What is the origin of muscles?
The muscle fibers and fascicles that make up our muscles are called bundles of muscle fibers. Tens of thousands of myofibrils make up muscle fibers. They can contract, relax, lengthen and stretch. Myofibrils are made up of millions of bands called sarcomeres. Each sarcomere consists of myofilaments, which are overlapping filaments. Myofilaments consist of two contractile proteins: myosin and actin.
Motor nerves in the spinal column tell our brain when actin and myosin should slide over one another to contract a particular muscle. Fast-twitch muscles are quicker to react, but they fatigue faster than slow-twitch muscle, which is slower to react but doesn’t get tired as often.
Why is it important that muscles are stretched in different ways?
This brief explanation explains an important concept: When stretching, we want to use as many of the muscle’s smaller units (fibers and myofibrils) as possible. Multi-faceted stretching can benefit the nervous system and provide great physical benefits.
It allows us to feel free, open, and completely wonderful. It can reduce injury risk, relieve muscle spasms and pains caused by trauma or habitual movement patterns, and even fascia-related syndromes like fibromyalgia.
You can achieve this by using the following types of stretching on the yoga mat:
Vinyasa Flow Yoga often teaches dynamic stretching. This involves warming up a particular muscle or group of muscles to allow them to stretch deeper. Warrior Two may allow us to lift and lower dynamically. Inhalations can propel us forward in Low Lunge, while exhalations might draw us back to Pyramid Pose.
After a few breaths, it is possible to hold the pose statically, going deeper than if you hadn’t done dynamic movement. We can go deeper into yoga poses because we have coaxed more muscle fibers to join the stretch.
Static and active stretching
In a Hatha or Iyengar class, we do static stretching. Vinyasa Flow is a practice that allows us to move from one pose to another with our breath or dynamically within the pose. A static stretching class holds a pose for a set amount of time.
There are two types: Passive and Active static stretching.
When muscles on one side of your body are activated to support muscles on the opposite side of your body relaxing.
Passive static stretching
We can relax into a pose and allow gravity to take us deeper into the stretch. I like to call it “succumbing to the gravitational draw of middle earth.” Static stretches are kept longer to coax smaller units to join the stretch.
Stretch-Contract-Relax (PNF and Pandiculation)
Both Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitated (PNF) stretching and Pandiculation are forms of Stretch-Contract-Relax styles of stretching. PNF uses resistance and a systematic/timed stretch-contract-relax pattern to increase the range of motion, while Pandiculation is spontaneous, and all three (stretch-contract-relax) happen simultaneously.
Stretching with Proprioceptive Nervous Facilitated (PNF),
PNF is a stretching that is more common in one-on-one yoga lessons or therapeutic settings. This style of stretching relies on resistance. You can offer it to another person, or an inanimate object, such as a wall or floor.
PNF is a technique that allows you to find your range in motion. This will allow you to identify which muscles are restricted and prevent you from moving further. You can then isometrically contract the muscles against resistance (or ‘firing’ it at the joint without moving) using 40-60% of your strength. This takes between 20 and 45 seconds. Then relax, stretch, and repeat the process 3-5 more times.
Pandiculation, an intrinsic bio-feedback loop in the neuromuscular systems, allows the muscles to inform the brain how tight they feel to allow the brain to reset. After a time of rest, the particular response can be felt upon awakening. Continue reading Pandiculation Stretching like a cat.
Paschimottanasana: Practice dynamic, active, static and PNF
Lie down straight ahead with your legs extended in front. You can use a strap or reach for your toes to reach your toes. Do not force your body to stretch. The idea is to feel the end of your range.
- Dynamic stretching: Inhale and look at your toes. Lift/extend your spine. Inhale and hinge at the hips, then fold your arms deeper. Repeat this process 3-5 times.
- Active static stretching: You activate your quadriceps and quadriceps muscles and the front of your neck muscles. This will allow you to stretch your entire back from heels up to the top of your head.
- Facilitated Stretching (PNF), whereby a yoga teacher gently but firmly places a palm on the lower back to strengthen Quadratus Lumborum muscles. For 30 seconds, you lift yourself into the resistance using 40-60% of your strength. Relax deeper into the stretch. Repeat this process 3-5 times.
- Passive static stretching: Let gravity and exhalation take your upper and lower body deeper into the forward fold.