Pulsing Yoga
A Radically Effective Exercise

Pulsing Yoga is a way of doing Yoga that adds a tiny a tiny "pulsing" movement to the poses. It's a great way to increase your flexibilty--and it turns out to be incredibly effective for healing your joints, as well, promoting blood flow to spongy cartilage tissue that needs it..

Eric Armstrong

Introduction to Pulsing Yoga

When I began working to improve my flexibility, I stumbled across a technique that turned out to have powerful healing effect on my joints, as well. For want of a better term, I'll call it "Pulsing Yoga".

The idea originated in a book I read long ago (now out of print) called Makko-Ho. It was written by a fellow in Japan who did exactly 4 poses. Three of them were performed with a small "bounce". The fourth was a held position. The pictures showed that he had achieved radical levels of flexibility, and he said he had done it in 12 months. (He didn't appear to be very fit, which probably helped. Strong muscles impede flexibility. Still, it was a remarkable achievement.) But as effective as his technique obviously was, it didn't blend well with traditional Yoga poses, which can be nicely meditative as they are held, leading naturally into a sitting meditation. The method I'm writing about here blends the two practices together.

This technique is extremely effective for promoting growth, and may cause minor, temporary soreness. It should be done no more often than every other day, so the body has time to recover between sessions.

My Experience with Pulsing Yoga

My flexibility improved, of course. But I was amazed to discover that it also improved the strength of my joints--especially the knee where I had foolishly let doctors remove some cartilage. (For the full story, see What's Wrong with Medicine?).

I got back to running again this summer, and the other day I found that I could run downhill again! For years, lack of cartilage made downhill running too painful, so I pretty much had to slow to a crawl for those parts of a run. But this time, I found that I could run downhill with minimal pain! It's not just leg strength, either. I ran last summer, and the summer before that. Each time, my legs got noticably stronger, but there wasn't much difference in the downhill pain.

This time, I suddenly noticed a major difference. Thinking back, it occurred to me that it was the pulsing that did it. Each pulse contracted the spongy tissue in the joints, squeezing the blood out of it. Each release caused it to suck new blood into the vacuum created by the expansion. The result was the kind of improved blood supply that allows for healing!

How Pulsing Yoga Works

Not every pose allows for a pulsing movement. For example, I find it difficult to pulse in a twisting pose, because gravity isn't helping me to do that. That means the muscles have to do all the work, which makes them more likely to cramp up. And when you can do a pose "all the way", to the point that you reach a resting position, pulsing is no longer needed. In those cases, I hold the pose for a slow count of 30. (Takes about 40 seconds.) But when gravity is on your side, here's how pulsing is done:

  1. I get into a Yoga pose for slow count of 20. (Takes about 30 seconds.) I want to be totally comfortable, just gradually easing into the deepest position I can be in comfortably, without having to "hold" it (which implies a bit of effort).
  2. I then "pulse"--moving just to the point of pain, then backing off just enough for the pain to go away. I'll do twenty of those pulses. (Takes about 20 seconds.)
  3. On the last pulse, I won't back off. Instead, I'll hold that position for another slow count of 20. (About 30 seconds.) That hold takes a bit of muscular effort, but by then it's not painful, like it would have been earlier. Because the muscle is fully warm by then, and because I'm holding just a fraction beyond the point of comfort, the muscle isn't stretched to the point of injury, as it would be with ballistic stretching, where body momentum is used to take a muscle past the point where it wants to go.


When I'm stretching a muscle (say, the hamstrings), I find that each pulse goes a little deeper, and the final hold is extremely effective. In a couple of months, I was able to make major improvements in my flexibility.

When I'm doing something that affects a joint, the depth of the pulses doesn't change all that much, and I'm not really sure that the final hold does a lot of good. The final hold doesn't seem to hurt, but the pulsing is absolutely terrific for the joints. (If the pose can be followed with a bit of traction, that's the best of all possible worlds. Traction is simply pulling on things to create separation in the joint. It creates a bit of additional space and completely relieves any lingering pain.)


Here are a couple of variations I've tried. So far, none of them is as successful as the procedure outlined above. But they may give you some ideas for experiments of your own:

Bikram Yoga

I'm delighted to say that things are finally getting better--especially my knees. And for even more good news, I found a Bikram Yoga studio down the street from where I work. That's the kind of Yoga where they do it in a 100-degree room. (And it's the kind of meditative Yoga style that appeals to me.)

In that hot room, you sweat a lot, your muscles get loose, and you dramatically improve blood flow. When I add my pulsing technique to that equation, the results are going to be dramatic!



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