Tips for Teaching a Low-Risk Class

Written by AYC Instructor, Rosie Mulford

As a yoga teacher, you will likely encounter a student who gets injured. If an injury arises during your class, it doesn’t necessarily mean you were the cause. Regardless, it is important to know how to be aware of potential injuries so that you don’t unknowingly contribute to one.

David Keil, an expert in the anatomy of yoga, says, “Our first responsibility as a yoga community is to acknowledge openly and honestly that yoga asana is a physical activity. It is not risk-free. From there we can look at the places where teachers can reduce the risk to yoga participants, as well as the ways that yoga students can take responsibility for their own experience in yoga practice and yoga classes.”

In accordance with the yogic philosophy, we must become a witness to the entire concept of yoga asana classes. In these classes, it is important to practice the yogic idea that truth is the only thing that exists. If a student is practicing in a way that is not truthful to his or her body, he or she will eventually suffer the consequences of living in that untruth and become injured.  That is where linking the breath to your innate and true self becomes imperative.  If the teacher guides the student in taking a breath before the action of moving into the pose, the student will then be given a brief moment in which to tap into his or her inner voice (truth) and know whether or not it is appropriate to go deeper, stay in the same position, or back out with each exhale. In this way, it is critical to always listen to the body.

There is a public opinion that yoga is a “cure-all,” and there is an underlying assumption that one may get injured in a Cross-Fit class or a gymnastics class but not in yoga. The first thing we need to do is change that misconception. Modern-day yoga is just like any other group class, in the physical sense, with the same risks.

Jeffrey Frick, CEO of the Fitness and Wellness Insurance Program at the Murria & Frick Insurance Agency located in Solana Beach, California says, “Compared with other forms of exercise, yoga generates fewer and less costly insurance claims. However, yoga continues to be one of the fastest-growing forms of exercise we insure.” Frick’s company specializes in coverage for fitness facilities including health clubs, yoga studios, and climbing gyms. The yoga liability program averages about 10 claims per year with the average paid claim amount being $6,000.

In contrast, the company averages about 200 claims per year from their other fitness programs, with the average paid claim amount being $20,000. The program’s largest yoga insurance claim, for more than $200,000 in 1994, involved a teacher overstepping ethical boundaries and injuring a student. More commonly, Frick notes, “Yoga claimants say the instructor pushed them too hard into positions that caused injury to them.” Frick echoes Leslie Kaminoff and Judith Hanson Lasater by saying that to prevent problems, teachers need to be sensitive to their students’ ability to do certain poses. In the fitness industry in general, Frick says, “Half of claims are customer induced; that is, they come not from our negligence, but from an over-zealous client. The lesson is that instructors should have protected these people from themselves.”

How do we move forward and combat the risk of injury for students? First, we need to evaluate what a student is looking to gain from yoga and whether or not they have any prior injuries.

Secondly, as a yoga community, we need to openly acknowledge that yoga asana is a physical activity.  It is not risk-free. At this point, both the teacher and the student can figure out ways to reduce risk.

Leslie Kaminoff, an internationally recognized specialist in yoga and breath anatomy, says, “Some people have such faith in yoga that it overcomes their critical thinking. They think yoga practice, or a yoga teacher, can’t hurt them, which isn’t true.”

Roger Cole, Ph. D., scientist and Iyengar Yoga teacher relays ways to minimize the risk of injury in a classroom: “Teachers and students need to understand where the body is most likely to get injured in yoga and know how to protect these areas.”

Cole names the lower back, knees, and neck as areas of the body most prone to injury, followed by the sacroiliac (SI) joint and the origin of the hamstring muscle (where it joins the sitting bone). He notes that back and SI injuries are often linked to forward bends because they can place strain on the disks and ligaments at the base of the spine.

The riskiest postures are any seated, straight-leg forward bends that also include a twist. Cole says, “In order to make these poses safer, tilt from the pelvis as far as you can before the back gets involved, elongate the spine, don’t flex it too far, and never force yourself into the pose.” He further cautions, “Tilting the pelvis has its own risk. It puts more stretch on the hamstrings, so if you push too hard, you can strain them, especially at the point where they connect to the sitting bones.”

