Dear Willow: Why Do My Muscles Shake In Yoga?
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Occasionally when taking a yoga class and I’m holding a pose, my muscles start to shake. Why is this and is this good or bad?
It sounds as though you are discovering a deeper layer within yourself. This shaking, due to longer holds, is twofold and can render amazing results both physically and psychologically.
First – Let’s talk about shaking from a physical perspective. Muscular shakes can begin when more dominant muscles begin to fatigue. These may include: masseter, deltoids, triceps, biceps, psoas, rectus femoris (quadricep), gluteus medius, and gastrocnemius. These are primary movers and though they are strong, possibly stronger than many other muscles, they have their strength limitations. These limitations are typically felt when the muscles are both contracting and in a prolonged extended position.
Weight lifting is repeated flexing, adding weight and repetitions to build strength and size. Yoga develops strength less from repetition and more from increased duration of time spent holding a position. Strength is also developed as weaker motor units are forced to recruit nearby motor units to gain in strength while in a lengthened position. The fundamental difference between weight lifting and yoga is that in yoga the entire length of the muscle strengthens, which is why consistent yoga practitioners typically appear leaner in musculature. More of the muscle fibers are alert to carry and sustain weight bearing for a longer period of time. They have greater endurance.
This is a wonderful attribute when balanced evenly between both sides of the body, which is the focus of both weight lifting and yoga. Strength limitations can ensue from unilateral repetition, as the muscle becomes stronger on one side than the other.
Test your strength and test weakness between the two sides:
Extend out laterally (from the side) both arms shoulder height and palms facing down. Hold the arms in this position until you feel them begin to shake (as long as there is no pain). Bring your arms down.
What did you notice?
Which arm became fatigued sooner? If one arm fatigued before the other, bring balance to left and right by spending more time developing the strength of the weaker side.
Now, hold the arms up in the same manner for as long as possible. Feel them shake. Keep holding them up as long as there is no pain you would deem as injurious. At the point your brain says “bring them down” rethink and keep them up for a few breaths longer. This is the point where you are experiencing growth.
Our mind can produce thoughts that conflict with what needs to happen for us to grow. Strength is gained when applied resistance increases the capacity for the body or mind to rise up against and grow stronger than the weight that was pulling it down.
Shakiness can also be a feeling of approaching the unknown.
On a physiological note, the shaking you’re experiencing is the point of transitioning through strength to weakness. The weakness symbolizes unexplored or unknown territory. This territory can be frightening or exciting, depending on how we view it. Sometimes we are fearful of leaving behind what we know, want, and love. Leaving what is comfortable or mediocre in pursuit of something else. Not knowing with certainty that the outcome will be a life gain.
When we are forced to grow through catharsis, we are also forced to let go of what whatever was keeping us at that level. We can have a revolution with resistance or an evolution through consistent adaptation. A lot of times, we have a choice, other times we do not. When we listen to our quaking body and brain, we can look at what is causing the shakiness as an opportunity for evolutionary growth. This requires truly seeing and not just glazing over or distracting ourselves from exploring the cause of the shaking. Dig deep and look for the end of the taproot. Dig deeper than the problem to find the solution. This is how we come full circle and return to our strength.