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  • Anatomy for Yoga Teachers
    Reciprocal Inhibition Stretching Technique, Why It Doesn't Work
    (and How to Make It Work)

    Reciprocal inhibition is an often quoted term used with respect to stretching.

    The idea is that if you activate one muscle its opposing muscle will automatically relax. It's a "built in" mechanism so that muscles don't work against each other.

    If you want to relax one muscle, say the hamstrings, then you engage it's opposing muscles, say the quadriceps. Supposedly, engaging the quadriceps causes the hamstrings to relax through "reciprocal inhibition."

    So What About Stability?

    The only problem with this idea is that there are situations where opposing muscles actually do work against each other. They do so in order to stabilize a joint. Or they do so to give better control of a joint.

    Reciprocal Inhibition is a Movement Protocol

    It's quite frequent to hear the instructions for reciprocal inhibition given while doing static stretching techniques and that's the main problem. Reciprocal inhibition is more likely to occur when the body is moving.

    As an example, it may come into play if you are swinging or kicking your leg forwards. Because your leg is moving forwards the hamstrings will relax so as to not inhibit this action. And if you start with your knee bent and then engage the quads to straighten the knee as you kick your leg forwards, then the hamstrings may very well relax to prevent from being damaged.

    Understand Some Basic Anatomy

    However, if all you are doing is a standing forward bend while keeping your quads engaged, the hamstrings aren't going to automatically release just because your quads are engaged. Part of the reason is that the quads mainly work on the knee joint. Only one part of the quads crossed the hips and acts as a hip flexor, the rectus femoris! And pulling up on the knee isn't necessarily going to cause this part of the muscle to engage and cause hip flexion.

    In a forward bend you'd probably want to activate the psoas and the illiacus and for those to activate I'd suggest focusing on tilting your pelvis forwards (and pulling forwards on the front of the lumbar spine at the same time so that the lumbar spine and pelvis tilt forwards as one unit!)

    Create a Movement Intent

    But back to reciprocal inhibition. If you want to use it in a "static" stretch like a standing forward bend, then it may help if you imagine that you are kicking your leg(s) forwards.

    What happens when you kick your leg forwards normally? Your leg swings forwards and if you kick high enough it moves towards your chest. Imagine the same thing in a forward bend, even with both feet on the floor. Imagine kicking your legs towards your chest. This intention will cause your hip flexors (and perhaps your quads also) to engage and that in turn, via reciprocal inhibition, may cause your hamstrings to relax and stretch.

    In any stretch where you are focused on relaxing the muscles you are stretching, then focus on activating their opposing muscles by trying to "muscle yourself" deeper into the stretch. Rather than just contracting the opposing muscles, contract them with the intent to move your limbs in the direction of stretch.

    An alternative is to use a stretching technique like Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) where you do kick your leg to stretch the hamstrings. (This system has a whole repetoir of stretches, not just hamstring stretches, but stretches for the whole body.)

    Learn Muscle Control and Active Stretching

    If you aren't sure how to deliberately activate muscles like your quads and hip flexors in a way that does help you improve flexibility, or how to teach it, Active Stretching and Muscle Control shows you how.

    Return to Home Page from Reciprocal Inhibition

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    Sequences

    Stretching to Improve Flexibility

    Shoulder and Arm Flexibility

    Back Flexibility

    Psoas Stretching

    Hip Stretches

    Leg Stretches

    More Stretches

    Improve Strength and Flexibility

    Relaxed Meridian Stretching

    What's New?

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    Learn to consciously control your quads and hip flexors with Conscious Muscle Control: Quads and Superficial Hip Flexors. This downloadable video course teaches you how to feel and activate your quadriceps (the vastus muscles) as well as the rectus femoris, tensor fascae latae and sartorius muscles.

    Continue reading "Quads and Superficial Hip Flexors"

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    Continue reading "Yoga for Flexibility"

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    For any calf stretch you have to bend your ankle forwards to stretch the soleus and/or gastrocnemius. How you bend the ankle forwards can make the stretch more or less effective.

