As yoga continues to gain popularity, many of us are exploring ways in which we can use the practice to address musculo-skeletal imbalance, chronic tension and even prevention or rehabilitation of an injury. When a client comes to me with a musculo-skeletal issue such as lower back pain, as a yoga therapist I will often explore a variety of factors – their physiology, lifestyle factors that may be contributing to the problem and even their mental and emotional state. From a physical perspective, at a fairly simplistic level there are two main questions I ask when addressing an injury.
- What muscles are tight or shortened, tense and overworking?
- What muscles are weak, overstretched, underworking or inactive?
Yoga has the capacity to not only address tight tissues through dynamic movements and sustained stretches but also strength, stamina and stability in the weakened tissues. In order to build strength in yoga we need to consider three simple factors:
1. Choose simple poses – think poses such as locust, bridge, forearm plank, handstand against the wall. Oftentimes the best strengthening poses are relatively simple in form but deliver the biggest bang for their buck.
2. Practice with skill, precision and good alignment – this will ensure that you are getting the truly intended benefits of the pose. Consider what muscles you are trying to access and ensure these muscles are engaging as you practice the pose e.g. in chair pose can you feel your glutes firing? If not, consider how you might improve the alignment to make that happen, for example, shifting your weight further back into your heels.
3. Repeat frequently – building strength and stamina is often about repeating simple motions or postures again and again until you feel a pleasant level of fatigue in the target muscles. This will enhance stamina, endurance and tone in the muscles.
When it comes to muculo-skeletal issues in the lower body our sedentary lifestyles are causing great imbalances and weakness, leading to what is often referred to in personal training circles as the Lower Cross Syndrome. Sitting for long periods of time manifests as weak glutes and abdominals, and tight (but also often weak) hamstrings and hipflexors. The following Lower Body Strength Yoga Sequence is designed to strengthen and stabilise the hips with poses targeting the glutes, hamstrings, quads and hip-flexors. I have found a sequence that works on building strength in the glutes to be particularly helpful for clients who are struggling with lower back pain or knee problems.