For this edition’s Beyond Stretching column, Zac Jones, founder of Heal Yourself and Move, joins Dance Informa to delve into the nuanced realm of ‘sustainable flexibility development.’ Whether you find yourself in the role of a student or a teacher, integrating this concept into your daily training regimen in 2024 will help you cultivate new dimensions of flexibility without subjecting the body to undue stress. In an era when competitions place extreme importance on hyper-flexibility and forcing the body to do gravity-defying tricks, establishing daily practices ensures the body remains resilient, adaptable and prepared for the journey toward excellence while minimizing the risk of serious injury.
Defining sustainable flexibility as the capacity to maintain both bodily health and developmental progress, Jones highlights three pivotal aspects of this approach.
#1. Embracing freedom first: Shifting perspectives on flexibility
The crux of sustainable flexibility lies in embracing the notion of ‘freedom first.’ Rather than viewing flexibility as a static pursuit, consider it as the exploration and establishment of new ranges of movement. Every effort directed toward enhancing flexibility should be geared toward dynamic outcomes, marked by adaptability and skilful execution. Such endeavours must align with variables that ensure sustainability, allowing for consistent and repeated application over time.
Without the release of tension (freedom), no movement of any kind is possible. What is so often overlooked when striving for ever greater standards of skill or levels of flexibility and strength is that effort is only 50 percent of any endeavour. The other 50 percent is relaxation. In fact, without the release of tension, no movement of any kind is possible. Jones raises the question, “If we can accept that relaxation enables greater conductivity of blood flow, nutrition and information to ensure healthy functioning of all the body’s systems and organs, why is this not factored in when it comes to dance and other high skill based athletic pursuits?” Perhaps because it seems the gulf between ‘relaxation techniques’ and high-intensity training seems unbridgeable. However, Jones states this is certainly not the case: “The Heal Yourself and Move system creates the possibility of accessing a ‘dynamic relaxation’ that allows for the equal interplay between muscle relaxation and activation necessary for high performance without injury.”
#2. Navigating progress and plateaus: A mindful approach
Acknowledging the cyclical nature of bodily changes, particularly in the context of young dancers, is crucial. Progress, stalls, plateaus – all are natural phases. The key lies in avoiding forceful measures that push the body to extremes while refusing to surrender to stagnation. Shifting from a reactive to a responsive approach involves listening to the body’s surface information, and gauging sensitivity at the skin level first. The release of tension at the surface layer paves the way for the relaxation of deeper muscles, fostering adaptability and resilience. The body holds innate wisdom, and when we listen to its signals, we can work together with it to achieve results.
Jones explains, “The exquisite sensitivity of the body to changes in environmental stimuli is something all of us use every day to negotiate the myriad challenges involved in daily life – from crossing a road whilst avoiding traffic to being attuned to unusual scents to feeling temperature. When we ‘dial in’ to and honour this sensitivity as an essential component of our training, rather than overriding it on the way to getting better, faster – we find counter-intuitively that progress occurs much much faster, without stalling.”
#3. Crafting a safe, dynamic and activated flexibility system
Recognizing the uniqueness of everybody, a one-size-fits-all approach is quickly dismissed. Teachers and students alike should be encouraged to grasp the immediacy of positively addressing challenges and changes and employing strategies to enhance movement through “release and increase” tactics. By observing tension and releasing it at the skin level, a gradual unfurling occurs within the deeper muscle layers, establishing a synchronized and adaptable bodily system. This holistic approach ensures that flexibility gains complement and enhances technique rather than existing in isolation. When pursuing flexibility improvement this way then becomes inseparable from the development of skill.
“Skill development in any form requires subtle layering of insights over time that lead eventually to mastery,” explains Jones. “When intense stretching is implemented without a consideration of its relationship to skill, it creates ‘resistance redundancy’ that must be then overcome or reintegrated back into the body’s system for skill to progress again. By embracing ‘freedom first,’ this resistance redundancy is prevented from ever occurring and flexibility and technique development occur simultaneously.”
In conclusion, the pursuit of sustainable flexibility is a personalized journey toward continuous gains. For those already possessing flexibility, these gains can be amplified, seamlessly complementing existing techniques. The focus shifts from the mere attainment of flexibility to a conscientious effort in releasing and increasing factors, ensuring that stretching is not an isolated, painful endeavour but a harmonious relationship with movability. By adopting this gentle and considerate approach, the body becomes a willing participant, rewarding practitioners with the ability to execute new skills, intensify movements, and express themselves with newfound freedom and grace.
To help you discover how to practically and immediately implement the release, increase and connectivity concepts mentioned in this article, Jones has created a special training for Dance Informa readers called “The Body Blueprint.” You can get it here.
And for weekly training on all things flexibility, strength and technique to enhance your dance, you can join an active FB community of over 2000 dancer and teachers at: www.facebook.com/groups/healyourselfmove.
To find out about how to become a Heal Yourself and Move Accredited Instructor or Studio, please find a time to chat with Jones here.
By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.