Movement Mornings: Do You Start Your Day With Movement?

I am always inspired when I meet people whose curiosity about movement takes them into exploration outside the box. One such person is the ever-curious Panayiotis Karabetis of Movement Mornings. I was a recent guest on his podcast  and we had a blast recording it. Here are some highlights from our discussion:IMG_4689

  • Pandiculation vs. Stretching
  • How to move “somatically”
  • Martha's 3 should's in life
  • Moshe Feldenkrais and Thomas Hanna
  • A brief history and explanation of Hanna Somatics
  • Sensory Motor Amnesia
  • Making room for play in your life is important
  • Falling apart as we get older is a choice
  • Pain-free moving starts with walking

Click here to listen and enjoy!

Here's what Panayiotis has to say about Movement Mornings and its dedication to sharing the good news about movement:

As movers, we're motivated by a unique force that makes our fidgety goals impossible to ignore and that's what Movement Mornings sets out to explore. Each month, we dive into the morning routine of influential people in the movement community to share new insights and inspire us to get better at what we love doing most: moving!

Back Pain After Gardening?

I want to share the following article by Karyn Clark, one of my clinical students from the UK. For all you gardeners out there who are gearing up for the summer season, read this! It will give you some pointers about how to recuperate from a day of wonderful, yet repetitive gardening.

 

11160009_870839839648700_6727914488985578643_nThe author, pandiculating in her garden.

It struck me whilst out gardening over the weekend how many people like me jump at the chance of a nice sunny day to get out into the garden and cram in as much as possible before the rain comes or it’s time to go back to work. We pull, we dig, we shovel, we hit.

For many, we do more physical activity in those 4-6 hours than we have done since the last time we were out in the garden. People spend a lot of time reaching, bending and reaching, stretching up and reaching, pushing their bodies that little bit further to get to that last branch or weed at the back of the flower bed. They dig and plant, bend and pull. All in all, they spend the majority of the day with their back in an over-stretched forward flexion position. Then it happens...the stiffness, the tightening, the inability to move any further because of the back pain. For most it’s that deep aching across the low back. For others it's more intense radiating further into the buttocks or down the legs.

So what do we do? We hobble back into the house, chuck our clothes in a heap and sink into a nice hot bath. "Ahhhhhh," it feels so good! The pain is easier; we relax, as do the muscles, deeply.After a good half an hour we get out. Our poor relaxed muscles are required once again to jump to it and do their job, stabilizing and moving the joints of the body. As we get dried and dressed we sadly realize that the stiffness and pain is actually still there.“STRETCH” we think “I need to stretch!" NOW STOP! Lets go back over this:You’ve spent all day stretching, bending, reaching, attempting to contort yourself into positions that Iyengar would be proud of. Is stretching really the answer? I’m afraid not.

The science of stretching versus pandiculation

So you’ve been stretching inadvertently all day, evoking the "stretch reflex," also called the myotatic reflex. It is a pre-programmed response by the body to a stretch stimulus in the muscle. When a muscle spindle is stretched an impulse is immediately sent to the spinal cord and a response to contract the muscle is received. This reflex protects muscles from tearing.

By stretching further we continue to evoke and deepen the stretch reflex, yet many people when in pain are so desperate to alleviate it they continue to just push it that bit further in a vain attempt to release the pain. The best idea is to  stop stretching and try something different: pandiculation.

If the muscle is contracted and stuck in that pattern of contraction we need to reset the brain; after all it is the brain and the nervous system that controls the muscles, so lets start with that. We need to re-set something called the Alpha Gamma feedback loop, also known as Alpha Gamma Co-activation. This feedback loop ensures optimum functioning of the muscle's length from contraction all the way to relaxation.

A muscle starts at a certain length. When the muscle is stretched, the muscle spindle stretches and the fibres fire more strongly. When the muscle is released from the stretch and contracts, the muscle spindle becomes slack, causing the fibres to fall silent. The muscle spindle is rendered insensitive to further stretches of muscle. To restore sensitivity, gamma motor neurons fire and cause the spindle to contract, thereby becoming taut and able to signal the muscle length again.

