In Part 1 of my “Stretching Is In Your Brain” series, we looked at some updated information on what happens physiologically inside of us when we stretch. To re-cap, new science is revealing that the widely-held belief that we physically grow our muscles longer during a stretch is inaccurate. Instead, flexibility is controlled by our nervous system, which determines how far it will allow us to move into a stretch based on how safe it perceives our body to be in that range of motion.
In yoga, we tend to place a lot of emphasis on stretching as a means toward more flexibility. But what actually happens in our body when we stretch? Most of us envision our bodies as consisting of play-doh like tissues that we pull on and make longer through stretching, but new science is revealing to us a model of stretching that is much more complex, dynamic, and fascinating than what has previously been imagined. And it turns out that thinking of our bodies in this older “play-doh” like version may be counterproductive and can lead to a number of injuries and structural problems resulting from our yoga practice.
Once you’ve spent enough time studying the body and movement, you begin to develop refined anatomical eyes that can see patterns in the way people move that they can’t sense in themselves. One of these patterns that I see is that yogis tend to move where it’s already easy for their bodies to move while avoiding the work required where true positive change is needed.
When most people think of flexibility, they picture someone like a dancer, a gymnast, or a yogi – someone who can easily move their body into deep-looking shapes like full forward splits (hanumanasana) or yoga’s king pigeon pose (eka pada rajakapotasana). But most people are operating under an incomplete definition of what
Fred was hands down the least flexible person I’ve ever encountered. In 28 years of teaching asana, I’ve never seen anyone who came close to his lack of mobility. His Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) was little more than a forward nod.