Are you feeling tight and restricted when you move your body? With a more mobile and flexible body, just about everything in life is easier, but how do you get there, without breaking yourself in the process?
I was one of those people. I was so inflexible, it was comical. I used to be one of those guys you’d laugh at if you saw me in a yoga class. I could barely bend over and touch my knees, and let’s just say that downward dog and I didn’t quite see eye to eye.
Picture a baby elephant trying to balance on one leg and you’d get an idea of my previous levels of mobility and physical prowess.
So I stretched, and stretched and stretched… with the dream to one day be able to do those high kicks like you see on martial arts movies. Or at the very least I hoped to become supple enough to put my jeans on without tearing a hammy.
But the stretching methods I tried in my local yoga class and learned from naturally flexible people on YouTube that are widely used in the West, didn’t really work for me, and you may have found they don’t work for you either.
I needed to learn a better way… to awaken the easeful movement in my body that I remember as a kid.
A journey into the ways of Shaolin monks
I set off on a journey to discover what it really takes to transform flexibility levels, not just for my body but for many different types of bodies.
Along the way I found success as I explored the training of Shaolin monks. You may be familiar with Shaolin Monks. They’re often clad in orange or grey robes and renowned for their physical and mental feats.
There’s something magical about them. Picture someone flying through the air with the grace of a cat, having the flexibility to fold themselves like freshly pressed linen and withstand blows from sharp objects, without a drop of blood.
The key to Shaolin flexibility success
The key to their success is the practice ofdynamic stretching. This basically means stretching that requires a balance of strength and flexibility, and is often performed while moving.
This is very different from the sit-on-the-floor static stretching methods you see in the West.
Here are three ways I’ve found Shaolin monks use dynamic stretching to develop such strong, flexible bodies. Mindfully practice these methods and you can awaken the free moving Shaolin within you.
Shaolin flexibility method # 1: Stances
There are five fundamental stances that Shaolin monks use for better flexibility and martial arts prowess.
- Cat/ False
These stances effectively open the hips and legs, while making the whole body move as one. They give your body what it needs to increase strength in the muscles while stretching them at the same time.
The key to effectiveness in these stances is to breathe deeply, and stay as relaxed as you can. Don’t go too deep too soon or you may injure yourself.
Shaolin flexibility method # 2: Kicks
There are three main kicks that I’ve found to increase flexibility, not only the legs but crucially in the hips.
- Front kick: where the leg kicks up towards the head, in line with the shoulder on the same side.
- Cross kick: where the leg kicks up towards the head, towards the opposite shoulder.
- Side kick: where the leg kicks away from the midline and out to the side of the body.
To perform these well I recommend you begin slowly, kicking in a relaxed way, and focus on kicking from the hip rather trying to fling your foot as high as you can. Practise kicks with stances and you may be surprised with your progress towards the splits.
Shaolin flexibility method # 3: Standing meditation
Shaolin monks and many other martial arts forms use standing meditation to relax and develop a more unified body where it moves in a more connected way, instead of a bunch of parts fighting each other.
I’ve learned that standing meditation improves your flexibility and mobility in quite a unique way.
When you stand still and breathe for ten minutes or more, you begin to gain deeper awareness of tight, or weak muscles, and unconscious somatic (mind-body) habits that can cause muscular tension and pull your body out of alignment. When your body is being unconsciously pulled out of alignment it really restricts your flexibility.
With consistent practice of standing meditation you tap into your body’s innate intelligence and learn how to consciously release muscular tension. This allows you to relax areas that are too rigid and hard, while strengthening areas that are too loose and soft.
As you gradually learn to let go of this tension in your standing meditation, your body develops more effortless alignment, awakening the potential for more free-flowing movement.
I practise it morning and evening and, as a result, I’ve healed a deep spinal injury, gained surprising flexibility and I’ve never felt better.
New physical freedom awaits you
You’ve now got some potent information on how to get started improving your flexibility like a Shaolin monk. It’s worked wonders for me and the students I’ve taught it to around the world.
The methods I’ve shared with you are simple, but not necessarily easy. So I now challenge you to give them a try and awaken a deeper sense of freedom in the way you move.
Remember you only have one body, and I’m sure you’d prefer it to not be falling apart at the finish line.
Even if you’ve neglected yourself for a while, all is not lost. Now is the best time to starting giving your body some love again.
Photos and words by Benny Fergusson.
Benny Fergusson, a.k.a. Movement Monk, teaches the art of tension free movement to solve tricky physical challenges, for more freedom in life.
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