When we pandiculate we start by tightening into the contracted pattern that the muscle is involuntarily stuck in and then lengthening out of it in order to retrain the muscle to relax. This re-sets the Alpha-Gamma Co-Activation loop. To pandiculate means to "yawn." When we yawn we contract and then slowly release, thus relaxing the muscle. Animals pandiculate, babies pandiculate, many adults pandiculate upon waking.

So the next time you’re gardening, firstly be kind to yourself, take regular breaks, lay down and pandiculate throughout day to help prevent the back from going into spasm. And if it it does, don’t stretch!

When your back starts to ache, lie down (like Karyn in the photo at top) and do the basic somatic movement called Arch and Flatten. This simple Somatic Exercise will teach your back muscles to release and relax. You can do it on the lawn in the middle of your gardening day. Allow the movement to flow with your breath and make sure it feels good. Arch and Flatten just may become your best friend!

Pandiculation - "Dynamic Stretching" Squared

In a  New York Times article about stretching, Gretchen Reynolds reported on the largest study ever conducted on the effectiveness of stretching. The results showed that...

Stretching makes no difference one way or the other as far as injury prevention is concerned.

The percentage of those runners assigned to do 20 second static stretches before every run, was identical to the group assigned to the "no stretching" regimen. The study was conducted over the course of three months.

Dr. Ross Tucker, a physiologist in South Africa and co-author of the Web site The Science of Sport said, “There is a very important neurological effect of stretching. There is a reflex that prevents the muscle from being stretched too much." This is  what Hanna Somatic Educators have taught their clients for years: the reflex Dr. Tucker refers to is called the "stretch reflex." It is invoked by static stretching, and induces the muscle to contract back against the stretch, in effect making it tighter than it was before. This is a reflex that protects the muscle from trauma.

Reynolds goes on to write:

Dynamic stretching, or exercises that increase your joints' range of motion via constant movement, does not seem to invoke the inhibitory reflex of static stretching, Dr. Tucker said. When "you stretch through movement, you involve the brain much more, teaching proprioception and control, as well as improving flexibility."

Pandiculation improves muscle function at the level of the central nervous system.

Hanna Somatic Educators have been teaching students for decades not to stretch to change muscle length, but rather to pandiculate. Pandiculation is a brain reflex action pattern that animals do - often up to 40 times a day. Next time your dog gets up from rest, watch what he does: he'll put his front paws out and contract his back as he relaxes his belly in a yawn-like lengthening. He may even do the same with his legs. This "wakes up" the muscular system at the level of the  brain and ensures the the brain is always in control of the muscles.

The action of pandiculation restores muscle length, function and brain level control of muscles and movement as it re-educates all movements of a muscle: concentric, isometric (when you hold the contraction for just a second) and eccentric. The brain "takes back" that part of the muscle's length and function that it had lost voluntary control of - the part that was "stuck" or full of tension. Pandiculation sends a strong signal to the sensory motor cortex, which in turn serves to "reboot" the function of the  muscles for greater sensation, motor control, balance, proprioception, and coordination.

Pandiculation of over-trained and tight muscles can prevent knee, hip, and back injuries when running.

Phil Wharton, well known author of the Wharton Stretch Book, now agrees that contracting a muscle first, then moving it through its range of motion is much more effective than simple, static stretching. Dynamic stretching, however similar to pandiculation, is not the same as pandiculation, nor is it as effective. The key to freer movement in any sport or activity is freedom of movement in the center of the body. If you don't release and re-pattern the large muscles of the center - from which all movement originates - you will experience only short term improvement. Think of an animal, first contracting its back muscles, then slowly and deliberately lengthening them only as far as is comfortable for them to go - then doing the exact same thing with the muscles of the front of the body.

You may have a favorite athletic stretch; explore a way to pandiculate it: tighten into the tight muscles first, then slowly lengthen away to the end of your comfortable range. Then completely relax. This can be done with hamstrings, quadriceps, waist muscles, triceps, biceps, you name it!

Here is a short video that shows a couple of easy pandiculations you can do prior to your run. Try them out and see what you think. To learn these and other Somatic Exercises that can teach you to reverse your pain and regain freedom of movement, click here.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8J5fDdCpF4]

Pandiculation: The Best Alternative to Stretching

The jury is out. Traditional stretching makes you tighter over time and is considered counter-productive and unnecessary. So what's the alternative? In the book, Somatics, Thomas Hanna offers the only alternative that really works to release tight muscles and re-set muscle function at the level of the central nervous system: Pandiculation. Since the beginning of time all vertebrate animals - and all humans - have naturally and spontaneously prepared themselves for action using the brain reflex pattern called pandiculation.

