How to Stretch Your Body and Change the World
Everything I knew about stretching said you stretch to warm up or cool down muscles. Regular stretching helps prevent injury, increases flexibility, range of motion, and blood flow, improves posture, and enhances performance — all physical fitness gains. A massage therapist should know, right? In 2002, as an MT of six years, I thought that was all I needed to know…
Though I practiced yoga which involves mindfulness and a lot of stretching, I still tended to push a stretch beyond my limits which caused excessive pain and occasional injury. Though I held a strong objection to learning yet another type of stretching, a course in Active Isolated stretching demonstrated how our bodies respond to light moderate stretches as opposed to static stretches (the “stretch to the max and hold” type). A painful overuse injury obliterated my skepticism when I discovered the benefits of Active Isolated stretches for myself and my injury healed. There are many videos available on Youtube. Here is an introduction:
During a body-centered psychotherapy training program, Rubenfeld Synergy Method https://www.rubenfeldsynergy.com/ ,three years of body-mind exercises, gentle movements that allow the body to stretch into different positions gradually over time, taught me to listen to my body and avoid force when doing any kind of movement. Metaphors for any actions or choices I made in my life became apparent and proved profound. When you push your body to extremes you tend to do the same in life situations. Body-mind exercises employ the yogic philosophy of “ahimsa” or non-violence. Any time we force a movement, a stretch or an action, beyond a certain comfort zone we impose violence and inflict either physical or mental anguish upon ourselves.
After three years in the training I joined a storytelling guild, a place to get my feet wet telling stories from the stage. My goal was to share stories to inspire others to a more joyful, bold, and confident life. After a lifetime of shyness and a two-year battle with severe stage fright during my guild undertaking, my massage therapist recommended Coordination Pattern work with a friend of hers (http://www.twinpondscenter.com/services/coordination-pattern/ ). Though I had already learned about the relationship between body and mind in my training, I still did not understand the depths of the connection and implications for my overall health.
By lunchtime the day of our monthly guild meetings, as I anticipated stepping up in front of people to perform, my stomach churned into a ball of agonizing knots that felt like I’d been punched in the gut. It took some convincing and many evenings of discomfort before I followed my MT’s advice. As I left my first session of Coordination Pattern exercises I knew I felt different just as I had when introduced to the body-mind work. Still my mind tried to run the show and I questioned how such simple movements could change anything, let alone help me with stage fright so I asked my teacher, “How is this going to ease my upset stomach and jitters when I anticipate going on stage?”
I worked with my teacher, the founder of Coordination Pattern work, Elizabeth (Betsy) Wetzig, every week for five years that coincided with continued sessions in body-centered psychotherapy work and body-mind exercises. Betsy answered my question by reminding me that our muscles go into tension when we are stressed — a fight or flight response. Stress can be emotional or physical, induced by pushing and forcing…excessive thoughts and/or body strain.
As I learned to pay closer attention to my body’s signals, the change in my musculature and demeanor happened so gradually as to be unnoticeable and the jitters and physical pain of stage fright finally subsided. I stood more erect and my shoulders settled to a more relaxed stance. Unlike anything I ever tried to change about myself, this change became part of me and my stage fright has never returned. For six years I have spoken in front of large audiences of all ages with a confidence and joy I never thought possible.
How does stretching change the world? First you learn to treat your body with kindness and compassion with stretches and movements that in no way cause pain. If you pay attention, you know when your body alerts you that you are on the threshold between a comfortable, easy stretch and a “no pain, no gain” stretch. “No pain, no gain” is the biggest fallacy that has tainted our minds with the idea that we must be at war with our own bodies in the name of creating health. When we are at war with our bodies we are more likely to get injured and triggered into anger because deep down no human wants to be in pain — our minds and bodies will fight against it.
When you become aware and treat your body with gentleness, not only do you experience less stress and greater calm, you naturally radiate this out to other humans, creatures, and the earth. While you give your body the space to stretch over time, the stretch is longer lasting, offers, greater physical benefits, and on the mind level you give space to others to grow and change at their own pace. As successful communication increases between you and your body you are much more likely to improve communication in your personal and work relationships. As you stretch your body in a gentle manner you are also stretching your mind to be more open to the ideas of others. You listen more, talk less, and build bridges to understanding each other.
Stretching the body gently fills your physical and emotional heart with warmth and after your routine gentle stretches cool down muscles while cooling your tendency toward emotional reactiveness. Regular compassionate stretching helps prevent injury to the body as well as to relationships. Your easeful stretching practice increases physical and mental flexibility, range of motion, patience, and open-mindedness, blood flow and creative flow of imagination, improves posture and disposition, and enhances performance in all areas of life.
If you are skeptical as I once was, I invite you to put this to the test. One or two months may not produce results. For certain if you persevere for a year, two years, or more you will know this works. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for to make social changes to this world for the better…starting with you! Happy Stretching!
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