Jules Mitchell

My 20 Favorite Moments from Season One (Part 2)

56237885_1824693367_zMore! More! So many more jewels! I won’t bore you with an intro- you get the idea. I am sharing my favorite 20 moments from season one- courtesy of these gorgeous people who shared their wisdom with all of us. Part one of that post (with 1 through 10) is here. Other learnings from season one are here. And... 11 through 20 is…. Here! 11. Dissociation, or a limited/confused body map, is often the root cause of pain. Steve Haines: “The sense of being outside of our body is a common theme actually... people don’t know that there is this much richer experience of the body. It’s really not a given. People with pain commonly have more of this kind of dissociation. Dissociation comes first likely due to the responses to being overwhelmed..Dissociation is a last ditch survival strategy, and often the root cause of more pain.

Your brain is expecting you to have a body, so if we’re beginning to cut ourselves off from that, if we’re flooding bits of the spinal cord with endorphins to limit the incoming signals, then you’ve got a big absence. And the absence of something when your brain is expecting it to be there is a threat. It may be that we fill that absence with pain to say, ‘Do something about this.’”

12. “We are an under-grieved society” Oof. When Judith Hanson Lasater said this to me it just pierced right through me. Cleary it’s because I had stuff to grieve, but it’s also because on a larger society-wide scale she’s right. Perhaps it pierced through you too? : “We all experience loss in tiny ways every day. When people have a loss in their lives we try to fix that and say, ‘Don’t be sad. Here take this drug, or let’s go for a run…’ depression follows from that. Depression is anger without enthusiasm. Depression is not feeling sad. People who can feel sadness are deeply alive, because it’s an intense feeling that balances joy.

There is something spiritually profound about being still and watching your mind. Most of our unhappiness is not created by what happens to us but by what we tell ourselves about it. With Restorative Yoga you create a space to watch the rising and falling of thoughts. And then the most important thing we can do can happen- we can dis-identify with our thoughts, ‘I am having a thought of anger, a thought of sadness, but it’s not who I am.’”

13. Redesigning your life to be less convenient can have huge benefits. Valerie Berg, in talking about structural aging and the shoulder pain and immobility that can result from not raising your arms above our heads mentioned, “Years ago I had my kitchen redone and I had them make the cabinets really high, so every day I have to reach really high to get bowls and things.” I love that! We should start a design movement around objects that make life less convenient and therefore make us move more... who’s with me? (P.S. I know Valerie in the real world- not super well but we’ve been in the same place at the same time together- and she is one of the most sparkly personalities. It’s like she’s always got some secret she is delighted by, or some fun-loving prank she might pull at any moment. So to picture her telling a kitchen designer/contractor that she wanted to make it hard for her to reach her things in the cabinets just gave me a special kind of giggle and satisfaction.)

14. Oh fascia. Why won’t anyone give you the cred you deserve? Fortunately for us people like Thomas Myers are on the case. And he’s spreading the concept of fascia as the 3rd big auto-regulatory system: “So I’ve put forth this idea that the fascia is the 3rd big auto-regulatory system. The nervous system is an amazing auto-regulatory system, and circulatory system ever since the 1600′s has been seen as just that- we add in the lymph and the cerebrospinal fluid and we have an idea of how the fluids work in the body.

After 500 years of anatomy we still don’t have this image of the fascia as a whole system. Every time I go to Equinox in NY I see someone on a foam rolling out their iliotibial band. It’s really of limited value, and it’s really quite painful, and if someone could see this as a part of this larger system they might not do it- but the predominating vision in a lot of people’s minds is that we think of ourselves as put together like a Ford or a Dell computer. We live in an industrial society, and so we think of ourselves in these terms. But it’s a really inadequate view.

15. Let’s examine the openness bias, shall we? Matthew Remski: “The openness bias- of flexibility as the goal- is harmful not only to those who are hypermobile, but also to those who are less mobile as well. The studio culture often tells us that more open is more virtuous. Those who identify as “bendy types” were praised for going deep into poses which weren’t really hard for them. And as they were being asked to demonstrate and practicing they were injuring themselves. Women within the hypermobile category are showing the highest rate of lumbar spine injuries.

