In The last issue we were discussing reflexes (1. Myotatic stretch reflex, 2. Clasp knife reflex, 3. Flexion reflexes.), and we talked about the first tow and we said that we can deal with them in such a way to get maximum benefits for our practice… did you think about examples?
Well, let us take a look first at the third reflex and then go to practical hints about “using” physiology in our yoga practice.
These reflexes are a whole group of reflexes that protect our body when we cause to ourselves physical pain. When we touch a hot glass of tea our hand withdraws back without us being conscious about the movement. This is because the pain alarm in the body calls for help and the flexor muscles come to rescues so they contract to bend the arm away from the offending object.
In Hatha Yoga we always differentiate between discomfort and pain. The feeling of discomfort is useful as it is a part of the training process. It shows the level of stretch we are working on in the moment and tells us that we are somewhere near our stretch limit. Pain is totally different. It is the voice of the body telling us we have exceeded the limit. Thus, we should listen to the body and try not to reach a point where this reflex is elicited.
Minimizing the Effects of Myotatic Reflex and Flexion Reflexes
Pearls for practice: Perfect asanas can never be achieved by forcing and pushing. In your practice always move gently and consciously!
Using the Clasp Knife Reflex
As you remember, this reflex works in such a way that allows muscles to relax after intense contracting. So you can use this reflex to allow the hamstrings to relax and enjoy your levels best split or forward bend.
From “anti-split” to split: stretching the muscles of the inner thigh is always a hard mission especially when trying to go into a split or trying to sit in lotus (padmasana). In order to make it easier to open the hips or split, lie down on your back with your hips seated against a wall and legs stretched up by the wall. Split the legs apart to your maximum. Then fix your heals firmly to the wall and try to contract the muscles on the inner side of the thigh (adductor muscles) as if trying to bring the feet together but allowing the heels to restrain the movement. At the same time massage the tendons of these tensed muscles near the pelvis. This will give your body an impression that the muscles are contracted more and more. After that, relax and allow the legs to go apart, and you will notice that the angle between the legs has increased.
Paschimottanasana the sitting forward bend: first try to go into the forward bend as u usually do. Remember the limit you reached. Then sit on your sitting bones once more with your spine straight and legs stretched in front of you, feet perpendicular to the floor and toes pointing to the ceiling. Inhale, stretch your body up and as you exhale stretch bend forward stretching the arms towards the toes, and before you reach the maximum bend contract your hamstrings for about 10 seconds as if you were trying to penetrate with your heels through the floor. Then relax the hamstrings (stop pressing with the heels down) and stretch more forward and bend as if trying to reach with your abdomen to the thighs. You will notice that your forward bend is much better now.
Synchronize stretching towards the toes with inhalations and bending forward with exhalations. Always use your breath to enhance your stretch and feel more comfortable while holding any asana.
When you practice yoga, especially Hatha Yoga , you find yourself dealing with that same object which you met first when you were born and will leave last at the moment of departure. While practicing yoga process you learn to master this object and use it and transcend it… but first of all you have to know it. In Hatha Yoga you deal with the most familiar and yet most mysterious of all objects – you deal with your own body.
If ordinary people need only the body user’s manual, yogis need a much more detailed one, a kind of developer’s manual. In this series of articles we’ll try to shed a light on these sides of our bodies’ anatomy and physiology that we need to know as yogis to enhance our practice.
In the last issue we talked about different types of muscle contraction. Did you think of examples from your own practice?
Well, the simplest example is single and double leg lifts: when you lift your leg, the hip flexors (the iliopsoas, rectus femoris and pectineus muscles) contract isotonicly with concentric shortening of muscle fibers so that your leg is lifted straight up. To hold the leg straight up the muscles contract isometricly, they don’t shorten nor elongate. But when you are releasing your leg down, the flexor muscles remain contracted but they elongate eccentricly. Meanwhile the hip extensors (the hamstrings and the gluteus muscles, which are antagonist muscles in this case) must be relaxed. If you fail to relax your extensors you wouldn’t be able to flex your leg and hold it straight.
In single and double leg raises you warm up your muscles and prepare yourself for the forward bends which also involve the activity of hip flexors.
Merits of Isometric Exercises.
A reflex, is an involuntary movement that comes as a response to a certain stimulus.
As much as we are concerned in Hatha Yoga , we need to know about 3 reflexes: 1. Myotatic stretch reflex, 2. Clasp knife reflex, 3. Flexion reflexes.
Myotatic Strech Reflex is the contraction of the muscle in response to its stretching. The reflex is meant to prevent overstretching (muscle trauma) and stabilize movements.
If you stand straight and start bending to one side, the muscles on the other side of the body will stretch to allow you bend but if you bend quickly you will feel resistance from these muscles. This is because of the stretch reflex that is trying to protect your body and “correct” your posture, preventing you from falling.
In fact any dynamic movement causes this reflex to work. This reflex is immediate, so you feel it a part of your movement and you can be aware of it only as stiffness in the muscles The knee reflex (patellar reflex) is the most well known example of stretch reflex: as the doctor strikes the tendon just under the patella, quadriceps muscle stretches and receptors send a signal to the spinal column and an order is generated there to contract the quadriceps and prevent its hyper extension. This causes the leg to kick.
In Hatha Yoga we need to minimize the effects of this reflex. We don’t want our muscles to shorten and contract and the joints to be stiff. We need them to be stretched, relaxed and flexible. That’s why we use dynamic exercises (surya namaskar, single led raises without holding the leg, the dolphin) only as preparatory exercises as they are perfect means for warming up. But when it comes to yoga asanas we avoid brisk and quick movements, jumping and forceful stretching so that we don’t elicit the stretch reflex and get a result completely opposite to the one we aiming to.