To prevent knee injury, Cole emphasizes the importance of not forcing the knees, especially in Padmasana, Lotus Pose, and instead advises turning the thighbone outward from the hip joint. “Pulling up on the foot or ankle or pushing down on the knee in Lotus puts a tremendous crushing force on the cartilage of the inner knee,” he says.

The most common posture to cause injuries, especially in people over 40, is Salamba Sarvangasana or Shouldterstand, according to Larry Payne, Ph.D., a Los Angeles yoga teacher, therapist and coauthor of Yoga Rx. For beginners, he suggests practicing Half Shoulderstand, a variation of the full pose where the hands are placed on the lower back to support the weight of the hips, thereby removing most of the weight from the neck. Full Shoulderstand can be dangerous because of the excess weight many Americans carry, notes Payne, who avoids the posture for anyone who is more than 30 pounds overweight. He offers students a continuum of options, including Viparita Karani, Legs-up-the-Wall Pose, Ananda Balasana , Happy Baby Pose, and Half Shoulderstand. He finishes by saying, “The attitude of a teacher is very important in avoiding injury. Teachers who make the class feel intimidated or wimpy if they need a modification or want to come out of a pose are asking for trouble.”

The best thing you can do as a yoga teacher to reduce any risk of injury is to constantly be aware of your student’s needs and capabilities. Offer modifications of more advanced poses that might result in a student injury. Above all, be thoughtful, caring and educate your students on how to keep themselves safe and injury-free during class and in their own practice.

Showing Aparigraha in Our Community

Since inception, we have made it a priority to do what we can to positively impact our environment. As yogis, we strive for aparigrapha, which is the idea of not taking more than one needs.

Our solar-powered, environmentally sustainable yoga center sits on a lushly landscaped campus surrounded by an abundance of edible and aromatic native trees and plants. Daylighting is utilized as much as possible in our classrooms to reduce the consumption of electric lights. We’ve implemented all of these areas of sustainability to support the health and well-being of our environment.

In keeping with the yogic principle of aparigrapha, we feel that it is our duty to do what we can to give back and support nonprofits with these same values and who also go above and beyond to combat environmental issues. We are seeing harmful effects on our planet daily, and we are determined to do something about it.

During the month of June, we are partnering with MountainTrue as our Charity of the Month to support their efforts in sustaining a healthy, natural environment here in Western North Carolina. They value the integrity of natural systems – air, land, water, and native plants and animals – and believe in the restoration and protection of them to benefit all generations. The organization empowers individuals throughout the region to engage in policy and project advocacy, outreach and education and on the ground projects.

As yogis, we believe in being caring and compassionate to all living things. Here are a few small ways that you can help positively impact the environment in your own day-to-day life and protect our beautiful planet:

#1. Use Reusable Bags

We have a huge problem with plastic bags. They get discarded in landfills and can end up suffocating animals who either get stuck in them or mistake them for food. Keep a few canvas bags in your car for the next time you go grocery shopping to cut down on your plastic consumption.

#2. Carpool Whenever Possible

If you can, take public transportation, walk or ride a bike. If you can ride with friends to outings you will be able to cut down on your carbon footprint.

#3. Be Mindful About Water and Energy Consumption

Water is wasted more frequently than you think! Be mindful to turn off faucets while you brush your teeth and limit your water consumption while you wash dishes. You can save water by keeping showers short and efficient. When you leave a room, turn lights off to conserve energy.

If you would like to support MountainTrue, donation boxes will be available all month long in the Studio and Boutique for monetary donations. On Wednesday, June 26 at 6pm, we will host a donation-based class focused on gratitude for our beautiful planet. All proceeds will be donated.  On Thursday, June 27, we will host our Donation Day where 10 percent of all community and drop-in class sales will be donated. In addition, AYC will give a direct donation of $250. Please join us for a class and show your support!

What is a Restorative Sound Bath?

A tangible resonance occurs every Monday evening at Asheville Yoga Center. The community gathers for gentle movement, longer held restorative postures and a live sound bath. Lyndsey Azlynne and Billy Zanski have joined forces to collaboratively create this offering from 7:15-8:30 pm, each week.

