The Eternal Quest for Flexibility
Written by: Erin O’brien
Many moons ago – we will not go into the exact number of years – I was quite possibly made of play dough – able to bend myself in weird and wonderful ways; in half and probably in quarters if asked.
Fast forward a few years… alright, more than a few years… and apart from retaining a good amount of flexibility in my legs, I am a lovely plank of oak.
To be completely honest, I took flexibility completely for granted during my younger years; it was normal for me to put my legs behind my head and my toe on the back of my scalp. Now? My shoulders are so tight I yelp while trying to unfasten my bra. To this fact I was actually blissfully unaware until I started trying some of the multitude of tricks out there that incorporate shoulder flexibility. To say I was shocked is an understatement.
What did I do? Naturally, I began stretching my shoulders, a decision that sounds both logical and wise, which it would have been had I eased myself into it instead of jumping head first like an impatient toddler. The result? Injured shoulders and visits to the physio.
At this point, I am sure it would be safe to assume that I had learned my lesson. Surely a woman in her 30’s, a mother, a university graduate, would use common sense in order to realise that pushing flexibility too fast and too hard is a big no-no… right? Well, that is what you would think but alas, my need for perfection and the frustration at not being able to do ALL the tricks blurred any shred of sense I possessed as well as reducing my impulse control to that of a 13 year old boy.
I had seen a trick that I was positive I could do; it relied on leg flexibility and in my mind I had that in spades, so why not? So, I tried it; I failed – but not miserably, which was unfortunately part of my downfall because I believed that if I did some extra stretching, this move of all moves would be mine. Once again, I was wrong. What I ended up with, instead of an awesome new trick to post on instagram, were minor tears in my hamstrings. The word ‘minor’ made me sigh with relief at first, but believe me – there is nothing nice about minor and I am one hundred percent dedicated to never meeting ‘major’.
How could I have let this happen? I work in the fitness industry, I know what I should and should not have done, but I ignored my rational side and pushed and pushed anyway. Pushing oneself can be a good thing in some situations, no doubt, but when it comes to the extreme limits of what your body can do there are moments when you need to slow it down. I am not getting any younger and I will not be getting another body if I completely anihilate this one, not on my salary anyway!
This is the point at which I found myself extremely frustrated and annoyed with my body for not progressing quicker, for not being more flexible, for being “less” than all the hyper-bendy dancers I saw day after day on social media. I am quite certain there are people out there who have felt the same way, have felt demotivated and stuck, all the emotions that occur when your goal starts to seem incredibly far away; and then I read a post by an amazing dancer who could do all the things I so desperately wanted to do but felt would never be within my grasp, and I was suddenly able to smile again and accept where I was in my flexibility progression.
The post spoke about years spent doing flexibility training, of not being naturally flexible and having to work with determination and perseverence while still understanding the limits of your own body. I looked at the pictures of her progress and saw that, unlike the crazy expectations I had had of myself, it had taken years to achieve the things I had wanted to force in a few weeks. I was able to accept that my body needed time, patience, and very importantly – periods of rest.
It struck me as funny though, because I knew all of these things, and it still took the story/experience of someone else to lift the veil from my eyes.
Of course, I am not at all implying that it is impossible to achieve these great levels of flexibility, even as we get older (body changes that occur as we age will have an affect on flexibility), but what I am saying is that it takes care and patience as well as dedication and perhaps a good sense of humour as well. Working on flexibility is also important for another reason, quite apart from working towards crazy feats of bendy gloriousness, and that is injury prevention. Stretching is an extremely important part of any sport and whether or not you are trying to contort into a prezl, making sure you stretch is imperative.
To end, I would like to underline the need to remember that we do not all have to be contortionists – many amazing pole dancers, while not being able to put the back of their heads on their bums, are strong and graceful and pure artists. Watching a performance by a sensational dancer is not diminished because they cannot do middle splits – there are so many other attributes that go into making a great performer, and extreme flexibility, in my opinion, is a bonus and not a necessity.
I am still on my flexibility journey and making small improvements that I rejoice in as if they were huge because I know I am getting a little closer each day; I still have tight shoulders, but I will persevere and I will not lose faith – onwards and upwards.
About Erin: Originally from South Africa, lives in Ireland with her husband and two daughters. She is a fitness instructor who teaches spinning part time while using all available other time to immerse herself in her one true passion: everything pole