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Proper stretching for maximum athletic condition involves many qualities that a couch potato would adore. Less is more. Each stretch works best if done only briefly, literally for two seconds. Easy does it. Nothing but a relaxed muscle will stretch. Pain is against the rules. Mental and physical comfort are required for top results. Slow down and smell the success. Periodic rests are necessary. It's a gymnastic that keeps on giving. After you're done, your increased circulation continues to flush toxins and spread oxygen and healing throughout your body. The only challenge to a couch potato is the necessity of being consistent with the gentle routines. However, this aspect is sweetened by the instant gratification a proper stretch delivers in the form of small waves of pleasure in your muscles. Begin a safe stretching program, and get ready to get hooked.
The Way of Stretching
Contrary to general practice, stretching is not merely a separate movement series done before and after exercise. Safe stretching is the blueprint for how to move your body at all times, during any activity, to achieve the most efficient, comfortable, powerful, and healing pattern of movement, and it includes mental exercise, too. As such, safe stretching is best done in brief interludes rather than as one long workout. Interspersing safe stretches during your exercise breaks, as well as during your daily work, gradually trains your body to perform proper motion patterns at all times and to release the strains that build up during the day. Consistent safe stretching ensures that your sport as well as your routine movement will soothe and renew rather than strain and exhaust you. An expanded, tailormade, safe stretching program that includes strength building also can be developed as your complete daily exercise.
The Way of Stretching combines three approaches to integrate (1) exercise positions for toning the whole body, (2) breathing techniques for energy rejuvenation, and (3) mental development, including meditation and visualization. Uniting these techniques balances body, mind, and spirit - key to ongoing physical and mental flexibility.
The exercises in this book come from my many years of researching and writing about preventive health care and from the numerous training programs on psychology and exercise that I've taken and taught, from aikido to Zen. The stretches are designed to stimulate all the muscles and joints in your body, including your brain cells. The way in which you move is the key to how fully your mind and body benefit - and to how much fun you have as you go.
You already have all the muscle length you need. Controlling flexibility requires control of an autonomic (unconscious) function. - Pavel Tsatsouline, Russian flexibility expert
How we interpret the word "stretching" in our minds before we start to move alters how we perform. Many of us assume that stretching means extending our muscles as far as we possibly can, even if this hurts a bit, in order to increase range of movement. Actually, overextension shortens muscles, decreases range of motion, and sometimes injures the tissue. We need to use a new definition that explains stretching as a process of working muscles gently and fully to their limit but not beyond. This is what is meant by the phrase "safe stretching." To promote safe stretching as you exercise, it can be helpful to think of lengthening the muscle rather than stretching it.
Working within your muscle range is the main key to the remarkable limbering effects of properly performed exercise. We often resist practicing moderation. It's tempting to push our limits, because doing so seems to satisfy an urge for instant progress. But pushing too hard is a short-term high. When the morning after dawns, our muscles ache, shorten, cramp. We may have torn some tissue that will require several days of inactivity to allow healing. This is the "one step forward, two steps backward" approach to fitness. In the long run, if we stretch with impatient overextension of our muscles, we develop a strained body with minimum range and stiffness of movement. As we age, the overstretched, overstrained body will present many problems. Stretch in haste; repent at leisure.
Would you rather have instructions screamed harshly at you or explained gently? Most people respond better to being told something calmly and respectfully, and our muscles react the same way. Light, smooth movement creates less defensive backlash in a muscle, less shortening of tendons, and more healthy flexibility and graceful ease of movement than a forced, extreme stretch.
The facts about muscle functioning support my experience that gentle, slow exercise systems are the most effective in promoting health, strength, and flexibility. Yet, in spite of evidence to the contrary, many people are still attracted to rough, fast exercise routines. These satisfy a Western urge for the promise of quick solutions and reflect a persistent attitude that power can't be simple or gentle. In actuality, the most powerful concepts or programs are also often the simplest.
Many excellent low-impact exercise systems exist from which to choose. Some of my favorites that I have trained in, to varying degrees, are Active-Isolated Stretching, Alexander Technique, Aston-Pattering, Feldenkrais, Hatha Yoga, Proskauer Awareness, Rosen Method, Rubenfeld Synergy, and Trager Integration.
After thirty-five years experimenting with varieties of wonderful systems, I have formulated a new technique that I have named the Rush Reverse. A need exists for a simpler stretching system that does not require years of complex training, that can be combined with any other exercise system, that works right away, and that is based on the most recent scientific understanding of how safe stretching works. "Rush" refers not just to my name but also to a key part of the technique, which requires that each stretch last for just two seconds. "Reverse" refers to my discovery that a sequence that decreases the intensity and range of movement before you stretch greatly improves your results. The Rush Reverse distills the key elements needed to induce muscle lengthening into a simple procedure that you can use anytime, anywhere, on its own, or in combination with other exercises.
As noted, most Western forms of exercise emphasize stressful movement of the muscles and the misguided "no pain, no gain" attitude. Safe stretching avoids harsh movements that trigger the production of large quantities of lactic acid in muscle fibers, which causes fatigue and tightness. Inhaling more oxygen lessens this fatigue, but it is not sufficient to counteract the negative effects of lactic acid. Rapid movement of the muscles also can cause excessive strain on the heart if it is already weak.
