Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to stretch

To apply the correct stretching technique is so important, because progress comes faster. It seems to be a contradition, but it isn't: in order to stretch, it's helpful to engage the muscles.

Let me quote Gregor Maehle (page 20): "The technique employed in Ashtanga yoga is active stretching. In this type of stretching we utilise an inherent reflex without which the body could not move. Whenever a muscle contracts, its antagonist (the muscle with the opposite function) releases. To understand this reflex one may look at the elbow joint. When the biceps (biceps brachii) contracts, the triceps (triceps brachii) releases, so that the elboy may be flexed. If the triceps also contracted, the elbow could not move. Likewise, when the triceps contracts, the nervous system simultaneously sends a signal to the biceps to release, and the elbow is extended.
A muscle that is being stretched will receive a signal to release when the opposing muscle is activated."

Don't overread the words "relfex" and "nervous system". This active stretching technique really understands our body functions.

I finish quoting here, even though the text goes on evenly interesting.

The next step is to relax into a stretching pose with engaged muscles. Then the method is complete.

Let me describe 3 methods that I used to do and that have not the wished effect or if progress comes, it comes slowly:
1. In school we used to swing the body when we wanted to stretch.
2. I used to draw myself in the direction I wanted to get without engaged muscles. Re paschimottanasana my arms tried to pull my upper body in the direction of the feet.
3. Gravity should do the hole work. Simply to hang forward was the applied technique. Padangushtasana is a good example.

Paschimottanasa , an example:
Nowadays I engage my leg muscles in order to stretch forward. This is important for all the forward asanas of the first series. Feel the difference.
Important: give the body some time to relax/stretch when the opposing muscle is engaged. Give your body confidence that you won't hurt yourself, that you won't go too far. Relax into the stretch is a book that describes this method as well. That's it. This makes the difference.

Comments are welcomed.


Francisca said...

Dear Ursula,

Your blog has been an inspiration for my practice. It gives good tips and also makes believe that we can improve every day, step by step.

Nice pictures from Lisboa.I was born and live here.


Francisca Gusmao

Ursula said...

Dear Francisca,

Thank you for your comment. When my blog shows that improvement is possible step by step, I'm happy.


Debb said...

Yoga has taught me and enables me to bring engaged stretching into my day - while standing in the grocery store checkout line, while bending over to pick something up off the floor, even when walking, these are all opportunities to take our yoga off the mat and our bodies love the awareness!

Ursula said...

This is so true Debb and it makes me smile. It's possible to stretch in grocery stores as you said or in the bath tub. To pick up something from the floor becomes a pleasure, because the body likes it to be stretched.
Especially to focus on the breath (ah here it is again) can be done all the time.
All the best for you....

Marie said...

This is a very helpful summary of engaging muscles to relax opposing ones. It really does make a big difference.

Hope all is great with you!

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