The other thing about the openness bias is that there is this unspoken connection between joint mobility and emotional openness. Looking at back-bends: when called heart-opening, it suggests that a particular thoracic movement will have a particular emotional effect. Openness in the joints is often associated with an ability to be placid and accepting. First, are these virtues we actually want? And second, is that actually true? I don’t have statistics, but I’ve met plenty of bendy people who are as emotionally closed as anybody else I know.

16. What the hell is stretching anyway!? Jules Mitchell totally blew my mind when the work she did for her Master’s Thesis confirmed what I had been experiencing my whole life: “The concept of stretching in itself, at least in the yoga community, this idea that if you stretch more and stretch harder that it will get longer and you will increase your range and you will get more flexible has very little truth to it. In reality that’s just damaging it [the tissue]. If you hold a rubber band and stretch it, then you release that- you release the load- it goes back to its original shape.

Lack of range of motion is not realty about lengthening. It’s much more an issue of tolerance. It’ s a use it or lose it thing. If you never work in that range of motion your body doesn’t understand it and doesn’t want to go there.

So your nervous system limits your range of motion. That argument is the hardest one to come to terms with- that for the most part range of motion is an issue of tolerance and not mechanical length. “Tolerance” means can they go there? When they hit the end of their range, that’s their nervous system limiting their range. If they were under anesthesia, they would have a full range of motion.”

17. Compression doesn’t just make your back feel cranky. Eric Goodman: “The modern body is super compressed- we are losing the war against gravity terribly. What about the digestive issues, the depression, the mood issues- these are just other forms of compression.”

18. The wolf and the Chihuahua. I asked Erwan LeCorre, “What are zoo humans?” And he responded, “It is a metaphor. Some people are insulted by it- a different metaphor would be that we’re farm animals, or domesticated animals. We’re a little bit like pets. All dog species come from the wolf, which means the Chihuahua and the wolf are related. The Chihuahua would die within hours or days in a wild environment. We are fabricating a form of a “human breed”. We are to our ancestors what the Chihuahua is to a wolf. It’s not about giving people a hard time- but it’s an observation that most people have become alien to the body and are in a state of physical neglect.”

19. A return to head carrying? Esther Gokhale, “Head carrying is something we are not doing at all in our culture. We are really missing out from not doing this. If you have to carry on your head it keeps the rest of your spine honest. You get immediate feedback and you have to straighten out. Putting a small weight on the head is the best way to line things up. It is a very primal experience. All the stabilizers in your neck and spine say, “We know this!” and gear into action. “

20. Can you re-visit your infancy to get super strong as an adult? Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert of Original Strength enlightened us about the bridge between movement and brain development, and how we’re actually regressing our brain development in our under-moving culture. Tim and Geoff developed their work by looking at information that had been previously been applied in the areas of learning disabilities, brain development, and brain rehabilitation.

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As always, I am hugely grateful to all the smarties who have shared their work and passion with all of us. Thank you. This is the end of my indulging in nostalgia for season one (well in print anyway), and season 2 will arrive on (Liberated) Tuesday, April 21st. Yes! For reals! More nuggets of wisdom!

Additionally, April is a challenge- aka movement cleanse- month for us, so if you have been curious to try out the Liberated Body 30-Day Challenge, there just isn’t a better season (in my opinion) to dive in than glorious springtime. And if you have been a challenger in the past, you’re still in and can rejoin the group for fun kinesthetic exploring again. If you have no idea what I’m talking avbout of course, you can visit the challenge page to read up on all the details. Doors open this Saturday the 28th. Let’s play this April!

image by Leo Reynolds

Sayonara Short Hamstrings (LBP 021)

short-hamstrings-fullToday's episode is a collection of my favorite outtakes from the interviews I did for the Liberated Body Guide to Short Hamstrings. Yes, I have been working on it for months, and many of you good and kind people have gotten in touch to ask when it was going to be ready and the answer is... today! Today is the day it greets the world! For real. Phew.

So for this podcast episode you will get to hear from four of the experts that I gathered together for the interviews in the guide:

  • Jules Mitchell who is a Master's of Science Candidate in Exercise Science (biomechanics) who wrote her thesis on the science of stretching. (We also did a full podcast episode on her research in case you missed it which is here.

  • Dr. Dawn McCrory who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Yoga Tune Up® teacher

  • Jillian Nicol who is a Restorative Exercise Specialist

  • Rachel Bernsen who is an Alexander Technique teacher

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Show notes

Brooke Thomas (BT): Before we listen to their nuggets of wisdom, just a word on why of all things short hamstrings come first in what is going to be a library of guides that are going to be dedicated to helping people to live more happily in their bodies.

