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

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 (http://paulgrilley.com/bone-photos/)

From Paul Grilley (http://paulgrilley.com/bone-photos/)

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.

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© Kevin Saunders, Yogaground 2017

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