Fitness Magazine

New Practices and Techniques I'm Exploring Lately

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge

New Practices and Techniques I'm Exploring Lately

Glazed Cruller in Space by Kenny Scharf

In my post My Evolving Home Practice ) in April of this year I described some of the main things I had been focusing on in my home practice. Although it has not been a full year since my last check in with you all, there are two different ways of practicing I’ve been experimenting with that I felt warranted an update.

Making Space in Joints One of the most common complaints I hear from my students is that they have pain around the joints. The technique of creating more space in affected joints is one that I have found helpful for this problem both personally and for my students. For example, when my knees are feeling cranky and sore, I will actively lift my thighbones away from my shinbones in standing poses to create more space between the boney surfaces of the knee joints. For me, this results in more muscular engagement around the joints and usually lessens any pain that was there before. I apply this way of working to just about any movable joint in the body when any of these joints are troubling for my students or me.What has shifted recently is the idea of sequentially involving as many joints as I can in a pose. For example, in Mountain pose, I start by feeling grounded evenly in the feet, then lift the shins away from the feet, the thighs away from the shins, the pelvis away from the thighs, and the individual spinal bones up off one another, all the way up to lifting the skull away from the cervical spine. When used in the static version of poses, this technique establishes a clear lift away from gravity, engages the muscles around many joints, and feels very strengthening and quite good on the joints. It is also a great way to focus the mind on remaining in the body for longer holds. As I have been getting familiar with this expanded way of making space in joints in many poses, I have started to share it with my classes lately with good feedback from my students. I hope to share more specifics via my YouTube videos in the coming months. Stay tuned by subscribing to my YouTube channel.Slow Motion/Outer Space Yoga 
Here at YFHA, we have often discussed how to use yoga poses to build strength, via different ways of contracting muscles (see Strength Building: How Long to Hold Poses). But recently I’ve learned about some new research that gave me some new ideas. In addition to reading blogs about yoga-related research and practice, I also follow the blog The S&C Research Reviewof Chris Beardsley, a British athletic trainer and writer, who focuses on evaluating the research on weight training and strength building. He recently pointed out that multiple studies are showing that eccentric muscle contraction is as or more effective in building strong muscles as static holds and concentric muscle contractions. 

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, eccentric contraction (which I discussed in my post Strength Building: How Long to Hold Poses is when a muscle is still contracting while slowly lengthening. What?? You might be saying to yourself, “That does not seem to make any sense!” Let me give you an example of how it works: as you slowly lift your arms out to the sides and up from Mountain pose up into Arms Overhead pose, the muscle at the tops of the shoulders, the deltoids, are contracting and shortening on the way up (this is known as concentric contraction). However, if you slowly lower the arms back down, that same muscle is continuing to contract, but it is lengthening, to allow for a smooth even descent of your arms. 

This is eccentric contraction. Several of the studies on resistance weight training to build muscle used eccentric muscle contractions of 3-4 seconds (for instance, taking 3-4 seconds to lower the arms to the sides as described above). If you want to read more on this topic, see here.

In those studies, subjects are using weights of some sort. In yoga asanas, we use our own body weight instead, but that’s still “lifting weights”. So, with all that in mind, I have been taking dynamic versions of poses and my mini-vinyasas and slowing the time in and out of poses (4 to 6 seconds for each specific movement) while keeping the breath relaxed. That might mean you take two full breaths to make the move instead of just one inhalation or exhalation. When you practice this way, it looks like you are moving in slow motion and even has that look of weightless movement you see with astronauts on space shuttle missions, ergo the name. But it feels like you are working in a very different, stronger way than when moving in and out of a pose on just the inhalation or exhalation. The slower movement also requires more concentrated focus, which I consider an added benefit. I’d love to see a future yoga study on strength improvements comparing dynamic poses (moving in on and inhalation and out on an exhalation) with static poses and this slow-motion version to see which is more effective in building strength. It is also my intention to create some videos on this style of practice to share with you in the near future. Stay tuned by subscribing to my YouTube channel.

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