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Aiya

Working with bulky, tense, strong bodies that don't track sensation

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I'm a new Stretch Therapy Teacher in the US and have a student / private client who wants to stretch, but is large/bulky, very strong, and EXTREMELY tense. "Relax" doesn't seem to register in his system and he's reporting that he's not feeling much of a stretch in most poses because he runs into a movement "wall" before he feels a stretch. He has difficulty sitting on the floor (extremely tight outer hips, hamstrings) and cannot bring his knees together with feet on the floor while sitting on the floor. He's in his early-mid 40s and practices ju-jitsu.

Challenges with ST poses (examples):

  • Soleus stretch holding onto a rig didn't bring a stretching sensation - only discomfort with the pose
  • Bringing knees to parallel while sitting on floor with feet on floor isn't possible
  • Not feeling sensation with C-curve spinal flexion
  • Body too tight to feel small changes in a twist

Because of all this, we've scheduled a private to modify stretches for him. He wants to focus on hip flexors, piriformis, calves, achilles, and spinal extension). Because he cannot comfortably sit on the floor, I'd like to use a chair as a prop for daily 5 and as many other stretches as possible until the floor is a reasonable place to work. I believe his core challenge is not being able to track body sensations due to excessive tension / belief that feeling the body is only feeling discomfort, but I'm not sure I'll get traction starting in that place with him.

Can you advise on two things:

1. Where would you start / recommended mods for him?

2. Success you've had in getting clients who can't access body sensations to move that direction? (I will, of course, recommend relaxation scripts)

Thank you in advance!

Aiya 

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Hi Aiya,

Welcome to the forums!

3 hours ago, Aiya said:

he's not feeling much of a stretch in most poses because he runs into a movement "wall" before he feels a stretch

As you hinted at afterward, if he is really as tight as implied then he will be feeling the stretch almost immediately in many poses. He simply doesn't know how a stretch feels, or doesn't want to believe that he is feeling a stretch in what seems to be so far from the shapes he considers goals or acceptable. I would begin developing this sense with him using an area that he doesn't feel strongly about (expectations-wise) and which is relatively sensitive. My first thought would be the neck. Another possibility might be the wrists. Use one of these areas to familiarize him with stretch sensations in various intensities (be careful if using the neck, of course) and then try to reproduce those sensations in other areas of the body.

At the beginning of the session, I would want to ease him into a "relax" mode. It sounds like this will be difficult for him, and the solution will depend on what he finds relaxing, but something to try would be going through the joints of the body and doing joint rotations. Begin with quick, vigorous movements, which he will probably like, to warm up the muscles and expend some energy, and then gradually taper the intensity off working toward slow, broad movements while imagining himself as a big blob of goo. You could pair this with some nice, relaxing background music.

Technique-wise, C-R will be important but it might be difficult to use well before he develops a sense for relaxing. It might be helpful to use longer contractions to literally exhaust the muscles and encourage him to let go. Also, I would focus on contracting the agonist muscles hard for pretty much all of the stretches. This should resonate with him since he gets to use his muscles, and it will help relax the target muscles. It may backfire if he doesn't have enough body control to contract the agonists only, though.

Those are just a few of my initial ideas to give you something to think about. I am sure Kit and others will chime in later.

3 hours ago, Aiya said:

(I will, of course, recommend relaxation scripts)

Definitely do :)

And keep us updated on how it goes!

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Thank you, Nathan! Very helpful and along the lines I was thinking - especially the exhaustion approach. Also, as per recommendations from others, I'm thinking about using some manual soft tissue movement (rubbing, light percussion, and even shaking the tissue) before stretching to help it let go. And, may use bands to help traction joints while getting into stretches. "Big blog of goo" might be a bit too woo-woo for him (he is, as I heard someone say in Oz, a bloke's bloke). Will let you know how it goes!

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32 minutes ago, Aiya said:

Also, as per recommendations from others, I'm thinking about using some manual soft tissue movement (rubbing, light percussion, and even shaking the tissue) before stretching to help it let go.

You might also teach him how to use a ball for SMR so that he can do that at home too.

33 minutes ago, Aiya said:

"Big blog of goo" might be a bit too woo-woo for him (he is, as I heard someone say in Oz, a bloke's bloke).

I'm actually from the US :lol: No problem, just change the image. Tell him to imagine he's sinking deeper and deeper into a super comfy recliner with a beer in his hand and the football game on TV! :lol:

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Just a quick note to follow-up - the session went great. We used props liberally (chairs, bolsters, blocks, and even a table!). We used gravity to work with his weight and that helped give him leverage. And, I think the bolsters gave him the sense of support he needed to actually feel the stretches. All-in-all, while I don't think he became a big blob of goo, he DID say he felt better and more relaxed.

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I wonder about using small repetitive stretches (not intended to increase range) going into and out of the comfortable maximum position, to develop the awareness of what a stretch feels like. (I also strongly agree with Nathan's comments; particularly sensations from areas like the wrists - and I would include ankles and fingers, but not use the neck)*. As pointed out, I also guess that one problem with having a tight insensitive body, is that it is so easy to go to the final position that everything locks up immediately, and this becomes the normal sensation, so is not experienced.

In my (very mixed) class I have some who are very tight when trying to move towards the pancake position (in other words, they dont even manage to get the pelvis level, let alone tilted forward, when sitting with legs wide-ish apart). I get them to put their hands on the ground at the side and behind their legs, and make small repetitive circling movements with the pelvis (some dont even manage that). At least I hope this is a beginning in the movement, because any attempt to get them to lean forwards just leads the hips locking up and them feeling nothing. I'm not really sure that this has made any difference however. Its an older (60-70 yr group), so I expect progress to be slow anyway, but at least I hope I'm stopping them from getting any tighter.

*i.e. body awaress exercises. Earlier, there was a post on "unusual movements" as an exercise, which I think Kit pinned. We do this routinely in class.

Jim.

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Hi Aiya, sounds like you're already on the right track.

Just a few thoughts...

With all of my beginner students I tend to focus heavily on the contraction part of the contract-relax sequence to first develop awareness of what is being stretched.

The relaxation and flexibility aspects come later.

Also I want the clearest possible signal between the brain and what's being stretched, so I try to remove anything that may be a distracting or overwhelming sensation.

You may find unilateral stretches better for this purpose than bilateral ones as this will instantly halve the amount of sensations being processed, and gentle contractions better than harder contractions as you want only the muscles actually under stretch to switch on, and not all of the other synergists and stabilisers.

Good luck with it and let us know how you progress.

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