Stretching is a ritual of gratitude for your body and your will.
At all levels of fitness, every stretch begins at the edge of your ability. Since the body is designed with a protective “stretch-reflex“, the first sensation is always panic.
The decision in panic to persist is a powerful one, and not just for your muscles. It contains the confidence to survive pain and fear and the faith that it will give way to something good. And stretching quickly does. As you relax deeper into a stretch, you feel better, stronger, more proud of yourself, and more optimistic about the possibility of your body.
In addition to muscle flexibility, the fascia are often tense. While it can take weeks to achieve significant changes in muscle flexibility, the fascia often relax in a minute, offering a dramatically different experience.
Unlike so much “health”-oriented activity, stretching does not involve buying supplements, consuming something, going somewhere, or suffering. It’s a free endogenous resource that makes you feel better every few seconds, rather than exhausted.
Lucas Rockwood –creator of the remarkable all-levels “Gravity Yoga” 15 minutes per day video series– teaches that to increase our flexibility we need to stop fighting the stretch, relax, and let gravity slowly elongate our muscles.
Committed action to relax through discomfort into a long, deepening stretch also requires fighting off distraction – urges or excuses to check the feed, send a message, clean the floor, or fidget.
Commitment to a stretch sends a signal to all the wayward despairing or destructive parts of oneself that your energy and action will be focused on care. It’s action for which you are the only beneficiary.
This year I detached stretching from exercise and yoked it to contemplation. My longest block of contemplation is morning coffee. Stretching takes the contemplation beyond intellectual, it makes it a full-body/full-being activity.
It means quite literally starting every day by subduing panic, overcoming a sense of limitation, and extending beyond what you were before.