Definition of Active Stretching in Yoga: Basic Principles to Practice
Updated: Mar 28
Have you ever wondered about the difference between active stretching vs. passive stretching? Or if you’re focusing on the right actions and principles in each yoga pose to get the most out of your practice?
In the active stretching in yoga video below Irene shares the definition of active stretching. You'll be guided and encouraged to practice along through the main principles and technique of approaching the yoga postures found in ashtanga, vinyasa and hatha yoga.
What is Active Stretching?
Active stretching in yoga means that you’re balancing any stretch and action that you’re making to move in one direction with a counter stretch in the opposite direction.
This is different to passive stretching where you simply allow your body to hang and relax into the stretch without activating your muscles.
One of the best ways to understand this in practice is to explore how active stretching can be applied to different yoga poses. When standing on your yoga mat you can see six different planes of movement. Each that can be grouped into three pairs of complementary movements.
Anytime that you’re actively moving to the front of your yoga mat you want to balance that with an opposing action pressing back. While if you’re focused on reaching up and away from your mat you want to balance that with a downward movement towards your mat. And finally if you’re moving to the right side of your mat you’re also doing your best to counterbalance that with a movement to the left side of your mat.
Warrior 1 Pose
In Warrior 1 Pose (Virabhadrasana 1) we focus on grounding our feet into the mat while we lengthen up through our spine and arms. We actively bend our front leg so that our front thigh is moving forward while at the same time we press our back leg back. And we create space in our shoulders by actively spreading our shoulderblades apart to the right and left sides of our mat.
Warrior 2 Pose
In Warrior 2 Pose (Virabhadrasana 2) we allow our feet and hips to ground downwards and balance that with actively reaching up through our spine and up to the crown of our head. We’re reaching our front arm forward while our back arm reaches back. As well as our front leg also bending towards the front of the mat and back leg pressing back.
There’s even a subtle feeling of our front knee reaching to the outer side of the mat and counterbalancing that with the back leg (e.g. if right leg is in front the right knee is moving out to the right side while the left hip draws to the left).
Since the Tree Pose (Vrksasana) is a standing balance its even more important for us to focus on the one foot that is connected to the ground and at the same time lengthen up through the entire torso. We want our balance to not be too far leaning forward or back, but somewhere in the middle. Allow the bent knee to press out to one side while not allowing the hips to move to the same side.
Seated Spinal Twist Pose
In a Seated Spinal Twist Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana) we are finding the heaviness through our hips and working on actively lengthening up through our spine. We want to keep our out stretched leg engaged and resist the natural tendency for the foot to spin out to the side by rotating the leg a little inwards. We can also explore with our upper body balancing the feeling of leaning and dropping back with the action of leaning forward towards our bent leg.
Tips for Integrating into Your Practice
All of these different opposing actions in active stretching can be interesting to explore through a variety of yoga postures. However, it can also feel overwhelming trying to thing of all of these actions at once, particularly as a beginner. Therefore, to start with you could choose to focus only on one or two opposing actions per pose. And allow yourself to also spend some time in the pose tuning in to how your body and breath feel in the posture.
As you get more familiar with the yoga poses you'll start to understand more of the opposing actions and naturally start to apply them into your practice.
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