How Yoga Has Changed My Perception of Relaxation


January 26, 2018

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

 

For the longest time I thought that I had the right game plan for getting my muscles loosened up either to warm up for a workout or to recover after. I am a huge advocate of Myofascial Release (foam rolling, tiger tail rolling, trigger point therapy), techniques that require applying pressure to the “tight” areas of our muscles.

In my case the tightness of my hips and lower back require beating the crap out of the tender spots in order to get them to loosen up. It helps… A LOT. But as I have been more open-minded towards alternative approaches, I have learned the amazing benefits of Yoga.

My approach to relaxation has changed because Yoga requires an intensive focus on breathing and enabling the muscles to relax rather than force them. Instead of beating up the muscle with physical force, I am allowing my brain to trigger the relaxation.

Yoga Relaxation

In a self-contradicting way, I have always believed in the ability of the mind to overcome anything and yet I was skeptical about using it to relax the physical tension in my body. As I think back to my Undergraduate studies, the first class that comes to mind is Stress Physiology. In a brief summary, the class was focused on understanding the natural Stress Response that controls all sorts of activity through the nervous system. There are two main branches to the nervous system: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.Stress Nervous System

The Sympathetic Nervous System kicks in when we are exposed to a stressor- from stress from work or being chased by a lion, it’s that feeling of our heart accelerating. The theory behind it is that our body’s network of nerves, muscles, and even our organs are effected by chemical changes produced from the brain. This evolutionary phenomenon is nature’s design of survival. On the other end we have a Parasympathetic Nervous System designed to slow things down using the same network.

So what connection does this make with Yoga? Well the heavy focus of relaxation with breathing enables the Parasympathetic to take over because of a lowered heart rate. Controlled breathing allows us to slow our heart down along with blood pressure and other things going on within our mind and body. Stress is an amazing thing because while we see it as a negative it is naturally designed to be a survival mechanism. In terms of having tension within the muscles, the tightness that we can feel in our hips and back is our body’s way of protecting our joints and connective tissues from further damage.

For example, my self-studies on my herniated disk problems have concluded that the muscle imbalances in my lumbo-pelvic hip complex caused a forward tilt of my pelvis causing compression of the connective tissues of my lumbar spine… Still with me?

Well when I would roll out my Quads, IT Band, and activate my glutes and hamstrings I would get a temporary relief of my lower back discomfort and pain. Through the practice of several Yoga techniques I have now concluded that I was stretching the overactive muscles but not relaxing them. Just because I felt a sudden release in tension it didn’t mean that I got them to relax. My Sympathetic system was still in overdrive and that is why my back would start aching within an hour again. It wouldn’t bother me as much, but once tomorrow would hit it was back to square one.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Well besides the insanity of hurting all the time and not being able to work out, my old ways were limiting my rehab and recovery. Yoga has changed my perception of relaxation because I have now experienced how impactful it is to control my breathing. While corrective exercise and soft-tissue therapy has been helpful, I have now found my secret not-so-secret weapon of Yoga. Because of my athletic background I will always prefer intense squat days and 400 lb. hip thrusts, but I am starting to understand the value of these lower intensity routines like Yoga and Pilates (and trust that they can be very intense!). If you have never tried an alternative mode of exercise I encourage you to at least give it a try. You can crank out hundreds of sit-ups and minutes of planks but if you think you have a strong core you’d be surprised on how a slight moderation to an exercise can be extremely challenging.

If you have any nagging pains and injuries going on I encourage you to be open minded into finding a solution. There is world full of health professionals that specialize in specific techniques and more often than not a combination of a few can make all the difference! My methods today involve a network of various specialists that range from chiropractors, physical therapists, corrective exercise specialists, and personal trainers whom I take bits and pieces from their approaches towards my specific health issues. If hiring one is out of your budget, asking a few simple questions to these people can get you going in the right direction. Even as a personal trainer with a Bachelors in Exercise Science, I am constantly learning new things that help me with my clients as well as my own health. Be open minded because a simple practice of breathing can change everything!

Shout outs to Lisa at Genesis Health Clubs Overland Park for the Yoga and Pilates sessions!

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