Stretching a Good Thing Too Far

I remember a cartoon when I was very young; a couple of torturers from medieval times were plying their trade in their chamber.  One victim was on the rack, and as one torturer twisted the lever to make him stretch out even more, the other said to him “Careful, Frank, you’re stretching a good thing too far!”  It’s an interesting take on a fairly common phrase or idea; don’t take a good stretch past its ‘this is good for me’ space, because the space after that can be damaging.

Personally, I experienced this for myself—again—this past winter when I took three weeks for myself to stretch my body.  I probably devoted 4—6 hours every day to pretty intensive stretching time.  As I worked, I felt quite good about the bits of my body that were waking up.  The low back, source of much of my original trauma and still a place that gives me trouble, began to ache sharply.  I blessed the pain and was glad it had come to show me how to eradicate it.  Trouble was, I couldn’t eradicate it, and it stayed….and stayed.  Finally, several months later, with some more subtle stretching on my part and a good piece of work from students in one of my basic courses, my back is reasonably happy again.  But this experience reminds me to practice what I preach, and to preach the idea that we can overdo anything, including working on ourselves to improve.

For years I’ve been advising clients on the difference between ‘achievement mode’ and ‘exploration mode’.  I imagine you can guess which one makes sense to me; it’s simple common sense that while achievement is good, exploration of one’s pain, restrictions, and fears is more likely to help one work through those problems than deciding to bludgeon the problem over the head with more, deeper, faster work.  I realized even as I was overworking that I was pushing myself too hard.  It just seemed right to have the time to really pull things apart; unfortunately, I pulled so hard the whole cloth came to pieces and it took some time to get things back together!

I’ve got no beef against achievement, and in fact, have achieved quite a bit in my life.  I don’t believe we should all be satisfied with where we are all the time; I do believe we should be satisfied with the progress we’re making.  I’ve long thought if some worm millions of years ago had adapted the affirmation “I am satisfied”, we wouldn’t be having these conversations in our sophisticated heads.  So satisfaction comes for me with the proviso that there’s always more to accomplish.  BUT, accomplishing changes in proper time means allowing changes to occur instead of forcing them to happen.  It’s the way I try to work in my bodywork, and it’s the cue I give more and more clients when they’ve had a good realization in their situation….”Now go home and PLAY with those changes.”

Years ago I realized a new client basically had no breath at all; I’d ask for an in breath, and could count a very weak count of two.  I suggested to him that as he was an achiever, I’d like to see him achieve a breath of five counts.  It worked; he finally got, and kept, a longer breath.  So occasionally I’ll throw about that word, achieve….but primarily when I say to an over-achiever:  “Now, you’re an achiever, so tonight I’d like you to go home and experiment with achieving relaxation.  I’d like you to put on a CD and listen to two songs while simply lying on the floor and breathing.  Don’t think about other stuff, don’t sort the mail, or make lists, or multi-task in any way.  Simply lie there, focus on the music and your breath to achieve relaxation.  Do you think you can achieve that?  Sometimes I see the light bulb go on when we discuss achievement and relaxation in those terms.

Too many of us still seem to see the world and all its parts as things that must be conquered, achieved, and defeated.  I still prefer the term ‘explored’….to me, one can achieve relaxation by exploring the situation, the body, the group, the world, while making it all right to land where one lands without judgment of the quality of the trip that got one there.  So, go and explore!

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