Why is Tension & Compression Necessary to know as a Yoga teacher?

There is an endpoint to your body’s capacity. 

Aside from the more advanced practices of yoga, and the ability to transform your mind’s obstacles and improve your health, you will arrive at an endpoint in your yoga pose (asana).

To know if a student has arrived at their final “edge” or point of flexibility in a pose, you need to understand the concept of tension and compression. 

The tension-compression theory helps us figure out if the restriction we feel in a pose is the result of our bones and tissues compressing – that is, the bones are as close together as physically possible and it is causing uncomfortable sensations. Depending on the style of practice, the sensation of compression can feel like pinching and achiness. 

If the restriction we feel is a result of tension – that is between two or more tissues such as a muscle – the sensation of the tissue elongating/stretching into a zone of pain or discomfort could feel like burning or pulling.

If the student feels compression, it means that the bones/tissues have gone as close together as they can thereby informing the student that that is their maximum capacity in their body for life. 

If the student feels tension, it means that the myo-fascia can “lengthen” further in the future.

Understanding anatomy helps you determine where tension and compression will be felt. 

And it will help you determine what is going on, whether the pose is beneficial or not.

Here’s an example:

If you are in a seated forward fold and you feel pain or discomfort in your hamstrings, bum or back, chances are you are experiencing tension. But if in the same pose, you feel pain in the inner groin and front of the hips, then you are experiencing compression. The thigh bone (femur) is hitting and squishing into the pelvis socket (acetabulum).

This is why Yin Yoga Training changed my Hatha and Vinyasa teaching. Understanding the body’s anatomical endpoint and cueing to support common misconceptions made students feel better. It made me a better teacher and better at giving variations. 

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