Flexibility, Mobility & Stability: Is There A Perfect Balance When Teaching Yoga?

October 07, 2016

“The practice of yoga is rooted in ancient philosophy with elements focused on: contentment, non-violence, self-study, and non-excess. Ironically, some yoga practitioners regularly violate these basic tenets in their practice. People often come to a yoga class seeking better ranges of motion from their bodies while also exploring ways to manage their stress,” said Lauren Eirk, the founder of Yoga Integrated Science™ (Yoga I.S.®).successful Yoga Intructor, Lauren Eirk

I was one of those people. I wanted to be more flexible and I all too often “pushed myself” into poses. I wanted to get into this pose, or that pose, yet my body was telling me otherwise.

Last year, I stumbled upon Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT®) and immediately I knew I had to learn more. As I read more about MAT®, one phrase caught my attention the most: “Flexibility is a derivate of strength. Muscle tightness is secondary to muscle weakness”. I read this over and over – and wondered how can tightness be secondary to muscle weakness? From what I knew, if my muscles were tight I’d stretch them. As I kept pondering this question, I knew I needed to learn more about MAT® to find the answer.

I scheduled a session with a Certified MAT® practitioner and it was here where I experienced first-hand how tightness really is secondary to weakness. Through a range of motion evaluation and muscle testing, MAT® exposed “weaknesses” within my muscular system. The practitioner went on to explain that our bodies tighten up as a protective mechanism due to other muscles that aren’t doing their job – contracting on demand. If the neuromuscular connection is lost between the central nervous system and the muscles, the muscle won’t receive the proper signal to contract optimally when the body wants it to. In turn, the body will likely compensate; some muscles will be overworked, while others will tighten up in an effort to protect the “weak” part of the muscular system. It was amazing for me to see this first hand. I wasn’t expecting this but the gains that I was making in my MAT® sessions were carrying over into my yoga practice. In yoga, I found that I transformed to a level that I never knew possible. My poses were more stable and secure and my range of motion began to improve similarly.

In the midst of all of this, my curiosity deepened and I decided to enroll in the MAT® Specialist Course. I wanted to learn to more safely and effectively evaluate my yoga student’s ranges of motion and develop the necessary skillset to evaluate their isolated muscular strength. Soon after I enrolled in the course, I was introduced to Lauren Eirk, the founder of Yoga Integrated Science™ (Yoga I.S.®). Lauren is a Certified MAT® Practitioner, MAT® Jumpstart Instructor, a certified E-RYT 500 level Yoga Instructor with Yoga Alliance®, and has over 30 years of experience in group fitness, personal training, health fitness management, and continuing education instruction. After a very troublesome knee surgery that resulted from an aggressive yoga adjustment, Lauren was introduced to MAT®. Like me, Lauren was already discovering that “stretching” and pushing oneself into yoga poses, after nearly two decades of sports and group fitness, was breaking her down and contributing to her compounding injuries. After her first MAT® treatment, she was able to sit in an uncomfortable airplane seat and fly home with no hip pain for the first time in years! Lauren went on to complete the MAT® Jumpstart, Specialist, and Master Specialist programs within the MAT® curriculum.  She, is an MATRx® Foot and Hand Specialist and currently enrolled in the MATRx® Program for the full body, which is the most advanced course that MAT® offers.

Lauren Eirk, yoga instructor, doing Muscle Activation Techniques

Lauren has had over three decades of courses from a plethora of teachers in yoga, exercise, and mechanics, but the concepts that Lauren learned in the MAT® education program played one of the most profound and meaningful roles in her efforts to develop Yoga I.S.®, offering a strength-based, biomechanical approach to Hatha Yoga, Lauren’s clients get the opportunity to see the value of an integrated isometric approach to Hatha yoga as a perfect complement to Muscle Activation Techniques®.  Yoga is still relatively new in the U.S., with many styles and methods out there. The Yoga I.S.® approach is the only Hatha Yoga School of its kind, being rooted in Newtonian physics while honoring the principle that structure determines function.  

While Lauren has seamlessly integrated MAT® into her yoga teaching, I’ve also discovered many other modalities in which MAT® complements very effectively. Who doesn’t want to be able to have more effective workouts, more stability and mobility in range of motion, and have strength restored to weak areas? MAT® has taught me not to push my body into areas of tightness just to get into a pose. I’ve learned to respect my body and understand how to adjust my yoga practice and workouts in a way that nourishes myself­ by incorporating Muscle Activation Techniques® into my wellness regimen. Likewise, I’ve now incorporated the MAT® thought process into my yoga teaching and more safely guide my students through their yoga practice taking into account each person’s unique structure and current ranges of motion.

Learning MAT as a Wellness Adjunct Tool