I had a birth injury when I was born- a cord strangulation- the very short version of that story is that I grew up with a variety of physical and neurological issues so I grew up in a really uncomfortable body. One of the issues that plagued me were mercilessly rigid, short, tight, unyielding hamstrings.I was not the kind of kid whose body would just do what I told it to do.

It took me until I was about 30 to get them to budge. So it was actually pretty deep into my own process of rehabilitating my own body which started around age 22 ish- so it was not the first thing to change. I so wish I had known why they were so stubborn and how I could have actually affected them, I would have avoided a lot of years of painful stretching that accomplished nothing and made them even shorter actually.

As I've written about the issue on Liberated Body and in some of my articles on Breaking Muscle I have discovered that I am very much not alone. I always knew from my Rolfing practice that tight hamstrings were a common complaint for people, but as I've started writing for wider audiences I have discovered just how much short hamstrings are a plague upon our people.

"Our people" being contemporary people who do weird things with our bodies, and perhaps most significantly, don’t do many of the nourishing things our bodies need. I’ll touch on some of that in these audio clips coming up, but suffice it to say, the need for some good lovin for bound up hamstrings seemed direly needed.

My first outtake is a clip of my conversation with Jules Mitchell. You may remember Jules from the podcast episode I did with her where we talked about her science of stretching research. after that podcast interview we talked even MORE after that specifically about the hamstring problem. much of the research she was reading and evaluating was on the hamstrings, so she really got to know what does and does not work. She encountered some really surprising things in her research. The kinds of things that caused her to call into question so much of what she had been told about how stretching worked as a yoga teacher. In this particular clip she gets into what I refer to as the emergency brake pattern in the guide (oh yes, there are a few different hamstrung types!). Or she really describes why it’s the nervous system that is the limiter of yoru movement, and so passive stretching isn’t going to help things out very much, and she also touches on the importance of strength work at full ranges of motion. Here’s Jules.

Jules Mitchell (JM): Passive stretching is not going to be super helpful. The idea that if you stretch your short hamstrings they will get longer is not supported by the literature. It’s unlikely that the muscle is too short. We do increase muscle length by increasing sarcomeres longitudinally, and we do decrease them- they get shorter when we hold at a shorter position like bent knees. But it’s not significant enough to notice changes in range of motion. The science shows that just 30 minutes a day of not having your knees bent would prevent hamstring shortening. So it’s very unlikely that any loss of sarcomere length would impede your hamstring length.

JM: So the stretching is not going to make it longer. The passive stretching will simply increase your ability to withstand the sensation, or what they call tolerance. So there is some benefit, but it’s not as much as people anecdotally tell their clients it is. What really makes a difference is strengthening at different ranges of motion.

BT: So if I’m the person at home listening to this and I’m thinking that I can’t pick stuff up off the floor because my hamstrings are so tight, why is that the case?

JM: As they are bending over, their sensory receptors fire. As their body goes into this position those receptors get a stretch and send a message to the nervous system and the nervous system says, “Wait, if you go down that far I’m not sure you’ll be able to get up. I don’t remember the last time we were in that position.” So the nervous system is the limiter. And it’s the limiter for good reason. It’s controlling the tension and saying it won’t lengthen anymore. “This is where we’re going to stay because we trust it.” So if you can get stronger in those ranges of motion then the nervous system will allow you to go further over time as it begins to trust these new joint positions.

BT: If I want to get my nervous system communicating in a different way, and if I want to get stronger in different ranges of motion what would that look like?

JM: It would look like a lot of hamstring strengthening, so a lot of the traditional things like lunges and squats and the things we’ve been telling people for years. When people have this limited range of motion, we’re not strong enough there so we’re going to compensate elsewhere. Look at your typical squat, I’m not strong enough in my hamstrings, so I’m going to bend forward in the spine so I don’t have to do this work in the hamstrings. Look at the person’s limit and then increase contractility; you can even do that isometrically. So that person is now powerful at that joint range of motion.

BT: So we need to think less about stretching as the answer and strength being the answer.

JM: Yeah. As a yoga teacher, if you look at all those standing poses that’s what they’re designed to do. If we go to those poses- or even the classical fitness poses like dead lifts, if we look at them in the context of strength instead of flexibility you’ll see more gains.

