How Stretching Works / How Yoga Can Help with Pain Management

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8 years ago, I took my first yoga class.  I didn’t enjoy it very much although I was very amused by the man farting excessively and loudly next to me.  But fast-forward to today, and I absolutely love stretching and Yoga.  I think it’s one of the most underrated and underused exercise forms out there.  Yoga is like ballet in that it helps with other sports/exercise.  For those who have heard of Yoga but have never tried it, let’s talk about it!

First off, Yoga is not a cult or some weird religion that is trying to steal your money.  It’s a form of stability exercise that focuses on breathing, flexibility, and strength (inner and outer).  Think of it as a mix of meditation and stretching.  It’s all starts with learning how to breathe.  There are many benefits of practicing yoga every day.  Some of these include: joint/overall pain reduction, decrease muscle tightness/increased flexibility, clarity of mind, and muscle strengthening.  And for those who think that Yoga is a girl’s sport, we’ll take it as a compliment.  But there’s no need to be intimidated as there are so many levels from novice up to Yogi master.  When you are in class, you go at your own speed and to your own ability, which is fantastic!

My favorite part of Yoga is the breathing and the stretching.  I incorporate stretching into my daily routine to help with my tight muscles, especially after intense resistance training workouts.  But how does stretching actually help?

Our muscles are made of many different layers of fibers and filaments.  At the core of our muscles, there are myofibrils which are essential to how our muscles contract and stretch.  There are hundreds of thousands of myofibrils in each of our muscles.  Each one has thin filaments (actin) and thick filaments (myosin) which, in the presence of calcium, interact and cause a contraction to occur.  In the picture above, you will notice the space labeled “H” which refers to the length of the thick filament not overlapped by the thin filament.  “H” decreases as we contract our muscles and increase as we relax them.  Put another way, when our muscles are tight, that space “H” is smaller than when our muscles are stretched.  The benefit of increasing the “H” length before muscle contraction occurs is that it allows for more powerful and fuller contractions.  Therefore, stretching our muscles aids in increasing our muscle contractions.  Be careful not to overstretch which can result in lengthening “H” too much so that the thin and thick filaments no longer overlap at which point contraction cannot occur.

Key Stretching Tips:

(1) Stretching should be comfortable and not painful.
(2) Ease into stretching.  Progress as your ability increases.
(3) Exhale as your reach/stretch a little further.  Exhaling each time you extend naturally helps you stretch a little further.
(4) Stretch LIGHTLY before you workout.  You can always preface your workouts with some very light stretching, but I prefer dynamic stretching to warm up such as jumping jacking and squats.
(5) Stretch each muscle group for at least 1 minute after your workout.  Your muscles have been contracting during the entire workout which have caused them to be tight and pull on our bones/joints.
(6) Stretch throughout the day.  Don’t wait for your next workout to stretch.  Stretch daily whenever you feel any tightness.

Lastly, for all of you who are too busy to attend a yoga class, check out this great app called “Pocket Yoga.”  It has so many great features like difficulty levels, timed session, voice instructions, pictorial demonstrations, and different styles of yoga.  It’s only $2.99 at the app store which is a steal.  This app can help you squeeze in a solid 30-minute or 1-hour workout at your leisure.

Namaste.

Thomas Ngo
Dietetic Intern
NASM Certified Personal Trainer

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One Comment Add yours

  1. mi55i says:

    I tried the app today and it was great! Thanks for the tip!

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