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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Wonder what you think of Yin Yoga


addy

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Hello, Yin Yoga is becoming popular where I live and I find it enticing for increasing flexibility. But it seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. I guess I am not looking for anyone's verdict but I am trying to decide if I should pursue this and I'd be interested in anything you may have to say. I really need to improve my flexibility for ballet and Yin Yoga is the closest thing I can find to a pure stretch class. I try to stretch at home alone but chores end up calling me so getting out to a structured class would just make it so much easier for me.

 

I'll try to sumarize Yin Yoga in a couple of sentences: The argument for Yin Yoga is that all structures in the body need to be stressed in order to remain strong and that includes joints (not sure exactly what parts but you will see if you look at the pictures I am about to post) and connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, fascia separating muscles,maybe even nerves-more on that later). This is opposed to conventional wisdom that states only bones, muscles and blood vessels (aerobic activity) should be stressed.

 

here is a short article describing Yin Yoga:

http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/580

 

Ofcourse nothing is stressed to the point of pain. But I have taken a class and the poses are held for so long that it becomes really uncomfortable (for me- and everyone else...) and when we are finally through with the pose, it is very hard to even move.

What they say here is very true:

One of the benefits of Yin Yoga is this experience of coming out of the asana. We learn what it will be like when we are ninety years old! We gain a new respect for our grandmother, and what she is going through, and we resolve to put off that inevitable day of decrepitude as long as possible. After a deep, long-held hip opener, it may feel like we will never be able to walk again - but be assured … the fragility will pass. Sometimes, however, a movement in the opposite direction will help. This is a counterpose, a balancing posture that brings us back to neutral

(http://www.yinyoga.com/ys2_2.1_asanas.php)

 

I mean, I just don't know what to think of this.

 

I also recently read that as we grow older our fascia loses elasticity and some of it becomes even ropelike (horrible image). If that IS the case, I really don't want to be stretching "stuff" that doesn't stretch! (picture a really old elastic band..)But I don't know if that is really true and perhaps it becomes like this because it is not being exercised? I think in ballet, stretching tendons and ligaments is deemed good for children but is frowned upon for adults? I really am confused.

 

Anyway, I like the "use it or lose it" argument Yin Yoga presents. There is no science on it though. But there also seems to be extremely little science on other types of stretching so at the end of the day......?

 

Here are some ballet related Yin poses-

 

1) the toe squat

http://www.yinyoga.com/ys2_2.0_asanas_toe_squat.php

I would really like this one for my demipointe but WOW holding it for 3-5 minutes?

 

2)the frog

http://www.yinyoga.com/ys2_2.0_asanas_frog.php

this is what you would think it is. Note one of the benefits is "Provides a slight back bend, which compresses the lower back"

(you read that correctly)

held for 3-5 minutes

 

3)the dragon

http://www.yinyoga.com/ys2_2.0_asanas_dragons.php

basically all versions of the front splits

held for 3-5 minutes

 

4)the ankle stretch

http://www.yinyoga.com/ys2_2.0_asanas_ankle_stretch.php

basically an instep stretch

Note, for this one theysay to hold it for only 1 minute because they say it is more of a (Yang) muscular stretch, and they think (Yang) muscles should only be stretched for 1 minute. Oddy on this one, I find this is a HUGE tendon stretch (extensor digitorums) and I am VERY careful with this one.

 

 

that is just a sample.

 

I guess the answer is moderation but I would be interested an anything anyone would have to say on this.

 

Finally, unrelated to Yin Yoga is the idea of stretching nerves. For example, doing a standing forward bend apparantly also stretches the sciatica nerve (which is good?). I went to Bodyworlds a couple of years ago and saw these nerves- they are huge- maybe 1/8-3/16" in diameter. I was just wondering what you think of that? Could short nerves be the limiting factor in some types of flexibility? Are they really stretchable?

 

ETA: also, I just remembered a question that has been bothering me for ages. I read somewhere that tendons and ligaments have no feeling in them. Is that true? I am just wondering, when I stretch, how do I know what I am stretching if it occurs at the end of a muscle- for example the achilles verus the lower soleus. Or, for the ankle stretch posted above, I say I am stretching the extensor tendons, but really, I don't KNOW what I am stretching..

