Flexibility and Strength
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
A basic understanding of the processes that occur during our Yoga practice can help with progressing deeper into postures.
THE MUSCLE SPINDLE STRETCH RECEPTOR
From The Key Poses Of Yoga. Ray Long
The muscle cell stretch receptor is a modified muscle cell located in the “belly” of all skeletal muscles. It detects changes in length and tension within the muscle. Basically, when a muscle stretches, the muscle spindle send a signal to the spinal cord, which then signals the muscle to contract and resist the stretch. This protects the muscle from over-stretching or tearing and is known as a “spinal cord reflex arc.”
Never force the body into a stretch in Yoga, because this intensifies the firing of the muscle spindle, causing the muscle to contract. This mechanism can block deepening of the stretch. Rather “dissolve” the blockages slowly by working with the spinal cord reflex arcs to decrease the reflex contraction of the muscle, and then go deeper into the pose.
The figure on the left illustrates the spinal cord reflex arc of the muscle spindle.
A signal is sent from the muscle spindle receptor to the spinal cord. This signal is then relayed to the motor nerve via the spinal cord, signalling the muscle to contract and resist the stretch. This is a “primitive” reflex that occurs unconsciously in response to a biomechanical event, the stretching of a muscle. Holding a stretch for 30 to 60 seconds causes the muscle spindle to decrease its firing, and the muscle begins to relax. Backing part-way out of a stretch also decreases firing of the muscle spindle, relaxing the muscle and allowing a deeper stretch.
FLEXIBILITY AND DYNAMIC BALANCE
Tight muscles are more disposed to injury, in the form of muscle strains and tears. Releasing up those constricted muscles will not only help you prevent injury but will also prevent repetitive use injuries by allowing the body to move efficiently in swimming, cycling, running, skiing, and everyday activities. Dynamic Balance moves you through your natural range of motion. A free range of movement means more economy, since you can find the most efficient path for your body to function.
On a cellular level yoga Dynamic Balance lengthens your muscle fibres. The effect of repetitive movements is that the fibres within the muscle shorten leading to an accumulation of lactic acid. Dynamic Balance helps to begin the process of creating a relaxed sets of muscle fibres that can contract more and thus generate greater force.
Beyond physical flexibility, Dynamic Balance nurtures flexibility of mind. The flowing nature of the postures and the focus on breathing encourages focus on the present moment. Due to Dynamic Balance being focused on breath and movement you find that you let go of memories of the past and projections into the future, and exist completely in the moment.
The first few sessions can be demanding but as you gain familiarity with the sequence, you’ll come to see that the mind will take you through the highs and drag you through lows, just as happens during endurance exercise. Dynamic Balance is a challenge but staying aware of the present without feeling overwhelmed will build composure and the ability to remain calm no matter what comes your way.
Dynamic Balance works holistically to strengthen the body as a unit. The sequences are all closed chain, performed with hands or feet in contact with the floor (as opposed to open chain exercises like bicep curl), and use bodyweight.
We warm the body up with a 10 minute strength sequence before moving on to a series of poses which are held. This standing sequence engages the muscles isometrically (holding the fibres long against resistance). The sequence then returns to flowing from pose to pose, engaging and releasing the muscles through concentric and eccentric contractions.
Dynamic Balance yoga gives joint stability just as working with weights does. The regular practice of Dynamic Balance trains the muscles and tendons to stabilise the joints, which in turn helps the practitioner to avoid both acute and repetitive- stress injuries. The standing poses are especially good for strengthening the small stabilising muscles of the lower leg while stretching the hip muscles. This blend leads to greater power and fluidity in your chosen sport.
Dynamic Balance will also increase your core strength, not just in poses that specifically target the core but also in standing and balanced poses. These postures help create whole– body functional strength and encourage greater awareness of the body and the breath.
The challenge of Dynamic Balance also teaches mental strength. On the mat, you will observe your mental and emotional reactions to your physical situation and learn ways to manage intensity. When you encounter similarly intense situations in the course or in your life, you’ll have experience with using your breath and your form to find strength.
This book offers a scientific approach to understanding the practice of hatha yoga. Through four-colour, three-dimensional illustrations of major muscles, tendons, and ligaments, Ray Long describes the practice and benefits of hatha yoga. Specific anatomical and physiological descriptions highlight the agonist, antagonist, and synergist muscles that come into play with each pose. Volume I of the series describes the key muscles of hatha yoga and how they are utilised. From beginners to experts, this book will become a constant companion.