Don’t Stretch Your Muscles, Lengthen Them Kindly

Hi folks,

Flexibility is an important attribute of a healthy body that tends to decrease with age. This thought comes straight out of that old book of life, the Tao te Ching. The Steven Mitchell version is nice and concise.

My favorite version of the Tao te Ching. From:

“Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.”

Sounds a bit strong, but when you compare young kids running around and bouncing off of the ground effortlessly, with older people cautiously creeping around because one misstep can break their hips, maybe it is right on the money. Staying flexible or limber is quite an art, and I have tried quite a few approaches to staying loose. You just have to explore the possibilities and see what works for you. For instance:

You have to work with, not against, the stretch reflex when attempting to lengthen a muscle. From:

  1. Don’t become tight in the first place (posture, symmetry, rest).
  2. Stretching (don’t trigger the contraction reflex).
  3. Feldenkrais lengthening exercises.
  4. Rollers (Trigger Point Therapy kit).
  5. Kinesiology (for me that means shaking and banging).
  6. Working with your hands, gently and firmly)

Of course, trick number one is to try to understand your body, for which there is a great deal of information on the Internet. Here is one site I like a lot, Jay’s Physio, and here is another that I found via Jay’s site, MobilityWOD. When you work on improving your flexibility it is important to remember that one technique does not fit all.

I really like this kit, so I couldn't resist using their picture (no, they aren't paying me to do this!). From:


Each muscle has its own personality. For instance, I can release my psoas muscles in minutes by gentle pressure from my thumb lateral to the body of the muscle. You can do the same thing for hours with your forearm muscles and have no effect except for making them sore. If I do this with my Quadratous lumborum I run the risk of making it extremely irritated, so I leave that guy alone.

You have to explore the web for techniques, and then apply them cautiously to your body. Learn what works for you. For me it is a combination of Feldenkrais, rollers (now the Trigger Point Performance Therapy set), gentle Active Isolated Stretching, and for my calves I add shaking my foot loosely (which really works).

Finally, don’t sit in one position for too long without moving around a bit, and develop a healthy posture both sitting and standing. You will be surprised how much more limber your body becomes if you just do this, but it is a bit of a life journey to achieve optimum posture.

Happy lengthening.

-k @FitOldDog


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.