Stretching the Truth – or the Truth About Stretching

by DavalosMcCormack on March 17, 2008

I recently started doing yoga. I don’t like it very much. It’s hard work, very hard work. After a lifetime of activities like soccer, and running and squash and kickboxing – all things that compress muscles and joints – my body is not happy being stretched out. It feels wrong.

Not only does my body not like it, it doesn’t do it very well. I look over in class and see other people effortlessly bending over to touch their toes, or elegantly bending backwards with everything aligned as it should be. When I bend over I’m struggling to get my fingers halfway down my shins. My toes are distant objects that they’ll never reach. I try console myself by thinking that if God had intended me to be able to touch my toes he would have put them higher up my body, but that doesn’t work.

And yet I persist in going back. Why? Because much as I dislike it, I know it’s good for me. I know that my body needs to be stretched and pulled in different directions, that my muscles and joints and ligaments all benefit, becoming stronger and more flexible. I know that at the end of it I’ll feel great, really relaxed, that parts of my body that used to be sore or tense will feel fine. That even my brain will feel more relaxed. It’s a strange feeling, but a lovely one.

There are many studies that show how useful yoga can be in helping improve your health, from reducing high blood pressure to boosting the immune system and reducing the severity of asthma symptoms. I’ll write about those in detail another day.

But this item is less about the hidden health benefits or even the spiritual/psychological side of yoga, and more about how it feels from an ordinary person’s perspective.

I started doing yoga because I was getting a lot more injuries. Nothing huge, just strains, pulls, that kind of thing. Since I started doing yoga I’ve had a lot fewer of them. And the ones I’ve had have healed much faster. I don’t know if the two are connected or it’s just a happy coincidence, all I do know is that my body feels more balanced.

As we get older balance is more important. So many serious injuries, broken bones and concussions, are caused by people losing their balance and falling over. The more you can do to improve muscle strength and coordination, the less likely you are to suffer from those. Yoga is the perfect way to improve balance, to strengthen muscles and gain better posture.

I still find it very hard. Even something as simple as bending down and touching my toes (I suspect it’s just that I have very long legs and rather short arms) But I’m going to stick with it. Because while my brain is rebelling against the very idea of it, my body is telling me a different story. When the class ends and I walk out feeling taller than when I walked in, when my legs move with a more relaxed gait and my back and shoulders feel relaxed I know something wonderful is happening to me. I don’t like the process of getting there. But I love the end result.

I know I may never get to be one of those people who can bend their leg around their neck and balance on one hand. But I’m determined to one day at least be able to reach my toes. I have plenty of time. I know where they are, and they’re not going anywhere without me.

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