Tag Archives: muscle tension

Can Fitness Goals On the Mat Decrease Wellness Benefits Off the Mat?

Your fitness goals affect how you go about a pose
and how you feel once you are off the mat.

Fitness is defined as the condition of being physically fit and healthy. However, is it still the case when fitness is more about appearances than wellness? How does this fitness goal affect yogis and yoga teachers on and off the mat?

Let’s look at your experience!

Do you think that being fit means having a firm and defined body shape? Does it mean you can do challenging poses worthy of being posted on Instagram?

Do you push yourself as much as you can to reach these goals?
Or do you want more than that from your yoga practice?

In either case, how do you know that your fitness goals are not robbing you from your optimal wellness?


When your practice keeps you feeling tension free off the mat and allow you to enjoy good posture even when you don’t think about your posture, you’re doing great!

When, despite a committed practice, you experience daily excess tension urging you to stretch your muscles or joints throughout your day.
When you feel muscular aches or pain lingering in your daily activities. 
Or when you experience slouching and poor posture
repeatedly and unavoidably while off the mat.

Then, you know you have been sacrificing part of your wellness in the name of fitness.

The truth is that, unknowingly, you have been developing excess tension and killing your muscle tone at the very same time that you have been strengthening and stretching…. which is why muscles or joints tension shows up in your daily life.

And yet, puzzled, you’re not quite sure
why you experience so much tension or poor posture
when you are so very committed to your practice?

Know that, if you are suffering from this common cycle,
you are not alone! And it’s not really your fault!
You are just a product of the evolution
of popular fitness and modern yoga since the 19th century.

The good thing is that, it is never too late
to approach your practice differently and avoid this cycle.

Becoming aware that you’re stuck in a cycle is the first step towards improvement since you can’t change something you’re not aware of.

It’s never too late to approach daily movements and posture in a more holistic way.  You just need to discover the unconscious habits that are keeping you in this cycle and learn how to unlearn them.

Such a discovery process anyone willing and ready can learn.

And if you’re a yoga teacher, new or experienced, this process will enhance your teaching skills to a higher level adding clarity and simplicity to your teaching process!

If that resonates with you.
If you’re open and ready to change, let me know.

I’d be happy to answer any question you have about what’s keeping you away from your natural good posture and optimal well-being. As a result, you’ll feel better in your body whether you are on or off the mat!

Cecile Raynor has been teaching the Alexander Technique for over 25 years out of which came her Body Intelligence Activation Process™ (B.I.A. Process) to assist yogis in enhancing their practice towards best performance with optimal safety. She is also a Thai Yoga Massage Therapist and a Reiki Practitioner. Faculty at Akasha Yoga Teacher Training, she runs a 12 months Mastermind for Yoga Teachers with a Vision, and a 90 Day Live Online Program for trainees, new teachers and committed yoga practitioners interested in using their body more efficiently on and off the mat in a way not taught in regular training courses. She is also the author of a June 2018 publication called THE WISE WAY TO YOGA which is available on Amazon or from Cecile if you are local to Boston!

How Your Body Image affects Your Body Use into Straining & Slumping!

Have you ever consciously thought about what your body image is?

The one that drives you to eat, exercise, or dress a certain way? As a woman, do you want to look thin, sexy, professional? As a man, do you want to look strong and unaffected? Whether man or woman, do you think your looks and wealth equals your worth? For better or for worse, those values are actually 19th century by-products of the Industrial Revolution in a society that has been valuing: appearances, money and machines.

On a more personal level, where is your body image coming from?
 And is it serving you?

Considering your body image shapes your current beliefs, you may want to explore your thoughts on the subject. They are creating feelings and actions that are possibly holding you back. Once you uncover these thoughts and beliefs feeding your body image, you can choose to create new ones if need be and see your life change progressively; sometimes drastically. Check this inspiring one minute video with Kate Winslet:

Kate Winslet

Unlike Kate do you remember words from a parent, friend or teacher that sent you on a specific body image path?

My Story with Body Image

My well-intentioned mom projected her limiting beliefs about weight on me at a very young age.  I became a slave to my body image around weight for decades.  The process to free myself from a body image that did not serve me started when I was pregnant with my first child.

One day, when very pregnant and quite absorbed in my studies, I caught myself in the library studying with my belly squished against the table. It was a powerful moment. I wondered about what I was doing to my baby and to my own body? And in a flash, that is when I realized something had to change. Being in my head so much as a PhD student only emphasized a mind/body disconnect that had started long ago with my compact body image. I saw this clearly then. My mind had taken over and I did not experience my body fully except as a number on a scale.

