It's funny how a blog starts with a coffee and a cake with a friend. I was talking about how the week had been full of pelvic twists with back pain and shoulder pain and I mentioned to my friend that as a woman of a certain age we should never sit with our legs tucked under and to the side ( as this really can cause pelvic issues). Out of this conversation springs this month's blog : Get flexible with Shiatsu and feel great!
My friend said: 'but it's the only way I can sit on the floor'
I said: 'Can't you kneel or sit cross-legged or kneel?'
'No, I'm way too inflexible for that.'
'What about doing some yoga?'
'I'd be too scared to do that, I can't do the moves and I'd get cramp'
Then I said: 'Shiatsu get's you Yoga-ready, it helps you get flexible again!'
Lightbulb moment for my friend:
'Why haven't you ever said that about Shiatsu before? That makes way more sense to tell people that shiatsu helps make you flexible so you can do the things that you aren't able to do.!"
Isn't it funny that after years of my friend knowing I'm a shiatsu practitioner that one day over a cuppa it finally clicks as to what shiatsu can do for her. :)
We're always asked (by business coaches): What problems can you resolve with Shiatsu?
And there is the usual list of back pain, joint pain....
Butsaying something like Shiastu gets your flex back don't get mentioned. I'd also add that I see quite a few ladies who are hyperflexible (joints can extend to far) and shiatsu is fantastic for helping keep them in shape too.
Get flexible with Shiatsu and feel great!
I remember when I was studying shiatsu I got all the men in my office (as I only worked with men at the time), so bend over and touch their toes, and I was surprised that some of the fittest men could barely reach to their knees. It started me down the route of just how important flexibility is, and then there is my own story.
Before training in shiatsu I was completely ignorant of flexibility and muscles that were too tight. I did a lot of sport, I could touch my toes I didn't think about it, no one was really talking about it back then, and I didn't realise my major knee pain was the cause of inflexibility, specifically of deep muscles called the Psoas. They were too tight, and remained so until my mid 30's. Tight psoas muscles caused knee pain, back pain, pelvic pain, horrendous period pain and I didn't really kneel down, I had no need to and just avoided such tasks.
Then I had to train in shiatsu, and we had to spend all day kneeling - my nightmare. Quickly though, as muscles are incredibily forgiving I was able to kneel comfortably and with it my knee and back issues faded away. Then with some extra releasing of these muscles my monthly period pains diminished dramatically. So my story of flexibility was very much to do with long bouts of sitting, at desk and in car, and this caused teh hip flexor muscles to tighten.
When I began to kneel 'well' I began to feel better in life, without realising it I was fitter and more energised than I had been for 20 odd years, these tight muscles were now soft and more flexible and I reaped the benefits.
How inflexible are you?
Inflexibility can affect us in different ways. Maybe you can't twist at the waist, look over your shoulder, sit in a chair without dropping into it, or sit cross-legged on the floor? Maybe the thought of being in a yoga class is your idea of a nightmare, and even worse maybe you're suffering with regular cramps or know that certain movements can trigger it?
Cramp is agony.
Cramp means your muscles aren't happy.
Cramp means you've got some inflexibility going on.
When you really think about it are there movements in your life you just don't do because you've learned to avoid because your body just doesn't want to do it, or it hurts?
Are there pursuits you would like to do but don't because you know you can't find a position or posture?
Think of my friend who won't go into a yoga class incase she can't do the pose, or cramps as she does?
Then there's the future....
If you're this inflexible, clonky or cramping now, what's going to happen as you get older?
When talking to women as they go through the menopause we talk about the five types of exercise/movement that should be incorporated into their life for health now and in the future. The obvious ones are cardiovascular and then impact (weight lifting to counter osteoporosis), then there is flexibility and balance, and finally mindfulness (calming the mind without exhausting the body - very powerful!).
Flexibility and Balance
As you get older these two very much go hand in hand. If you're inflexible you can way more easily be knocked off balance. Flexibility allows you to counterbalance, especially if you're caught when your weight is all on one leg. If you know you can flex with the wind you'll be far more resilient at staying up right; practise swaying whilst standing on one leg!
In Qi Gong ( a powerful exercise known as meditation through movement) there are beautifully named forms like Bamboo swaying in the wind, a simple exercise to allow your whole body to gently sway and flex.
