By Shameem Akthar
Stretching provides elasticity not just of large muscles but also the more delicate arteries. it keeps the seeker young and healthy
Taoist yoga sees the movement and strength in a body, expressed best in a strong stretch, as an interplay of yin and yang elements. Yin, according to Tao, is the bone, while yang is represented by muscle.
In classic yoga and spiritual texts, this interplay is best symbolized by a bow and arrow. In such texts, the body is the bow (stretched to its utilitarian best), and the arrow is the mental focus that leads you to the Divine. This is the metaphysics behind a yogic stretch.
The biology of a yogic stretch is as simple. Stretching provides elasticity not just of large muscles but also the more delicate arteries. “The elasticity of muscles plays an important role in keeping the body youthful…The elasticity of the arteries also plays an important role in preserving health for it maintains the pressure between the beats of the heart,” wrote Swami Vishnudevananda, founder of International Sivananda Center, in his classic, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga.
Stretching can be simple, or extreme, as in some advanced yogic poses. Yet, its health gifts are equitably distributed to both types of practitioners. Also, stretching is a must for all sorts of activities. It’s used as a complement to hard-training by sportsmen. It is also used by the aging populace as a gentle mode of exercise. Simply put, it can transform itself to the needs of all, offering its bouquet of benefits fairly. The muscles are strengthened. This nudges the bones attached to them to become denser, stronger, and more efficient storehouses of minerals.
Recently, it was found that bones even release hormones which can control diabetes. Stretches also make the arteries, through which the blood passes, more elastic. This means the blood can transport nutrients and energy faster and more efficiently throughout the entire body, including the nooks and corners of it which get cobwebbed and rusty in lazy people. This efficient blood circulation also means the body is able to fight infections better, due to smooth transport of immune bodies. This also helps it dispose of waste products and toxins faster. It is also the better alternative to pills, in handling the chronic aches of the body like arthritic pains.
A full body stretch is the best cure-all for burn-out. It is also a wonderful way to beat insomnia, chronic pain arising from stress at work and personal life, anxiety, and all forms of negativities, including depression.
But not all stretches are equal. A ballistic stretch either creates or adds to the stress-reaction within the body, harming and aging it in the long run. It thickens muscle by first injuring it.
But static or yogic stretch on the other hand allows the mind-body complex sufficient time to communicate and understand that no injury is intended. If yoga is done right, with proper breath sequencing and the classic choreography of each movement, then the muscle that is created has the healthy elasticity of a rubber-ball. It can bound back and withstand any stress. The mind, too, becomes as resilient.
Samkonasana or Right Angle pose:
To do this, stand up straight, feet touching. Inhale and raise both hands upwards. Exhaling, lower both hands down, fingers pointing downwards. Hands must be at hip level. Continue breathing normally. You must look at the hands. Now slowly tilt hips back, so the back of the legs feel a powerful stretch. Mental focus must be on the feet to avoid tilting over. How far you can push your hips back depends on the flexibility of your leg, hip and back muscles. Hold for as long as is comfortable, returning to starting position. Initially repeat two or three times. Later, do it only once but hold for longer than 15 seconds or more.
It corrects postural defects, gives a powerful stretch to the spine, all back muscles and the huge muscles of the thigh and calf. It builds stamina. Avoid if having back problem.
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