Why Relaxation Is an Important Practice
Muscle strength is, of course, the ultimate goal of exercise; whether you want to build mass or just keep your body in shape. It helps the body function better and keeps our muscles functioning as we age.
But with modern day society, in a world of technology, sitting in front of a computer and driving, we can often develop the wrong strength in certain muscles, by only adding tension with our exercise, which has developed into contemporary ailments. Some of which include computer back, Repetitive Strain Injury, sciatica and sacroiliac pain that can effect even the most muscular and healthy individuals.
This is what can be called, “the wrong strength.” Especially with the rounding in our upper back, this over stretches muscles in that area and brings muscles in the front of the body and chest in somewhat of a permanently contracted state.
Specifically our trapazius muscles, a diamond shaped muscle that runs from the base of the skull on the spine and attaches to certain points on the vertebrae, cervical vertebrae seven and thoracic vertebrae 1 through 12. Its side origin connects to the shoulder blade.
Another culprit are the rhomboids. This muscle is located between the shoulder blades and is attached at the base of the neck, C7 and T1-T5 and also attaches at the inner border of shoulder blade.
So what happens when the trapzius and rhomboids become over stretched and rounded forward? This not only, as I stated before, shortens the chest muscles, but can cause the loss of reaching the full movement of your muscles. As you strengthen the muscles it is also important to actively relax them in order for the body to work together to move properly. It is almost like pitting your muscles against each other as you move.
Muscles work in an antagonistic movements, meaning for one to contract, another has to do the opposite, release and stretch to allow the other to be active. Take for example the triceps and biceps. In order to contract your bicep fully, your tricep has to release and allow the opposite movement to occur. This happens all over the body, but with stiff movement muscles, muscles that get us from point A to point B, we see resistance.
In a yoga class for example, I often hear students say, “I will never be able to reach my toes, my back will not allow it,” or “My arms are not strong enough to get me into a back bend.” When really for both of these concerns it is tight hamstrings in the first scenario and “short” chest muscles in the first, both of which from static positioning. These muscles are in a constant state of contraction and do not allow the body to perform either movements.
Aside from restriction in movement, tight muscles can also cause dire effects on our nerves. For example, the rounded back also pushes nerves that travel from our spinal cord to our arms and fingers into your collar bone, which can cause tingling, loss of circulation and movement. Tight back muscles can also lead to deterioration of our vertebral discs and limit our breathing. Imagine the rounded back and how it crunches the ribs closer together, leaving less room for your diaphragm to move up and down with more ease and space.
Through the use of relaxation as part of your practice, with active/passive stretching and movement, one can counter act these effects. A restorative yoga practice, which involves holding yoga poses in a passive stretch with the use of props, can allow muscles to elongate and release over the extended period of time without causing exertion or drastic contraction in other parts of the body.
Pressure work through the use of yoga props is also an excellent addition to your weekly yoga routine and use them for your pressure practice. For example, propping the hips in a supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, Bridge Pose, or using The BackMitra, a yoga prop used to release back tension, or a cut pool noodle under the lower back can minimize and reverse the contraction of muscles that have been using the wrong strength. Releasing tension will take your yoga practice to a deeper level.