Today’s article is for you if:
- You’re looking to break through plateaus in your lower body flexibility and mobility gains
- You’re looking to improve your movement for martial arts
- You’re looking to move with greater ease, so you can put your jeans on without tearing a hammy
Ready? Let’s get into it!
How Shaolin flexibility training saved me from Yoga embarrassment
I used to be one of those guys you’d laugh out lout at, if you saw me in a Yoga class.
I could barely bend over and touch my knees and let’s just say downward dog and I didn’t quite see eye to eye.
Picture a baby elephant trying to balance on one leg and you’d get an idea for my previous levels of mobility and physical prowess.
So if you’ve been trying to fit yourself into the Yoga body mold, or following the same old stretch and hold methods for years and your body hasn’t changed much. I would like you to know, I know how it feels.
That’s why I looked for a different way to improve the ease I could move my body with.
A journey into the ways of Shaolin Monks
I set off on a journey to discover what it really takes to transform lower body strength and flexibility levels, not just for my body but for many different types of bodies.
Along the way I found success as I explored the training of Shaolin Monks and other internal martial arts.
You may be familiar with Shaolin Monks. They’re often clad in orange, or grey robes and renowned for their physical and mental feats.
There’s something magical about them …
Picture someone flying through the air with the grace of a cat, having the flexibility to fold themselves like freshly pressed linen and withstand blows from sharp objects, without a drop of blood.
Talk about awesome!
How Are Shaolin Monks so Flexible and Strong?
A major factor to their movement prowess is the practice of dynamic, movement focused stretching.
This basically means stretching that requires a balance of strength and flexibility and is often performed while moving.
This is a big difference to the passive hold stretching you see more commonly in mainstream fitness training.
A recipe for healthy hips: Blend equal parts strength and flexibility, mix in deep breathing, garnish with mindfulness and allow to simmer for the day.
Here’s 3 ways I’ve found Shaolin Monks use dynamic, movement focused stretching to develop such strong, flexible hips that can move and age more gracefully.
Mindfully practice these methods and you can awaken the free moving Shaolin within you.
Shaolin Flexibility Method # 1: Stances
There’s 5 fundamental stances that Shaolin Monks use for better strength and flexibility for martial arts, and you can use them to simply move better in daily life too.
1. Horse Stance
2. Bow Stance
3. Tiger Stance
4. Cat / False Stance
5. Crouching Stance
When combined into an effective flexibility training program. These Shaolin and martial arts stances effectively open the hips and legs, whilst making the whole body move as one.
They give your body what it needs to increase strength in the muscles whilst supporting you to stretch into deeper ranges of motion, at the same time.
Stances can be performed in a flowing sequence whilst moving continuously, or staying still in a posture for prolonged periods. When you learn to develop strength in stillness and movement, deep levels of strength and mobility can be achieved.
Here’s an example of how the Tiger Stance can be performed as a flowing sequence for hips that move better:
*Note: A key to effectiveness in these stances is to breathe deeply, and stay as relaxed as you can. Don’t go too deep, too soon or you may injure yourself.
Shaolin Flexibility Method # 2: Kicks
There’s 3 main kicks that I’ve found to increase flexibility, not only the legs but crucially in the hips.
- Front Kick: where the leg kicks up towards the head, inline with the shoulder on the same side.
- Cross Kick: where the leg kicks up towards the head, towards the opposite shoulder.
- Side Kick: where the leg kicks away from the midline and out to the side of the body.
To perform these well I recommend you begin slowly, kicking in a relaxed way, and focus on kicking from the hip rather trying to fling your foot as high as you can.
Practice kicks with stances and you may be surprised with your progress towards the splits.
Shaolin Flexibility Method # 3: Standing Meditation
Shaolin Monks and many other martial arts forms use standing meditation to relax and develop a more unified body where it moves in a more connected way, instead of a bunch of parts fighting each other.
When you stand still and breathe for 10 minutes or more: You give yourself an opportunity to gain deeper awareness of tight, or weak muscles, and unconscious somatic (mind-body) habits that can cause muscular tension and pull your body out of alignment.
When your body is being unconsciously pulled out of alignment it really restricts your flexibility and overall movement quality.
Here’s a video, where you’ll learn more about this:
With consistent practice of standing meditation you tap into your body’s innate intelligence and learn how to consciously release muscular tension, so you can become more mobile.
This allows you to relax areas that are too rigid and hard, whilst strengthening areas that are too loose and flaccid.
As you gradually learn to let go of this tension in your standing meditation, your body develops more effortless alignment, awakening the potential for more free-flowing movement.
I practice it morning and evening and as a result I’ve healed a deep spinal injury, gained surprising flexibility and I’ve never felt better.
Experience the power of standing meditation for yourself:
To get started simply stand there for 5-20 mins. You may humbled like I was, and notice that your lower body may need some deeper strengthening.
New Physical Freedom Awaits you
You’ve now got some potent information on how to get started improving your flexibility like a Shaolin Monk. It’s worked wonders for me and the students I’ve taught it to around the world.
The methods I’ve shared with you are simple, but not necessarily easy. So I now challenge you to give them a go and awaken a deeper sense of freedom in the way you move.
Remember you only have one body. Take care of it so it’s not falling apart at the finish line.
Even if you’ve neglected yourself for a while, all is not lost. Now is the best time to starting giving your body some love and improving your flexibility.
Know that you can age with grace. And with a practice that creates a strong, mobile lower body, you’ll be on the path to being one of those inspiring old folks, who move like a ninja.
Get Flexible Like a Shaolin Monk
Get a step-by-step flexibility program inspired by Shaolin Monks, tailored to your unique body.
Feel more freedom in your body to do more of what you love with Embodied Flexibility.
Flexibility Kickstart Course
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Here’s an example routine using some of exercises we covered above:
Daily Lower Body Strength and Mobility Routine
|1. Stance Flow|
|a. Horse Stance||Hold for 3-5 breaths.|
|b. Bow Stance||Hold for 3-5 breaths on each side. Transition smoothly and slowly.|
|c. Tiger Stance||Hold for 3-5 breaths on each side. Transition smoothly and slowly.|
|d. Crouching Stance||Hold for 3-5 breaths on each side. Transition smoothly and slowly.|
|e. Cat Stance||Hold for 3-5 breaths on each side. Transition smoothly and slowly.|
|2. Stretch Kicks|
|a. Front Kick||Do 10 kicks per side. Repeat 3 times.|
|3. Standing Meditation|
|a. Hands on the Golden Table||Relax into the stance for 10 mins.|