Like the parts of a vehicle, the parts of the body must be properly aligned for optimal functionality. Most of the aches and pains common in Western society are caused by improper body alignment. However, the therapeutic nature of yoga realigns the spine and brings balance to groups of muscles that work in tandem for good health and proper posture.
How we hold our bodies while performing tasks, like walking, standing, sitting or work-related tasks, impacts our musculoskeletal health. When the body is held in an unnatural position during such tasks, it creates an imbalance in the related sets of opposing muscles.
Other joints and muscles compensate for the imbalance, creating stress and unnatural wear on tendons, joints and muscles. This disparity causes postural dysfunctions like backaches and neck and joint pain. It also increases the likelihood of injury.
Pain causes further compensation. This happens frequently with athletes nursing an injury. To protect a sore knee or ankle, they compensate by using muscles in an unnatural manner. This places stress on other joints and muscles, causing more serious injury to another part of the body.
Hot Yoga Creates Musculoskeletal Balance
Years of bad posture or poor body mechanics while performing work-related tasks takes its toll of the body. Greg and I experienced this firsthand after decades spent working in the construction industry. I had back, hip and neck pain. He suffered with an abdominal repetitive use injury and had numbness and pins and needles in his arm and shoulder.
We sought help from a variety of sources, short of surgery, with limited relief. However, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the therapeutic nature of hot yoga, with its 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises, brought relief from our ongoing pain. Once we committed to the practice, our injuries began to heal, improving our quality of life.
The repetitive nature of the 26 and 2 style of yoga is intentional. We work to correct long-term bad habits of posture and movement by consistently repeating each asana, class after class. This reinforces the good habits we’re developing, strengthens muscles and creates flexibility. Balance is restored to opposing muscles through the repetition of these asanas while focused on proper body ali
For instance, in, Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose the hamstrings (back of your thigh) are being stretched while the quads (front of your thigh) work to create the movement.
Achieving the maximum stretch in each yoga pose lubricates joints and improves mobility, circulation and healing. Yet, our body’s natural physiology works to prevent the deep stretch we want to achieve. We can circumvent this resistance by applying the science of movement.
Near the center of each muscle is a muscle spindle which signals the muscle to contract when it is stretched too far or too fast. In Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose, the anterior muscles of the body contract to create the motion. The opposing muscles along the back of the body stretch and elongate. As you stretch you feel tightness in the hamstrings. The muscle spindle is signaling the hamstring to contract. This stretch reflex is designed to prevent you from tearing the muscle, so listen to your body.
However, science has demonstrated that the muscles are capable of stretching up to 150% of their resting length. We don’t want to defeat the wisdom of the muscle spindle. We want to create a stretch that lasts by working with the muscle spindle. Hot yoga asanas recondition muscle spindles, allowing us to tap into this additional capacity to get a deeper stretch and greater health benefits.
Retraining the muscle spindles requires two of the five qualities of mind: faith and patience. To do this, gently move into the stretch as far as you comfortably can. Wait for the sensation of release in the muscle, then stretch a bit further. Repeat until you achieve the deepest stretch possible for you.
All muscles work in pairs. One contracts and the other stretches. So when you hear the yoga instructor telling you to contract your thigh, she’s also telling you to create the condition for the stretch of the paired muscle. This is called reciprocal inhibition. Applying reciprocal inhibition with awareness So back to Standing Separate Leg Stretching. You’ve maintained the contraction of the quadracep muscle as you stretch forward until you feel a tightness in the hamstrings. Reciprocal inhibition tells us that when we contract the quadriceps, the opposing muscle—the hamstrings—will relax and elongate.
To make use of reciprocal inhibition , consciously contract the quadriceps. This will trigger the muscles of the hamstring to relax, allowing you to deepen the stretch. Take this process slowly and listen to your body. If you are feeling pain, as opposed to discomfort, back off.
Loosen Your Body’s Resistance by Holding the Stretch
Much of the resistance to movement we experience is created by the muscle fascia, the connective tissue that binds individual muscle fibres into working groups. Static stretching of the muscles helps improve flexibility over time. However, quicker, more permanent results can be achieved through holding the stretch for a minute and a half or more. This changes the connective tissues at the cellular level, providing more lasting results. Yin yoga makes use of this principle. During a yin yoga class each asana is held for several minutes to get maximum results.
Proper body alignment and proper body mechanics are essential to good musculoskeletal health. The 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises performed in hot yoga are therapeutic in nature. They bring the musculoskeletal frame back into alignment and restore balance. Stretching the muscles lubricates joints, increases circulation, improves mobility and promotes healing. We can achieve maximum stretch and gain maximum benefits from each asana by applying the science of movement.
Reset Your Body for Health & Wellness
Hot yoga is more than just an intense workout that can reshape the look of our bodies. It can reset the body and restore balance to the musculoskeletal system. Its therapeutic nature makes us feel better as we go about our daily lives. It improves the way we sit, sleep, walk and work.
Retraining the muscle spindles and stretching the muscle fascia increases flexibility and improves overall musculoskeletal health. However, a continued, consistent hot yoga or yin yoga practice is essential in order to achieve full, lasting benefits. To increase flexibility and get optimal results from these two therapeutic practices, practice yoga at least three times per week.