How do you know when you need to stretch a particular muscle or just quiet it, with a more restorative approach?
When we consider muscles in our body that are tight or “stiff,” our first reaction is to stretch that muscle. Stretching seems logical and like it could solve the problem. For example, if I have tight pectoralis muscles (chest muscles) and they are pulling my shoulder forward causing me to have shoulder pain when I lift my arm, it is only logical that I stretch those muscles and my problem will be solved.
Well, kind of.
Certainly, when we have a muscle that is so stiff that it pulls our body out of efficient alignment as in a tight pectoralis minor muscle pulling the shoulder blade into downward rotation, lengthening that muscle would be part of the solution. But, we also have to ask ourselves another question:
What caused the muscle to shorten in the first place?
- Postural habits?
- Stress stored in the body?
- Lack of awareness and awakening in other supporting muscles in that area?
- Emotional trauma or depressed mood state?
- Poor quality of movement?
When we consider these other factors we can, yes indeed, stretch that muscle through specific yoga asanas (postures), but also look at other contributing factors and address those as well, in concert. As one of my yoga therapist colleagues said in a conversation just the other day, “Putting someone in restorative fish pose is not going to solve their issues, musculoskeletal or otherwise!”
Consider this: What if the muscle doesn’t necessarily need to be stretched, but rather quieted? A great example of this situation are the hip flexors. As a cyclist, I know that my hip flexors feel tight, but stretching them over and over hasn’t really helped. This muscle is more of a bully muscle.
That is, it likes to dominate action at the hip, compensating for other muscles which may have become weakened or passive through lifestyle habits, certain repetitive activities, stored stress in the body and so on.
Rather than stretch a muscle which may be dominant or over active, it may benefit someone to quiet the muscle through restorative postures and muscle release techniques. Also, consider the big picture such as the cause, awareness of movement patterns, breath and energy.
Wow, looks like the cookbook answer won’t work!
And that’s the point.
As we delve into this field of yoga therapy, we discover that there is no cookbook answer. It all depends on the individual client, his or her needs, his or her lifestyle and the overall picture.
Once we consider all these things, we can work together with the client to develop a holistic treatment plan, one that brings peace and ends suffering.
After all, isn’t that where the yoga in yoga therapy transcends our western medical model?
Let’s all learn together and help open the doors to healing and health for everyone!
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Assistant Ed: Steph Richard/Ed: Bryonie Wise