A well-timed stretch feels delicious! It’s the body’s natural remedy and reset button when we’ve been static or tense for too long. Watch any cat or dog on waking and the first thing you’ll see is, forepaws out, belly to the earth, and a gentle shift of the hindquarters extending all four limbs. It may be one of the first sensations you experience in the morning – stretching arms and legs inside warm covers. It may be something you do without thinking throughout the day.
What is flexibility in physical terms?
Simply put, flexibility is about range of motion–specifically, the range of motion around any joint. Range of motion is determined by many factors: The construction of the joint itself (this depends on the type of joint and also varies between individuals) elasticity of the muscles, condition of the fascia or connective tissue, as well as age, injury, and illness. Flexibility is the dynamic relationship between muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments; the relationship between structure, connection and movement.
The mechanics of flexibility reveal a beautifully balanced system of give and take–a delicate opposition designed to maximize range while maintaining form and function.
Flexibility requires extension and contraction, relaxation and engagement. Stretching activates specialized structures inside the muscle fibers that inhibit, to some extent, the reflex to pull back, allowing us to relax into the extension more deeply. At the same time, other structures signal when we approach the limits of safe movement.
Physical flexibility is developed by moving the joints– by opening, extending and closing; and by engaging the muscles to spiral gently outward along the bones. Flexibility depends on a balance of stability and mobility, moving in ways that are fully supported. We increase flexibility by consistently extending toward our limits and exploring the edge without pushing past it. This requires care and attention.
Muscles are designed to stretch; ligaments and tendons…not so much. Stretching too far endangers the stability of the joint, but without enough movement we become rigid and stiff, with a limited range of response. We need both impulses, the desire to extend as well as the wisdom to stay. With time, care and practice- honoring both- the body can develop an astonishingly degree of flexibility.
Sensing the Language of Flexibility
If “sensation is the language of the body“, then the voice of flexibility feels like expansion and elasticity– moving away from the core and returning again energized. Nia ™ describes flexibility as “the sensation of energy moving outward” of “muscles extending along the bones” in a way that feels pleasurable. Flexibility is felt in the body as a balanced state of “Dynamic Ease.”
Sensing flexibility, however, is not necessarily about being limber. This is an important distinction. Sensory awareness is about attention and perception. The point here is not what the movement looks like on the outside as much as what it feels like on the inside. Fluency in this language is gained by learning to stay connected to that awareness moment to moment.
If this sounds a lot like mindfulness practice, you’re right. Bringing attention to a specific quality of sensation is one way to step fully into the present.
Like mindfulness, developing flexibility requires consistency. It won’t be there when we need it, in mind or body, if we don’t engage with it more days than not. Practicing in ways that feel good, increase a sense of joy, playfulness, and purpose, helps to innoculate us against the stress of those times when we need to test our limits in the face of challenge or loss.
This month I invite you to join me in exploring the sensation of flexibility, in all its forms.
We can begin by bringing attention to that quality wherever we encounter it… In nature and in the city, in ourselves and our relationships. In the beautiful collaboration of forces that allows trees to bend, bridges to sway, grass to spring back from under foot– that quality that let’s our fingers reach a little higher, our hearts open a little wider. Let’s stay awake to the many ways we experience the quality of expanding and returning, extending ourselves to discover our own version of full-bodied flexibility.
© 2012 Centerpoint Network LLC
The content on this website is for educational purposes and does not constitute professional advice or treatment for any individual concern or condition. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, psychological or medical treatment. Always consult a physician before engaging in any exercise program.
Nia Technique™ was developed by Debbie Rosas Stewart and Carlos AyaRosas. Nia™, and all related “Nia” trademarks and service marks are owned by NiaTechnique, Inc., and are used here under a limited license.