One yoga pose can be performed in several different ways. The way the pose is performed leads to the effect it has on the body. Sometimes this difference is not that clear looking from the outside, sometimes it's just a tiny adjustment in the way the pose is approached. In this post, I'd like to distinguish two ways of approaching a yoga pose (or any pose for that matter) - active and passive approach - and how the choice of one or another define whether you work on your flexibility or mobility.
Flexibility & Mobility: what is the difference?
Flexibility and mobility are often used as synonyms when talking about the human body. Let’s agree that both of these terms describe the joint ability to move and the muscle's ability to lengthen through the range of motion. So what is the difference?
The difference lies in how the movement is performed: flexibility refers to passive movement while mobility describes active and controlled movement. In other words, flexibility requires assistance from an external force whether it’s your othe
r muscle group (for ex., in forward fold uttanasana, you could put your hands on the legs and use the bicep strength to pull your torso closer to the legs this way increasing the range of movement), a prop or another person (for ex., added weight on the back, or a person pushing your torso towards the legs to increase the range movement in forward fold paschimottanasana) or simply gravity pulling you down in a certain pose.
Mobility, however, relies only on the strength and length of the muscle (or group of muscles) and joints within the range of movement, your control over them as well as co-ordination. To stay with the same example - forward fold - you would engage the muscles only in your torso and your legs to get one closer to another.
It’s common for people to possess more pROM (passive range of motion) than aROM (active range of motion). Give it a go: standing on one leg, try to lift the other knee to the chest without helping with your hands and then repeat the same but use your hands to pull the knee closer. Did your knee get closer to the chest on a second try? If so, it means in this movement you have more pROM (as you helped the knee up passively) than aROM.
The difference between pROM and aROM varies from person to person and also might vary from joint to joint/muscle to muscle etc. in the same person.
To come back to flexibility and mobility, you can be flexible and mobile, you can be flexible but not mobile, however, you can't be mobile and inflexible. You could say mobility allows you to have control over your flexibility.
It's important to include both in your practice for the perfect balance. Flexibility and mobility help to prevent injuries and pain, maintain good balance and keep the body healthy.
When practising next, try to change between passive and active approaches. I'd love to hear what you notice.
All my love,