If we rethink our idea of flexibility, we see how fundamental it is for health.
Let’s start with the idea that you’re a complex system embedded within other systems. What this means is that your cells self-organize within a changing environment day in and day out. Everything about you is in flux (when it's working well, that is...)
The nature of complex systems is such that they exist far from static equilibrium. They’re in a constant re-balancing act based on the demands of the situation at hand.
You can easily feel this for yourself. Try standing perfectly still for 60 seconds.
You’ll inevitably notice micro-shifts in where you hold tension, where your feet meet the ground, and how you organize yourself. In the world of contact improvisation this is even called “the little dance.”
Look at you; you’re improvising your entire life, and you didn’t even realize it ; )
Here’s where this gets interesting.
Systems need quite a bit of flexibility in order to be healthy. They need to be able to handle perturbations and return to that balance point of homeostasis. The greater the magnitude of perturbation they can handle, the healthier we could say that system is.
Now think of the most anal-retentive, OCD person in your life (maybe it’s you…).
If things aren’t just so, that person can hardly function. They have a small amount of systemic flexibility, a very narrow range of tolerance limits.
What this means is that a loss of flexibility in the system necessarily implies a loss of health. That system can get by within a narrow range of situations, but outside of that range it'll collapse (this manifests as injuries and illnesses).
By extension we’d say that lots of flexibility in the system implies lots of health. The more situations you can effectively navigate, the better off you are.
Here’s what this means for our movement practice.
Flexibility in a systems-lens isn’t the same as flexibility of your body.
Flexible systems =/= flexible bodies.
Instead we need to understand that flexible systems = mobile bodies. By mobile bodies I mean bodies that can control its utmost range of motion, generating strength throughout a given joint’s flexibility.
The more mobility you have, the more flexible your system will be. That means that you’ll be capable of handling more of what comes your way.
How do we do it?
Well, there are some technical details we could lose ourselves in, but in a nutshell:
We move into end range of motion.
We actively engage our tissues in that range of motion.
We try to actively move deeper in that range.
We rest and repeat.
This is the most logical process we can use to increase our mobility.
What this does is improve the flexibility not just of our joints, but of our entire system. It gives us control in a broader range of movement situations. We're able to move more of ourselves, in more ways, in more conditions. This leads to greater health of our entire organism.
Again you're a system of systems nested within systems. Piecemeal approaches simply won't cut it. Understanding how these things work makes it far easier to improve yourself.
If you want a simple framework to follow, click here to download a free copy of my ebook, "No Limits: A Practical Guide To Better Movement & Better Living".