Releasing, like relaxing can be hard for a person who likes to be in control of their busy life. But releasing is just as important as some well deserved rest and relaxation. However, during exercise, we tend to focus on the contraction.

When we weight lift, we think more about flexing the bicep and bringing the weight up. We don’t consider gliding the weight slowly back down to the starting position, but it’s just as important and challenges the muscle in a different way. In Pilates we all tighten our shoulders and neck to help us struggle through a difficult exercise. Releasing those muscles is tough, almost as tough as doing the exercise itself. In fact, the exercise gets more difficult when the muscles are relaxed. So often we push ourselves to do an exercise improperly instead of working at what appears to be an easier level, but challenges the muscles more.

Yesterday I took a Pilates class where my instructor asked me to contract my left hamstring. No problem. My leg was bent and she said I would be able to feel a little tap on my kneecap. Piece-of-cake. I felt exactly what she described. Then she asked me to release my right hip flexor. That’s all I had to do. I didn’t have to roll-like-a-ball while clapping my feet together or flip my feet over my head and balance on my shoulders in an inversion. I just had to relax a muscle. I couldn’t do it. I came home and practiced more, and I’m still not sure that I have released that darn hip flexor.

It sounds so simple, but often the simplest of tasks (at least in Pilates) are the most difficult, and, yet, they are the task we put the least effort toward achieving successfully. For balanced strength in the body, we need tight muscles, but we also need long muscles that can relax. As always it’s about finding the balance. Releasing is as much an action as tightening, but while I had no problem feeling my hamstring tense, I couldn’t feel a thing when it came to my hip flexor. Sometimes it’s hard to let go and let all the tension seep out of the body. But if I can learn to relax my hip flexor, I’ll become stronger everywhere.

As I always tell my clients, “Don’t say, ‘I can’t do it.’ Say, “I can’t do it yet.” That’s the way I feel about my tight hip flexor. I’m going to practice some more and one of these days I’ll feel it. The utter joy of completely releasing a muscle that for some reason is gripping tight to my pelvis as if in a state of panic.