It started when I tried to put on my right sock. My toes were just out of my reach. Only by an inch, but enough that I had to shift once, then twice, before I could get the damn sock on. It may have been a sign that red and orange polka dots with purple stripes weren’t age appropriate. Or, even more alarming, a sign that I wasn’t … flexible. At all.
Ouch. Literally, ouch.
I have never been the star of the yoga class (yes, I know one doesn’t self-judge in yoga, for some of us judginess is our resting state), but I have never thought of myself as unflexible. I choose to sit on the floor, though I don’t exactly pop up anymore. I can retrieve small items from under my bed and behind the dresser. When someone has a new idea, especially one that’s better than mine, I can commit. I can start my morning with the second section of the paper, rather than the first.
Not so much.
Stretching. Learning. Reaching. Moving. Changing. Both my body and my brain. I’m not too old for that, am I?
If it’s not in my plan (the one in my imagination, often a secret to others), I have to actually work at resetting my expectations. Strangely, I am better with big requests than small. If there is a family emergency, I am all over it. No problem changing my plans if someone I love needs me. It’s mainly the small shifts that reveal just how stiff and stuck I am. Like changing our dinner plans, or the destination for our bike ride. An errand on the way home from the studio will throw me off. Perhaps flexibility is something I could work on.
I’ve been thinking about my friends who practice, and depend on, flexibility to get their work done. I asked them … the dancers, athletes, musicians, filmmakers, skateboarders and world jump rope champions (yes, I know one or two!) a few questions: How do you practice the skill of flexibility, and how do you maintain it? What is the one thing that is essential to your work and can only be done if you’re flexible? And what happens if you aren’t flexible? How does your flexibility practice influence the rest of your life?
And the question for myself …what can I learn and change about myself? How do I incorporate this into my life …to make it part of my skill set, even if it requires attention and practice? Especially if it requires attention and practice. This is just a start … but I’ve already learned something new, and feel inspired to keep pondering and practicing. There’s a lot of living left to do, and my body and by brain need to be agile for the journey ahead.
“In dance there will always be expectation, excitement, disappointment–it is an endlessly fluctuating state that the dancer survives in, so allowing your mind to adjust to this ever-changing nature allows you to stay sane. Obviously the body is flexible as well, since ballet requires the legs to go into quite contorted positions, while maintaining balance and strength and making it all look easy! Physically, you must be able to lift your leg above 90 degrees to the front, side, and back. If you cannot do this, there is no way you can succeed in the dance world.
Maintaining physical and mental flexibility is one of the most important things in life, for if you are stuck in one mindset or shape, you are surely missing out on all the other incredible things!”
I met Lark Coryell as a client, and now she’s a friend. She’s also a singer and her flexibility has a different spin on it.
“When we’re rehearsing I must be flexible to listen to other people’s ideas and options–faster, slower, quieter, louder, change the verse, change the parts, change who is singing what parts. This allows us to figure out what’s the best way to present a song and have it resonate both for us and our audiences.
As I get older, I’m probably a little less flexible vocally, but I’ve learned to compensate for the parts of my range that don’t work as well as they did in my 20s and 30s, and I do vocal exercises to keep my voice as flexible as possible. My brain is definitely more flexible as I’ve gotten older–I’m more inclined to try new things, new experiences, new types of music.
For me, the key is to develop listening skills And follow advice we’ve all heard–do something to “flex” yourself, similar to a lot of the creative exercises. There are times you have to stand your ground, and times to make changes on the fly to adjust to the current situation.”
Carolyn Stewart came into my life as a graphic designer, and that was already her second career. Since then she’s been a landscaper, and is now a yoga teacher. Her words especially resonate for me.
“What you practice is what you have. You are only in shape for what you are practicing. For example, if you are practicing sitting for eight hours a day, you will be in really good shape for sitting. Your body will even start to take on the form of whatever chair in which you spend the most time. Everything is in constant change, life is in constant flux. If we are not flexible, we are in opposition to life.
We identify with the ego who believes it able to control life, and we become rigid and lose our ability to flow with life. That egocentric illusion of control can manifest itself in the body if we are not living in our bodies. Many of us experience life through the filter of ego and live in our heads, abandoning our bodies.
If you don’t take good care of your body, where will you live? The body is designed to move. Movement facilitates blood flow and oxygenation, aids digestion, supports the endocrine system and the lymph system. It helps all systems in the body function more efficiently and fully.
My work is focusing awareness on the balance of flexibility and strength in the entire body. I have a daily practice of checking in with the body and finding out where the imbalances are and then doing the required work to restore balance. Attention is the purest form of love. When I turn all my attention inward in this way, I am both the giver and the receiver.”
So there we have it, or at least some it it. Adjusting. Accepting. Listening. Being the giver and the receiver. I can practice that.
There will be more, because I am certain this is practice that will take some time. And I know my skateboarding, jump roping, teenaged friends will have something to share. If I start practicing now, I will be ready for them.