For more flexibility of body, mind and spirit, it is important to allow for it, rather than trying to make it happen. This is the difference between active and passive stretching as I practice it. In an active stretch, we physically push the body to be more flexible or to sustain a certain desired position or posture. But in a passive stretch we allow it to release from the inside.
Most people hold their bodies in some way. A physical or emotional trauma can leave a person tense or holding in certain places. This causes postural alignment problems which in turn can lead to pain and all kinds of other health imbalances. In order to heal physical or emotional trauma, release work is important.
When I work with clients on the table, in a session, or in yoga postures, I always encourage both active and passive stretching. I ask students to use the breath to release tension in their bodies and to let go of holding. At the same time, we work on healing THE CAUSE of the blockage. Letting go is important for physical, mental and emotional health. I learned this through various modalities.
One of my Pilates teachers would always remind us that “less is more”. We don’t have to push ourselves too hard to have a good workout. Rather, we can listen to our bodies and work with gentle respect rather than force any movement.
Many yoga teachers remind students in the same way that yoga is not a test of will or endurance but of working within one’s capabilities which might differ on any given day. Through yoga, I learned to be in the present moment, to accept and respect where I’m at, and what my body is or isn’t capable of. If we push the body in movement or exercise, we could really injure ourselves and we also forfeit the healing possibilities of moving with awareness and breath.
FM Alexander, the father of the Alexander Technique, described the human habit of “end-gaining”—the tendency to focus on an end result without being present in the process of achieving it. We are always thinking of where we want to be, rather than being where we are with awareness. The Alexander Technique gave me a wonderful way of working on letting go, passive stretching and awareness through Active or Constructive Rest. Alexandertechnique.com has pulled together all the available information about Active Rest in one place. They point out that there are three universal aspects to Active Rest:
1. Lie on a firm surface
2. Your knees should be elevated relative to your hips
3. There should (usually) be some support under your head.
Lie in the position in the pic above and let gravity help. Feel the body releasing and letting go. Use the breath to release the areas where you feel holding or tension and to allow the body to lengthen, widen and expand as if you were a sun radiating in all directions. Radiate the love of your beingness. Allow for forgiveness, blessing, respect, gentleness to heal what is out of balance (that’s me, not Alexander). Alexander placed great emphasis on releasing and elongating the neck in order to allow for the release of the rest of the body. Check out the resources for Active Rest and try it yourself.