Sunday, December 7, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

This weeks video....

will expand on the iliotibial stretches from last week's lesson. It should be uploaded either Saturday or Sunday, so check back. In the meantime, please note that if a stretch is difficult to do, it means it really needs to be done. Tight muscles speak in the language of pain, you just get to choose how loud it speaks. When you lift a box and tear a muscle, your muscles will scream "pain". That is different from the pain you feel bending over your leg to stretch that same muscle before your injury ever happens. By the way, if you keep at stretching those muscles that "speak pain", they will lengthen, become more pliable, and will no longer be an issue for you.

If you enjoy this blog, and the videos, please turn others on to it. I created to help alleviate pain in the world. I know that many people can get feel better from stretching muscles that are tight from either physical reasons or emotional ones. Thanks.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

How to stretch your Iliotibial band

Here's today's video. I have a lot of stretches for this area, this video just shows a few. Post any questions on the blog!

Friday, November 28, 2008


how tired you get after Thanksgiving dinner. After everyone went to sleep, I went downstairs to stretch. I got halfway thru my planned routine, and felt like I was nodding off. So I did. Funny how that is. I also find I do stretch better on an EMPTY stomach, and then afterwards, don't eat as much. Maybe I should write a diet book, Stretch Away the Pounds.

Hope all your holidays went wonderfully, we will have a new video up in a few days, so check back! Also, I have been getting a lot of emails lately with stretching questions, I think many could be answered by previous posts in this blog. So surf around, you may find what you are looking for. It is sometimes hard to answer all the emails I get, but I try.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An interesting note

I launched in 2000, basically as an archive for my patients and students to refer to. It has a huge life of its own. Yesterday, I was checking my webstats to see which page got the most hits. Wanna guess?

OK, I'll break the suspense. Iliotibial stretches, with 1.1 MILLION hits! When I asked readers to tell me which stretches I should demonstrate on my Youtube videos, the most asked for was iliotibial stretches. Who would have thought such a little muscle could cause such an uproar?

BTW, is a free site to viewers, paid for by me and supported by the advertisers on the site. So, go visit my advertisers and help keep the site up and running! We appreciate it!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Today's video..

Got the Macbook back from Apple (port was replaced, glad we have Applecare!), so we are now able to get back to our regular video feature. Today, I discuss shoulders.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


We planned on updating the blog with a new video every week, but the port on the MacBook went out. All the videos are on that computer. It should be back later this week, so the vids will be posted then.

Will update, in the meantime, keep stretching!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The REAL reason I started stretching

When I first started to study karate, I would strain/pull my muscles all the time. This resulted in pain. But, when you are a kid, that kind of pain does not slow you down that much. My Teacher, Dr. Sohn, told me I needed to stretch more, otherwise my skill in karate would be limited. He told me that when he studied in Korea in the 50's, the first thing he noticed as the difference between the Korean students and his fellow Caucasions, was that ALL the Koreans were flexible, and their bodies were not hampered by tight muscles restricting their movements. The Caucasion students, on the other hand, were all tight Americans who could barely touch their toes. When Dr. Sohn returned to the States to teach, he placed great emphasis on body preparation. It took me a few years to value this myself, but when I did, my ability to kick like in the photo became a reality.

Only later on in life did I find that was just the beginning of the benefits of stretching.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stretching and the Economy

Worldwide, everyone is feeling the effects of the state of the economy. What does that have to do with stretching? Muscles tighten as part of the fight or flight reaction in the body. The fight or flight reaction is a response to stress in the environment. In primitive times, if there was the threat of an attack, man would experience a change in his physiology to deal with the circumstances. For example, the trapezius muscles (shoulders) would tighten to protect the spine from being pierced by an animal's teeth. The heart rate would elevate to allow an instantaneous shift to running mode. Senses were alert. Then after either a fight, or after the threat has been neutralized because primitive man ran from it, the change to the body would subside and the body would relax and return to its normal state. Most battles were over territory, food, and security.

See the connection? Our muscles tighten as a result of major changes to our environment. The economic climate now threatens our personal territory, food and security. Sure, we don't hunt, we go to the supermarket, and we don't live in a cave, but the human body goes through the same changes as primitive man.

Many people today are waking up to face the day with tighter muscles than before, due to the stress of the times. Help the body return to its natural state by stretching and opening up the tight joints in the body. It will only help.

Monday, November 10, 2008

About that last video

There are probably a gajillion stretches I could show as a "last minute" stretch. The reason I picked that one is because most folks ask about what to do before going for a walk, run, or gym workout. So, I picked one that is a large scale "stretcher" of hamstrings, gluteal muscles, lower back muscles, groin, calf, and iliotibial bands. The stretch shown really gives you the most stretch in the least time for those areas. It won't stretch the upper body much, and if you added a little upper body stretching, it wouldn't hurt. Next weeks video is a quick shoulder/upper body warmup.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A couple of details....

about the stretch in the first video (below).

1. It is best to hold onto something. Taking out the balance component allows you to concentrate on releasing the quad muscle. Also, to balance requires a little tension in some alternate muscle groups, so you may not get the desired level of stretch.

2. As you hold the heel to your buttock, try to feel the leg release from the inside (your femur, or thigh bone) to the surface of your skin. This simple idea allows you to get much deeper stretch sensation.

