How can we be sure we are not unknowingly damaging our body when practising yoga?

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

The unspoken truth is that in all styles of yoga, all too often, people end up with joint and back pain. The question is Why? What can we do to ensure we are not unknowingly damaging our body when practising yoga?

One of the key benefits of all physical activities - running, strength training, tennis, golf, yoga - is how it expands the relationship between the conscious mind and the physical body.

As with all good relationships, trust is vital. When it comes to physical movement, the reptilian brain is in charge and we have to learn to trust that this part of our brain knows what's good and what’s bad for it. After all, it’s this part of the brain that’s in charge of self-preservation.

Unfortunately, all too often we overthink things, ignore incoming signals from the reptilian brain, and forge forward with bulldog determination to bend our body into a shape it’s not built for. When we continually ignore the reptilian brain’s signals we leave it with no choice but to shout at us. Pain is how the reptilian brain gets itself heard and calls a halt to proceedings.

Trusting the reptilian brain to manoeuvre the physical body is key. When you leave it to do what it does best you will discover your body has truly astounding potential.

To understand why so many people end up with joint and back pain after many years of yoga practice we have to examine what we are asking our body to do.

The standard construct of yoga is that you are to position yourself into a yoga posture while maintaining a set of alignment rules, such as the shoulder must be down or the tail bone must tuck under. Of course, you are to do this mindfully to the best of your abilities.

However "mindful”, you think you are, the core subtext is that you’ve to ask your body to position itself into a yoga posture.

But the body dislikes getting into things and dislikes being confined to a set of arbitrary rules that often just address the symptom and not the course.

This standard approach to yoga creates a lot of negative compressive loading which the reptilian brain passionately dislikes.

The reptilian brain also deplores how most of its Mechano-Receptors (body sensors) in the joints and fascia are shut off when squeezing itself into a posture, which means communication between the reptilian brain the body is shut off.

In addition, the reptilian brain dislikes how all too often muscles are overstretched which weakens their performance.

I know most people will say, "Ah, but I never push my way into a yoga posture, I am always mindful". My argument is how can you be mindful when most of your Mechano-Receptors are shut off.

Asking your body to get itself into anything will always be a battle and you will never develop a harmonious bond between your conscious mind and your physical body.

On the other hand, asking your body to open out to a yoga posture is an entirely different activity.

The reptilian brain loves opening out to a yoga posture because the body never experiences the vast range of negative compressive loading the standard approach to yoga often creates. It loves to open out to a yoga posture because opening out fires-up the Mechano-Receptors giving the reptilian brain phenomenal sensory awareness.

The reptilian brain also loves how it has to engage more functional use of strength which is exactly what the body needs to develop if we are to experience pain-free movement in our daily life.

When you ask your body to open out to the framework of a yoga posture you shift the engagement you have with your body to a more open and expressive playing field. No more aches, pains or injuries.

Opening out to a yoga posture requires a completely different engagement of strength and more functional use of breath.

When this technique is applied to the Bikram 26&2 sequence everybody experiences phenomenal results. I have yoga teachers and students and of all ages rapidly feeling the power of this approach.

If you would like to know more about this approach come watch my free 15 min workshop where I outline all you need to know.

Bill Thwaites

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