The Golgi tendon is a sensory reception organ located where any tendon and muscle are joined in the body. This organ detects the changes in muscle tension and works to prevent injury by causing the muscle to relax when muscle contraction creates too much tension. The Golgi tendon detects strong muscle contraction during different stretches, signaling the muscle to relax when tension is increased and then released. Yoga poses and stretching techniques where muscle tension in a certain part of the body is increased can activate the Golgi tendon, causing the muscle to relax and help create a deeper stretch.
The Golgi Tendon and PNF
The Golgi tendon organ is what creates the basis for a form of physical therapy called PNF, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. This involves contracting a certain target muscle in order to stimulate the Golgi tendon organ, which signals the target muscle to relax. This allows the muscle to effectively stretch deeper, lengthening the target muscle and deepening the performed pose. The PNF technique can be used with several yoga poses in order to dissolve muscle blocks and deepen stretches.
Two main yoga poses that can be used to activate the Golgi tendon organ in the hamstrings are Head to Knee pose, or Janu Sirsasana, and Forward Bend, or Paschimottanasana. Head to Knee pose is a seated pose where one leg is laid straight on the floor and the other leg is bent so that the heel meets your bottom. The target muscle, which in this case is your hamstrings, is contracted by bending your knee and pressing your heel into the floor while bending your body forward. Hold the contraction for 8 to 10 seconds and then release your knee and heel and feel yourself go deeper into the stretch because the Golgi tendon has signaled the muscle to relax. The same can be done in Forward Bend, which is a seated pose. Sit with your legs straight in front of you and lean your body forward, reaching your hands toward your feet. Stretch your hamstrings by contracting both hamstrings simultaneously, as in the Head to Knee pose, then releasing the contraction and allowing the Golgi tendon organ to send relaxation signals to your hamstrings.
Lunge pose is effective for activating the Golgi tendon organ in the hip flexors. To do the pose, start by stepping one foot back and lowering your knee and the top of your foot to the ground. Bend your front knee to a 90-degree angle, keeping the sole of your foot on the ground. Lean your hips forward and move your back leg further back to feel the stretch in your groin. Pushing your knee and foot into the ground will cause the hip flexors to contract, activating your Golgi tendon organs in your hip flexors. Once you release the push on your back knee and foot, your Golgi tendon organs will send signals that cause your flexors to relax. This will help deepen your lunge and further open up your hip muscles.
The Golgi tendon organs of the upper extremities, such as the shoulders, arms and wrists, can be activated through PNF stretching in Cow Face pose, or Gomukhasana. To perform this pose, start by kneeling on the floor with your buttocks resting on your heels. Bending one elbow above its corresponding shoulder blade and one elbow below its corresponding shoulder blade so that your hands meet and grip onto each other behind your back. While maintaining your grip, pull your hands in opposite directions behind your back to create tension in your rotator cuffs and lower and upper arms. This tension causes your Golgi tendon organ to send signals to your spinal cord, which in turn causes the muscles in your arms and shoulders to relax once the pulling of your hands is slackened.
Cautions and Considerations
If you are new to a yoga practice, make sure to take a few months to familiarize yourself with basic poses before attempting PNF exercises. Never overdo it when practicing PNF techniques. Even though the Golgi tendon organ is designed to protect our tendons, it has its limits. Back off if you feel any pain or discomfort during PNF exercise, and remember to focus on one muscle group at a time. Allow 48 hours of recovery time when practicing this technique and perform it under the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor.
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