By doing stretching exercises you might be betting on the wrong horse

The girl I’m dating at the moment is extremely flexible – in some movements. Like neck flexibility, she can turn much farther than I can, in the hip joints too, she can squat to perfection. She can sit comfortably in W-sitting and lie back onto her back, with her legs bent in W, and find that comfortable for extended periods of time. She can touch her palms together with the fingers pointed up – behind her back. Her hamstrings, however, as I tested them via the 90/90 hamstring test, are almost as short as with most everyone else… who doesn’t stretch. This girl doesn’t do any sports, she doesn’t do Yoga, nor does she do stretching exercises. Apart from a couple of hours of dance class she’s visited years ago she hasn’t done any stretching exercises in decades. But how come she’s so flexible overall?

I have observed her for almost 2 years now. What I can say is this: she’s using unusual postures. When “normal” people would sit straight on a chair, she’s sitting crossed legged on the chair, with both feet up on the seat. Or at least she will have one foot standing on the seat with her knee drawn up to her chest. Here in Vietnam I’ve seen women sit crossed-legged on their motor scooters while driving, but who on earth sits crossed-legged in the bathroom? And she sleeps in the most twisted ways as well. I’ve never seen anyone sleep in such bent and twisted positions as her. For a while I snapped pictures of her sleep positions, so I could wrap my head around what’s going on there. Some of her frequent sleep positions would put some of the more advanced Yoga postures to shame. She’s the opposite of what mattress sales people are promoting when they advertise that their 7-zones mattresses can put the spine to rest in a neutral position. And yet, she can stand upright and symmetrical like any other “normal” person.

So what’s the secret to her flexibility?

Last week I was throwing myself on a couch and all of a sudden went into a stretch, a cat stretch. The kind of extension movement that comes over you and you just can’t help but go with it. My back arched, my arms lifted overhead, I may have even yawned. It felt nice. “The cat stretch”, I thought after the stretch has run its course. I thought of cats and dogs. They tend to do that, but is that their secret to flexibility?

Yesterday afternoon I was standing at a lake in a nature resort and watched a goose clean her feathers. Her neck bent. I stared. She looked up, looked at me. I said, “Good job, Mr or Mrs Goose”. The goose continued her job by wiggling her tail and then working her back feathers with her beak. Left side, right side, she bent her long neck all the way to her behind from either side. She even managed to pick on the feathers of her upper back.

“I think you sleep with your nose under your wing”, I said to the goose. In the distance, just across the lake, I saw two horses. And a third one, a baby horse, which was lying flat down in the lawn wiggling its tail. I was thinking, “Do horses ever lie down?” Was this a horse or a dog? I was thinking about cats and dogs. They never sleep in a straight position. They are most always bent in a curve when they sleep. In the distance I saw the baby horse jump up when her mother moved a step away to find some more fresh grass to chew on.

Cats and dogs clean themselves too, I guess most animals do. They require and make use of their flexibility and full range of motion multiple times per day to reach around themselves with their mouth.

Even I clean myself every day, I do take a shower a day, where I reach every spot on my body with my hands. Maybe I should use my mouth instead? In Feldenkrais we have a lesson called, “painting the floor”, where we slide the foot over the floor. And there’s a lesson where we slide the hands over the body and try to imaging it’s a brush and we paint every bit of the chest, for example.

In fact, I just played with a few movements like this, in a strongly constrained position… lying prone, head turned to the left, left hand standing in a push up position, left knee drawn up to meet the forehead, head bent towards the knee under the bridge that was formed by my left arm… is there no name for this position? I did the brushing with my right hand, and then with my left, I tried to reach as many places as possible. I painted my head, parts of my back, my left inner thigh, my left foot, my right outer thigh… and felt more flexible, more nimble and more complete, afterwards.

Also, if cats and dogs sleep with their spine in a curved position, a strongly curved position I might add… maybe that’s the secret to maintain flexibility.

The cat stretch. Maybe stretching experts have gotten it all wrong. Maybe they’ve put all their eggs in the basket with the loose handle, maybe they were betting on the wrong horse all along. Maybe they should have invested in the cat clean and the cat nap instead.

Who knows? Who cares?