Counter-Poses in Yoga

I’ve been exploring counter poses more in my own yoga practice. In Thai Yoga Massage, we’ve studied how effective release can be with stretching and compression of antagonistic muscles. It is a great way to inhibit the stretch-reflex response.

One example:
I’m a yoga teacher, but I also do Crossfit and other things. So its a 2 steps forward, one step back kind of battle for me. But its another reason how counter poses are effective. Lizard pose (Uttana Pristhasana) feels good to me when I am very warmed up. But when I’m cold or sore, its not something very accessible. I try to enter with lower expectations the first time. I may hold for 2 or 3 breaths. Then I straighten my leg into a half-split. This isn’t a direct antagonist, but it feels like one. Then, after a few breaths, I ease back into Lizard. This time, I can go much deeper. I hold for only 2 or 3 breaths and transition back to half-splits. Each time, I feel myself going deeper.

For all the old-school bodybuilding fans who did supersets, you know what I mean. The best combos were:
leg extension – leg curl
biceps barbell curl – triceps extensions
barbell rows – bench press

These are classic push – pull and flexion – extension exercises. But you can do the same with yoga. Inherently, Ashtanga Yoga uses some of these principles. A sun salutation and other vinyasa poses do an inhale opening and exhale closing. But instead of holding for the full 5 breaths right away, I may deliberately transition to and from the counter pose. To me, its the most effect use of time and energy.

Try flowing into counter poses and see how it works for you.

The Miracle of Thai Bodywork

The power of Thai yoga massage is beyond my comprehension. I do the movements and try to reflect a person’s energy when I give. It is so very yin and yang. I find very young people who haven’t had the challenges of life who have very soft, pliable bodies. I can put very firm pressure into poses without even a slight grimace. Whereas, those of us who have a few years of heartache in our bodies nearly scream at the slightest touch. You give hard to the soft, but give soft to the hard. Its the essence of Thai loving kindness.

It surprises even me the difference it makes in bodies. Many of us have gone years with a pain or tightness that we assumed would never go away. So we just live with it. It becomes a part of who we are. Its a heavy baggage to carry.

I’ve told this story before. When I was in Thai yoga training, I offered to be the demo person for a shoulder sequence. I knew my shoulders were bad, which caused me to tear a pectoral muscle a few years ago. My shoulders still have a lot of limits in mobility with lots of pain. As my teacher was discussing how to evaluate shoulder movement, he noticed how bad my shoulder was. He just couldn’t leave it be and asked the class for leniency as he diverted into treatment mode. It was so amazing how he could feel every knot of resistance and knew proper movement so well. He used this jack hammer looking device all along my subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres major and minor. In not even 5 minutes time, he turned what looked like frozen shoulder into something I haven’t felt in a decade. That moment had me sold on the possibilities of Thai yoga massage.

Quite often, when I finish a Thai session with someone, they give the same reaction like I did. The years of pain simply vanish. Its like I put a new hip or knee or shoulder in like magic. Suddenly they feel more open than they have in a long time. Its such an amazing feeling. Don’t get me wrong. I love many modalities of bodywork. But its the intuitive nature of Thai yoga that makes the difference. There are times when I’ll cycle contract-relax, compression, pin & stretch, and stretching 3 to 5 times over. With each iteration I can feel softness in taut fibers and greater range of motion.

Honestly, I can’t believe how well it works myself. And trigger points are real. I’m amazed its not taught more in the medical community. Often pain that you feel is not localized. It is caused by something else. I’ve had two cases recently where neck and head pain were caused in trigger points in the trapezius muscles. Those are fairly distant from the pain. But without that knowledge, I would have been rubbing a neck and head without success. It takes that kind of training to make real changes. People always think they need a hip or knee replacement when the problem is usually with the muscles. The muscles refer the pain to those locations.

Always explore other options before someone wants to slice you open for exploratory surgery. Much of what is done is pure speculation. But when I palpate a muscle, I can find very obvious knots of trigger points in very unlikely places. These referral patterns are well documented. The problem with the scientific community is they think what we do is mystical or magical. Hehe, I’d have to agree. Its amazing how well it works.

What I say about everything is educate yourself. There is a YouTube video for everything these days. You can DIY and self help your way through life. But sometimes it takes someone with knowledge and experience to help you along.

Try out Thai yoga massage by a certified therapist. If you weigh the money for costly surgery versus a session on the mat, you may be surprised at the results.