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What you don't know about stretching!


Saul Yudelowitz Bsc (Hons)

With rising cases of injuries and claims that it won't get you fit, yoga is facing a backlash. Is it just a victim of its own popularity? Alice Wignall reports

Tuesday November 27, 2007
The Guardian

In recent years yoga has saturated the fitness market. Endless urban lofts house whitewashed specialist centres, yoga retreats are among the most popular holidays, and you would be hard pressed to find a gym in the land that doesn't boast at least one type of yoga class, be it classic Hatha poses, Bikram's sweaty sessions in a heated studio or dynamic Ashtanga yoga, also known as "power yoga".

There are signs, however, that this bubble may be about to burst. A recent article in Time magazine reported that orthopaedic surgeons, physical therapists and chiropractors in America are increasingly dealing with the fallout of yoga practice gone awry and a rash of injuries are blamed on the fact that as teaching and practice of yoga spreads, so do bad examples of both. The magazine also argues that as a form of exercise, yoga is largely ineffective, bestowing little in the way of a cardiovascular workout or weight-loss benefits.

Article continues

Robin Shepherd, acting chairman of the General Osteopathic Council, agrees that yoga has its risks: "People get lulled into a false sense of security because yoga has the image of being a very low-impact activity. I see patients who are injured as a result of yoga."

Typically, for example, people with painful backs will go to a yoga class thinking it will solve their problem. "But lots of people have relatively hypermobile areas of their spine, which they find very easy to stretch, so the yoga doesn't touch the stiffer bits, and yet they throw themselves into the postures thinking it's good for them," says Shepherd. At best this is merely ineffective; at worst it can be damaging.

As well as a poor understanding of the practice itself, badly trained, inexperienced or overzealous teachers can also cause problems, as Shami Choudhry, who works in marketing in Manchester, discovered. "I was at an Ashtanga yoga class and in a posture where you really twist your spine. My teacher came to adjust me in the pose and really pushed me into it. It felt really uncomfortable at the time and it got worse afterwards. It was so painful that I went to the doctor and he told me that I'd bruised a rib."

Though an experienced yogi, Choudhry was uncertain about questioning her teacher. "When you're in the middle of a class it's really difficult to say, 'Ow, that hurts,'" she says. "My teacher was quite a forceful character and the assumption was he knew what he was doing."

Not all yoga teachers are created equal. There is no legislation that dictates standards or training for yoga teachers and, with spiralling demand for classes, there is nothing to say that the hour-long session in your local gym is supervised by someone with the right credentials. "It's certainly possible that the spread of yoga means that there are some bad teachers out there," says Helen Smith, chairwoman of the British Wheel of Yoga.
The following are basics of stretching:
  • Always warm up before you stretch, this includes the joints as well as muscle
  • There is a toe, elastic and plastic area of the muscle when you stretch. Work your way into the upper zone of the plastic or boader of elastic. Do not go beyond this!
  • Once you have a good stretch slowly breath in and move off the stretch, as you exhale move into the stretch.
  • You need to aim to get to a point where you stretch in the upright posture! Progress from lying down to sitting and then standing. This is very important!
  • You have to maintain the spine in neutral alignment when you stretch**
**The example for neutral spine alingment applied to stretching.
Most people would stretch the hamstrings out by sitting on the floor with their legs streight out in front of them. Bending the trunk foward towards the knees is how they perform the stretch. This stretch is also done by standing and bending the trunk down towards the feet. 
That is not a stretch for the hamstrings!
You would want to maintain the neutral lumbar lordosis of the spine when stretching the hamstrings, failure to do so will result in the soft tissue of the lumbar spine being stretched out! This is how the above artical applies, as it is true that all people have areas of mobility and immobility in their spine.
The common stretch used for the hamstrings (Bending the trunk foward towards the knees/floor) will cause the hamstring muscles to contract eccentricly (Contract and lengthen). You can't stretch a muscle that is contracting.
Eccentric contraction feels just like a stretch so this can be confusing! 
To learn the correct method of stretching book in for treatment on line! Should you have any questions feel free to contact us!


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