Today's blog post is brought to you by Dana Hantel, a certified personal trainer, TRX trainer, and T
Eastern and western philosophies have long emphasized the importance of balance and moderation, but somewhere along the way, most of us lose sight of this wisdom when it comes to cultivating balance in our physical bodies. About a third of the population suffers from knee pain, and most Americans experience low back pain at some point. But there’s good news: chronic joint pain is commonly caused by muscular imbalances, which are largely the result of lifestyle factors such as prolonged sitting and repetitive motions. This means that targeted stretching and strengthening can restore balance, relieve pain, and improve functioning for most people.
As an example, desk workers often have weak, overstretched mid-backs with painful knots near the shoulder blades. A regular yoga practice can help to a degree, but a holistic program including chest openers in yoga class, rows in strength class, and massage therapy to dissolve trigger points is likely to provide a faster, more complete, more permanent solution. At the other end of the spectrum, distance runners tend to have stronger muscles in the front of their thighs than in the back of their thighs, so they generally benefit from exercises like single-leg deadlifts that balance the thigh muscles and stabilize the knees. Even modern American yoga classes tend to emphasize certain postures, such as planks and chaturanga push-ups, more than others, which can lead to imbalances. Indeed, yogis often have stronger muscles in the back of their arms compared to the front and stronger muscles in the front of their torso compared to the back, so complementary poses like upward plank paired with targeted strength training like bicep curls can help keep joints healthy.
Each of us has a unique combination of physical traits, personal histories, occupational demands, and recreational activities that shape our bodies and our movement patterns, which is why a one-size-fits all approach to exercise often leads to poor results at best and injuries at worst. By gaining a fuller understanding of how your body works, you can tailor your yoga practice and fitness routine to your body’s particular needs, which can help restore balance to your muscles and healthy mobility and stability to your joints. This will improve your ability to complete activities of daily living with greater ease, enhance performance in your favorite sport, reduce the risk of chronic pain and acute injury, and make you feel just plain better when you climb out of bed in the morning.
To get started, simply take note of where your body is stronger or tighter, where it’s weaker or more flexible. Notice which movements challenge you and which come easily. Mind-body practices like yoga and tai chi help us become more aware of our bodies, so if you haven’t explored these practices yet, consider doing so. And if you don’t know much about anatomy but would like to, chat with a knowledgeable instructor or trainer and consider a movement assessment. Sometimes this approach to health and fitness can be tough—it requires self-awareness, a commitment to learning, and a whole lot of patience. It usually means doing more of what’s difficult and unpleasant, at least for a while. But in the end, your body will thank you.