The Single Most Important Key to Feeling Younger and More Flexible
Posted Mar 23 2013 10:12pm
When I was younger and felt trapped in a stiff, tight body, I’d spend hours sitting in front of the television, yanking on my muscles and trying to manually pull them longer. I admired the grace of gymnasts and dancers. It looked so pleasurable to have those long, lean muscles, to be able to move with such freedom.
But stretching really didn’t get me anywhere. There are a lot of reasons for this. I could go into long winded explanations of neurology, reference the need for balancing strength with length and compare and contrast the benefits of dynamic joint mobility over static stretching.
All of these highly technical issues are valid. But there is really only one thing that was keeping my hips locked up – I was holding onto tension.
And so are you.
Tension resides in your brain but manifests in your muscles. The mind is a powerful thing; the placebo effect – which accounts for the spontaneous healing of bodies when a person believes that he or she is being treated for a given condition when no real treatment is administered – is strong evidence of this.
- Chinese Proverb
Every thought that you have has a corresponding physical reaction. You might not get up and jump around the room when you’re happy or pound the walls when you’re angry; we’ve learned to control ourselves for the sake of a (relatively) civilized society.
But just think about something that’s been stressing you out, pissing you off or terrifying you in your sleep. It might be an impending move, a job termination, a person in your life who’s less than supportive. The actual stimulus doesn’t matter. All that matters is the emotion you feel when you focus your attention on it.
Notice how your body responds. Your shoulders tighten up, your jaw starts clenching. You might hunch down, curl slightly into a ball. Your leg muscles might twitch, invoking the ancient survival technique of cutting and running. Your body responds.
Now consider that 90% of the thoughts you are going to have today are the same thoughts you had yesterday. This will happen again tomorrow, the day after that, and so on and so forth for the rest of your life.
If you are having stressful thoughts today, you will have stressful thoughts tomorrow. Your shoulders will be tight today, and they will be tight tomorrow. The mind directs the body. Your body is the physical manifestation of your inner self, the medium through which you both experience and express yourself to the world.
The only way to step outside of this feedback loop of stress and tension is to start asking yourself Why am I holding onto this? How is it serving me? Is it okay to let it go?
This isn’t something you “do,” as in a separate exercise. This is something you “become.” You have to start noticing tension in everything that you do – when you’re in a meeting, when you’re working out, when you’re lying on the couch watching television. Your inner tension meter will alert you to unnecessary tightness and you can mentally dissolve it.
Your state of mind and body prior to starting any conscious activity are more important than the activity itself. If you start from a clean, relaxed state, you’ll get more benefit (and be more flexible). Plus, when you start to peel back the layers of tension you’ve used to armor your body, you’re also dumping a load of mental baggage that you probably don’t need to be hauling around with you anymore.
Tension restricts your physical body and exhausts you. It’s like trying to function with Ace bandages wrapped around all your joints. You’re literally pulling against yourself. When you let go of the tension – which is as simple as breathing deeply and relaxing into your body – you’ll feel lighter, breathe more fully and experience mental clarity.
And you don’t have to do anything, just breathe and release.