For many, it’s easy to pass yoga off as glorified stretching. While stretching is definitely a primary and important component of the practice, it’s not the ONLY thing that occurs when a yoga class takes place. Many of my students, understandably, have insecurities regarding their flexibility. They often get too wrapped around the axel about what they think they should be doing rather than accepting where they are in their practice. So, let’s get one thing straight. I’m talking ruler straight! You DON’T have to touch your toes to get a good stretch! A good stretch can happen at any place on the leg. It’s different for each yogi. When you try to force yourself into a stretch, you are ironically defeating your own purpose. Stretching is about being passive and releasing tension, and you do just the opposite when you try to force your face to your knee. So, what exactly is occurring in the body when you stretch? Our bodies have a pre-determined stretch length so when the body notices the muscle is being stretched beyond its capacity, the brain sends signals to the surrounding nerves to contract the muscle to prevent tearing. This action within the body is what creates our stretching limitations. Now, before you go and start feeling defeated, there is a key to retraining your body’s stretch reflex, and it’s not what you would assume. It’s BREATH! When you take deep breaths during your stretches, your muscles receive rich, red, oxygenated blood, and then said blood removes lactic acid and other waste from the muscles. Additionally, breathing deeply and trying to lengthen passively on an exhale can help you retrain your body’s stretch reflex to tolerate more stretch before muscle contraction occurs. If you ignore your breath while stretching, you can experience a burning sensation or muscle fatigue. So be responsible, and practice safe stretching!