Weekly musings, 11/05: Active Flexibility
I am often amazed at what clients accomplish by repeated exposure to an initially challenging movement.
Impressive improvements in flexibility are made through moving in and out of ranges that originally seem inaccessible. The great thing about training positions that could potentially be uncomfortable in this way is it reduces the perception of threat. The nervous system, instead of tightening up (because that’s what we do when things get uncomfortable), learns to relax and embrace new patterns, gradually allowing the individual to move further and further through the active range of motion.
This is the basic premise behind several techniques, including nerve flossing and Feldenkrais. Move towards something and retreat away, only to find you move a little closer the next time. As confidence grows, so too does the ability to move freely.
I have watched clients increase the ability to move their arms, sit back on their heels, and turn their heads. They learn to reach behind themselves, get their heels on the floor in downdog, and move their spines, all without forcing themselves into uncomfortable positions. Eventually, they learn to hold their new positions, building strength in a place they couldn’t previously go.
I don’t believe getting stronger and more flexible always needs to be miserable to be effective. It’s not a matter of avoiding the sense of work- after all, learning to feel contraction in the muscles increases body awareness and creates a sense of strength, both of which are good things. It’s just when you are initially learning how to do something or exposing your body to a place it’s never gone before, give yourself permission to not have to stay in a place that is initially uncomfortable. Moving in and out of new positions can eventually lead to the ability to access an entirely different way of being.
*There was a great article in the New York Times about Feldenkrais that can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/30/well/trying-the-feldenkrais-method-for-chronic-pain.html