practicing flex(ability)

"Be infinitely flexable and constantly amazed." ~Jason Kravitz

It started when I tried to put on my right sock. My toes were just out of my reach. Only by an inch, but enough that I had to shift once, then twice, before I could get the damn sock on. It may have been a sign that red and orange polka dots with purple stripes weren’t age appropriate. Or, even more alarming, a sign that I wasn’t … flexible. At all.

Ouch. Literally, ouch.

I have never been the star of the yoga class (yes, I know one doesn’t self-judge in yoga, for some of us judginess is our resting state), but I have never thought of myself as unflexible. I choose to sit on the floor, though I don’t exactly pop up anymore. I can retrieve small items from under my bed and behind the dresser. When someone has a new idea, especially one that’s better than mine, I can commit. I can start my morning with the second section of the paper, rather than the first.

Flexible, right?

Not so much.

Stretching. Learning. Reaching. Moving. Changing. Both my body and my brain. I’m not too old for that, am I?

If it’s not in my plan (the one in my imagination, often a secret to others), I have to actually work at resetting my expectations. Strangely, I am better with big requests than small. If there is a family emergency, I am all over it. No problem changing my plans if someone I love needs me. It’s mainly the small shifts that reveal just how stiff and stuck I am. Like changing our dinner plans, or the destination for our bike ride. An errand on the way home from the studio will throw me off.  Perhaps flexibility is something I could work on.

I’ve been thinking about my friends who practice, and depend on, flexibility to get their work done. I asked them … the dancers, athletes, musicians, filmmakers, skateboarders and world jump rope champions (yes, I know one or two!) a few questions: How do you practice the skill of flexibility, and how do you maintain it? What is the one thing that is essential to your work and can only be done if  you’re flexible? And what happens if you aren’t flexible? How does your flexibility practice influence the rest of your life?

And the question for myself …what can I learn and change about myself? How do I incorporate this into my life …to make it part of my skill set, even if it requires attention and practice? Especially if it requires attention and practice. This is just a start … but I’ve already learned something new, and feel inspired to keep pondering and practicing. There’s a lot of living left to do, and my body and by brain need to be agile for the journey ahead.

My friend Quinn Pendleton is a ballet dancer with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.

“In dance there will always be expectation, excitement, disappointment–it is an endlessly fluctuating state that the dancer survives in, so allowing your mind to adjust to this ever-changing nature allows you to stay sane. Obviously the body is flexible as well, since ballet requires the legs to go into quite contorted positions, while maintaining balance and strength and making it all look easy! Physically, you must be able to lift your leg above 90 degrees to the front, side, and back. If you cannot do this, there is no way you can succeed in the dance world.

Maintaining physical and mental flexibility is one of the most important things in life, for if you are stuck in one mindset or shape, you are surely missing out on all the other incredible things!”

I met Lark Coryell as a client, and now she’s a friend. She’s also a singer and her flexibility has a different spin on it.

“When we’re rehearsing I must be flexible to listen to other people’s ideas and options–faster, slower, quieter, louder, change the verse, change the parts, change who is singing what parts. This allows us to figure out what’s the best way to present a song and have it resonate both for us and our audiences.

As I get older, I’m probably a little less flexible vocally, but I’ve learned to compensate for the parts of my range that don’t work as well as they did in my 20s and 30s, and I do vocal exercises to keep my voice as flexible as possible. My brain is definitely more flexible as I’ve gotten older–I’m more inclined to try new things, new experiences, new types of music.

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