Pièce de Résistance!

What does it mean to create “resistance” when practising physical yoga exercises and how does it work?

Most people understand the value of resistance training in a fitness class and may use equipment to do it, but you don’t need any really, because it is possible to use your own body and I love the fact that all these things are possible without the need for landfill.

Incorporating resistance into your yoga practise is very important because, not only does it increase flexibility by way of a NS neuro-muscular response – the push/pull involved very quickly relaxes and lengthens muscles in a few seconds (which means there is no need to hold a stretch for the minimum 12 seconds before something gives) – but that push/pull also builds strengths and creates internal heat (meaning blood flow). For example in the image pictured, I am doing a more advanced version of a pose that I like to describe as “The banana stretch” since it involves shaping yourself like a banana! Generally, when we do this one in class, we will do it with a bent knee at the side rib and a lengthened opposite arm (maybe the version here could be called the “banana split”?). However, I often notice a tendency to execute these and many other types of what might be mistakenly regarded as passive poses in a collapsed, very “yin” way. No pressing, no activating, no resistance and therefore, sorry to say, nothing really happening….

Too much yin and not enough yang can create just as many issues as the other way round. As is clearly stated in the yoga sutras, asana practise requires a balance of sthira and sukha. Attention without tension. Body firm while mind is calm…

When I do this pose myself and when I instruct it, this is what I suggest should be happening:

– The heel attached to the lengthened leg on the floor is firmly pushing into the ground as is the buttock on that same side and the shoulder.

– The shin of the (bent) leg being brought close to the side ribs is pushing into the hand that keeps it there – in other words RESISTANCE. Push away and pull closer at the same time. Feel the bicep working! (This will also help to release a tense groin).

– If it’s comfortable for the head to turn towards the armpit of the extended arm, then gently press the side of the head into the mat – this releases and strengthens a tense neck.

– the arm that lifts up and over the head (in the image I am holding on to my foot but ignore this..) is an extension of the side body. It shouldn’t be soft and floppy! Lengthen into the finger tips, bring the armpit to the ear, work towards straightening the arm – if it’s difficult, remember the inability to do this is related to tight hips and stiff lower back. Also, the action of lengthening into the fingertips, along with the pressing of the heel, “pulls blood” into the extremities. Believe it or not, you don’t need to raise your heart rate to improve circulation.

– Finally, make sure the core is relaxed so that you can still breathe into the abdomen and follow the breath from the base of the lengthened hip side all the way into the raised fingertips.

Something happening now!

My experience is that many people mistakenly have the idea that those who are naturally “flexible” can “do” yoga, but often, those naturally flexible people – usually women – who sink into poses, often at their complete range of movement and beyond without using any resistance, may not last very long before they get chronically injured. This is because the continual over-stretching of muscles without incorporating resistance does nothing to improve core stability and puts immense pressure on the joints. This is particularly when it comes to things like lunges where, without resistance, the weight of the whole body is essentially collapsing and crunching with gravity into a knee or hip joint….

Make sense?