3. Make sure your hips are level.

5. Breath. It helps to relax no matter what, especially when you are trying to stretch a muscle.

6. Try this: After doing both legs, and rolling your hips as shown, repeat the exercise. You will be rewarded with much greater stretch than you started with.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Plans for

Thank you for all your positive emails regarding the video, I appreciate it. It seems Web 2.0 is moving towards more interactivity! (Web 1.0 was just looking at pictures). A few folks have asked me to demonstrate/teach specific stretches, and that's a terrific idea. If you have a stretch you would like a video of, let me know.

On the production end, we need to increase the resolution. I find the videos grainier than what I would like. The camera we are using has 3ccd technology, so the videos should present clearer than they do. Its probably a setting we need to adjust.

I may revamp the howtostretch website and embed videos within each catagory. That's a bigger project, but its on the blackboard. Also, I have many, many more exercises that are not on the site at all, so perhaps instead of photos, they will just be videos. The plan is to do a couple of videos a week, and my daughter will edit/title/upload them, and we can launch them on each weekend.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The First Howtostretch Video on Youtube!

Check out our first Youtube video, we plan to do one weekly (we have shot three so far). Fun stuff!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Today's Project

We are working on a 3 to 5 min Youtube video to demonstrate different stretches. Should have it done today, and get it posted tomorrow. Check back!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Stand or Sit?

A lot of folks ask me if its better to stand or sit when stretching. Well, it depends. Lets look at stretching the hamstrings and low back. If you sit, your upper body can be more relaxed, but at the same time, if you are really tight, you won't stretch much. In the lower photo with my back straight, you will probably improve your stretch more if you stay seated on the ground. If your back is curved, as in the upper photo, you may help the stretch more if you stand with your feet together, and let your body hang. Using your body weight to help you stretch is fine provided you don't have any back pain. Why? If you have back pain, it may help to hang over your legs, but when you contract your back muscles to stand up, you may further injure yourself.

So, assess whether you are stretching to alleviate tight muscles or back pain. If tight muscles, really, either way is fine, standing might help you more. If you have back pain, sit and stretch only. The increased feeling of stretch you get will not outweigh any exacerbation of your pain.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

But I Don't Want To!!!

Many times, when we stretch, our body is resistant. The muscles that have tightened from daily repetition of activities does not want to cooperate. If it did willingly, we would all be circus performers, Olympic gymnasts or yoga instructors. So often the body says "But I don't want to!" in regards to stretching.

That's ok. As my Teacher once (maybe twice!) told me, if there is something you don't want to do, that is reason enough to do it. Obviously, in the case of a tight muscle, its tight for a reason, and if it does not hurt already, it is going to. So, taking the "bull by the horns" and insisting on stretching when your body says "no way", you go a long way to undoing what life has a tendency to do to human bodies.

Now insisting on stretching does not mean vigorously forcing a muscle to do what it can't. It means going about your stretching program anyway, with great attention to detail (see and seeing your results in time. You will be glad you did.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fitness that counts

One of the ideas my Teacher passed onto me was the idea that fitness cannot be onesided. To really be healthy, and live a life as painfree as possible, there needs to be a balance between aerobic fitness, flexibility, and strength. Many people focus on one, perhaps two, of those components. To really experience health, try adding some "missing" training to your routine!

Aerobic conditioning keeps your heart and circulatory system in top notch condition. It promotes sweating to rid the body of toxins, and elevates levels of endorphins to help you feel good.

Flexibility training helps to elongate your muscles, prevent injuries by allowing greater ranges of motion, strengthens tendon attachments in eccentric contractions, and relaxes the mind/body connection.

Strength training maintains or builds the contractile power of your muscles, keeps muscles balanced in power from left to right and front to back, which plays a large role in injury prevention. Strength training with weights done properly attracts calcium to bones, and is essential to prevent osteoporosis in women.

Also, if you ever get injured (like when I broke my arm), you can at least do one or two of the components (ie, stretch and lift, aerobic conditioning and stretch) while you are recovering. Such a program will speed your recovery as well, bring fresh blood to tissues that need to heal.

Back to bloggin'

Greetings. I know its been months since I last posted a blog, however, it has been a longer road to recovery than I planned. Two weeks ago, my mom with alzheimers, passed away. I have been caring for her as well, so time was at a premium for me.

My plan is to outline my recovery, and detail what stretches helped for what issues. Maybe some ideas can help others.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Such a long time..

Wow, its been a long time since I posted, but life got in the way. I went back to work two weeks after my broken arm surgery, and it was exhausting to do my work as a chiropractor with just one hand. But I did it (I hired someone to work for me, but he flaked out, so I took the initiative to take care of my patients health as best I could). After a few weeks, my right hand improved to where I could use it in a limited fashion. My hand surgeon x rayed my arm, was pleased with my recovery. He cleared me to work part time, since the arm was still showing signs of the break in the xray. Two weeks ago, I had another xray, and I am good to go! There is soft tissue damage, and while it is improving, sometimes my arm and hand are very sore at the end of the day.

Along the way, I have been pretty exhausted at night, both physically and mentally. Writing a blog was not on my list of priorities. In the two months since I last wrote, I have received a lot of questions about stretching by email. While I would love to answer each on individually, I do not have time. It would take hours a night to do so. So what I will do is answer as many as I can as topics in the blog. I will get to each one as I have time and energy.