If you'd like to have a go:
This is a very calming form, and as you stand there gently swaying you'll pick up whether you are quite inflexible down the spine, through the hips, the knees, the ankles. Just 5 minutes of your time; it's worth a try!
Which ways can you/can't you flex?
Can you bend over and touch your toes?
Can you bend backwards, or lie on the ground and do the the Yoga Cobra?
Can you stand with your legs apart, and slide your hands down your sides (sideways flex)?
Can you twist at the waist?
Can you see over your shoulder?
Can you turn your neck from side to side?
In last month's blog I talked about having a healthy back for a healthy body - read it here. If your spine is inflexible it's not as healthy as it can be and that will have knock on effects to your energy levels and overall health.
The lack of flexibility in your muscles can lead to toxins building up. This is why if you have a massage after a long time you can feel utterly rubbish the day afterwards. In massaging the muscle fibres stagnant fluids holding toxins are flushed out. It's better out than in but if you don't keep your muscles supple it will soon build up again. Toxins that are trapped in your muscles lead to pain and inflammation and can cause you more joint pain. The best thing you can do if you have joint issues is keep your muscles flexible and maleable, that keeps the fluids moving and toxicity down. Strong healthy muscles also support and protet your joints, if you think you're getting arthritis then you need to ensure your muscles are in good health and flexibility is key.
Inflexible body, inflexible mind?
It's like the chicken and the egg, which comes first? When you're physically inflexible question whether that is your mentality too? We have a saying in energy medicine, and I think this saying is specific to shiatsu:
Where your mind goes, Ki flows
Ki = Chi, the Japenese pronouciation of energy/lifeforce. If you have a think about how you view life, if it is very black and white, right/wrong then how is your flexibility - can you twist and sway. It's funny how your body can mirror your mindset.
If your mind is rigid, that can be the message that is being sent to your body, and so your Ki isn't flowing. If your Ki is stuck it becomes rigid and inflexible. You want to think like a healthy tree - strong, grounded, and in the wind swaying and flexible.
Get started on getting flexible
If you're reading this and you don't know where to start, check out the main photo in this blog:
This is called Child's Pose in Yoga, and we use it in Shiatsu too, it's incredibly relaxing - can you do it?
Learning to kneel again can be tough, but with the help of lots of cushions you can inch your way down until you're comfortable for longer periods, then (with support) learn to lean back, this can help stretch out those tight hip flexors and you could find yourself performing the perfect Spleen / Stomach Makko ho!
This stretch (below) has always been my nemesis, in Shiatsu we have a set of stretches to perform to warm and energise the meridians, known as Makko Ho, I know a lot of practitioners come unstuck on the Liver/Gallbladder one, so we all have our weaknesses :)
Click here to see the full set of stretches
The secret to becoming more flexible is not to push yourself to the point of pain. If you body is fearful of change or stretching then pushing it too hard won't loosen muscles, you'll tighten up instead. Little, gentle and often is the way to go.
Get flexible with Shiatsu
I see people who would love to do yoga, but fear stepping into a class; I get it. I remember when it dawned on me that I would be kneeling on the floor for 3 years that I was completely out of my comfort zone, and felt very creaky compared to my pretzel class mates, who made it look effortless. However 2 months in I was pretty good myself, so it didn't take long for my unflexible forgotten body to play catch up, and it's stayed pretty bendy ever since!
If anything you've read today rings bells for you then seek out shiatsu.
You don't have to wait to be in pain, or for your health to have taken a real turn for the worse. If you do want to try yoga and don't know where to start, or worry you'll feel foolish, or worse that it could be painful or cause cramp, listen to your body and get it the flexy TLC it's asking you for.
Getting flexible IS getting healthy, it's a really good reason to book a shiatsu. See treatments.
Andrea is a shiatsu practitioner in Cheltenham Gloucestershire. She regularly sees clients with twisted pelvis, tight glutteal muscles causing sciatica, knee and ankle problems, painful shoulders and tight neck muscles.
Tight and inflexible muscles lead to your body being pulled out of shape, this uses up a lot of energy and can leave you feeling low and lethargic. Free up your muscles and find your flex again, and you will feel rejuvenated. Shiatsu will get your flexible again, and feeling great!