I get asked a lot about the value of yoga in terms of rehab and aiding flexibility in general. I also work with a number of practitioners who are usually interested to know how they can improve their delivery to better help their students.
Whilst I’m certainly not an expert in yoga, I have studied the muscular system in detail and the things that tend to improve it or degrade it.
The first, most important and perhaps only thing to consider is how you practice it.
I can’t stress this enough. Yoga in all it’s forms is an umbrella term for a series of motions and positions.
On a one to one level I directly assess the suitability of those positions for a particular client’s current status. In a broader forum such as this, I can give you some principles which you can apply directly to your practice to make it both safer and more effective.
What the muscular system doesn’t like is being taken into positions of either extreme length or extreme shortness and having an external force applied. This equates to passive stretching.
Straight away I can see quizzical looks. Please bear with me!
Taking muscles into these positions will usually result in muscle weakness. This effect might be short lived (a few minutes), or it can be longer lasting. Over a sustained period it can seriously impact your muscular system’s ability to produce force which may leave you prone to injury and joint problems further down the line.
Don’t stop reading! I’m getting to the good bit!
This effect can be altered by a very simple tweek to your practice. Drum roll please…..
Don’t let your limbs go where you can’t actively take them.
In other words if you can’t contract a muscle to get you there, don’t go there! I could add girl to the end of that sentence and a finger wag but I won’t.
The effect of this one simple change in application is two fold. Not only will you get stronger, you will also completely negate the largest potential issue with your practice.
Let me show you how that would work for a specific yoga pose. Let’s take the Pawanmuktasana pose or the wind reliever.
Mainly because in this pose you will certainly feel the difference an active approach to yoga will make and also because I still find anything involving wind fairly amusing.
As many of you will know this pose involves pulling your leg / legs towards your chest with your arms and then raising your head and shoulders up from the floor.
With the active approach I want you to pull your leg / legs towards your chest without using your arms. That’s right, bring your leg / legs towards your chest using nothing more than the muscles around your abdomen.
You should feel those stomach muscles working pretty hard and most of you will notice that you won’t be able to get your legs to your chest. That’s fine.
Now for the fun part, lift your head and shoulders from the floor without using your arms. Feel free to rest your arms on your lower legs but only use your stomach muscles to perform the motion.
What do you feel? A pretty intense contraction in your abdominal muscles?
You’ve just turned a passive stretch into an active contraction with one simple change in how you move into a position. You are now getting stronger as a result rather than potentially weaker.
And if you’re a little concerned you’re not relieving wind in the most effective way, think about what happens when you need to pass anything, you contract your stomach muscles right? Good.
Experiment with this thought process and practice moving into poses by only using muscle contraction. You will not only transform your body, you will also reduce your risk of injury.