We hear it all the time, “flexibility is the key to less injuries and daily chronic pain.” So why are we not able to attain what every person teaching stretching advertises? I see many stretching videos every day on the internet, a few I have purchased, to go more in depth. Consistently, I see this one thing that is missing. This one thing is the reason for your frustration and causing pain in your mobility.
The sad truth is, this is not even taught in medical or massage schools or certification processes. So what is this so valuable piece of information you ask? Don’t laugh! It is your MIND! I know, WHAT???? Yes, the most important key to flexibility is your mind.
We associate flexibility to young people. We think we are too old to be flexible. In fact, our idea of flexibility is flawed as well as how to become flexible. Let’s start with the idea of flexibility. We see athletes and performers that stand with their ankle behind their head or slide down into a split and think, we could never do that. You are probably correct in your thinking, but that is extreme flexibility. You walk every day, but do you walk as fast as a professional walker? Probably not, but it doesn’t stop you from walking, does it?
The flexibility you need to survive as a human is not so extreme. Proper flexibility can be attained and kept at any age. Proper flexibility will free your joints, spine, and nerves to reduce your daily aches and pains. Stretching will improve your mobility and balance. Your aches and pains come from joints being too tight due to tight muscles. This tightness causes your to expend more energy to move than for younger people. This is called rusting up, not old age. Thus rusting of the body leads to pinched nerves, bulging and herniated discs, and joint replacement. I believe most joint replacements could have been avoided if more people were flexible.
I remember in the move, “Bloodsport” Jean Claude VanDamme was shown being stretched by a martial arts master. VanDamme was between two trees with each foot tied to a tree and pulled apart by tightening the ropes. His hands were tied the same way and pulled apart by ropes too. It looked great on film, but in real life his body would be cramping beyond what he could have withstood. That is not how you improve flexibility!
Have you ever seen someone in a gym sitting on a weight machine designed for inner thighs and they try to use the weights to stretch their inner thighs? This is very common and is used by some trainers for stretching. Maybe you have done this! I love to ask trainers, therapists, and even some doctors, “Do you know the difference between Stretching and Strength Training?” Of course they all said yes. Next I ask them to show me. 90% of what we are told about stretching is actually strength training. I will go into more detail in a future post.
Let’s get back to the mind. Your brain is designed to prevent you from getting hurt or dying. It does it all day by helping you make wise choices. When you are stretching your muscles, the brain is being activated to prevent you from tearing or straining muscles. Especially if you are suffering a chronic injury you will be hypersensitive to pain.
The longer you hold a stretch and the pain increases, the more the brain will tighten the muscle. This is strength training. Think about it. When you lift a weight, you must tighten the muscle to move the weight, right? When your brain fears injury or pain, as the muscle is lengthen there is a slight resistance to the extension and that resistance is because the brain is afraid you will hurt yourself. Until the brain relaxes, the muscle can never relax. Yoga calls this, the mind body connection. Sadly, few people practicing yoga understand this as I have many clients that practice yoga and needed to learn this.
As you read my posts about various injuries, or watch my videos on YouTube, “The Muscle Repair Shop”, you will hear me say, “only hold the stretch for 3-5 seconds and repeat 8-10 times.” The reason for the short hold time is to avoid the stretch reflex from the brain out of fear and the 8-10 reps is to help the brain realize it can let go without pain.
My future posts will zero in on specific injuries or chronic pain and how to get rid of them quickly. If there is something you want more information about and I haven’t covered it, please leave a comment and I will address it quickly for you. My website, http://www.MuscleRepairShop.com can help you in finding answers to common questions. You are always welcome to call me anytime.