by Russ Mitchell, Authorized Awareness Through Movement® Teacher
Got stiff legs that feel like they’re in prison, no matter how much you stretch?
That was me in high school. I was a Navy Brat and moved a lot, and when we lived in Rhode Island I worked out a lot at night just because winters were so cold and rainy that it was hard to do any socializing.
I got better at push-ups.
I got better at sit-ups.
I never got better at the splits.
Not only didn’t I do the splits, but no matter how much I stretched my legs, I never made any progress getting them “loose” at all. I tried yoga stretches that worked like a charm for my back (I could nap in the Plough, for example), but no horse stance or hurdler’s stretch, or anything else seemed to loosen up the bricks I had for legs. I felt like a total failure, and figured that being flexible just wasn’t for me.
Fast forward thirty years. Now I’m pushing fifty years old, with a hilarious laundry list of “well-earned” training injuries … and can kick chest-high with no warm-up or preparation at all. And I never stretch.
Wait… how’s THAT work?!
It may be that you’re “on lockdown” because your intentions and your nervous system aren’t on speaking terms. You’re off-balance without realizing it, and your nervous system doesn’t trust you not to fall down.
So your nervous system has Job One, and that’s “don’t let doofus fall down and crack his melon.” Because that’s literally fatal and as bipeds, that’s our number one problem we have to solve in order to function in the world. Ever seen a baby instinctively throw its arms out when it doesn’t feel properly held? That’s “fall anxiety,” and your nervous system has it in spades as soon as you’re off-balance.
Don’t take my word for it. You can test this in the comfort of your own home – just stand up and gently sway backwards and forwards at the ankles. The moment you sway forwards enough to go off-balance, your toes are going to engage. They have to, or else you’d fall down. Same thing going backwards — sway back far enough, and the muscles along the back of your legs and maybe up into your back are going to lock up. They have to, because you’ve got a twelve-pound coconut up top that has to be protected.
If you stretch and stretch and stretch but never seem to get anywhere, it can be really demoralizing, especially if you’re in dance or martial arts, or any other game or sport where being graceful is a big deal.
But you’re probably not “stiff.” You’re probably just off-balance without realizing it, and a Feldenkrais Method® instructor can help you with that.
This article originally appeared on the Playful Humans Blog.
Russ Mitchell is a former medievalist and self-styled “recovering academic” who teaches Awareness Through Movement® lessons in the DFW area in Texas. He has a particular focus on the intersection of the Feldenkrais Method and movement arts, especially martial arts and fencing. Find more from Russ at www.irvingfeldenkrais.com