BT: I know you are an advocate for incremental change, so before people start doing 800 lunges before bed, can you speak to that a bit?

JM: You really have to be responsible for your own loading history. You wouldn’t go to the gym and pick up a 300 lb dumbbell. Start moderate and conservatively increase the volume. We aren’t patient enough. It takes time to develop ranges of motion and strength. Connective tissue remodeling is a 2 to 3 year process. We go to the gym and in 2 or 3 weeks we see muscle tissue develop and we think that the body develops that fast. But the collagen fibers take about 2 to 3 years to remodel. Any of the instantaneous stuff is transient. It concerns me that we see results in our clients or ourselves and we think, “Wow look at that progress!”,  and it’s just a temporary response involving the nervous system and muscle tone. I don’t mean to be discouraging, but I want people to know it’s a long term dedicated process. So we have to be patient.

BT: Next up I am talking with Dr. Dawn McCrory, a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Yoga Tune Up® teacher. In this clip she talks about things to rule out. She also talks about posture, and how what you do all day is the most important part of rehabilitating your hamstrings (or anything). In this clip she also mentions stretching, and since I can’t get to the whole interview I just wanted to point out that first of all she doesn't do passive stretching with people, in the interview she talks abot how that is ineffective and why, she emphasized that she never does stretching with people until she’s gone over a lot of alignment and posture issues, and she also never does stretching without fascial release work first, because studies are showing how much more effective that is. Oh and we have a good long talk about waht Jules mentioned as well, about how the nervous system is the limiter of your range, and what I call in the guide the "emergency brake pattern".

BT: One my goals in all of the guides is that people understand that there are no local problems. It's not like your hamstrings are the problem. If you are somebody listening to this, are there some common things to look at? You mentioned the core, particularly transversus weakness, and gluteal weakness, and are there other things to look at?

Dr. Dawn McCrory (DM): A lot of it comes down to posture, but there are two big things to rule out. One is a neural tension issue- disc issues, nerve entrapment, or sciatic issue. That usually shows up unilaterally- on one side. You also want to rule out any pelvis rotation or sacral torsions, again, especially if it’s on one side. You definitely need to rule out neural tension issues.

DM: Other than that you really need to look at your posture, not just in standing. Especially that anterior tilt posture, or something that looks like that, with your hips thrust forward and a tucked under pelvis and a sway back. Also in sitting, especially prolonged sitting. People tend to slump, and when you slump you are in a posterior tilt, so the hamstrings are shortened,  and when you’re sitting your knees are also bent, so you are putting a hamstring in a fairly shortened position. If you are doing this all day there is no way you can expect to lengthen if you are going to stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. Paying attention to the way you sit, how long you sit, changing your positions…

DM: If you’re not going to work on your posture, you might as well forget about stretching or doing anything else. That’s my opinion, because what you do all day long is going to influence your body way more than spending 10 or 15 minutes stretching.

BT: Following up on that I'm talking with Jillian Nichol who is a really nice complement to what Dr. Dawn was just saying because she is a Restorative Exercise Specialist. She will be describing that in this clip, but it is very much about what is your daily movmeent life made up of and how it that affecting your patterns.Jillain was also gracious enough to give 4 videos to the guide specifically abut these issues of posture an dalignment- the how of moving your body. Are you movingi n ways that keep your hamstrings from having any ability to understand what appropriate hamstring length might be?

BT: Can you define for everyone listening what Restorative Exercise is?

(Jillian Nicol) JN: There are a lot of different ways to define it. Basically what it is is a set of movements that you can do to help put your body back into alignment. There’s one alignment for the human skeleton that allows it to function best without your parts wearing out too soon. Alignment is different than posture. Posture is how your body looks, alignment is how your body moves through space over time. RES also teaches you what’s putting your body out of alignment as well. If you’re not removing the habits that are messing up your body in the first place you’re still having trouble. We’ll teach you what it is that’s happening in your day-to-day life that is causing these misalignments. Things like footwear choices, how much you’re sitting, how are sitting, how are you standing, how are you walking, how much are you walking? The quality and quantity of your movement that you have when you’re not exercising plays a huge role.

JN: I was stretching and working out for a year and a half, I plateaued and wasn’t getting better, my stomach wasn’t getting “flatter”. I felt like I was doing all my exercises, but I was sitting on my couch at night.

