woman stretching

When I was little, I was extremely flexible. I used to be able to jump up in the air and land in a split facing in any direction. People called me “the rubber band.” While I didn’t have the needed strength to turn this natural gift into a gymnastics career, I always felt that being nimble was an asset, making it easy for me to move and get comfortable. Unfortunately, as I have aged, my inherent litheness has waned, and now I must do daily stretching exercises to loosen up. The other day when I was bending over my feet, I started to consider the parallels between stretching physically and stretching behaviorally.

To get out of a stagnant state requires that we stretch beyond our comfort zone and into a new situation. This can be difficult to do for a number of reasons:

  • We aren’t sure if we are moving in the right direction
  • We question whether we are taking the proper approach
  • We fear looking silly and suffering embarrassment
  • We think we will never be as good as others (…hence, should we even try?)
  • We worry about experiencing unpleasant or irreversible consequences

In the back of our minds, we know that stretching is good for us, but our anxieties may render us reluctant to give it a try.

How do you know when it is time to stretch? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I been doing the same things over and over again for a consistently decreasing payoff?
  • How well do I respond when things don’t go according to plan?
  • Am I envious of others around me who take more risks?
  • Do I talk myself out of trying new things by rationalizing my anxieties?
  • Have I passed on good opportunities that I now regret?
  • Do I dream about things being different and make plans to change, but never follow through?

Did you answer, “yes” to several of these questions? If so, you may be ready to take action. If you are ready to stretch into a new experience, here are a few helpful guidelines for successfully charting new territory.

 1. Reach just a bit beyond where you are comfortable.

It isn’t necessary to force yourself to move into a radically different position. Pushing your body too quickly can cause muscles to tear or injure tendons. Likewise, diving into a situation you know nothing about could cause more harm than good. Stretching is best done in increments. Take small steps, and allow yourself to observe, learn and grow at a pace you can reasonably absorb.

 2. Hold steady in the new position for a period of time.

When I was young, we used to try to deepen the stretch by bouncing up and down as we were stretching. We now know this is not a wise approach; it is better to stretch just a bit and hold yourself there while the body adjusts. Once you are comfortable, you can stretch a bit more. When trying something new, commit to sticking with a small change for a significant period of time. Give yourself and the new setup a chance to succeed. Odds are you will experience the greatest resistance in the beginning, and things will become easier over time. Just because you have a bad first day/week/month doesn’t mean that the change was a mistake.

 3. Exhale into the position to go a bit further.

Breathing is an important part of effective exercise. When you stretch, the inhale breath allows you to reach up or out a bit, while the exhale breath allows you to sink further down. In unfamiliar territory, our natural inclination is to freeze up and resist the change. However, just as muscles only stretch when they are relaxed, we are more likely to succeed if we can release our need to be in control and lean into the new experience.

 4. Remember that your journey won’t look like anyone else’s.

No two individual’s stories are alike. We each have unique skills, challenges and backgrounds. As a result, even if we are trying to follow the exact same path that we have seen someone else take, our experience will be different. What looks easy for another may be hard for us, and vice versa. Although I have been doing yoga for more than 15 years, I still have a hard time hold “crescent pose” (a lunge) for extended periods of time. I am stronger now than when I began, but I will probably always find it more difficult than someone with natural leg strength. Still, I know I have made progress, giving me a sense of accomplishment. Our challenges, victories, timetables and outcomes will all be exclusively our own. Knowing that this is normal, and intentionally resisting the urge to compare our progress to that of those around us, is critical to forward momentum.

*     *     *     *     *

Do you seek or resist stretching? What helps you push forward when doing so feels hard?

24 thoughts on “Stretching”

  1. I love this analogy, Seana. As a dancer, I know the benefits of stretching and the downfall of comparing myself to other dancers around me. As a professional organizer, I fully appreciate the need to try something new, to reach beyond our comfort zones and to give change a chance. Thank you for creating these guidelines.

    1. You are a beautiful dancer, Diane! I love seeing the photos:) Stretching is so wonderful, but not a harsh process. Instead, a slow and steady way to break into new places!

  2. I like the comparisons you’ve drawn here, Seana. Reading this reminded me of a quote: A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there. This is a good nudge that we’ve sometimes got to reach slowly into unfamiliar territory in order to grow and learn. And you’re so right about the breathing into exercises for greater mobility – during my workout this morning, the instructor said the exact same thing encouraging us to exhale like we’re blowing out candles – great visual, right?!

    1. That is a great visual, Sarah. I used to tell my children the same thing when they were receiving a vaccination. Exhaling is so important. In fact, mindful breathing is a wonderful way to relieve stress and improve the way we are feeling. It is free, and reaps an instant reward. Good for you having already worked out:)

  3. I just finished 4 months of stretching outside my comfort zone. And it feels great. But stepping back at times and taking a breath and refocusing was the trick to my success. Everyone should try it and focus on the attempt to stretch yourself not on attaining success. If success is the only way you measure your end goal then it is very hard to start. If starting is how you measure your success then attaining success happens quickly and you can keep building on it with every step.

    1. I love this… “focus on the stretch not on attaining success.” That is powerful. You can often feel that it is getting easier. That is success. It isn’t about results, it is about moving forward.

  4. I love the analogy too! I find that I need to be kind to myself when I “fail” at stretching beyond my means. Stretching beyond what is comfortable can be hard but if you stick with it, it will strengthen you.

  5. Wow, this is one of your best posts ever! It made me uncomfortable – which means it got to me. I know that I avoid stepping outside my comfort zone, so appreciate any encouragement to do so!

    1. That is such a neat comment… that being made uncomfortable means it go to you. I’m delighted to hear that it really touched you. Stretching starts out a bit tough and then, if you can ease into it and hold steady, ends up feeling terrific!

  6. What a beautiful post! I love the insights that you shared about your own stretching (from childhood to now.) I can relate to this in many ways. I’m not as physically limber as I once was and very much appreciate the need to continue working at it. It’s also necessary for me to exercise my out-of-my-comfort-zone muscles. Instead of resisting the challenges, I need to lean in and remember to breathe in AND out. In the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to “stretch” a few times. One felt pretty darn good and I wrote about it with today’s post. The other one I’m still in the process of stretching, but I’ve done the first part which was to agree to stretch. Now the work begins!

    1. I loved your post… that would have been outside of my comfort zone as well, Linda! But just staying with it is what led to your success. I can feel the anxiety build when I’m considering leaping out of that comfort zone, and then typically there comes a moment where I’m finally ready to take that first step. Usually I find that if I can just start and hold, I’ll get there. Welcome home from vacation. So happy you got some good time away:)

  7. Physically I know that when I don’t stretch, I have more aches and pains. And I think it’s like that in life as well, pushing just past your level of comfort can lead to wonderful things.

    1. I find that stretching in the morning definitely relieves some of the pain I wake up with. I am always tempted to skip it, but I pay the price later. I’m also amazed at how much further I can stretch if I simply hold the position and exhale. We can do more than we think we can!

  8. Such an interesting analogy, Seana. It’s got me thinking and I’m going to enjoy mulling this over for a while (that’s a compliment from someone who enjoys exploring ideas). I need to do a bit more stretching these days and you’ve got me started, at least, thinking about it. Perfect timing for a message I need to hear (some might even say Divine timing 🙂 ).

    1. Very exciting to think what God might be calling you to stretch into, Susan. I’ve been thinking about this myself. Funny how often the posts I am writing actually are written as much for me as for others:)

  9. I love that you were inspired for this topic because of stretching. I am currently challenging myself to do 30 days of yoga. I totally need to push through. I can definitely relate to other areas especially with business where we really need to stretch. Great Post!

  10. The analogies are perfect. Just perfect. I think I’m a stretcher and then a retreater. Stretch. Retreat. Not so much of the slow and steady wins the race. And it really shows when I’m not doing things the way I’m most comfortable doing them. And even a bit of stretching is still comfy to me!

    1. That retreating is the part that can make us feel discouraged. Every morning I’m surprised at how I’ve tightened up during the night. It can feel disappointing that I need to start all over. However, I do believe that stretching each day gives me small victories that I can celebrate. Also, it is important to remember how far behind we would be if we never stretched at all.

  11. I love the idea that stretching takes us beyond what is comfortable physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s not comfortable and it is necessary to stretch. It’s how we thrive! Thanks for sharing how many pieces are included in a stretch itself!

    1. Stretching does touch is in all those ways. What I really love about it is how you can see the progress. The first time I stretch a bit, it feels difficult. However, after I have been at it awhile (whether physically or behaviorally), I can see that is tangibly easier. I love that feeling, and find it very motivating!

  12. “Remember that your journey won’t look like anyone else’s.” <– Great reminder. I can be easy to compare ourselves to others and to be bothered if we haven't had the same trajectory. I like using myself as the benchmark. Not always easy when things are hectic or not going as planned, but I tend to look back at where I started and compare that to the progress I've made. Helps to put things in perspective.
    Deb Lee recently posted…Digital Detox: 7 Days to Unclutter Your Phone and Build Better Mobile HabitsMy Profile

    1. So important and desirable, and yet so hard to do. I agree that the best thing to do is benchmark off of ourselves. In fact, during times that are feeling particularly unsuccessful, it can be helpful to mindfully list some of our accomplishments. Now I complain with website issues, but there was a day when I didn’t even have a website!

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