To be fit and healthy, it is important to strength train, get cardiovascular fitness, and have flexibility. Strength training is so important for so many reasons and you may read about that here. But it is important to correct muscle imbalances and improve posture.
A muscle imbalance is created by a change in muscle length, strength and neuromuscular activity creating either a static or dynamic malalignment. A malalignment is an incorrect alignment of the joints in the body without moving.
So, how does this happen? Really it happens when one or some muscles are over active and one or some muscles are under active. This can come from doing the same activities day in or day out but it can also happen from sitting at a computer with your shoulders protracted forward and your neck at an anterior strain. I can bet most of us are guilty of that.
As far as over working some muscles and under working other, that can also be a product of moving in the same plane of motion all the time when our bodies are meant to move in all three.
The Sagital Plane is the most (over) used. Imagine your body is split in half making a right and a left side. We run, bike, walk, squat, lunge (most lunges), curl, etc in this plane. The Frontal Plane is the imaginary line splitting your body in front (anterior) and back (posterior) halves. Think of jumping jacks, lateral raises, and side lunges. The Transverse Plane splits the body in half at the waist. Think of twisting, throwing a ball , pivoting, golf, tennis.
What does this have to do with Yoga? Yoga takes your body through all three planes in both a dynamic and static setting. You move your body the way it is meant to and this can help mitigate over use issues. Sun Salutation B alone does this!
Lets talk about overuse in muscles. The most common Over Active Muscles in the body are:
Feet/Ankle: Soleus, Lateral Gastrocnemius, Peroneus Longus and Brevis (the muscles of the back and side)
Knees: Biceps Femoris (hamstring) and Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL) ( IT band issues )
Lumber-Pelvis-Hip-Complex (LPHC): Hip Flexors, Adductors (inner thighs), Abdominals, and Erector Spinae (back close to spine)
Shoulders: Lattisimus Dorsi and Pectoralis major/minor
Head and Neck: Upper Trapezius, Sternocleidomastoid (neck muscle), Levator Scapular (exactly how it sounds , it raises your scapular, think of when your shoulders reach to your ears when you are stressed)
So, to work on the imbalances it is important to train the Common Under Active Muscles, which are:
Feet/Ankle: Medial Gastrocnemius (the part of your calf that is closest into your midline), Anterior Tibialis (the muscle used to flex in dorsiflextion), Posterior Tibialis
Knees: Vastus Medialis Oblique (this is the muscle of the quads closest into your midline and one of the biggest causes of knee misalignments is when the Vastus Lateralis is so much stronger and pulls your knee cap outward)
Lumber-Pelvis-Hip-Complex Gluteus Maximus and Medius (yes, the butt muscles are weak on most people. A ‘big butt’ doesn’t mean it is big with muscle. Sorry but true), Hamstrings, Intrinsic Core Stabilizers (the ‘pilates muscles) , and Erector Spinae (and yes I see that I also wrote in for over active. This one can go either way depending on the person)
Shoulders: Middle and Lower Trapezius, Rhomboids, and the muscles of the Rotator Cuff (so yes, those exercises that make you cringe on Track 8 at Body Pump? Do them!)
Head and Neck: Deep Cervical Floor (and I mean your neck, not the OB/GYN definition!)
So, again, how does Yoga help? Yoga is a balance between the strength and the stretch. Each time one of the over used muscles is being stretched, the antagonist muscle (the opposite) is being strengthened. Like Pilates, Yoga uses the deep core muscles as well.
Muscle imbalances are fixed using Corrective Exercise. Corrective Exercise is defined as the programming process that identifies neuromusclar dysfunction and develops a plan of action and implements a corrective strategy.
Ok, stay with me…. Now the Neuromuscular System allows all muscles surrounding a joint to: Concentrically produce force, Eccentrically reduce force, and Statically stabilize the kinetic chain on all three plane of motion (as discussed above). Therefore we need the Nervous System and the Muscular System to communicate! And Flexibility improves this communication. Another score for Yoga!
So what happens if you choose to ignore muscle imbalances and flexibility issues? The body is designed to take the path of least resistance. Meaning that even with movement dysfunction, the body will still find a way to do the action. Think of a squat. If you cant get the ankle flexion needed your body does forward and if your hamstrings are too tight your knees may pull out. The body will do it, but not effective. This is referred to as Relative Flexibility and can set you up for injury
So, in a summary: Yoga takes your body through all planes of motion, helps to fix and prevent muscle imbalances, and improves your nervous system and muscular system synergy. So, get on your mat!