I hear this all the time – someone says “I want to be more flexible, what stretches can I do so I can eventually touch my toes?” And then a look of confusion when I say something like “don’t keep stretching your legs, change the position of your pelvis instead.” Maybe you’re making a confused face right now as you read this. But I’m here to tell you continuing to stretch is not always the path to getting more flexibility. So then, what is? Changing your habits.
I’m currently reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. If you’re not familiar with this book, it’s about how we can use habits to change different aspects of our life. I’m only about 60 pages in so far, but I highly recommend it.
There’s a passage in the book that stood out to me and made me think about how our yoga practice is really just a physical expression of our daily habits. Here’s what he has to say:
“As habits form, your actions come under the direction of your automatic and non conscious mind. You fall into old patterns before you realize what’s happening. Unless someone points it out, you may not notice that you cover your mouth with your hand whenever you laugh, that you apologize before asking a question, or that you have a habit of finishing other people’s sentences. And the more you repeat these patterns, the less likely you become to question what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
This is part of the reason why a yoga practice can be so life changing for people. We’re unconsciously repatterning our brain and how we move. What muscles engage and which ones relax. We’re constantly feeding our brains and bodies information about how to move, which begins to infiltrate our unconscious movement and starts patterning in our bodies.
While yoga can do wonders for our aches and pains because we’re moving differently than how we’re used to, our bad movement habits can also rear their heads and stop us from achieving some of our goals, such as finally touching our toes and becoming more flexible.
If we’re used to sitting at a desk all day for our jobs, chances are we’re sitting with our pelvis tucked under us, like this:
Instead of sitting on top of our pelvis with the natural curve (slight backbend) of the lower back, like this:
Eventually that tucked pelvis in the first picture is going to become a habit that you create in your body. Our brains will begin to know only this position, so when we try to do the opposite, it either can’t figure out how to do it, or our nervous system starts sending signals to our brains to interpret the movement as tight. Why? Because your nervous system is always trying to keep you safe, and when you start to move in a way that’s unfamiliar it freaks out because of uncharted waters.
This is all to say, use it or lose it is real you guys! BUT not necessarily permanent 🙂
Quick anatomy lesson: when you forward fold, your pelvis has to look more like the second picture than the first. Otherwise your forward fold starts to look something like this:
See the HUGE difference?
So if all your body knows is the first picture, it’s going to start to forward fold like the first picture – tucked pelvis, very rounded spine, and a feeling like your legs are tight, or your back is stretching. You’ll most likely feel stuck and assume that the tight feeling in your legs is what’s stopping you from touching the floor, but in reality it is more likely to be your daily habits!
SO here’s what I’m going to suggest you start doing TODAY to take actionable steps towards increasing your flexibility AND get better posture, all with one simple exercise:
While you’re sitting or standing at your desk at work, work on controlling the tilting of your pelvis. Bring your hands to your hips and tilt your pelvis forwards and backwards like in this video:
Start to get familiar with the position that tends to be your habit – are you more forwards, backwards, or neutral with your pelvis? Use a mirror if you need to see it rather than feel it. Then start to find a middle place where that lower back has a natural small backbend and you feel centered on top of your hips. And then do this AGAIN and AGAIN and make it a habit. If you can make sitting more like the second picture a habit, then I’m positive it’s going to change your flexibility (I’ve seen it in action with my private students!).
When this starts to become a habit in your daily life, start to make it a habit in your forward folds. Don’t just bend over. Focus on what you’re doing and fold from your pelvis tilting forwards. Let your pelvis initiate your movement towards your toes – not your spine. And then hit reply to this email and tell me what you’re noticing – I want to know!
If you know someone who sits more like the first picture, go ahead and forward them this email so they can start to feel better during their workday 🙂
Make sense? Great! Got questions? Leave a comment below!