Feeling the difference between stretching and overstretching

Fredric Bender | | comments: 0

While stretching can alleviate compression, overstretching can be counter-productive. Lacking body awareness, some overstretch to the point of locking themselves into stiffness.

Within the muscle belly lie “spindles” which are sensory receptors that pick up the speed and intensity of a stretch. If a stretch is too fast or too intense, the spindles trigger a reflex arc to the spinal cord and back to the muscle to contract in order to avoid tearing muscle fibers.

One’s mind wants to stretch further, but one’s spindles intercede to protect. What results is that one equates stretching with a feeling of stiffness and resistance, simply locked into a contraction and going nowhere.

For this reason, I never instruct students to stretch. I encourage them to lengthen into softness and maintain that length patiently over time. This keeps the muscle spindles at bay. They habituate to the new length and fire less frequently. The muscles sense they are safe and can release deeper into the length. This slowly breaks the reactivity commonly found among those who suffer back pain. This also brings more differentiated sensation and a feeling of openness and space.

The student can then use the breath to refine the lengthening. In other words, rather than pulling on body parts to stretch or reaching for a body part as a goal or to mark one’s progress, one relaxes in a lengthened position, closes the eyes and uses the breath to explore the inner space, to gently increase volume, to decompress, to develop a better self-awareness and to connect within.

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