NO you don't have to be flexible to practice Asanas.
I am writing this post because most of people think that mobility and flexibility are one and the same, when in fact they are two very different concepts. Knowing the difference between them can help you in your quest to become a better “mover”.
Flexibility is defined as “the ability of a muscle or muscle groups to lengthen passively through a range of motion”, whereas mobility is the “ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion”. Many additional structures define how good a person’s mobility is. It is not only the muscles stretching over a joint but also how far the joint moves within the joint capsule. Mobility also takes into account the component of motor control within the nervous system.
short but sweet:
Mobility is dynamic or active, where flexibility is passive. For example, flexibility is when you can pull your thumb back with your other hand, so it touches your wrist. In contrast, mobility is the ability to get your thumb to that exact same spot on your wrist without the help of the other hand.
Usually there is a mix of Mobility and Flexibility in a Asana practice ...
thats why it can be difficult to understand or to seperate these two movements. They are not the same, but they are going Hand in Hand with each other.
So what comes first in a Asana practice ? Mobility or Flexibility?
For a safe practice I would definitely highly recommend to do some mobility exercises first.
I always encourage my students to do some warm up even before class starts so their body is prepared.
A focus on improving mobility will enhance the ability of your nervous system to activate those muscles for movement. Mobility improves the contraction of the muscle fibers by the nerves that activate them, while simultaneously lengthening the muscles and the surrounding connective tissues, i.e., fascia. This increases blood flow to the targeted muscles, increases joint range of motion, and ironically, decreases tension!
Therefore with mobility we are able to move our body (joints and muscles) in their full range of movement.
The benefits of Mobility are lower injury risk. Although there are many reasons people can get injured, a common exercise problem people have is not being able to perform an exercise properly due to lack of mobility. ... increasing strength and improve Posture.
So why do we need to be Flexible then?
Again: Yoga is not about flexibility (blablabla yeah I know its annoying to hear that) The goal of Yoga is not to get bendy and stretchy. Its about your mind. But more to another blog soon.
However if you are more in the physical world of practicing yoga and you want to increase your flexibility there is for sure also a great benefit for your body that comes with:
The muscles gets lengthened so stretches are reducing muscle shortness.
Stretching helps to relax tight muscles while also taking personal time to focus on your body and slow down. You also increase body awareness and therefore that helps as well with cultivating a better posture, feeling more spacious in the body. Stretching Releases Toxins From Your Muscles, thats why it is very important to drink plenty of water after your practice.
Be mindful to not overdue it
Practicing Asanas or stretching and moving on a physical level can be addictive. We all know the "high" feeling after a sweaty Vinyasa class right?
That is because your body releases chemicals called endorphins and dopamine. These chemicals interact with the receptors in your brainwhich helps you feel happier and more positive about the world BUT they also reduce your perception of pain.
So do not overstretch or overdue it. A pulled Hamstring takes ages to heal.
Practicing with awareness and have compassion with yourself. Practicing for the sake of your mindbody and not your Ego that wants to push it harder. And if you following that all will be gravy baby.