How long do I need to stretch for?

Published: May 16, 2019 by Lucy Tennyson

This week we did a lot of knee hugs and leg stretches, with the aim of improving flexibility in our legs, and to a lesser extent the hips. We first warmed up the joints and muscles with a series of gentle warm ups on the floor. 

A lot of yoga sequences involve working on opposite sets of muscles (these are known as antagonists and agonists). Good examples are the biceps and triceps in the upper arms – and the quads and hamstrings in the legs, which were our focus this week.

This is known as “reciprocal inhibition.” Whenever one set of muscles (the agonists) contracts, this built-in feature of the autonomic nervous system causes the opposing muscles (the antagonists) to release.

We worked alternatively on the quads in the front of the thigh, and the hamstrings at the back of the leg. The hamstring consists of three muscles on the rear of the thigh. They extend from the hip down into the knee. They rotate your knee in and out and try to keep your leg moving straight while balancing each other out. The quadriceps and hamstrings work together to move your leg. When you bend your leg, the hamstring muscles contract and the quads relax. Conversely, when you straighten your leg, the quads contract and the hamstring muscles relax.

We also held our stretches for longer than usual. By doing so, we can help improve not only muscle flexibility, but also work on the fascia that binds our muscles.  Julie Gudmestad, a physical therapist and certified Iyengar instructor, is quoted in Yoga Journal as saying. “If students hold the poses for shorter periods, people get a nice sense of release … but they aren’t necessarily going to get the structural changes that add up to a permanent increase in flexibility.”

By using props such as belts and yoga blocks to ease into the posture, we can really relax into asanas to go a little deeper. A reminder of the class is below

And, you can read a long article on stretching by Julie Gudmestad here.


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