Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gentle Yoga: Why You Should Do It!

In April we added a new kind of class to our schedule: gentle yoga. Most of you are power yogis, and it's likely that, just like I once did, you think gentle yoga is not for you. Oh, but it *is*.

I know it looks like just lying around on pillows, but that lying around is doing something we can't really do any other way: releasing the deep tension of the muscles.

Why is this important?

Well, let's talk a bit about how muscles work. In general, muscles are recruited in concert to provide us with mobility - the ability to move. Throughout our lives, adhesions develop in the muscles and fascia (connective tissue throughout the body) due to injury - large or small - and our bodies, being naturally amazing, create compensatory movements around those injuries which create unique movement patterns.

These adhesions - which often feel like lumps in the muscle - make it difficult for the muscle to move. The rest of the muscle - around the adhesion - is limited in its movement, in its ability to recruit the fibers needed for movement.

And so we compensate, and eventually that compensation can become another area of pain or injury. At the same time, the area where we have that adhesion and corresponding tension becomes more and more tight and less and less mobile, until - quite honestly - we can hardly move at all.

I'm sure you've seen people of various ages barely able to move. They can't get up and down off the floor easily, for example. Or even in or out of a chair easily. They've tensed and compensated and injured and compensated until there's nothing left to recruit.

Now, enter power yoga.

What we do in our regular, power yoga classes is develop the strength and flexibility of the muscles in an active way. And it works, certainly. It's the consistent, diligent practice over time of strengthening muscles not used to being worked (because of compensatory movement - we all have a stronger side, for example) which creates muscle balance and agility.

But what power yoga doesn't get to are the adhesions and the tensions.

Now, enter gentle yoga.

We prop our bodies up into a nicely modified version of the posture. It's usually a "deep" modification, which allows us to align both the physical and energetic bodies properly. At the physical level, the alignment prevents us from falling into our common vulnerabilities (where we tend to compensate) which would lead to further injury. At the energetic level, postures create a certain flow of energy in the body, just as the acupuncture needle creates a specific flow or release of energy in the process of Traditional Chinese Medicine. So, the alignment is still important. We do both of these things in our power yoga, too, just in a more active way.

Once in the proper alignment, we simply work on relaxing. The long holds with the support of the props allows our bodies to systematically relax, allowing the muscles to release tension around the adhesions. Over time, even the adhesions themselves dissipate through consistent, gentle stimulation of these long holds.

This release, therefore, allows for greater mobility in the muscle, which makes it more efficient in doing what it wants to do - move! This greater mobility also means we aren't falling into compensatory movement patterns - our tendons and ligaments are no longer taking up the slack - and we steer clear of injury. We are able to recruit more muscle fibers to support the movement of our active, power yoga classes as well as the movement of our daily lives.

My recommendation? Consider adding a gentle yoga class to your regular exercise routine. Just one gentle yoga class a week in concert with your power yoga classes and your regular sporting and life activities will make a world of difference! If you just can't add another thing to your schedule, put gentle yoga into a regular rotation - perhaps every third or fourth week.

Give it a try, and you'll experience the amazing benefits this style of yoga provides. Gentle yoga classes are on Tuesdays and Fridays at 11.15 am and are led by Jenifer (that's me!).

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