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Bluntly - wouldn't touch it with a bargepole. Sounds mental. I found this particularly alarming:

 

"Because yin practice isn't muscularly strenuous, it seldom leads to sore muscles. If you've really pushed too far, a joint may feel sensitive or even mildly sprained. More subtle signals include muscular gripping or spasm or a sense of soreness or misalignment—in chiropractic terms, being out of adjustment—especially in your neck or sacroiliac joints. If a pose causes symptoms like these, stop practicing it for a while"

 

Except, if you overdo it and give yourself sore muscles, they ease off after a few days of rest and light stretching. If you push a joint too far, overstretch your connective tissue or aggravate your sacroiliac, then you've probably got yourself a much tricker problem with the potential to become a chronic injury.

 

Sorry, but as someone with unstable joints and overly stretchy connective tissues, this Yin Yoga gives me the heebie jeebies. You do not want the injuries this could cause.

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I never heard of Yin Yoga. Where does it come from? There are a lot of people practicing yoga and making up stuff that was not passed down in India. There's no crime in that but then it is not "yoga" but something else and does not benefit from years of working and practice by many people in India especially.

 

I think that "yoga" when taught and done right is very beneficial. I took a year long yoga class back in the 90s (before it was in the gyms) from a teacher who took it very seriously and had been to India, etc. It is not the same thing being taught in the gyms today. What she taught was that we should not force ourselves into positions and they should not be painful. 10 months of weekly classes and practice at home, were amazing. I'm not the most flexible person but at the time was doing handstands and headstands and all the postures. I could not do them at first but with practice and guidance they came. Also my stress level was very low from the practice.

 

For reasons that I don't want to get into here, the week after Christmas I was doing yoga 4x a day. (About 10 minutes each time) The first time I did it I felt like I was stretching out an OLD rubberband. I had not done any workouts, stretching or ballet for about 2 weeks. But by the 2nd day I felt fine. I had no soreness at all from the stretching. When I returned to ballet classes this week I did not have any of my usual stiffness in the feet and ankles and all over. Usually it takes me the whole barre to warm-up, especially in the winter. That one week of 40 minutes a day of yoga seemed to loosen up my body in a way nothing else could. I have been doing the 10 minutes of postures about once a day now. I took 4 ballet classes this week (usually I would take 2) and have had no soreness or problems whatsoever. I attribute it to the yoga.

 

I think you might want to consider a more traditional type yoga rather than this Yin yoga, which sounds really out there.

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Agreed. I'm not familiar with this type of yoga so really can't comment on it. There are a TON of different types of yoga. Some like Bikhram really push you to the extreme and are more like a boot camp workout than yoga. Why don't you try a "regular" yoga class? I do Vinyasa and am uber-flexible, but even I have gotten more flexible and stretched out from doing yoga.

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Hi Mazenderan, thank you for replying. I got a good giggle at the bargepole imagery! (more on connective tissue below)

 

Hi Luceroblanco: well, here's the problem re regular yoga: in general the strength required and sun salutations in particular.

 

I have been seeing some physical therapists over the last few months and learning about my own body and for me I really feel that I will always need to supplement ballet with my own strengthening program. And for whatever reason I am able to do this at home and it is working out well. But there is only so much strengthening I want to do- I need recovery time etc and just physically I really don't want to take on any more. And it is next to impossible to find a yoga class without strengthening. The obsession with sun salutations with the warrior and traingle poses etc- I can do it but I just feel it is too much. Also regular yoga classes (power & hatha) have so much shoulder work (pushups aka chatarangas, upward dog, etc) and I am really oppsed to all that shoulder work- I just really don't think it's healthy or natural, especially for a mortal woman like myself.

 

So regular yoga is sort of out unless I cut back on my own strengthening or ballet, which I don't want to do. Maybe Ivengar yoga but it is very hard to find where I live. The same goes for pilates- I wouldn't mind taking it but I just don't want to be working my body that much.

 

What I really want is just some really good stretching, with a teacher to show me how.

 

Anyway, so back to Yin Yoga. Well yes, I took that class over a year ago and thought it was mental too. & oh Luceroblanco, then if you haven't heard of it does that mean it has not hit New York?

