What Are Muscles?Muscles are part of a much larger system—the musculoskeletal system. They are connected to bones by tendons, which are a continuation of the connective tissue structures that separate the different groups of muscle fibers. Tendons attach muscles to a bone, which then gives that muscle the best biomechanical advantage to do the job that it's supposed to do. Of these three tissues—muscles, tendons, and bones— muscle tissue is the most flexible and bone the least. Flexibility is crucial, because it enables the entire physical system to remain healthy and retain its maximum capability. If a muscle—due to chronic stress, strain, injury, or improper nerve supply—is always under unnecessary tension, the muscle develops tight areas called trigger points. This is nature's way of helping the muscle remain strong even under increased stress. A muscle will not contract, get tight, or go into spasm unless a nerve tells it to. Muscles need three things to remain healthy:
- To be stretched so that the fibers in the muscles retain their full capability of elongating to fully contract. Stretching also maintains the joint that is moved by that muscle so that it can retain its full joint range of motion.
- To enhance a muscle's ability to function over longer periods of time, cardiovascular exercise is vital. Exercises, such as running, bicycling, swimming, etc., can utilize a large percentage of the muscle groups in the body by the very nature of their activity.
- To keep the muscles free from these areas of tension that build up due to stress or strain, working on these areas sends a flood of impulses back to the central nervous system. This enables the nervous system to adapt its controlling function in relationship to these areaa, and release unnecessary tension.
When you practice Yoga, you elongate each muscle and increase the tension on the entire system. This increased tension sends impulses back to the central nervous system, which allows it to adapt and lower the level of contraction in the muscle. This helps to release some of the accumulated areas of tension called trigger points. When trigger points develop, the area of stress is altered. Normally, most of the stress is dissipated in the muscle (which is the most flexible). When muscles become rigid, the area of greatest tension in the system moves from the middle of the muscles toward the ends into the tendons, then continues to move into the area where the tendon attaches to the bone. The bone itself is only pain-sensitive on its surface—the perisoteum, which is very sensitive. When a bone is broken, the extreme pain is due to the separation of the perisoteum. So, when a muscle becomes excessively tight, this increased stress causes irritation, inflammation, degeneration, and eventually structural modification at the union of the bone and the tendon. This is the most common cause of arthritic problems and deposits. Yoga really helps arthritis—which is basically just another word for visual bony changes on x-rays. Yoga postures are based on intention, concentration and conscious breathing. Being able to control one's breath creates complete relaxation of the muscles, slows down the thinking process, and also results in an undisturbed, deep sleep. All of this is so helpful, especially in today's stressed world.
Each Yoga posture on this site includes detailed descriptions (including the breath), preliminary stretches to attain the final goal, images of the steps along the way, cautions, and benefits. This is a comprehensive series on Postures. If you study the instructions and devote any time at all to this, you will change your body and probably your life. Yoga has a way of lifting you up to attract better things into your life.
As I have repeated many times throughout this site, Yoga is all about the law of attraction—a term that has now become quite popular. As you practice and concentrate on the various parts of your body as you breathe into and out of postures, your mind expands and becomes stronger. This can have a huge effect on your everyday life. If you already practice Yoga and do not incorporate breath techniques and intention on the parts of the body that a posture affects, your progress will be slow. It becomes easier with each movement to control your body, your mind, and your life. This is why Yoga brings joy to everyone who practices it on an ongoing basis. You don't have to spend hours every day doing this. In fact, you can break it up into segments to make it easier for you to be disciplined about it while you go on with your busy life. You can even do Yoga sitting in your chair in your office, if need be. It really doesn't matter what you do for a living, you can always fit Yoga into your lifestyle. I learned that these ancient Yoga teachings from India taught the art of how to live a relaxed life in harmony with oneself and others. Hatha Yoga is particularly valuable because it encompasses a persons's mental and physical life.
In Yoga, Breath is everything. There are many diseases that are a direct result of incorrect breathing, and Yoga can therapeutically heal these. Asthma, for example, can be less of a problem—and for some completely eliminated—through learning how to strengthen the stomach muscles and ribcage. (Note: Any experienced chiropractor can also help asthma patients.) Back problems can be the result of incorrect breathing, and the practic of Yoga postures with correct breath techniques can eliminate this. Because breath is an integral part of any Yoga practice, it is included with the links below and in the right column. YogaNidra (The Complete Yoga Relaxation), is another important part of Hatha Yoga. It is just as important to relax after you have practiced Yoga. So there is a link to the Relaxation series below and in the right column. Bottom line: Every living being wants to be happy and healthy. Yoga can help you to reach this goal.