Lessons in Stretching (also the matrix)

As a young ballet dancer, I remember being extremely envious watching other girls bend and extend, their bones like gooey instruments. My body felt pretty A to B, B to C. I found a way to make it all look fluid but it never felt fluid. And, some of the ways I did that weren’t exactly healthy. I mean, I definitely stuck my feet underneath the gap under the piano and then sat back while trying to straighten my leg. I remember the burn across the tops of my feet, which I would wince my way through, knowing that following the burn came basically surrender and numbness. 

 

Did it help? Did I get stretchier? I think so, yes. BUT, it also degraded the structure I was born in and left me vulnerable for other types of injuries as my childhood love turned into a professional career. And I never achieved the sort of extension and gooey-ness that I thought I could. It felt like Santa Claus, to be honest. Like one morning I would wake up and suddenly I’d be able to lift my leg as high as the next dancer or bend backwards over an arabesque for a perfectly impressive photo. 

 

But, no. That never happened, nor should it have happened. This is the body I live in, the joint structure I own, the bones to which I belong. The result, though, of my past relationship with stretching is that I am a bit, well, extreme. Light stretching feels useless and intense stretching has been pocketed into the rabbit hole of ballerina “stuff” that I shall not explore. And, the reason I bring this up here is because this relationships has shown up in my work with MommaStrong. Stretching here is a bit meh. Offered, helpful, available, but really integrated into the program? Nope.

 

That’s because it’s not integrated into me, up until now. This has a lot to do with the relationship I just described, but it also has another component, which might be something you feel as well: Stretching takes time. It also pushes me into a place of listening to my body. And listening to my body ALWAYS results in me hearing things that I need to address in my self-care. And these things take time too.

 

So, stretching takes time. And the stuff I need to address when I allow stretching to be a messenger takes time. TIME. TIME. 

 

Time.

 

I just don’t know. I hate to be the person who is like, wah, I never have time. But, also I am the person who actually does not have time. It’s not a prioritization issue or finding identity in being busy busy busy, it’s that – quite literally – I do not have time. I go at 150% all day long, and only accomplish 10% of anything I need to do. It just is what is right now in my life. 

 

And, so, when a task arrives that will beg of me more space and attention and time than I know I can give, I avoid it like the plague. I entirely stonewall the task. It doesn’t exist, I don’t hear it, it’s not barking at me, so ignore ignore ignore. 

 

Here’s the thing with that plan, though. Listening to myself and taking time to give my body some needed and essential things like stretching, it’s actually the thing that ought to be directing everything else in my life. It needs to be in the driver seat, instead of being the now petrified 3 month old Cheerio wedged in the carseat. 

 

This is why this month, I have dedicated my attention to stretching. And I’m looking at two buckets for this topic: 1) The actual physical movement and technique of stretching AND also 2) the sort of stretching in my life (personal growth) that depends upon listening generously to myself. In the first bucket, I am curious about the most current research on stretching, the hows and the why’s and the whens. In the second bucket, I am wanting to understand how to know when I can push myself in some areas of my life and when I need to pause, rest, and hold back. 

 

And before I close this post out and suggest you join me in this months challenge, I thought I’d share with you what I have been learning about connective tissue. I have found it useful to go back to the drawing board and relearn what exactly we are stretching, what is connective tissue. And, as always with the human body, it lends itself to a pretty useful metaphor for the rest of life.

 

Connective tissue has a lot of components, one of which involves types of fibers (collagen, elastic, and reticular). This tissue and its components form a matrix of sorts for our entire body in an exciting and daunting interconnected web. Most interestingly, the main functions of connective tissue are 1) Binding and supporting; 2) Protecting, 3) Insulating; 4) Storing reserve fuel; and 4) Transporting substances within the body.

 

The reason I bring this up is because we tend to lump stretching our bodies into a thing we “should” do because it helps us feel better. And, yes, this is true. But, it feels vastly more important when we consider that this web is doing so much for us and that its interconnectedness inside our bodies is so complex, so delicate, and yet also so sturdy. When we engage in stretching, we connect to this interconnection. We give back a little to a system that holds us together and gives us an opportunity to experience the world around us. 

 

This, of course, extends into the idea of how to learn to listen to ourselves so that we know when and how we can push our limits, alongside when and how we sit back and rest. I’m endlessly curious about to jump back into this part of my life that maybe before was clouded by “you suck as a ballerina, you’ll never be like the rest” and also “there’s not enough time to have needs”. I ask myself, what is there for me now? What can I learn? How can I slow down and do this work?

 

AND, this is where I invite you to ask the same questions by joining me in the September Stretch: Mobility and Flexibility the MommaStrong Way. And in case you don’t know what the heck a challenge here is like, basically, you register, you join the challenge group in our community, you listen to one short episode of our mini podcast each week, and you comment or discuss as you like. OH, and you try to show up for 5-15 minutes of exercise as often as possible during the challenge. 

 

The challenge starts on Monday, September 5th, which we are aware is a holiday. However, I don’t know about you, but holidays means kids home and all up in your space, so maybe this is a great way to do something nice for you. I’ll also be doing a live 15-minute workout at 9am CST on our Instagram (@momma_strong) if you want to kick things off with me. Otherwise, if you are a current member, you can register by logging in to your account, clicking the “Challenges” link in the teal navigation menu and following the instructions there. If you are a new member, HELLO! Simply sign up and follow those directions above. 

 

And, with that, I’ll head off into my day trying not to get grandiose while overthinking the messages in The Matrix, now that I used the word “matrix” a few paragraphs ago. 

 

See you soon!

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