Make Your Yoga Last for Life: 7 Poses to Build Muscular Balance

Want to avoid asana burnout? Amy Ippoliti says the trick is all in optimizing functionality by engaging the deep stabilizers while finding ways to give the major movement muscles a break.

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A strong proponent of practicing sustainably, Amy Ippoliti’s “Yoga For The Long Haul” workshop at Yoga Journal LIVE San Diego was full of tips for turning yoga into a lifelong endeavor. Her key to avoiding asana burnout? “Instead of chasing the big, fancy pose, focus on moving in a way that feels functional.” The trick, she says, is learning to engage the deep stabilizers while finding ways to give the major movement muscles a break. 

We’ve all heard the pervasive cues to “use our core” and “integrate the joints.” While it’s easy to agree that these are constructive instructions, the nebulous language can make it difficult to know exactly what those actions entail in practice. Unlike the larger, more superficial muscles that we use to move our bodies in space, the deeper stabilizing muscles perform the rather important task of holding the skeleton in place, ideally in a shape close to good, functional alignment. The interplay between the stabilizers (which we can’t see, or potentially even feel) and the major movers (which can have a tendency to dominate and thus become overloaded) is a complex one, to say the least. Ideally, muscles work together in a carefully choreographed team effort that involves an appropriate distribution of the required labor, as well as a specific, sequential firing of the relevant muscles in the correct order. If this sounds complicated, it is! And given that the modern lifestyle is often deficient in well-rounded movement, one can imagine how easily the delicate balance can be thrown off. In fact, many of the postural imbalances that are now so common, whether from a sedentary lifestyle or a highly active one, are rooted in a lopsided relationship between the deep stabilizers and superficial movers. As Amy puts it: “We get so fascinated by our big movers that we also try to use them for the smaller, more subtle jobs.” Here’s how to strengthen some of the most important stabilizers, and release the commonly tense movement muscles.