In this video blog Simon Borg-Olivier explains and demonstrates the benefits of tensing generally less not more in your yoga practice, in exercise, and even in the martial arts.
While hardening the muscles can build some strength, if anything more than about 25% of maximum muscle tension is held for than a few seconds, it begins to prevent the natural movement of the body (reducing flexibility), retards the flow of blood as well as increase heart rate and blood pressure (decreases fitness).
Simon also shows that with spinal flexion (spinal forward bends) it is often on only necessary to tense the muscles in the front of the abdomen (the rectus abdominis) and not the sides of the abdomen.
It is also enough to tense the muscles in the front of the abdomen (the rectus abdominis) and not the sides of the abdomen when doing spinal extension postures (spinal backward bending postures), such as the ‘upward facing dog posture’ (Urdhva mukha svanasana), provided you generally lengthen the front of the body without shortening the back of the body.
Both bending forward and backward with this method will help you lengthen, release and relax the muscles of the lower back and often relieve back pain. By using this system often neck pain is relieved also, especially the neck pain that is often associated with ‘sit up’ and ‘half sit up’ movement exercises. This is all only possible if breathing is initiated with the diaphragm (i.e. abdominal breathing).
In the same manner it is possible to bend sideways (spinal side flexion) by lengthening one side rather than shortening the other side, and you can also bend sideways in your spine by activating (tensing) the muscles on one side while keeping the muscles on the other side completely relaxed. When side-bending like this it is possible to help to help to release and relax the muscles on one side your trunk in a way that can reduce back pain. This method uses the concept of reciprocal relaxation (and the associated spinal reflex) to relax one side of the trunk by tensing just the opposite side. However it will only work if breathing is initiated with the diaphragm (the muscles of abdominal inhalation), which when active can reciprocally relax the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation. The muscles of forced abdominal exhalation are those that draw the navel toward the spine in a maximal exhalation and which also stiffen and immobilise the spine and internal organs, and well as cause stress, if they remain constantly tense.
This material in this video is presented in more detail in the live courses taught by physiotherapist and Director of Yoga Synergy, Simon Borg-Olivier, throughout the world ( as well as part of the online courses Yoga Synergy ( and For further information see our blog site at .