Only to be attempted with people you are currently already living with!
Having studied to become a sports massage therapist I was introduced to a couple of different options for helping people to start improving flexibility. Like Megan mentions in her flexibility post there are a few options. PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretches often require some help from someone else, so does acro-yoga, even the simplest of postures so I thought I could have a quick look at some options which can be done as a whole family…
PNF stretching has a relatively simple, like all stretches you want to be careful and make sure that your muscles are warmed up well beforehand and that you don’t overstretch - it should never hurt, maybe be uncomfortable but not painful, you take your muscle to the end of its’ range of movement and then usually with someone’s help you engage the muscle for 10 seconds, relax taking a deep breath in and out and then engage the opposite muscle (its antagonist) to take the muscle to the end of its range of movement - here are some examples of helping someone else stretch out hamstrings, calves and psoas.
Hamstrings are the muscle you stretch when trying to touch your toes, with straight legs, from standing, you can do the same thing lying down like in the picture above. The 10 seconds of muscle activation here need you to push your leg into the other person’s hand, then relax and breath in and out, then (using your own leg muscles move your foot, with a straight leg, closer to your face) and repeat maybe 3 times.
Your psoas muscle is the primary connector between your torso and your legs and acts primarily as a lumbar stabiliser. Here Megan is lying on a table because in order to lengthen the psoas you need to be able to extend your leg behind you. The other person resists you trying to bring your leg up towards the ceiling for 10 seconds, relax and deep breath in and out and then allow your leg to drop towards the floor and repeat maybe 3 times.
The calf muscle we are stretching in this picture is gastrocnemius which connects your heel up to above your knee (in a kind of basic explanation). So, straight leg and your partner is resisting you trying to point your toes for 10 seconds, relax and breath in and out and then try to bring the top of your foot closer to your shin and repeat, once again maybe 3 times.
Whilst PNF stretching feels great afterwards you don’t maintain the full range of movement for that long, but you can use it to help increase your flexibility over time. I kind of think of PNF stretching a little like roped climbing, you have to do the ‘belaying’ (in this case helping) as well as doing the ‘climbing’ (in this case stretching) for it to be a fair exchange.
Acro-yoga on the other hand should be fun for everyone involved, hopefully all of the time. Now, full disclaimer - I’ve never done any acro-yoga before, I’ve enlisted the help of my sister who has done a fair amount of dance over the years but with acro-yoga you probably also want a spotter...it’s pretty easy to over-balance and either land on the person under you or topple onto the floor..! Now, I’m more of a ‘typical boulder shape’ just now, I’ve not been doing much that might strengthen my legs at all...the base person in general needs good strong legs - hence my dancer sister being base...anyway - here’s a few of the poses that we were willing to attempt without thinking we might injure ourselves..! Have a go, with a spotter and maybe on level ground/matting if you have access to it! Oh, and make sure if you’re not the base that you trust your base - it actually makes it quite a lot easier!
There are a few pointers - the flyer (person who ‘flys’ rather than the base) needs to trust the base and in this first pose holding themselves in the position of a plank whilst leaning on the feet of the base. The base’s feet need to be just inside the hip bones of the flyer and vertical. The base then bends their knees and straightens them whilst the flyer maintains a solid plan position.
Here’s what it looks like when balance is slightly ‘off’ it’s not really advised to do this quite so close to a stove, or anything else solid that might hurt when you invariably get it wrong a few times….
This next position - the base’s feet need to be pointing sideways just at the point where the flyer bends their legs then as the base straightens their legs the flyer needs to bend at the waist and relax upside down with their legs in a straddle position. If you want to add more to this the base can stretch the flyer’s shoulders as demonstrated in the next couple of pictures.
The next 2 are with the flyer facing the ceiling…
This first one the flyer needs to lean their shoulder blades into the base’s feet, whilst the base holds onto the flyer’s ankles and then as the base straightens their legs they also lift the flyer’s feet off the floor - here too the flyer needs to hold themselves in as solid an upside down plank as they can.
And finally, as the flyer you want to sit on your base’s feet and lean back, then as the base straightens their legs you lean your shoulders back into their arms, which are also straightening and bend your knees. To get out of this one you can either reverse it or the flyer can reach fingertips onto the ground at the base’s shoulders and bring one leg over at a time.