BT: For those who don’t know, because you mentioned Katy earlier, Restorative Exercise was developed by Katy Bowman [she was interviewed on the podcast in last week's episode] who is a biomechanist. To recap some fundamentals of the RES approach: alignment- what’s optimal for the human body, and alignment is not posture, how environment and environmental things like footwear and couches, etc. And environment like living in a culture we don’t walk.

JN: It's sad.

BT: Right I know!

BT: Last but not least, here’s a little hamstrings insight from Rachel Bernsen who is a teacher of the Alexander Technique. She gets into a couple of key patterns at either end of the hamstrings- butt gripping and knee locking- and how they affect hamstring lenght and create an inability for the hamstrings to "take a deep breath". She also gives nice insight into how Alexander approaches thing generally in the body. She talks about how uncomfortable we can get with ease in our bodies. It sounds counterintuitive, but we get so used to holding ourselves together that we have  a level of amnesia and the ease and support we can have, so I'll let Rachel take it away with that:

BT: A couple of other common cultural movement patterns are butt gripping and knee locking which are getting at both ends of the hamstrings.

Rachel Bernsen (RB): Yeah butt gripping but also tucking the butt. That’s another way we become undifferentiated. Squeezing the butt is squeezing the tops of your hamstrings. Those sits bones get squeezed together, so they can’t fully elongate into movement. If you’re doing a mundane activity like sitting or walking it is likely that you will carry those habits over to stretching. So that you’re meaning to release the hamstrings, but you are tightening to do it. It becomes the set point for your hamstrings, and if you’re micro-gripping or even mega-gripping your butt all the time the hamstring length gets habituated to be shorter. So then even when you’re trying to stretch you are still working against yourself, you’re still promoting the tightness, you are just exercising your habits

RB: And it’s an important point that your hip joint is a three dimensional joint, so the separation of the sits bones from the back of the leg is just as important as the folding forward at the front of the hip when you’re doing something like sitting.

RB: Going back to the hamstring crossing both joints, it also crosses through the back of the knee and ends right below your knee. If you are locking your knees, it’s another way that you are creating more tension in the hamstrings. People often lock themselves in to a position when they are standing. I often work with my students not to actively bend the knees, because that can create other hamstring issues, but to think of softening their knees and creating more space in the joint as a way to release the knee without bending it. For a lot of people it feels bent, especially those who are hyperextended. That release of the knee does release the hamstring. That’s an important thing to think about when stretching, but also while doing mundane daily activities.

BT: I think a lot of times people think they need to bend their knees if they are locked and it’s just different effort.

RB: Our tendency is to actively do something else to change our patterns. In Alexander we are really thinking about undoing our patterns of tension; Just simply doing less. That has a wonderful whole body effect.

BT: I think when a lot of people her that they imagine they are going to collapse on the floor, and in reality you are releasing into your innate support.

RB: The property of muscle is that when you release it, it lengthens. It doesn’t become a puddle of Jell-o. It lengthens into support. It can feel a little scary sometimes because kinesthetically it can feel like we’re not doing enough. Like for me as a dancer, it took me a long time to really be ok with that feeling that I wasn’t doing very much, because I was really used to that feeling of my muscles really firing. That feeling of ease is not necessarily something that we are used to, so it’s a kinesthetic reeducation too- getting comfortable with that level of ease in your system.

BT: What better way to end the short hamstrings podcast than with Rachel describing the kinesthetic reeducation of discovering ease in our bodies? Big gratitude again to Jules Mitchell, Dr. Dawn McCrory, Jillian Nichol, and Rachel Bernsen.

These interviews covered a few perspectives, in the guide we also go over plenty of other options whether they are resources for self-care, or how to find a teacher or practitioner and I advocate for a combo of those things. But to give you an idea of the other goodies in there, there is also wisdom from the worlds of

There is goodness from the worlds of Feldenkrais, Ki-Hara Resistance Stretching, Functional Movement Systems, Neurokinetic Therapy, the Core Walking Program, The MELT Method, Acupuncture, Rolfing and Structural Integration, whew, and more. You can check out the guide at liberatedbody.com by clicking on the guides tab in the header and you’ll see it there. You can also, of course, follow the link to it via the show notes as well. Here’s to nice, happy, appropriately lengthened hamstrings that allow us to move in the ways we wish to!

