Stretching Reflex & Cheerleading

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Richard asks:

I’ve been doing gravity poses for several weeks, and I’ve noticed some improvements. I was wondering if you have any gravity poses that are not on your DVD but have similar benefits. I’d like to do new ones in my routine.

That’s a great question, Richard. We do actually have an advanced series that we’ve been working on. I’ll just give you three of them right now. They’re very, very simple. So if you’re comfortable full splits on both sides, front and back, those full frontal splits, and then the box splits, the side splits on just the one, there’s only one way you can do it, and you want to work up to five-minute holds on each. Now I do have a bunch of other a little bit more advanced, more complicated poses to explain, a couple of them using the yoga trapeze. What I’ll do, is over the next coming weeks, I’ll try to send out some emails with some illustrations or some photos.

But for now, if you’re doing well with the gravity poses, if your hamstrings are pretty open, your legs are pretty open, give a try with that, doing full frontal splits, five minutes on each side, five minutes out to the sides doing box splits. Hope that helps.

Plow pose. My feet are still several inches off the floor. What muscles need to be flexible to do this pose? Are there any stretching exercises that would be helpful?

So, Plow Pose is called Halasana in yoga. It’s when you’re on your shoulders and you have your feet up and over your head, towards the ground. There’s a couple of things that are happening here, Richard. It’s your hamstrings, and for the most part it’s really your hamstring flexibility. I mean, there’s some other things happenings in your spine as well, but for the most part, we’re just talking about your hamstrings.

So Plow Pose is a good one to practice, as long as your neck feels okay. As long as your neck feels okay, keep practicing that one. Ragdoll Pose would be very helpful, the Flamenco Series from the gravity yoga postures are very helpful. More than anything, just give it some time, but do be careful not to strain your neck in a Plow Pose.

Getting my heels to the ground in Downward Facing Dog is really challenging. Any suggestions on how to do this?

So, Downward Facing Dog, getting your heels to the ground is a difficult thing for some people. For other people, their heels go straight to the ground. The thing I can say is, just keep working at it and you’ll get it eventually. Work on really, really lengthening your legs, and you can do other things, too, which are One Legged Dogs, where you take one leg high up into the air while just one of your heels is moving towards the floor. Sometimes that added leverage helps you to get a bigger stretch in your calves. Eventually, everyone can get their heels to the ground. It just takes some practice.

I’d also work on taking a shorter stance. Some people take a really long dog, meaning their hands and feet are very far apart, and if that’s the case, it’s possible that your dog is so long, you’ll never get those heels to the ground. So take a shorter dog, like an Ashtanga-style dog, and make your heels just a little bit off the ground so you can work the stretch in a closer stance.

Trent asks:

When I do the standing hamstring stretch and fold forward, after about 45 seconds my hamstrings start shaking. I know you’re supposed to hold this for two to three minutes, but where does the shaking come from? Can u give me some advice?

Trent, your body resists stretching. It’s called the stretching reflex. It will do all kinds of things, like give you really intense sensations, it will make your muscles twitch. So, half of what we’re doing in stretching is nervous system training, and half of it is actually lengthening connective tissues, muscles and fascia.

So, the nervous system part of it is allowing your body to feel safe, relaxing and stretching the muscles. So when you feel that twitch or tremor, that stretching reflex, your body’s reacting because it’s just not used to it. So the nervous system training, the good news is, it can happen very fast, meaning your body can change the way it reacts to stretching very quickly. But it’s just through repetition and practice. So don’t worry about it. Do what you can. Don’t push so hard that you feel like you fried your nerves or that you’re really anxious, but just every time, try to work through the trembles, and you’ll find that quickly you’ll move through it.

Julie asks:

I have recently ordered the YOGABODY Stretch. I’m hoping it will help my hamstring. Three months ago, I heard a snap while doing a bikram posture and have injured the top of my hamstring. I found that my lower back and left hamstring leg are ridiculously stiff. I’ve even done some heavy metal detox and Candida detox, thinking these might be the problems. Do you have any suggestions?

Yeah, the first thing is the stiffness in your hamstring is not related to heavy metals, it’s not related to Candida. So don’t focus on that. It’s just a connective tissue thing. Now, eating the right foods will certainly help with everything in your health, including your flexibility, but don’t get hung up on detoxification for flexibility. That’s not the right focus.