Sayonara for now.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Reasons to be cheerful, part 3

  1. You woke up this morning
  2. You can touch your toes with your knees straight.
  3. You can't touch your toes with your knees straight (great, something to work on!)
  4. You are already doing a stretching program to improve your flexibility and posture.
  5. You are contemplating doing a stretching program to improve your flexibility and posture.
  6. You just finished your stretching program to improve your flexibility and posture.
  7. You find yourself sitting in stretching postures, like half lotus at work in your chair.
  8. You've moved aside everything in your cubicle so you can stretch while you work.
  9. You sit on the floor in front of the television instead of the couch, and work on half lotus.
  10. You find it is no longer an effort to stretch, but an enjoyable challenge that is relaxing.
  11. You sleep better at night, you eat less, you wake up feeling refreshed with no body pains.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Why Posture is Important

How can you improve your stretch, strength, and endurance all at once? Improve your posture. Just what your parents told you, stand up straight! Actually, it is not so simple. When you stand upright, with good posture, you are using the minimal muscle tension possible to maintain that position. If you stand as straight as you can, your muscles are less tense, when you use them you will have greater contractile force, and you will be able to use them more than if they were tight and tired (IE increased endurance).
In fact, many of the issues of tight muscles that people encounter when they attempt to stretch, are due to bad postural habits. For example, lets say you sit slouched at the computer, neck muscles tense to keep your face from hitting the screen. When you go to stretch your neck, it is going to be much much tighter than if you sat at your computer upright, and did not lean forward. As a rule of thumb, if I would look at you from the side, your ear lobe should be centered over your shoulder, which should be centered over your hip, which, if you are standing, should be centered over your knee, and the weight should fall into your feet with a line slightly ahead of your ankle. This is a plumb line from your ear lobe to the floor.
So, if you work on your posture, you will be astounded to see how much your stretch will improve as a result of that. Try this exercise: stand with your back to a wall, all parts of your back touching the wall (hips, low back, mid back, neck), and bend your knees slightly. Begin to feel what a flat back feels like. Now, if you have shortened neck muscles, you may not be able to do that part of the exercise, but just beginning to comprehend what a straight back is in a standing position will help you a lot. Of course, when you move, the curves in your back will return. But working on a straight back against the wall can stretch the ligament that runs down your spine and keeps you from being able to perform certain stretches that require full body flexion.
Check out my DVD if you wish to learn more about the muscles that hinder posture, with how to stretch them out!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Quote from my Teacher

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistance and determination, talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not, the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistance and determination are omnipotent."
Dr. Robert C. Sohn

Food for thought. That's all for today.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A question from Cyberspace

Hi Mark,

I've been seeing your posts for years, and checked out your site
and blog. I'm looking for specific stretching and strengthening advice
for bicyclers, hoping you might point me in a helpful direction.

In brief, I'm 62 and for 20 years have had various lower extremity
issues: hip, knee, foot. Each dealt with separately. Seems likely,
from google searches and a dash of common sense, that they are
actually an inter-related system. My chiropractor says it looks like
I probably pronate, and the inner quad (medial) muscle is probably

weaker than the outer (lateral). He referred me to a personal trainer
and a bike fit guy. They both are entrenched in the 'high-tech
racer' mind set, and I suspect not a good match for me.

I also wonder why riding fixed gear over rolling terrain can actually
help my knee feel improved. Any thoughts will be most appreciated.

Larry F
Marblehead, MA

Larry, good question. Lets go backwards. Fixed gear riding places the work load more evenly amongst the four quads, the hamstrings, and gluteal muscles, for starters. And that's just in the upper leg. Additionally, fixed gear riding engages your lower leg muscles (gastrocnemius, which is the calf, tibialis anterior and posterior, which are the shin muscles) particularly when you are going downhill, and resisting a fast spin with your legs. So since you are basically sharing the resistance training with your muscles above the knee and below, from the front of your leg to the back, you will stabilize those muscles and help your knees. On a geared bike, we
all can avoid this work of knee stabilization by coasting down hills.
Now, I have never met you in person, but I bet you your legs are damn strong. In 25 years of practice as a chiropractor, I have never met a cyclist who had a problem with strength. Now, muscle imbalance is another story. Just from reading your description, I would say your iliotibial muscles are VERY tight. Check out my page on those stretches, tell me if you can get into this stretch.
All the way. Like this:

Bet you can't. If you can't, that is good, you have something to work on to fix your issues. Also, your medial quad and inner thigh muscles are often tight to offset the tension in your IT (iliotibial region). So there is a war going on between the inner leg and the outer leg, and your knee, and eventually your back, is the loser.

Check out page one and two of the IT stretches, and let me know how it goes. Good luck Larry, you can fix this!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What I learned from my accident

In recovering from my broken arm due to a motorcycle accident about two weeks ago, I have learned a few things. We as humans take for granted something called tendon glide. Tendons attach muscles to bones, and they glide in their sheaths as we move our joints. In the case of my tendons in my wrist, I can no longer do this:

Much less this:

In the case of this picture, when I relax my wrist, it barely bends at all right now.

