I love watching David Attenborough’s documentaries on animals.
There was a moment in an episode that changed my perspective on human movement and becoming more flexible forever.
And I’m looking forward to sharing it with you today.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
When your muscles are hanging onto tension, it can feel like your body is fighting itself, and can really hold you back from living life filled with the fun and adventure you get when your body is relaxed and free to move.
And the longer you leave it, the harder it gets to get your flexibility back.
Fortunately, animals know a thing or two (that most humans have forgotten), about keeping their bodies flexible and moving with freedom.
Keep reading to learn how to get more flexible with some inspiration from the animal kingdom.
So there I was watching this David Attenborough documentary about animals …
One moment I was watching a tiger stalking its prey, crawling low to the ground and moving its spine like it was made of lava lamps.
The next moment I was watching monkeys crawl around on the ground, swinging and moving with so much fluidity and freedom.
But when I got off the couch and tried to move like this I felt more like a block of concrete than the graceful animals I saw on the T.V.
I believe we all need a bit of inspiration that moves our hearts to take a bold step out of our comfort zone and transform ourselves.
Over the years, my flexibility and the way I can move has completely transformed. And I have the inspiration from the complex, graceful movement, exhibited by our animal friends to thank for it.
The question now is, what will your inspiration be to transform your flexibility and mobility?
Once I embarked on my flexibility journey, I realised to maximise my success I needed to shift my perspective to think more like an animal – assuming they do think, which I’m not yet able to confirm ;-)
I’m still working on communicating with animals, but I can’t imagine they think a whole lot about improving their flexibility. From observations I’ve made, there’s only really one underlying question they might ask,
“How do I survive?”
Animals are geared for survival. Imagine you’re a gazelle for a moment. You allow yourself to get stiff, then a predator comes along — a lion or tiger. What happens to your chances of survival if you can't move in an agile way?
Did someone say ‘lunch?!’
I don’t know about you, but there’s some pretty good motivation to stay limber and increase the chances of escaping a lion or other danger.
So now you’ve got a big killer reason to get more flexible. All you need to do is throw a couple of stretches together and 'hey presto,' you’ll be limber like a lion in no time …
Ah, if only transforming your flexibility worked that way!
Most people assume the answer to get more flexible is to pull yourself into a painful stretch and hold for a prolonged period. But if you’ve practiced stretching like this for a while you’ve probably realised the results it produces are rarely worth the pain you have to endure.
I observed that animals didn’t look like they were in pain while they stretched. In fact, they actually looked relaxed and energised.
So the next question I asked is … what do animals do differently to keep their bodies mobile?
Every morning our family dogs, Ruby and Harmony, get up and stretch. They seem to sense the tightness and muscle / fascia inactivity from sleeping and respond to the physical signals right then and there.
They don’t get up late and rush to work, forgetting about their body … We all know where that path can lead.
From personal experience I’ve found that enhancing body awareness and building better body maps are key ingredients to having a more flexible body.
Animals are always stretching, especially after times of inactivity. So, naturally they incidentally accumulate a lot of training volume throughout each day.
And after I practiced flexibility training in this way, I found it works really well.
You can say good bye to thinking you have to do hour long intense stretching sessions.
Animals seem to focus less on relaxing in specific positions and more about actual movement. Perhaps it’s because they need it to move with agility away from predators, or towards things that they would like to eat and to play with.
That’s why I built the Embodied Flexibility program (included in Physical Freedom Academy) around martial arts stances inspired by Shaolin Monks.
A classic example is the downward dog in yoga. When you are using this position, it does require a balance of strength and flexibility.
You can definitely see where certain philosophies like yoga and martial arts have been influenced by the movements of animals.
Now, let’s say you’re a hundred kilo power lifter reading this post. Would a downward dog stretch be good for you?
If it’s very easy from a strength perspective but not easy from a flexibility perspective, then you may need to balance the other side of the equation by either adding some resistance or moving into a more challenging leverage position.
Animals (I’ve noticed mostly in mammals) commonly contract during their stretch. In somatic movement circles this can be called pandiculation.
This seems counter intuitive to a lot of people when I’ve talked to them about how to get flexible fast, as the common assumption is that flexibility is more about relaxing (which can also be true, as long as you know what to relax in your body).
Your body can only do two things with regards to movement: one is contract, the other is relax.
If you want range of movement that can be accessible (even when you’re cold), then you need to make sure you have an ability to consciously contract your muscles and fascia at that particular range of movement. Otherwise, it will take time to warm up and get into that range.
So be like an animal and practice contracting during the stretch. You can learn the specific technique that teaches you how to do this in the Embodied Flexibility program.
Once you’ve established a new range of movement, move in it all the time (if you’d like to keep it).
As the saying goes: "Move it or lose it."
Train enough to create new range, no more, no less, then continue to use that range in your daily movement.
Focus on how you can move dynamically and diversely in your ordinary life to keep that range.
You’ve now gained a few insights and tips I have learned from animals to improve your endeavours to get more flexible.
There’s no time like the present to uncover that flexible animal that you have within you.
The Embodied Flexibility program (included in Physical Freedom Academy) is my approach to help you build your flexibility across all the major areas of your body.
Inside the online course I show you how to develop a well-rounded flexibility training routine that works far better than the mainstream approaches that limited me for years.
You’ll learn how to lubricate every joint in your body, the 7 strength stretches I’ve found most effective, and how to get creative and have more fun with your stretching.
The first step we recommend before focusing too heavily on your flexibility, is to assess where your body's currently at and get clear on your highest needs.
You can do that with our Physical Freedom Challenge.