In Part One of this post, I shared the first two mobility myths with you. They covered foam rolling and self massage tools, as well as stretching.
If you missed those, you might want to click back to Part One and read that first.
In today’s Part Two of this break down of common myths about ‘how you become more mobile’, I’m sharing insights with you on two particularly cantankerous myths…genetics, and yoga.
I know, the yoga one, eep. Here we go…
Four Mobility Myths (Part Two)
Myth 3. Some people just lost the ‘genetically blessed’ mobility lottery.
It’s probably true that you weren’t born with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s intelligence. But it’s also true that Neil didn’t just sit there with his big brain knowing he was already as smart as he could be. He took what he had and he grew it.
While you might think you’re just unlucky in the genetics department for mobility, you’re actually not likely at your genetic endpoint yet, and here’s why –
Your nervous system sets your “current mobility” (your range of motion you have within your control, read: not flexibility, which is passive) much lower than your maximum. It’s as if it’s a well-meaning, but overbearing mother who helicopters around her child keeping them “safe” from everything.
This happens via the stretch reflex, which you experience as a tightening sensation when your nervous system senses that you’re exceeding your normal range. And that’s a totally fair thing for your body to do, because without it, you’d injure yourself all of the time.
The stretch reflex acts as a ‘central governor’ mechanism and is trying to keep you safe by keeping you well below your threshold. So what decides your threshold?
- Your previous experiences, ie, the positions you are in most frequently are what your nervous system will set your threshold around. *waves to office workers everywhere who have been told they have “upper crossed syndrome”.*
- Your muscle’s ability to function at that particular range of motion, ie, if you don’t have control and strength in that range of motion, it’s going to be disallowed by your nervous system
In order to bump your threshold up, you’ve got to expand the range you have before your stretch reflex kicks in. To do this, you’ve got to teach your nervous system that you have control over those ranges that are just outside of the current threshold.
This means creating a safe environment for your nervous system to respond to stimulus, then exerting force into your tissues at their current end ranges, then heading through the window that opens up as new range of motion is granted. Over time, these new ranges of motion you’re capturing become your new ‘normal’.
This is neural control training at its finest. It’s a cornerstone of the foundations I help private clients and Unbreakable Body members build, and it’s something I strongly encourage folks to get with a coach to work on. Working with someone who has studied it extensively and can apply it into a training paradigm that is right for you to get the results you desire will make the journey much more successful.
So while you may not be the most mobile person of all time, what you’re experiencing currently in terms of mobility is definitely not your genetic end-point.
And even if you get to the point where you’ve achieved genetically epic amounts of mobility, your next job is to build even more strength through the end- and mid-ranges of your epic mobility. After that, your job is to become SpiderMan or Wonder Woman (the choice is yours). 😉
Myth 4. Yoga
I’m saying it right up front, the conversation around yoga is a bees’ nest. It can be wonderful for helping you clear your mind, center yourself, and find peace amidst a busy day. It also can be a hot mess of poorly executed ‘stretching’, ‘flexibility work’, and ‘mobility work’.
When talking with colleagues who are yoga teachers and who dig into the science of how the body becomes more mobile, they agree, there’s a lot of room for improvement in how yoga can be a training tool for mobility.
One friend and yoga teaching colleague said it best, “One way yoga can possibly help you tap into your mobility is by giving you some parasympathetic stimulation (ie, help you chill out) that reduces the overall tonicity of your muscles. Is that what most yoga is doing today? No.”
If you’ve been reading along in Part One and Part Two, you already can see where there are holes in how some classes present yoga, but let’s recap it here –
- Static stretching does not teach your nervous system how to control the new range of motion you’re trying to access. This includes laying in one position for several minutes.
- Mechanically changing the length of soft tissue (by being pushed further into a stretch, for example) does not change the structure of the soft tissue.
- If you’re always starting back at ‘baseline’ every time you do mobility work, it’s a sign you’re not giving your body the stimulus it needs to maintain new ranges of motion.
As I said before with regard to static stretching, something that helps you connect to your Self, reconnect to your breath, tap into your parasympathetic system, and become a better person, is not something that deserves to be written off entirely!
That being said, here are three things I think yoga studios can do to better support their members as they work to gain mobility:
- Start recognizing that without an expense to the body, you’re not actually gaining mobility. And holding downward dog for so long that your shoulders burn like hot fire, is not an expense that grants you the gains of actual, usable, lasting, hamstring mobility.
- Start re-teaching your students that mastering their nervous systems is sexy. “It’s far more sexy to be present with your current wrist extension mobility, and expanding that, than to practice handstands while ignoring the fact that you don’t have the wrist extension mobility within your control to actually do a handstand,” said Ryan Orrico, yoga teacher and perpetual student of the body and how it works.
- Stop pushing on your students to “give them a better stretch”. While it might feel good to assist someone into a position they can’t get to on their own yet, it’s not actually helping the student gain that range of motion necessary to achieve the pose on their own.
I enjoy a yoga class as much as the next person, but I don’t go to them thinking I’m going to improve my mobility. Yoga offers benefits, they just don’t solely reside in expanding mobility – at least not in the current iterations seen in some classes. Will there be teachers who defend against what I’ve shared here? Probably. And if that’s you, kudos, you’re probably leading a stellar class at your studio using all of the science we have at our fingertips to guide a student to real, useful, lasting, safe, accessible mobility.
Now that I’ve covered these four mobility myths, there’s a chance you’ve thrown your hands in the air and said “this is too complicated, forget it!” Realizing that your body is far more complex than you imagined it to be can be both overwhelming and incredibly exciting, when you consider just how much you can learn and influence in your body.
You’re not stuck with mobility that sucks, unless you decide you are.
You can get smarter with your training time, which means you end up not wasting your precious time on stuff that isn’t moving the dial.
When you realize your body is complex – and you choose to engage with it and learn about it and take care of it – the world of what’s possible opens up tenfold to you.
To continue your learning, you can do a few things…
My online program, The Unbreakable Body, guides you through training and learning to help you improve your mobility and strength. It’s an excellent choice if you want to take the reins as caretaker of your body, while being supported in the journey with custom programming and continuing education. I’ll be opening for new students this October so put your name on the waitlist if you’re interested in being one of my students.
You could also attend “university of You” and explore these topics on your own, reading anything you can get your hands on, and playing scientist on yourself.
No matter where you take it from here, go forward with the intention to become ever-wiser about how you spend your time as the caretaker of your body.
Want to understand, once and for all, how to start feeling good and moving well?
My book, The Movement Manifesto, will help you get started on the right foot.