Summary: Learn what muscles can and cannot do and experience a motion to immediately release muscle tension without stretching.
- [00:00] Introduction
- [00:44] The theme of Season Two
- [01:38] Stretching in my life
- [06:30] Fibromyalgia diagnosis
- [07:20] A decision
- [09:20] Myth One: Muscles Stretch
- [11:17] Hanna Somatics and Feldenkrais
- [12:40] Intro to the motion
- [13:15] The motion
- [17:49] Recap
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Hello, friends and welcome to Move into Resilience! I’m your host Pamela Stokes. Today we’re beginning season 2. In season 2, I have a theme. I’m going to help dispel any kinds of limiting beliefs that you may have about aspects having to do with movement and your body your mind and your health. In today’s episode we’ll be learning about what muscles can and cannot do, and we’ll experience a motion that will help you to really understand this and get it in your body. So let’s get into it.
Hello, my friends. Pamela here. Thanks for joining me. I’m starting this season (new season) with a series of shows/episodes that all relate to one theme. And that theme is that I’m trying to change some of the limiting beliefs that we may have. Things that have been taught to us, perhaps incorrectly. Things that have been accepted as truths. And a way to look at things in a different way, perhaps to support some of the movements that we’ll be learning and also to support your optimal wellbeing. So today’s episode I’d like to talk about stretching. And I’ll go into a little bit of my back story so you can get to know me a little bit better. And then we will do a motion and you will feel the truth about stretching and how it is something that I would like to dispel the validity of.
I have a background in dance. It began as a background in gymnastics. When I was six, I saw a group of people come to my school and do flips in the air as a demonstration to get more people to come to the gym. And I thought, wow, I really want to do that! So I joined gymnastics. When I was in gymnastics, I was competitive. I learned the routines for the competitions and I was competing in all levels of in all areas: the floor and beam and bars and vault. When I was doing gymnastics, I found that I had a lot of pain, and one of the things that our instructor, our coach, did for us was he brought in a dance instructor so that we could get better at our floor exercise routines, which is the more dance-y kind of part of gymnastics. And this dance instructor would teach us little mini classes. And after I experienced this I was like, OK, this is pretty nice. This doesn’t hurt so much. So I decided actually to check out of the world of gymnastics. Anyway I had already grown pretty tall so it really wasn’t working for me anymore at age 11. And I switched over to dance. And with dance I found that I had a natural rhythm–probably came through my mother because she could play piano by ear. And so this natural rhythm helped me with my dance and also I was able to excel right away, but I was still in the mode of stretching. This was part and parcel of being a dancer was you come into the studio you set yourself down on the floor and you start stretching, even before the class begins. And during the class there’s a stretching period, so there’s a lot of stretching going on. So this was normal for me in gymnastics also normal for me in dance. And being the personality type that I had, or I should say probably the survival mechanism or coping mechanism that I had, I was bit of a perfectionist and I would push myself too far into these stretches. And oftentimes would stretch the muscles too far and have a lot of pain. So where gymnastics was painful, dance was less painful, except for pointe shoes–not my favorite. And anyway so that was another component of my life, another part of my life was this stretching and this pain. And I actually moved to New York City when I was 17 to dance and I did. And I got to dance with a lot of people on Broadway. I didn’t actually perform on Broadway, but I was dancing in the studio where they trained these Broadway dancers. It was a pretty great experience for me, but I did decide, I don’t think I want to be a professional dancer. It’s too iffy as far as the work and so forth.
I at that point did quit dancing as much as I did. I still took classes occasionally but what I found was yoga. And yoga was helpful for me to keep my body moving and to keep it lithe but it also had the mindfulness component. And I did yoga for many many years regularly. And in fact I ended up teaching both kids and adults yoga for many years. But what I was finding again with this little perfectionism piece about myself, I was finding that I was still pushing myself to stretch rather than finding the repose within the pose. That was one of the things my instructor taught me, that phrase. “Find the repose within the pose”. And so when I wasn’t finding the repose and in fact pushing myself too far, I was also having some pain with that so again with the pain.
So what I’m getting to now is fast forward a little bit here to the place where I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I had had a lot of pain in my hips. So much so to the point where we lived in a hilly area and I could not go up the hill easily. So when I went to the doctor and I said, OK, do you know what’s going on? She tested me out and said you’ve got fibromyalgia. I had trouble sleeping. I had trouble just really functioning well. And she said, well, I guess you can’t walk uphill and here’s a prescription. Basically, not a lot of support except to just say this is what you have and you’re going to be, this is what is going to be happening for you.
It was at a point when I made a decision. I said, you know, I’ve had enough of this pain. I want to do something different. Something needs to be different here. And so I got on the Internet and looked around and was furiously looking for something that would help me with this pain. I found a small video that showed something and it said something about don’t stretch, stretching is wrong. And I thought, oh, you know, maybe that’s the key here. I’ve been stretching my whole life. So I found that what he was what he was teaching was something called Hannah Somatics. And I came to learn that Hannah Somatics is an offshoot of Feldenkrais–the Feldenkrais Method. And I’ll have links for all this stuff. The Hanna Somatics practitioner that I found near my house was available and so I went over to see him and I told him about my plight. He did a little observation; got me on his table–the physical therapy table–and did one motion with me. One particular motion that within minutes my hip pain was gone. Eliminated. And I said, Oh my goodness, this is amazing. I need to learn as much as I can about this. And I brought it to my family; I brought it to my friends; I started teaching it to other people that I didn’t even know well, because I was just so excited about it. And this became the beginning of my bodywork practice, not only for myself but also professionally. And Hannah Somatics and Feldenkrais both are based on the concept of muscles don’t stretch.
