Approaches to yoga differ as widely as do various styles of music, and encompass a wide spectrum of styles. This is important, because while most people have the impression all yoga is good for the joints, the way some yoga is taught can lead to harmful joint compression.
Thankfully, there is a trend in a lot of yoga practices to avoid over-compression of the joints. Here’s how.
Some compression is good. The osteoblasts respond to compression creating new bone material. But too much compression weakens the bones; or wears out the cartilage or the fibrocartilage, like the intervertebral disks of the spine or the meniscus of the knee.
The gift of an intelligent yoga practice is the proper application of tension in the muscles and fascia to counter joint compression. Tension in muscles occurs opposite to the direction of movement.
For example, consider a simple yoga backbend. Compression will occur in the back of the spinal joints and tension will occur on the opposite side, primarily in the abdominal muscles.
If you let the abdominal muscles become passive, which many untrained yogis do in an effort to create a deeper- looking pose, you will end up with little tension in the front body and a compression felt as a crunch in the lower back. This is what I call a hinging bow.
What is lower-risk, and healthier for the spine, is to apply tension in the form of an eccentric contraction of the abdominal muscles to protect the lower back while still providing a sensation of stretch in the front of the body.
To make this easier to understand, largely to do with my work with Tom Myers and his Anatomy Trains concept, I have renamed yoga poses so yoga students and practitioners don’t have to have to be influenced by names that lead to potentially compressive states.
For example, I have dropped the term backbend and use the term front-body stretch, because what matters is not the bending of the back, but even tone spread throughout the front of the body.
When you do a forward bend, which can compress the front spine and create disk bulges, think of it as a back-body stretch. As for twists, which can create a lot of compression and torque on spinal joints, think of these as side-body stretches.
Maintain a slight contraction on the opposite side of where the movement occurs. Think of this eccentric contraction of the antagonist muscles as a belaying rock climber slowly letting his partner down.
Yoga is meant to make you feel young, happy and vital, but compressed joints will make you feel the opposite.
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