Yoga After 50 For Dummies
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Preparing your muscles and joints before moving in and out of various yoga poses helps to reduce the possibility of injury, especially from over-stretching. Moving in and out of a pose before holding it is referred to as PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) — also called the dynamic/static approach.

So, then, there are a few reasons to move first before holding a pose: Mainly it lubricates your joints and helps you stretch further.

You should not only come to expect this form of movement, but I’ll bet you will learn to enjoy it!

Warming up

How often do you see athletes warming up before a game or runners stretching out before breaking into a sprint? It probably makes perfect sense to you. Before moving or stressing the body in a new way, warming up seems logical.

In Yoga classes, you frequently start with a short warm-up sequence. A good teacher will always structure the class so that one posture or movement prepares the body for what’s coming next.

Our bodies benefit from preparing joints and muscles before each new posture. That is why I frequently move my students in and out of poses before I ask them to hold steady. You should consider this approach as well.

One of the reasons Yoga is such an effective routine for nurturing your body is that it tries to bring movement — often stretching, sometimes strengthening — to all areas of the body. That means, at some point in your practice, whether you’re in a class or by yourself at home, most all of your muscles and moveable joints will be worked.

As far as your joints go, your goal is to warm them up in such a way that focuses on specific movements (or ranges of motion). Just to be clear, your moveable joints include:

  • Ankles
  • Knees
  • Hips
  • Spine
  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Elbows
  • Wrists

Preparing the joints

If joints like your knees and ankles are designed to move, the joints themselves must be properly lubricated. Just like in your car, proper lubrication reduces the amount of friction between moving parts.

Moving in and out of a pose before holding it helps to distribute the lubrication (called synovial fluid) to all parts of the joint

Take, for example, a simple hip rotation (see the following figure). This movement is intended to focus on the hip joint — that big ball and socket where the top of your leg (your femur) fits into your hip socket. By rotating your knee in big circles, the joint is working in its full range of motion, distributing lubrication, and better preparing you for the movements to come.

hip circles Hip circles prepare the hip joints.

No wonder football players do this exact same warm-up before taking the field for a game.

Performing magic with PNF

Another potential benefit of moving in and out of a posture is related to the concept of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or PNF, that we talked about before. This topic is somewhat complex, and fitness experts debate how PNF actually prepares the muscles and joints. Nevertheless, one of the most basic aspects of PNF is this: If you tense a muscle before you try to stretch it, it will relax more.

Typically, you can tense a muscle in two ways:

  • Isometric: Pushing against a fixed force
  • Isotonic: Tightening a muscle using gentle resistance
Isometric stretching in Yoga usually involves a partner. For example, you can lie on the floor, with a straight leg lifted up and propped against your partner (see the following figure). By first pressing the heel of the lifted leg against your partner, the muscles in your leg will tighten. After holding that press for approximately eight seconds, you can release the pressure and move the leg in the opposite direction. As a result of first tensing the muscles, they will now relax further than they would have had you not tightened them first.

isometric resistance PNF with isometric resistance.

Of course, most of the time when you practice, no one is around to help you. This is where the dynamic/static approach comes in — moving in and out of a posture before holding it.

If you perform the same movement (see the following figure) by lifting and lowering your leg yourself before holding the stretch, you’re actually tensing your muscles; each time you lower your leg, if you don’t tense your muscles, your leg would come crashing to the ground with the force of gravity.

isotonic resistance PNF using isotonic resistance.

My rationale, then, is simple: If the PNF concept that tensing a muscle before you stretch it will ultimately allow it to stretch further, then moving in and out of a posture, before holding, may offer some of the same benefit.


Knowing your own body and what it can do on any given day is essential. Teachers should be offering and demonstrating a variety of modifications of poses.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Larry Payne, PhD, is the president of The International Association of Yoga Therapists. He founded Samata International Yoga and Health Center and is the author of Yoga After 50 For Dummies. Don Henry is a Yoga therapist who has been teaching Yoga for more than a decade. He is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America.

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