Stretch Before Action

There’s one thing you need to be careful of when you exercise, whether you practice aerobics, gymnastics, weightlifting, or a particular sport. And my friend, a martial arts expert, is no exception. She loves to practice Tae Kwon Do’s high kicks. Sometimes she’s lucky; she kicks high, it feels good, and it looks great. Trouble is, she’s so enthusiastic that she often hurts herself because she kicks higher than she can stretch. She throws her leg up, using the leg’s momentum to get it as high as possible. But the body has a built-in protection mechanism, a reflex action that contracts the muscle so you don’t stretch it too far and cause injury. If you throw your body into a dangerous position hard enough, though, your body can’t protect you.

I’ve finally convinced her not to kick higher than she can stretch. She’s determined to keep those high kicks, though, so she’s gradually extending her reach by doing yoga stretches every day. Since she’s been stretching more, she can kick higher with more control, which is better for her form. What’s more, she hasn’t hurt herself.

Whatever your sport, flexibility is a big plus, and yoga asanas are the best way to gain that flexibility. The poses are gentle because you do them slowly and with awareness; they are effective because you hold them right at your limit, breathing and releasing, gradually increasing your boundaries. So do some yoga stretches each day. And be sure to warm up and stretch thoroughly before practicing your sport. You’ll feel more confident, your performance will improve, and you’ll be far less likely to injure yourself.

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