First let's take a quick look at why traditional stretching doesn't work. This simple explanation is excerpted from my book, Move Without Pain:

It's helpful to understand a few basic facts about muscles:

  • Muscles are attached to bones, and bones never move unless the muscles attached to them move.
  • Muscles never move unless directed to do so by the brain. The brain controls the entire muscular system. Muscles are controlled by the central nervous system.

When you stretch, it is safe to assume that there is some level of contraction or tightness in the muscle that you want to loosen.

Now let’s think logically: if you have a muscle that is chronically tight, you have a muscle that is holding tension. The involuntary part of the brain is, for some reason, telling that muscle to remain tight. That muscle is no longer under the brain’s conscious or voluntary control.

Physically pulling on a muscle with the intention of lengthening it by force or by use of gravity is... well... 1280px-Drew_Bledsoe_stretchingjust physical. It doesn’t require any deliberate action on the part of the brain. Remember—the brain controls the muscle.

Pulling a tense muscle past its maximum length evokes the stretch reflex, a protective spinal cord reflex that contracts the muscle back against the stretch in order to protect the muscles from trauma. Your nervous system is trying to help you. It’s saying, “Wait! Stop!” When we ignore the stretch reflex, we rish a further tightening of the muscle, or, in the worst-case scenario, a muscle strain or injury.

So what’s missing? In order to fully release muscle tension and restore muscle function, the brain needs to be involved. Only then will optimum muscle length and coordination be restored. Involving the brain will help disrupt the vicious cycle of contraction that keeps our muscles tight.

Pandiculation and Hanna Somatic Exercise is the deepest level of fitness available.

The alternative to stretching is pandiculation, a brain reflex pattern which "wakes up" your brain's ability to sense the muscles that are tight and painful, then allows it to restore optimum length and function in a slow, safe, controlled manner.  This voluntary actionIMG_3583 resets the brain to muscle connection in a way that stretching can't. It is the inability to fully control your muscles that keeps you from moving freely and efficiently. If your brain isn't in control of your muscles you wind up working too hard. You use muscles you don't need to use. This isn't true "fitness." The ability to access the full range of a muscle as well as relax it when it's no longer needed for an action is an essential part of fitness and strength.

Because pandiculation sends strong sensory feedback to the cortex of the brain, essentially "turning on the light" in your sensory motor system and improving voluntary control and proprioception you become more body smart. Stretching, which generally causes you to move into pain, overriding a protective spinal cord reflex (the "stretch reflex") makes you less aware of your body and can be potentially harmful.

A daily routine of Somatic Exercises is all you need to "warm up" for your sport or get ready for your day.

Since I started doing Somatic Exercises I've actually gotten better at soccer. I've had hip injuries in the past, but now I can use the muscles I actually need for kicking instead of muscles I don't need, which is what I used to do to compensate for my injuries.

Somatics added a whole new element of movement to my game.

- Z.I., United States Air Force

Somatic Exercises use pandiculation to restore brain control of muscles and movements. In arch and flatten you arch your back slowly and relax the front of your body; this is a pandiculation for all the muscles on the back of the body. The side bend is a highly effective pandiculation of the oblique muscles (waist muscles) of trunk rotation and side bending. This exercise is critical for a smooth gait and easy walking.

Somatic Exercises are simple and basic movement patterns found in all activities. They prepare you to move well in any given activity and can easily replace stretching as a more pleasurable and effective way of readying you for action.

For more information about how you can learn to properly teach Somatic Exercises, learn more about Essential Somatics® trainings. To contact Martha for a private clinical session of Hanna Somatics, click here.

Is Yoga Dangerous? Not When Done Somatically

In an article called "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body," by William J. Broad the question of  yoga injuries is discussed. Many yoga teachers are hesitant to admit that they suffer from injuries. Yoga in its original form is a true somatic discipline ("somatic" meaning being aware of what it feels like to be you). The way it is taught in most yoga studios in the United States is more like fitness than mindful, somatic movement. For many Yoga students the element of somatic awareness is completely absent. The goal for many is to look like the teacher and get into the posture no matter what. This is how injuries occur.

