We talk a lot about muscular boundaries and maintaining your skeleton *just so* when doing a stretch to apply tension to the appropriate tissues (like muscle) and keep from over loading the inappropriate tissues (like ligament). But sometimes, we WANT to load a tissue that goes over multiple joints, like fascia, to undo the additional implications of our positional habits.
Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you, no bent knees. If your hamstrings are wicked tight, sit up on some pillows or a bolster.
You’ll need to maintain a 90° ankle angle passively. This means you can’t pull your feet toward you with the muscles down the front of the shin. You can either get them against a wall or use a strap. If you use a strap, beware that it’s common to *feel* like you’re at 90° when you’re slightly pointing your toes, so get real with yourself.
Or, use a wall -- getting those heels to touch.
Now, flop your torso towards your thighs (not toward your feet). Do not force yourself forward or try to really reach. We’re not maintaining a neutral spine here and we don’t want to overload a flexed lumbar spine. So chill out and just flop your chest down to your legs.
NOW THIS IS THE FUN PART! You’re going to play with the position of your head. Once you’ve secured your feet and your legs are straight and your chest and arms have dropped as low as they can via relaxation, check in with your head. Chances are the head is still upright, looking forward. Maybe because you are trying to read this while you stretch, and maybe because this is such an engrained habit. EITHER WAY, you’re going to let your head hang all the way down to the best of your ability.
RELAX AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. No holdsies. Imagine the top of your head pointing towards the floor (not your feet). All. The. Way. Down.
Now what you might feel is how the relaxation of the head starts to pull on other body parts -- like your calves. Or your sacrum. Or your hamstrings. Or your middle back.
Isn’t that cool?
To get a little body-investigative, notice how hyperextending your neck -- that’s lifting the chin -- takes that tension off of the connective tissue running down the entire back of your body. You might find that your head keeps popping up without you really realizing it. And then you have to remember to relax your head again.
Why is that back line tight? A lifetime of positive heeled shoes, sitting all day, and a super-tight psoas (etc.) cause a series of joint displacements that rotate parts. (This is a pic from my nextish post which may or may not be helpful without a written explanation that I don't have time to include.)
These series of rotations decrease the altitude between the head and the feet, which put slack into the tissues between them, causing them to shorten to take up the aforementioned slack.
If you arch your back, you can see how this movement moves the top of your shirt (in back) closer to the bottom, making it wrinkle in excess. Because you can’t have wrinkly tissues in the body, these tissues respond by reconfiguring (aka shortening) to pick up the slack.
This exercise is one of my favorites after a night of breastfeeding (check out my stiff neck!) or jacked up sleep. Or after a long day of computer work. Or, or, or. Use it any time, now that I think of it. I like to do this for about 10 minutes, taking breaks as I need them, breathing deeply, being excited (and not irritated) by the tension I find. No point in beating yourself up -- going tissue splunking is majorly beneficial both physically and mentally.
This shorter blog post brought to you by this mess here.
And this one.
And this load (or four) of laundry.
And this tantrum.
The end. Happy Monday!