Harmful Stretching versus Healthy Stretching Part 2

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images-6The 3 women above use their head, neck, and torso relationship for dynamic postural alignment

Dynamic postural alignment has been proven crucial for the best mind and body functioning. You can  bend down further than these women without sacrificing your dynamic postural alignment. It is not about keeping a straight back at all cost, it is about hinging at the joints instead of using your neck or back as a hinge. This way, your spine can release into a beautiful smooth curve when needed.

How do you know if you are hinging with your neck or back? Hinging from a made up hinge (usually neck or back) results in straining with compression or over-extension. You are straining your neck when you collapse your head back and down creating a compression or when you stick your head forward. You are straining your back when you tighten your back muscles to send yourself upright or when you are stretching a single area in your back just because it feels good.

How you use your body in an integrated way is more important than producing an extreme version of any pose. No pain, no gain is a myth!

Spinal overstretch as well as neck or waist compression happen when you do not work with your innate body intelligence while performing a specific stretch or movement and it shows. Moreover, this kind of tension and distortion accumulates over time and eventually promotes injury on or off the yoga mat.

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These are examples of how in an effort to reach your toes, you may bend from your upper back as if it was a hinge.

Joints in the body are the only appropriate hinges. Yet, these pictures are a common sight and it feels good and is gratifying to stretch hard but is it worth it? Their focus is on the goal at end (reaching their toes and stretching their back) instead of using the innate wisdom of their body which would simply release natural hinges (occipital joint, armpits, hip joint sockets, knees and ankles) and respect the dynamic alignment of the head, neck and torso.

Lack of flexibility or excess flexibility are both a problem as explained in the little cartoon video below. However, learning to use your body as a whole to release into a stretch will give you the best lengthening possible in your body and increasingly add to your flexibility level without leading to overstretching.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeEIoGMldyc

H O L I S T I C   S T R E T C H I N G   T I P S

1) RELEASE INTO A STRETCH.

Allow all your joints to release, starting with the ones on each side of a muscle or muscle group you want to lengthen. As a result your muscles are able to easily lengthen naturally into a stretch that spreads all over your body no matter where you started. In the process,  the skeletal alignment reorganizes itself instead of being distorted like in the pictures above! How does this happen?

By allowing a letting go of tension in your joints, you empower your postural mechanism to do its job.  And your body intelligence knows how much release and what skeletal alignment is appropriate in that moment. No risk of overdoing, yet you get the best stretch ever. A holistic stretch is like riding a wave, only the wave is going through your whole body connecting you from head to toes!

The body is a web of connections, so unless you always include what happens in the whole body, focusing on one body part at a time is not very efficient although it feels good in the moment. Besides running the risk of overstretching and creating unnecessary muscular-skeletal problems, it also promotes an ongoing need to stretch the same muscles over and over because the benefits do not have enough staying power. The fact is that the whole body synergy, when not addressed, calls for that tension to come back.

2) STOP TIGHTENING YOUR BODY AND MIND.

Consider stretching your mind as a prerequisite to gaining a looser body on and off the mat. The mind and the body are the two sides of the same coin. This  “I choose not to tighten”  practice is an intention you carry over throughout the day. It affects both your body and mind, it helps you let go of attachment to things and thoughts.

As your mind relaxes,  so do your joints and muscles which helps activate your postural mechanism in charge of your best balance and coordination. Tightening constricts your skeleton and the organs inside it all day long. Choosing to stop tightening allows it to expand back and up and out. It makes you feel lighter both in your body and in your mind.

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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 Workshops for Yoga Teachers, my Workshops for Yoga Students and my Alexander Technique Workshops or to register online, click on https://offthematyogablog.com/schedule/

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