There is many times more information available on stretching than when I began studying and practicing it. There are many aspects to this – auspicious, suspicious and inauspicious. Much of the research and debate focuses on the efficacy (or lack thereof) of its use in improving range of movement and its therapeutic use (almost exclusively with pain).
This is all well and good but largely besides the point for how I utilize it. And, as my friend Simon pointed out somewhere the other day: most of the research is on ‘bad stretching’ (i.e low grade methodologies).
In physical reality high quality stretching makes human bodies more flexible over time [barring certain constitutional organic conditions]. Its use in pain-management I will say nothing about, as it is of little interest to me and does not factor in to the methods I use or the qualities and lessons I seek to teach.
What is of interest is the stretching done auspiciously is an exceptional tool at remapping the missing sensory information of the body. Before we consider why we would want this, it is worth backing up and seriously considering this fact:
You cannot feel all of your body.
If you actually contemplate this fact of existence – particularly after we have done some decent training in a physical method that works to enhance sensory body-awareness – it can evoke quite startling insights.
There are huge aspects of your physical body that you have no awareness of: muscles, bones, nerves, fluid systems, viscera organs, marrow. Surely they are there, or you’d be dead and unable to locomote – but where are they [?!]
Exposing these dormant tissues to the light of awareness and then integrating them into the body-image and sensory maps changes the way we move, the way we feel, the way we perceive and communicate; our gestural and posture libraries for expression – the very anchoring of our felt presence in space.
There is a term ‘sensor-motor amnesia’: ‘the ‘forgetting’ of ways to move and feel by our bodies due to a number of factors’ – coined by Thomas Hanna, that describes much of this. Some of these phenomena function in a cascade effect where amnesia breeds lowered motion and sensation capacity; which in turn creates more amnesia.
Of course there methods of self-cultivation that work against this sensory amnesia that originate in ancient times. Modern research is pointing to mental health benefits of sensory awareness, too – its use in regulation of the nervous system for stress and anxiety conditions – and on and on.
What is interesting for me, having a wide range of experience in methods for developing sensory awareness, is that different types of training preference different types of sensory cultivation. And that these can be put together skillful for emergent benefits [the likes of which are far, far away from being able to be researched fully – but than can nonetheless, practically and in real life, be learned and used to enhanced ones incarnate existence.]
Why not get in now and avoid the rush [?]
We can use a metaphor of instruments and orchestras.
Development of one type of sensory awareness training method is akin to learning to play an instrument.
There are degrees of mastery to this and it plays certain types of music very well. Other types, not so much.
We can learn to play a number of instruments, and, if they are mastered to a certain degree – not only do they sound beautiful in their parts of the song – they can also interplay with other instruments to create a rich tapestry of song.
One or multiple instruments trained poorly (and/or not conducted in harmony) produces a cacophony. And it is so with sensory training. Even to the point where there is not much transfer between some ‘instruments’* (types of training)
So returning to stretching, in this case specifically Repatterning Stretching, in my experience it develops qualities of sensory awareness that are not trained via movement, or even by totally still practices [yoga nidra; etc]. There is something about the muscles and soft tissues being stretched whilst motion is limited** that – when the other elements are correctly sequenced – leads to a different continent of ‘corpus terrum’ being explored.
This specific type of physical sensory awareness is the most useful in the transference into working upon the ‘perceptual inhibition’ in the red work, at least that I have found so far.
And of course, you can train in multiple instruments: just not all of them at once. Also, baring in mind that many of the emergent properties either of one ‘instrument’ or the emergence that occurs between instruments can take many, many years of diligent and correct practice.
And following from this: don’t believe something does not work just because someone(s) say it ain’t so… maybe they have been blowing with pursed lips upon a drum kit for 30 years; or using a violin bow on a flute [?]
High grade stretching is one of the best methods I have found remedying sensory amnesia of the physical body. It is not the only instrument I play, but I play it well.
Would you like to learn to play [?]
*transfer is something I go into in much more depth in the book.
**experiments with isometric strength work show great promise, again the line of thinking is that the lack of motion and safety allow for the properties of sensory training to be enhanced.