I am always surprised at how much more my body can relax and release – even after I think a tight area has released to it’s maximum. Lately, I have been doing a restorative version of Half Frog first thing in the morning (while still in bed – how marvelous), and then lastly at night (in bed again – how magnificent). You can see it in the picture below (no that’s not me, otherwise I’d never get this post published, but thank you Ekhart yoga for the pic and FYI, I don’t do this pose on a bolster – it would be nice, but first thing in the morning, it’s got to be easy, and at night too). Most mornings, I need a good two minutes on each side before I feel some tightness in my piriformis & low back dissolve. However, this morning when I was on my left side, and I was sure I had relaxed that area plenty, I stayed for one more breath and couldn’t believe how my glute dropped & released some more. It got me thinking that the body can release more than our brain think’s it can. This is great news! We can keep releasing beyond our expectation – I sense a life lesson here….
In addition, I have noticed that I get the greatest release from tight cranky parts when I focus my mind and breath on the specific muscle area vs. thinking about all of the things I need to do today. With each breath I actually focus my mind on letting the tension there go -telling my muscles that they can let go, that they don’t need to hold on any longer. It sounds so simple and almost goofy – talking to your muscles, to your body, like it’s a third person, but it works (more about this to come in a later post). If I can release tension and pain on my own, I’ll take it, try it, do it. Woo hoo.
We spend time talking about this in my kid yoga classes as well. Though kids aren’t necessarily dealing with tight muscles per se, they are dealing with things like anxiety that can show up in the belly and other areas. Realizing the different types of belly aches, like a stomach flu belly ache vs. “butterflies’ in my stomach” ache, helps kids to understand the language of their body. How cool is that! Not only is your body talking to you, but you can talk to your body. More on this to come in another post….
Lee Albert, the king of Positional Therapy, says that although our muscles need stretching and strengthening, then also need to go slack, i.e. release – a concept that many of us don’t think about or incorporate because it doesn’t feel like you are “working.” Barbara Benagh calls this process “undoing.” And folks it’s vital. Trust me. For someone who works super hard, and loves to sweat, the releasing piece didn’t jive well with me at first. Ironically, if you are like me, you need it most.
In case you were wondering, releasing isn’t sleeping and doing nothing. In some ways, the undoing is harder work because the mind has a greater tendency to wander (see my pointers above for how to help keep the mind focused via the breath). Lee Albert gives a great string analogy to demonstrate the difference between stretching and slacking: “If I take two ends of a string and pull them farther apart, this is called stretching. Slackening a muscle is talking two ends of the string and bringing them closer together…If there is slack, there is no tension. If there is no tension, there is no pain.” He goes on to say that for the muscle memory to take hold and keep that muscle loose, you need to hold a ‘slack’ position for two minutes. The results are well worth the time – the pain seems to just vanish.
So, try and incorporate slacking, releasing, undoing into your practice, like the restorative half frog. The benefits will astound you.
Further learning & resources:
To learn more about the piriformis and how when tight it can wreak havoc on your lower back and cause lovely things like sciatica, check out my favorite anatomy lady, Julie Gudmestad’s piriformis article.
To learn about Lee Albert & how you and your body are healing geniuses, visit his web site and/or purchase his awesome book: “Live Pain-Free without drugs or surgery: How to use Integrated Positional Therapy to eliminate chronic pain.”
More on undoing, check out Barbara Benagh’s undoing article for the neck, “Crick Fixes: tension can be a pain in the neck.“