And that is our first myth. I’m kind of a Myth Buster in these, in this series, in this season, that muscles don’t stretch. So there’s a fact. Muscles do one thing. They contract. That’s it. So if a muscle isn’t contracted, it’s just sitting there. It’s just released. It’s its normal length status. So it can only contract. And then the regular status without the contraction, we could call that released or just regular. Regular muscle length. When we try to stretch, when we stretch a muscle, what we’re actually doing is pulling it beyond its ability to be, to exist in that state. What happens is the muscle fibers tear apart. We get small tears in these muscles and it hurts. The other thing that happens besides the small tearing, these little microtears or bigger tears if you do it strenuously. But the problem with these microtears, not only the pain, but there’s also continual healing that needs to happen. And sometimes a little bit of scar tissue forms. And so the muscles end up not being even as long as they were. The other thing that happens when you stretch a muscle is it will snap back. And when it snaps back, it will go right back to where it was originally, and sometimes even further. So it’s kind of trying to get away from the stretch that you’re doing. Muscles don’t stretch–they don’t stretch.
So what I wanted to do today besides educating you on this concept that muscles don’t stretch, is to show you using one of the motions from Hannah Somatics/Feldenkrais so that you will experience what I’m saying and you’ll really feel that it’s true. Muscles don’t stretch. If we want to use one of these motions to let’s say extend the ability or increase the ability to turn our head left and right, we can use this concept of muscles don’t stretch. They only contract and release. We can use this concept and do a little motion that will help to soften the muscles around the neck. And the reason why I chose the neck is because I know a lot of people struggle with neck pain. I did a previous episode where I focused on neck pain, and we did a motion there, but this one is going to be a little bit different. That episode I will give you links for that as well. And this one is going to focus on releasing the muscles so that you can easily turn your head.
So let’s go ahead and begin. Please join in. What I’d like you to do is to start by either sitting or standing, and have your head facing front. And then what I’d like you to do, we’re just going to do a little measurement first, is I’d like you to turn your head comfortably. And we don’t want to have any pain here. This is really important. We don’t want to have any pain in the movement. We also don’t want to have any stretch, because again muscles don’t stretch. They tear. So we want to go to a comfortable position of turning your head.
So let’s go ahead and start by turning the head to the right and to just see how far comfortably easily you can go without any tension. So just comfortably far and kind of register that by noticing on the side wall near you, how far you can see. OK. And then come back to your neutral position. OK now what we’re going to do is we’re going to turn our head one more time, but we’re going to separate our eyes from the movement. So keep your eyes centered, looking straight ahead. And then we’re going to turn the head again to the right, keeping the eyes facing forward. OK. And now will turn the head back to center, so the eyes basically didn’t move–the view from your eyes didn’t change, the eyes actually did move in your head. I know it’s sort of weird because your head was turning but not your eyes, but they were. So anyway what we did was we separated, we differentiated the eye movement from the head movement. And this is important because what we notice is when the eyes and the head move together this becomes a patterned movement. So now that we’ve separated them let’s try that again. Now we’re going to turn the head and the eyes both to the right and see how far you go comfortably. And you may notice that you are able to turn your head a little bit further to the right than you were before, and this is because we have separated the movement of the eyes from the movement of the head and allowed the muscles to respond in their own way, rather than being this patterned movement of eyes and head together. So just that simple thing can release the tension in the muscles in the neck let’s go ahead and balance this out by doing it the other direction. So again, facing forward with your head and eyes. And we’re going to turn both the head and the eyes to the left this time. And just go as comfortably as far as you can go. Comfortably, no stretch no pain. Alright. So let’s try that together. Here we go, turning the head to the left with the eyes coming along, and then just see how far you go comfortably without any pain, without any stretch, just a comfortable distance. And then note how far your head has turned by noticing something on the side wall that you can remember. And then go ahead and turn your head back to center, coming back to neutral. And now we’re going to separate the eyes–differentiate the eyes–from the neck and the head movement. So keeping the eyes now straight forward, turn your head to the left and go as comfortably far as you can, keeping your eyes ahead, looking ahead. And then undo that and coming back to center. OK, take a break here. Take a breath. And then try turning your head and eyes again to the left and just see how far you go. Again we don’t want to have any pain or stretch. And then you can come back to center. So this simple movement of separating the eyes from the head turning, again what we’re undoing is the pattern that has been put into place–our normal pattern of turning the head and the eyes together by separating the eye movement from the head movement. Now we have a little bit bigger mobility and range of motion in the head, in head turning. So we haven’t done any stretching. All we’ve done is release the tension that was there in that patterned movement. Pretty amazing.
So to tie all this together. One more time: muscles do not stretch. They are not built to stretch. They will tear or at best they will just snap back. We can release the length of a muscle. We can release the tension in the muscle, and thereby getting it to elongate but we cannot stretch a muscle. It just doesn’t work. And we were able to show a way that, by separating the eyes from the head movement, we can get a little bigger range of motion in the neck. And by doing that we are softening those muscles there in the neck. No stretch involved. No pain. So that’s what we have for today. I thank you so much for joining me and thank yourself for doing this too. You can find out more at Move Into Resilience.com. I’m Pamela Stokes. Take it easy.