how to stretch and so I have been thinking about how to teach it.
So, why is Yoga more than stretching?
If you have been to a Yoga class, then you should know how most lessons are structured, for those of you who haven’t, I’ll explain very quickly. First, you ‘awaken the body’ and every teacher and style does this differently, some in ways I don’t agree with, but I won’t get into that so much. Secondly, you start to warm up and do a whole load of poses that strengthen the body and you do this so that lastly, you can get into some crazy flexible positions.
now let’s think about the gym and your typical fitness classes. They all talk about warming up before you start and at the end you stretch. You do the same in dance, you do a dynamic, warming stretch, you dance for an hour or so and then you stretch. Notice the pattern…. Warm up, strengthen THEN stretch.
This pattern is so incredibly important and that’s because society today barely move. Our muscles and joints are cold. Think of your muscles as an elastic band for a second. Imagine if you picked up a cold elastic band (it’s unlikely you would J but let’s pretend) what do you think would happen if you tried to stretch it? It would most likely snap, or wouldn’t stretch at all. Our muscles are the same. This is why yoga gives you so much more than a stretch. It is an ancient and clever practice, that retrains the body and takes it to its full potential! However, like I said before, not every style of yoga does this in the best of ways, I’m sorry to say that, because I do truly love all styles of Yoga, but some are not made for the modern body and I only say this from my own experience. Some styles go too quickly into the strengthening portion when the joints and muscles are still tight and they’re not ready to move in such a way and so many people are living with injuries and pains these days that you really do have to be careful about how you train the body. If you do it cleverly you can truly make changes. I changed mine completely. I used to have terrible lordosis and ribs that didn’t function properly, legs that barely did any work, basically, I was all over the place! And just with clever movement I have completely changed the shape of my spine and body and have next to no pains these days. It’s great!!
How to stretch properly
The method I use in my teaching comes from Dr Elena Voyce, my teacher, friend and life saver! She taught me that to gain flexibility you must make the muscles function properly and to do that you should put them in the right place first. Yes, I am talking about alignment, which thankfully lots of people are talking about nowadays! For this post, I am just going to talk about stretching the hamstrings.
Let’s think about society… most people sit down for the majority of their day, so because of this, their hamstrings are constantly over stretched and therefore, tight. Most people sit incorrectly, so their pelvis and hip flexors are not functioning properly. So, what can we do about this? Re-train them! Unfortunately, I could probably write a massive book on how to properly stretch the hamstrings, but I can’t really do that here J so instead I just want to give you a little thing to try and to help you understand why yoga is more than stretching.
Stand up, as you normally do with your legs straight. Now roll down and try and touch the floor without bending your knees. As you do this I want you to notice what happens to your feet, and how you roll down, i.e. do you roll smoothly through the spine or do you get stuck somewhere in the back. Don’t worry about what you notice just remember and see how far you down you get comfortably.
2. Now try this: stand with your feet hip-distance apart, parallel and slightly pigeon-toed (so your big toes come slightly towards each other, watch that your knees don’t come together.) Now bend your knees and bring your body weight into your heels. Ground your heels and your feet into the floor and try to pull back through your ankles, like you’re skiing. You should now be able to feel your hamstrings and sitting bones engage a little. Now bow your head, breathe deeply into your back and ask your ribs to move back. Try to relax your pelvis a little and allow your hip bones to lift up and back slightly as if lifting them and creating space in the belly, which in turn allows your tailbone to relax. Without losing the connection to your feet or the space in the belly roll all the way down with your legs bent. Once all the way down keep that connection to the feet and ankles and the lift in the hips. Now pressing down through your heels can you start to straighten your legs from your heels to your sitting bones, as if pushing your thigh bones up to the ceiling and keep your hands on the floor. Only go as far as you can without feeling like you’re pulling the muscle at your sitting bones. Does this feel different? Do you feel more of a stretch, but gain some heat in the body? Hopefully the answer is yes and hopefully, you now see that what Yoga poses should do, is create strength and heat as well as a stretch, when you get this, you’re going to start stretching in a much more efficient way!
For a better understanding of how this all works come to one of our upcoming Back to Back classes (website coming soon).
By Amy Fielding
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I only have positive feedback for the course. I feel it is truly one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I've felt supported, held and inspired from day one. Elena is patient, understanding, loving and has a beautiful sense of humour which shines when she teaches and the rest of the tutors all bring something different and valuable to the table.
Elena – we are all blessed that you are our teacher, guide, counsellor and friend. They say nothing comes without effort, you have worked extremely hard over the decades to become the greatest teacher I have ever come across. They say the harder you work the easier it becomes, you are a real life example of this. Your knowledge is broad and deep. I am grateful I am come across such an amazing person in my retirement years to help me take a step into a new journey and a new future, who knows where it will lead to! Thank you for your hard work, for your support and guidance and most of all for who you are
The best course I have ever done. I enjoyed every minute of it! Loved the teachers who taught us and the students whom I trained with. Thank you to all the teachers, they were all amazing!