Thus, extreme muscle development is not necessarily a recipe for health. A healthy body requires balanced flexibility, stamina, strength, organ functioning, and mental control. In safe exercising, movements are gradual, often slow, always paired with their kinetic opposites, and coordinated with complementary breathing and relaxation. In safe stretching, you hold the stretch alertly for just two seconds, then release for a few seconds, then repeat the two-second stretch. Repetition adds a crucial aspect that gradually builds muscle strength and retrains your reflexes.
Stretching can benefit people of varying ages and in various physical conditions. Children, too, have fun doing exercises. Perhaps yours would like to practice along with you. Be sure to meditate on noncompetitiveness first, because children are usually much more flexible than adults. Safe stretching is terrific for aging bodies. The most common early indication of physical aging is stiffening of the joints. Ease of movement is often assumed to be the province of the young. But stretching can counteract this trend by careful attention to moving all the joints during exercise. Faulty alignment of the spine and poor balance can cause shortening of the ligaments and many other movement problems. Flexibility exercises help keep your spine in good alignment, and the low impact of controlled movements prevents strain to muscles and bones.
Several good reasons to do flexibility exercises are the mood and health benefits of increased oxygen and blood circulation. Slow movements combined with deep breathing achieve improved health better than fast, jerky ones. Efficient, coordinated movement develops as one practices safe stretching, because the balanced poses improve the central nervous system.
I feel sorry for someone who has to win at everything. - Snoopy
Women may have an easier time beginning than men because they are less apt to have practiced years of heavy bodybuilding sports, which shorten the tendons, flex primarily in a single direction, and leave a person muscle-bound. Also, women's hip joints are set farther apart than men's and can rotate in such a way that women can often assume complex positions with relative ease. This can be embarrassing to an otherwise athletic male. Of course, an overdeveloped sense of competition can spoil a workout for a student of either sex. Competition is not part of integrated flexibility training. Measure your progress only by your own sense of fulfillment.
As Deepak Chopra, MD, points out in his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, stress causes most of what we think of as signs of illness and aging. Exercise lowers your biological age and reduces stress so that your body can function well and look better at any age. Your degree of health and flexibility, not your age, determines how much you are able to do in life.
Leave behind the idea of stable solutions. Built to last now means built to change. - Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer, Blur
Use It or Fuse It
The way we stretch helps sculpt the shape of the muscles we develop and helps determine the quality of motion we display. You can move comfortably at any age if you move well each day. Physical flexibility requires proper movement of every joint in your body at least five days a week. If we do not move an area, a host of problems can occur: circulation gradually slows, waste materials build up rather than pass through, tendons and ligaments tighten and become brittle, skin loses its elasticity, muscle tone diminishes. The body's normal aging process includes loss of moisture content in the tissues. Our previously elastic muscle fibers clump together with connective tissue to cause stiffness. Unless we stretch, we dry up and fuse.
Ultimately, a joint can stiffen to the point of losing its ability to bend. Range of motion lessens, movements become jerkier, and comfort and pleasure in our body's locomotion wane. However, a simple cure for stiffness exists. Safe stretching separates the clumped cellular cross-links and encourages muscles to rebuild in healthy parallel structure.
Time to start stretching. Better yet, begin before you hurt in order to prevent such miseries. Anyone at any age can increase mobility. You simply need to follow the basic guidelines below and stay within your comfort zone to prevent strain.
Begin exercising with slow, steady movement sequences that increase your heart rate and muscle range. To cool down, slow your range and pace. Take the following guidelines to heart so you won't have to take your muscles to the doctor.
Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. - Wyatt Earp
Do not hold an extreme stretch for longer than two seconds, or you will trigger shortening of the muscle.
Don't jerk, throw your limbs, or bounce; quick, rough moves tighten your muscles. Control your actions.
Don't hold painful positions; this can tear your muscles.
Don't exercise an injured area without consulting your physician.
Don't favor one side or one direction of movement; this can lead to difficulties on the undeveloped side.
Don't hold your breath; this starves your muscles of oxygen.
Do move gently and smoothly; this builds strong muscles and burns fat more efficiently than movement at a fast pace.
Bend gradually and stay warm to prevent strain.
Pace yourself within your individual comfort zone.
Notice where you tense muscles unnecessarily, such as shoulders, jaw, or hands, so that while exercising one muscle, you do not unconsciously stress another.
Occasionally perform the routine with speed to increase aerobic effect and coordination.
Sprinkle single short stretches and five-minute meditations throughout your day for relaxation breaks and stress management.
Drink plenty of water. This increases your blood volume, thus circulation, thus relaxation.
Experiment with stretching to music to keep your pace and to inspire you.
Many stretching guides specify different routines for different sports. This is not necessary, because you need to limber your whole body to play any sport well.
Do some exercises from all the sections, selecting your favorite exercises from each body area to make up your personal flexibility regimen.
Generally, throughout exercises, breathe with your motion: inhale as you stretch out, exhale as you bend in or release.
When exercising on your back, lie on the floor or on a firm pad for proper support.
Excerpted from The Way of Stretching by Anne Kent Rush Copyright © 2005 by Anne Kent Rush. Excerpted by permission.
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