Stretching is on its Last Legs


Getting Your Glide On (or something to think about instead of the apocalypse.

“Imagine you are standing upright and suddenly by magic your skin and soft tissues (muscles, fascia, viscera and all) disappear. What would happen to your skeletal system?  Of course it would crash to the floor. But what if we disappeared all your bones leaving only the soft tissues? Again we would gather in gather in a soft heap on the floor. This begs the question, ”who is holding you up”. In such a scenario it is easy to conclude that it is the relationship between the soft and harder tissues working in continuity that provide humans with what we call “lift”. It is this lift that protects the integrity of the joint space.

Visible everywhere are structures that ensure a gliding movement between the aponeuroses, the fat structures and the dermis. This also has implications on our view of “stretching” as tissues glide and morph to facilitate movement and perceived elongation. The word gliding is important here - specifically as tissues in the human body glide relative to each other, not slide relative to each other. In my view the use of the word sliding reflects a common misunderstanding in anatomy. Sliding would result in friction but tensegrity structures (when working as designed) are frictionless in the joints of the body. This is a reason why I say cartilage tissue is not a shock absorber.

In BioTensegrity there is no internal surface on which to move along, unless of course the body breaks down and we experience the pain and discomfort of bone on bone or organ or organ. The space witnessed at joints is a result of the bones floating in the tensional connective tissues. Bones are not meant to touch and when they do (and they sometimes do) this is a reflection of something having gone wrong. In effect the system is not performing, as it should.” —Clinical Anatomist John Sharkey

I wonder how our verbal cues and directives have shaped perceptions and strivings within yoga, a thing most perceive to be largely a stretching endeavor? What would happen if we exchanged the s-word for gliding? How does the language we choose dictate our movement practices and place value on certain aspects? What are we after when we choose to "stretch": relief from global stiffness, freedom of movement, alleviation of pain? Why have we maligned words like "stiff" and "tight" in favor of "loose" and "stretched" and "limber"? Are any of these commonly accepted descriptions anatomically accurate? Can we begin to update our language to better describe how our bodies actually work and what we're actually seeking?

Erin Jade