The one thing my teacher in qi gong and marital arts always emphasises is stretching. Actually emphysising is to put it too mildly – he teaches, nags, preaches, deliver sermons about it. He never fails to end a lecture on this topic with: I cannot stress the importance of streching enough… During all the years I have studied for him I think the word “stretching” is the second most used in his training vocabulary (only exceeded by the Emperor of them all – DISCIPLINE – but that one is worthy an entire blog post on its own 🙂 )
And of course he is 100% right!!!!
I have the theoretical knowledge of why it is so important to stretch, and I also have experienced what stretching does for my own physical body – and how my body feels without it.
Stretching softens, helps to counterbalance the uneven tension life creates in the body. When done correctly it is very beneficial since it lenghtens the muscles, frees the tissues from tension, stagnations and blockages. It increases the flexibility and that will in its turn nurture and assist the entire body. Stretching will assist the body to return towards the way it is supposed to be aligned – and the skeleton, the muscles, the joints and connective tissues will start to work better together.
Stretching should be done both before and after the actual training – whatever that training is for you. It warms you up, prepares you for the physical activity and lessens the risk for injuries. If the activity you have chosen is one of the ancient arts like qi gong or yoga, it is actually difficult to separate the stretching from the physical practice – that is how beneficial it is!
For those of you who do not do any physical activity at the moment, stretching is a good and very rewarding way to start in a soft way – it makes all kinds of movements easier after a very short time. It will make your body much more co-operative and might even pave the way for something more exiting 😉 .
The function of stretching is to bring you outside of your physical comfort zone. To allow the tissues to stretch and stress a little more than your ordinary movements do. It is an organic process, because your body constantly changes, and therefore the exercises need to be adapted accordingly.
If you overdo it, you risk hurting yourself, and the different structures in the body cannot support each other – you lose power in your movement..
If you do not stretch far enough, keeping every movement within the comfort zone -alternatively do no stretching at all – you will with time decrease your range of reach. The different structures in your body will slowly contract due to the lack of stress.
This is actually true on all the levels of our being. Our emotional, intellectual and spiritual “health” develops when we encourage ourselves to go a little beyond what feels safe and pleasant. To remain open and curious.
If you stretch yourself too far beyond your comfort zone, demands too much of yourself , then the commitment becomes too big. It might feel dangerous or overwhelming, and after too many failures you risk loosing your self confidence. In that state you can become too yielding to life’s challanges and easily give away your power to others.
If you stress and stretch yourself too little, you might end up very rigide and narrowminded. Your thoughts and emotions then have a tendency to shrink your life, and the safe spot you create for yourself becomes smaller and smaller – just as the physical body’s range of movement decreases.
I know, from my own training experience that the physical stretching of the body will have an effect on the emotions, the thougth-patterns and the spirituality. I have also experienced the reversed phenomenon – when stretching my emotions, my thoughts and parts of my belief system outside of my confort zone something shifts on the physical level. I have been able to connect the sore muscles, the feeling of being bruised, with the expansion of my mind. Unfortunately we are not used to link those two together.
My new year’s resolution for 2017 is exactly this – to stress and stretch myself as wisely and as often as I can – on every level. I have learnt to spot these opportunities and I have also noticed a behavioural pattern of avoidance that used to be unconscious in me, mayby you share the same. Everything starts like an inspiration or a longing, which is followed by a slight feeling of discomfort where I loose my happy feeling (that is where all the “ifs” and “buts” reside) then I make an avoiding turn right at the moment when I am about to go forward and launch myself into that dream or longing I have identified.
For me I think the key word is “a little”. As soon as I feel “a little” uneasy, “a Little” uncomfortable and I am tempted to “rather not” do it- then I know I am right in front of one of these opportunities to stretch and stress.Already in the middle of January I found a really juicy one! I would like to share what I learned with you 🙂
I needed to go to Los Angeles for a seminar and decided to do the most of it! So I added a number of things that gave me butterflies in the stomach.
- Spend a week alone
- pick up a rental car at the airport
- navigate the crazy network of highways in the L A area
- drive down and visit my dear friends in San Diego
- Never stay more than 1 night at the same place (to be a true adventurer!)
