Lets Talk Stretch! Mobility vs. Flexibility
I was once told that the length of a muscle is as long as it ever was and as long as it every will be?! What?! Is that true?
This got me thinking. I joke that when I started yoga I was both weak and tight….I really had nothing going for me (except willingness) but after 20 years of practice I know I developed some flexibility at least. So what’s the deal, if muscles don’t actually get “longer” how come I can now touch my toes when I once couldn’t?
Essentially there are 2 types of stretch; the type of stretch that moves point A from point B, as in a rubber band stretching away from itself. And the second type of ‘stretch’ that actually gets longer and creates a safe and different expression of ‘end range’.
Both types of stretch have different mechanisms for capacity and limitation. In other words, the reason you can reach as far as you can now vs before (capacity) and why it is you stop where you do (limitation).
The type of stretch in example A where I simply move point A from point B would be an example of stretching through the inherent elasticity of a muscle (the, “its as long as it ever will be” concept). Muscles are meant to be pliable, elastic, so that we can reach for that item and ‘bounce’ back to hold our bones and body together. This is our capacity.
But I think what we are all looking for (especially in yoga) is length that will stay! We want a sense of ease, expansiveness and fluidity in the body that the ‘bounce back’ limits. This is the limitation. Muscles are stabilizing! Add to this fascial adhesions (scar tissue), life style patterns (sitting all day) and inhibited neuromuscular response (think deep core and gluts) and what you get is a feeling of stiffness, tightness, a lack of mobility and often pain from compensation in other areas. Yikes!
When we look at the second example, “length that gets longer and stays that way”; we start to see length as a concept of Mobility rather than Flexibility (moving A from B).
Mobility is essentially the Ability to Move the way we want to and it does something for us that flexibility cant do: it trains the muscles to stay at greater and greater ranges of motion.
How does this happen? Neuromuscular response, both within the muscle and within the surrounding muscle. Neuromuscular response works 2 fold:
Mind Body connection: Having returned to the same stretch again and again over time, the brain/muscle connection starts to understand it is “safe” in this new found position and eventually will let go. ‘Softening into’ allows the nervous system to relax around the stretch, can stretch fascia webbing and loosening the body. Range can be gained but may be lost depending on which pattern is greater.
NeuroMuscular connection: Activating the synergist and assistive muscular around the stretch will tell the muscle that it doesn’t have to do all the work anymore and that it is supported in going farther. A great example of this is the way the body is essentially wanting to work synergistically. When the opposing muscles or supportive muscles are working together then the extending (or stretching) muscle have a tendency to ‘let go’ into that support or movement.
So look for the way different parts of the body may have ‘fallen’ asleep or turned off and see if you can invite them to the party. Start to think about Mobility (the ability) vs Flexibility and open into working from a whole system activation. Your body as well as your mind will feel supported, expansive and excited to grow and open in new and amazing ways :)
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