If you’re like me, not only did you think of two different people. On the surface, two wildly different people.
But when I look more closely at that strong person and the flexible one, both of them are both. The strongest people I know are amazingly flexible and the most flexible have deep strength.
Strength and flexibility. While we often think of them as two separate things, just like the inhalation and exhalation are two sides of a breath, strength and flexibility are two sides of the same thing.
Strength and flexibility has been a topic on Focus Pocus over the years (if you haven’t read them, or even if you have, you might be interested in Creating Flexibility with Strength, Soft Strength, and Strength in Length).
Our culture tends to think that strength looks like this
And flexibility looks like this
Apples and oranges, right? But in the body, it doesn’t work like that. In order for one part of the body to contract, another has to lengthen. Strength and flexibility are inextricably linked: our bodies can’t do one without the other. When we look more closely at The Body’s Way, strength and flexibility are most definitely not apples and oranges, but rather … um … a delicious layered apple and orange parfait.
In Nia, we use the Five Sensations of Fitness – Stability, Mobility, Agility, Strength and Flexibility – to increase health and well-being in the body. (In my practice, I also call them the Five Sensations of Life, since I find that all five sensations benefit every aspect of me.)
Strength is defined as energy moving in toward the bones and Flexibility as energy moving out along the bones. When I move with strength and flexibility I am really just breathing along my bones. In and out. Contract, release. I can’t do one without the other.
Where ever you are right now, sit up straight and squeeze your upper back, drawing the muscles between your shoulder blades together (drawing the energy toward the bones). As you do, notice what happens along your collarbones and in your upper chest.
Now stretch your left arm up and over your head and tip to the right, letting your left ribs open. Feel the energy move out along the bones on the left side and squeeze into the bones on the right.
Understanding this strength/flexibility balance of in and out, can help us when we are self-healing muscle soreness or injury. If, for example, your left hamstring is sore, stretch it by engaging the opposing muscles (the quadriceps) in the leg and do the same on the other side. If you have an injury in your right shoulder that only allows you to move it to shoulder height, then do the same on the left even if the left isn’t injured. The more I understand the way the body balances itself – front and back, left and right, up and down — the more I can help it heal and even avoid injury in the first place.
This balance of strength and flexibility is happening all the time. Every time we move, our muscles are breathing in and out along the bones. This week, play with noticing that breath. It’ll be yummy. Just like an apple orange parfait.