I’m 26 years old going on 60. I make “oof” noises when I stand up after sitting down for a long time. I have creaky hips, achy joints and in winter I feel stiff in the morning.
I blame this partly on an inactive youth – the odd hockey or netball match, but little else – and student years spent embedded in the sofa with an almighty hangover.
Fast-forward to the present day and while I practise yoga once or twice per week, it doesn’t make up for the 45 hours spent behind a desk.
That’s why I find myself giving up a Friday night in the pub to go to Fierce Grace’s Partner Stretching Class. I’m told that stretching with a partner is more beneficial – they gently ease you further into the posture using their own body weight – and feeling the way I do at the moment, I’ll try anything – even a booze-free Friday.
“Passive stretches, or ‘yin’ stretches allow the muscles to relax, and for one to get deeper onto the connective tissue, ligaments and tendons and obtain deep releases,” says Michelle Pernetta, founder of Fierce Grace and long-time yogi.
“By stretching passively with a partner one can let go, and spend longer on core stretches of hips and spine, legs or shoulders and get deeper than when one is doing a normal muscular stretch. Mentally, being able to drop all effort, seeking and ego in a stretch, really allows us to stay in the moment, connect with ourselves, and develop a sensitivity that sometimes can be harder to find in a more energetic class.”
I arrive with Holly – who isn’t my technically ‘my partner’, but a good friend. We’re both into yoga, feel increasingly conscious about our ageing bodies and are close enough to touch each-other’s sweaty backs without feeling weird about it. At least, I hope so.
It’s OK to go to the class alone apparently, because you can always “buddy up” with someone else in the class. Call me unfriendly, but stretching around with a sweaty stranger isn’t really my vibe. So Holly will have to do.
The class is based on yogic principles. We start with some assisted yoga stretches, before moving onto Thai yoga massage, resistance stretches and Shiatsu techniques.
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Michelle slowly guides us through each of the postures. First she demonstrates with Hasan Intac, before talking step-by-step and offering adjustments to students where needed.
The class is busy (all Fierce Grace classes are extremely popular) and the atmosphere is light-hearted and fun. Michelle’s signature style is full of dry humour. We laugh at some of the more awkward postures (some of which could be described as sexual, depending on how immature you are.
The class is hot (30 degrees C) in order to support the working temperature of muscles and joints, which Michelle tells me is around 100 degrees.
“At this heat the synovial fluid is thin and able to lubricate the joints and the muscles are eased and warm, making stretching easier, more comfortable and helping our body feel relaxed. You will not feel stiff the next day as you do when stretching in a cold room.
“The heat allows you to press further into the poses as your muscles and joints are at their optimum temperature so there is less chance of injury. This is beneficial as deeper stretching brings more blood and oxygen to your body. You detoxify through sweating, the skin is the largest organ of the body and research has shown that toxins such as unwanted metals and salts are eliminated through sweating. It also makes it much easier to perform the poses as you feel loose and comfortable.”
She adds: “People also find the heat cathartic, it has the effect of relaxing you on a deep level, allowing you to go into places you couldn’t normally reach, releasing mental and emotional stresses you don’t normally get the opportunity to look at in normal daily life.”
It certainly does the trick. After an hour and a half in the Primrose Hill studio, Holly and I emerge fully stretched out and revitalised – more like 26 year olds than 60-somethings. This is partly due to stretching together and establishing a connection, but also due to the atmosphere Michelle promotes.
I sleep well and the next morning I have no aches or pains. Of course the feeling won’t last, partner stretching should be done regularly and complimented with yoga or other regular stretches.
So if you want to try partner stretching at home, Michelle recommends the following…
:: Ensure you have warmed up by doing some regular yoga poses or calisthenics. The ‘giver’ (person stretching ‘the receiver’) then should not try to affect the other person, but rather feel for a ‘yielding’ and follow it gently.
:: The ‘giver’ should always check in with your partner and ask them if it is enough, or too much. Move very slowly allowing the person being stretched to control what you do. Hold them as long as you can comfortably.
:: As soon as your partner says it is enough, don’t release suddenly, just slowly release the pressure and allow them to press against the release.
:: The ‘receiver’ should relax and breathe deeply, to allow the muscles, ligaments to gently respond to the stretch. Trying to force or go deeply can result in injury, so keep it gentle and pleasurable and you will achieve deeper releases.
:: For the massage part of the class ensure your partner tells you exactly the pressure they like. Everyone is different. Never stand or put pressure directly on a joint, but on the soft tissue near it.