Updated: Oct 16, 2021
Author: Kathy Nguyen
Many movements and stretches in yoga can be active stretches, but it's up to you to find what you're comfortable with in your own practice.
Passive Stretching in Yoga Passive stretching or (Passive range of motion) involves no engagement of your muscle tissues. It involves using a force outside of the actual intended mover. Common examples include your hand grabbing your foot to move it higher up a point, grabbing a yoga strap to force your leg to rise higher, using your elbow to cause a deeper spinal twist, gravity to fold your upper body over in Pigeon Pose or experiencing a teacher’s assistance by pushing your body part to move past its natural range of motion. Passive Stretching: Pros Passive stretching feels great. It sometimes alleviates a discomfort for a period of time. It’s associated with flexibility, which can be very appealing to people everywhere. Passive Stretching: Cons Your body doesn’t really learn how to adopt the new range of motion when it is forced by other means. Without adequate strength in the surrounding muscles, there is a higher risk of injury the deeper you go. Without adequate strength, you can lose neurological control of your movement in those end ranges of motion. Your joints can become unstable, ligaments can lengthen, and bones can grind against sockets with the increased laxity. Hyper-flexible people have little control in those positions and have to do much more strength training to regain it. Active Stretching in Yoga Active stretching (or active range of motion) occurs when you use your innate strength. Your muscles around the targeted area engage, giving assistance to your movement. Your nervous system kicks in when your movement becomes unstable, shaky or risky. At that point, your body has found its true end range of motion. Examples of active stretching include using the sole strength of your hip flexors and glutes to bring your bent knee up during Tree Pose. Your bent knee and rising foot slide up the side of your inner standing leg until your nervous system and tissues stop. Another example is practicing a seated spinal twist without using your elbow to deepen the stretch. Your torso and thoracic spine (upper spine) stops at a certain degree. Active Stretching: Pros The connection between the nerves and the muscles can strengthen. The connection between your brain and this body region can also strengthen. Input from active stretching provides new information that can stimulate your mind-body and encourage it to function on a new level. Your mobility can increase. When your muscles accomplish something new, they can move better. This may also mean that your flexibility can improve to the degree that compliments your mobility. Active stretching can be beneficial in preparing for day-to-day activities. It can keep your joints safe and stable while allowing you to reduce injury. It can also protect you from unexpected sudden movements you may have to make. Active Stretching: Cons Active versions of stretching don’t go as far as passive versions. It doesn’t look as appealing on social media (although there is a growing trend shifting away from hyper-flexibility and towards general health and safety). You may feel discourage that your body isn’t able to do more than you had hoped. Active stretching may not instantly reduce discomfort or pain, so people may become impatient with consistently doing them over time. People may have to continue doing Active Stretching/Ranges of Motion for months to years before a long-term reduction of chronic pain can happen. If folks feel like passive stretching is good for the short term, or if they don’t feel pain right away from pushing past their “edge” during yoga poses, then they may ignore the need to balance it out with Active range of motion.