The Fear of Flexibility

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It’s funny how things can relate to one another without an obvious common denominator.

I have been reading Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Relax Into Stretch and learned something very interesting about flexibility. Just that stretching doesn’t work to make you flexible or prevent injuries, but generally speaking the benefits of stretching are very short term. Of course, this general blanket statement I am making doesn’t apply to various forms of stretching and Pavel goes into great length to explain the what and the why behind stretching. If you look at extremely flexible people in avenues like yoga, dance, gymnastics, what is not obvious to the average audience is that their respective practitioners are applying a form of strength under load. Their muscles are contracted and strong, yet they reach an amazing range of motion.

Now, for a change of perception, picture a stocky, short and very powerful looking Olympic lifter. At first sight, he may look like a spark plug or a cannonball. Watch him snatch twice his bodyweight and hold the position. Most people have a hard time doing it with a broomstick! That’s precisely what I am referring to: flexibility is a matter of strength.

In Relax Into Stretch, Pavel describes how flexibility is a matter of your own perception. If you feel you cannot go into full splits, you certainly will not be able to. Yet, under total anesthesia, your body is able to achieve levels of flexibility unknown to you (because your brain is not sending you signals of fear) which, once awake, you go back to where you were. The concept of “relaxing into stretch”, also referred to as “forced relaxation” has to do with the inhibition reflex, or the body’s response to protecting itself from something you fear, by “coiling’ or shortening a muscle that is not used to have a certain demand place upon it. If you engage the muscles you are trying to stretch, the fear is dissipated by the muscular contraction. Holding the position/contraction ends up relaxing you (even if it fatigues the muscle) and as you release the contraction, your muscle, now relieved, can eek out an extra centimeter or two (or an inch for those of you unfamiliar with the metric system!).

This perception/fear response brings me to another topic, unrelated be it for the idea of perception.

Relax into Stretch
Instant Flexibility Through Mastering Muscle Tension

Perception is in your mind, in your brain. Perceive something as hard, it will be hard. When you look at the picture below, what do you see?

I had two different conversations with two different women who have experienced unpleasant situations with the men in their life. One ended up filing a restraining order against her ex, the other is in a very unhealthy relationship she is afraid of coming out of. In his book The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence, Gavin De Becker talks about how we dull our sense of fear, or basic survival instinct, which normally triggers a fight, flight, freeze or faint response. Hopefully, for your survival you pick one of the first two! Seriously, though, how one handles a situation has to do with one’s perception of it. If you are repeating a pattern of abuse from childhood, it may be hard to break from it in your adult social life. What you perceive as being normal is skewed. If you deal with a person who is an abuser (but you yourself have no such past trauma), the easiest way to deal with it is to ignore it, for instance, when it comes to stalking (responding only elicits further action from the stalker). Of course, you create a paper trail and contact the authorities or experts like Mr De Becker, read the book for a better understanding of what I am only providing a trailer for 🙂

“Fear is the mindkiller” is a quote the mentat Piter De Vries utters in Dune. Perception is in the mind. The fear response from your body as you stretch your muscles inhibits full range of motion. As you contract the muscles, you take away the fear and by releasing or relieving the contraction, your relaxed muscle goes deeper into the stretch. In survival situations, fear triggers the ability to perform astonishing feats of strength that we otherwise dull on a daily basis by living in constant fear or stress. We also allow ourselves to live in unhealthy patterns simply because we are familiar with them. To individual growing up abused, their sense of normalcy is skewed. Change the perception by changing the action. Break the pattern.

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