Should You Be Doing Yoga?
The short answer is, “sure, if you enjoy it”. But keep in mind that while yoga has numerous benefits (flexibility, balance, core strengthening, to name a few), it is should be part of an integrative exercise program for optimum health and balance of the kinetic chain.
Many people embrace yoga in a dogmatic way, believing it provides a complete fitness profile. However, just like any other forms of exercise done to excess, this can result in kinetic chain imbalances, pain and injuries.
Part of my motivation for writing on this topic is my observation of some of my patients who focus solely on yoga end up with injuries and pain.
If these patients were to include other aspects of an integrated exercise routine, they would have overall better fitness, fewer injuries and more than likely, stronger yoga practices.
An integrated exercise routine has the following components:
4. Reactive (plyometric) training
5. Speed, agility and quickness
6. Resistance training
7. Cardiorespiratory exercise
Each component can have a stabilization, strength and power phase (see prior blog on OPT Model).
Determining your phase of exercise should be based on an assessment of your health, kinetic chain and fitness goals.
This type of assessment is usually done by a qualified healthcare practitioner or by a yoga instructor doing a one-on-one private session. Unfortunately, this does not generally happen in a group setting. Consequently, you get a group of students in a class who have various imbalances and predispositions to injury with certain poses and one instructor to ensure that no one gets hurt.
Just like any form of exercise, a yoga program should be designed to meet the specific needs and abilities of an individual.
Flexibility is the normal extensibility of soft tissues that allow full range of motion around a joint. For soft tissue to achieve efficient extensibility, there must be optimum control by the nervous system throughout the entire range of motion. The combination of flexibility and the ability of the nervous system to control this range of motion efficiently is known as neuromuscular efficiency.
The body seeks the path of least resistance during movement when there are muscle and joint imbalances. This is known as relative flexibility. Individuals who compensate by using relative flexibility “groove” these dysfunctional motor patterns into their nervous system though repetition and years of bad habit. The pattern, if not corrected, will result in injuries over time.
It may be that a reason people practice yoga is due to these compensatory patterns and the desire to gain more flexibility. Unfortunately, you can’t exercise away a bad pattern. You need to first correct the imbalances and then use corrective exercises to re-educate the nervous system.
Many of these compensation patterns are predictable and become apparent in a movement screen such as an overhead squat assessment or by observing range of motion at the various joints in the body.
The compensations almost always have muscles on one side of a joint that are overactive and tight and on the other side, underactive and weak, which brings me to another important point. While some stretches may feel good because an area feels tight, you may in fact be stretching a muscle that is already over-stretched and consequently exacerbating an imbalance. Two common areas include the hamstrings and rhomboids (between the shoulder blades).
The core is defined as the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, and the thoracic and cervical spine. It is where the body’s center of gravity is located and where all movement begins.
An efficient core is necessary for maintaining proper muscle balance. Bridge, Plank and Cobra are great core yoga poses. These can be progressed or regressed by changing the proprioceptive input (e.g. using unstable surfaces or varying body position). However, there is no means to progress to other phases within the OPT model as it generally requires equipment such as stability balls, medicine balls, benches and weights. In addition, the setup of a yoga studio and nature of the class are not conducive to having this type of equipment.
Why is it important to be able to progress exercises for the core using the OPT model?
A strong core provides a foundation for one to be able to lift their body weight as well as perform resistance training.
Resistance training is part of the OPT model that has been shown to produce a number of important physiological and metabolic adaptations, including cardiorespiratory, endocrine, metabolic, tissue strength and bone density, decreased body fat and increased lean body mass.
Yoga is great for stabilization and balance. As such, it can provide a good foundation for strength training and more advanced phases of the OPT model as discussed last week.
Speaking of balance
Balance is the key to all functional movements. It is a dynamic process that involves multiple neurological pathways. It is dependent on optimal length-tension relationships of muscles, joint dynamics and the ability of the nervous system to coordinate movements around joints.
There are a number of great yoga poses that stress balance.
Similar to core exercise, it is important to progress balance exercises by constantly stressing one’s limits of stability (i.e. the distance outside of the base of support that one can go without losing control of their center of gravity). Balance can be stressed by moving in different planes, changing the amount of proprioception (e.g. with rolls or pads) and adding pertubations, such as reaching for a moving target or having someone gently apply pressure forcing you to reactively stabilize your position.
Whereas a yoga pose would offer stabilization-type balance, progressing through the OPT model would incorporate chopping, lifting, squatting, hopping and jumping up to a box.
Yoga can be a great form of exercise in that it incorporates flexibility, core strength, balance and focus.
In my opinion, it should be part of an integrated exercise program that also includes reactive (plyometric) training, resistance training and cardiovascular (aerobic and anaerobic) training.
As with any form of exercise, if it is not integrated, there is a greater likelihood of creating imbalance in the body, poor movement patterns, injuries and pain.
If you practice yoga regularly, have you been assessed to determine where your imbalances lie and how you can address them?