Lyndsey Azlynne is a yoga teacher, massage therapist and co-owner of the two Asheville Dobra Tea rooms.  She infuses her classes with a continuous invitation to slow down and to lean into the innate wisdom of the body and breath.  This collaboration has grown near and dear to her heart as it has woven together many of her deepest loves: silence, sound, movement, stillness and awareness.

Billy is the owner of Skinny Beats on Eagle Street in Asheville, a beautiful storefront offering a display of instruments from all over the world.  One of Billy’s main gifts is allowing space for others to reconnect to the peace and presence that sound and music can offer.  During this weekly Restorative Sound Bath, you will bathe in the sounds of various instruments including crystal bowls, gongs, didgeridoo, kora (west African harp) and various forms of percussion.

When you arrive, you will be offered a card as a way to let Lyndsey know if you would like informed hands on assists throughout class.  As a licensed massage therapist and reiki master, Lyndsey absolutely loves that the slow pace of this class offers ample opportunity for massage and gentle adjustments to allow tension to soften into ease.

The restorative sound bath often begins with some gentle movement and breath awareness as a way to arrive and settle into the space.   From there, longer held and fully supported postures begin to unwind and open up the deeper fascial layers of the body.  The last 25-30 minutes of class is a resonant live sound bath that seamlessly weaves together various instruments and often is experienced as if many people are playing.  Billy offers the sound bath as Lyndsey continues to offer hands on assists and grounding massage.  Many students have reported that they love this class as a way to end Mondays in relaxation each week.

One student says, “Lyndsey creates such a powerful, healing and restful space with her presence, energy, touch and ques.  That combined with Billy’s ability to transmute so much through sound and his soulful presence all come together to create a class that is deeply nurturing and restorative.”

Billy and Lyndsey offer a sonic space for remembrance through the use of body shapes, silence, sounds and instruments from various countries and traditions as tools to strum further into being present.  This class offers a weekly deep dive into your own inner world using breath and sound as your guide.  Lyndsey and Billy both consciously set the space for deep introspection, as a place to completely relax into support, to nourish the nervous system and to see what happens when you allow yourself to completely relax.

In these modern times, rushing is often celebrated and applauded, it is important to find places that we can retreat to for restoration and the opportunity to simply be.  Billy and Lyndsey have come together and consciously crafted this weekly offering as one of these places.  Allow your body to rest, melt into support, and feel the reverberation of sound lull you into the deep layers of your own inner world and into the wisdom of your own body.

Supporting Our Community

Asheville Yoga Center launches its seventh year of the popular Yoga in the Park series on Saturday, June 1, 2019. The donation-based classes are held at Reuter Terrace in Pack Square Park on Saturdays from 10 to 11:30 a.m., and run from June 1 through August 31, excluding June 22, July 27 and August 3. All proceeds benefit Asheville-based non-profits Homeward Bound and United Way.

“We implemented Yoga in the Park as a way to give back, through a fun and unique experience of outdoor yoga practice and by raising funds and awareness for our local nonprofits who do so much for our community,” says Melissa Driver, General Manager of Asheville Yoga Center. “We are greatly looking forward to another successful season of sharing yoga with the community.”

All levels are welcome, from newcomer to advanced, and no registration is necessary. Participants are asked to bring their own mats and filled water bottles.

Yoga in the Park will occur on the following Saturdays at 10am:

  • June 1st
  • June 8th
  • June 15th
  • June 29th
  • July 6th
  • July 13th
  • July 20th
  • August 10th
  • August 17th
  • August 24th
  • August 31st

Ways Yoga Improves Children’s Health

The early years of our lives set the foundation for who we will become and how we will treat not only ourselves but also others. Good physical and mental health is important, and we believe that all children have a right to the resources they need to live healthy and happily as they embark on each new cycle of life. Building a healthy life for the future is critical to youth development.