- Follow my heart (not convenience or others opinions) and visit what I truely wanted to visit, exploring this wonderful corner of the world
The night before my flight to the States I heard a scared little voice in my head: Am I really up to this? Wouldn’t it be better if I cancelled the whole thing? I don’t think it’s going to be as fun as I thought….
Of course I didn’t cancel the trip and I had a wonderful time – even if I felt completely exhausted at times because of all the stretching!
Without a co-pilot I drove back and forth on the cotton waste of 5-laned highways (and got lost a lot!). I visited a number of wonderful museums where The Huntington library with its botanical garden, rare manuscrips and stunning buildings were the crown jewel. I went to Santa Monica to take a walk on the beach. In Pasadena I located Vroman’s the most delicious independent book store you could ever imagine. I stayed in a motel just like the ones in the TV-series -the only disappointment was the receptionist (she was too neat – not a guy in a tanktop with a cigarett butt in his mouth…). I ate dinner on my own at restaurants (that is something I find really awkward). I met and talked to so many different people. I watched the inauguration cermony of the new president on TV in a breakfast room in Redondo Beach. A young mother of two, who used to live in Washington, told me all kinds of inside information both about how the political system works as well her view of the senators and the characters on the american political scene.
The night before arriving to my friends house I checked in at a hotel right on the beach in Oceanside. The energy was very different, almost harsh, compared to the other places I had been to during the trip. I guess it is because of the military base just a few miles up north. Outside the hotel entrance was a tap with a sign – Rinse your feet, please! Beside the reception desk an other sign – Wear shirt or top when in the lobby! It seemed like this place was for the “hard core- surfers”. The other guests I saw all had “faces cut in stone” and muscles as granite. I felt totally out of place, but it was not very much I could do – the room was already paid for.
I took a walk on the pier and was watching the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen when it struck me: I AM doing it! I AM living my Dream! I AM standing here alone on a pier in Southern California! I feel the ocean, I feel the air, I feel the sun, I AM somewhere I’ve never been before. I AM the explorer that I always wanted to be (maybe not exactly as cool as Marco Polo or Christopher Columbus… but still pretty cool for me 😉 ) I slowly went back to my hotel, passed the tap, smiled at the extremely cool guys in the lobby (who was wearing shirts – and they smiled back…) and I felt happy and proud of myself for this entire endevour.
The day after I arrived at my friends house. I spent 24 h in their loving and caring energy, finally able to relax. I slept like a baby that night, feeling protected and “safe”.
As a the cherry on top came the seminar, the goal of my trip. It was held in a hotel close to L A Airport, were my adventure had started. When I returned it felt like I had been on the road for weeks.
So much inside of me had shifted. By challenging myself to go outside of that comfort zone I have mentioned so many times by now, I was rewarded with a new flexibility, expansion, joy and a greater trust in myself and my abilities.
If my adventure and training tips inspires you, I want you to have something in mind when searching for your own opportunities for stretching. It is necessary to separate the discomfort from real fear and intuitive warnings. We need to be resonable, and if there is such a thing as common sense we need to use it. If you are really afraid of heights maybe standing on a ladder picking your favourite apples is the right level of stretch for you – not paragliding.
What lies within or outside our comfort zone is something very personal – it depends on the totality of our experiences and our history. We have our personal limitations of safety and comfort in our psyche as well as in the body. Some of you might laugh out loud when reading about what I perceive as challenging – how can she be afraid of that???! But there is no logic to it. Some becomes uneasy by being alone, others panic in a crowd. Some fear the stress of the city, others find nature unpredictable and scary. Some are terrified by the unfamiliar, while others dread the routine. It differs as much from one person to an other, as the distance between your hands and the floor when you try to reach it without bending your legs.
To stretch and stress ourselves to grow therefore becomes a very personal process, and it is useless to compare your achievements to someone else’s.
Finally I would like to share a well-known quote I look at every day.
Never underestimate the wisdom of refrigerator magnets 🙂 This particular one took me all the way to Californa!!!
Have a great day and see you soon!
Love / Carin