Image credit((Source: “Woman performing difficult yoga pose,” Creative Commons License via Pixabay »))
If you’ve never tried Yoga, Hands On Healing highly recommends you give it a try!
We as therapists discuss a wide array of subjects with our clients about staying healthy and active, ranging from general fitness at the gym, or even preparing to run a marathon.
The most commonly inquired about activity would have to be yoga.
Yoga has become part of the health and wellness world. By practicing yoga you have the ability to improve your health with a positive, non-forceful approach.
It’s used for fitness, meditation and mental wellbeing.
Benefits can include:
While the potential benefits of yoga would take much more than a single article to explore, we are primarily focused on helping clear up common misconceptions about the practice of yoga and how it can be a centerpiece in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Although many yoga participants will expound on the great stress relief and sense of freedom of movement that they experience from practicing yoga, the most common reference our clients express to us about their understanding of yoga is that it is a form of stretching.
Even though someone may experience a sense of stress relief and physical flexibility in their own body, this viewpoint of yoga is rather limited.
The use of yoga goes far beyond simply stretching tissue.
Instead, yoga works to balance all the body’s systems to work together.
Changing this impression of yoga as predominantly a stretching technique starts with first seeing how traditional tissue-lengthening methods work.
To stretch tissue, be it self-applied with something like a strap, or done by a practitioner using specialized techniques, the idea is to pin one area of tissue in place and lengthen the remaining area, be that through body position or hands-on techniques.
Yoga however uses neither of these ideas, so how does it stretch tissue?
Yoga applies lengthening and release through the applied force of the body’s own musculature.
It takes advantage of one of the body’s most inherent and important functions called “reciprocal inhibition.” (See Figure 1, click to enlarge)
Through the complex integration of the brain and spinal cord, the body is always coordinating the release of one muscle group as its opposing muscle group is contracting.
What this means is that as a person practices yoga, they are essentially contracting one part of their body to create movement (going into a pose), and it is simultaneously releasing the opposite side of the body which allows the tissue to appropriately lengthen.
This process does much more than stretch the body’s tissue, but instead creates healthy tone in the muscles that contract, along with instantaneous balance and coordination of the body as it maintains the pose.
Yoga is unlike any other form of “exercise,” as most approaches either focus entirely on muscle strength and endurance, or tone and balance, or maybe a specific set of movements.
Along with all of this is the utmost importance yoga places on breathing.
Each movement is directly related to the proper inhale or exhale, depending on the desired intention.
When performed safely and with good instruction, yoga can be one of the most effective ways of maintaining not only a flexible body, but a strong and efficient one as well.