Tension and Tightness
Muscles that feel tight might actually allow normal joint range of movement. Muscles that are a little bit tight might be weak. Muscles that feel tight, might actually be tense which requires a different approach to stretching a tight muscle. And even when a muscle is tight good movement and fitness in other areas may determine it is not a problem. The prescription of an individualized yoga program is determined by a skilled practitioner assessing the entire body; a practitioner that knows what the normal range of movement and muscle length is and can assess strength balance around the relevant areas of the body.
So you think you've got tight hip flexor's or is it tight hamstrings? Have you been told that you tight 'thingameflexa' is the cause of your back or knee pain? Tight muscles seem like the most blamed reason by yogi's for a number of problems.... but,
Muscles that feel tight might actually allow normal joint range of movement. Muscles that are a little bit tight might be weak. Muscles that feel tight, might actually be tense – which requires a different approach to stretching a tight muscle. And even when a muscle is tight (commonly for instance, hamstrings) good movement and fitness in other areas may determine it is not a problem. The prescription of an individualized yoga program is determined by a skilled practitioner assessing the entire body; a practitioner that knows what the normal range of movement and muscle length is and can assess strength balance around the relevant areas of the body.
So lets consider some commonly considered tight muscles around hips (next blog shoulder and neck).
Hip flexors are stretched when the hip moves into extension – when you take a step forward the back leg hip flexor's are being stretched. The normal range of hip extension is about 10deg. If they are tight the back may arch excessively to compensate which is why when they are tight, the are often associated with back pain. Check this on your office colleagues who don't do yoga and are couch potatoes in their free time - you might see tight hip flexors. Us yogi's have been doing postures that lengthen our hip flexors for years and I'd say less than 5% of students I see have tight hip flexor's. Maybe they are tense – different story, see later....
Often considered the reason people start yoga or the reason people don't start yoga, hamstrings are often reduced in length... or sometimes legs are just too long. If a teacher has planted the seed that your tight hamstrings are a problem, particularly when you never had pain for the rest of your life with the same hamstrings, be suspicious … they may not be a problem. While it looks very elegant in yoga classes to have 90deg of straight leg raise, it's really not a problem if you don't and the association with pain in other areas is questionable. I've seen much greater improvement in symptoms and ultimately in hamstring length when we let go of the focus on them and certainly less hamstring strains caused by overstretching. By all means do poses that may in time lengthen them, but just enjoy your practice to ensure prana is not getting stuck in you head (with thinking too much) and not getting to your legs...
Pain in the tush? This tightness or tension is often secondary to a back injury that refers into the buttock and can mimic sciatica (true sciatica is due to nerve root irritation in the back, whereas 'piriformis syndrome' is due to the muscle irritating the nerve in the buttock). When the pain is really bad, stretching this muscle, particularly with something strong like Eka pada Raja Kapotasana (king pidgeon) can exacerbate it, even though it may feel relieving at the time. When the pain is severe it's actually better to rest and when recovered use asana like the reverse parsvakonasana (and sometimes depending on the body trikonasana) which lengthen the muscle rather than twist it...
Although there are always exceptions to the rule... a few rules to ensure 'ahimsa = do not harm'.
When you are in pain, don't stretch strongly – better to do gentle pain-free movement.
After pain settles, if a feeling of tightness is accompanied by reduced range of movement than choose asanas that address this tightness.
If there is a feeling of tightness but range of movement is normal, rest the area and learn techniques like relaxation and meditation (maybe breath led movement) to decrease tension. Be careful of strengthening poses that create more tension.
I will be going over the practical side of this in class in coming weeks and again I emphasize the importance of individual assessment when it comes to addressing these issues. Come and have a yogaphysio assessment – I will definitely give you some valuable tips that will save you pain, practice time and money in the long term.