Some yoga postures are designed to beneficially stress the joints of the body to stimulate their strength and flexibility. There are two fundamentally different types of stress: tension and compression. Yogis should learn the difference between the two.
Tension is the familiar sensation of tissues being stretched. Compression is the sensation of tissues being pressed or pushed together. Both of these stresses are beneficial if done in moderation.
When a yogi is stretching a joint, he is stretching a ligament, a tendon, or both. When a yogi is compressing a joint, he is compressing bones.
When performing yang styles of yoga (i.e. power, vinyasa, or ashtanga) you primarily activate muscle tissue to stabilize and protect your joints (this is because muscular tension compresses the joints and thereby limit your range of motion). An example would be the warrior pose, in which the quadriceps hamstrings, etc are engaged to take stress off the knee joint.
When practising yin yoga, you primarily activate connective tissues by deliberately relaxing your muscles and putting safe stresses on your joints. An example would be Butterfly pose where you relax your legs and back muscles to allow the connective tissues in you groin, knees, lower back & ankles to gently open up & receive some stresses.
When bone is compressed, it stimulates new bone growth. Too much compression results in pain, irritation and inflammation. When muscle tissue and connective tissue is stressed (tension), it creates micro-tears in the fibers, which enables those tissues to grow longer and stronger.
In addition to stretching and strengthening your connective tissues, you can also carefully & methodically break up scar tissues and adhesions with a regular yoga practice. You can slowly increase your range of motion by increasing the length and strength of your connective tissues.
If you feel discomfort while practicing yoga, there are two possibilities — you are either experiencing compression or tension. If you are experiencing compression, you will not gain much by forcing the movement and you may even hurt yourself. To do the pose safely, you will either need to find a different way to do that pose or you can simply back off a little bit.
If you are experiencing tension, then this may be an opportunity to open up your body – if you listen to your body and do it safely. The key is to know the difference between placing a healthy stress on your connective tissues or muscles and straining these tissues.
Yoga is not about being the most flexible or strongest person in the class who can do the coolest variations. Asana is simply a way of calming your mind, becoming more connected with your body, and improving your day-to-day life by having a stronger and more flexible body (according to your natural limits). Whether you are new to yoga or have been practicing yoga for many years, you likely already know that your body feels different each day, so you need to approach your practice with a new set of eyes each time. If in doubt, it is always better to under do the pose rather than overdo it. You can always sink down a little further once you are settled into the pose, but it is hard to undo an injury if you over do it.
Mavis Tan 200hr January to May 2014 Batch