That moment might change a life, as it did for me. I came to you - 'When the student is ready, the teacher comes'. You picked me up and the rest you know.
This course has enabled me to fulfill a lifetime's ambition to become a Yoga Teacher. It has provided me with the expertise and encouragement to develop my own personal style of teaching and allowed me to meet a whole range of people who share my love for Yoga.
I had been doing Yoga for almost 15 years before I started this course, but in some ways, I may as well have not done any. The course has been absolutely amazing and completely revolutionised the way I see, feel and practice Yoga. There’s lots of work require and it’s a real, big commitment, but it’s also been incredibly rewarding and one of the most wonderful things I have done in my life. it’s made me feel different, vastly improved as a person and I feel totally and utterly equipped to go and teach a really informative Yoga class. I would recommend Teach Yoga to absolutely anyone, no matter your age or experience, you’ll just get so much out of it.
Elena has such an incredible understanding of anatomy and she is incredibly clever at expressing it and helping you feel it within yourself as well as being able to see it in others. She has left me with a desire to deepen my understanding of anatomy and bring it both into my own practice and teaching. She’s brought out a lot of confidence in me as well. It was always a bit of an issue for me to stand up in front of people but the course has been inspiring and encouraging and if you’re thinking about it I am sure you’ll enjoy it, it’s been a wonderful journey for me.
When I decided to do this course I was at a bit of a crossroads in my life and figured why not try a Yoga teacher training course. The course has completely changed my life! I didn’t know how out of tune I was with my body. I have, thanks to this course, slowly begun to accept my body, who I am and it’s been an amazing journey of self-enlightenment. I really picked the right course for becoming a Yoga teacher because I’ve learned so much. it’s not just been about how to teach poses, how to stand in front of a room and deliver a class, it’s been so much more about how to feel the poses, how to feel your body and mind again, so as a teacher it’s changed me completely because I am teaching more from the heart. It really has been the most phenomenal course and I will really miss the family element you feel within the course and I just want to thank Elena so much for bringing me to a place that I never thought I would be.
I would definitely recommend Teach Yoga and Elena, she’s an amazing teacher, she gives you all the support you need. All the other teachers on the course come with something very different but fantastic to offer you. One thing I really enjoyed on the course was learning from all the other students. Everyone has their own unique and inspiring journey and it’s fantastic to see everyone's progress throughout the whole programme. I did the Yoga Alliance accredited course and followed on to the BWY accredited course, which I definitely recommend. It’s hard work, but really worth it. So if you’re thinking of doing the course, definitely go with Teach Yoga.
Thank you Elena for teaching me so much over the past 2 years. I started with the Yoga Alliance course and carried on with the BWY course, purely because of the team I was working with, they were brilliant. It has been a journey and Elena’s teaching is amazing. I would highly recommend the course to anyone considering it. You will learn so much, not only about Yoga but about yourself.
I would highly recommend the BWY course with Teach Yoga and Elena, it is absolutely amazing. I was initially looking for a simple teacher training course and knew nothing of Elena’s expertise and I was just looking for something to help me with my alignment, which was pretty poor at the time and had I continued on that path I would have really injured myself. I started with the 200 hr yoga alliance course, also with Teach Yoga and I learnt a phenomenal amount of stuff; adjustments, postures, breathing, alignment. I was totally impressed, it completely changed my life in 2013 and it’s possibly one of the best things I have done. the amount of knowledge the teachers have is phenomenal. I want to continue training with Teach Yoga, doing the therapeutic course and I cannot express the gratitude I have towards Teach Yoga and all of the teachers at Teach Yoga.
When I started I didn’t know what I wanted out of life, all I knew was that I loved yoga. But what I have got from this course is not only an increased knowledge about Yoga and the human body but also an inner confidence, it’s broadened my horizons and brought me into contact with some amazing people and helped me put things in perspective. It’s given me a new community that I didn't have before. This course is second to none and I’m just so grateful, so thank you so much.
All I can say is that this course has been completely life changing, really inspirational, I’ve met some really amazing people and the teachers have been absolutely fantastic, superb. There’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of dedication, they expect you to go away and take time to soak up the years and years of wisdom they are giving you. Even so, I have really enjoyed the course and recommended it to lots of people. I really feel like the teachers here are focused on not just getting you the qualification but are teaching us to be compassionate, whether it be to teach others or even ourselves. I hope to keep training with Elena as I feel this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of where I want to be.
Elena is an amazing teacher and it has been an amazing experience. I can’t recommend it highly enough. So if you’re thinking about doing the course, don’t even think about it, just do it!
DO IT! this course is amazing, Elena is incredible, this is the place to be! initially I was worried about having time to do the course, but surprisingly it was really manageable because the course is spread over such a long time and the teachers are flexible with the homework deadlines and just so helpful. You really get taken on a transformational journey of personal development. In some cases you may find a teacher who gives you a starter and then search for someone to give you the main but with Teach Yoga you really get a 5 course meal! You get absolutely everything you will need because all the teachers are so highly experienced and you will not need to go anywhere else!