How to Stretch Effectively
The Importance of waiting
Take your time. Fascia takes time to release, so we must be patient and listen to our bodies. We need to play an active role in the stretch and respect the process. In order to achieve a release of the fascia, we wait 90 to 120 seconds at least (usually longer, 5-10 minutes per stretch). This is important, because fascia doesn’t work like muscle does. It cannot be forced. Gentle sustained stretching is how you produce change. Fascia is the environment of our body, so imagine how pliable we would be if we could just get a release within a few seconds! Good thing it takes time huh?!
We are often taught to stretch individual muscles which frequently include the bending of one or more joints, but how often are we told about elongating. See, the bending of a joint stretches the muscle, but the muscle length itself is just a recipient of factors such as the fascia (the environment of the muscle), the nervous system, and subconscious holding/ bracing patterns. When we work with the fascial system, all of these things are effected. How do we work with the fascia? Elongation! By holding an elongated stretch, we actively engage the fascial system and real change can begin to occur.
The key to healing is feeling! While you are in a myofascial stretch allow yourself to feel. We like to “shut down” when we are experiencing something we believe to be unpleasant. Often times, we are not even aware of this. In a way, we are scared out of our bodies. There is something that we don’t want to experience. It can be a scary thing to encounter, I have been there myself plenty of times. I challenge you to stick with it and don’t shut down, because it is through that feeling that we learn about ourselves and start to change.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of just relaxing into a stretch and forgetting about it. We seem to think that as long as we hold it, we will see results. This is no different than paying for a gym membership that you never use. There is no separation between our mind and our body. They must be connected and in sync in order to approach change. While you are stretching, be sure to constantly tune in to your body. Your body deserves your attention.
Go with it
Another important factor is the motion of the release. It is an amazing thing! Let your body move if it wants to move. What’s happening is your body is self-correcting. We call this Unwinding. It is the most natural thing you can do, because actually, you aren’t consciously doing anything. All you are doing is getting out of the way and observing what happens without judgement. You are letting your body express itself the way it has been trying to for so long. You will never injure yourself in this way as long as you let movement come on its own without forcing it.