For Beginners: Take Your Yoga Beyond Stretching
Most people think of yoga as a physical activity that is good for improving flexibility and that being more flexible is a way to ease the pain they experience from tightness in their bodies.
This is only partially true. Yoga is not just physical; it has mental and spiritual components as well. The improvement in wellbeing that people experience doing yoga is the result of all of these components working together. But even focusing on the physical component alone, yoga is not just about flexibility. Improved flexibility is not the goal of yoga; it is the result of releasing tension in the body and mind. Flexibility happens when the nervous system is well regulated and functionally healthy.
For some of us progress in our yoga experience is slowed because we think yoga is a physical activity that involves stretching and that stretching means getting the muscle as long as possible and then trying to get it a little longer by pulling on it a little more. Muscles naturally resist this kind of stretch. When we feel that resistance, we think that the solution is to put a little more pressure into the stretch and hope that the body will learn something from the effort.
This approach doesn’t work. The body has complex protective mechanisms that protect against various kinds of stresses. The mechanism that protects against forceful stretching is called the "muscle stretch reflex." Its function is to maintain the muscle at a constant length. This reflex is why the muscle contracts in response to stretching. The reflex operates in the muscles, the nerves that run through them, and the tendons that attach muscle to bone. When a muscle is stretched, the muscle spindle is also stretched; its nerve activity increases causing the muscle fibers to contract and thus resist the stretch.
If stretching activates and prevents lengthening the muscle, how do we ease the discomfort without triggering the muscle stretch reflex? In Svaroopa® yoga, we support the bones in a precise alignment and let the muscles relax. This approach works.
Bones are at the base of the structure that holds our bodies up in the presence of gravity. Muscles are connected to the bones. The nervous system activates the muscles, and the muscles move the bones. The muscles also store tension from the nervous system. If we support the bones in a carefully chosen alignment, the muscles can disengage, and the embedded nervous tension can be released. The muscle can soften and lengthen and the discomfort associated with the tension fades away.
Support equals release. This is one of the foundational principles of Svaroopa® Yoga. If your body is still and supported, the nerves in the muscles can disengage, muscular tension will release.
There is much more to why Svaroopa® yoga is so effective physically. Its practices are healing at a physical level. Then there are Svaroopa’s other not-physical benefits in the realms of mental activity, of emotion, and of spiritual essence.
If you are new to yoga and have not yet solved the riddle of why stretching doesn’t work, try finding support for your bones, settling into your carefully aligned asana, letting the tension in your body release, and experience a level of comfort and ease that you have nearly forgot even existed. You will discover and explore the other benefits as you settle into your practice.