Home play!

The common recurring theme for Liberated Body is noticing when and how might we be at war with ourselves. So if you are someone who has short hamstrings or some other issue that is persnickety for you, can you think about how your body must be trying to help you out, and are you trying to bully it into submission or are there ways you can find more ease. And that might not be discovering something that makes you magically better, it might be the idea to seek out a teacher or practitioner. You don't need to magically solve all of your own problems with insight, but I do think that if you can go looking for more ease, the more you will find it.

Resources

The Liberated Body Guide to Short Hamstrings

Jules Mitchell

Jules Mitchell episode on the Liberated Body Podcast

Dr. Dawn McCrory

Jillian Nichol

Rachel Bernsen

Jules Mitchell: The Science of Stretching (LBP 009)

I got a chance to talk with Jules Mitchell right after she turned in her Master’s thesis on the science of stretching. Jules’ work blends biomechanics with the tradition of yoga to help people move better, and while looking into the research on stretching she discovered some pretty eye-opening things! For example, the idea that we can persistently stretch a muscle and have it grow longer, it turns out, is not true. We get into many other myths of stretching- and it seems there are plenty- what really works, what’s really risky, and what a better model of viewing the body might be when we put aside the “stretch tight bits to make them looser” paradigm.

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Show notes

Exercise Science is a field of science with many different aspects. Jules focused on biomechanics in her Master's work, which is a science of forces and how the body responds to loads.

Yoga therapy can mean many things, but for Jules it means the application of biomechanics into yoga. It takes into consideration how the body is responding to loads, and how individuals have a loading history based on what they have done in the past, so you can't give people a blanket yoga practice.

Her Master's Thesis is basically the science of stretching.

About 1 year into the research she discovered that what she had learned from the yoga community was not supported by the science.

She went through a pretty big transformation from that and had to allow herself to unlearn and approach the science with a blank slate, and then to re-learn.

The concept of stretching in itself, at least in the yoga community, this idea that if you stretch more and stretch harder that it will get longer and you will increase your range and you will get more flexible has very little truth to it. In reality that's just damaging it [the tissue].

If you hold a rubber band and stretch it, then you release that- you release the load- it goes back to its original shape.

Lack of range of motion is not realty about lengthening. It's much more an issue of tolerance. It' s a use it or lose it thing. If you never work in that range of motion your body doesn't understand it and doesn't want to go there. So your nervous system limits your range of motion.

That argument is the hardest one to come to terms with- that for the most part range of motion is an issue of tolerance and not mechanical length.

"Tolerance" means can they go there? When they hit the end of their range, that's their nervous system limiting their range. If they were under anesthesia, they would have a full range of motion.

For those who are dealing with limited range, or flexibility issues, what can they do? Gentle, passive stretching to the point of tolerance where they can relax into it and their nervous system feels safe there, and be there for 30 seconds to no more than 1 minute.

If you really want to see changes it's really about using it. Create muscle force at that range of motion. It's active, your body has to be in control.

Jules does more strength training at these ranges of motion than passive stretching and that's where you start to see the results, because your neuromuscular system starts to work in cooperation.

Pectoralis minor (images here) if that's my issue and I want it to get longer, what would it look like to do this with strength training?

Jules says she is not going to use the word "longer" because the range won't increase. And it's not just pec minor, it's all the connective tissue around it, the ligaments of the joint, all the neighboring muscles, etc.

How that would work, you would bring the shoulder into a range where the shoulder is limited, and then you would work in that range on flexing the muscle to get it as strong as it can at that limited range. It's kind of like resistance stretching. You are stimulating the fibers so that they can communicate with your nervous system back and forth, and that's one of the most effective ways because you are developing strength and control in that joint position.

At the opposite end of that she would refer them to Restorative Yoga which is based in props. You wouldn't try to stretch as hard as you can. When you stretch as far as you can what's already compliant is going to stretch first so you're not going to hit your target tissue. But if you properly use props now there's a more equal force distribution, and you can be in that pose for a long time and communicate to your nervous system.

We are dynamic communicating organisms vs. lumps of clay that can be molded. It's all about how our nervous system regulates our muscle tissue, which transmits a force to our connective tissue.

We have to look at the tensegrity model where muscle fibers literally embed into connective tissue. If you think about it your muscles are contractile tissues- that's what they do. They produce force. the sarcomeres are literally transmitting force to the connective tissues all around, not just length-wise but also radially outwards in all directions and dimensions.