 

But the lastest physiotherapist I am seeing, who is very well respected in my town, opened a yoga/pilates studio and there is a Yin Yoga class being offered there. I haven't talked about it to her yet. I see her again this week which is why I am posting this topic. I want to ask her about it but am trying to do some homework first.

 

So you can see my confusion. She is not a fruitcake.

 

And finally, back to connective tissue. Well, I still don't really even know what I am stretching when I stretch. The only stretches I know for sure I am stretching muscle is the back-lying hamstring stretch when I feel in mid-thigh (what else could it be) and the standing calf stretch. But for foot stretches (toes, top of foot, ankles) and hip stretches, what am I stretching really? And back stretches- have you seen anatomical diagrams of the lower back? It is solid white fascia there so when i stretch my lower back, what am I stretching?

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oh hi skaballet, I am sorry i didn't see your post but I guess I answered your question. Sun salutations=Vinyasa pretty much. You know then what I mean by the Warrior and Traingle poses not really being something I want to do on recovery days. And the shoulder work- I did Power yoga for 3 years prior to ballet and I regret it- just the look of an upward dog now makes me turn away.

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I stumbled upon yin yoga in a workshop for dancers that focused on flexibility and stretching. Yin yoga, like many of the ancient forms of yoga, has been around for a long time but is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance due to the work of Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. You can Google or YouTube them for more info and background or try the links on the left side of this page for an overview: http://www.yinyoga.com/. It's a type of yoga that focuses on stretching rather than muscular strength or increasing heart rate. I find it very helpful for working on my flexibility but I think like ballet, it needs to be done under the supervision and guidance of a trained instructor and is not a "do it yourself" activity. Every person's body has it's naturally flexible areas and inflexible areas as well as loose or tight joints, different limb and torso ratios, etc. so the "poses" are going to be somewhat different depending on your particular body; a good instructor will know to help to you to do that and to learn your strengths and limitations. A common yin recommendation "The point is not to get your body into the pose...you should use the pose to get into your body." Connective tissue *can* be stretched...somewhat...depending on your age, personal physiology, activity level, etc. We do all kinds of weird things to our bodies in ballet that others wouldn't touch with a 10 ft. pole, so pick your poison.

 

I personally do NOT like other forms of yoga. If I want strength, I'll do strength exercises (like weights or something targeted like Pilates), if I want to get my heart rate up, I'll swim or cycle. Moving through repetitions of poses mechanically or even WORSE, with chanting or proscribed breathing makes me irritable...if I want to move my body, it'd better be to music ;) However, I have found that I really like the long gradual stretching of yin yoga...where you gradually relax more deeply into the stretch as the muscle tension releases and you move into the joints, esp the hips, lower back, pelvis. I can certainly see that, as with any exercise, you can overdo or accidentally hurt yourself without the right instruction, so I doubt this is something you can pick up from a DVD or a website or book.

 

I have had two very good, very well trained, very conscientious instructors and then I'd also had one or two that didn't really seem like they knew what they were doing (and I avoided), so I think a person might have to shop around (like you would if you were finding a good ballet school). I've definitely made slow progress with increasing my range of motion in some of the tighter areas of my body with yin practice and I also find it very soothing and peaceful...something necessary to balance out my rather high-energy and busy life otherwise.

 

This short YouTube by Paul Grilley is a good quick intro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dFKRcs0yzk

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Thank you for that Kylara7- I totally agree with you re a lot of yoga btw. I read awhile ago that Power yoga was only invented in the 1920's to allow for aerobic exercise at very crowded (all male) monasteries- because they didn't have the space to run or dance- :sweating:

 

 

If you are still reading this, can I ask you what a good teacher/student ratio is? The class I went to a year ago was taught by someone famous but the ratio was about 30:1. He was excellent (I guess) but he didn't even walk around- it was really no better than watching a good DVD. Should I expect the teacher to walk around and give personal corrections/adjustments? I think the class at this new studio will be a lot smaller. Thanx.

 

 

Anyway, I do worry about the age issue wrt connective tissue- like stretching an old elastic band. I went a little hog wild on the tops of my feet this summer and got a really good scare. I didn't know I was overdoing it at the time-

 

I watched the video, thank you. I really wish some of these experts would get Western medical qualifications, you know, a kinesiology degree even- I would just feel so much more ok with it.

