May 8, 2013


“What is stretching about, really?”, part II

I will be teaching the next two days, so will have limited time to blog. I want to use this arena to foreshadow future offerings.

The “What is stretching about, really?” video that I have linked here to is only a fraction of what stretching is about. But a practical assessment of the YouTube generation attention span suggests that 10 minutes is about the limit, so I have decided to write about the different aspects in shorter articles, and in shorter videos.

And the previous blog on stretching (“What is stretching about, really?” part I) addressed two critical aspects (static vs. dynamic stretching, and the use of stretching to liberate neural inhibition) and this again is only part of the story.

An aspect I alluded to in the video I wish to explore a little here today. And that is the aspect of using stretching to rid the body of aches and pains, and I will explore this further in another video in the weeks to come. Many of you will know that I (and in later years, the “P&F” team) have been teaching Stretch Therapy at the Australian National University continuously for 26 years this year, and that Olivia and I have decided not to renew our lease, and so we will be finishing both the stretching side and the Monkey Gym (“MG”) side June 15.

The Australian National University (“ANU”) has been an incredibly creative environment within which to work and to refine Stretch Therapy. The time I spent there in master’s and Ph.D. research were profoundly formative. As I say to the students, “You are my mobile laboratory,” and the work and interaction with this wonderful group of people has led to three books (Overcome neck & back painStretching & flexibility and Stretching & pregnancy). ONBP (as we know it) is in its fourth edition and that meant three total rewrites, and new photographs and graphics. Most of the insights that have informed all three books have been gained working with the student body, and when I say “student body” I’m talking about everyone from young students to aged lecturers and researchers.

Most people are not aware of this, but the ONBP method actually grew out of the following experiences, rather than from a theoretical perspective: many people in the early years would come to me at about the halfway point in any given semester and say, “I used to have this pain or that pain but I don’t have any more. Is it something to do with the stretching?”

This might be hard to imagine these days but my recollection of this is accurate. Anyhow, the point is I started to look at what actual flexibility was being demonstrated to me by the students, and try to compare that to their daily life experiences of living in that body. And what I found was that in the over 40s class there were a number of students who had no neck or back problems at all, but who had poor flexibility overall, measured in any conventional way. At the same time, in the advanced class, there were many people who had what appeared to be the same muscularly based neck and back problems, but who had way above average flexibility. And during the same period, I was running a clinic at the university and I was advising people to do stretching exercises as a means of helping them with their back problems you—can see the contradictions.

One day an epiphany: I realised that the group of students who had no back pain or neck pain in both groups had remarkably symmetrical flexibility on the left to right axis. The key functions that I found significant were R–L hamstring, R–L hip flexor, lateral flexion, and rotation.

The amazing and unexpected thing that I noticed was that absolute level of flexibility is not related to neck or back problems. Even some very inflexible people enjoyed a state of being pain-free in the body. And the very asymmetry that that very-flexible-but-in-pain people in the advanced group had the same common neck and back problems as everyone else that I saw in the clinic. Thus the recommendation to reacquire symmetry in key functions was born.

And as most of you know, it is a cornerstone of the work—and thousands of people have reported to us that simply achieving a greater degree of symmetry in function has been experienced as a major improvement in the experience of living.

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