Have you ever had a tight muscle you felt you needed to stretch out, only to find you feel tighter after stretching? This is a phenomenon I learned about in a recent yin training I took, and I thought the information was so important, I wanted to shout it from the roof-tops. You may be surprised to learn there is a way to gently stretch without feeling tightness afterwards.
When you go into a safe stretch somewhat quickly, sort of like what you feel in vinyasa yoga, what’s happening is that you’re stretching the muscle. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but what happens is the body tends to freak out, and it perceives the stretching as a threat, so your body’s communication at the end of the day is, “Ok, we need to put on better protection, so we don’t experience this threat again,” and then while you sleep, it knits itself tighter. In the morning, you wake up feeling even more stiff than before you stretched.
What we’re looking to do, instead of stretching the actual muscle, is stretch the connective tissue. Connective tissue includes our fascia and this gel-like fluid, called interstitial fluid, that’s woven throughout our entire body. This fluid is what’s often responsible for making us feel stiff or tight. When we feel that way, the gel has sort of congealed, so it’s more like a sticky glue. When we gently stretch, we are able to transform this fluid from a glue-like state to a slippery liquid - and when we’ve done that, we feel loose and mobile. So in order to do this, you’ll want to come into your first positioning before you get into the stretch. Let’s say the stretch is a seated forward fold. Sit tall with legs extended, and fingers by your side. Take a deep, mindful breath in, feeling the ribs expand. As you exhale, spider your fingers forward until you hit the very first hint of a stretch. Breathe here for a few deep breaths, and then slowly spider the fingers until you hit the next first hint of a stretch. You want to slowly, slowly inch your way forward as you close your eyes and note the sensation of the stretch. You’re looking for a broad sensation - a sensation that moves as you breathe. If it’s a pointed sensation, or there’s numbness or tingling, you’ve gone too far, and need to come out. Stretching slowly this way is called yin yoga. It’s different from restorative, because you don’t melt into the pose. Instead, you are actively looking for the sensations, and actively trying to breathe and find the next level of stretch. Stretching this way, in this slow fashion, will help to open up the fascia and transform the interstitial fluid from a glue-like state to a slippery state, which will help you to feel loose and mobile.
Hope it’s helpful! Stay tuned to our Namaslay® Studios social account for yin workshops if you’re local.