My face was flushed, eyelids heavy against the light. My skin burned hot and my insides baked. It was noon. Upper 90s. Not a cloud in the sky. This was our big New Mexico mesa-top moving day, lugging boxes, furniture, bags, and buckets down the 50-foot hike of sand and protruding rocks that leads to our new house.
We had rented a U-Haul and could only get it booked for this auspicious day, Summer Solstice and Full Moon, and one of a string of incredibly hot and dry days that had fires raging in three southwestern states, ours included.
Wildfire Sky, Photograph by Brea Fisher
Now that fire was burning in me, as I set a box of books like bricks onto the floor. I was a moving zombie, a walking dead mover of things in the sun. I was out of my mind with heat and work, lifting, carrying, hiking, and setting down. Passing my beloved along the path, with no more than a faded acknowledgement of his presence in the way back corner of my mind.
I took a water break and ran the faucet over my head. Next was my shirt, and when I put it on, my skin instantly absorbed its coldness—cooked it. I knew something was not right, and my man told me to take a break, drink water, cool off, take it easy, don’t take the heavy ones, and walk SLOW.
I had no choice. The heat had gotten in me and I was a puddle somewhere inside myself, melted.
When you’re given the option of rest or collapse, it’s easy to choose the option you need in order to survive.
It’s when you’re beat, but still going because you’ve got a deadline that will get you into trouble.
I rested for a while, but we had a ton of work to do, and only so many hours to get it done. I kept pushing.
After a grueling 13-hour day, we made it home and I fell into bed. I slept for a full day and half, and spent the next three days too sick to even think, lost in a delirium of bed tossing and groans.
And that, my friend, is the gift of both getting very ill and having a massive physical workday kick your butt.
See, all throughout the long moving day, not a single thought of anything other than the task at hand had gone through my mind. I was totally present. Focused. Centered on what was. I was being here now.
Moving is one of the most stressful, if not The Most Stressful thing a person can do. So, needless to say, up until that day my brain had been filled to the brim with Gotta Do This-es, Don’t Forget Those-es, and the notorious How the Hell am I Gonna Do Thats. It was such a relief for my mind to rest into the grunt work of the day.
And when I got home? I still couldn’t go back to my To Do Lists, worries, concerns, and questions of when and how. My illness had flipped the power switch of my brain to OFF. I was off the hook for as long as I needed. I could rest. I could only rest.
And so I did.
When your mind pushes you too far into the red of the big THINK, the body will pull you back, every time.
I was forced into rest even though my brain would have balked so badly had it been able to get through all the smoke and haze of that heat spell.
My question for you is this:
Where in your life have you been spending too much time and energy thinking or doing? Where do you need to give it a rest before your body says, “You’re done.”
Take some time right now, turn your focus inward, and listen. You can do this while continuing to read, if you are sitting or standing in an environment that is peaceful.
Be still, get quiet, and feel inside your body.
Notice how you feel physically. Take note of tensions, places you are holding in your muscles, or places where you are relaxed.
Release all attempts of the mind to label these sensations as good or bad. Simply take in the data without any judgment.
Next, ask yourself how you feel emotionally. Do your best to identify one or two emotions for how you feel. (This is harder than you’d think if you’re not in the practice of it, so be patient with yourself and try your best.)
Now. Ask yourself, “What do I need?”
Wait to receive an answer that feels charged, like it is coming from your deeper You—that part of you that is still, and focused, and quiet.
Create an intention around that need and affirm it to yourself in the form of a concise, positive statement. Something like,
“I will relax my mind and trust that everything will get done,” or,
“I am adaptable. I allow life to flow how it may, knowing it is for my greatest good.”
When you’ve declared your personal resolve you can release your focus and go back about your day, but I want you to pay attention.
Remember your intention and notice ways your body is showing you what you need. Listen to its signals before they become alarm bells.
The practice of tai chi teaches us to listen more deeply into the body in order to sensitize ourselves to its messages.
When you don’t listen, you miss what your body is telling you; to really hear, you’ve got to get quiet, be still, and rest the mind.
Keep this in mind as you go about your busy summer days. Do your body a favor and listen up before you burn out.
I was about 12, at the peak of pre-teen awkwardness, and I had a secret.
My best friend was staying the night and we were in my bedroom, laughing too hard for the hour, I’m sure. The time was nearing when we would reluctantly begin to heed my parents’ warnings and “Go to SLEEP!” This was all very typical sleepover procedure, but this time something was different. I had a new before-bed ritual and I didn’t want my sleepover to get in the way of it.
Even at a young age I was prone to digging into routines and formulating systems for life. This was a new one that I hadn’t even revealed to my friend.
“I have to tell you something,” I said.
That got her attention. My energy told her it was something not to be taken lightly. This was a serious thing, and our light-hearted mood dropped down into secret mode.
“You can’t tell anyone,’” I began. I made her promise.
I took a deep breath, and told her, “I stretch every night.”
She looked at me and we were quiet. I can imagine her searching my face for clues as to why this was a secret or any hint of the possibility of it being a joke. My face told her I was not kidding, and that teasing me about it was more trouble than it was worth.
