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Sitting On Your Own Head: The Joys And Perils Of Increasing Flexibility

I am not a contort-y person. For the last twelve years or so, I’ve had a recurring dream in which I sit on my own head (a perfectly reasonable dream for a circus performer, I assure you); I kick up into a chin stand, bend my knees, and my feet just gently float down to the floor on either side of my head – I can actually FEEL my ankles in my hands! Well, my dreams is the only place I will ever do that,or someone will have to call an ambulance. Today, we’re going to chat about the bendy-flexies, and what you can do to increase the likelihood of a Gumby Moment. Join me, won’t you?

Mahself and the fabulous Angela Jones in a toe-to-the-head moment


Not Fitting Into Your Genes 

Alas, genetics are the greatest factor in determining the bulk of your flexibility. Some folks are like walking rubber bands, others have to chant, visualize, and sacrifice a virgin once a week to be able to touch their toes. What gives? Your genes, my friend! They affect:

  • thickness of spinal cartilage (the biggest determining factor in back flexibility)
  • the structure of your joints
  • length/tension/attachment of connective tissue

ALL of which play a huge role in whether you’ll be billed as Courteney the Contortionist or Rodney the Rigid.

Why Bother To Stretch If It’s All Genetics?

Because it’s NOT all genetics, Negative Nancy!  It’s a good thing to know where you are in the Great Pantheon of Stretch-iness, as it can help you keep your expectations realistic; you can’t change the thickness of your cartilage, but you can stretch your muscles. Here’s what I recommend:

  • work those muscles hard! And then streeeeeeeeeeeetch them out. Don’t stretch cold (put a rubber band in the freezer, then try to stretch it and you’ll see why). Save your deep stretching for AFTER your training.
  • NEVER stretch to pain – only to sensation. Why? Because if you tear the muscle, it creates scar tissue which is less flexible. And that sucks. Some days will be tighter than others – work with where your muscles are TODAY!
  • be consistent
  • be patient – it takes muscles and joints a very, very long time to truly become more flexible. Don’t get frustrated, it will just make you all mad and reckless and then you decide you’re going to do a split right this second and you do it and pop your hamstring and then you can’t do a split for the next 8 months. Be patient, Grasshopper.
  • generally speaking, slow, sustained stretching is best. Ballistic (bouncing) stretching has it’s place, but can result in significant tearing if you don’t know what you’re doing.

 Many of us in the circus world are reasonably flexible – we may not all  be able to sit on our own heads, but we can trot out a decent splits and get at least one toe to our noggin after morning coffee. Flexibility differs from joint to joint, day to day, even hour to hour. Remember: the goal is not to be able to trot out a cool trick at a party (that’s just a fringe benefit); your goal is to keep your muscles and joints healthy, and increase the possibilities in your work. With that in mind, work consciously, consistently, and  gently – you’ll be straddling your ponytail in no time (or at least be one inch closer). Happy bending, mah peeps!

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5 comments on “Sitting On Your Own Head: The Joys And Perils Of Increasing Flexibility”

  1. Mary Reply

    How many days per week do you reccommend stretching intensively? I’m naturally flexible (to the point that my knee can pop out if I bend to my full leg extension (which I am always mindful not to do, haha) but of course, if I skip for a week, I get all stiff again. For a begginner aerialist in training, would 3-4 times per week be good? Thank you! You are an incredible wealth of knowledge! Such a blessing that you actually take the time to reply to us. I don’t know how you do it all… the teaching, performing, making costumes (wtheck?), this blog, replying, running a business…. what else? I need some of that power juice!! 🙂

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Oh my goodness, what a lovely thing to wake up and read!!!! I’m so happy you’re finding this useful! Stretching deeply 3-4 times a week is great. You’re in good company – if I don’t stretch for a week, I hobble around like a troll until I get everything lengthened out again. BTW – could you send a little of that natural flexibility my way? 😉 Happy stretching!

  2. Mary Reply

    Awesome!! Thank you!! I cant tell you how grateful I am for all of your information and responses. Such a great blessing for my situation! 🙂 I will send flexibility thoughts your way!! You look pretty darn flexible to me!! Amazing performance photos!

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