Needless to say, I am hard at work to restore the tendons so I do not have long term issues with my hand. It is really good that I could do all the stretches I could before the accident. There is definitely some body memory. Funny, it will take longer for me to fix the soft tissue damage to my tendons than for the bone to heal.

PS, thanks for all the DVD orders. I am sure there is enough info on it to keep people stretching until the next DVD comes out. The next project will be an in depth class taught by me with many, many more details than on howtostretch. You can order your Posture DVD here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

New Guest Instructor, Kam Singh

I would like to let all of you know there is a new guest instructor on the howtostretch website. Kam Singh is an accomplished practitioner and teacher of yoga, and sheds some light on a difficult and important stretch.

Also, I apologize to those of you that have sent me questions, I will answer them! two weeks ago, I had an accident on my motorcycle on my way to work. I broke my right arm (I am typing this with my left hand!) and had to have surgery to fix it because the break was pretty bad. Thanks to my years of martial arts training, I know how to roll and fall correctly, and was not hurt worse. I was also wearing proper gear. My break came when my bike hit the ground and the force from the handlebar went into my arm. (just for your info: I was going slow on a side street, someone cut across me, then stopped right in front of me).
For those of you that have ordered my new CD, they have been sent, thanks for your orders. The CD is still available, you can order it here. I really appreciate your orders more than ever at this time, because with a broken right arm I will not be able to work as a chiropractor for a while.
BTW, I did stretch at least 20 mn a day for several days after the mishap on the 12th. Since the surgery on the 19th, I have not stretched, as every time I got on the floor to do so, I would find myself napping. the body needs its energy to heal itself.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I have not had a lot of time to post lately, been busy with personal projects. One of those projects is my new DVD, "Correcting Posture Through Stretching".

This DVD is appx 36 minutes long and covers the essential stretches necessary to correct postural problems that haunt many people today. The introductory cost is $18 plus shipping, US sales only for now. Limited availability, check the website for details.
  • where posture comes from,
  • how postural defects unfold,
  • what habits affect posture, and
  • which stretches can help correct poor posture! The information is clear, direct, and easy to follow. Click here to find out more info.
Many of you have sent me some great questions, they will be answered in the blog because I think a lot of folks have the same issues and would like to learn more. I will only use initials for names to insure privacy.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Side to Side balance

Tim asks:
Through the different stretching excercises, can one access any muscle imbalances ? Would that be one side being tighter than another side ? If both sides seem the same during stretches, could one assume they do not have any muscle imbalances ?

I answered:
If both sides seem the same, one could assume that the muscles are balanced. That said,
I am going to add my opinion that most people on the face of the earth of some sort of muscle imbalance. Why? Well, one reason is handedness. Right handed folks are going to be using different muscles than lefthanded folks. As a result, there are numerous imbalances in musculature due little daily activities that we do automatically (open doors, brush teeth, use the mouse, for example).

One person might always use their right foot to go up stairs. Their right side of the lower body is going to be tighter. Someone else might carry their baby on their left side of the hip, and the left side tightens more. I have a friend who is a righty, carried her kid on her left hip so she could do things around the house with her right hand. It has taken years to undo that imbalance.
So keep at it, and note the differences if any. And if one side is tighter, spend a little more time stretching that side.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

All Body Parts are Related

One of the more frequent questions I get is, "how do I stretch the .......... muscle" fill in the blank.
Sometimes I am at a loss to tell folks what to work on. Let's take the groin muscles, commonly tight in most people. Usually from sitting too much, the back muscles tighten, and to take the load off the lumbar spine, the groin can and will tighten to take some pressure off. (for example, the psoas muscle, which attaches to either side of the lumbar spine, and goes through the pelvis inside the medial aspect of your femur, or thigh bone. When it tightens while you are seated, it takes weight off of the low back.)

When I say tighten, I do not mean "spasm". A spasm is a complete and utterly painful contracture of a muscle. A tightening of the muscle is a low grade tension, maybe barely noticable, that over time shortens the muscle. So when you finally try to stretch, you don't know what you did that made you so tight!!

Do several different stretches, and you may find that your tight groin can be released by doing the cobra!
The above is just an example. Next weekend we are filming the second howtostretch workout DVD, where all these ideas are demonstrated, with workarounds and tips!! It will be posted in the blog. This week, the first DVD goes to the printer, more on that later!

Sunday, February 24, 2008


One of the ideas that has helped me a lot in stretching is having a specific goal. If you stretch for general flexibility, that is good, but you will find your program will feel "flat" after a period of time. That is when most folks stop stretching.

I recommend having a specific goal (to be able to get into lotus, splits, plow) as the carrot dangling in front of you. If the goal is to get into lotus, for example, after attempting the position, you will realize the limitations involved. Now, you have something to work for, and work at. You can find all the stretches (not just lotus) that stretch various muscle groups to allow you to get into the position. You will find your own "workarounds" that allow you to realize your goal. For example, I found that really, really, working on my hamstring stretches, allowed me to get into lotus. My "workaround" was to spend DOUBLE the time stretching my hamstrings before attempting lotus. I spent weeks at my "workaround" before pushing myself into lotus. I still like to do that!
PS: the "workaround" is not a license to do a stretch incorrectly until you get it right (for example, in a seated hamstring stretch to let your head hang, your back curve over, your leg bent. ) The workaround is picking associated stretches and doing them correctly.

