This morning I was introduced to 'The Fuzz Speech' by anatomist Gil Hedley.
Gil describes, in layman's terms, a lesson we can learn from our cats + dogs: after sleep, stretch. When our bodies are full of fluidity and movement potential, there's often an instinct to stretch upon waking --just like we see in our cats and dogs. It's when we stop stretching that the fuzz between our muscles --connective tissue (fascia), which is sticky in quality-- collects and our potential for movement is reduced that we feel less like stretching in that instinctive way --it doesn't always feel like an option. One of the reasons for this is that when the fuzz collects movement communicates less readily throughout the body. It becomes harder to "talk to" areas of the body that are stiff, to tell them to move gently and stretchily. In that scenario, movements become more uni-directional within the body, with forces moving more in one direction than another, and any sense of stability or resistance that muscles and fascia should provide being transferred to joints + bones.
For example, when you bend over to pick something up without bending your knees or folding at your hips, what keeps you from falling over? In many cases, a falling back into your knee joint and lower back (imagine the back curved and the hips leaning back) as an oppositional force that requires no strength, only mechanics. Unfortunately, our bodies aren't designed to use joint mechanics without muscular effort - that generally puts strain on the joints, wearing them down over time, i.e. making them less functional.
Of course, we don't have to neglect the movement potential we are born with. Just a little stretching every morning does wonders to keep what's fluid healthy. Most of us have a build up of stuck connective tissue, however, and when that happens, it helps to have someone else move the tissues around (manual therapy, such as massage). Moreover, not only sleep but sitting at a desk in one position all day can leave you with stuck tissues, so really, most of us are due for some bodywork.
Once that's part of your routine, you can maintain your tissue health with plenty of dynamic movement --movement that communicates in two directions within the body. In another word, useful stretching (or yoga!). I say "useful" because stretching --or strengthening while putting a muscle in a long or somewhat stretched position-- only (or perhaps more readily, the research is still inconclusive) creates lasting change in your tissues when you consciously move two bones away from one another, and preferably two that are directly or semi-directly linked.
This means that if you're stretching the backs of your legs by trying to touch your toes but without hingeing at your hips, the most directly communicated stretch --from heels to sitbones (in your tuchus)-- is being avoided, and much of the stretch ends up in your lower back, which you may or may not be supporting with abdominal strength/awareness (if you're not, this position puts strain on the vertebrae of the lower back).
Instead, to really get in to the back of the thighs, fold at your hips (crease point at the top of your thigh), bend your knees and then slowly and with care press your heels/feet down (into the ground) as you stretch your sitbones up towards the ceiling (they will end up pointing whatever direction they point, but think of pointing them up towards the ceiling). KEY here is moving with enough awareness to control the stretch, placing it in the belly of the muscle, and not stretching too far too fast, which usually results in no change or a tear/strain/injury.
Ok, that's all the lecture I have time for today. If you want to learn more, leave me your questions or come take class! I'll be teaching dynamic movement all this week 🙂