If you heard a snap when you were practicing, you could have done some real damage. So the thing with hamstring injuries, and we have some posts about this, you just have to be really careful. If you do a minor hamstring injury, it can heal very quickly. Most real hamstring pulls are actually re-injuries, meaning there’s a small injury and then you injure it again.

If you do a real serious hamstring pull, it can take 18 months to heal, so it’s really a big deal. So really take it slow. I’d also encourage you, if you have hamstring pain, to get out of the heat. Stay out of a Bikrim yoga class. The heat can mask pain, especially in those hamstrings. You’ll get into class, you’ll feel great, the next day you’ll just have an inflamed hamstring again. So just get out of the heat for a little while. Wait until you heal up, and then go back in the heat. If you really need to go in the heat, if you’re addicted to hot yoga, just make sure you’re practicing at about 80 percent of your potential, so you don’t push too hard.

Nickolas asks:

In Rag Doll pose, (Rag Doll’s a passive forward bend we do in the gravity series) I start off with my legs slightly bent, then realize that during the stretch they have become more bent, so I readjust them to being less bend in the legs. To get the best stretch, should I try to keep them in the starting position or is this readjustment in the 5-minute stretch normal?

Great question, Nickolas. Readjustment is normal. Some people will actually go into straight legs. You just want to be sure your knee is not hyper-extended. But do whatever you need to do. If you bend a little, straighten a little, it’s all fine. Just try to relax the most, but you’ll find for sure, your legs will bend a little bit more, change during the pose, especially if you’re doing three, four, five minutes-plus.

Summer asks:

When doing The Sun Salutations, I have a hard time getting into the lunge after Downward Facing Dog.

So if you’re having a hard time going from Downward Facing Dog in Sun Salute B to a Warrior 1 Pose, that’s where you need to bring your foot between your hands and your arms up above your head with your hands together. If you’re having trouble with that, it usually has to do with hamstring and hip flexibility. The best advice I can have for you, Summer, is just use your hand for now to move your foot forward, and just stick with it. Everything comes with time, and the more you practice that, the more you’ll find it. But for now, use your hand. So if you’re stepping your right leg forward, just reach down and grab your foot and shimmy your foot forward and do the pose that way.

Tatiana asks:

I am in 12th grade and trying out for cheerleading. It is the second day out of six days and we need to know how to touch our toes or we can’t get in. Is there any exercises I can do? I have scoliosis. Am I ever going to touch my toes? Is it possible?

So, if it’s the second day of your six days and you can’t touch your toes today, by day six, are you going to be able to touch your toes? I’m sorry, Tatiana, probably not. You need a little bit more time than that. You can make some really big breakthroughs in a month. I always say double your flexibility. So, what I mean by that is, if your hands, let’s say they’re 12 inches from your toes at day one, by the end of the month, you should be just 6 inches from your toes, or a lot of people will actually get all the way down to the ground. I would guess, it sounds like you’re about 18 years old. You can probably make some big changes really fast.

In terms of the scoliosis, be really careful. Make sure you check with your doctor. Make sure yoga’s a good idea. People have all different kinds of scoliosis, some so serious that they need to get rods placed in their backs, and some people so minor that they might even be undiagnosed. So definitely check with a trusted healthcare practitioner or body worker. Make sure you’re doing the right thing. Good luck with your cheerleader tryouts.

Nancy asks:

I wonder if there were any more yoga poses than those in the gravity poses to help with carpal tunnel?

In terms of helping with carpal tunnel, I’m not at all an expert with this. Someone in my office is actually suffering from carpal tunnel right now, so we’re actually learning more, but in terms of dealing with carpal tunnel, right now, why don’t I just give you a rain check and I’ll say I’ll do some more research, and like I said, one of our team members is suffering from it right now, so we’ll see if we can get some good information for you in the future, Nancy.

Diva asks:

Please, what can I do to stretch my psoa muscle? I have scoliosis and the doctor says because of the curvature of my back and my psoa muscle is short, that’s why I’m feeling pain.