In short, this led me to a meditation practice, to a career change and to train as an Alexander Technique teacher in the hope to become a more integrated being. Although this tends to be a lifelong journey, training then teaching this work has made a serious difference. I have discovered my body from a different perspective and learned to appreciate many dimensions about it thanks to becoming more of an “embodied” mind.

One important thing I discovered was that my body image was affecting the way I was using my whole body, and the way I was using my body was affecting its functioning. On the other end, improving my overall functioning by improving the way I used myself seriously decreased the impact my body image had on me. Now, I can dance through life joyfully!

How Your Body Image Story affects Your Body Use

Familiar slump leaning into the comfort of habits


Your body image is affecting how you use yourselves in everyday life and vice versa. When you are not happy with the way you look or feel, you consciously or unconsciously want to curl in, hide or cover up. Have you experienced this familiar slump where you lean into the comfort of your habit despite its cost? As you know, slumping often translates into back or neck discomfort, sometimes into breathing and digestive issues as well because your inside is being squished constantly interfering with the best functioning of your organs. Have you just been triggered to pull your shoulders back in an effort to straighten up because of what you just read? And yet, you know it is pointless since you go right back down in seconds?

Does this sound like you? Do you have muscles and joints discomfort, pain or tiredness? Are you prone to feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Do you tend to worry uncontrollably? It comes with the territory of this familiar pose. There is a reason for it as explained in this Ted Talk video. Luckily for you, there is a way out!

And it has nothing to do with you trying to control your body muscularly. Otherwise you may turn into a chronic holder when it comes to your posture and an over-doer on the mat.   Like many people, unless you strain on the mat, you may think that you are not doing enough, not strengthening enough, not stretching enough. And yet, you do not really want to strain, do you? You just want the benefits of exercising whether on or off the mat.

How to Stop the Straining & Slumping Cycle

The difference between sitting in a balance way
and sitting with your gravity center behind your sits bones: A big difference!


What you really want is “Flexible Strength” and “Sustainable Good Posture”. And the secret to acquiring the flexible strength of the cat is to behave like one. No kidding! Do you see cats exercising one body part at a time? I don’t think so. They use their body as a whole when they move. And guess what? You are designed that way as well!

The truth is that you may not be moving and exercising your body as a coordinated self even if you know, intellectually, that all the parts are meant to function as a whole. The reason for this lies in a handful of common unconscious habits that interfere with your best efforts. Since you can only be mindful of what you are aware of,  becoming aware of and learning to overcome these common habits is the key to functioning with optimal safety and optimal performance,  the key to stopping the cycle from straining to be upright, to surrendering into your inevitable habitual slump.

Interested in exploring this further?

Check 1) My Free Email Seminar 2) My Free Webinar 3) My Beta 90 Day E-Course Special.


The Art of Flexible Strength: Drop the Strain, Keep the Strength!


Striving to Stretch

As a yogi or fitness practitioner, do you  feel it is important to develop strength and flexibility? And yet do you truly feel you are developing flexible strength in the process? The flexible strength of the cat for instance which allows the cat to be totally tension free one minute and in an instant, display amazing strength, flexibility, accuracy of aim and speed of action.

If you are like most of us, the answer is no, not really!

Beautiful natural integrated stretch

The truth is you strive for more flexibility and you may succeed up to a certain point. Yet are you tension free between yoga classes or even on the mat? If you can say yes, then you can stop reading right here. If the answer is no, then read on.

One reason you may not feel as flexible as you would want to be in your body (even though you work hard at it), is because flexibility starts in the mind, it is not just a body feature. And since the mind and the body are the two sides of the same coin, if your mind is not flexible, your body will reflect that by feeling uptight and it goes the other way round as well if you are flexible as a whole rather than having some flexible parts.

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Different bodies and awareness levels, different practices, different level of benefits

Another reason is that you may have unconscious habits of movements that are in the way of getting the result you are working for. I have found this to be a common explanation for nagging muscular and joint tension. In fact there are five such common habits that stem from misconceptions of movement. They have to do with you using parts of your body to do the job of other parts of your body so naturally, the misused parts end up complaining that they are not suited for the task. Becoming aware of this in your own body is a game changer.

The young man in the picture is aware of the way the pose is supposed to be but some of his unconscious habitual patterns prevent him from doing the pose the way he sees it and if he tries to straighten his back muscularly, he can only strain. Luckily he sensed that and was not trying to force anything. And the habits could manifest more subtly and be harder to detect but still doing a job on the synergy of your body. The fact is these common unconscious habits make you use your body in a way that is not in line with your innate body wisdom. As a result, no matter how much exercise you do, you feel you are not getting the results you want or when you do, you find them not to be sustainable.

