Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

Stiff people don’t exist, they’re a figment of yoga teachers’ imagination

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

I’m sitting in Paul Grilley’s class about 10 years ago. He’s famous for debunking a lot of myths about flexibility by going back to looking at the surprisingly large variations in bone and joints.

Up to that point, I was convinced that I had very stiff hips and if only I did all the hip openers enough, I would have ‘open’ hip joints. He started talking about the variations in hip joint movement, that some people are naturally good at internal rotation, some at external rotation. Something about it clicked in my body and I went from an experience of stiff hips to hips that were moving easily.

My hips hadn’t changed in that moment, so what did? Well, what changed is that for a moment I was working with my structure and not the story about the structure I thought I should have, if only I did enough yoga. It was my first step into mapping my own structure.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see the mechanism that comes into play when we try and move from a faulty sense of how our body is.

I had miss-mapped where the joint was, I thought it was further back than it was. So when I wanted to move my legs, I was telling my muscles to move an area that couldn’t move in that way. So, my muscles tried to work to stop the actual joint moving in order for the phantom joint to move. And since the only movement possible was in the actual joint, that was where the movement happened. So my muscles were trying to hold the joint and move it at the same time. I had a belief my hips were stiff and my faulty mapping of the joint was making that happen.

From Paul Grilley (

From Paul Grilley (

There’s another way to be stiff. Even if I have a good map of my hip joint, if I ask it to move beyond what it’s capable of doing, muscles will fire to protect my joint.

And then there’s the last way to be stiff, which is not to move enough for your body. If you don’t move enough, your muscles start gluing themselves together. (What is enough movement is a highly individual thing). This is genuine stiffness but is easily cured by movement. The final way is because you’re ill or coming down with something.

So, I’ve need to map my hip joints as a shape in my body. And I’ve also needed to have a sense of where the absolute limits to movement in that joint are. The absolute limits are when bone meets bone.

What would it be like to let go of the cultural story about stiffness? What would it be like to have an accurate map of our internal shape and range of movement AND then pick a practice that works from that knowledge?

Wish I’d known this earlier, it would have saved me many years of not understanding my structure and then trying to retrofit movements on my structure that later proved to be not a good idea!

Want to figure out how to do this for yourself? There’s still some spaces in my workshop in a few week’s time.

Are your shoulders killing you after a long journey?

Friday, April 7th, 2017

We’re traveling a lot these days. The normal commute is 25 minutes for people in USA and 54 minutes in UK. Then there are all those business and leisure trips.

I’ve realised over the years that I’ve bought into a fantasy version of traveling. In this fantasy, I can travel long distances without preparation, suffer no discomfort from the journey and be able to instantly recover.

I’ve wondered where this fantasy comes from, after all long trips were treated with a great deal of respect in the days where you had to use a horse or a ship to get where you needed to go. Perhaps there was no advertising industry to persuade us that traveling was entirely without difficulty, discomfort or stress?


For me, there are some stages to travel.

The art of preparation.

Stuff takes time. It takes time to pack. It takes time to plan a route, to book accommodation and transport. The funny thing about planning is that most of us get it wrong. We assume that it takes 20 minutes to pack a bag. It probably does but we forget… well, life happening. During that 20 minutes someone will call you. You’ll get distracted by deciding whether it’s green sock or blue socks. You’ll forget where you put your passport, get in huge panic, realize its where it should be and then take 10 minutes to calm down.

Then there’s the journey.

One of the stresses of the journey is caused by forgetting that a lot of other people will be doing the same as you. That it’s inconvenient for everyone, not just you. That you have absolutely no control of whether that train or plane will leave on time.

That there are long periods where nothing is happening other than sitting and being followed by short periods of intense activity and focus.

Are you able to sit quietly for long periods and then transition into intense (often weight bearing activity)? Or do you find that you that you either zone out or stress out when you’re sitting only to be startled when you reach your stop and need to get off with a bag?

Here’s a tip to help that:

Switch on your core. Your core is a very loose definition (anatomists get upset about us talking of the core) of some of the muscles that are towards the centre of your body. We tend to switch them off when we collapse or tighten up.

Guess what one of the best ways to do that is? Free your neck so that your core engages effortlessly. Free as giving yourself permission to activate the resources you need on demand. Free as giving yourself permission to be connected and present to what’s needed right now.

After the journey.

After the journey there needs to be stretches, relaxation, restoration. Joints get compressed and need time to decompress. Stiffness and swelling needs time and some body TLC to drop out of the system.

The best way to drop down an over activated nervous system, stressed out muscles is Svasana (if you’re a yogi) or the lying down procedure if you’re an AT person.

Check out some further tips about how to get into svasana in my article Yoga and lying down to rest.