So your psoa muscle is also known as the filet mignon muscle. It’s this really short and unique muscle that goes from the lower back, the lumbar spine, it crosses your pelvis and inserts at the femur. So let me just say that again. It goes from your leg to your spine, across the pelvis. It’s the only muscle that does this. It’s very, very unique, and because of that, it plays a huge role in the mobility of your spine, and it can also restrict the movement of your spine if it’s short.

Now because most of us spend all day seated and we have such a limited range of motion with our legs, it’s very normal to have a very tight psoa muscle. When you go down in the splits, your back leg, the tightness you feel there, that’s your psoa muscle.

So, Diva, what can you do for that psoa muscle? There’s the pose Blaster that we teach in the gravity yoga series. Do that pose. Do it every day. Work up to five-minute holds on either side, and you’re going to feel a big difference.

Brooke asks:

I injured my leg while I running and I didn’t stretch first, therefore I hurt myself and couldn’t run for days. I could barely lift my leg. Do you know what I did to myself?

A: Brooke, I have no idea what you did to yourself, but in terms of stretching before running, let me just take an opportunity to say, stretching before running is great. Make sure you’re doing warm-up stretches, not deep stretches. What I mean by that is, stretching in the generic term, like when athletes, well not elite athletes but when amateur athletes talk about stretching, they’re usually just talking about warming up. They’ll bend over a couple of times, maybe crack their joints. This is called warming up stretching. It has nothing to do with flexibility.

Gravity yoga poses, these deep stretches, you always want to do that after you did any running or anything like that, because what you’re doing is changing your nervous system. So, if you’re telling your nervous system be on high alert, physical activity running, that’s a very different message than relax completely into a deep stretch.

So, Brooke, I’m not sure why you injured. So sorry to hear that you’re hurting. For sure, I’d recommend warm-up stretches before practice, deep gravity yoga stretches after practice and wishing you a quick recovery.

Nicole asks:

I’m thirteen and I do cheerleading and gymnastics. I really do want to be more flexible. Will your program work for me? If not, what should I do?

Nicole, it can certainly help for you. We have people of all ages using our program. Our younger students get results very, very quickly. It’s kind of frustrating for myself and for older people because we can’t make changes as quickly, but for sure it can. Focus on the series, and you’ll get some great results. Our gravity yoga series is the one that I’d recommend.

Gwene asks:

I have a sleep problem. I’ve tried herbal remedies to no avail. As a backup, I have a prescription for it, but try not to use it so frequently. Any suggestions?

Gwene, I feel your pain. I am a terrible sleeper. It’s one of the worst things I do for my health, is I don’t sleep well, and it’s a constant struggle for me. We have something called Liquid Dream V. It’s valerian root extract, and that works very effectively for me, at times. I don’t use it every day. You don’t want to use anything every day, but I use it when I need it and it works really great for me.

There are other things I do, too, specifically deep breathing. We have a program called Breathe Into Stillness that you’ll find in our YOGABODY store, and that’s very, very effective for me before bed. We have a nighttime one, a nighttime practice there for cooling down your body.

The key thing that I find is, people who are struggling with insomnia, they’re doing one of two things. This is very, very common, is they’re hopped up on something. So they’ve had caffeine or they’ve had sugar too soon before bed, and too soon before bed for someone who struggles with sleeping means after noon. So, if you’ve had a cup of coffee or a chocolate bar after 12 noon, that can be disrupting your sleep, and I know you’re going to tell me that that soda, that Coca Cola, that caffeine doesn’t affect you, but trust me it does. It’s in your system for at least six hours, sometimes longer. So if you’re struggling with your sleep, make sure to stop drinking all soda and all these caffeine and chocolate bars after 12:00 in the afternoon.

The other thing, if it’s not the caffeine or the chocolate or the soda, I find that it is with people, like me, they just have a lot going on. They’ve got a busy mind that keeps them up thinking about things, whether good or bad. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re stressed. You can just be really excited about life, and it can keep you up at night. And deep breathing practices, for me, are really effective.

Now, there’s no quick fix, but I like to do a gravity yoga series 15 minutes before bed. Sometimes I do a headstand, do some breathing, and that really puts me in a different place. Maybe we’ll do a quick video tutorial on something like that very soon. Food Matters DVD