It is interesting that the world of modern science seems somewhat wowed by the fact that the body and mind may be connected; interesting because our brain is simply an organ like any other but just happens to be responsible for our sense of consciousness. Our nervous system transmits messages from our brain to the rest of our body and back again via nerves and so, when we feel dread (real or imagined), our physical body responds automatically in a physical way. We might sweat, our heart might race, we may tense our jaw and other muscles, blink more than normal, find we have a dry mouth, tingles, churning stomach…Any of these seem familiar?
Anyway, bearing in mind how much tension some of us carry around with us and how many issues lots of us have with overly tight muscles, the point of this post is to offer one idea of how to trick your nervous system that you may not be aware of.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love to move quickly through a choreographed yoga or dance sequence – who doesn’t? -but, if the body is tense or cold, or we are not quite so accomplished, we are far more likely to pull a muscle. When this happens it’s due to what is known as “the stretch reflex”. This means that, for whatever reason, your nervous system has sensed danger, so it quickly shortens the muscle to prevent over stretch and you end up with a boring old injury that takes lots of money and time to get over!
The other issue is that many of us believe in the silly mantra “no pain, no gain”, but actually, pain is a warning from your nervous system that something is wrong. When it comes to “stretching” (I really prefer to call it lengthening…), that intense, horrible feeling of overwhelm is your muscle trying to shorten – or maybe it already has and you keep trying to take it into a lengthened position and causing more damage… Anyhoo, the point is, the nervous system is sensing danger and trying to resist your efforts. This may mean you are consciously /unconsciously inducing a fight or flight response (potentially limiting the ability of your organs to work efficiently or at the very least, the ability of the injury to heel).
So, the trick to lengthening muscles WITHOUT over stretching in order to get a result without pain or angst, is to trick your nervous system by moving SLOWLY into a lengthened muscle position*. From there, maybe you use a gentle amount of “force” (I prefer to call this “assistance”), preferably with resistance (another way of tricking the NS into releasing a tight muscle).
I’ve shared this Bruce Lee video because although some people think Tai Chi, Qi Gong or slower yoga can be a bit boring, it’s important to understand that most of the moves are based on martial arts moves but done a lot more slowly. This is what we need in the beginning in order to reconnect on a deeper level with our entire being. Listen to him! He was wise and amazing so try and see it this way; power takes patience and focus – and that has nothing to do with brawn, it’s a total mind-set.
*It’s why we rarely pull our muscles walking – provided we are warm – but generally feel more supple afterwards.