When training to become a yoga teacher, how often did you reflect on the complete concept of a “balanced body?” Many yoga instructors who have had athletes walk into their studios can relate to the difficulties of working with students who have muscular imbalances. Athletes are some of the most common examples of practitioners who turn to yoga because of pain or injuries associated with over-training some muscle groups while leaving their companion muscles weak and undeveloped.
Of course, it is not just athletes who are guilty of this. Often, through the course of everyday life, muscles that tend to be used the most will overdevelop and cause injury or pain in the weaker areas. A truck driver who sits most of the day but needs upper body strength to make turns, for example, might suffer atrophy in the legs and hips while building muscles in the core and arms. Sometimes, an injury itself leads to overcompensation. Lower back pain, for example, will cause a person to use abdominal and arm muscle groups to protect the most painful areas of the back. This will lead to further degeneration of the back as unused muscles continue to weaken.
What many people do not realize is that the body uses different muscles to work together to accomplish certain movements. Quadriceps work with hamstrings to push the body to a standing position, and biceps work with triceps to pull a friend up off the couch. Weak hamstrings result in muscular imbalance and require the quadriceps to work harder, putting the body at risk for injury or painful misalignments.
Yoga for Muscular Balance
Yoga poses (asana) are designed to work in balance with each other so that the biceps do not overdevelop while the triceps are ignored. Some yoga teachers focus heavily on doing poses and counter poses while others advocate doing a series of, say, backbends, then poses that neutralize the spine before moving into a series of counter pose forward bends.
A lot of under-developed muscles need stretching, which is precisely what yoga poses offer. This is one of the main physical advantages of practicing yoga for muscular balance, since deep stretches increases a yogi’s awareness of his or her body and its areas of strength, weakness and energy.
Advising student that practicing yoga consistently can help correct muscular imbalance through stretching and poses which focus on multiple muscle groups. Yoga is a whole body endeavor, and practicing it also improves the mind-body relationship, which further enables a yogi to achieve muscular balance and physical health.