Updated: Jan 12
Happy New Year to you all. I hope you had a good entry into 2021 and that this year will be full of connection and learning. The nervous system is key in Yoga and to be feeling "safe" and "content" needs to be balanced.
If you attend my yoga teacher training course - a personal development course in which you learn from the first day how to read your body and the bodies of other people, you will also learn about the important nerve reflexes in our body and how those three spinal nerve reflexes can be taken advantage of to help increase strength, flexibility and the ability to relax better! In Yoga, the Nervous System is to be balanced, and we can achieve this with the knowledge of the nerve reflexes.
Here, a brief explanation:
1) The first one is the Stretch Reflex or also called the myotatic reflex. This reflex is a pre-programmed response by the body to a stretch stimulus. The impulse goes only back to the spinal cord and not all the way back to the brain; therefore, this response is rapid.
This is good as it prevents our body from a sudden fall or tripping over. For example, if you begin to lean to one side, the postural muscles connected to your spine on the opposite side will stretch. This reflex will send signals so that at the same time as you stretch those muscles, the muscles suddenly contract to correct postures that is the antagonist muscle tenses if suddenly stretched. As the lengthened muscle contracts simultaneously as it is lengthened, it prevents you from falling, but it also can potentially tear as it tries to avoid the stretch. Therefore, an injury can happen when the movement is strong and rapid.
An antagonist muscles tenses when suddenly stretched. This sudden tension happens before your brain does know about it. A signal is sent quickly to the spine.
This sudden tension can sometimes happen when a beginner looks at the teacher or other people in class rather than being in their own body and therefore feels that while trying to stretch a muscle out, the muscle feels tense. He or she might think "oh wow, that is a great stretch, but in fact, it is not!" It potentially can lead to tears as the person tries to stretch this muscle further.
How can we inhibit this sudden stretch reflex?
1.1) We can inhibit this by focusing on the muscle being stretched and be present. Often a beginner will focus on other people or the teacher’s body rather than their own body. Therefore, we must remember to stay in our own body.
1.2) By exhaling while moving into the stretch. When you exhale consciously, you calm down, and it is easier to let go of tension.
1.3) move slow and stay conscious, don’t go into sudden movements as this is when this stretch is most likely to switch on. A mindful practice, therefore, is best for beginners.
1.4) move actively into the pose, that is, you use the second stretch reflex (reciprocal reflex relaxation), where you activate the shortened muscle (agonist) that reciprocally relaxes the lengthened muscle (the antagonist).
This reflex can be useful, or you can take this knowledge to your advantage since activation of tensing one muscle may lead to an adjacent muscle also to be tensed because of fascial connections between those muscles (we can use this knowledge to activate bandhas, we can send a stimulus through the certain muscle activations that activate our abdominal muscles without purposely pulling the navel to the spine (which would restrict diaphragmatic breathing and switches on our SNS). It creates a subtle bandha (Mulabandha and Uddyana Bandha) and therefore protects our lower back. We can move a bit deeper into the posture and will have a better distribution of energy). Please find out more, enrol in my next teacher training or come to one of my online zoom classes.
2) Reciprocal Reflex tells that when we activate one shortened muscle (agonist's muscle) and stretch the opposite muscle, this opposite muscle (the antagonist's muscle) must relax. For example, as we stretch our hamstrings out, it is important to activate the quads fully. As one muscle contracts, the other relaxes. Often people think they are stretching their hamstrings (because hamstrings can be so tight in a society that sits such a lot), but in fact, they are not, their knee is bent and as soon as you bent the knee, the quads are harder to activate). There is an effortless way to stretch the hamstrings fully without feeling even the stretch. If you come to my Zoom classes, I will show you various ways.
An example of an antagonistic pair is the biceps and triceps, e.g., when the biceps contract the triceps relax and vice versa. If you tense the buttocks in a lunge (that is you activate the agonist's muscle), then the opposing muscle relaxes, that is, the hip flexor relaxes.
3) Inverse myotatic reflex (Relaxation Reflex); when we stretch a muscle long enough, the muscle will relax. The first reflex gets inhibited if we hold the stretch long enough (15-30 seconds). If you activate or tense this stretched lengthened muscle while you stretch it, you will be able to stretch it even further and subsequently, this muscle will feel more relaxed and becomes stronger. I will give you some hints on doing just that in my online Zoom classes every Wednesday at 6 pm.
When we become aware of hose reflexes when practising yoga, we can enhance flexibility, strength and relaxation with those reflexes and increase blood flow.
We can use this knowledge and be aware of this in different ways around a given joint complex to balance our strength, flexibility, and relaxation. This takes time and patience. Sign up to receive my blogs regularly. Next one will speak about four different ways to be around a joint complex. Join my unique tailored 11 months Yoga Teacher Training starting in April.