One way to address this is to attend my free webinars or better yet sign up for my 90 Day Live Interactive E-Course. The work I do is very practical and can benefit you from the start by expanding your awareness with a new way to approach movement. It can also help you handle mind or body stress from a fresh new perspective and truly transform your life.

For more info or to sign up to June 9 webinar, go to: https://offthematyoga.leadpages.co/free-live-interactive-webinar/
For the E-Course, go to: https://offthematyoga.leadpages.co/cecileclearofferinteractivee-course/


Core Strengthening Language Part 2: How Helpful is the Focus on Anatomy?


An increasing number of yoga training courses and teachers feel the need to focus on anatomical data as if the quality of their skill depended on it. Does it really? There is nothing wrong with acquiring knowledge especially for those with the right mind to enjoy learning this kind of information. However, how many doctors are being helped in their own body by the anatomical details they know? How useful is it to them or to most yoga teachers and practitioners?

What matters more with yoga is to discover the anatomy of movement and stillness as a purely kinesthetic and holistic experience which is being lost in translation when the focus is all on anatomical details. What follows about core strengthening is supported by anatomy specialists (we do need them) but is expressed in a way everyone can receive and start practicing.


Beyond anatomical data, do you know how core strengthening happens in an organic way?

Like the core of an apple, your core refers first to the inner muscle sets of your torso which work partly intertwined and always in harmony with all other muscles to keep you up and together. Core Strengthening happens organically when you allow the outer muscles to release while engaged in a whole body activity.  When your outer muscles cooperate rather than take charge of maintaining your skeletal height, your core muscles can step up to the plate and get strong in their own deep and quiet way.

Torso muscles cannot remain efficient when engaged all at once. Like the arm or leg muscles flexing or extending in turn to allow movement, your torso muscles are part of a similar dance; while some engage, the others need to quiet down. Their way of working feels different. Postural muscles for instance quietly do their supporting job and give you a sense of effortlessness. Outer muscles however have a presence which can easily be turned into body stiffness when no distinction is made between necessary muscular tension and unnecessary muscle tension.

Releasing excess tension is neither going limp 
nor decreasing how much strength you are building. 
It is preventing building body stiffness while you are building strength.

Bracing yourself with muscle tension thinking it will give you core stability is a myth and only leads to body stiffness
as you can hear Peter O’Sullivan explain in his 2013 interview.


Verbal instructions to get into a pose must reflect this duality of functioning to be efficient. The verbal instructions you still follow yourself or use to lead others into poses have an enormous impact on how those poses are performed. Experienced yoga teachers who actually did make some language changes felt the difference in themselves and in their students as a result. It comes down to making important distinctions.

Outer Muscles need Space to Release 
for the Inner Muscles to Efficiently Strengthen.

Yoga pose using block
The purpose for the block used in this pose is to keep the skeleton properly aligned,
not to squeeze it with all your might creating body stiffness in the process.

“Holding” makes you grab your skeleton for dear life instead of letting your postural mechanism take care of your balance.  “Staying” in a pose gives you space to release without loosing the pose kept by the skeleton. As a result, you can build strength without building body stiffness in the process. When releasing unnecessary muscle tension into what is supporting your body weight, you are activating your postural mechanism and it can do its job which is to handle your postural balance and coordination using an appropriate amount of necessary muscle tension.

“Allow the spine to lengthen” / “Lengthen the spine”. When allowing something to happen, you are less likely to overdo. When you think of lengthening the spine, you are likely to work at lengthening the spine, stiffening your mid back in the process and getting the very opposite of what you think you are doing as the woman in the picture below.

Arched mid back, hips tilted forward, sits bones pointing back, upper back leaning back.

“Do not allow the back of your neck to compress as you look up” / “Look Up”. Your spine must remain an open channel all the way to the top. Compressing the back of the neck just because you can go that far into a pose is not helpful to create an integrated pose where all body parts work in harmony.

images-1 images-17
The woman in black has a beautifully integrated pose.
Her spine (including the neck part of it) and her arms are all part of the same curve started where her knee is supported.

“Allow your whole body to expand into its full space” / “Lift this or pull that to get taller”. The goal is the same but how you get there is different. Of course, you may not have been taught how to trust and experience your innate body wisdom. Just know it is possible, safer and more efficient to work with your body wisdom which is different from listening to how a specific body part or muscular area feels. 

“Listen to your whole body, not your body parts”. When always listening to your whole body at once, you will be aware of individual parts in need of attention as well. Keeping your attention on body parts to check how they feel makes you loose connection with your whole body wisdom. You may help one part of your body at the expense of another.

If you want to learn more about the Alexander Technique or Off-The-Mat Yoga (Alexander Technique based Yoga), check my workshop and class schedule by clicking here. You can also follow my blog by signing in on the home page to receive tips of the week right to your inbox.