"Athleticized" Yoga causes injury.

The rise in Yoga injuries and muscle pain says more about the way in which many embrace Yoga than it does about (most) Yoga postures. This is similar to Thomas Hanna's contention about the source of most back pain:

"The prevalence of back pain has everything to do with the kind of lives that we live and the kind of society in which we live."

We live in a culture that "athleticizes" everything, and Yoga is high on the list. Yoga can be practiced in a non-competitive way with the sole goal being one of mastering movement and improving posture and breathing. So can life. The answer lies in the awareness of what you're doing and how you're doing it.

3 Ways People Get Injured in Yoga

#1 They have Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) and don’t know it. As you attempt to perform a Yoga movement, some muscles won't lengthen fully, while others over-work. You may be able to do an asana on one side (triangle pose, for example), yet not the same way on the other. You keep stretching and breathing, but the muscles don't release the way you're told they should.

#2 They don't know that they are stuck in a full body reflex pattern of muscular imbalance. SMA presents in patterns of contraction. If you've had a trauma, regaining muscular balance, symmetry, and coordination is critical before engaging in any sport - much less yoga.

If you do any sport or vigorous activity when your muscles are stuck in a specific Stress Reflex, you're bound to get injured sooner or later. Certain muscles will be recruited involuntarily when the muscles you're supposed to be using can't function optimally

(Hint: Our major goal in Hanna Somatics is to teach you to reverse SMA as it presents within the three somatic reflex patterns. It's easy and it gives you back control of your body!)

#3 They over-stretch.

You can read more about my take on stretching here. When you stretch a muscle quickly, or beyond its comfortable length, you will evoke the Stretch Reflex. It is a protective spinal cord reflex which contracts the muscle against the stretch to save it from injury. Over-stretching is a major factor in Yoga injuries, from hamstring pulls to lower back injuries.

Instead, learn to pandiculate. Pandiculation resets the muscle length and restores full muscle function at the brain level. In fact, you can easily learn how to pandiculate many of your Yoga stretches!

Ultimately, if you're getting injured doing yoga, you're doing something wrong – or you're overdoing it.

Hanna Somatics and Yoga complement each other. Hanna Somatics can improve your yoga practice and help you prevent many of the common injuries associated with Yoga.  Many Yoga teachers are in fact becoming Hanna Somatic Exercise Coaches and incorporating Somatic Exercises into their classes.

To learn more about Hanna Somatics and how it can help you eliminate chronic muscle pain and regain balance and symmetry, check out the Essential Somatics® store.

Debunking the Myth of Stretching... Again

Outside Magazine recently ran an article called The 10 Biggest Fitness Myths. In this blog post I'll add my perspective on the one they consider to be the #1 fitness myth: the usefulness of stretching.

Myth #1: Stretching prevents injuries and improves performance.

The brain controls muscles and movement. Any movement we perform on a daily basis establishes habits at the level of the central nervous system.

There are good movement habits (pole vaulting, riding a bicycle, writing) and there are bad ones (learning to hold the back tightly due to repetitive athletic training, or limping on one side due to an injury).

When we work out and perform repetitive tasks, our muscles accumulate muscle tension. They learn to stay tight and become involuntarily contracted. This is called Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The only way to reverse chronic muscle tension is for the brain to take back voluntary control of the muscles and movement.

When you passively stretch a muscle that has learned to stay contracted (or has become involuntarily contracted due to repetitive tasks or an injury), you are pulling it into a length you want it to have. You are acting upon the muscle. If you pull that muscle farther than it can go you will invoke the Stretch Reflex, a spinal cord reflex that contracts the muscle back against the stretch to prevent against muscle fiber damage. This can make the muscles tighter than they were before.

SOLUTION: PANDICULATION = “no-stretch stretching"

Pandiculation is the best way to reset muscle length, and sensory motor control of the muscle.