 

thanx again :lol:

 

 

ps- if anyone knows anything about stretching nerves i am still very interested in that. also anything else- such as any other info on stretching connective tissue. eta: also info on whether or not we can feel our tendons and ligaments.

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Well I have just reviewed a book I read about 3 years ago- I forgot about it : "The Stark Reality of Stretching" by Steven Stark. He is a podiatrist and wrote this book in 1997. It was vague memories of this book that I have been referring to in my posts.

 

So it talks about connective tissue as being made up of 1) Collagenous fibers which are "essentially non-elastic" and 2)"Elastic fibers that are characterized by the presence of elastin protien". Tendons, ligaments and fascia is comprized of both but the greatest proportion is collagen. "Tendons are composed almost totally of collagen fibers because they are not meant to stretch....". Later he states it in all caps "TENDON CANNOT BE STRETCHED"

 

for ligaments he says:

 

... ligaments in adults can only elongate through a process of microscopic tearing, scarring, and weakening. This is called plastic deformity.

The weakened and elongated ligaments are no longer able to stabilize the bones of the joint properly, which results in hypermobility of the joint. This excessive joint motion causes trauma and chronic inflammation. The chronic inflammation results in gradual destruction of joint cartilage. This destruction of joint cartilage is called degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis)...

 

and somewhere later he writes:

...The ligaments of the body have the most elasticity during early puberty and adolescence. Growth hormones allow ligaments to elongate without tearing in order to keep up with the rapid growth of the bones. If the ligament elongation was not able to keep pace with the rapid growth of the bones at this age, everyone would suffer some ligament tearing and damage. Stretches that place a large load on the ligaments must be learned at this time of life, and continued through the adult years.

 

Because the growth hormone is no longer present in adults, anyone trying to start these skill-level stretches as adults will suffer tearing and damage to the ligaments."

 

So that is what is bothering me. But it was written in 1996. We now know that adults still produce growth hormone if they lift weights- but I don't know how much. Also, in this same book, the author pushes static stretching immediately prior to performance because he says it will increase power and I think that has since been proven wrong-

 

And I think the Catch-22 is that you can't really tell when you are stretching a ligament too much- at least, not until it is too late. That's why I am asking if tendons and ligaments have feeling...

 

This author basically says to only stretch muscle Bellies (I am calling them bellies- ie, do not strech the muscle at its endpoint.)

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Tendons definitely have feeling. Have you ever had tendonitis? Ouch! Ligaments can also feel pain. I think, though, even if they do have feeling, that this workout is still worrying. By the time you get that warning pain, you've overstretched. The joint problems that can arise from the connective tissue being too stretchy are not worth it.

 

You said in your initial post that you need to improve your flexibility for ballet class. Is it causing problems?

 

I've always liked Brad Appleton's website for information on stretching. I don't know whether any stretching or sport science peeps here also recommend it?

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Hi addy, I am relatively new to yin yoga (took it up in the last 6 months after that workshop I mentioned) but have been reading much about it and asking a lot of questions from my instructors and other people whose expertise and training I respect (I work with a lot of health professionals). The classes I have been in have been quite small, as you guessed...about 4-8 people. The class you mentioned with 30 people sounds more like the workshop I went to that was more of an "intro"; ongoing practice with a smaller group is much more helpful.

 

The instructors (the two that I've had ongoing) do a lot of personal adjustments, observation, and give modifications or alternatives, which are very helpful...things like asking a person where they were feeling the stretch and what the sensation was like and then suggesting some adjustments, or noticing a person's "tight areas" and doing a little bodywork (massage, applying careful pressure). For example, I have very flexible hamstrings and hips, but a very inflexible spine, especially in extension (I can't get much range of motion on cambre back or a much height on my arabesque not because my strength limits me but because my spine just doesn't have much "play" in that plane) but by doing somey yin stretches like sphinx and seal, camel, etc. plus a little massage has helped me gain a little more flexibility safely and was approved by my sports med/PT. The yin poses tend to concentrate on the flexibility in the hips, pelvis, and spine...there's no "stretching" of the knees or elbows or shoulder joints, and the tension applied is driven by bodyweight (gravity) and not active pushing or pulling, which makes it safer than torquing a joint or forcing it.

