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Old 07-26-2009, 08:25 AM   #1
yogi bear
Join Date: Jul 2009
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strain while doing Yoga

Hi, I'm new here and I'd like to ask a question about strain.

I come from the area in sports where you are told the more you stetch the more flexible you will be even if it hurts at the beginig.
Now, I guess that is wrong and that at all moments while doing yoga you need to fully relax. But I noticed that while stretching certain musclels such as stomach and thigh muscles those muscles go into a sort of shaking mode and if I release the strain then I feel no streching at all.

Which is right?
Thank you
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Old 07-26-2009, 07:50 PM   #2
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Yogi Bear - This is a great question, and important to have clear in your mind.

Straining and working hard are different things. Also, acute pain and an intense stretch are also two distinct things. Straining, forcing, and acute pain can bring risk of injury, while respecting your edge, working hard and breathing through intense stretches can bring immense benefit.

First of all, if you can't breathe you've gone too far. Your breath is your guide in yoga, so keep checking in with how your breath is moving and it can tell you a lot.

Secondly, forcing or straining in yoga is an imbalance of many possible factors. Instead, use just enough effort to maintain full participation in the posture (or meditation, etc) without overdoing it. Soften your face, feel the subtleties of the practice, have fun with it...

Also, and very importantly, acute pain is NOT a good thing, and you should back off, adjust, ask your teacher, or otherwise make it stop. Overall sensation is very normal with a stretch. Shaking happens when you're working hard or as the body releases held energy. But if you feel sharp pain or pain in one specific area rather than dispersed throughout the area being stretched, that means you need to back off and re-align. Something is just not quite right.

Sometimes there is an idea that yoga is all about relaxation, yet if you see some of the fun and wild postures we do, there's no way they can be experienced without a lot of integration and effort. The trick is to balance the effort with spaciousness; to give 100% of what is required but no more. This discernment comes with time and practice, but if you can understand the concept it will help you move toward the experience.

Listen to your body. Sounds like you're doing just that. So glad you asked the questions you did. I hope this clarifies things for you.
Freedom and Awakening. One breath at a time...
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Old 07-26-2009, 09:05 PM   #3
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I think the response you've gotten thus far covers the question quite well. I'll add only the following:

The concept of "right and wrong" simply cannot exist in a yoga context. It is this craving to be right, to have THE answer, which creates dogma and, ultimately violence, harm, and war. Ergo I would encourage you, as I do my students, to let go of the idea that something is right and wrong and look for that which moves YOU toward the capital S self. This is the essence of discernment.

'The more you stretch the more flexible you may become' has a level of truth to it. However there are two things to consider here. The first is that yoga (asana) is not about stretching. It is about moving some things and stabilizing others. The second consideration is that when stretching is done improperly it can not only damage muscle but can also go in to connective tissue and cause injury and laxity (looseness) in joints. Since yoga is not stretching those wishing to practice it do not necessarily need to stretch. It does however serve a purpose but that is well beyond the scope of your question.

A skillful teacher imparts to students the difference between calm and relaxed. For example it is completely inappropriate for a student to relax the serratus anterior in sirsasana as this leads to injury. That muscle should NOT be relaxed in the pose. The mind of the student should be calm, the countenance joyful. Just as yoga is not about stretching it is also not "about" relaxing. Resting is about relaxing. Sleep is about relaxing. A float chamber is about relaxing. There is, however a relaxation response by the body in certain situations and that may be sought or it may not. Both are fine.

Finally a word on shaking muscles. There are different reasons for shaking muscles. It can be overexertion, it can be a discord in the nervous system, it can be fatigue. Generally speaking it is not a desired action, though to make a determination of what it is FOR YOU I'd actually have to have you as a student.

Gordon Kaplan
Founder, Team Yoga
- - - -
Certified Purna Yoga Teacher (CPYT-2,000)
M.S. Kinesiology, Indiana University
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