The other day I climbed onto the massage table. It was my turn to have my tissues pushed, kneaded and stretched out. Aahhhh, I love that anticipation; knowing that I’m about to let go of tension and stress, and feel more lengthened and open. As I lay there face down with my arms dangling off the table, I had a few moments to settle in before my massage therapist came in. I decided to consciously fully embrace the experience I was about to receive and began breathing. With each exhale I felt the weight of my body sink into the table. It felt as if my arms were growing in length as they hung down in front of me, wait… not felt – they did grow! If my therapist had not arrived, I may have just melted my way right through the table.
It seems gravity has been talking to me a lot lately, and I don’t just mean sagging body parts. It has been whispering little hints to me in my massage therapy practice, with my pilates clients and to me personally in my own body. Sort of like the above example on the massage table. Its saying to utilize its pull instead of constantly fighting it.
A big part of my life is spent coaching people to let go of the tension in their bodies. Growing up I had a lot of practice lengthening and stretching during my competitive gymnastic days. We held stretch positions for what seemed like an eternity.
Granted, there are many theories on the best way to lengthen a muscle, but let’s start with some basic information. Within the belly of our muscles are muscle spindle cells that give feedback about changes in muscle length to our central nervous system (CNS). We have what is called a natural muscle resting length that describes how long our muscle is when we are relaxed. When a muscle is stretched there is a certain amount of contracting that happens to protect the muscle from over lengthening. This is all done with feedback from the muscle spindle cells.
Overtime, from different external and internal influences such as holding tight from stress, repetitive motions or injury we end up shortening our natural resting length of certain muscles. You can see it on others and feel it in your own body. Shoulders rounding forward, hands can’t touch the floor when bent over, or you can’t look over your shoulder anymore are all examples of stiffening up. We can actually improve on all this shortening and re-educate our muscle spindle cells to communicate a longer resting length back to our CNS.
Let gravity be your friend. The next time your stretching or resting (or even while sitting there reading this article) try playing a little game with your body. First of all, breathe, your muscles need oxygen to function at their optimum levels and this includes resting! Secondly, the act of breathing is a great tool to help you sink into the pull of gravity.
Start with taking a full breath (into the belly area) and on the exhale let go of your first level of holding tension. On the next breath, exhale a little deeper and feel more muscle fibers being pulled by gravity (your shoulders probably dropped a little lower). With each exhale search for an area of the body or specific muscle and see if you can give in even further (your arms and hands maybe got a tad heavier). Visualize your tissues becoming longer and more supple. Keep doing this search and relax game until you can’t let go anymore into the pull of gravity and then hang out and let gravity “pull’ you for awhile.
This game is a subtle one, but once you get the hang of it (no pun intended) it can truly deepen your understanding of letting go within yourself on a new level.
Alana Simler spends her days working with people through massage and pilates in the tranquil setting on her property. After 19yrs of practice and teaching, she enjoys sharing her gained knowledge and experience with those looking to deepen their connection with their own body.