As soon as I started teaching I began to come across people who didn’t seem to be served by stretching. They would come to class regularly, but their hips or hamstrings or whatever, never seemed to change. It took a while but I came to realize that stretching isn’t always the answer. In certain cases we must learn to release the tension and/or trauma from a muscle in order to get to the point where we can stretch it.
If I had to guess, if you have had these issues, you have tried to stretch your way out of whatever problem you are having for a long time. There is a point where you look at your system, situation and condition and say that stretching is not the answer. Unfortunately, for the most part, when you go to doctors with sciatica and piriformis syndrome, they first tell you to stretch and then tell you to have surgery. We need to figure out a way out of that.
For the human nervous system to work at its peak the bones have to be well aligned. And the bones can only be well aligned if the muscles are properly toned—we need toned muscles to allow for the nervous energy to flow.
One solution is to have a more educated look at your muscles. A lot of muscles are tight and a lot of muscles are full of tension. And you can be both; you can be tight and full of tension. A muscle that is tight can very often be stretched open. However, a muscle that is full of tension (carrying physical and emotional tension) must be released out of that tension before it can be healed and repaired.
This is why we emphasize release work – the idea of letting go, the idea of changing conditioned patterns, not by doing more but by doing less and letting go.
Especially when you’re talking about a muscle in spasm like the piriformis or an overly tight or tense muscle like the psoas—stretching is often meaningless because the muscle is in spasm or stuck in contraction. In these cases, a focus on release will be much more productive.
What is the best approach to a muscle – is it best to stretch a muscle to bring it relief from its tension or is the best approach to release a muscle? Stretching the piriformis is about making a muscle longer. Releasing the piriformis is taking a muscle that is over worked and letting it not work; you change its relationship to life.
It is not that you will never want to stretch your muscles but you have to explore for yourself. See what brings you relief but also check in to see if you have ever had the experience of stretching and stretching, but nothing will change. Maybe there is an alternative approach.