Most of us learned about the five senses in school. We know that we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch — these are the physical cues we use to understand and interact with the world around us. However, many scientists believe that we possess many more physical “senses” than these obvious five. One of these is called “proprioception,” and you’re using it almost all the time. You’re probably using it right now, in fact!
In today’s post, we’ll explore what proprioception is, how it affects flexibility, and how it can help you enjoy a deeper, more fulfilling yoga practice. Read on to learn more, and if you’re looking for yoga classes in the Wilmington area, come and visit us at Wilmington Yoga! We offer yoga lessons tailored for all levels of experience, so whether you’re a dedicated yogi or a total yoga newbie, you can find a yoga course you’ll love. Contact us to learn more or sign up for our 30 Days for $30 newcomers’ special!
What Is Proprioception?
Try this experiment: close your eyes and then touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your nose. Were you successful?
Think about how you achieved this. You didn’t use your eyes to guide you. You didn’t smell your way to your finger (we hope). You didn’t use your sense of hearing or taste. Your sense of touch helped you tell once your finger touched your nose, but it didn’t help to actually guide you to the right spot — it’s not like you felt your way through the air to navigate. So how could you do it?
The answer: your sixth sense got you there.
Proprioception is the sense of one’s own body position and movement. You could guide your finger to your nose because thousands of nerve endings in your body detected your musculoskeletal structure’s movement and communicated it to your brain, allowing you to coordinate your body and intuitively choose the right path. The nerve endings that relay this kind of information are called proprioceptors, and they are found in your joints, muscles, and tendons.
How Does Proprioception Affect Flexibility?
So what does this have to do with flexibility?
Well, proprioceptors are also responsible for triggering the “stretch reflex,” which is your body’s natural defense against muscle tears and injuries. When one of your muscles is stretched, the stretch reflex (also called the myotatic reflex) will resist the change in muscle length by sending signals to the muscle to contract.
This happens whether you’re stretching the muscle on purpose (such as when you are stretching after a run or during yoga) or by accident (such as when your body is forced into an unnatural position during an event like a sports accident or car wreck). The more sudden the change in muscle length, the stronger the muscle contraction response.
When you hold a stretch for a long period of time, keeping the muscle in its lengthened position, it will habituate and become accustomed to the new length. Gradually, your proprioceptors will send fewer and fewer stretch reflex signals telling the muscle to contract. Do you know the feeling of settling into a deep stretch, when it stops hurting and you start to relax into it? That’s your proprioceptors backing off on trying to get the muscle to contract.
By stretching regularly, easing into your stretches, and holding them for long periods, you can safely and gradually adjust your muscles to a new length, increasing your flexibility and range of motion.
Proprioception Is A Core Component of Yoga
Yoga is not about becoming flexible, but having a deeper understanding of the factors behind flexibility can help you get attuned to your own body and take your yoga practice to the next level.
Just like proprioception, yoga is about becoming aware of your own body and its relationship with your mind. In fact, some might say that yoga is all about tapping into that sixth sense — investigating the inner workings of your own body, and being fully present in that awareness.
By practicing this awareness, you can enjoy a richer, more fulfilling yoga practice, as well as improve your balance, flexibility, and strength. Proprioception is your secret superpower, and yoga can help you to harness it!
Join Us at Wilmington Yoga
Ready to put your proprioception to work? Come visit us at Wilmington Yoga! We are passionate about helping people of all ages and ability levels discover the benefits that yoga can bring, and we’ll help you find your perfect yoga class.
Contact us to learn more about our yoga offerings, inquire about our yoga teacher training, or sign up for our 30 Days for $30 newcomers’ special. We can’t wait to see you flexing that sixth sense in the yoga studio!