3 minute read

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I love a challenging practice problem. One of our Inner Form members wrote to me and said, "I need more flexibility, but I don't have time to add a whole other stretching routine to my current practice. What can I do?"

I have good news if you've been mulling over a similar practice problem. It all comes down to how you understand flexibility.

Check out this quick practice video I shot the other morning. You'll see one way that I blend joint-by-joint mobility, qigong, and Cloud Hands:

Understand the Brakes

Most people think of flexibility as a fixed degree of stretch in your muscles. If you didn't have a chance to read my recent post on Frozen Shoulder, you should go back and check that out. The quick version is that your nervous system will throw the brakes on range of motion any time it perceives a threat to your safety. The problem is not with the particular muscle tissue. You actually have a communication problem going on with the nervous system.

So you have to find a better way to talk to your nervous system.

In Z Health, we look at an information hierarchy that governs how your nervous system processes input. The most valuable information comes from the visual system, then your inner ear, and finally from the positional information it gets from where your joints are in space.

Our goal is to assess how your nervous system is integrating these three sources of information and work out the different ways that you are receiving conflicting reports. Confusing information results in the threat level going up and things like range of motion going down.

He wrote me asking for a shortcut to flexibility and I'm ready to write a novel about the nervous system. Sorry! Hang in there.

Basically, there is a process you can go through to clear up all the different ways that your nervous system is confused.

Coming back to the flexibility issue specifically, the easiest thing to rule out at first is how all the joints are moving. You've heard me say this before, but a head-to-toe scan, mobilizing each and every joint, takes less than 15 minutes, so there's no reason not to do it. What you'll discover are "hidden stuck spots" that were impeding range of motion through this whole nervous system confusion process. A joint-by-joint inventory clears them up, your nervous system is able to more smoothly integrate positional information, and as a result it releases the brakes, giving you more range of motion.

As you progress, you work into more complicated positions, test bigger ranges of motion, play with different speeds and expand the range of safe, clean movement your body is comfortable with. In other words, your flexibility increases!

Check out the "morning mobility" video again. What you're seeing is how I've learned to integrate the mobility drills that open me up the most into my warm-ups for Tai Chi practice, without spending tons of time on them.

In this Inner Form tutorial, I answer Dara's question about hip flexibility specifically and teach a five-minute mobility practice that he can integrate into his regular Tai Chi practice.