What Happens When We Stretch?

A while back I read a riveting run-through of several myths and misconceptions about stretching, over at pain science researcher Paul Ingraham’s website painscience.com.

Afterwards, I thought it’d be a good idea to summarise what I’d learned and add to it, focusing on how our current understanding of stretching relates to yoga.

Unfortunately, I lack Ingraham’s skill for succinct, witty prose (seriously, go read his article) but I can draw decent, so I made it into a comic.


(1) https://www.efdeportes.com/efd74/injur.htm

(2) http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/content/BPL_Images/Content_store/Sample_chapter/9781405132985/9781405132985_4_003.pdf

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9961/

(4) https://www.mechanobio.info/cytoskeleton-dynamics/what-are-motor-proteins/what-steps-are-involved-in-the-myosin-powerstroke/#ITEM-1815-0

(5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titin

(6) http://medind.nic.in/jau/t06/jaut06p3.pdf

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25200179

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11796669

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1160931/

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7453508

(11) https://www.bmj.com/content/325/7362/468

(12) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/28.suppl_5.s-69

(13) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/03635465010290030801

(14) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/03635465010290020301


Hanging out in the studio

Fitted to the rear wall of our studio is a set of parallel metal bars, ideal for hanging in a relaxed inversion posture.

It’s much more comfortable if you first cover the strap with a wide blanket.

Sink your weight back into the strap before you start stepping your feet up the wall.

Make sure the strap isn’t up in your waist, but rather down in the middle of your hips.

You want to feel comfortable and firmly supported by your thighs before you release your grip.

An alternative is to fold forwards with your feet on the bars.

You want the strap deep in the fold of your hips and not pressing hard into your belly.

Once everything’s set up, you can then proceed to hang out.


Chandika, “the Fierce”

While reading through Roots of Yoga, which is a wonderful compilation of English translated yoga texts, I came across a particularly evocative description of Chandika, a demon destroying form of the Hindu goddess Shakti. She also goes by several other names, such as Chandi (the Fierce), Mahamaya (Great Magic) and Abhaya (She Who Is Without Fear).

Here’s the passage, from the Matsyendrasamhita 7.20-7.25, or from pg 318 of Roots of Yoga:

[She] is Chandika, who destroys sorrow. She is as black as a storm cloud, her wild hair sticks up, she is adorned with a garland of severed heads and earrings of black snakes. She is decorated with red [paint], scents and flowers, as well as jewels. She has six faces, each with three eyes, and twelve arms. She is wearing a tiger-skin covered with a lion skin. She is holding a thunderbolt, a goad, a discus, a conch, a shield, a trident, a knife, a staff and a pestle and is showing the gestures of generosity and freedom from danger. She is benevolent, has three eyes, removes the suffering of her devotees, has the moon as her crest, dispels the three torments [which are caused by the self, the gods and the elements] from her devotees, has the form of the devourer of time, carries a skull filled with mead, is in the first flush of youth, is the leader of the troop of Yoginis, Bhairavi, the remover of fear. She causes attainment of all desired rewards. She is the three causes.

Open for yoga

Now that the studio is finally finished, everyone (by which I mostly mean me, my sister and a few of our friends) has been coming down to make use of the yoga space.

Here are some of my favourite postures. If you’ve not performed any of these postures before then I highly recommend practicing in a class setting first, to ensure against possible injury.

Janu Sirsasana: Head to knee pose.

Avoid slouching forwards. It’s more import to keep your back long and hips square to front than it is to get your actual head down to your actual knee.

Trikonasana: Triangle pose.

Make the stance about the length of one of your legs. You can shorten it if this is too uncomfortable on your hamstrings. Keep a straight back, avoiding squashing the underside of your ribs, and pull your front hip to your back foot (pictured, my left hip pulls towards my right foot).

Kakasana: Crow pose

Draw your shoulders back, away from your ears, and lean your head forward (with a blanket below your face if you’re at all nervous about falling).  Press your knees into the back of your arms or grip them against the outer sides of your arms.

Adho Mukha Vrksasana: Hand stand (lit. down facing tree pose)

Keep your abdominal muscles engaged to keep from curving your back too much.  Shoulders pull down the length of your back (towards your hips) and elbows are very slightly bent.

Again, try these out with an instructor first, not only to ensure that you’re aligned correctly, but also to make an informed decision about which postures best suit your ability.


Under Construction

Our floors are laid and the walls in our backyard studio space have been painted over. The last bit of work to finish off is the installation of a set of rear wall spanning parallel metal bars. These bars can be used for a variety of supportive asana or weight bearing exercises.

The wooden beams are screwed into the metal stud frames behind the wall. On the other side of the wall are additional timbers for further support.

The tricky part will be getting these bars into place. We’ll have to take the wooden beams off of the wall, insert the bars and then lift everything together and put it into place.

One of the most helpful supportive variations for beginners using the wall is downward facing dog (hands/feet press into the floor and your tail end raises to the ceiling). You take a strap attached to one of the bars (preferably one around the level of your waist) and then wrap its other end over the fold of your hips.

This allows a great deal of pelvic tilt and straightening of the legs without needing to bear full weight in the posture. Here’s a picture of the aforementioned straps.

And here is the household cat, who is often waiting outside the studio for people to pet him. His downward dogs are a sight to behold.