5 yoga stretches to try
After writing about the benefits of pandiculation, I realised it would be instructive to also discuss the many other wonderful ways we can stretch our bodies, both on and off the yoga mat. It would be helpful to start by defining the term:
make longer or wider (of something soft or elastic) without tearing or breaking.
Useful synonyms: elastic, stretchy, stretchable, tensile.
Stretching means to straighten or extend one's body or a part of one's body to its full length, typically to tighten one's muscles or to reach something: "The cat yawned and stretched."
Materially speaking, what exactly do muscles consist of?
Fascicles, also known as muscle fibres, are the structural units of our skeletal muscles. Myofibrils, found in muscle fibres in the thousands, are responsible for the contraction, relaxation, and elongation of muscle cells (stretch). Millions of sarcomeres make up each myofibril. Myofilaments are the building blocks of each sarcomere. Actin and myosin are contractile proteins that make up the thick and thin myofilaments, respectively.
Muscle contraction occurs when actin and myosin slide across each other after receiving signals from the brain (via motor nerves from the spinal column). In contrast to slow-twitch muscles, which respond slowly but don't tyre as quickly, fast-twitch muscles are quick to react but tyre quickly.
To what end is it beneficial to stretch muscles in a variety of ways?
The point of this brief explanation is to emphasise the significance of recruiting as many muscle fibres and myofibrils as possible during stretching. The benefits of this type of stretching extend far beyond the nervous system, to the body as a whole.
Feeling open, liberated, and fantastic is the result. Regular practise can also lessen the likelihood of injury by easing such conditions as muscle spasms and cramps, tight muscles from repetitive motion or trauma, and even fascia-related syndromes like fibromyalgia.
The following yoga postures will help us achieve this goal on the mat:
Flexibility and range of motion through dynamic stretching
Warming up a muscle or muscle group in preparation for a deeper stretch is a common component of Vinyasa Flow yoga. In Warrior Two, for instance, we might use dynamic lifting to go up and down. When we inhale, we might move into Low Lunge, and when we exhale, we might come into Pyramid Pose.
We can then hold the pose statically, perhaps going further than if we hadn't practised dynamic movement with breath first. We were able to go further into yoga poses by enlisting more and more of our muscle fibres in the stretch.
Static and dynamic stretching
Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, and Yin classes typically consist of static stretching. In a Vinyasa Flow class, you move from one pose to the next with each exhalation, but in a static stretching class, you hold each pose for a set amount of time.
Static stretching can be either "active" or "passive," depending on the practitioner.
- the process whereby muscles on one side of the body tense up to prop up the relaxed muscles on the opposite side.
Inactive, or passive, stretching
when we relax into a pose and allow gravity to carry us further into the stretch. I use the phrase "giving in to the earth's gravitational pull" to describe this phenomenon. To encourage even more minuscule components to participate in the stretch, static holds are maintained for longer durations.
Stretch-Contract-Relax (PNF and Pandiculation)
The Stretch-Contract-Relax method is used in both PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitated) and Pandiculation. In order to increase range of motion, PNF employs resistance and a systematic/timed stretch-contract-relax pattern, while in pandiculation, all three (stretch, contract, relax) occur simultaneously and naturally.
Stretching that promotes proprioception and neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)
PNF is a type of stretching that is typically practised in therapeutic settings and individual yoga sessions. The key to this kind of stretching is resistance, which can come from either you or another person, or even from an inanimate object like a floor or wall.
The first step in performing PNF is determining your postural flexibility (discovering which muscles are tight and preventing a deeper range of motion). Then, for a predetermined amount of time, you should isometrically contract those muscles ('firing' the muscle without moving it at the joint) against resistance, using 40-60% of your strength (usually 20-45 seconds). Calm down, re-exert yourself, and do this another three to five times.
As a natural bio-feedback loop of the neuromuscular system, pandiculation allows the muscles to report to the brain how tight they are, allowing the brain to reset. Upon reawakening from sleep, many people feel the pandicular response. Check out the following for more information: Performing a catlike stretch known as "pandiculation"
Paschimottanasana is a dynamic, active, static, and PNF yoga pose
Place your legs straight out in front of you and sit down. You can either get down on your toes or use a strap to help you reach them. Don't push yourself too far into the stretch; instead, use your sense of touch to explore the very edge of what's comfortable for you.
For a dynamic stretch, take a deep breath in, focus on your toes, and slowly lift and extend your spine as you exhale. Take a deep breath out, fold forward from the hips. Keep doing that three to five times.
By engaging your calf muscles, quadriceps, abdominals, chest, and front of neck, you can stretch your entire posterior body, from your heels to your head, using active static stretching.
Stretching with Assistance (PNF): The hand of the yoga instructor is placed on the student's lower back in a gentle but firm gesture (thick and strong Quadratus Lumborum muscles). For 30 seconds, you'll lift at 40-60% of your maximum strength into the provided resistance. Then, settle into the stretch more deeply. Keep doing that three to five times.
To perform a passive static stretch, simply fold forward and allow your upper body to fall towards your lower half as you exhale.
Have a good time discovering all the different ways our amazing bodies can be stretched!