So, make a goal, find your limitations, and you will find your stretching will improve tenfold!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Got any peaceful easy feelings yet?

Hey, a few days have gone by since I suggested to readers out there to take up the stretch for peace exercise.

Anybody feeling peaceful yet? Anybody? Anybody? Ferris?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Revisting Pain

Let us take a look at what pain is. Basically, pain is a signal to the brain that something is not correct with what is going on in your experience. For example, you touch a hot stove, the pain you feel alerts you to the fact that skin tissue is about to be damaged. As a learned response, we retract our hand from the stove. (How do we know that is a learned response? A drunkard will do all kinds of things that hurts him while he is under the influence of alcohol. The state of drunkardness allows parts of the nervous system to forget what it learned. This is verified in the fact that there is a published blood alcohol level, at which levels we know when driving, motor function, and decision making, is impaired).

In regard to body pains from stretching and exercising, there are different benchmarks as to what is a bad pain (injury, tear) from what is a beneficial pain (being sore from stretching to a new limit, microtearing muscle fibers so they are replaced by longer, stronger, more flexible fibers).
That said, if someone takes off in a quick run down the street, and all of sudden, there is a searing pain in the hamstring, they have pulled (ie torn) the muscle beyond its elastic limits. You should not go home and stretch that muscle. Ice, rest, elevation, massage, are indicated in such a case (but not limited to those treatments). Let's say the pain in this case is an 8 out of 10.

Now, if someone takes a yoga class and comes home with sore hamstrings, you have a different issue. The hamstring is elongated, there are microtears in the connective tissue, and when repaired by the body, the muscle will be much improved in resiliency and flexibility. You can go home and stretch that muscle later that day or the next. Let's say the pain is a 3 out of 10.

But what if the pain is the same in the two cases? Let's say in the first case , the pulled muscle is mild, and the pain is a 5 on a scale of 10.
Let's say in the second case (the yoga class) the exertion was more than usual and the yoga student had a lot of pain in the hamstrings. The pain is also a 5 out of 10.

Well, now you have to differentiate between pains. Knowing how each occured is primary. You should probably rest both, but you can return to stretching quicker from the yoga overexertion because the injury happened at slow speeds. If you try to run fast again, as in the first case, the pull you get will most likely be worse. If you try to stretch the yoga injury it will not hurt near as bad as the pulled hamstring from running fast, even if the pains are both level 5.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

DVD's and some Tech notes

A couple of bits of info:

I have been working on migrating to a better server. This will not affect viewers, it is just an update to make it easier on my end here.

I have a DVD coming up, "Correcting Posture Through Stretching". It is finished, completed, and we are in the process of making copies. This will be available in the next few weeks if everything goes as planned. I will have a run of about 100, so if you want to reserve one, Email me.

In the next few months there will be several other DVDs by me. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stretch for Peace, Pt 3, the challenge!

Ok, I can write blogs about stretching all day and all night, but this morning I have an idea. Let's take this idea of how stretching can benefit your health, and make your life more peaceful, off the blackboard and into practice. For you. Today. Right now.
  • Take one stretch off my website, It can be one you can already do well, one you have not tried yet, a stretch you have been working on but still find difficult. Whatever. Just pick ONE.
  • Now, pick two times during the day where you can devote five minutes to practicing this stretch only. Say, 7AM, and 3PM. Maybe 10 AM, 9PM. Does not matter, pick two times. No other stretches, or exercises. No warmups.
  • For five uninterrupted minutes, practice your chosen stretch. No background music, no TV on in the room. Work on feeling your muscles, what is tight, what releases. Pay attention to your body. Breath into your belly. Relax the tension.
  • Will you feel more centered and peaceful? Try this for ONE WEEK. Deal? Tell me about your experiences, either post to the blog or send me an Email

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Stretch for Peace, Pt.2, practical example!

This week was interesting. While my wife and I were walking our dog, he was attacked by another dog. This is the second time by the same dog, and yes, the other owners need to address the issue. But that is another topic. Last May, when the dog attacked (appx 60 lb Dalmation), my dog Indy got in front of me, and, having never been in a fight before, proceeded to bark and make noise, while the other dog went for his throat. Indy defended himself well with his big paws, knocking the other dog around, but had his neck punctured, and had bloody rear paws from pushing off the ground. The other dog was off leash, and has attacked at least five other dogs that we know of (post our attack, neighbors came to find out how Indy was)

Tuesday, the other dogs' owner was riding her bike with the dog attached to a zip lead to her handlebars. They were a block away. My wife told me to hustle, we were on the cross street and wanted to get out of view of her dog. Indy and I got out of view. Next, my wife told me to run! The dalmation pulled his owner off her bike, and broke free. I made it two more houses and the dog was on us. I got into a cat stance (from karate, this is where you take weight off the front leg to use it to kick). My move was instinctive, from 34 years of martial arts. I lifted my leg to kick the dog, but he was WAY quicker than I could imagine, and I only succeeded in glancing him around to behind us. As he launched at Indy, Indy pulled back off his collar, and the fight began. Indy went round, with a lot more effort than last time, he knows this dog is dangerous.

