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Yoga and Stretching
Often rehabilitation exercises are given that emphasize muscle strength and tone. This may well be justified where a muscle group has become weak due to injury or disuse. For example, rotator-cuff shoulder muscle strengthening exercises (using a resistance band), or back-strengthening (back-bending) to develop paraspinal muscle (perhaps after a disc injury).
Show video: Mindfully (carefully) getting up from lying down
However, often our muscles become over-tight and shortened. This can often happen around the neck and shoulders, muscles we tend to overuse, and rarely relax fully.
Other muscles, the so called core-muscles of the abdomen habitually tend to weaken in some individuals — within the body, as in nature, there is always a balance in some way. There is often a relationship between hamstring length and lower back pain: one pattern is short hamstrings, tight calf muscles and weak core strength.
Show video: Knee hug back stretch
Generally it is good to emphasize stretching in addition to tone, length as well as strength. It’s a good idea to stretch everything (especially the back muscles — not just arms and legs) and it’s unwise to omit stretching from your training. This is where systems like yoga are worthy of study — as they have had thousands of years to work out how the body works as a unit, and how to stretch whole muscle chains, not just an isolated muscle (as we often see in modern ‘sports’ stretches)
Show video: Side lying twist for back
Pilates emphasizes strength and core-stability over length or stretch — yet there is some overlap between the two training systems. Good yoga (correct Iyengar training is the best example) will have plenty of core-strength within its postures (Asana) when performed correctly.
Show video: Astronaut position for back pain and disk injury
It is sensible, actually essential, to stretch the upper back muscles (which often overtighten) even if one’s prime objective is to increase abdominal muscle tone (e.g. pilates and core-strength) and one is wishing to avoid recurrence of lower back pain.
Show video: Feet up the wall (inversion) lymphatic drainage exercise
Mindfulness in movement
In the Videos I use the word ‘mindfulness’ to attempt to convey this: listen carefully to your body’s wisdom, and let it decide what is right for you. Pay attention to every movement at each moment.
Never rush. Please avoid the temptation to ask ‘how many repetitions?’ This is the mind talking — not the body. Try not push yourself like a robot. Stay with each movement and see how far and how much is right for today. There is always tomorrow for more.
Show video: Horizontal shoulder stand (lying on bolster) to stretch upper back
Regular practice will achieve results — not least of which is ‘mindfulness’ of your body and a confidence and knowledge of the soft edge of any pain-barrier, or area that feels sore or stiff. Slowly, slowly. Be gentle, with yourself also, as with all living things.
Show video: Cat and Cow back stretch
All exercise needs to be in balance and in proportion: cardiovascular, strength, endurance, core-strength — and most important of all (especially for the older person!) is stretching!
Again wherever possible it is of course always best to find a professional teacher and proper exercise class, to gain maximum benefit.
Try to find a smaller class with a specialist teacher for the best training. If you have a gym membership then by all means check out any classes in your gym as they will be free, included in your membership.
However these large classes are often of variable (relatively poor) quality — as 20 to 30 people in a big class can only 'muddle through' and try to see the teacher at the front, who will not have time to make 'corrections' and give you any individual attention. If you have an injury it is also difficult in a large class for the teacher to keep an eye on you.
For precise, high quality training, then obviously a smaller class, with a specialist teacher — who will give you plenty of correction and individual attention is ideal. Please see the Yoga websites listed above.
If you are serious about yoga, one of the best and most experienced senior Iyengar teachers in Christchurch (who does not have a website) is Wendy Brown (who has trained most of the other Christchurch Iyengar teachers) Tel 03 388 1171 or 021 051 2844. This class is not for the faint-hearted. Better for those with some yoga experience.
For Tai Chi: