To Stretch or Rest (that is the question)?

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Shannan asks:

I have the yoga body handbook and things are going well, but I’m still pretty sore. Should I still stretch or give my body a rest?

Here’s my very non-scientific approach to soreness. It’s normal to wake up in the morning and feel sore if you’re doing anything, any kind of physical training, whether it’s running or resistance training or yoga or whatever it is. Very often, you’re going to wake up in the morning and feel a little sore. That’s normal.

If the soreness doesn’t go away when you start moving around, and specifically if it doesn’t go away when you’re about 10 minutes into your yoga practice, my unscientific method is then you need to take a break. Take a couple days off, give your body a rest.

If you’re soreness goes away when you get up and start moving around, in my experience, I think it’s just find to go right back to stretching, especially if you’re being careful, always following your breath and being respectful of your body. So I’d use that as a rough guide. If you’re so sore that when you start moving around you’re still sore, give yourself a break.

Am I supposed to be on the back knee when tensing my front thigh and balancing myself without the support of my arms, or should I be using my arms and holding myself in the air for the 20-second hold? (Shannon is talking about the splits here.) Should I be doing these PNF stretches even if I’m sore?

If you’re really sore, no, don’t do PNF stretching. PNF stretching is proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. Big long word, we’ve talked about it before. Basically, you tense up a certain muscle group and then relax it. It encourages your body to relax. It kind of goes counter to the stretching reflex, which is where your body seizes up, instead of releasing. It’s a really simple technique, but it can make you really, really sore because you’re using those muscular contractions. Sometimes that soreness from stretching, a lot of times, is soreness from really engaging that muscle so strongly.

In terms of what are you doing when you’re doing this, I think you’re talking about the frontal splits here, Shannon. You want to use your arms to hold yourself above in the air, for sure. You might need to use a pillow or a block or a book to get yourself nice and safe and engage just the front leg. Don’t worry so much about that back leg. Engage your front quads really, really strong and then release.

Caroline asks:

Flamenco: (Flamenco is a pose where you lay on your back and you do hamstring and hip-related stretches.) Should I be doing the Rag Doll a couple of times in a row to achieve results, as long as I can’t yet do the Flamenco? Maybe it would cause too much blood going to the brain or something?

Caroline, Rag Doll is a pose where you’re just doing a real passive forward standing bend, with your knees bent. Caroline’s having trouble with Flamenco, so wondering if she should do Rag Doll more often. The answer is no, Caroline. It’s good to have a little bit of mix, a little bit of variety. It will access to your body in different ways. Anyone can do Flamenco Pose. Grab a strap or a belt. You can do it.

Wide Dog: Do you have a good exercise to loosen up and stretch the calf muscles so that I can prepare myself for Wide Dog?

Yes, I have a great pose. It’s called Wide Dog. Do that one. It’s really, really good. You can do One-Legged Dogs, which work even more intensely to stretch your calves. I have very, very tight calves, I always have, and you can stretch your calves by doing that One-Legged Dog, where you put one foot behind the other ankle.

Lightning Bolt: (This is a pose where your knees are together and you’re sitting on your knees. Some people call it Japanese-style seated position, like you would do in a Dojo. You bring your feet apart and sit your bum down on the floor) I can manage sitting on a cushion with my legs to the side, but the place where I feel the stretch is the top of my feet that are being stretched on the floor. Should I keep doing this until that foot stretch gets lets painful and then try to remove the pillow? Also, is this exercise bad for people with weak knees?

If you’re feeling it in your feet, that’s perfectly fine. You need to stretch out the tops of your feet. You need that rotation in your feet. You’ll find it really, really beneficial. You’ll also find your feet open up really quickly. If you have weak knees, this pose can potentially be dangerous. It can also be a revolution for you. Like a lot of things, the same things that heal us can hurt us, if we do them too much. It’s just like if you went to the doctor and they give you a medication and the medication would save your life if you took the right dose and if you took too much it would kill you.

The same with a lot of these yoga poses. Luckily they won’t kill you, but if you do too much, push it too far, you could certainly hurt yourself. So be very, very careful if you have weak knees, for sure. It’s a great question, Caroline.

Pins ‘n Needles: I’m not sure if I fully understood this one. The guy in the image is clearly sitting on his toes, but the guidelines say that we have to sit down on our heels.

You put your bum on your heels, but your toes are curled under. So your toes are on the floor, but your bum is on your heels. So sit back with your bum onto your heels.

How long would it take an average inflexible person like myself, to get to full flexibility? A year, a couple of years?

Caroline, everyone has a different definition of full flexibility. I’m a pretty flexible guy. I still consider myself stiff in a lot of places, but most people would think that’s ridiculous, so it just depends on your goals. Within a year, most people can get their hands all the way flat to the floor, in a Forward Bend. Most people can push all the way up to a Full Wheel Pose in a backbend. Most people can comfortably do a bound twisting pose. Those are some real simple poses that I use to gauge range of motion, and almost everybody can do that in a year. A lot of people can do that in a month or two. But for sure within a year, if you’re stretching daily, you’ll be pretty happy with the way your body changes.

I am a total beginner. Would you recommend that I first do a few months of this stretching before I also take up Yoga?

No, I would not. Get right into it. Start going to classes, if you like classes. Start practicing at home, even better. Do both of them, that’s the best.

Are any of these gravity poses classical, existing yoga poses? And if yes, what are their names?

Yes and no. Some of the poses, like a Butterfly Pose, is a baddha konasana, The Rag Doll is a variation of a classic forward bend. Many of them have classic Sanskrit names, some of them don’t. I just use English names. I like English names better. But some of them do have classical names. I find that people can’t remember them, and they don’t mean anything to most people and so they just make it harder for them to remember. But yeah, some of them do have classic names.

Pam asks:

I had a painful massage session to try to loosen up some muscles in my neck and head and I have regular discussions about how much pain is beneficial. On the yoga side, what might be helpful?

I’m not into painful massages at all. People get really masochistic and weird and they want massages to hurt like hell. I’ve seen people with bruises, with literally black and blue marks all over their back, people who are limping after massages. That’s weird. To me, that’s not massage, that’s S&M, it’s weird stuff. It’s really, really weird. I don’t know why, but people love it. I have lots and lots of clients and students, and they go to a massage therapist and they literally want to be hurt. It’s weird. That’s all I can say about it.

Injury is injury. People call it opening or breaking through or breaking up – people talk about breaking up scar tissue or whatever it is. If you’re walking away from a massage session and you have bruises or you’re in pain, in my opinion, that’s not a good massage therapist. People will get mad at me and you can go ahead and post comments down below, I’m happy to discuss this, but that’s not a good thing.

When you get sore from yoga, that’s a very different thing, you’re talking about micro-tears and stretching and strengthening. Even that can go too far, of course, but painful massage, you’re getting elbows dug into your back and you’re taking your breath away and you have black and blue marks, that’s not going to help you with your flexibility, with the structural integrity of the body. That’s weird. That’s all I’ve got to say.

Brenda asks:

I’ve been diagnosed with major depression. I practice bikram yoga twice a week, I struggle with diet. I juice a lot. I take omega 3 multivitamins and probiotics and Zoloft, but I still can’t lose weight. Any ideas would be much appreciated.

Here’s the challenge, Brenda. Antidepressants, something like a Zoloft, can lead to weight gain, very, very, very common. Why does that happen? The truth is, these SSRIs and other antidepressants, they don’t know exactly how they work, but for the most part they mess with serotonin uptake, so they might increase, decrease, regulate. It’s a bit of a mystery. Everything in neuroscience is still kind of up for grabs.

In terms of how a lot of these neurological medications work is really a lot of a mystery. The one thing I can tell you is it sounds like you’re doing a lot of good things, doing yoga, juicing, omega-3s, multivitamins, probiotics, all those things are fantastic. It could very well be that that medication is screwing up your hunger. Some people lose weight on antidepressants. Some people lose weight initially and then they gain weight later, that’s also very common.