I tried to break it up. I did not want to kick, I was afraid I would hit Indy, and he kept running in front of me. I pushed, pulled, yelled and kicked, and next thing you know, I was on the ground. My wife told me I was on top of the dalmation when I fell, he got underneath me. Snapping jaws everywhere. When I was on the ground, I kicked under Indy's legs, pushed the dalmation back a few feet. Indy was in between us. At that point, the dalmation went to leap at Indy, but Indy perceived the attack was at me!

Game over. Indy knocked the other dog on his back, bit him up his underside until he got to the dog's neck, then slammed the dog into the concrete next to me. I was on my side next to the dalmation, Indy had him by the neck. The owner finally shows up (took at least two or three minutes, she had to run up hill one tenth of a mile!), and we get them apart. This is not totally the end of the story, but I will cut to the stretch part now!

Needless to say the fight or flight mechanism worked very well indeed for my self and my dog. Later in the morning, I could feel the muscles that were activated and on guard. I sat on the ground and stretched and found muscles to be sore. I really didn't want to stretch, actually, but did anyway. As I released the tension in the muscles from the attack, I felt separate from the whole incident, it had a surreal quality to it.
Oh, you can see Indy here: Indy

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Stretch for Peace, Pt 1

When I stretch, I feel more peaceful when I get done. I just want to keep stretching, actually, because it feels so good in my body, and so peaceful to my mind and emotions.

Why? Because of the mindbody connection, (see the previous blog below). We remember everything, in our bodies, our heads, and if not consciously, in some deep recess of our mind. There is so much data coming into our senses, we have to pay attention to some and ignore others.

We ignore some of the data by not paying attention to it, and some by tightening up our body. Here's a practical example for you. A few years ago, my then 82 year old mother almost died. We did not know what was going on with her. We spent all night in an emergency room, then she was released. The next night, same thing. There were no beds to admit her. Two nights later, I found her unconscious at her house, we were back in a different hospital emergency room. They still could not figure it out. It was about 2AM, and I was getting nervous that they would not admit her. I was worried she was going to die, I was fearful they were going to send her home with me again. A lot to deal with.
In the quiet of the room, I could feel my muscles in my shoulders start to burn. They were filling with lactic acid, the waste product of muscle exertion. But I was doing nothing, except feeling lots of NEGATIVE emotions. I was not outwardly expressing them, and as I watched the process, I could see how my mindybody was tightening up so I could function with my mother in her condition and the doctors, to not feel what I was feeling.
She survived, and the next day I was sore in areas that were not physically exerted, just tight from an emotional condition. Yes, I did stretch that day, to release the tension.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Mindbody connection and stretching

My Teacher often spoke of the Mindbody connection. In fact, he coined the phrase as one word, because the two are interconnected. Let's look at that.

When you feel happy, you feel it in your body. Your chair does not feel your happiness, your pillow does not feel your happiness, your body does. When you feel joy, you feel it in your body. Your car does not feel your joy. Your kitchen does not feel your joy, your body does.

When you feel angry, you feel it in your body. Your couch does not feel your anger, your computer does not feel your anger, your body feels your anger. When you feel sad, your table does not feel your sadness, your fork does not feel your sadness, your body feels your sadness. So, what we feel in our emotional body, we experience in our physical body. That's the mindbody connection related to our emotions and our physical being.

Now, the feelings of happiness, joy, love, satisfaction, are positive emotions, and the body does not tighten up to deal with them. We tend to just experience them for what they are. Positive emotions are light and feel good, so we seek to feel them again and again. True?

However, the feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, fear, are negative emotions, and the body reacts by tightening. This is a primitive way for the body to NOT FEEL those negative emotions. By and large, most people do not want to feel these emotions. So we tense to not experience them.

One of the things I find most beneficial about stretching is how it releases the tension in the body for whatever reason it is there. Whether the tightness is due to an old physical injury, lack of activity, or negative emotions, it does not matter. Strectching does not care, it does not judge, it is just a wonderful method to relax and open up the areas that are tight.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Our First Guest Instructor, Noah Williams

I am happy to announce that our first Guest Instructor is Noah Williams. Noah hails from the Big Island in Hawaii. Noah teaches Ashtanga Yoga, and is a student of Pattabhi Jois. Check it out! For those of you that don't know about the Guest Instructor program, I have invited professionals who teach yoga, fitness, martial arts, etc, to teach a favorite stretch of theirs on Its all free, and will give readers some insights to other aspects of flexibility training. If you know someone who would be interested in being a Guest Instructor, tell them to email me.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Why stretching makes you feel good

First, a travel backwards through time, please bear with me... Once upon a time, we lived in caves, hunted wild animals, spent time digging up roots and berries, and weathered extreme temperatures. Life was tough, and we dealt with it successfully. We were only motivated to really "tense" up, when there was a real threat: a dangerous animal was near, or there was an impending attack from another tribe.

So, our muscles served us well to keep us fed and warm and safe, and were only "motivated" to tense to extreme measures under a very REAL threat. Our bodies were in good shape from all the work we did just to survive.