 

And yeah, the conventional wisdom and the medical expert knowledge tends to change over time (e.g., not too long ago it was firmly believed that women should not do strenuous physical activity because it would damage the reproductive organs and experts claimed that a 3-min mile was physically impossible). I think it's a case of educating yourself to the extent possible, proceeding carefully (and not overdoing), and listening to your body (if it hurts, ease up or don't do it). And not every type of exercise is appealing or useful to everyone and pain is sign that you're doing something wrong, too aggressively, etc. and should always be a big STOP sign.

 

BTW, the .pdf/E-book by Bernie Clark on the yinyoga page I linked previous is very good and worth the $5, IMHO. A lot of times the stuff for sale on websites is crap, but it's basically the electronic version of a book that is also available in traditional printed/bound form (one of my instructors has it) and is not a scam. It's quite long, gives a lot of ancient yoga history and philosophy that goes with it, both the Eastern and Western medicine perspectives, and some good modern yoga background. Example: Yin yoga was developed to help ancient meditation practitioners achieve the ability to a) get into the lotus position and :blushing: be able to physically sustain long periods of meditation. The actual "poses and how to do them" part is maybe 10% of the text, because it's assumed you should and will get that from practice with a qualified instructor.

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addy: What you describe as happening in other forms of yoga is foreign to me. Like I said the yoga class I took was nearly 20 years ago, and was not in NYC in a gym, but in a small room in New England and taught by an instructor who had studied it for years, including in India. We did do sun salutations but it was not overly strenuous. There were only about 5-8 of us in the class and the instruction was very personal, variations were given and there was no "you have to learn this." It was all about developing a practice for each person and the point of it was NOT physical fitness. I think at the time I took it because I wanted something to relax me (I'm also a meditator). This particularly woman would NEVER be hired in any gym or yoga facility today because she was plump and not the typical body of any kind of fitness instructor who is commercial. I took one other yoga class in a gym in NYC in the late 90s for a while and although it was similar with the asanas and the instructor seemed to have knowledge of yoga within a broader context, I could already see that the intimacy and personal instruction was lost in a huge room full of people only concentrating on fitness so I moved on. What is out there today as far as "yoga" in some cases has been so detached and taken out of context to appeal to westerners who are fitness oriented. That's not yoga for the most part because yoga has a spiritual and mental piece as well. Anyway, I have not stepped foot in any yoga classes since because I don't want to push myself like that either and I think that the benefits of yoga are lost for those who do not have the fitness levels required for some of these achievement/fitness oriented yoga classes.

 

I am also not in NYC, but Philadelphia. But like I said, I don't do yoga in any gym or commercial "yoga" school/facility. I don't believe that those type of classes would be beneficial to me. I learned enough in the year that I took yoga with that instructor to be able to apply it to my life if I want to. I hear from friends about different types of yoga classes. My gym has yoga but I never took a class.

 

Anyway, what is so ironic to me, is that when I was studying yoga, it was NOT popular. You were looked at as weird, hippie, New Age if you were. Now it has come into the mainstream.

 

I read the article about Yin Yoga. Seems to be that it is a cross between Indian yoga and Japanese qi exercises. Others have given you some more advice about it. I just wanted to respond to clarify my experience with yoga.

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Just a thought, addy - if you want some professional feedback on some of the anatomical stuff you've mentioned: stretching connective tissue, 'stretching' nerves - then it might be worth posting in the health and nutrition forum too and asking whether some of the principles this yoga type espouses are feasible and/or desirable.

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^ I think that's a good idea, asking on the health and nutrition forum. What I understood (and I'm NO expert) about tendons and ligaments is that they don't stretch like muscles--they are not elastic and they don't really improve by stretching them. That is why people don't recommend stretching the achilles tendon, but stretching and loosening the calf, which is attached to the tendon. The idea of stretching nerves (and what benefit it might have) is something I have never heard of. The purpose of a nerve is to deliver the electrical impulse from the brain to the rest of the body parts so I don't understand (with my limited knowledge) why stretching a nerve would be helpful.

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