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One Small Change

The Nonstop Flexibility Workout

Ann Frederick, who’s been one of my advisors throughout this month’s One Small Change experiment, co-wrote a book with her husband Chris called Stretch to Win. It’s based on 10 principles. Guess what their first commandment is?


I was just as surprised as you are. After all, how could breathing be the most important component of flexibility? That’s like saying digestion is the key ingredient to weight loss. How can anyone control that?

To illustrate how it works, let’s try a brief demonstration. Stand up and bend over. As you hang there, fingers dangling toward the floor, begin inhaling and exhaling deeply. With each inhalation, envision air flowing into your low back and then with each exhalation see if you can drop a little farther toward the ground. Imagine you’re inflating a balloon inside your low back and then, as it deflates, that you have a little extra room to pivot forward.

This is the principle of breathing yourself loose, and it works with any body part (well, just about any body part). The next time you’re stretching your hamstrings, shoulders or quads, try consciously breathing into that muscle tissue and see if you’re able to elongate it a bit more. You’ll have to stretch more slowly in order to do this and take multiple breaths in each pose, but that’s all good. This is the way you get flexible.

I used to think of stretching as something I did externally, but now I realize it’s just as much of an internal activity. I stretch the outside of the muscles and tendons with the pose itself, while at the same time stretching them from the inside with the breath. And lest we forget, breathing is also what oxygenates and nourishes the entire body. So that’s good, too.

My shipboard yoga teacher, Alice, says I won’t make any progress in my pursuit of limberness (or in life, for that matter), if I try to force things. Instead, she recommends responding to inflexibility by relaxing. “If you try to force yourself into a posture, you’ll never achieve it,” she says. “But if you relax into it, rest in it, breathe in it, the posture will happen.”

She also claims that in one hour of well-practiced yoga, you will breathe in more air than during the entire rest of the day. In fact, by learning to breathe mindfully and deeply at all times, you’ll be constantly expanding and contracting your body for a nonstop flexibility workout.

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Tightness, Stretching, Flexibility