Somewhere along the line someone came up with the phrase ‘No Pain, No Gain’. When it comes to stretching, we need to let go of this attitude. Stretching is about relaxing and breathing. Of course effort is required, but it should never be painful. A good stretch that results in a ‘Hurts So Good’ feeling is probably about as far as you want to push it.
As you are stretching, try to become aware of the tension throughout your body. Of course you will feel tension in the specific muscle groups that you are stretching, but if you pay attention, you will begin to become aware of other areas where you feel tension. Try to release the tension in these areas by focusing your attention on a specific area and then intentionally relaxing the muscles that are contracting. Use your imagination and your breath. Imagine breathing into the tense area as you inhale. Release the tension by imagining it flowing out of your body as you exhale.
Stretching is about changing a soft tissue physical pattern that you may have been creating and holding for a long period of time, possibly even years. It won’t take you years to change it, but you won’t be able to do it in a single day either. Stretching is like any other area of physical fitness. Change is the result, or accumulative effect, of ‘rhythmic application’ of a technique over a period of time. ‘Rhythmic application’ has to do with the frequency pattern of your stretching sessions. If you choose a frequency pattern such as ‘once-a-day, every other day’, it will take you a certain period of time to accumulate enough results to be able to recognize and experience the changes you have created. If you choose a frequency pattern such as ‘once-a-day, every day’ it will take less time. If you decide to stretch ‘twice-a-day, every day’, you will realize the change even faster.
Other forms of physical training such as cardiovascular fitness training or muscular strength training require some type of recovery period between training sessions. You often hear people describing their training with phrases like, “I run 5-miles, every-other-day”, or “I lift weights 3-times a week… Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” These patterns describe the work/recovery nature of other forms of physical training.
Stretching does not require the same recovery time between sessions, as other forms of training do. In fact, certain types of stretching actually contribute to the recovery and rebalancing of your Muscular System. You can stretch as often as you want to. So, how fast do you want to change the soft tissue pattern that is contributing to your low-back pain, malalignment syndrome, or dysfunctional movement pattern?
On one level, stretching is about changing soft tissue patterns in your body. On another level, it is about changing your pattern of daily life according to the frequency pattern of stretching sessions you choose to pursue. On yet another level, if you choose to become aware of it, you will discover a relationship between mind and body. As you become more flexible physically, you may discover how you are becoming, at the same time, more flexible emotionally and psychologically.
Eventually, your stretching session(s) will become very personalized, or ‘your own’, so to speak. They can become a special time, perhaps something similar to meditation, or a yoga of sorts. As you release tension from your body, you can also release emotional and/or psychological tension from your heart and mind.
Please do not consider your stretching session(s) as just another ‘item’ on your ‘to-do list’ for the day. Your attitudes of ‘attention’ and ‘intention’ during your sessions will have a huge impact on the outcome of your work. You should be focusing your attention ‘in the moment’, in the present. This means that your attention is not in the past or in the future. Anger is often linked to past events. Fear, to the future.
Words like, “Clear, Centered, and Grounded” describe the mode of attention that is best for doing this type of work. If you find yourself upset, worried, angry, or agitated—- talking to yourself, arguing in your head— these are states of mind that are not productive for the activity of stretching. If, or when, you catch yourself in a negative, clouded state of mind , you can release it by focusing on your breathing, especially your exhale. Each time you catch your attention in the wrong place shift your focus to your breathing.
Your intention should be about becoming aware of tension and tightness in your body, and then utilizing your stretching techniques to release it. Your intention should also be about taking an active role in the responsibility for your own health and well being. You have the power to break unhealthy patterns of soft tissue imbalance in your own body, and also to create new patterns of balance and health.