    Continue reading "Calf Stretches"

    Learning to Activate Hamstrings and Glutes

    Glute and Hamstring activation can be used to compliment the quad and hip flexors for a balanced practice. Conscious Muscle Control: Hamstrings and Glutes is a video course designed to teach you how to activate your glutes and hamstrings at will. You'll also develop the ability to feel them activate and relax.

    Continue reading "Learning to Activate Hamstrings and Glutes"

    Learning to Activate Hamstrings and Glutes

    Glute and Hamstring activation can be used to compliment the quad and hip flexors for a balanced practice. Conscious Muscle Control: Hamstrings and Glutes is a video course designed to teach you how to activate your glutes and hamstrings at will. You'll also develop the ability to feel them activate and relax.

    Continue reading "Learning to Activate Hamstrings and Glutes"

    Learning to Activate your Quads and Superficial Hip Flexors

    Learn how to activate your quads and hip flexors so that you can use them at will. Conscious Muscle Control: Quads and Superficial Hip Flexors not only teaches you how to activate and relax your quads and hip flexors at will, it also teaches you how to feel when they are active and when they are relaxed. This clearly defined awareness can help you get more in touch with your body.

    Continue reading "Learning to Activate your Quads and Superficial Hip Flexors"

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    Arm supported yoga poses can be used to strengthen the arms and shoulders. Includes plank, chaturanga dandasana, downward dog, dolphin pose, side plank, wheel, reverse plank, table top pose.

    Continue reading "Arm Supported Yoga Poses"

    Stability in Yoga Poses

    Make your yoga poses less wobbly with less effort. Grounding and centering are two techniques for creating stability in yoga poses.

    Continue reading "Stability in Yoga Poses"

    Exercises in Muscle Control

    Exercises in muscle control 1 teachers you how to activate and relax your knees, hips, front and back of the leg and also inner and outer thighs. These activations can be used in standing poses as leg strenghtening exercises and to improve flexiblity.

    Continue reading "Exercises in Muscle Control"

    Transverse Abdominus Anatomy for Yoga Teachers

    The transverse abdominus muscle can affect the SI joint, lumbar and lower thoracic spine stability, used in various diaphragmatic breathing techniques and act as a tension adjuster for the rectus abdominus.

    Continue reading "Transverse Abdominus Anatomy for Yoga Teachers"

    Effectively Activating Transverse Abdominus

    Effectively Activating Transverse Abdominus can mean better stability for the SI Joint as well as for the lumbar and lower thoracic spine.

    Continue reading "Effectively Activating Transverse Abdominus"

    Joint Pain Yoga

    Rather than fighting through joint pain here is an overview of the approach that I've used to help alleviate hip pain, knee pain or shoulder joint pain while doing yoga poses.

    Continue reading "Joint Pain Yoga"

    Feeling Your Center of Gravity

    Make balancing easier. Use pressure sensitivity to feel your center of gravity.

    Continue reading "Feeling Your Center of Gravity"

    Camel Yoga Pose

    Camel Yoga Pose or ustrasana is a kneeling pose that can be used to stretch the hip flexors. One key action that may help in getting your pelvis forwards more is pushing your hands forwards, either against your feet or against the floor.

    Continue reading "Camel Yoga Pose"

    How to do Squats

    A yoga approach to how to do squats including how to stay balanced, and avoiding knee or hip pain even while going all the way down.

    Continue reading "How to do Squats"

    Transverse Abdominis and Sacroiliac Joint Stability

    The transverse abdominis can have an affect on sacroiliac joint stability as well as stability of the lumbar spine and the T12/L1 junction.

    Continue reading "Transverse Abdominis and Sacroiliac Joint Stability"

    Fluid Tensegrity Joint Anatomy

    Fluid tensegrity joint anatomy looks at the tendency of the body to maintain space within the joints. The question is, how is this space maintained?

    Continue reading "Fluid Tensegrity Joint Anatomy"

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    Why improve body awareness? So that you can use your body more effectively and fix problems yourself when they arise.

    Continue reading "Why Improve Body Awareness"

    Tensegrity

    How is tensegrity maintained at the joints even as the body adopts non-tensegrity postures or movements?

    Continue reading "Tensegrity"

    Being Present

    Why being present is the oppositve of thinking and how to utilize both modes effecively.

    Continue reading "Being Present"