Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Little Bit of Perspective

If you've been following this blog at all lately, you've probably caught on by now that I am slightly obsessed with gyrotonics. Okay, maybe make that "not-so-slightly", because let's face it, I find that if you're going to obsess, you might as well take it all the way. And all the way for me lately has meant 3 sessions a week, for an hour each time, with a private trainer. I love the excuse this gives me to get out of the house even when I don't feel awesome. I love the cozy feel of the studio -- all warm and lovely and filled with people moving and flexing and playing on the towers or the jumping board or the mats on the floor. I love the movements, and the empowerment, and the fact that I can actually feel myself getting stronger and more flexible from week to week. I love all of it.

Except, of course, for the stretching.

Let me explain: each gyrotonics session begins and ends with some stretches and movements designed to open up your body and warm your muscles. Sounds pretty standard, right? Yeah, I thought so too, until I experienced it for myself. I swear sometimes it feels as though the world's gyrotonics instructors huddled together in some dark room one night and hatched a plot to torture unsuspecting fools like me through the use of roller balls and resistance bands. And sure, I know somewhere deep down in my heart of hearts that this is (*gasp*) good for my body, but in the moment it tends to feel more like one of those "enhanced interrogation techniques" we've all read about in the news. Seriously, I'd sing like a canary if it meant that I never again had to endure the pain involved in "rolling out" my thighs.

I distinctly remember one session early on in my gyro career when I was literally gasping in pain by the final stretching period. My instructor was carefully guiding my movements, ensuring that I wouldn't overextend and hurt myself, but also pushing me to break through that wall of comfort, basically forcing me to ask my muscles to go a little further, and open just a little more than what felt easy. And the result was pain. Pure, unadulterated, evil pain. So I lay there, on my back with one leg extended skyward, my muscles shaking with effort and my body clenched against the suffering, when my instructor looked down at me and smiled. I thought for sure she was going to release me and let me go slink off into a corner to lick my wounds, because she could obviously see that I was in distress, but she didn't. Instead she just looked at me calmly for a second and said simply "you need to go there," as she guided my leg into an even more excruciating stretch. Just five little words to tell me how much my body needed this, and I believed her. Kind of.

So needless to say my general attitude since then has been to go to gyro, get through the first part, really enjoy the main bulk of the hour, and then endure the painful stretching and opening at the end with resolute and resigned silence. That's what "you need to go there" meant for me, after all: do and get through it, and who cares if you enjoy the process, right?

Well, maybe. The other day, as I was slipping out of my shoes and coat, I took a second to wonder why I was dreading this stretching part so much. And immediately the words "you need to go there" popped back into my mind, because, to be honest, they never really left it in the first place. So there I was, coat half off and contemplating what it means for the body to really "need" something, and then, all of the sudden and without really meaning to, I made a personal decision that the stretching for that day simply would not hurt. My decision was based on the logic that if my body needed to stretch, then doing so was not harmful; in fact, quite the opposite. Pain is the body's way of telling you when you are doing something wrong, like sticking your hand into a fire, for example. Holding your hand in a flame is supposed to be hard -- your body makes it hard on purpose -- because it isn't a particularly good thing to do. Stretching, on the other hand, is good for you. Exercise is good for you. There may be sensations that accompany these actions, but those sensations aren't really pain: they are the feelings of muscle growing, or opening out to greater flexibility, or connecting with other muscles to form a stronger, more balanced movement. I wasn't sure changing the label would change the experience, but I was bound and determined to try.

So are you ready for a miracle?

Well, don't be. I've had three sessions since that day and the stretching still isn't easy or comfortable, necessarily. But it honestly isn't painful somehow. On the first day I tried out my new perspective, I noticed that I was breathing into the stretches more deeply, accepting on some level that these were good and that I really did "need to go there." I don't dread these parts of the session anymore either, in fact I find that I kind of like them in a weird way because I see them as a vital part of the workout -- not just something to get through and get over with. It's not so much that anything about the stretches themselves has changed; it's just that I'm opening my mind now instead of just my muscles and joints. And that seems to be making a difference on some level.

I ended my session today with the same stretches I used to hate, and found that I barely broke stride or focus going into the movements that just a week or so ago had me gritting my teeth and clenching my fists. I concentrated on my breathing, exhaling into the motions, and just let it be . . . well, not easy, but maybe "right" is the word I'm looking for. I let it be right -- for me, for my body, and for the moment.

So I lay there tonight, my leg extended above and my muscles still shaking with effort, and my gyrotonics instructor looked down at my relaxed fists and easy breathing. She smiled, and I thought for sure she was going to let me go this time, and then she simply said "yes, right."

And pushed me just a little bit further.


  1. Is gyrotronics a common kind of exercise? I'm tempted to look up gyms in my area for it or just figure it out on my own. Great post, sometimes we do just have to push overselves. I need to do more pushing.

  2. Once again I need to say that you are a gifted writer. Thank you.