Notice how her upper back and shoulders are rounded which makes her compress the back of her neck as she is reaching for her foot? It may be the best she can do considering where she may be at with her posture but this is certainly enhancing her habitual postural pattern.
Stretching feels good and can be helpful when done in a way that is appropriate for the body as a whole.
How do you stretch? Do you stay mostly focused on the muscles you are stretching? Do you find yourself rounding your back to stretch your tensed back muscles thinking it is a good thing to do because it feels good? Are you aware you may be compressing the back of your neck while you focus on a stretch?
You may be surprised to hear that muscles are not meant to be stretched in that way and that actually, this is a form of overstretching! It is easy to confuse the feeling good in the stretched muscles for something good to do. A bit like indulging in a meal that tastes good and is healthy even though it may not be best for your body. What matters for “Healthy Stretching” is not only what you do but how you do it and sometimes why you do it. Creating muscle strain and skeletal distortion while you exercise does not really serve you well despite all your good intentions. However, expanding your awareness by making helpful distinctions can resolve many problems by placing them in a bigger perspective.
Notice how her neck is nicely aligned with the rest of her spine so her head is still poised on top of her spine and above her sits bones. On the other end, his neck is jutting forward creating neck tension while he is trying to undo tension in other parts of his body.
Do you know how to access your inner teacher to make sure you are not creating excess body tension in one part of your body while you are undoing tension with your stretch in another?
Keeping an awareness of what is happening in your whole body whatever body part you are working with is essential to benefit from your stretches without creating more problems for yourself while you stretch. Your stretches are most efficient when you start by freeing your joints from excess tension with a thought of letting go of that tension. Neurons get fired at every thought and affect your whole body as they travel via your nervous system.
That is why when you have happy thoughts, it shows in your facial expression and in the way you carry yourself. Same applies with depressing thoughts. The fact is your postural mechanism is in charge of your balance and coordination. And it can guide you towards your most efficient stretches if you let it do its job by releasing into your stretches starting with your joints.
In the article below by Brooke Thomas called “S t r e t c h i n g d o e s n o t w o r k the w a y y o u t h i n k i t d o e s“, she shares the finding of Jules Mitchell’s thesis presenting a bio-mechanical view into stretching and yoga poses. Because Jules started her work from the perspective of a yoga teacher- with all the training that had told her that stretching leads to increased flexibility, she was surprised to discover that the research on stretching did not prove what she was taught to be true.
For this pose to be more holistic and therefore efficient, these women could choose to release their knees a bit more
which would help them release all the other joints, especially their hip joints sockets. As a result, their spine would lengthen effortlessly!
Jules Mitchell discovered that this popular stretching idea – if you stretch more and stretch harder, your tissue will change – was untrue. In reality, Brooke points out, “we are not lumps of clay that can be molded by persistently tugging on things”. We are functioning as an integrated whole from head to toes, mind, body and soul!
The best way to stretch is to let your postural mechanism do its job while you stretch. Only then do you benefit from “Healthy Stretching”! There are actually two complementary ways to practice “Healthy Stretching”. For more details about it, look for Part 2 of this article coming soon on this blog.
Alexander Technique teachers have been teaching this since the 19th century. If you want to learn to stretch in an integrated way and you are in the Boston area, come to my workshops and classes or call for a private session by calling 617 359 7841.
To inquire about my October and November Workshops for Yoga Teachers, Workshops for Yoga Students and my Alexander Technique Workshops or to register online, click on https://offthematyogablog.com/schedule/