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Stressing Not Stretching

Posted by terrepruitt on January 20, 2020

I teach a stretch class. In that class we do static stretches that are meant to stretch our muscles. Sometimes to get people into the stretch I use the name of a yoga pose, but because we are stretching our intent is different. If we were actually in yoga doing the pose we would be including breathing and strengthening, but in the stretch class I try to just make it about stretching the muscles. I may have mentioned before, when I started learning Yin Yoga I was frustrated because the names of the poses were different. I kept saying, “Why are the names different? They are the same poses?” Then I realized that the intent of the pose is different. So it really does serve the student better to call it something different. If I were to instruct students to move into Bound Angle, then people that know this pose would pull their feet in as close as they could pressing their knees towards the earth and lengthening the spine, but in Yin calling it butterfly lets them know that they are not doing the same thing as they would be in a yang class. There is no need to pull the feet in as close to the middle as you can get them and press the knees down, the idea is to soften and round, the head and knees hang resting where they are to help the connective tissue stress (FKA stretch). So the names are different to help remind us that the intent is different. We are not working (stretching, strengthening, moving) muscles; we are relaxing muscles and letting our bodies hang into a pose. In Yin Yoga we are not stretching we are stressing.

Dance Exercise, Nia, Nia in the City of San Jose, Nia classes in the South Bay, Nia Teacher, Nia Class, San Jose Nia, Nia San Jose, Nia workout, Nia, Gentle Yoga, Group Ex classes, YMCA, Zumba, Nia Technique, SJ City Fit, SJCityFit, City of San Jose Exercise Classes, Cambrian Yoga & Cardio Dance, CYCD, Yin YogaI often use the same description – stretch – when I am teaching Yin yoga, although that is not the intent. First of all we are focusing on connective tissue and not the muscles, but we still are not trying to STRETCH the tissue. That is what we say, but that it not really what we are doing. Saying we are stretching it does sound better than what we are doing. We are actually stressing it. It seems as if we have been programmed to think that stretching and lengthening are good so that is usually how we describe it. Even when someone goes to the gym they say they are going to “build muscles,” people don’t say they are going to the gym to “break down their muscles” – even though that is actually what they are doing. It is the breaking down of the fibers and the stressing of the fibers that we are actually doing. Then when we rest they build up again or in the case of fascia, return to its normal state stronger and changed for the better.

It is such a habit to say “stretch”. “In Yin Yoga we stretch our connective tissue.” I think I say it because it sounds a little better than stressing. I also keep saying lengthen because it sounds like a goal people want to hear. I think that for many of the people I have encountered stretching and lengthening are goals. Connective tissues doesn’t really stretch out, it gets stressed which helps hydrate it and strengthen it and allow it to move and support us better.

I also feel like some of this is in part due to the fact that many people think of Yin Yoga as Restorative Yoga. Restorative Yoga is more of a relaxing muscle stretching type of yoga. It can help heal the body. There are many props used to allow the participant to lie there in comfort. Yin Yoga is not about comfort. It about stressing that connective tissue which can make the part of the body feel like it aged years over the few minutes you were in the pose. But as long as it is not PAIN or tingling or numbing that is being felt it sounds as if you are doing it right.

In order for the yin pose to be effective it needs to be done for a long time. I was taught that it has to be AT LEAST one minute. But I see some information say it must be longer, but I have also been taught that for many people and for many poses we need to start at one minute because even that is going to feel like an eternity. As the body becomes accustomed to long holds then the time spent in each pose can be longer. I believe the ideal time is from three to five minutes . . . but it also depends on the pose.

Just like with all yoga it is important to listen to the body and not try to compete, the idea is to play the edge yet know when you must stop. Again, we are STRESSING the tissue but we don’t want to stress it past its breaking point. We still must be mindful.

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