Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Singing through stretching

Ready for some pictures?

I have very, very tight hip flexors. This means that when I sit on the ground in a straddle stretch, like so:

I don't even come close to having the angle between my legs be 180 degrees, like this....
....because my hips will not move that far apart without popping and pain. However, one thing that I have realized is that given the number of days a week when I'm either in class or teaching, I'm getting closer and closer to being able to get my stomach and chest on the ground in what's called a pancake straddle, like this:
which is HUGE for me. I can get my face on the ground but when I'm using proper form, the goal is to get your stomach on the ground-- and I'm about an inch away.

I've also noticed similar gains in my side splits, by working on oversplits (placing a block under the front foot, to push your body past a split), like so (top pic):

Yesterday, in class, working on my side splits on my back--like this (which is great for working on your true split, without gravity or weight to assist you)--
I realized that on my left side (my "good" side), I was able to get my leg ALMOST TO MY FACE. Literally maybe 6 inches away. I was astonished. My teacher was astonished. I was having a very bendy day, feeling very strong and flexible, and I was completely warmed up (the 90 degree weather walk to the studio may have been a positively contributing factor).

Stretching for splits is a funny thing. On the one hand, splits are such a random, useless-in-real-life thing. When is a split ever going to come in handy? Maybe if I'm running to catch a boat pulling away from a pier, cartoon-style? Or if I want to be able to kick myself in the face? I mean really, let's be vain here: the only reason to be able to do a split is so that your body lines are prettier when you dance.

For a long time, a big part of me resisted actually working on flexibility. I was honestly too lazy, didn't see the instantaneous gains that I needed to stay focused, and found it to be a boring, boring chore. Holding a stretch for a long time is boring. BORING!

But with my newfound dedication and mentality on learning, I've found that something has shifted slightly in my perspective on stretching as well. Yesterday I found I was pushing myself harder, harder, harder. Concentrating on technique and form, and trying to really breathe into each stretch. It became meditative: Sitting in my side split, feeling the undersides of my knees and hips screaming at me to release the stretch, feeling sweat drip down my back, breathing slowly and evenly, forcing my core to fully engage to keep my torso upright with my chest up, I found myself sinking into a kind of zen meditative state. Stretching, I think, is somewhat equivalent to the mentality of long distance running: Just. Keep. Going. Breathe. The pain is only temporary. Somewhere in there, I realized that the point of stretching isn't necessarily to get into splits, but also to have the fortitude and dedication to push yourself physically in a way that, if you're doing it right, is honestly uncomfortable. It's almost being a masochist for the sake of knowing that you can, but moreover, it's about the process. Can you handle that process?

I have been reading a book about growth and happiness (interspersed with a few others, thanks to Kindle) and the author threw out a quote that really struck me (yet another sign that the teacher finds you when you are truly ready to learn)-- from Nietzsche: "Not every end is the goal. The end of a melody is not its goal, and yet if a melody has not reached its end, it has not reached its goal. A parable." Remarkable, isn't it?


  1. Stretching is by far one of the most fulfilling acts of health through physical movement I have ever done. There is such a great feeling when I feel my stretch one day and then to feel it go even farther the next day. Although in my mind I do know that I may never one day be as flexible as all those that have been at it for years. But the results I have seen feel amazing and my own growth is actually easier to track than weight or improvement in any sport. I have nothing to compare my stretch to except my own stretch.. from never being able to do the splits even in grade school to what I am now as a 30 year old is to me a huge physical accomplishment. it's the little victories sometimes:)

  2. That quote is truly awesome. And the sense of you being in that stretch for the sake of the stretch and the strength you feel even through the challenge (exactly like a long-distance run and the endurance of our body/soul. so mental.). Combined with the truth that there's nothing else to compare it to other than our own journey (as Michelle said) is truly moving us forward. Bravo!!!

  3. ...yea thx 4 the tip, im a cheerleader and like i knew how to do a split like in 5th grade but now im in 7th and i cant do it anymore...why is that?

    -Please reply to help

  4. Did you know that you can create short urls with AdFly and receive cash for every click on your short links.