There’s nothing like a good stretch.
Picture a mouth wide-open yawn with shoulders pushing back, chest forward, and each arm unfolding to full extension. Fingers splay in full body tension while the yawn completes and then, in an instant, everything collapses into relaxation. Ahhh.
Recently I overheard a trainer at my gym speaking to another client. “Hold that stretch for a minute, not five seconds like most people do.” That statement crystallized my thoughts.
Stretching takes time.
You can’t rush a good lengthening of muscles. When I first began this post-surgery, rigorous rehabilitation fitness program I must confess I didn’t see the value in this static activity. Grab the band with left hand, put right foot forward, turn head to the right, and drop chin to your clavicle. I’d like to think my aversion to stretching came from my inability to track all the lefts and rights. How many times have I heard, “No, you’re other left, Shelaine.”
Eventually I employed the proper technique and then counted. To one minute. Or, depending on the configuration of my body position, I watched the clock methodically tick off 60 long-suffering seconds. How is it that a single minute can feel so prolonged?
The answer may lie in the second unavoidable fact of quality stretching. It hurts.
Last week I had an abnormally tight, painful muscle in my neck, for no obvious reason. I had iced and applied heat and tried all the tricks and poses I knew to relieve the discomfort but to no avail. I explained the situation to my trainer, pointing to the culprit area. She cocked her head one way, and then another, trying to isolate the revolting muscle.
“It’s your levator scapulae,” she concluded. “Try this.”
I contorted my arms and neck into her prescribed position and gasped – not the “breathe deeply” kind of intake, but rather the “How can this possibly be a good idea?” sucking in of oxygen kind. She must read minds. “Just keep breathing deeply. It will release eventually,” she encouraged.
She was right. Eventually.
But did you catch the word contorted? Another aspect of stretching I’ve been pondering is that it requires assuming uncomfortable positions. One evening Bill walked into the room and jested, “Someone call 911! My wife fell down and became a pretzel!” as he observed my body twisted with arms and legs intertwined, all in the name of health. There is just nothing natural-feeling about some of the poses. And yet…
It’s good for me. And it’s a lot like life.
When God calls me into something new I am thrust into the uncomfortable position of change and different. Moving out of the work world four years ago into solitude and quiet strained my muscles of relational connection and task orientation. I grieved the absence of social contact and bore the tension of leaning into that stretch. And, over time, release came. God met me in those alone days and quieted my spirit. I came to love that season.
You’d think I’d learn. Stretching is not a one-off.
Just as a physical muscle needs repeated effort to increase flexibility and range of motion, I find myself experiencing conflicting feelings as I move into the new unknown of returning to work. And in these moments where I feel contorted, pulled or tense God faithfully reminds me that He is the One drawing and leading me forward. Psalm 32:8 comes to mind. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”
I’m coming to the conclusion that stretching is an act of faith. I intentionally lean into the discomfort because I know that the process of lengthening my muscles - whether physical, spiritual, emotional or social - will, in the end, produce great reward. It’s all connected. When my neck muscles are less tight they don’t pull my clavicle out of place or my shoulder forward. When those parts are aligned, my spine stands tall and my hips move freely which, in turn, means my knees and feet are going the right direction.
And what more could I ask for than my feet heading in the right direction?
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst