I have noticed in my classes that there is oftentimes a need to stretch. There's no doubt that stretching feels good. And most people stretch in the hopes that tight muscles will lengthen and over time they will become more flexible.
But does that work? There's certainly no "wrong" movement but rather the question becomes, "Is the movement you are doing actually serving you?" Most people think that because there is a feeling of stretch then they must be stretching or releasing a tight muscle. That isn't entirely accurate though since the sensation of stretch does not indicate whether you are actually releasing or not. So what does indicate that you are releasing a muscle? Or, put another way: how do you release a muscle that is always tight?
That's an interesting question. What if the tightness is there because this is the body's way of "holding together" or protecting a vulnerable or instable area? In this case, you can see how continuing to stretch out a tight area won't solve the problem and might create more strain in that vulnerable area.
What would it be like if you improved your function and stability so that tight muscles became more supple, as opposed to having to stretch and release them each time. What yoga poses would be possible? What else would be possible?
According to yoga therapist Joanne Hudspith in Hamilton, Ontario, "When we improve stability – by working in an appropriate range of motion without feeling strain, pulling, or pain; by working without compensating with breath-holding or bracing with abs or glutes; by starting simple and adding load and complexity appropriately – our bodies respond in amazing ways, and we not only find more stability, but more mobility as well."
To see this for yourself, she suggests trying this simple exercise:
Stand up and slowly bring your arms forward and upward – only as far as they’ll go without feeling any pulling or tension in your back, shoulders, arms or neck; without lifting your rib cage and without hearing any clicking or popping in your shoulders. (even if the clicking and popping doesn’t hurt!) Repeat this a few times and notice what your range of movement is.
Now, stand facing a wall. Place your palms on the wall in front of your shoulders. Arms should be almost straight without locking elbows. Step back a few inches so you’re in a gentle plank-type position. If you feel any strain in your neck and shoulders, you may need to move your hands down a little, or step a little closer to the wall. If your low back feels any tension, step forward a little. Continue to breathe passively, make sure your butt isn’t clenched, and let your abdomen be soft and receptive with the movement of your breath.
Stay here for 10 breaths. If you start to feel any strain at all in your neck, shoulders or back, come away sooner. Step toward the wall and then take your hands off the wall.
Now, repeat the arm movement you did a few moments ago. Do you feel there has been a change in your range of movement or in the quality of your movement?
This is a simple example of how using therapeutic principles to improve stability can also improve range of motion, flexibility and suppleness.
And imagine the possibilities if you applied these principles to other areas of your body - such as tightness in the hips. Can you see how improving pelvic stability could lead to more freedom in your hips?
If you would like to explore these possibilities, I'd be happy to help. Here are some options:
Join one of my classes; you're welcome to join at any time. Sessions can be prorated and there is also a drop-in rate.