A pandiculation is an action pattern that involves contracting a muscle first, then lengthening it slowly past the point that it was contracted before. This slow, deliberate action actually resets muscle length at the level of the central nervous system and allows the brain to take back voluntary control of muscles that were once involuntarily contracted. A pandiculation releases tight, "frozen" muscles that cause pain and allows them to function optimally again. The end result is enhanced muscle function, improved sensory motor awareness, and muscles that coordinate efficiently and properly.

It's easy to pandiculate: simply contract into the tight muscle, then slowly lengthen all the way. Then completely relax.

Pandiculation prepares your muscles for use in sports, or to wake up for the day, or even when you get chronic pain or a cramp. Pandiculation simply prepares your muscles for use.

In the Outside Magazine article they finish their piece on stretching with the following conclusion:

The jury is still out on the best pre-workout alternative, but dynamic stretching, which incorporates a range of body movements rather than muscle isolation, doesn’t stress tissues to the point of activating the nervous system’s protective instincts.

They then suggest four movements that could work as "dynamic stretches" to "warm up" the body:

1. 20 Jumping jacks 2. 1 minute of skipping, forward and backward 3. 1 minute of high-leg marches, kicking each leg in front like a tin soldier 4. 10 reps of "Kick your own butt:" hop on one leg, kicking the other leg backward, touching your buttocks

While these are interesting and useful movements, they are not "dynamic stretches"! They are movement patterns that don't reset muscle length or brain control of otherwise tight muscles.

Somatic "stretches" for improved muscle function

Try these Somatic Exercises (which actually are "dynamic stretches"). They will retrain your brain to take back control of the muscles, leaving them more relaxed and efficient. And yes - they will improve your athletic performance:

  1. Arch & flatten to lengthen back muscles (1 minute)
  2. Arch & curl to further lengthen back muscles and coordinate the abdominals with the back (1 minute)
  3. Washrag to lengthen waist muscles, abductors, and back muscles (1 minute)
  4. Hamstring pandiculation to lengthen the hamstrings in coordination with the back muscles – it takes the place of the painful stretch seen in the photo of Drew Bledsoe above (1 minute)
  5. Reach to the Top Shelf to lengthen the latissimus and trunk rotators, and coordinate hip movement (1 minute)

View these exercises here. "Reach to the Top Shelf" (seen in the photo above) and "Arch & Curl" can be learned by watching my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.

How To Stretch Without Straining

Traditional stretching routines involve forceful pulling or pushing of muscles.

Traditional stretching routines focus on individual muscles rather than on any pattern or group of muscles. This approach to readying muscles for action can cause muscles to become tighter than they were when you started. What works better than traditional, passive stretching? Pandiculation.

A pandiculation is a conscious, deliberate contraction of a muscle, or muscle group, followed by a slow, controlled lengthening of that muscle - followed by complete relaxation. This intentional sensory feedback wakes up the brain (the command center of the muscular system) so that the brain can reset the muscle length and relax the muscle past its previous point of contraction.

You can pandiculate any traditional stretch and make it a "Somatic Stretch." By this I mean an intentional, mindful contraction of the muscles, followed by a slow lengthening of the muscles. When you pay attention to your movement instead of forcing a tight muscle to relax, you will begin the process of reeducating your muscles.

  • You begin to feel which muscles are involved in the movement (back, quadriceps, hamstrings and quadriceps, etc.)
  • You become more conscious of how far you can comfortably lengthen a muscle
  • You begin to feel how much better your muscle control is
  • You begin to learn which muscles, when working together can be involved in your "stretch" in order to more effectively reset muscle length.
  • You begin to learn how to reverse chronic muscle pain (back, neck, shoulders, hips, feet, etc.)

You can pandiculate any traditional "stretch" for greater effectiveness.

Here's a short video example of how to "stretch without stretching." It is of a traditional stretch that worked better when turned into a pandiculation. The young athlete in the video participated in his team's stretching routine. While he had good overall flexibility, his back and hamstrings were tight. This made static stretching a particularly unpleasant experience for him. He enjoyed the following exercise, however:

[wpvideo 3xulFh9I]

Send me your most troublesome traditional stretches (the ones you keep doing because you're told that they're good for you), and I'll be happy to make a short video showing how you can make them into a pandiculation.

Learn how to stretch without stretching for improved awareness, muscle control and injury prevention - and how to move without pain to get the most out of the activities you love to do!