Flashforward to today: We don't have to hunt or dig for food, we go to the supermarket. Our caves are lush and warm, with all the comforts you could ever need. Life is much easier, physically, and for the most part, we deal with it successfully. However, where we used to tense up against real threats, now we tense up against perceived threats. There are no tigers and bears, and in most of the world, we are relatively safe in our environment. When there was the threat of a tiger, we would tense, the tiger would walk away, we would relax. Now, if there is the threat of a paperwork deadline or a traffic jam, we tense, but we don't relax!!
This is why we need to stretch. Hands are tight from using keyboards, backs are sore from sitting in cars, and the one activity that does the opposite to those activities is STRETCHING.
If you get into a regular routine of stretching, you are undoing one of the stresses of modern life: tight muscles as a result of the condition we all live in.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

90 days to make it a habit

My Teacher taught me all kinds of things. I will pass one idea on that will help you in your stretch goals. Perhaps the idea will apply to other goals as well. He once told me it takes ninety days to make a habit. If you practice everyday for ninety days, the act of practicing will come naturally, and you don't have to "work" to fit it in your day.
The most common thing I hear from patients and students is that they cannot stick with the program they set out to accomplish. Their effort falls short, with all the usual justifications: fatigue (I am tired when I get home from work) boredom (I just can't do the same routine all the time), forgetfullness (I was going to stretch but started watching American Idol), you get the idea.

If you push past the excuses and do it anyway, after ninety days, your routine will become second nature. Your stretch will improve, but you still have to work at improving it. The ACT of stretching will have become a habit, and great things can come from that. Just getting down on the floor to stretch will be easy.

Now, the rub: If you stretch for sixty days, and take one day off, the next day you stretch, it is not day 61. IT IS DAY ONE! That's right. You have fallen short of the goal of making stretching a habit. Not that your actual flexibility has been hampered by a few days off. Not at all. That is not the subject of this post. If you want to make stretching a habit, you have to work at it. Something to ponder.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I heard a "pop".....

There are different kinds of "pops" you might hear when stretching seriously. I will attempt to define what you might experience in a given stretch, and if what happened was good or bad for you.
1: You are stretching your groin, for example, and as you push your knees down, you hear a pop. It does not hurt, and all of a sudden. you get down further than before. Your muscles feel warm. What happened? You probably tore an adhesion between your muscles. Muscles should slide along each other. From a lack of stretching, or due to an old injury, you can have the connective tissue surrounding one muscle get adhered, or stuck, to another. If you stretch and tear this adhesion, you will be helping your stretch, and rid yourself of scar tissue between muscles.
2: You are practicing the sideleg stretches, for example, and you hear a pop behind the knee of the extended leg. Your extended leg is locked, there is a little pain, but not unbearable, you are not sure if you should continue. What happened? You probably tore a tendon, and you should probably stop and fold your leg into itself and let it rest for a few minutes. If it does not hurt after you get out of the position, it's probably ok. If it continues to hurt, stop and rest it. Tendons attach muscles to bone. You do not want to damage that connection. If there was a little bit of an adhesion and it let go, no problem. But if you did some damage, stop immediately. Rub out the muscle, maybe ice it. We would put a martial arts linament called teh tah chu on such injuries, which helps to heal muscles by bringing blood to the area.

3: You are practicing the splits. One of your legs is not quite straight as it should be. You hear a loud pop behind your knee, followed by pain. You probably tore a ligament. Ligaments attach bones to bones. Tearing a ligament is almost always due to improper stretching technique, or getting into a stretch too hard and fast. Ligaments have poor blood supply, and when they heal, they often heal with a lot of scar tissue (if you really tore it up badly). Stop your practice and rub out your knee. You might need to see a health care professional if it does not feel better in a few days (for these type of injuries, massage and acupuncture are most helpful).

These are just examples, but are common types of injuries that can occur when stretching. Go slow, and pay great attention to detail, and you will minimize, if not eliminate, any injury potential.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How Long Do You Hold Each Stretch?

That depends. I hold the stretch with the emphasis on my proper posture (straight back, for example, in the seated leg stretch). I observe to see if I am adhering to the principles of stretching as outlined by my Teacher to me. I wait until the muscle releases in that position then go down further. This may take a few seconds for stretches that I am proficient in, or several minutes if I have had an injury or if it is a muscle group I have neglected.

Lets take a practical example. Check out page 2 on, which shows groin stretches
There are three areas that are being stretched here. Inner groin, outer (lateral)thigh, and back. I find that when I first get into the position, one of the three (let's say back) is tightest. When that releases, which may take a minute, I come forward, and feel the inner groin. When that releases, I feel my outer thigh. There is no rule as to which I feel first, it can be any of them. Each may take a different amount of time to release. Then when all three have released, I usually hold it for another few minutes.
Another training technique I use is different times for different body sides. Example: my right hamstring was always looser than my left. I got into the habit of holding the left side for a longer time than the right side to correct the imbalance. So, if I stretched over the right leg for two minutes, I stretched over the left for three. You will be amazed at how you can correct imbalances this way. Give it a try!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Children and Stretching

I am often asked about stretching routines for children. I taught karate to children for many years, and found some stretches needed to wait until the children had a foundation built with their flexibility and balance. This was not an age factor, but an experience factor at work. An eight year old who had trained with me for two years was more experienced than a nine year old who just started classes.

