Tension & Tightness aren't always a sign that you need to stretch
Feeling tightness or tension isn’t the body’s way of saying “stretch me.” Stretching doesn’t equal better function of the body.
It’s a sign that something is being overworked, or used incorrectly, and no amount of stretching is going to balance that out.
This was a really hard concept for me to wrap my mind around. Partly because of my yoga trainings, partly because of how much emphasis there’s been on the importance of stretching; mostly because of how much i ADORE, love, crave, and appreciate stretching.
Let’s face it, stretching can be Y U M M Y ! It’s one of my favourite sensations. It didn’t ever stop the tension in the long term, but WOW it sure felt good in the moment – and even when it didn’t, my mind was convinced that it was the right thing to do…because you know, it’s stretching.
I just had to keep doing it and doing it, sometimes I did just cause it felt good not because it was needed…but it didn’t get to the core if why I needed to stretch – I was definitely addicted.
That deliciousness was blinding me to what was really missing; function in my body. I had to learn the hard way that tension isn’t a sign of needing to be opened or stretched but rather there’s something off balance in the function of the body.
Or in other words, there was something being overworked, and something that was being underworked or not worked at all.
Let’s take something common, like a tight hip flexor (hf). I’m sure that many runners or excessive sitters have been told this before. The usual way of ‘dealing’ with it it to stretch the hip flexor.
Maybe you been even given the instruction to lie on your belly and lift your leg up to the ceiling to stretch the ‘ol hf-ers. Or the restorative version: lying with the hips over a bolster with the leg extended with the intent of opening the hip flexor. This can feel amazing (and for some, not so amazing)…i’m drooling just thinking about it. I LOVE these but they don’t address the core of the issue, they don’t get to essence of the disfunction.
Instead, I have realized that really what needs to be done is to get a little more curious about it. WHY is the hip flexor tight? Is it doing some other muscles’ job and being the life of the party? What muscle is being shy and not wanting to come out and play?
When I find the answers to these questions, the hip flexors start to ease off naturally. When the function and confidence of the too quiet muscles are built the hip flexors start to gently let go and relax naturally…like little sighs and smiles.
Other common areas of tightness that often don’t get benefit from stretching: tight IT’s (usually something wonky going on with the knee or the hip muscles, occasionally the ankle), SI Joints (the piriformis gets blamed a lot, poor muscle), hamstrings (if you’re hamstrings are tight, they are most likely doing the job of stabilizing your pelvis, so before you go lengthening them, make sure your pelvic muscles are functioning, otherwise it’s chaos – well that’s bit dramatic.)
A little side note here:
Stretching is amazing and there is value to it.
Sometimes I stretch because of how it affects my mental state, but I’m super aware that it doesn’t always increase the function of my body and can sometimes lead to less function (and more cycles of tension, tightness & pain).
So if there’s been something that’s cyclic or there for an extended time, it may be helpful to become a little more curious about it, explore it a little more, and ask some different questions.