In the last post I talked about the importance of flexibility as a cornerstone to harmonizing the mind, body and spirit, and discussed the difficulties that many of us face when trying to transition into a new behavior or habit. In this section I will discuss a variety of observations I have made personally while endeavoring to regain flexibility and break down what I have found to be the most effective and efficient way to bridge the gap between the initial motivation to change, and the time when you actually start to see results for training.
When we think about flexibility, it helps to have an idea of what the goal looks like when getting started. One thing that can be frustrating for beginners (especially those attending classes with more advanced students) is comparing yourself to those who are much more advanced: sitting next to somebody who can touch their feet to their head in a handstand scorpion pose is super intimidating for a beginner who can barely touch their toes. While it helps to be surrounded more experienced practitioners who can provide advice and feedback, too much comparing is self-defeating.
But having a goal, or at least a road map to start of with can really help one to stay focused on making progress towards specific personal goals without being overwhelmed by those at other levels. Understanding the motivation behind our own goals and desires can be very helpful too. Some people will be satisfied with the initial goal of just being able to move pain free, while others will want to be able to slip into the splits effortlessly.
Regardless of the goal however, there are a few basic elements of stretching and flexibility which I have found to be absolutely essential, which is where we will begin.
Hip Flexibility: The Linchpin
I have come to one undeniable conclusion through my own personal flexibility practice, and have observed it as a physician in countless individuals: hip flexibility is the crux of movement for the body.
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The hip joints are integral to walking, running, sitting, sleeping, bending, twisting and just about every movement we make. Lack of hip joint mobility can be the cause of lower back pain (anterior pelvic tilt from tight hip flexors pulls the hips and consequently lower back out of alignment) knee pain, functional leg-length differences, back and neck pain, and headaches. The reason for this is the nature of our bodies to seek to maintain balance. After a sitting 8+ hours a day for years on end, the hip flexors shorten. This in turn causes the muscles of the legs as well as the lower back, thoracic back and neck to adapt by shortening to accommodate this decreased range of motion.
As a result, intense stretching the hamstrings and calves while leaving hip stretching as something of an after thought may result in increased flexibility of the those muscles, but the underlying issue (tight hips) is left unaddressed. This is why I make the intense hip mobilization the primary focus of beginning the journey to regaining flexibility. Hamstrings, back, shoulders and neck are of course a part of this as well, but hips provide the greatest overall benefits for the amount of time invested.