Yoga is a great source of mental and physical wellness for children. The world moves at an ever-accelerating pace and kids soon feel the pressures to keep up with everyone surrounding them. Our children encounter a plethora of emotional, social and physical challenges as they grow, and more often than not these factors cause stress. Yoga can counter these pressures and give youth the opportunity to calm down, reflect and find continuous self-discovery. Yoga aids in the development of a strong sense of self enabling children with the skills necessary to discover their place in the world and ways to positively impact their communities. In addition, yoga also helps children focus and concentrate since it encourages them to clear their minds and be present in the moment.

Schools around the country are beginning to introduce yoga into the classroom to give children an outlet to calm down, reset and find focus.  Also, yoga teaches us how to listen, treat and love our bodies unconditionally. Students at Edmunds Elementary in Des Moines, Iowa begin their day with a “Be Well” talk including topics such as thankfulness, being a peacemaker and being a good citizen. These are all important lessons for our children to learn beginning at an early age.

Asheville Yoga Center is fortunate to be able to support generations of young women on their journey to discover their inner strength and appreciation for personal health and wellness by supporting Girls on the Run of WNC in May. This non-profit empowers the lives of young girls to develop the necessary skills to live strong, healthy lives through an established appreciation for personal health and fitness. The organization believes that every girl is inherently full of power and potential and will change the world by first being leaders of their own lives.

Nathalie Claes will be hosting a donation-based class for Girls on the Run on May 28 from 6-7:15. Please join us for this kid-friendly class to support our wonderful Charity of the Month!

Visit the AYC Studio on Thursday, May 30 for a drop-in or community class. Ten percent of these sales will be directly donated to Girls on the Run of WNC to support their impactful work with young ladies in our community. If you are unable to make a class and still want to support this cause, donation boxes will be available in the Studio and Boutique from May 1-31.

Believe in Yourself Through Your Journey

Have you thought about pursuing your love of yoga beyond the realm of your personal practice? Embarking on the journey through 200-Hour teacher training will make you grow immensely as you connect with your mind, body and spirit. You’ll dive into a life-changing educational experience where you’ll bond with like-minded yogis and explore the many pillars of yoga.

Even though teacher training is a very exciting time of life, there are also many questions and apprehensions that come along with starting something new and unknown. You might be thinking, “How am I going to be successful in a career when I’ll be so new compared to other yoga instructors?” Every yoga teacher has gone through the “new” phase in their career! It’s an invigorating time to learn, listen and spread your wings. Here are some tips to make you feel confident in your choice and continue towards a new career path.

Don’t Take Things Personally

As a novice instructor, you might find that some students are surprised by your inexperience when you first begin to teach. They can be skeptical of you all they want, but don’t for one second let them inflict self-doubt. If you find yourself in this situation, try to put yourself in their shoes and understand them instead. Maybe they’ve never had a recent graduate as an instructor before, or maybe they have some built-up negative energy that needs to be released in class. Whatever the reason may be, you will have something to offer them.

Have Confidence in What You Say

You will win the respect and admiration of your students by teaching with confidence. Your role is to be a soothing, comforting voice for your students for the hour or more class that you teach. Share your thoughts and wisdom confidently and proudly. Practice your sequence and pronunciation so that you feel prepared going into your class. And remember to be patient with yourself always. It will take time to master a powerful, confident voice, but you will get there!

It’s Okay to Not Have All the Answers

Remember, you’re just starting out, so you’re not going to know the answer to every question that comes at you. If this happens, the best way to approach the situation is to just be honest with your students. Help them if you can, but then give them the resources they need to get further answers.

Find a Mentor

Having someone you look up to and can confide in is one of the greatest ways you can support your career and grow in it. Find a mentor that you trust and respect that you can bounce ideas off of and learn from. Get coffee with them or take one of their classes to observe their teaching practices. Continue to wear that student hat and learn as much as you possibly can.

As a novice instructor, you’ll be faced with challenges just like every other instructor. The bottom line is to overcome those challenges and use them to step up your skills as a teacher. Have confidence and fearlessly take on your future!

Download Our Guide to Teacher Training

Asheville Yoga Center Supports Our VOICE in April

We love rolling out our mats, connecting with ourselves and learning from the wisdom of instructors in class. But yoga is so much more than just the practice of poses and a time to work on personal growth. The principles set in yogic tradition are the real gems of the practice. They are what nurtures us and sets us on track to how we should treat ourselves and others in this human life.

