As my body ages, I grow more aware of the power and importance of stretching. At some point, it became a necessary part of any workout. In my twenties, I could dash-and-go, but now, if I skip the post-exercise stretch, I notice it. I lose flexibility, I don’t feel as good, and my workouts aren’t as effective. Post-workout stretching is now non-negotiable.
Deliberate stretching in other areas, challenging our vision of who we are and how we define ourselves, is also important. For many, early adulthood is naturally about stretching–growing and developing into grown up lives; finding careers, connecting with important relationships, creating our families. We are learning and growing simply by the lessons and curves life throws at us daily.
As we get older, life may become more predictable and settled; fewer new things, more maintenance and responsibility. Stretching our minds and stretching with our actions might not happen so automatically. Or, we may tell ourselves we are too busy to take the time to stretch. It can be easy to spend every hour in the day just staying on course with the life we are living.
The thing is, if we don’t stretch, we grow stiff, more rigid, and less flexible. We tend to become more confined or narrow in the way we see ourselves and in the options we define. Daily stretching does both a body and a mind considerable good.
“Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt
This is one of my favorite quotes, but, don’t let the quote itself scare you. I don’t think Eleanor Roosevelt was suggesting that we simply jump into the midst of something terrifying. Stretching is meant to be a gentle act, but, you do want to stretch, don’t let a bit of fear or anxiety stop you. Feeling anxiety usually indicates that you are addressing something that you care about. We feel anxious or fearful when we are invested in the outcome. Often, taking a risk that gives us butterflies means we are on the right track.
Slow and steady wins the race. Slow, deliberate, gentle, and consistent are some of the qualities that make stretching so powerful. It’s not meant to be sudden or jerky. Aim for stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone on a consistent basis. You can probably stretch a little bit every day. Stretching happens in increments. Sometimes life happens in dramatic leaps, but usually, the new habits, learning and confidence happen by taking things one step–even one inch–at a time. Don’t worry about what it will take to get to your final goal, just focus on the stretch you are taking in that moment, on that day.
Don’t forget to dream. Stretching happens in both our thoughts and our actions. Sometimes, stretching means literally doing something that requires moving outside of your comfort zone–such as trying an activity you’ve never tried before. Stretching also has a powerful mental component. The mental stretch is almost always the first step.
If we don’t know where we want to go, we aren’t very likely to end up there. Very busy people sometimes view taking the time to dream as an indulgence or a luxury. Very successful people never do. Dreaming is the activity that helps us define and map out the direction of our lives. If we don’t invest mental energy into thinking and dreaming about where and how we want to stretch, what we’d like to accomplish, or what’s on our “bucket list,” we tend to find that life just stays full of the same-old-same-old. Even more important, without the flexibility that comes with stretching, even the same-old-same-old can become more difficult and less rewarding.