How to increase your flexibility with Kat Clayton

Posted on 28 August 2014

Improving flexibility can often be one of those goals on your to do list that keeps getting pushed back, as you pursue other goals such as losing five kilos or trying out that new cafe in the city. However, flexibility could be the key to reaching your goals and pushing past a plateau. Increasing your flexibility is about tuning into your body. Being more flexible can help reduce cortisol levels (the hormone that causes you to hold onto stubborn belly fat) and can help you perform exercises with correct form, which means you'll get results faster!
We caught up with Kay Clayton from Body Mind Life to talks us through her tips for increasing flexibility and finding the right Yoga for you. As Yoga is a great way to improve flexibility.
  1. - Static Stretching: Hold your stretches or yoga poses for between 2 - 5 minutes. Relax all your muscles, be still and let gravity and time do the work. Based on the myotatic stretch reflex which causes a muscle to contract when lengthened too quickly, static stretches that are held for several minutes at a time allows muscles and fascia (connective tissue) the chance to open up joints (increasing range of motion or “ROM”) safely. Yin yoga is perfect for this type of stretching, and is a perfect way to relax the mind as well. 
  2. - PNF stretching: is great way to see improvement in your flexibility very quickly! The "contract - relax" method is commonly used for athletes and rehabilitation. Research suggests this technique is optimal for quickly increasing ROM (range of motion aka: flexibility) and seeing fast flexibility results. PNF stretching involves actively engaging (contract) muscles, then relaxing them into a deeper stretch. An example of a PNF hamstrings stretch with a partner - lie on your back, and stretch your leg up has high as your hamstrings will allow. Then have a partner hold your leg in the air and resist you as you press your leg towards them (isometrically contract your muscles) for a minimum of 5-10 seconds, then relax and stretch hamstrings deeper for 10 - 30 seconds. Repeat 4 or 5 times.
  3. Breathe & Relax!! The Mayo Clinic has pointed out several studies that link regular yoga practice to lower levels of stress and anxiety. I find yoga (breathing, moving mindfully and focusing on the activity at hand) also helps us to become more clear, focused, and relaxed, rather than being anxious and “up tight”. Yoga and yogic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest response) versus sympathetic (fight or flight) response to stress, ultimately reducing levels of cortisol (the primary stress hormone) which can damage muscle tissue, harm thyroid function, increase blood pressure, cause inflammation, and cause adrenal fatigue of cortisol levels are constantly high.
  4. When stretching at home, before a run, or in a yoga class: actively squeeze / contract the opposite muscle to the one you want to stretch. To apply as an example, if you’re trying to stretch your hamstrings, sit on the ground with both legs extended in front of you and begin to fold forwards towards your feet. Then activate the fronts of your legs, feet and quadriceps. This stretching tip is based on a naturally occurring stretch reflex known as reciprocal inhibition.  In order to help relax and stretch your hamstrings (backs of legs) you squeeze the fronts of your thighs.
  5. Breathe deep, drink loads of water and stretch regularly. I’m risking sounding like my Mum here, but seriously what doesn’t a healthy flow of oxygen & water do for a heathy fit body!? Lube up before / after practice to help your body flush out toxins, purify your skin, blood and organs and keep us moving healthy.
  6. Do Yoga: Yoga is a great way to improve your flexibility and get a total body stretch. Trying to do yoga 2-3 times a week is a perfect start to improving flexibility.

As above, Yoga is a great way to improve your flexibility so we asked Kat her favourite type and tips on how you can find yours!

There are so many different types of yoga out there, what's your favourite? 
Power Vinyasa Yoga - combines a beautiful balance of strength, grace, fluidity and mindfulness. Vinyasa is is a combination of the flow of Ashtanga Yoga combined with the techniques and alignment of Iyengar Yoga, in a modern and relevant way shaped by teachers such as Shiva Rea and Baron Baptiste.

Do you have any tips for people trying to find the right type of yoga for them? 

To me finding the right “style' of yoga is like tuning into the radio to listen to music. There’s a wide variety of music just like there is styles of yoga. Some yoga studios / classes will be classical - slow moving, more mellow. Others will be more rock + can really get your heart pounding. Some are “Pop” stations designed to move the masses, and other stations will be old school, new age, world music, etc. It’s all about finding the right station for that period of time. Sometimes we want want to move slower, pay more attention to detail, and focus on the alignment or traditional aspects. Other times you may just want to move!

Finding a great teacher that “moves you" makes all the difference in the world. Same with music - if you flick on one station, listen to one song and don’t love it - change stations or stick around to hear a different song. We don't judge / say we dislike all music just because we didn’t like a particular song or station! I would encourage students to try a few different stations (studios) and songs (teachers) out. There’s something for everything


We hope you're now ready to get flexi and find a more flexible you!

Find out more about Kat and her active life here.




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