A common principle embedded in the core of yoga life is that of ahimsa, which means causing no harm of any kind, not only through actions, but through words and thoughts as well. This principle of kindness encompasses all things. Ahimsa pertains to how you treat your body, the earth, animals and especially other people. Not only is it rewarding, but there are numerous benefits associated with showing kindness.

Being Kind Makes You Feel Good

Have you noticed that when you do something kind for someone else, you end up feeling better too? This isn’t just a coincidence. Acts of kindness boost your serotonin, the neurotransmitter that releases feelings of satisfaction and well-being. They also release endorphins in the same way that exercise does, so you feel that “euphoric high”.

Make goals to volunteer, help someone in need or buy a coffee for a stranger and see how one act of kindness can make your day just that much brighter.

Kindness is Heart Healthy

Showing kindness to those around you can even boost your heart health. Christine Carter, author of “Raising Happiness; In Pursuit of Joyful Kids and Happier Parents” writes:

“People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week.”

Show kindness towards someone else and keep yourself healthy too! It’s just that simple.

AYC Shows Ahimsa in April

Asheville Yoga Center will be partnering with Our VOICE to continue its Charity of the Month project through April and to help raise awareness during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Our VOICE is a non-profit crisis intervention and prevention agency which serves victims of sexual violence, age 13 through adulthood, in Buncombe County. Their mission states, “In the pursuit of a community that is free of sexual violence, Our VOICE serves all individuals in Buncombe County affected by sexual assault and abuse, through counseling, advocacy and education.”

Please join us on Thursday, April 25 for a drop-in or community class. Ten percent of these sales will be directly donated to Our VOICE to support their work within our community. If you are unable to make a class and still want to support this cause, donation boxes will be available in the Studio and Boutique from April 1-31.

 

Women’s Importance Through Yoga’s History

Written by AYC Instructor, Sierra Hollister

We all know that a regular yoga practice offers multiple benefits for the body, mind and spirit. These benefits include increased flexibility, enhanced physical strength, clarity and calm for the mind, better circulation and so much more.

For women specifically, yoga can support wellness through every stage of life, from child to child-bearing years, prenatal and postnatal, and beyond.  Of all the yoga’s offered, Kundalini Yoga in particular has rich, deep and specific teachings for those that identify as women. The man who brought the teachings of Kundalini to the United States, Yogi Bhajan, was incredibly inspired by women, beginning with his mother and grandmother. More than half of the legacy of teachings that Yogi Bhajan shared were dedicated to spreading the ancient sacred teachings of yoga with women specifically. The motivation to reach women with these teachings was based on his deep belief that the world would never know harmony or peace until women had their rightful place of recognition and respect in the world.

According to the teachings of Kundalini, “Woman is the embodiment of God’s creative power, Shakti. Woman embodies the feminine aspect of God, through which the world was created. That primal power is called the Adi Shakti and has been worshipped for centuries in the form of various goddesses. Every woman has that divine goddess power in her own being, waiting to be recognized.”

While students of Kundalini are immersed in this rich understanding of the role and power of women, many more students in this country are told that as far as women and yoga go, the history is recent. This story has been created by western teachers and unfortunately, yet somewhat reliably, centers a white woman, Eugenie Peterson, as one of the first women to practice yoga. Eugenie Peterson went on to be known as Indra Devi, and while Indra Devi did contribute greatly to the story of yoga in this country, by no means was she the first woman to practice yoga.

Feminist artist, scholar and teacher, Vicki Noble, suggests that women invented the practice of yoga. Noble’s research proposes that there was a widespread female-centered yoga practice dating all the way back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages. This early yoga was ritual based and celebrated the blood mysteries of women, birth, healing and death. Graduate student Agi Wittich points to archeological findings that suggest women were a significant part of spiritual life all the way back to the earliest evidence of classical yoga – the Paśupati Seal, dated to 2500 BCE. As support for this thesis, Gates Janica, California Yoga Research and Education Center faculty, says, “women’s inclusion in rituals was considered auspicious, even necessary for the presence of the divine, and women were positively associated with fertility, growth, abundance, and prosperity.” Gates goes on to point out that there are numerous references in the Vedas to female scholars, teachers, mystics, priestesses, and philosophers and as many as twenty-seven female sages.”

