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Is your body feeling stiff?

Is your body stiff?

I am interested in the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, and in his book Embodied Wisdom, he writes:

A general improvement in the way we use our skeleton allows us to enjoy the full range of movements of the joints and intervertebral discs.  All too often, the bodily limitations that we believe are due to not being limber are, instead, caused by a habitual contraction and shortening of our muscles of which we are not conscious.  Unwittingly, our postures become distorted, and the joints of our bodies suffer unequal pressures.

“Degeneration of the joint surfaces imposes, in its turn, a further restriction of muscular activity so as to avoid pain and discomfort in movement.  Thus a vicious cycle is established, which gradually distorts the skeleton, the spine, and the intervertebral discs, resulting in an elderly body whose range of movements is reduced long before we have become old.  Actually, age has little to do with this sad event.  On the contrary, it is quite possible to restore the body’s ability to perform every movement of which the skeleton is capable.

“Up until sixty years of age, anyone of good health who is not suffering serious illness can attain this optimal ability with little more than an hour of retraining for each year of one’s life.  It is possible to attain this condition even beyond sixty years – depending on the person’s intelligence and will to live.”

Elsewhere in the same book he says:

Old age, for instance, begins with the self-imposed restriction on forming new body patterns.  First one selects attitudes and postures to fit an assumed dignity and so rejects certain actions, such as sitting on the floor or jumping, which then soon become impossible to perform.  The resumption and reintegration of even these simple actions has a marked rejuvenating effect not only on the mechanics of the body but also on the personality as a whole.”

Yoga is very good at achieving all that Feldenkrais advocates.

Well, that’s good news isn’t it!  

And I agree.  I have seen people in my Yoga classes who have denied that they would ever stand on one leg, said it would be impossible for them to touch the floor with straight legs in Uttanasana* (standing forward bend), would never be able to hold the Vasisthasana / Side Plank pose*.

And I have seen them come to accomplish these, as well as many other Yoga postures.

Students in their middle years have grown in height as their spinal columns realign, the intervertabral discs find more space to do what they’re supposed to do, and all the rest of the body takes its cue and breathes a sigh of relief as it begins to move more freely and with more ease.

I am amazed at how many Yoga students seem to avoid many of the age-related illnesses of middle and older life: for example, diabetes, heart problems, lung disease.  Or if they do get them they don’t seem to be so severe.

This isn’t to say that we practise Yoga or Feldenkrais technique for ‘accomplishments’ such as these, but it is rather wonderful when people find they can do things they thought they never would.  And I also believe that training our bodies in these ways makes us feel more alive, and as a good friend told me:

You are not stiff because you’re old.  You are old because you are stiff.

This good friend is nearer 80 than 70, and her Yoga practice and teaching ensure that she is energetic, strong, flexible and still able to practise the very strong postures such as “Wild thing”*, which many much younger people find difficult.

So my message to you is to commit to your practice – whether it’s Yoga, Feldenkrais technique, or another that ensures flexibility and strength.  Once a week is good, but as Feldenkrais says, you get better results if you can practise more frequently.

I can’t guarantee you a long life, but I think you’ll find that you’ll enjoy it a lot more without the stiffness, aches and pains that might otherwise hold you back.

(*I am sorry that my drawing skills are not up to posting pictures of these posture on-line – please look them up!)