Clasp Knife Reflex is another stretch reflex, but this one causes the muscles to relax. It works like the pocket knife that folds (closes) easily only after the closure faces long resistance that pulls the blade to the opposite direction.
In the same manner if you are performing a movement and you face some resistance, your muscles will contract more in order to overcome the obstacle. But if you are lifting a big rock, that cannot be lifted with ordinary human power, your muscles won’t contract infinitely, you will reach a point where they relax and you feel totally powerless. This is because the clasp knife reflex causes your muscles to relax!
Hunt after “self-development” workshops: different meditations, yoga workshops, chakra opening sessions, past life regression, affirmation meditations, meditations on higher plains of existence…practice a bit of the techniques taught in every practice and session you can reach to. Especially trust workshops that “talk to the heart” where the workshop leader is “full of Love” and compassion. Trust even more the workshops where you are led to remember your weaknesses, the pains you had, where you are supposed to forgive yourself and others, ie. to recall all the sh..t from the darkest zones of oblivion… The more workshops you attend the more knowledge you gather in your mind the better is your progress in spiritual growth delusion.
Read “The Secret” or any other book on the law of attraction and follow the advises given there. Always set targets and visualize them achieved. Want what you want from the innermost depth of your heart! Ask for more, want more and more… “tap to the source” of all good with more visualization and true wanting… ask for “abundance”… trust that things “in the future will be better than NOW” ! Attract people, attract money, attract health, attract anything by thinking positively about the subject you want to attract. The more you think of something and the more you are emotionally attached to it, the more that thing is likely to manifest, and the more you are spiritually evolved.
Attend powerful yoga classes where the instructor herself / himself is super flexible. Gentle classes would not help. Do hot yoga, power yoga all the vinyasas you can! Sweat! Loose calories! If you are not physically satisfied in the yoga session it is of no use. Measure your progress day after day. Push as much as you can especially in nice arching back poses and impressive splits. Try your best to master hard and weird postures like arm balancing poses and inversions (headstand, armstand…) don’t forget to post your new photos in super poses on facebook, instagram, twitter, etc…
No matter how you really feel about the person or situation in front of you wear a “spiritual” smile (usually from ear to ear). Express “deep love” and compassion (the more you talk about it the better) towards every tiny creature “suffering”: ants smashed by pedestrians, homeless cats, withering flowers… of course, your family members and colleagues at work can wait a little more till you start noticing they exist. Meanwhile talk as much as you can about love and happiness. Tell others about the peace and love you experience… these are definite markers of “spirituality” don’t fail to hold them tight.
Self-development, self-empowerment, self-esteem, selfwhatever… this is what spirituality is about. Do not listen to the news. It is full of stress. If it happens that you listen stay careless. Why do you care what is happening “outside”. Focus only on yourself. Make yourself happier, do only things that you love to do, avoid any activity that you do not like. Avoid any effort or duty, do only what you love not what you “should” do. Love yourself “as you deserve to be loved”. Struggle against any feeling of emptiness and silence within you. Whenever you feel empty do something, don’t just sit… Keep yourself “busy” developing yourself.
Use chakra opening stones and crystals to balance your energy. The color and quality of the stone can make a great difference in your spiritual evolution. So do your yoga pants and shirts. Use incense and candles at your home . Make an “om” tattoo or wear an “om” necklace, it will definitely boost your spiritual growth. Drink soya milk, take yoga pills.Local diets are a hindrance in the path of spirituality, a macrobiotic diet is surely much more enlightening.
Stick to these advises and encourage others to do if you really want to mute any urge for real spiritual growth in you and in others… adhere to them to stay “spiritually high” and totally deludedabout true spirituality and its meaning… don’t hesitate to contact any of the new age gurus for a further destructions… eh… sorry, instructions.
Each time you visit India you cannot avoid being impressed with the overwhelming happiness and smiling faces you meet there despite the relative “poverty” with which a big majority of Indians live. With each visit one can learn more about the art of happy living… The five lessons I learnt in my last visit are so simple:
Humility: As you meet people in south India you can’t help being “hypnotized” by their humbleness. They way they talk, they way they move… just like big children. You feel in the people there the readiness to be oneself and not more or less than oneself. No masks, no arrogance, no “fake it till you make it”, no inflated ego of the west. Something we do miss in our modern society.
Appreciation: The westernized eye can see a lot of poverty in India. A lot of people live there with the basic needs of life barely available. Nevertheless, looking at these people one would realize that they do feel abundance while we, with all the luxuries we have, are the poor ones. People there are happy with the little that they have. Children enjoy simple games, grownups enjoy simple living… and everything around is appreciated and everyone lives with gratitude.
Accepting our Body: People there are friends with their bodies. All body parts are equally appreciated. The foot is no less important than the hand and the tummy is no less important than the head. Form here comes their holistic view towards everything around.
Being part of Nature: In many rural places you can see houses built without cutting a single tree. Coconut trees pass through the roof of the house while their stems serve as its support. The quantity of green spaces even in the cities of south India is comparable to the green areas in our villages and fields. This area of green is the main stress absorber. It is the link that keeps man connected to source of universal energy. The more you connect the healthier you are.
With all the amazing experiences and lovely people I met the fifth lesson I learnt during this trip to India was never to travel without a photo camera!