To learn these methods at home for long term pain relief and increased mobility, visit the Essential Somatics® store.

How to Do A Somatics "Warm Up"

"Programming your brain is more important than strength training and aerobics. Central nervous system programming must never be neglected at all stages of training." – Mel Siff, author of Facts and Fallacies of Fitness

I've been asked how athletes might "warm up" and "cool down" with Hanna Somatics. Hanna Somatics is exactly what Mel Siff refers to in the above quote: it is central nervous system programming, which adds a crucial element to an athlete's typical warm-up: increased sensory motor awareness.

Warm-ups and cool-downs are an important part of both pre-training and pre-competition readiness. Warming up muscles relaxes the fascia around the muscles and increases blood flow and increases sensory awareness to the brain (the command center of the muscles) - when done with attention to the movement. Paying focused attention to a movement affects the central nervous system, which controls your muscles. I've seen people warm up by yanking on their limbs and passively pulling their muscles... all the while chatting with their friend or listening to their iPod. This is not a warm-up.

I teach people to warm up with Somatics incorporating "no-stretch stretching" - otherwise known as pandiculation. Animals pandiculate every time they get up from rest: they put their paws out in front of them and slowly tighten the muscles of their back as they drop their bellies and relax the front of their bodies.

When you pandiculate muscles, you essentially "jump start" the central nervous system and give the brain the opportunity to reset the muscle length through movement. There are many basic Somatic Movements that lengthen and "wake up" the muscles that you will need for just about any sport you want to engage in - from baseball, running, dance, kayaking to weight lifting, high jump or football.  After addressing the core muscles, you can pandiculate specific movements you might need for your specific sport.

The more consistent you are with a daily routine of Somatic movement patterns before your training or competition, the more the brain can teach your muscles to remember how to move, and the easier it will be to prevent injury. These Somatic Movements are similar to the basic drills that every athlete in every sport will repeat daily in order to master the fundamentals of that sport.

Let's take soccer, for example. Here are a few basic movements that address the core muscles:

  1. Arch & Flatten
  2. Arch & Curl
  3. Back Lift
  4. Cross lateral arch and curl
  5. Washrag
  6. Steeple

Soccer players need to be able to pivot and change direction quickly. They need to have a relaxed, yet coordinated core that can move with every kick, stop, and start. Precision in kicking and directing the ball doesn't just come from their feet - it comes from their entire body - the feet, ankles, knees, hips, back and shoulders - coordinating together.

Here's an example of a sports specific movement that a soccer player - or any athlete who needs to be supple in the hips - can do as part of a warm-up:

"Walking" Exercises:

  • Lie on your back with your knees up and feet planted wide apart.
  • Slowly allow the right knee to drop inward toward the left foot. Relax the center of the body to allow the pelvis to rock. The leg and knee drop inward because the back relaxes and the waist lengthens. Notice how, when the knee drops inward, the foot "everts" (turns out). Repeat this 6-8 times.
  • Bring the knee back up to vertical and repeat on the other side: slowly allow the left knee to drop inward toward the right foot. Notice any difference between your ability to relax the left waist, back and pelvis on the left as compared to the right. Notice the connection between the knee dropping in and the foot turning out. Also notice how the left shoulder presses down into the mat as the knee drops inward, the back relaxes and lengthens, and the pelvis rotates. The body is moving as a coordinated whole. Slowly bring the knee back up to vertical. Repeat this 6-8 times.

This movement will help your walking and running by allowing your pelvis to relax and rotate gently as you move.

Anyone can do Somatics - no matter what your activity level or age!

You don't have to be a professional soccer player or even a weekend warrior to make use of these concepts and movements. Do this basic routine before going for a walk or a hike. Notice the difference in your movement. These simple methods will keep you moving pain-free, no matter what your favorite activity is.

If you are an athlete and are interested in learning more, or using Hanna Somatics to increase your performance, contact me directly.  I can create a personalized Somatics warm-up for you that will help you stay on top of your game - or get back into the game if you've been injured. I also offer specialized workshops for both fitness trainers and athletes wanting to learn more about incorporating Somatics Education methods and injury prevention into their training regime.

Fluid Movement = Painless Exercise

Let's talk a bit more about Dr. Vijay Vad and his sensible prescription for pain relief: "exercise, yoga, and other alternative strategies." He also mentioned that "flexibility needs to come first."

