Lets talk about muscle energy techniques. You may or may not be familiar with the little golgi tendon organs that are found within our tendons, near the attachment sites of all skeletal muscle. Golgi tendon organs, or GTO’s, receive information regarding proprioception… through sensing muscle tension these organs relay information to the brain about where our body is in space and determine what the default muscle tension setting is for every muscle.
When we find ourselves accumulating tension in particular areas of the body, it tends to stay there. The GTO’s in these areas start to think that the overly contracted state of the muscle is normal, and maintain this excess of tension.
If only we could sit down and chat with these little organs found deep within the body, ask them to let go of this vicious pattern of hypertonicity!
Well, this is where post-isometric relaxation technique, or a PIR, becomes your best friend. In approaching our daily stretches with this technique, we can ask our GTO’s to reset and our muscles are able to find a more optimal state of rest. Not only will this help us to conserve muscular energy but will improve physical alignment significantly, which can then soften the chronic pain and holding patterns you’ve grown accustomed to.
Post-isometric relaxation, we’ll use the hamstrings as our target muscle group in this example, but know that this technique can be applied to any muscle group. This is how it works:
Step 1: Start by entering Supta Hasta Padangusthasana. Lie down on your back, with both legs extended. Float the right leg up towards the ceiling and grab hold of the foot with your right hand. You can also use a strap or scarf if you cannot reach your foot yet, there is no need to strain in reaching, simply be where you are. It is most important to keep the leg straight, just to the point where you feel a gentle stretch in the back of the leg. Keep the shoulders and hips grounded evenly, and both feet flexed. Find a gentle stretch in the hamstrings.
Step 2: Gently engage the hamstrings by pressing through the heel and back of the knee, and then draw the leg down towards the floor, this action will resist the hold of your hand or strap. Keep a secure hold on your foot as you maintain this engagement of the hamstrings for 6-8 seconds, make sure you are using full bodied breathing here.
Step 3: Relax all effort, but stay in the pose. Take a few deep breaths, relaxing the body completely. Focus on breathing into the hamstrings and the development of relaxation in the body for at least 10 seconds. It is extremely important to relax the hamstrings longer than the time you spent engaging them, this time is essential for the GTO’s to finish resetting.
Step 4: Draw the right leg closer to the torso, feeling into the new boundary you’ve created and repeat steps 2 and 3. Repeat this process of contraction, relaxation, and deepening a few times on each side, three rounds is usually sufficient.
Step 5: Keep the leg straight as you very slowly release and lower the leg back down. Take a moment to note any changes, and then repeat on the left side.