self-guided challenge check-in 1 : stretching

Way back when (okay, just a few months ago), I decided to take on a sort of self-imposed challenge : set a new fitness goal every month, take a new class every month, work to rediscover the simple joys I find in moving my body without being bogged down by memories of the ways my body’s broken in the last year.

I had the best of intentions. And then, as it does, time flew right by me. I became immersed in graduate school applications and decisions, logistics, nights with too much wine and nights with far too little wine – and now, before I even realized what was happening, I’m staring Memorial Day in the face.

But I’ve stuck with it. Sort of. I just haven’t written about it.

The first challenge I issued myself, for April, was to stretch more – daily, in fact. Which seems like a pretty basic challenge, but it’s something I’ve always been bad about prioritizing. So I figured that forcing myself to do it every day would turn into the sort of effortless routine I’ve always wanted, in theory, to have. And, conveniently, in mid-April, my physical therapist handed me a large rubber band for at-home exercises, espousing the importance of conducting my rehabilitation at home, on my own time. So there I was, with absolutely no excuse to drop the ball.

So, I started stretching. And it started slowly, half-assing it at first. I’d do a few calf raises before flopping into bed at night, or grab my waist and lean over to the side as soon as I woke up in the morning. But when I got cleared to return to running, I knew I had to take it more seriously. So I did, waking up 15 minutes earlier (no easy task – my alarm was already going off before 6 most mornings) to get in some seriously good moves. And as I got more serious about it, I learned a little bit more about myself… besides learning that my hip flexors are seriously, “hey-lady-we-hate-you” tight.

One of the biggest surprises I’ve encountered is the inexplicable ways emotion and stretching are tied together. Some mornings, in a backbend, I’ll remember a bright moment from the day before, and I’ll burst out laughing. Other times, I find myself struggling to explain a sudden onslaught of tears. This happens most frequently when I’m working on my hips, subject of so much pain and scrutiny over the last year. Yoga teacher after yoga teacher has reassured me that this is completely normal. In fact, it’s apparently pretty common knowledge that we carry a lot of emotions in our hips… which is the sort of statement that I would have rolled my eyes at a year ago. Now, as I end up with my legs pretzeled in front of me and my forehead resting atop them, my eyes misting, I’m less likely to shrug that off.

When you think about it, the whole thing starts to make sense. Stretching is releasing tension from our muscles, at its most basic. And part of the tension that knots my muscles has to be emotional. So releasing that comes with laughter, or tears. Got it.

 Here’s the other thing I’ve come to realize about these morning stretch sessions : they’re an inherently more peaceful way to start my day than what I was doing previously (which basically boiled down to running out the door to beat the morning rush and get to the gym).

In the depths of grief, I learned the power of small moments of joy. Of finding happiness in the smallest of moments : building a fire in my backyard, framing a favorite photos, feeling the sun on my face after four straight days of rain. I would catalogue these moments, holding onto them as proof of survival, of pushing forward – of resilience. Now, what started off as a simple challenge to adopt a healthier habit has become another one of those small moments of joy. It serves as a reminder to slow down, to prioritize taking care of myself, and to be proud of seemingly insignificant milestones.

I firmly believe that by placing an emphasis on our small moments, our tiny joys, we can hold our breath and cautiously step through the landmines of grief, disappointment and pain. So for the first challenge of the year, which ended up extending into two months, I turned the act of stretching into one of those small moments – purely selfish, purely simple, purely a representation of strength.


Coming soon - a review of a new-to-me workout class I took in April (finally) ; being more timely with posting about the new workout class for May ; and the challenge focus for June (any ideas??).


(hi, Mom!)

(hi, Mom!)