When I was a kid growing up in London one of my favorite places to visit was the Tower of London, that started out as the home of the King of England but ended up as his or her prison of choice. One of my favorite places in the Tower was St. Catherine’s Tower. Now that’s not because of any religious attachment I had to St. Catherine. No, it’s because that’s where they kept all the torture equipment.
Hey, I was a boy, what do you expect, enlightenment!
Anyway, I was fascinated by all the things they used to torture people. There was the “Bride’s scold”, an iron mask with a bit to put in the person’s mouth. There was the “Iron Maiden” (notice how women seem to be a recurring theme here!) which was a kind of metal body-shaped frame that you could lock someone in; and as you closed the door, spikes on the inside of the frame were pushed into the prisoner’s body. A medieval form of acupuncture, without the therapeutic benefits if you like!
You could see how all that would seem fascinating to a kid. OK, well, maybe you can’t, but I thought it was cool.
However, my favorite was the “Rack”. I was always intrigued by how huge and elaborate a device it seemed, and wondered how it would feel to be pulled and stretched to the point where you felt you were going to be ripped apart.
I just found out. I took a yoga class.
This wasn’t your standard yoga class. This one focused on specific exercises and kept working you deeper and deeper into the pose until you could do it. Or in my case until you fell over backwards, sideways, or whichever way my body decided offered the line of least resistance.
It was bloody awful. My arms were like rubber, my thighs burned, at one point my ribs and chest seemed to get locked in a spasm as if to say “enough with this.”
But here’s the really weird thing. Afterwards I felt great. I felt as if I had elongated stuff that had been squished. That my muscles and tendons and ligaments were looser and more limber than they had been after months of exercises that compressed them.
In short, to quote James Brown, “I feel good” But then, I knew that I would.
And it made me appreciate once again just how important flexibility is to a balanced exercise program. You can do aerobics until your resting heart rate is lower than Glenn Beck’s IQ. You can lift weights until your ears have muscles. But unless you add in some stretching and flexibility, it’s not really a fully balanced program.
Yoga is great on so many levels – mental as well as physical – but it’s not for everyone. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to stretch. There are many different stretches you can do that don’t come with names like “Downward Facing dog” or “Assanupadowna” (OK I made that last one up but it sounds legitimate doesn’t it) and they all do basically the same thing, they get your body in balance.
But in case you aren’t sure how to stretch or, more importantly, how to stretch safely, here’s some tips on a few great ways to really help release your muscles.
You probably won’t thank me for this (and believe me, I don’t thank me for this) but you might be grateful for it.