Body Sense

SPRING | 2017

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10 Body Sense hold phases. This engagement is particularly important to prevent injury to ligaments, especially for people who are hypermobile. Myofascial chains are groups of muscles and connective tissue (fascia) that are linked together. When you bend forward to touch your toes, you are stretching a myofascial chain that extends from the soles of your feet to the back of your legs, through the back of your pelvis, and up your spine. You can feel the stretch in different places on different days, depending on what part of the myofascial chain is most restricted. Nerves. Stretches are for nerves as much as for muscles and fascia. The sciatic nerve needs to lengthen more than 4 inches when moving from standing to bending forward to touch the ground. The ulnar nerve needs to lengthen nearly 2 inches for your hand to touch the back of your head. If you feel tingly sensations when stretching, you could be overstretching your nerves. Opposing muscles. A muscle cannot stretch any farther than its opposing muscle can contract. To have flexible hamstrings, the quadriceps must be strong. To stretch the pectoralis major (a great idea for anyone who works at a computer), it's important to strengthen the opposing back muscles. Postexercise. Stretching before athletic events can be counterproductive. Stretch postexercise when your tissues are warm. Quit when you are ahead. A little stretch with a release is more productive than a big stretch that causes your nerves to tighten up. Release. An effective stretch will create a release that feels like a softening, lengthening, or letting go in the tissues. A release will tell you that you've accomplished something with the stretch. Burning sensations don't indicate a release. Slide and glide. The goal of stretching is to not only make muscles longer, but also to get the muscles and connective tissue to glide against each other. Tone. Another purpose of stretching is to reduce unnecessary tightness, which requires that stretching be at least partly relaxing. Unusual stretches can help improve flexibility. Repeating the same stretches over and over makes for uneven tone. Dynamic movements are more effective than static stretch holds in improving performance and muscle elasticity. Variation. Static stretching has been shown to be ineffective in several studies. Add variations to stretches, like shifting your hips slightly or gently shaking your head when bending forward, to reach a multitude of fibers within the myofascial chain. Warm. Stretching cold muscles can cause micro-tears in the surrounding connective tissues. Prepare to stretch by warming up with a minimum of 5 minutes (more is better) of walking or other whole-body exercise. X-ray vision. Try to "look" inside your body with X-ray vision as you stretch. Imagine what is going on inside. That level of attention will help you achieve a good release. Yielding is a concept of relaxation, meaning letting your body weight relax. It's a good way to begin. Yield, then breathe, lift, and release. Zip up your core. Stretching isn't about letting it all hang out. Zip up your core muscles so they will protect your joints as you stretch. Regular stretching, when done properly, will help keep your muscles and connective tissue in optimal condition, increasing the effectiveness of all other exercise. Follow the ABCs to gain the most benefit and help your massage therapist release even more of your tight tissues. B S Anita Boser, BCSI, is the author of Undulation: Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young, a book with 48 exercises for a more flexible body. For additional ways to become more flexible and feel more comfortable in your body, visit her website at

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