How stretching changed my life: how it could change yours

If you lack flexibility it can have you feeling trapped in your own body.  As long as I can remember I’ve had mobility restrictions, particularly in my hips and spine.  I could never sit cross-legged, couldn’t sit low or move in a defensive stance in basketball, and would always avoid bending motions because my hamstrings were chronically stiff.  The worst for me was opening my legs laterally (like going into a split).  This motion would result in intense pinching on the outside of my hips.  So I avoided it at all costs.

When you are as stiff as I was (and kind of still am) you don’t realize how much of an effect it has on your life.  I would watch people do some impressive stuff such as acrobatics, climbing, yoga poses, and would immediately write off my ability to do those things.  It became an unconscious process.  I wasn’t consciously thinking “damn, I want to do that but I know I can’t.”  It was more like I would see an amazing feat, and not even consider the idea of trying it or entertaining the mental image of me doing it someday.

You know the real part, it’s not just the impressive stuff that you’re missing out on.  It won’t have an effect on your life if you can’t do a bridge or touch your toes to your head in one of those high level yoga poses.

You’re missing out on being comfortable sitting on the floor.  Being low to the ground to interact with your children or observe the micro in your environment.  Stepping/climbing over obstacles in your environment (logs, rocks, dog barriers).  Trying a new physical endeavor (fitness class, dance, yoga, climbing, martial arts).  You are limited.  Movements in every day life are either not aloud, or made very difficult by stiffness.  You avoid movement at all costs.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my stiffness lead to blowing out my lower back and feelings I would describe as sciatica.  I was only in my first year of college basketball when all of this came about.  At the time, my athletic trainer would set my hips and have me do ab exercises.  Surprisingly this strategy worked — until it didn’t.  I found myself re-injuring my back over and over in the span of the next 3 years.

When it was injured, it was bad.  I particularly remember the most agonizing time it happened I couldn’t even sit without intense pain.  I left class early all week and I had to lay on my stomach with half of my upper body hanging off the couch to complete homework.

People told me to get strong, so I got strong.  People told me to stabilize my core, so I stabilized my core.  I still ran into road blocks.

I felt helpless.  Physical endeavors were my life, and the thought of losing my physicality to this back pain was unsettling.

I’ve always been super envious of people who can do wild things with their hips such as bringing the knees all the way to the chest or spreading the legs wide.  To be honest, it would piss me off to see it.  I thought I just wasn’t capable of that.  That those people are gifted.  I’m just not flexible and I never will be.

My legs don’t do those things… It’s like they are stuck together.

Maybe that’s an issue?

When I started actively pursuing flexibility two years ago it was an uphill battle.  Steep.  A problem that I faced (and still face) is that stretching doesn’t always feel like “stretching.”  Certain ranges of motion feel like ‘bone-on-bone’ collision rather than a nice lengthening of tissue.  A feeling of blockage.  This is mainly what had me feeling like I wasn’t meant to be flexible — I could make the argument that my 6’5″ frame just isn’t capable of being gumby.

Pursuing flexibility made me hate those rubber band looking people even more… The resentment kept piling.

But I kept going.  I knew there was something there.  The logic that prevailed through this process is that it’s clearly not advantageous to be as stiff as I was.  To barely be able to reach past my knees, to barely open my legs more than a few feet.  I need to explore this and give it it’s fair trial.

Two years, much trial and error, and enduring enough discomfort for a lifetime, here I am.

The process is ever changing and at times highly demoralizing.  Days my heart feels like giving out, quitting.  The progress just isn’t coming.  Then, days of monumental unlocks that have me feeling higher than any drug is capable (okay, maybe not that lifted).

Since I began expanding ranges of motion, my back has never failed me.  However awesome this is, it’s not best part.

The best part is…

I CAN MOVE!

The writing of this piece comes after one of those unlocks previously mentioned.  This time the unlock is the ability to open my hips without pinching or pain.  I can keep my legs out wide, shift my hips side-to-side and rotate my femurs pain free.  My range of motion still needs a lot of work, but to finally feel what those gumby people feel when they move their hips is life changing.   I don’t hate them so much any longer.

The changing of my body is confirming something that I have understood logically, but had not yet witnessed in my own experience.  We can expand our range of motion.  No matter how terrible it feels right now, how excruciatingly painful or uncomfortable— this can change.  And when it changes, it will effect how we interact with the environment and how we view ourselves in relation to the outside world.

It’s inspiring knowing how hard I worked, and the reward that I’m feeling.  I want to keep going because I know there’s more possible for me.  But not only me, this must be shared.  I know I’m not the only one who’s suffering from pain and discomfort from being stiff.

Because this work has been so meaningful to me it feels like a dream to be able to share it with others; for my career I get to give this gift to those who seek relieving pain and discomfort (though my name is usually cursed in the process of giving).  In fact, it’s lead to the dedication of understanding not only the body, but how we end up in these uncomfortable circumstances in the first place.

As Katy Bowman writes in Whole Body Barefoot, “The question is not “how can I fix this?”  But “What am I doing every day to create this?””

 

 

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