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Tag: hyper flexibility

Safe Stretching With Alixa Flexibity Programme| Effectively gain flexibility without compromising safety

Safe Stretching With Alixa Flexibity Programme| Effectively gain flexibility without compromising safety

Flexibility and contortion seem to have a marmite effect on people. They either love it and want to achieve more or wince away and find it grotesquely unessessary. After attending the first 2 modules in Alixa Sutton’s stretching and mobility programme – Alixa Flexibility – I have certainly changed my attitude and knowledge towards stretching. Read on to find out just what I discovered and what is involved.

There’s no doubt about it, flexibility and acro are 2 elements that are currently highly sought after in the dance world. Love it or hate it, you cannot deny their current presence and you be a fool to deny your children/students of these elements completely, since these skills are so highly revered and placed by judges and adjudicators. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of too many displays of flexibility and acro in dance routines, otherwise we loose the essence of the true purpose of dance, (a whole other topic, which will be published soon) however I can appreciate how beautiful some well placed skills can be and how they can most certainly add overall to a routine. With this in mind, parents and children want to excel, some to the exstent that they will attempt to learn and master skills at home, self taught with no proper technique being applied, or concerns for the untold damage being done.

We’ve all seen the videos of poor children seemly being torn in two, legs being forcibly pushed and pulled in attempt to ‘stretch’. Coaches applying their body weight onto supple joints of youngsters, with no care to their grimaces or tears, or the fact that said child will probably need a hip replacement by the time they are 30, because that is the reality they face. When joints and ligaments are are continually asked to go beyond their current range of motion, it puts stress on the entire body, which will only become evident with time and as the body ages. Is this what we really want for children’s future?! For them to win medals and titles now, but to be crippled with arthritis by their 30’s or worse?! That is a reality Alixa Sutton-Slobodyan faced after a career in dance and contortion, through improper and now out dated techniques. You can read more in-depth about Alixa’s story here Flexibility At What Cost? Alixa Sutton Talks That is why Alixa has spent 20 years developing her own stretching and mobility programme – Alixa Flexibility – and she invited me along to the first 2 modules of the instructor certification programme (there are 6 in total) so I could see just was was involved for myself.

People’s lifestyles have changed dramatically, with increased periods of sitting and the introduction of technology, and consequently, Alixa’s programme has been modified to combat these negative impacts. Her main thesis is injury prevention. Did you know that 70% of athletes and performers never recover 100% from their injury?! A startling fact. Key areas such as lower back and knees, are the most common injury area for performers, and where Alixa highlights as being most important during safe stretching. Alignment is key to safety and progression. Without correct alignment, you will not be targeting the muscles in need of stretching, thus halting any progression being made. Mobility and range of motion are also highlighted as important. Its all very well having the flexibility to achieve something, but if you don’t have the strength to move through the movement and hold it, the degree of flexibility almost becomes irrelevent.

We start after a brief introduction into her history and the reasons behind founding her own flexibility programme. She then moves on to the theory side of the module. Alixa’s main focus is that flexibility and contortion can be achieved in a safe manor, are well within reach, but will take hard work and commitment. She has unique take on body structure, one which takes the pressure off the lower back, our weakest area. Over 90% of people suffer with some sort of back complaint in their lives, and is an area we are all guilty of neglecting.
In order to protect the lower back, we have to stay strong in our core
muscles, and this was something that was reiterataed throughout the
modules. The lower back is an area that is increasingly being over
used by dancers to achieve elements such as the needle, bridge,
arabesque or any sort of back bend extension. They will often lack adequate flexibility in the upper back, shoulders and hips, and instead overcompensate and fold in the lower back. Alixa had an extensive portfolio of photographs of students demonstrating various elements side by side, with varying degrees of flexibility. She asked us in each set, which we thought was the better student. Naturally, at this point, most of the teachers choose the photo that displayed the most flexibility. In most cases, it was those photos that were demonstrating improper technique, by folding into their lower back, putting it under undue stress. Alixa taught everyone how to correctly identify any danger signs in elements, and how to assess which areas then needed to be worked on further to improve upon the skill that was trying to be achieved.

