The best way to learn Hatha yoga is from a human teacher.
Also finger yoga is best learned after studying the other
aspects of yoga for some time.
However, I will take this opportunity to briefly present some of the
most basic and fundamental elements of hatha yoga here.
Hatha yoga involves stretching
Traditionally Hatha yoga consists of a range of exercises
that affect the body and mind.
Many of these are static postures with the limbs placed in
These positions are impossible for untrained individuals to
assume - and stretching exercises are typically necessary in
order to adopt them.
Hatha yoga also employs balancing poses, inverted
poses, locks, strengthening poses - and a number of other
things that have nothing to do with stretching - but I won't
discuss those much further here.
Stretching has theraputic value
You might think making muscles longer would not
substantially affect their state of health. You would be
- Effect on muscles
Stretching muscle tissues are one of the best things you can
do for them.
Muscle fibres adhere to adjacent muscle fibres. They become
glued together with breakdown products of exercise - such as
Their range is reduced. The process is iterated. Over time
the muscles become shorter.
Shorter muscles result in bunched up muscle fibres.
Muscle fibres not in alignment result in wasted effort.
A muscle with a reduced range is less effective at pumping
blood through its body, and more likely to poison itself in
its own exhausts.
- Effect on bones
Short muscles have a huge effect on the body
It is as though parts of your body become tied together with
ropes that restrict movement. Initially this manifests as
stiffness - but over time the effect is increasingly one of
being tied up - imprisoned in your own body.
The effect can be seen most dramatically in the aged.
- Effect on joints
Short muscles can prevent joints from moving through their
full range of motion.
Joint surfaces that are not use tend to be subject to
deterioration - and in the case of joint surfaces, that
often means the formation of crystalline deposits on the
The presence of such "calcium spurs" further restricts
motion. They irritate the surrounding tissues, and can
cause pain, inflammation, and auto-immune responses,
and a range arthritic symptoms.
Age and stiffness are linked
If you look at young tree branches, they are moist and supple.
By contrast elderly branches tend to be dry and stiff.
This pattern is repeated across a wide range of organisms.
The association between suppleness and youth is well
Humans are typically at their most flexible as babies. For
example, most babies can easily wrap their legs behind their
The least flexible are the elderly - where often short muscles -
and constant tension in the front of the body - combine with
gravity and a weakened skeleton to produce a "dowagers hump".
The convex thoracic region - and the resulting coiled-up
fetal appearance - is one of the distinctive characteristics
of the elderly in many western countries.
Indeed this curve is regarded as so characteristic of the
aged that it - and the associated difficulty in walking -
were used to characteris the aged in an international
Clearly, aging causes stiffness. It is equally true -
though perhaps less obvious - that stiffness causes aging -
in other words becoming stiff is a component of the
aging process - rather than being a harmless age marker.
Stretching - the antidote to stiffness
Stiffness has an antidote. That antidote is stretching exercises.
Stretching exercises take the ends of each muscle and
mechanically pull them apart.
By doing so, links between adjacent muscle fibres are
The fibres are brought into alignment - so they more nearly
run parallel to one another.
The muscle tissue itself is lengthened - allowing the
sketelon to resume its full range of movement, and
eliminating unused joint surfaces.
Performed dilligently, stretching exercises have the power
to return most muscle tissues to their natural lengths over
However clearly the best thing to do is to stretch since
childhood - and to prevent ever getting stiff in the first
How to stretch
Most animals stretch. However some humans have taken the
art of stretching to extremes - and it has received a
significant volume of study.
Several things have come to light.
- Stretch staticly
The best way to stretch is widely regarded as being
Static stretching involves adopting an extended pose - and
Inexperienced stretchers will often be seen "bouncing" in
poses. They will try to touch their toes and then rapidly
and repeatedly attempt to go further.
This is an error - bouncing provides concentrated, out-of-
control force, and is inferior in every way to a slower, more
- Warming up really helps
Muscle tissues are at their most brittle and prone to damage
when they are cold.
Warming up before stretching makes the stretches both safer
and more effective at lengthinging the muscles. Temperature
is the important factor - whether the heat is internally
generated or externally supplied is a secondary factor.
- Stretching order is important
Several complex considerations dictate the order of stretches.
Some poses are "antidotes" to other ones.
Muscles stretch best when they have just been contracted -
this observation leads to approack known as PNF stretching.
Some poses are energetic - while others are calming. Different
poses are suitable at different occasions, and for different
- Stretching duration and intensity are important
Stretching for too short a period of time - or with
insufficient intensity - will result in ineffective
stretching - and slow progress.
Stretching individual muscles for too long a period of time
produces diminishing returns - and is likely to be a waste
of time. It is better to rotate the groups you stretch -
and not do the same ones in rapid succession.
Stretching individual muscles too forcefully can damage them -
by causing excessive microscopic tissue tearing.
The questions of how much and for how long to stretch are
ultimately down to the individual and their temprament.
- Relax what you are trying to stretch
Stretching tense muscles magnifies the tension in them,
and makes it visible. Magnification of failure to relax and
feedback are the fundamental elements of biofeedback. Use
this magnification of tension as a biofeedback technique
to assist relaxation.
Clenching muscles you're stretching is not only counter-
productive - it increases the likelihood of damaging the
muscles and their tendons. There are reflex mechanisms
designed to prevent extensions from going too far by
clenching the stretched muscle. Working slowly - and tiring
out the muscle before stretching it - can both help avoid
- Pay attention to what you are trying to stretch
Put your attention into what is being stretched. Use your
- Exercise your will
Like muscles, your will grows more powerful the more you
exercise it. It is strengthened by use, and atrophies if
neglected. Developing your will is important - without a
powerful will you will not control your environment -
instead you will be at its mercy.
- Isolate muscles
Use isolation to develop detailed control over individual muscles,
the ability to stretch each one, and develop your body image
of each part of your body.
- Practice with persistence
Giving up - or lapsing into practicing intermittently - is
one sure way to avoid making progress.
To avoid this, practice religiously.
- Stretch concurrently
Stretching muscle groups individually gives the most control
and allows complet attention to be given to the part in question.
However, stretching your whole body like this can be a time-
consuming process. To speed things up, it is often possible to
stretch many muscle groups concurrently, in series or in parallel.
- Stretch and strengthen
Flexibility without strength is not always desirable.
Strengthen the muscles you stretch as well as stretching the
muscles you strengthen.
I hope this introduction has been sufficient to help those
who know little about yoga to appreciate the rest of this site.
This page is inevitably a poor substitute for a good yoga
teacher. If you lack exposure to one of these, I encourage
you to seek one out.