I confessed to her my serious failure of flexibility, recounting the various Field Day Flops of years gone past, and divulging my latest scheme for reaching my goal of Being Flexible. So she accepted the challenge of keeping my secret, and we stretched together, dreaming of future splits and backbends.
 I don’t know if you had this torturous outdoor athletic contest extravaganza at your school, but if you did, it was probably a really fun day of the year for you, unless you were like me, who dreaded it.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
That routine has continued in some shape or form since then, and even now I stretch my body at least once a day.
When someone tells me, “You’re flexible!” I know I put in the work to earn that acknowledgement. I am flexible. I own that one fully because I distinctly remember a time when I was not so limber.
THE FIRST SECRET TO FLEXIBILITY
A little stretching goes a long way when you do it every day.
Just like all things in life, the more you do it—the more energy you put into something, the bigger it will grow. So if you put in energy and time to stretch your body, your body will become more flexible than it was before.
Now, how flexible you become is completely variable and depends on the person, just like all things we practice. I’m not declaring that any person can become a contortionist simply by a daily routine of stretching. Nor am I saying that practice, practice, practice could have made me a Field Day Champion. We all have things we’re naturally good at, and other things we really don’t care to master.
What I can confidently tell you, is that stretching every once in a while with months in between won’t do squat for your flexibility.
You’ve got to do it routinely, and with dedication: Every day, or at least most days, consistently.
Consistent stretching a few minutes a day yields greater results than hour-long stretch routines every few weeks.
Start out with just a few minutes a day, and never push yourself to stretch farther than your body can painlessly go.
When you imagine stretching every day, how does that sit with you? Are you up for the challenge? Do you think, “Yeah, right,” or “I don’t have time for that”?
Maybe you envisioned forcing yourself out of bed at 4am in order to sit on a mat with a lit candle and Tibetan monks chanting sacred mantras out your speakers while you go through an intricate stretch routine that takes you right up until the time you need to start in with the real life stuff of your day.
Listen. It’s not complicated. It takes a few minutes. And this is your body—you know what feels good. Move it around so that it feels like a good stretch in all the different parts of your body.
THE SECOND SECRET TO FLEXIBILITY
Even the slightest stretch, done with intention and focus, will benefit your health.
You don’t need to be doing full forward bends, splits, or any other practiced yogi feat. Deeper does not mean better when it comes to stretching the body. Actually, keeping your movements less intense can really be more beneficial to helping your qi flow more freely through your body.
When you push too hard and stretch your body farther than it can naturally and painlessly go, it causes stress in your joints, bones, and muscles, which actually inhibits the flow of energy and has the opposite effect; you’ll end up more stiff than ever.
A simple turn of the head to stretch the neck, feeling into it; an alternating criss-cross of the arms over the chest, feeling into it; a rotation of the wrists, feeling into them—notice the trend here? Make gentle movements to find a good-feeling stretch, only go as far as feels good to you, and most importantly: feel into it.
A stretch is only as beneficial to the body as the amount of mind you put into it.
In other words, if your mind is busy thinking about the day’s tasks and in what order would be most efficient to complete them, your body is not getting the full benefit of the stretch because you’re not there to feel it.
Take three minutes, right now. Yep. Now.
Now set yourself up to make a daily three minute stretch routine for yourself, using the above stretches, or others you know and like. Or simply freestyle your stretches by moving your body around and feeling into it to find the stretch. You don’t need to be taught how to stretch. We know how to do it even before we come out of the womb.
THE THIRD SECRET TO FLEXIBILITY
Stretching increases flexibility not only in one’s body, but also in one’s life.
One way of looking at life is that every single aspect of it is made up of energy. The chair you’re sitting on? Energy. The device you’re using to read this article? Energy. The car (or bicycle) you use to get from place to place? Energy. The water your drink? Yep, energy.
Your body is energy. The thoughts you think are energy. The emotions you feel are all energy. And in the Chinese Internal and Martial Arts, that energy is called qi (pronounced chi).
The perspective that all things are made up of qi, when applied to your life, reveals the intimate connection between your thoughts and your emotions and your body.
When the body is tense, holding, and stiff, it is an outward manifestation of the stagnant qi within you. Chances are, if you look deep enough inside, you will notice feelings of emotional tightness, also. This could feel anywhere from overwhelm to depression to fear, and all those stuck-feelings in between.
You have the power to shift your life to a place that feels better, simply by moving your body.
This isn’t some woo-woo fluff here, this is Qigong.
At the age of 12, I hadn’t heard of Qigong yet; however, maybe an innate understanding of qi was a wisdom I had somehow tapped into. I knew that stretching every night would get me more flexibility, so I committed to that.
My lack of self-confidence at the time told me to keep quiet about my goal to becoming flexible, but that didn’t stop me from secretly going for my dreams.
I don’t keep it a secret anymore. It’s too good not to share.
Move your body. Notice how it feels. Pay attention to your physical feelings and your emotional feelings. Notice how they correspond to each other. Make connections. Create change. Be the best you you can be.
What do you think? Got a story to share about how you created movement in your life by moving your body (or your furniture, or your altar treasures)? Leave a comment below-- I love hearing from you!