After a good cardio session to raise core body temperatures and warm joints, it was time for the teachers to try some of the stretches. Alixa maintains that its important for teachers and instructors to experience the stretches and what they will be asking for the students, so that they are aware of how it feels and how to adjust each stretch for the individual. Some of the stretches target specific areas, others are multi-layered, and stretch multiple areas at the same time. All of them are insightful. They highlight just how easy it is for you to slip into improper technique. Demo students are then brought in so instructors get hands on experience of how to correctly assist students getting into the stretches and how they can be modified for the individual. All of the stretches have levels of adaptation, so that as the students flexibility improves, progress can still be maintained. Alixa spoke about communication between instructor and student. During a stretch, the student can tense muscles and grip them. To progress in a stretch, your body must learn to relax into it, otherwise it will not be able to go beyond it’s current capabilities. Alixa helped to show the instructors how-to support, soothe and even massage the student, to help get their bodies to relax into the required stretch, and so, able to make progress.

Towards the end, instructors were then shown another series of photos, and asked to identify which were the ‘better’ students. This time, almost all of the instructors were able to correctly identify which student was demonstrating the element the safest. A testament itself to the effectiveness of the module. At the end of each module, a short exam is necessary, to confirm teaching points and criteria have been met, and allowing everyone to move forward with confidence, knowing the new knowledge acquired had been cemented. Teachers are then awarded with a certificate for their efforts. Alixa then rounds up the module by giving advice own how to best implement these stretches and routines into classes, either by gradually introducing stretches to current classes on a timetable, to curating a specific stretching and mobility class, which undoubtibly assists in seeing improvements and progression more quickly.

Alixa is wonderfully personal. She has a way of conveying her knowledge and expertise whilst keeping everyone engaged yet focused on the information. Her stretches are innovative, fun and progressional, which enable students to enjoy stretching and feel a sense of achievement, all the while conducting them in a safe and correct manner. The Alixa Flexibility Programme would be a hugely beneficial class to add to any timetable, and with current trends seen in the dance world, would be undoubtably popular with students. Teachers have a responsibility towards the health of their students and to keep them safe. I cannot think of a better way of doing that than introducing these stretches to students, and educating them on the art of safe flexibility. This programme is also beneficial for anyone running the Acrobatic Arts syllabus in their schools, as the elements also require adequate flexibility and range of motion in the joints for the students to be able to successfully master the skill at hand. Both programmes compliment each other perfectly.

You can find out more about Alixa’s programme and worldwide tour dates for 2019 on her website http://www.alixaflexibility.com She has kindly offered a 10% discount off modules for Dance Niche readers! Enter code ‘Danceniche’ into the comments section of application.

Happy safe stretching!

Dance Niche

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Flexibility At What Cost? Alixa Sutton Talks

Flexibility At What Cost? Alixa Sutton Talks

The world, and certainly our social media feeds are awash with hyper flexibile poses and stunts, each one more jaw dropping than the next. Each person trying to push their bodies to the absolute limit. But at what cost? Yes, they are young now, their bodies are mailable and have been trained to be so for many years, but do we truly know the consequences of such extremism further down the line for these dancers, when ageing and all that that entails comes knocking?

The risks of hyper flexibility and over stretching are certainly a topic in their own right, but one person who knows the perils of over stretching from experience is Alixa Sutton. Alixa created a safe flexibility programme, which is so successful and achieves almost instantaneous results that she travels world wide, taking her skills and passing them on to the future generation of dance. We chatted to Alixa about her background, reasons for creating the programme and general thoughts on flexibility in today’s world of dance.

DN: Alixa, tell us about yourself and the reasons behind setting up your own flexibility programme.

