Yoga is a useful resource for managing muscle tension throughout the body. Whether it is from an injury or standard bodily wear-and-tear, the muscular system is affected.
What is Muscle Tension?
When you move your body, a series of signals are sent to the brain to help activate the muscles in your body. Muscles contract so you can walk, rise from a chair, run, lift a box, etc. When the body is at rest, the muscles have an opportunity to relax.
Muscle tension or stiffness happens when muscles of the body continue to contract, even when the body is at rest. There is a reoccurring signal sent to the brain to keep the muscles firing.
Over-stimulated muscles eventually become tight and stiff. This may later result in painful muscles in your body. One of the main causes of muscle pain outside of injury is stress.
When stressed, your body remains in a fight-or-flight state; your heart rate increases, cortisol is released into the bloodstream, your pupils dilate, and your muscles constrict.
Stress has become such a normal state of being for so many people that their bodies remain in "fight-or-flight state" condition even when they are attempting to rest or sleep.
Stress can also have a negative effect on your digestive system. When anxious, you're more likely to experience a loss of appetite, belly cramps, and bloating. Both of these body functions, digestion and the fight-or-flight response, are controlled by the central nervous system.
To reduce or eliminate this constant stress response, one needs to re-train herself to relax the brain and body; a re-calibration of the central nervous system. One way to promote relaxation is to practice yoga. Some yoga stretches are designed to increase efficient blood flow to areas of the body that tends to hold tension.
Twisting yoga postures, in particular, are a resourceful way to relieve muscle tension and improve digestion.
Thread The Needle
Thread the Needle yoga posture (Parsva Balasana)
This is a twisting posture that relieves tension in several parts of your body: back, shoulders, and hips. This is good because these are areas in which we hold a lot of muscle tension.
Start this pose on your hands and knees on a yoga mat. Be sure your knees are directly underneath your hips and your wrists underneath your shoulders to begin. Next, step your right hand in a bit so that it is directly under your chest. Inhale to take your left arm out to the side (like you're spreading your wings). Exhale and guide this lifted arm across your body underneath you and place it on the floor. The effect simulates "threading a needle." Your entire left arm will be on the floor between your right hand and right knee. This will rotate of your whole torso which positively creates a stretch along the muscles that support your spine.
For an additional shoulder stretch, reach your right hand over head toward the front of the room. This will lengthen the deltoid muscles (your shoulder muscle) as well as your obliques (the large side muscles of your back.) You can also add some muscle release to your right hip by pushing it slightly toward your extended left hand that is on the floor. For an effective release of tension, hold this posture for 10 slow breaths. When you are complete, replace your right hand on the floor underneath you to lift yourself up and unwind from the pose. Return to your table top posture, then perform the pose on the other side.
Spinal Twist yoga pose (Supta Matsyendrasana)
Spinal Twist yoga pose is good for your back and hips. Begin by lying on your back and hug your knees toward your torso. Slowly take your knees over to the left side while extending your right arm to the right side of the room. This will create a twist in your back. Try to rest your entire upper back body on the floor to experience the full rotation. Not only will you feel this stretch along your back, but also in your right outer hip. As with the other twisting pose, hold this one for 10 slow deep breaths. When complete, return to center, then practice the rotation on the other side.
In both of these postures, not only are you influencing the muscles of the back, shoulders, and hips, but you are contributing to the improvement of your digestive system. In addition to better blood flow with this twisting postures, these type of yoga positions and unlock stuck air that may cause bloating or cramps. It is probably best to perform twisting postures before having a meal so that you are not practicing on a full stomach. (Doing so may create more discomfort in your belly.)
After any practice, take some time in Savasana, the final relaxing posture that brings ease, relaxation, and peace throughout your whole body and mind.