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PHYSIOLOGY OF YOGA POSES -static or dynamic practice ? Part 1.

21 November 2017

When it comes to choosing the style of yoga and way of practicing we have to look at few points. There are different benefits of both ways of practicing. If you would ask me as a yoga teacher who more and more dive into therapeutic yoga, I would answer- never resign from static practice done with deep, conscious breathing. But at the same time I, myself love to flow with breath and music in dynamic, vinyasa classes. What would be the answer? Balance is a key.  Firstly,understand what is happening in your body while you practice in dynamic and static way. So let’s look into a few important aspects as well as benefits of both type of practices.

Traditionally yoga was aiming at self and spiritual development. In 20th century yoga started to be seen as a tool to achieve healthy and strong body through asana and breathing practice. In XXI century we are seeing more and more awakening towards holistic yogic lifestyle, where yoga is gaining more importance as it provides overall balance in: body, mind, soul, thoughts, behaviour, etc. My life philosophy and a key to everything is “balance”, and this approach I have also towards yoga. Definitely after some years of practice and becoming a teacher, yoga became my lifestyle. I appreciate how it “cares” for my physical body, but I can’t be more grateful for entire understanding of my body, mind and soul which I got thanks to yoga.  It is a broad topic and today I would like to focus on two different ways of practicing yoga, which has its own benefits.  In the first part we are focusing on dynamic practice, its physiology and benefits.

What happens in your body when you practice in dynamic way?

From physiological point of view, there are differences what happens with your body in dynamic and static practice. And it is important to understand what happens in your body. To give you an example, sun salutation or vinyasa is a dynamic practice. You flow with the breath and movements are dynamic. You go from movement to movement in faster way.

Physiology of dynamic practice *

  • Dynamic practices include holding of postures for less than 10 seconds.
  • Stimulation to Sympathetic Nervous system  ( mode “fight or fly”, there is no deep relaxation as seen in static practice).
  • Nervous system reflex – knee jerk contracts muscles.  Dynamic impact- the muscles will contract, when there is a dynamic movement. It is called knee jerk as it is usually demonstrated with knee, but all muscles have this reflex. Dynamic movement works as an impact and it work on stimulation on the muscles- it causes stiffness of the muscles and in long term make them shorter- common experience of sport people. The more you make gentle and slow movement, the stiffness effect will be reduced.
  • Blood Pressure & Heart rate increased, sweating is happening
  • White muscle fibers of skeletal muscles work more
  • Reciprocal inhibition (flexors and extensors) is affected by stretch reflex limiting the stretch
  • The main effect of yoga practice is relaxation of entire body. In dynamic practice it is not achieved.

Benefits of dynamic practice

  • Rhythm is natural and inherent to our body systems. Rhythmic movements increase the coordination and efficient use of energy of all body organs such heart, brain, lungs, and other organs.
  • Rhythmic movements influence brain -higher brain cerebral cortex is involved in controlling of body movements
  • Dynamic practices can make mind more calm, peaceful, what will influence emotions and thoughts control
  • Muscular system: more white muscle fibers used, more useful to increase strength and power
  • Burn more calories (but consume large amount of ATP and glucose, relatively little oxygen, protein and fat and produce large amount of lactic acid)
  • Secretion of endorphins, the natural pain killers bring positive state of well being.
  • Temporary increase in BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), but long term effects on BMR are not seen.

How to make the best out of dynamic practice?

  • Try to make the movements as slow & controlled as possible. It will:

-give you more control and stretching of muscles and joints

-Increase neuromuscular coordination

-increase range of movements in joints, making them more flexible

-Protect joints by stopping excessive and fast movements.

-Prevent injuries in more advanced poses and general day to day activities

  • Breathing with movements (Ujjayi or normal breathing):

-Ujjayi breathing is relaxing and reduces stress

-Breathing awareness promotes deep breathing which brings relaxed and peaceful state of body and mind.

-Breathing awareness brings down thoughts and emotions, resulting in stress free and anxiety free mind

  • Flow from one posture to another in a gentle way, without very strong movements.It will reduce the stress to the muscles.
  • During dynamic movements, your body needs more energy, which means your tissues consume more oxygen than they do at rest. The ratio of carbon dioxide produced per oxygen consumed also increases, because a shift from fat to carbohydrate utilization takes place. Too much carbon dioxide is not good for brain- so dynamic practice should be a gentle flow if we want to get yoga benefit.

To summarize dynamic yoga is perfect to achieve toning of the body, building strength and power in your body. It will quickly improve the body function: lose weight, increase BMI, helping you to control the weight. Nevertheless deep relaxation of the body  which is needed for the long term health will not be achieved. Therapeutic and healing process which can be achieved through static practice is not present in dynamic practice. To achieve the best results, your yoga journey should include also static practice as well as it has enormous amount of benefits. And what are benefits of static practice? I will describe it in the next part of the article focused on static, traditional way of practicing yoga.

*based on the lecture by Dr. Dorle,  from Yoga Vidya Gurukul

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