Picture this: You’ve always envied your friends who have long, lean legs that seem to go on forever. You’ve also recently heard that practising yoga can help “lengthen” your muscles – this sounds like a plan that was designed perfectly for you by the forces of divine intervention, right? But when something is too good to be true, it usually is, and we’re here to clarify common misconceptions on yoga and its supposed ability to “lengthen” muscles!
When you perform stretch exercises such as those typical of yoga sessions, your flexibility is indeed increased, but it’s not because your muscles are being lengthened. This result occurs because the “brakes” relating to the neuronal pathways in your brain are being released, thereby enabling the muscles to stretch further. Since the muscles have a fixed origin and insertion point, which are anatomically pre-dispositioned, you cannot actually alter the length of your muscles simply through stretching. To use an analogy, your muscles are not an uninhibited, elastic kneaded eraser – think of them more as a rubber band bounded by a slingshot.
In fact, if you could really lengthen your muscles substantially, your ligaments, discs, bones, cartilage, and joint capsules could be under further stress, and certain joints could also deteriorate speedily. Your muscles are meant to stabilise and protect your joints, so they would not be able to perform these functions if they were lengthened excessively.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “If yoga can’t help ‘lengthen’ muscles, then what exactly can yoga do?” Aside from developing mental toughness, improving your focus, and working the entire body synergistically, yoga also helps boost your physical health by assisting in muscle repair and recovery. When your muscles are stretched whilst performing yoga poses, they naturally become more relaxed and allow blood to flow more easily. This causes more oxygen to flow to sore areas, which helps the muscles recover, grow, and more effective for future workout sessions.
It is also important to know that the many benefits that yoga brings go beyond the aesthetic. For instance, yoga stretches reduce the likelihood of sustaining injuries, while standard static stretching does not. This is because yoga works on full muscle groups and not isolated muscles, which means that various parts of your body are being stretched concurrently as an entire system.
If you’re vertically challenged like myself, you may feel slightly disappointed that yoga won’t actually help you to realise your desires for longer limbs. However, being able to “lengthen” your muscles may not actually be all that it’s cracked up to be after all. Nonetheless, the ancient practice of yoga is still able to bring benefits that reach far beyond the mat and is definitely worth wanting to try someday!