This Japanese Class Is The Next Big Thing In Fitness

Photographed by Justin Namon.
Marie Kondo had her shining moment, but there's a new Japanese woman coming through with some serious truth that's going to change the way you live. In this case, you're not being asked if you find joy in objects to decide whether or not to throw them away. This time, a yoga teacher named Eiko wants you to become more flexible.
Just like having a clean home, being flexible can seem unobtainable and overwhelming unless you're naturally a flexible (or clean) person. But Eiko's method is all about seeing what your body can do, and then making bite-sized improvements to achieve your goal — which is, according to Eiko, to do a split. Eiko's YouTube videos have amassed millions of views on the YouTube channel MuscleWatching, and she has quite the following in Japan. And if the KonMari method's viral success is any indication, this stretching trend could make waves globally, too.
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If you watch one of Eiko's beginner tutorial videos, you'll see that her techniques are totally reasonable. She encourages you to first see how far your body can stretch on its own. Then, she says to make the stretch a little more intense by bouncing your body up and down until you settle into a deeper stretch. She points out that every body is different, and suggests modifications for each move, but Eiko happens to be pretty bendy herself (which you can see in action in her more advanced videos).
But don't freak if you're watching the videos, doing as Eiko says, and still can't do a split. "Very few people can do a split, and it totally depends on your body type," says Robin Powell, a trainer who teaches Pilates and stretch classes at Equinox. "You can see it as a fun challenge, but you don't absolutely have to be able to do a split." And if you do want to work up to being able to do a split, be prepared to really work on it. "Stretching doesn't give you instant gratification," Powell says. "Some people are more gifted than others, and you might have a flexible back, but tight hamstrings, so it's harder for you."
Aside from the party trick aspect of doing a split, stretching helps the muscles, tendons, and joints in your body get in better alignment, Powell says. That means you not only walk with better posture, but you also release the pressure and tightness that could cause aches and pains in your neck or back, she says.
Stretching on your own might feel confusing, because how do you know if you're feeling the burn or just hurting yourself? There are group classes like the ones Powell teaches, and you can also get a hands-on stretch session in which a coach manipulates your body into stretches safely and comfortably, like at Power Stretch Studios. "The goal isn't to be able to lift your leg over your head — although we have done that for people — we just want to release tension and create space in the body," says Hakika DuBose, founder and CEO of Power Stretch Studios and the KIKA Method. In these classes, you're supposed to stay completely limp (you can totally do that!) while the coach moves you around following a strict technique and protocol, so it can be relaxing.
Even if viral videos like Eiko's seem intimidating, Powell swears that all stretching can be relaxing if you have the right mindset. "Look at stretching as a healthy habit that relaxes your muscles and teaches you how to breathe," she says. So Eiko might be totally onto something here that's way bigger than just doing a split — ending up like Gumby is just an added bonus.
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