A.S: I come from a Rhythmic Gymnastics background, and then went into Circus Contortion.  All my career I had traditional coaches & teachers who believed in the old style methods of stretching.  As an athlete & artist, I had one injury after another.  All the injuries finally acclimated in me breaking my back, and being barley able to walk for a year, let alone train or perform.  This was such an eye opening experience for me, as it made me realize that there was another way of doing things.  I also never wanted to see my students go through what I had.  I spent the next few years studying & learning from doctors, physical therapists, reading every single study I could find on all the new information we have now about how the body works and what is best for the body.  Then I took this information and incorporated it into the practical knowledge I have about dance, gymnastics, and contortion.  I have created a method that works for every body type, age and level of flexibility- but safely.

DN: How long has the programme been running?

AS: I have been teaching the Alixa Flexibility Method for 20 years now, but we have just expanded into doing Instructor Courses the past 2 years.  I also have to say that the program is constantly changing. One of the issues is that children’s bodies are different now than 20 years ago!  Some teachers may have noticed that the younger students are much tighter than in years past.  This is because the children sit so much now, and at younger ages.  They actually cause their hips to fix in a rounded position, shorten their hamstrings, and cause a huge muscle build up in their spines from all the rounding & sitting they do.  As teachers, the “traditional” stretches we used to use to improve flexibility, just don’t work anymore as we are trying to apply them to a different type of body.  I am constantly creating new stretches to help open the body naturally through mobility &

extension.

DN: Can you tell us some of your success stories?

AS : Oh goodness there are so many!!  Just this week I had a teenage girl who came into my course and told me I shouldn’t even bother with her as she was just horrible and would never be flexible.  I told her to wait and see.  At the end of the two hours, she came over and gave me a big hug crying and said she couldn’t even believe the difference she had seen & felt.  

A dance teacher took one of my Instructor Courses to help improve her teaching.  Several months later she wrote me that she was having so much pain with her own body that she was unable to walk. She started using my stretches daily and in 2 weeks was able to go on a hiking vacation with her family.

A student came to me and stated that she wanted to be a contortionist.  She was so tight in her shoulders, she couldn’t do a bridge and get her head off the floor. Her hips were also extremely tight.  We worked very slowly & steadily to improve her, and 4 years later she got her dream and was working as a contortionist in Cirque du Soleil.

(A before and after of one of Alixa’s clients)

DN: What drives you?

AS: Definitely what drives my is seeing the joy in students.  I love seeing someone who was always in pain feel better, or having that student who felt like a failure light up because they have had a success.  Flexibility is hard work, there is nothing easy about it in the beginning if you do it correctly, but it is so rewarding to see the changes in the students and to see them gradually become naturally flexible and to love doing it.  It is the best feeling when you able to give the tools to a student to help them improve and to hopefully stop them from being injured before it happens.

DN: What do you hate to see the most that’s currently in the industry?

AS: Improper technique.  It is very easy to do things wrong, and the students like to do everything on their good leg, or with their hips unsquared etc. because it is much easier.  But not doing flexibility in the correct alignment or on both sides equally, is so damaging to the body!  I think a perfect example is with back flexibility.  Most students use their middle/lower back to bend at because it is easiest and their cores are weak.  To do back flexibility correctly, they need good core strength and to use their hip flexibility & upper back/shoulders- not their middle/lower backs.  This takes longer to learn and is not as much fun, as students have to focus on good technique.  However, it will be the difference between having back pain & problems later on, or being safe & having a healthy spine their entire lives.

DN: What would you say is your no.1 tip tip for safe stretching?

This is a tricky question because I don’t think you can nail it down to one.  

1st I would say correct alignment & technique is very important during stretching.  

2nd It is important to relax.  I use mobility exercises with all my stretches to help the body relax, and to assist students who are very stuck improve more quickly & gently.

3rd  Making sure you stretch all areas of the body.  For example, ballet students tend to focus on turn out as they need it so desperately.  However, they often make themselves very flexible in one area and neglect others, creating imbalances which then cause overuse injuries.   They can improve much more quickly by stretching the glute & IT band areas which will open up their hip flexibility overall.

The Alixa Flexibility Programme offers student workshops, teacher certification courses and specialist contortion programmes. It’s currently on its extensive tour of the U.S, followed by Australia, the U.K and Canada. For more information on courses, locations and dates, please see the website following this link Alixa Flexibility

Safe stretching!

Dance Niche

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