But I would definitely talk to your doctor about ways that you might be able to switch. And that might mean more, that might mean less, that might mean changing your medication, but for sure have a chat with your doctor, don’t ever do anything without talking to your doctor. But for whatever reason, doctors don’t talk about this so much, but it’s very, very common.

The one thing people don’t realize also is that a whole ton of our neurotransmitters are in our gut, in our stomach. So anytime you mess with your neurotransmitters, with your neural health, you are by definition messing with your gut health, and it can have a really big impact.

Will asks:

Have you noticed tighter hamstrings in people with knock knees? (This is when people have their knees pointing in, inward slope of their legs.) I look at other people similar to my body build, their legs, and I notice them struggling in the same asanas.

Will, tighter hamstrings, yeah maybe, but for sure problems. Everybody has different problems though, so I wouldn’t get too hung up on it. Meaning, if you have a really long torso, if you have a really short torso, if you’re really long, if you’re short, if you’re overweight, there’s challenges that come with every body type. In terms of tight hamstrings, I personally haven’t noticed that, but for sure hip challenges are something that’s relatively common.

Whatever it is that you’re dealing with, I always encourage people not to get so stuck on your limitations, but just think about what you can do and move yourself back toward balance. The more you get into it, almost everybody has some pretty serious imbalance going on.

Carol asks:

I can only hold Noodle pose about ten seconds before experiencing back pain. Should I keep trying to extend the time?

No, Carol, don’t extend the time. What I would suggest you do in Noodle Pose is add more cushions to the chair. So lots and lots of pillows, so the backbend is very, very gentle slope to the back, you should be able to hold it longer than with no pain at all.

Bill asks:

I have been a vegetarian since 2004, by 2007 also gave up fish and eggs, the problem I have now is that my body muscle has depleted and I am feeling movement in the bones as there may be more fat. Looks like my body is using up the muscle. I also do yoga and meditation. Any thoughts or suggestions?

In terms of movement in the bones, I’m not sure what that means but that doesn’t sound good. Bill, the biggest challenge with the vegetarian diet, the number one, biggest, biggest challenge is not where do you get your protein. It’s how do you keep your blood sugar stable, because as soon as you remove protein, you tend to remove fat. As soon as you lower fat and protein, you tend to increase carbs. As soon as you increase carbs, most people tend to increase grains, and grains being bread, pasta, wheat, rice, all these kinds of things. It can really wreak havoc on your blood sugar. It can also have autoimmune responses, where you have chronic inflammation and joint pain and all this kind of stuff, digestive problems and these sorts of things.

The one thing I would do is it sounds like you’re pretty in touch with what happened in the past. If you were looking at the period from 2004 to 2007, when you were still eating fish and eggs, how was your health then? Maybe for someone like you, maybe it’s better to include fish and eggs. If you’re totally opposed to that, which I can understand, I would just take a real close look at your diet and start working with a nutritionist and take a look at your blood sugar in particular.

If you’re losing muscle mass, that’s really a big risk. Your lean muscle is really the core, the powerhouse of your metabolic health, and it’s really the fountain of youth as well, for hormone balance and everything else. Lean muscle is very, very important. You don’t need big slabs of it like a bodybuilder, but you need to have lean muscle for your health. So for sure, take a close look at that, get your fasting blood glucose levels tested. You can do it at home if you want, we’ll talk more about this in the future, but for any vegetarian, I learned this from Dr. John Dyer, really, really great advice. Get your fasting blood glucose tested. Make sure that you’re not running really high blood sugar levels. That will cause all of the problems you’ve talked about and many, many more.

Mima asks:

I am currently taking your Liquid Energy-B once a day, and I am having a sluggish day, for instance having to come down with a cold or feeling run down. Is it safe to take another B12 drop to make me stay alert?

For those of you who don’t know, Liquid Energy-B is our all-natural B12 nutritional supplement. B12 can be a natural mood and energy elevator. In terms of taking it more than once a day, Mima, there’s not really any point. It’s quite a high dose of B12, it’s water soluble, it’s very, very safe, but there’s no real point in taking it more than once a day. So I would recommend no.