As a medical massage therapist, Here’s what I know about stretching:
Stretching is a dialogue between muscles and nerves. It’s always seemed downright sweet to me, not to mention, prudent, that the nerves respond to a stretch with a built-in response mechanism called a reflex to keep the muscle from being stretched too far–to the point of injury. Unfortunately, the response often triggers a spasm which is a muscle contraction designed to stopping inhibit the stretch NOW. Quick, jerky movements are highly excitable to the nervous system, triggering the response and cold tissue is more likely to spasm as well.
If we ignore the contraction and proceed with the stretch, there is the danger of tearing the muscle fibers, creating inflammation in the least and a severed or shredded muscle at its worst. Sometimes it’s inevitable–such as in an accident such as a fall–but if you can DESIST in your activity, it will behoove you to listen to your pain.
HOWEVER, by learning to stretch consciously and with common sense, we can override the reflex–or simply wait-it-out. Typically, the nerve response lasts about 90 seconds. With practice this can be reduced by “thinking about releasing the painful area and allowing the stretch to go further”.
If you’ve done Hatha Yoga, you know what I mean. Holding a stretch can be shortened by bringing your attention to the area of stretch-discomfort, then imagining that very area to relax its grip and release the tension as you reach further, deepening the experience and increasing the stretch. That’s a true sign of progress.
As a human, being–Here’s what I know about shirking:
The old adage, If you don’t do it, you lose it, is true, alas. Just sitting on the couch while nursing a cold, I now feel old and decrepit. I feel stiff because my muscles have shortened to fit my activity (minimal) and a stretch feels too hard–I don’t want to do it– darn.
Ok–here’s my baby-step:
Placing a warm, inviting blanket on the floor and making the area warm with the space heater, I decide to work out my achy-breaky hips with some thorough Yoga moves. Just 1 or 2, I know better than to overload my lazy attitude right now. If I overwhelm myself, I won’t do it at all–so I make a deal: Just a little at at time–Slow but thorough–holding a stretch 90 seconds while waiting for my body to remember how to release.
Pidgeon pose is one of my favorites–so I’ll start with one that I love and have success with.