Many people swear by yoga postures, or “asanas,” as a way to improve flexibility. But isn’t yoga just another form of passive stretching?
Well actually… no. In fact, yoga rarely incorporates passive stretches. Instead, asanas use concepts of reciprocal inhibition, eccentric lengthening, and strengthening through the full range of available motion to safely lengthen muscles.
Reciprocal inhibition goes like this: if we contract the muscle on the opposite side of the joint to the muscle that is tight, it gives a signal to the tight muscle to relax. This is a normal and natural function. Think about your elbow. If you contract your bicep to bend your elbow, but your tricep doesn’t relax, you wouldn’t be able to bend your elbow. In yoga, when doing a standing forward bend, you lengthen the hamstrings while you focus on drawing the kneecaps up the thighs. That activates the quadriceps muscles, allowing the opposing muscle, the hamstring, to relax.
Eccentric exercise is controlled lengthening of a muscle. When you go from standing to a forward bend in yoga, you activate the hamstrings to lengthen and control your torso as it lowers down, building strength throughout the full range of motion. Furthermore, in returning to standing from a forward bend, the muscles activate from a lengthened position, building even more strength.
If you want to improve flexibility, yoga is a great mind-body tool to lengthen muscles using reciprocal inhibition, eccentric loading, and relaxation. Derya Anderson has her doctorate in Physical Therapy and is also a certified yoga instructor with advanced training in adaptive and restorative yoga. Ready for a more flexible you? Call and schedule with Derya today.