Flexibility: It’s more than your hamstrings

Photo by Tamba Budiarsana from Pexels

Let’s talk about flexibility again in a deeper way.  Particularly for people who find themselves getting frustrated easily — especially those of us who are trying to be high-achievers and are stereotypically hag-ridden by Impostor Syndrome.Flexibility is also ease, poise, and the ability to change shape.  That’s not just “can I yank on my muscle fibers to lengthen them.” 

It’s also “oh, I had three clients cancel this week and my kids want to go to the park on Sunday,” can I leave my valid aggravation where it sits, rather than staying in “frustration-land” and taking my grown-up frustrations out on a bunch of kids who just want to play and have fun?

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This is not the face you want to take to the swimming pool and swing-sets.

Being “off balance” is no fun for anybody, but it applies emotionally as well.  The neat trick about our nervous system, though, is that it doesn’t distinguish between the two.Really.Try this. The next time you get frustrated by “that time adulting wasn’t much fun,” right before you go to do the next thing, just close your eyes and very gently teeter-totter left and right until you can clearly sense “what’s left,” “what’s right,” and how they’re different from “what feels like neither left nor right.”If you do that, it becomes, like magic, much easier to remember the things for which we’re grateful, rather than the things that make us want to go chew on a lamp-post.

Try it!

What’s happening is that you’re talking to the nerves that control the multifidis, a set of muscles alongside your spine. And in doing so, you step OUT of the nervous system pattern/organization of “frustration” and back into the one called “balanced.”

If you remove the frustration pattern, where does the frustration go?  Nowhere. It’s just a pattern that you experience emotionally.  Long-time Awareness Through Movement students develop the ability to do this almost-instinctually, and have a MUCH easier time shrugging off stress than their peers.

Give it a shot!

Stretching and Yoga: Stretching doesn’t work?

Stumbled onto a great little article about stretching and yoga, entitled “Stretching doesn’t work (the way you think it does).” One of the “money quotes” I’d like to discuss this week is the following:

She discovered this idea – that if we stretch more and stretch harder that our tissue will change – was untrue. In reality, we are not lumps of clay that can be molded by persistently tugging on things. This is because our nervous systems are running the show.

This is exactly correct. Even massage fundamentally is not about taking clay and mashing on it until the client magically becomes “relaxed,” but introducing changes into tissue so that peoples’ nervous systems can recognize the change and make adjustments.

The author to which the blogger is referring is dead on the money, and the people who aren’t improving aren’t gaining flexibility as they stretch because their nervous systems have them on “lockdown.” And that happens for very, VERY good reasons. There’s a part of you I call “the cash register” that knows the exact status of every muscle — and muscle fiber!– in your body, and it will not allow those muscles to lengthen if doing so would threaten your balance. Because we are bipeds and for us, balance is literally synonymous with survival.

An asana where the need for balance is obvious.
You can do this.

So if you’re a yoga practitioner who wants to get into an asana, or a yoga instructor who wants your clients to be able to get into and then stay in an asana long enough to reap its very deep benefits, the first thing you have to recognize is that you’re not an assembly of mechanical joints needing oil – that old mechanistic vision has been outdated for decades now.

No. You’re a thinking, breathing being making thousands of assessments per second about how tight or loose you need to be for a given situation — you do not want to be super-flexible and hyper-mobile when squatting three times your bodyweight!

A very different KIND of asana. You can do this one, too.
( Photo by Binyamin Mellish from Pexels)

The great strength of The Feldenkrais Method is that we go straight to the source and teach the nervous system directly. And the great news about that, is that the better you get at learning, the more that learning generalizes and the less and less you have to be trapped inside a box where one of these two fitness pictures strikes you as “I can do that!” but the other one is synonymous with “no wayyyyy.”

Want to know more?

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Are you on LOCKDOWN?

Got stiff legs that feel like they’re in prison, no matter how much you stretch?

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A dramatic re-enactment of what my legs felt like — and what they did to my self-esteem as a martial artist.

That was me in high school. I was a Navy Brat and moved a lot, and when we lived in Rhode Island I worked out a lot at night just because winters were so cold and rainy that it was hard to do any socializing.

I got better at pushups.
I got better at sit-ups.
I never got better at the splits.

Not only didn’t I do the splits, but no matter how much I stretched my legs, I never made any progress getting them “loose” at all.  I tried yoga stretches that worked like a charm for my back (I could nap in the Plough, for example), but no horse stance or hurdler’s stretch, or anything else seemed to loosen up the bricks I had for legs. I felt like a total failure, and figured that being flexible just wasn’t for me.

Fast forward thirty years.  Now I’m pushing fifty years old, with a hilarious laundry list of “well-earned” training injuries …. and can kick chest-high with no warm-up or preparation at all.  And I never stretch.

Wait… how’s THAT work?!

It may be that you’re “on lockdown” because your intentions and your nervous system aren’t on speaking terms.  You’re off-balance without realizing it, and your nervous system doesn’t trust you not to fall down.

So your nervous system has Job One, and that’s “don’t let doofus fall down and crack his melon.”  Because that’s literally fatal and as bipeds, that’s our number one problem we have to solve in order to function in the world.  Ever seen a baby instinctively throw its arms out when it doesn’t feel properly held?  That’s “fall anxiety,” and your nervous system has it in spades as soon as you’re off-balance.

Don’t take my word for it. You can test this in the comfort of your own home – just stand up and gently sway backwards and forwards at the ankles.  The moment you sway forwards enough to go off-balance, your toes are going to engage.  They have to, or else you’d fall down.  Same thing going backwards — sway back far enough, and the muscles along the back of your legs and maybe up into your back are going to lock up.  They have to, because you’ve got a twelve-pound coconut up top that has to be protected.

If you stretch and stretch and stretch but never seem to get anywhere, it can be really demoralizing, especially if you’re in dance or martial arts, or any other game or sport where being graceful is a big deal.

But you’re probably not “stiff.”  You’re probably just off-balance without realizing it, and a Feldenkrais Method instructor can help you with that.

adolescent adult black and white casual