Okay so when I say ‘the’ creep I’m being playful. What I mean is creep. And you can turn radiohead off in your brainbox because this version of creep may be one you are unfamiliar with. Creep is the way in which our bodies, that is to say the muscles and their connecting tissues, react to stress over time.
Honey is viscous, it flows and reshapes itself. Elastic materials regain their original shape when an applied force is removed. So what about our bodies? Well our bodies are viscoelastic. They regain their shape but they don’t do so instantaneously, they remain elongated for some time once the applied force has been removed. And the reason this happens is creep.
The mechanism by which this occurs has to do with the water content of your body’s tissues. When they are stretched water is squeezed out of the fascia into the surrounding space. Hydrated tissues are stiff, you may still be flexible but the tissues are healthy and plump. When the water is squeezed out into the surrounding spaces the tissue becomes more lax. This laxity means it is less able to oppose external stress and so more creep occurs.
There are four main factors that contribute to the rate at which creep occurs.
One is nature of the tissue, we won’t go into this, we can’t do much about it except stay hydrated and eat well. The other factors are heat, time under stress and the rate of stress application. I’ll go backwards:
The rate of stress means the speed that the force is applied. Force applied quickly will induce less creep than force applied slowly.
Time spent is pretty straight forward. The longer you apply the stress the longer creep has to set in.
And heat, warm bodies experience creep faster (why you would want to exit yin poses in a hot studio very carefully).
So now we have some understanding of what creep is let’s have a look at how this might feed into our understanding of our bodies. By the way don’t get me wrong, creep is not necessarily a bad thing, in yin yoga it might be a useful tool to lengthen the tissues we feel are too short. However, let’s look at slumpasana. Slumpasana is the word yogis often use to describe the very natural tendency to hunch the back and allow the shoulders to move forward and internally rotate. This happens when we relax on the sofa to watch tv, sit at a desk to use a work computer or drive. It’s a very difficult posture to avoid in modern living. But earlier we said the body is
viscoeleastic, it rebounds, we’re golden. Right?! Well not so much because in slumpasana the force acting against the body to produce creep is gravity, and gravity doesn’t let up.
As creep works upon the tissues on the back of the spine it weakens them and so creep increases and your bodies ability to withstand reduces. Don’t get me wrong, your tissues will rebound, but it takes longer for them to reabsorb the water than it did to loose it, so the springing back will take longer than the stretching. So you could simply stand up and straighten up, but you would need to maintain a good upright posture for longer than you were sat slumped for that to do the trick.
Enter chatturanga. Now, something I have as yet neglected to mention is that there is a way to speed up your body’s ability to rebound after creep has set in and that is by applying force in the opposite direction. You do need to be a little careful. Applying a strong back bending force to a creep-weakened back is risky. Which is why I believe chatturanga is a good idea. To stabilize your core and avoid your hips and ribs dropping you need to apply musclular contraction to your quadrator lumboris muscles and erector spinae, two of the muscle sets on your back that will have experienced creep whilst sitting in slumpasana. Chatturanga is essentially good upright standing posture re-enforced by holding the body horizontal against gravity.
As an added bonus you will engage your rotator cuff muscles to help your shoulder blades from having slipped forward and out (protracted) and the same muscles will help you counter the inward rotation that will have occurred in your shoulders.
We will be exploring these muscles and more to really pick apart the benefits of chatturanga in an up-coming workshop so please have a look at the workshops section of the yogafurie website for more information. Chatturanga is hard. But so is maintaining or regaining good posture in many modern lifestyles. And it’s one heck of a good tool to help you achieve that. Until then, see you on the mat.
See Bernie Clark Your Spine Your Yoga (2018)