When I arrived in Perth in 1994 there were five yoga schools! Of those three were devoted to Iyengar Yoga, one was an eclectic mix and the other taught Hatha Yoga. Although I already had 15 years of Iyengar Yoga experience, one year previously I had fallen in love with Ashtanga Yoga. I went job hunting but all the schools wanted me to teach their style and many met me with a derogatory reference to Ashtanga Yoga as ‘The Jumps’. Now, with a better understanding of bodily tissues and their functions I realise how beneficial and valuable those jumps are!
Our bone cells are like little GODs in themselves! They G-generate new bone, they O-operate as the important tissue that they are and they D-destroy old bone so that our bones continually renew themselves and remain healthy, adaptable and strong. When our body undergoes mechanical stress a piezoelectric or pressure-electrical charge is laid down along those stress lines. Specialty bone cells (osteoblasts) that create new bone only lay down new bone along this current. The collagen molecules they secrete align themselves along the current and create extra bone to ‘reinforce’ the area. So, when we jump, the stress registered in our bones encourages our bones cells to lay down new bone to strengthen the area and maintain bone density. These are usually important areas like the neck of the femur or thighbone, the pelvis and low back vertebrae. This is our body’s brilliantly intelligent way to respond to the demands we place upon it.
Jumping also keeps our connective tissue pliable and resilient. The role of connective tissue is to stabilise, separate and connect structures. Connective tissues like fascia encapsulate, invaginate, unify and integrate all the tissues in our body and importantly here, those involved in movement. When we bend our knees in preparation to take off for a jump, we store kinetic or movement energy in these tissues. Our ability to spring is determined by this ability to store and then release energy. Especially, with prolonged or extreme stretching our connective tissue can lose the ability to recoil and produce explosive forces. This is what keeps the spring in our step and is often seen as an indicator of youthfulness.
Additionally, jumping means you will engage your core muscles. Try jumping with no tone in your abdominals or pelvic floor – no don’t, but you can imagine what I mean… not a good image! As you prepare to jump you automatically lift the pelvic floor, brace your abdomen and inflate your lungs. These actions are a spontaneous reflex that makes us more buoyant for take off and cushions our landing. Although the most common talk is about ‘strengthening’ our core, even more important is to have a reflexive core that activates automatically before we initiate any other movement.
How we jump is as important as the exercise of jumping itself. As you bend the knees in preparation to spring breathe in fully. By inflating the lungs, we increase intra-abdominal pressure, which eccentrically loads and thereby tones the muscles of our intrinsic core, including the transverse abdominis, the deep stabilising muscles of the low back and the pelvic floor. On landing, in order to alleviate the impact in our joints we need to land without our joints locked, e.g., with ‘soft’ or bent knees. In this way our body can distribute the forces evenly over many joints and tissues. When practicing jumping do a sound test and check that there is no audible ‘thud’ on landing.
Jumping keeps our tissues adaptable, toned and youthful. Jumping will keep your bones dense, your connective tissues strong and resilient and train you to engage your core reflexively. Jumping keeps the spring in your step so whenever you are happy you can jump for joy!
Always with you on the mat