Integrating Anatomy into Your Yoga Practice

There are many reasons we begin a yoga practice. To become more flexible, increase strength, reduce anxiety, or maybe to create more joy in our lives. Regardless, once our practice is up and running, we find out that yoga is much more than we imagined.  We push ourselves into places we’ve never been, we find courage we didn’t know we had, and we find out there are nuances to yoga that directly influence the tapestry of our already rich lives.

One of these nuances is balancing Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are two sides of dualism that exist alongside each other, or the tail and the head, the mountain and the valley, the two sides of everything. They co-exist and cannot be without each other.

The concept of the balanced Yin/Yang appears throughout the body. Here, we will talk about balanced Yin and Yang in terms of the musculoskeletal system (joints and muscles). For every muscle we have, we have another muscle that acts in exact opposition, especially around the joints that require mobility (yes, we have joints that require more stability than mobility, and that’s for another day). The nervous system also plays a part in helping to balance the Yin and Yang aspects of the musculoskeletal system, helping to balance the flow of energy in the body. Today, we will discuss reciprocal inhibition. Reciprocal inhibition is a spinal cord reflex that causes one muscle, or set of muscles, to relax when the opposite muscle, or set of muscles, contracts.

Muscles fall into two basic groups, depending upon the activity, which we will label as agonists and antagonists. For example, the quadriceps (agonist) are the muscles in the front of the thigh, that when contracting, straighten or extend the knee. In order for this movement to take place, the hamstrings (antagonist) must relax . This is the process of reciprocal inhibition and it occurs unconsciously through a spinal cord reflex. The quadriceps (agonist) and hamstrings (antagonist) must be in balance in order for the knee to track perfectly. When they are out of balance, maybe one stronger, maybe one more flexible, the integrity of the joint is compromised. We can intently and consciously access this reflex and this will deepen our practice and bring us closer to a balanced Yin and Yang.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a yoga student with tight hamstrings using a strap to forcibly stretch. Seeking to lengthen a tight hamstring by pulling with a strap could work; however, there is a much better way, because of reciprocal inhibition. It is important to note that if the hamstrings are very tight, the quadriceps are very weak. By using reciprocal inhibition, the hamstrings will lengthen while the quadriceps strengthen, and the balance will be obtained faster, more efficiently, with greater precision. Again, one of the biggest benefits of using The YiPP is to deepen your practice.

By simply pressing The YiPP into flexed feet during a seated forward bend, your quadriceps and core must contract, so according to physiological principle, the hamstrings and lower back muscles must relax. It is here you are free to practice intently and experience greater, more profound results.

In reverse prayer, by pressing into The YiPP, the upper back muscles contract causing the chest and front shoulder muscles to relax, increasing the strength of these very important postural muscles and we’re standing straighter and with greater strength, just naturally.

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