Wittich continues to point out in her paper, “Yoga and Women: A Possible History,” that later texts, ones that many of us are much more familiar with, including several of the Upaniṣads and the Mahābhārata, mention wise spiritual women and go so far as to define some as “yoginis”.

Local tantric scholar Ramesh Bjonnes writes that “women have been gurus, healers, yoginis and goddesses since the beginning of time.”

All of which to say, isn’t it time that we stop centering Indra Devi in the story of women and yoga and reach back through time, as yoga itself does? Not only does it feel more powerful to acknowledge that women, especially dark-skinned women, have been practicing, shaping and creating yoga for as long as yoga has been around, but it is also true and gives yoga back its roots and truth.

The practice of yoga, for women by women, is deep, profound and a celebration of the nature of women, our monthly cycles as well as our life cycles. By practicing this way, we open ourselves to the flow of energy rather than achievement of a posture. The journey, rituals and experience of the practice, rather than the physicality of the practice, are paramount.

More than anything, we understand that yoga is who we are, rather than what we do.

If you’d like to learn more about women’s role in yoga, here are a few resources for you.

Infinity, Divinity, Dignity – the teachings of Kundalini Yoga for Women

Body Divine Yoga

Yoga and Women: a possible history

Dispelling One Big Myth About Women in Yoga

Sierra Hollister offers a weekend immersion each year for women that wish to understand more about their unique yogic path, “The Moon Path” at Asheville Yoga Center. Dates this year are April 26-28. If you’d like to attend this weekend workshop, please click here to register.

Sierra will be offering a “Rejuvenation Meditation with Gong” workshop on March 22. This evening will be comprised of some gentle movement, breathwork and then meditation with the gong. If you’d like to attend, please register here.

Sierra also teaches Gentle Kundalini on Mondays at 10am and HOT Kundalini Flow on Thursdays at 7pm.

Giving Back to Those in Need

One of the most humbling and beautiful principles of yoga is “seva,” the Sanskrit word meaning “service-mindedness.” In ancient India, seva (pronounced seh-va) was thought to improve an individual’s spiritual growth through acts of selfless community service. It is the essence of giving without any intention of receiving anything in return.

In March, Asheville Yoga Center will be fundraising for Pisgah Legal Services, a local innovative non-profit law firm that has been serving Asheville and the greater Western North Carolina area since 1978. The organization provides legal assistance and advocacy to help low-income individuals meet their basic needs and improve their lives. Their work includes helping more than 15,000 of the most vulnerable people in our communities annually to meet needs such as housing, safety from abuse, health care and income.

AYC is fortunate to share similar values with those of Pisgah Legal Services. As a yoga center, we are dedicated to inspiring others to recognize their worth and greatness and support each other to create the environment and resources necessary to live a healthy and meaningful life.

Yoga is far more than just a type of exercise routine or a break from busy day-to-day life. Its principles serve as a guiding light for how we should live on and off the mat. We believe that it is our duty and calling to show seva in our lives by giving back to those in need in any way that we can. Ram Dass, world-renowned spiritual influencer, eloquently explains the beauty of seva: “Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us.”

Ways You Can Show Support

  • If you wish to make a monetary donation, donation boxes will be located in both the Studio and Boutique all month long.
  • Join us at the Studio for a class on Thursday, March 28. Ten percent of all community and drop-in class sales will be donated on this date.

As spring stretches out her sleepy fingertips to nourish our earth in this new season, we too must nourish our community. Join us as we work to support this amazing organization and help our community continue to grow and blossom through advocacy and service.

To learn more, a representative from Pisgah Legal Services will be at the Studio to answer any questions as a part of our donation day on March 28.