If you don't have the ability to control the muscle force in all dimensions you run into weakened muscle force. We want our muscle tissue to be strong enough to move.

[said another way] We want to be stiff- just stiff in all ranges of motion, not just one range of motion. In a full range of motion "stiff" makes us powerful beings and now we have a full range.

This idea that the more flexible we are the better off we are- when reality those people have more trouble "holding themselves together".

How does someone get "tight" in the first place?

Jules does not use that word, because there is no definition for tight. It's not a mechanical term.

If we're going to go with air quotes "tight", or talk about limited range of motion- that you can only take your joint in certain positions- that happens, 9 times out of 10, because it hasn't been used there, so the nervous system doesn't put it there. The muscle fibers aren't strong enough to maintain that force regulation through the body. It will go to where it's safer. It's not a matter of tightness, it's more a matter of communication.

Jules mentions Van der Wal's article (which is linked below in the resources). He was groundbreaking in this research. He was an anatomist and he realized that our mathematical models for human movement weren't fitting in to how we viewed anatomy. We really aren't a collection of muscles. There's never any part of the body that's slack. His work was groundbreaking for understanding tensegrity. Force transmits radially through out the body, so everything is always under some degree of tension.

One of my favorite Dr. Rolf quotes of all time: "Wherever you think it is, it ain't"

Stretching an injury: we have a cultural misunderstanding of stretching. We have an idea that if it hurts, stretch it. People who are in pain should just leave it alone instead of stretching it and instead move it and use it so the muscle fibers will direct the loads where it's supposed to go.

If you have a tendon or ligament tear, that you want to wait before you stretch. A big problem is that the inflammation goes down within a few days and they no longer feel the injury and so are ready to go right back to stretching it. It's a good 6 weeks before the collagen can take stretching. And that's conservative; A safe measure would be 1 to 2 years.

Most often it takes some re-injury before people are willing to hear that advice about not stretching.

Nobody cares about stretching the way the yoga community does. In the research and in the Exercise Science community there is no interest in these extreme ranges. In fact, in the research Jules was looking at- in many cases people who practiced yoga did were excluded from the studies because they don't expect these extreme ranges.

The biggest surprise was that there was very little research on yoga and flexibility. She found one short study. The yoga community has done some great research but more on mental health and relationships.

However in 2012 Yoga Journal did a study on the 18 million Americans that practice yoga and the number 1 reason they were practicing yoga was to increase flexibility, so there' s a big disconnect [between the research and the reasons people seek out a yoga practice].

When flexibility is the issue for a person, stretching is not going to help. Moving frequently in more full ranges of motion and incrementally increasing the load is actually the answer.

Jules believes that is what yoga was meant to do- yoga is using your body weight in a bunch of different positions.

But we have gone in this "push harder, harder, harder" mentality and you have 80 people in a classroom, and some have been doing handstands for 10 years, and some just got off their couch, and you're giving them the same class. That's scary.

You can't expect a yoga teacher, or any other fitness instructor, in a group setting to be able to fully take into consideration how you have used your body for its whole history. And you have to keep that in mind.

In her own practice Jules is currently playing with decreasing her flexibility. She was never hypermobile, but she's learned that she was really flexible and she was really weak in these full ranges of motion. Increasing the muscle contraction at the end range has got her feeling better than she ever has.

Home play!

I am in the process of finishing the first Liberated Body Guide (short guides of what works for what) and the first one will be the Short Hamstrings Guide ("short" in air quotes, but Limited Range of Motion in Your Hamstrings makes for a wordy title...). Because my world is fairly hamstrings-centric right now due to the guide, let's play with load instead of stretching to see how the hamstrings respond. For one week play with swapping out any stretching protocol you might have for squatting, lunging, or a Founder (from the previous episode with Eric Goodman) and see what response you get. I'm talking about body-weight movements that are not high velocity or high quantity. This is good for both the "tight" types and the Gumby types, so everybody wins!

Resources

Jules Mitchell's site

Jules' most current blog post which covers in more detail what we talked about in the interview: Stretching and Muscle Control

Restorative Yoga

Jaap van der Wal article  (It's exceptional, print it out and digest slowly...)

Jules' post that I refer to in the home play section: Are You Really Stretching What You Think You Are?