Once the muscle spindle acclimates to the milder stretch, activate the quadriceps to straighten the knees and deepen the pose. Engaging the quadriceps inhibits the reflex contraction of the hamstrings caused by the muscle spindle.
It may seem counterintuitive, but we can actually deepen a stretch by first backing off on the stretch.
Fig 6: (left) Activating the quadriceps to stretch the hamstrings in Uttanasana.
As with the hamstrings, you can dissolve the reflex contraction of the erector spinae by slightly relaxing the stretch. This decreases the firing of the muscle spindle stretch receptors.
Do this for the erector spinae by lifting the back slightly from the hips. Hold this milder stretch for a few breaths.
Fig 7: (right) Relaxing the erector spinae in Uttanasana
Once the muscle spindle of the erector spinae acclimates to the milder stretch, contract the psoas and rectus abdominis to flex the hips and torso and deepen your pose. Engaging the psoas inhibits the reflex contraction of the erector spinae.
Fig 8: (left) Activating the psoas to stretch the erector spinae in Uttanasana.
Yoga Practice Tips:
You can use this technique to deepen any posture that stretches your muscles. It is an excellent technique if you are new to yoga or teaching practitioners who are new to yoga. It also works well if you have not stretched in a while.
In summary, work with the muscle spindle as follows:
1) Back off approximately 20% from a full stretch. Make sure you feel a mild stretch so that some of the muscle spindles are still firing.
2) Hold the milder stretch for 3 to 4 breaths to acclimate the muscle spindle and reassure it that you are stretching safely.
3) Then, with control, carefully go deeper into the pose by engaging the opposing muscle group.
If you are new to integrating anatomy into your practice, remember that it is not necessary to memorize this technique on your first pass. Begin by enjoying the beautiful images of the body in yoga. This alone will awaken your brain’s awareness of the anatomy during your practice. Return at a later date for a closer look and then gently go through the motions illustrated above as you do this pose. Then leave it. Your unconscious mind will create new circuitry while you rest. Enjoy the process and when you return to the mat, you will be surprised at how easily you access this technique.
Want to learn more about Yoga and Anatomy? Read another article from YogaUOnline & Ray Long MD - Yoga to Awaken Your Core: Three Steps to Get to Know Your Psoas.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Bandha.
Author Ray Long MD FRCSC is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga. Ray graduated from The University of Michigan Medical School with post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, The University of Montreal and Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over twenty years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters.
3d Graphic Designer / Illustrator Chris Macivor has been involved in the field of digital content creation for well over ten years. He is a graduate of Etobicoke School of the Arts, Sheridan College and Seneca College. Chris considers himself to be equally artistic and technical in nature. As such his work has spanned many genres from film and television to video games and underwater imagery.
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