For starters, I recommend a routine for children that involves only seated stretches. We don't want to bring in the balance component too early. Otherwise, the attention for detail (straight back, feet parallel while standing, for example) get sacrificed in the effort to twist, bend, etc., while standing. If you look at the stretches on the first few pages have seated stretches for a reason. It is really most beneficial to just work on a muscle at first without having to worry about falling!
Next, it is most important to help children with their posture first, and then let them go down as far as they can in a given stretch. When I taught kids, there was always a little friendly competition between the kids to see who could "go down further" in a stretch. While they tried to go lower than each other in the splits, for example, I would remind them to lock their knees and pull back their toes (see splits).
I would reinforce the ideas that would prevent injuries to their joints. The most common mistake I found children would make is best shown in this picture on top, the extended leg is bent. The correct way is below, with the leg straight and the toes pulled back. If you are working with your kids, this is a good place to start.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

You stretch COLD? Pt. 2

I decided about ten years ago to test my stretching theory: if you stretch cold, you lengthen the muscles permanently, and your stretch is always there for you. First, a little background story:

(Just for clarification, in my bio it states I am a black belt in Tang Soo Do, which is a Korean style of karate. In blog entries, I will often use the generic term karate because that is the term most people are familiar with).: When I started karate, I was 15 years old, and very skinny and tight. In a few months of practice, my stretch had progressed to the point where I could get through the class and do most, but not all the skills required of me. But I was not good at them. Of the kicks, moves, takedowns, that I could perform, I needed a LOT more flexibility to be able to do them correctly. What was holding me back was my body. My teacher told me I was very tight.
I worked halfhearted on my stretching, I was most interested in the punch/kick aspect of karate. Normal for a kid like me. When I made black belt, the classes intensified, and within a year I was painfully feeling my limitations in stretch. So, I took a month off of karate practice, and locked myself in my room at home. I did three or more 45 minute stretch sessions a day, working only on the stretches I COULD NOT DO. I did them cold. I did them slow. I paid attention to what hurt. My goal was to lengthen my muscles. In one month, I could get into center and side splits, lotus and all the related lotus exercises, plow, you name it.
That was in the mid 70's. In 1997, I decided not to stretch for two (2!) years, to see what would happen. In 1999, when I sat on the floor to stretch, I found that all of my flexibility was there!!
It didn't feel that great the first time, but I could get into the split and lotus and everything else.

You stretch COLD?

A common question posed of me is, "Should I warm up my muscles by running, skipping rope, etc., before I stretch? Won't I pull a muscle if I don't warm up? I read In Wikipedia you should always warm up before you stretch, and that must be right (:0). You stretch COLD?" Yes, I do. And always have.

I have found through personal experience that if you stretch when you are cold, you will see how tight you really are. If you warm up first, your muscles fill with blood, and it is easier to stretch. There is no argument to that. You will probably stretch farther and get deeper into your postures when you are already sweating. However, if you can get your muscles to lengthen without "warming" them up, your gains in stretch will be more permanent. Your flexibility will not be dependent upon breaking a sweat first.

When you stretch when you are "cold", it takes longer to stretch. It will probably hurt more, but not necessarily. The "hurt" is the cold muscle struggling to lengthen. If you go slowly, as I STRONGLY suggest, the hurt goes away. You must be patient. Do not bounce, or throw yourself into the position. The action of stretching will warm you up anyway, so the stretches you work on later in your routine will come easier than the first ones. You still won't be as warm as if you skipped rope or ran around the block, but the end of your routine will be easier than the beginning.

My reason for doing the stretching cold was practical. I grew up in New York, in a rough neighborhood, and the winters were cold. If someone wanted to start a fight with me, I could not say, "Excuse me, before you try to kick my ass, I have to stretch first." I needed my body ready, regardless of the weather, time of day, my level of fatigue, to be able to use my martial arts skill to defend myself.

In other things in life, I need my body ready without having to prepare first. But it takes time and effort to get it that way.
Tomorrow: Part TWO, the great cold stretch experiment!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

tight vs short muscles

Hi, thanks for following me over here to Blogger, I think it will be an easier way to blog more often.
For those of you who have not read my last post, here it is:

One of the topics that comes up frequently is the subject of tight muscles. People tell me that it hurts when they stretch. Of course it does. When you stretch properly, you are microtearing muscle fibers, so that when they repair, they come back longer and stronger. A bodybuilder is not happy with his workout unless he is sore when he gets done. He has torn muscles fibers, and they will grow back stronger, and hopefully, shaped to the degree that he sculpts his physique.
Same with stretching. If you pursue it with great intensity, you are going to get sore. You may find muscles you did not know you have. You will find that those muscles you did not know you have, are the ones that cause you the most problems.
Now the rub. Sometimes, certain muscles are short. It can be congenital. Some people don’t have chronically tight hamstrings, they inherited them (quick, blame someone ;0). It does not mean those folks can’t stretch them out, it is going to take longer.

I once worked with a few kids that had short muscles. A young woman had EXTREMELY tight hamstrings from cerebral palsy. She just could not bend forward. I would stand behind her with my leg, and just to hold her up. Over a few months, she could barely reach forward, there was restriction, but no pain. When the muscle started to elongate, she felt pain. She hated it. But she was happy she could do it. After six months, she could grab her foot. She went from having shorter muscles, to having tight muscles. The short muscle phase did not hurt when she stretched. She just could not do it (in this case, reach her toes with her leg stretched out in front of her). When it began to lengthen, she felt the pain of tight muscles. She stretched until she experienced what I like to call “Happy Freedom”, the place where her body no longer was a hinderance to her movement.
Food for thought while you are stretching, eh?