A Hierarchical Order of Operations

Your body has one.

This is an easy fact to miss, because we’re almost always only seeing or feeling the topmost later, the lowest man on the totem pole in this hierarchy.

An example: musculature will tend to tighten around nerve tissue tension or instability. We feel the tight muscles, which cause their own kind of pain, and naturally want them to go away.

However, our body is way too smart for this, and we can stretch like crazy and not have any change. Why? Order of operations: nerves before contractile tissue (muscles).

It does get a little tricky any time we find ourselves saying something in the body happens because of something else. This linear logic doesn’t always hold up in our internal ecosystem, but it can be a good pointer.

And how do you know? How do you know if tight hamstrings attributing to your lower back pain will mellow out if you stretch them, or if they’re part of a deeper restriction embedded more in your neurology or viscera?

A few guidelines that I’m finding helpful:

  • Give it a try and see. Don’t get caught in the trap of needing to know the perfect answer before trying a solution. Experiment. That often is part of the perfect solution.
  • Dispose of the notion that your body can be compartmentalized into musculoskeletal, nerve, or circulatory systems and the like, much less the purely man-made invention of something like a “hamstring.”

    Stretching and moving with awareness, good form and attentive breathing is a way different experience, yielding different results, than if a machine stretched those same tissues in your sleep or something. Try it and see.

  • Pay attention to diminishing returns, or no returns at all, for a good indicator that you’re dealing with something lower in the hierarchy. As in, if you always stretch your neck the same way and it doesn’t seem to be helping, try the new question: “Why might this tissue in my neck be tight? What’s its purpose?”

    Of course, that might be an answer you don’t know. This is where insight or work from someone else can be helpful.

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