Stretch or Not to Stretch?*

In my classes I use stretching cues to get parts of the body going. I use it as a pseudonym for turning the students’ attention to their bodies or like in the first downward dog of the day, I tell them to move around a little and get the juices start flowing and body heat up and prepare for the practice ahead. Apart from that I have never found stretching particularly useful or meaningful, to be honest. I don’t stretch before my run or after it. I don’t think my muscles need to stretch to cool down or warm up. The funny thing is that I’ve always felt guilty about it. I ‘knew’ I had to do some stretches but I was resisting it. Turns out, my hunch (in this case!) wasn’t wrong.

You know by now that I am more the physical practice type of yoga person that the spiritual, mantra chanting type. Therefore, I read a lot about anatomy, exercise and biomechanics. There are articles, posts, etc. that make sense; that might make sense, that are clueless but full of assumptions of any kind. So, I read with great caution and scepticism. I tend to seek some empirical results quoted or cited. So, here are a few articles that can recommend about the issue of to stretch or not to stretch.

  1. Stretching Doesn’t Work (the Way You Think It Does): This article explains how human nervous system reacts to stretching and has links to webpages, article books  by Katie Bowman and Jules Mitchell, both of whom I find very competent.
  2.  Stretching Is Not Improving Your Ability To Perform: This one is a similar one about nervous system and the muscles work.
  3. Pandiculation – The Safe Alternative To Stretching: The last is an interesting one. It suggests an alternative to stretching. It makes sense to me as I used to teach (as a psychologists) a similar method to relax a tense part of the body in my stress and anxiety management trainings.
cat-stretching-in-its-sleep-animal-animals-1920x1080-wallpaper566

Above is a master of pandiculation performing her art. 🙂

As there are more studies conducted on biomechanics, movement, exercise and evolution. our understanding changes. And this is the beauty of relying on science instead of some personal experience: that one can replace an old method, technique with a brand new one instead of following some 2000 year old manual written by unknown person.

There is actually another blog post inside this one and that is about how so many people are trying to make yoga a ‘better’ exercise but still keeping the same assumptions but I have to think about it a little as I don’t like ranting for the sake of ranting.

namaste,

e.

*I couldn’t skip the opportunity for this title, especially given that it was Shakespeare Day yesterday. 🙂

The Yoga Hand vs The Natural Hand

After I posted the article on adho mukha svanasana, I came across a Facebook status update by Diane Bruni that she called The Hand Rant. In the rant Diane Bruni challenges the generally accepted alignment principles of the yoga hand. She first explains how she was taught to align her hands in Iyengar yoga, which is how we normally teach: press down all four corners of the hands and later argues that this may not really be the best alignment to protect the wrists. Bruni suggests, instead that one should release the knuckles and let them form the natural dome of the hand. Here is what she means:

DianeHands.001

As someone with very fragile wrists and generally very rigid joints, I am always aware of my hands and wrists during my practice. I get the occasional wrist pain in upward facing dog and other arm balances. The alignment of the hands when the hands are to bear weight, of course, has a lot to do with how the weight of the body is distributed. General tendency amongst new beginners is, to lift the hand off the floor and leave the wrist to carry the entire weight. This is no good for the wrists. So, we tell them to press the entire hand down. This i.e. turning the palm down also pronates the forearm and directs the weight from shoulders down through the wrist to the hands. Bruni’s suggestion makes sense because it leaves enough room for shock absorption when more weight is loaded upon the hand.

Continue reading

Do that headstand, you’ll feel good!

I believe respecting yoga tradition and conventions is usually a good thing but sometimes the conventions that we are supposed to follow have no foundation in modern science. That’s when someone like me gets a mind-bend. Should I ignore my rational side and go with the flow or is it OK to question and be critical, maybe in the end reject what I am asked to do?

Continue reading