Understanding Different Stretching Techniques

Written by AYC Instructor, Forrest Campbell

The practice of yoga can be described as boundless, with boundless subjects tied into it. Memorizing every single muscle, bone, node and valve in the body is not necessary to experience the beauty of asana. However, it is nice to know some science behind certain aspects of a yoga practice so that we can find the strongest versions of ourselves with a little help. Asana, in and of itself, is a vast subject. We are just going to cover a small portion relating to muscle stretching: specifically, active and passive static stretching.

Stretching Breakdown

Every single skeletal muscle in our body has at least one origin and insertion. Let’s break down what that means exactly.

The origin of a muscle is typically closest to the midline of the body and is more fixed in a contraction. In contrast, the insertion is more moveable. For example, part of our bicep muscle, the biceps brachii, attaches its origin to the part of our shoulder blade called the supraglenoid tubercle of the scapula. The insertion of this muscle is located on a bone in our forearm called the radius. Stretching creates greater distance between the origin and insertion which stretches the biceps brachii by lengthening the arm.

When we stretch muscles, our nervous system dictates how far we can go in a particular stretch. We have receptors that monitor muscle length and let us know when we are stretching too deeply. These receptors alert us with an intense, unsustainable sensation which prevents us from tearing or overstretching muscles.

It’s up to us to be persistent in our practice to find greater muscle stretch tolerance and flexibility. We need to enter stretching with a sense of repose so that our nervous system reduces its grip on a stretched muscle over time.

Muscle Tightness

Many factors can cause reduced joint range of motion, and muscle stiffness is just one piece of the puzzle. Muscle tightness, consequently, comes from increased tension from active or passive mechanisms. Habitual posture and muscle scarring are both passive ways muscles can develop tightness and spasms. Repetitive muscle contraction is an active way that tightness can occur.

Passive Static Stretching

This technique can be practiced many ways in asana, and if you’ve taken a class, you’ve probably experienced passive static stretching in at least one way. This type of stretching uses gravity and body weight as tools to facilitate muscle stretching. You can hold these stretches for up to 30 seconds (or even longer) as you allow the nervous system and stretch receptors to acclimate to each shape. The idea behind this kind of stretching is to find a sensation in the body that can be sustained with steady breath for the whole duration of a held stretch. A sense of relaxation and ease can often be felt during and after this style of stretching.

Here’s an example of this type of practice: Set yourself up in a wide-leg seated forward bend (upavistha konasana) allowing the torso and pelvis to tilt forward. Round forward in the spine and allow gravity to help you find depth in the posture. Props can be very handy with this style of stretching as well. Try modifying your pose by using a blanket or bolster to support the pelvic tilt.

Active Static Stretching

Active static stretching has more muscle involvement compared to passive static stretching. You use little to no assistance from anything external in this type of stretching. Instead, you use muscle support to find a good stretch.

Many movements and stretches in yoga can be active stretches, but it’s up to you to find what you’re comfortable with in your own practice. If you want to achieve an active stretch, it is necessary to involve the agonist muscles as well as the antagonist muscles.

In short, using wide-leg seated forward bend as an example again, focus on the agonist muscles (quadriceps) and the antagonist muscles (hamstrings). As you activate the quadriceps, the hamstrings in turn can receive a signal to soften a little bit more through something called reciprocal inhibition.

Active stretching can help strengthen the agonist muscles as well as build a higher stretch tolerance for the antagonist muscles. These stretches are typically held with many muscles active for shorter durations lasting around 10-15 seconds. For wide-leg seated forward fold, keep a straight spine as you engage the quadriceps, hinging from the hips to walk the hands forward and achieve a stretching sensation in the hamstrings.

A waterfall of physiological responses occurs during stretching, but one of the coolest responses from the body is the release of endorphins from tiny tears in the muscles. The “good feeling” from endorphins can easily override the potential sensation from muscle tears, which is why stretching can be pleasing. Pair that with some slow breathing and you and your nervous system will be ready to take on anything.

Elements such as anatomy and physiology can make the entire understanding of yoga seem unreachable within a lifetime. However, understanding small chunks of information often leads us down a path to understanding the larger picture. We hope you find this supportive as you further your yoga practice and education.

If you want to take a class with Forrest, see his class schedule below!