Flexibility first... but how?

Flexibility is crucial to keeping muscles and joints in healthy working order, however, Dr. Vad emphasized strengthening exercises and has not given any hints as to how to gain that much needed flexibility.

Accidents, injuries, surgeries, over-training at the gym, and over-stretching in yoga class (among other things) can cause muscles to involuntarily contract. If this happens repeatedly muscles learn to stay involuntarily contracted; this is known as Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), and it is the cause of most muscular pain.

The advice to get back to exercising and strengthen those muscles that are causing pain is putting the cart before the horse. Tight muscles that cause pain are holding tension; they pull on joints, often pulling one's structure out of alignment. If you have back pain, hip pain, neck, shoulder, hip, or even knee pain, the first and most important thing to do is to learn to relax the muscles that are causing your pain.  Then, and only then, should you consider strengthening the muscles.

Hanna Somatic Education is the key

How do you relax your muscles in order to regain flexibility and begin the process of creating a strong, healthy body that is pain-free?  Reeducating the muscles and reminding them of their ability to contract, lengthen, and relax is the best alternative. Hanna Somatic Education teaches this method; you actually learn to reset the muscle's length, making them longer, and more flexible, helping to prevent a repeat injury.

Read more here.

Lengthen the Hamstrings, Touch the Toes

You might notice that the title isn't “stretch your hamstrings, touch the toes.” That’s because using your body weight to try and pull yourself down toward the floor to touch the toes just doesn’t work. Static stretching of your muscles can potentially tighten your hamstrings further if you push past the point of your muscle's present length by sheer force; there's a nifty protective mechanism called the myotatic reflex ("stretch reflex") that prevents you from causing fiber damage to the muscle. When this reflex is invoked, it actually causes the muscle to contract back against the stretch. So if you shouldn't stretch, they how are you supposed to lengthen your muscles? Pandiculation consciously engages your brain to reset your muscles. First you contract, then slowly lengthen, then relax completely, much like a big yawn.

Try this pandiculation in place of your regular "touch the toes" routine:

hamstring-pan1

 

Test out your present range: bend down to touch your toes. Let’s say that you can only get as far as in the photo.

 

 


hamstring-pan2

 

 

Inhale and lift your head, tighten your back, buttocks, and hamstrings ,and lift yourself back up a little. Be aware of tightening those muscle groups in a pattern.

 


hamstring-pan3

Slowly lengthen and release down toward the floor only as far as is comfortable. Then inhale, engage the back, buttocks, and hamstrings, and slowly lift the head again.

 

 


hamstring-pan4

Again, slowly lengthen down toward the floor, only going as far as comfortable. You will notice that it’s easier to go further, as the muscles are being released actively. When you’ve gone as far as you can, lift the head, tighten the back in a bit of an arch, and engage the buttocks and hamstrings.

 


hamstring-pan5

For the last time, slowly and consciously lengthen and release down toward the floor. Look how far you’ve come!

Bend your knees and roll yourself back up to standing. Close your eyes and the different sensations of your back, buttocks, and legs.

 

 

Not only does this variation help to lengthen the hamstrings, but it may also help you find relief from back pain!

Let's All Do What the Animals Do

Moving and lengthening your muscles is not only crucial to maintaining flexibility and muscle health, but it's also second nature to us as humans. However, animals don't stretch and they don't pull muscles and have repetitive strain syndromes. You may be thinking, "Hey, wait a minute. Yes, they do!" But... ...they actually don't. Here's what a stretch looks like:

static-stretch

Here's what animals do:

cat-stretching

What animals do is called pandiculation.  Add to that vigorous, daily, full body movement and you have a recipe for amazing health, agility, awareness, endurance, and strength.  Stretching, on the other hand, is a passive forcing of a muscle, often past the point of comfort. Pandiculation involves sets of muscles that would normally coordinate together, while stretching usually targets one set of muscles in isolation.

If you were to take your favorite stretches and pandiculate them instead, you would get a lot more bang for your buck. Try tightening the muscle you wish to lengthen, then slowly "yawn it out," as if you were just waking up in the morning. Then completely relax. Feels good, doesn't it?