There are a number of things that inhibit ranges of motion in our bodies, and it’s important to remember what they are, along with the fact that generally, they’re normal and good limitations. For example, our knees (generally) prevent any movement beyond 180 degrees, because it’s not helpful for our bodies to do that (imagine running if your knees bent both ways!). People with hyper-extending knees generally find it more of an annoyance than a benefit. That said, good flexibility helps you move more easily, stay moving for longer through your life, and keeps you healthy and comfortable in your joints (if supported by proper strengthening).
Flexibility itself can be limited by:
- Muscular tissues (tendons and muscles)
- Joint tissues (ligaments)
- Bone structure (bones hitting on other bones)
- Body tissue obstructions (your belly, breasts if you’re female, and in some poses if you’re male, your genitals)
- Injury, body modifications or fixes such as pins, plates, replacement joints, etc.
It’s good to stretch number 1, not that great to stretch number 2 unless you want unstable joints, pretty unwise and painful to try to push deeper when number 3 is limiting, and number 4 is generally impossible to move past unless you change your body shape. Number 5 is a whole different subject.
With that in mind, ensure that you consider what is restricting your degree of movement in asana. Only one of those items above (no.1) is feasible to change over time with a yoga practice, while the others are either impossible or unwise.
For example, take your wrist. Flex your hand back as far as it comfortably goes, then use your opposite hand to see if you can stretch it any further (again, without any discomfort or pain). You might be able to get a bit more movement out of it, but at this point, examine where you’re feeling the limitation – is it in the tissues of the wrist (the inside, or medial side) or is it more of a “hard stop”, that doesn’t feel uncomfortable, but you definitely can’t go any further. If it’s that, then it’s most likely (but not definitely) bone structure which is preventing further movement. The same applies for many other joints and movements, such as shoulder rotation, hip flexibility, ankles, or even your jaw!
Of course, work on flexibility is great, and it’s enjoyable. But it’s not great when we’re beating ourselves up for not getting into a wheel pose that looks the same as someone else’s. Your pose is your pose – and theirs is theirs. Work on your achievable goals, and the goals that are good for your body, not just “good for Instagram”.
Finally, and I come back to this frequently, we all need to be conscious of how we describe our practice, or anyone else’s. How can we judge what an “advanced” practice is, when the amount of time we put into a practice and the amount of effort we exert are only minor factors in how our practice manifests? Our asana practice is influenced by our current mental state, physical fitness, experience, age, bone structure, body type, gender, sporting background, past injuries, history of childbirth, time of day, room temperature, and any number of other factors.
We’re all advanced, we’re all one.