Image: Detail of Kunisada’s Sumo
The Five Minutes You Should Never Skip
All about abs, part 2
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Part 1 All About Abs
Part 3 Five Minutes of Focus
A body that opens postures with the protection and power of abdominal dexterity is responsive and alive.
Once you have seen someone do a yoga posture properly, really seen someone inhabit a posture not with rules, not with alignment check points, but with total engagement, it’s impossible not to notice patently phoning-it-in posture work.
We become habituated to our own sense of effort and our body image of what it feels like we’re doing. We don’t feel the hip that drops out, the collapse of the collar bones, the back leg that is so far from awareness it could be watching television on its own somewhere.
The most important part of abdominal training is development of calm and confidant skill with eccentric contraction. This provides stability.
Eccentric contraction is when a muscle is contracting in a way that slows down the speed of motion in the opposite direction.
For example, when you take a weight in your hand and do a bicep curl, you’re completing a concentric contraction. When you release the curl and allow your arm to straighten, you can choose to work harder and do it slowly, controlling the weight as you release. This is an eccentric contraction.
Cultivating strength and flexibility
The most obvious example of an eccentric contraction in abdominal work is the release stage of a sit up or crunch. The part where your body returns to the floor, if done slowly, is eccentric.
Studies have shown that combinations of eccentric and concentric contractions create greater strength than concentric contractions alone do.
Research suggests signaling between the brain and body becomes stronger through eccentric contractions, which are more effective than concentric contractions at helping us to find the muscle and use it.
Finding and using the abdominal muscles in yoga creates expansiveness and focus in every posture, the steadiness and ease that are the purpose of practice.
The abdominal exercise shown in Five Minutes of Focus is designed to emphasize eccentric contractions in several directions, using upper and lower abdominal muscles as well as the oblique or side muscles of the torso.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.