I was in grade school the first time I realized just how inflexible my body was . We were doing some kind of fitness testing at school that involved, among other things that I have long forgotten, testing us on our flexibility and if we could do a pull up. Most of us kids could not do the pull up but I was horrified to realize that I was in the minority in that I could not touch my toes. In fact, I could barely reach my ankles, and that was by cheating by bending my knees.
I remember I would sit on the floor at home, trying in vain to force my legs into a butterfly stretch (I think that’s what it’s called. The one where you put your feet together and open your legs out to the side, trying to get your knees to touch the floor.) My knees didn’t make it within 6 inches from the floor.
Time passed, puberty, junior high and high school happened and I lost interest in increasing my flexibily. I think I had just accepted that some people just aren’t flexible.
When I first started ballet, I had been doing yoga for a short while. I began to see small improvements in my flexibility, but nothing extreme. I wasn’t putting my foot behind my head or anything. But at least I had gained the ability to touch my toes without bending my knees. And one day as I was sitting on the floor, without thinking I put my legs in the butterfly stretch. All the way down. At first I was kind of in shock and I kept looking down to make sure. I took my hands and put them under my knees to make sure. But it was true, something that I had tried so hard for and had seemed out of reach just happened when I least expected it.
My first ballet teacher was very big on stretching. We would do several stretches with our leg up on the barre. With our leg in front, making sure to keep our hips square to the barre. With our leg out in second we would stretch our upper body both towards our foot on the barre and then away from our foot. We would put our leg in attitude on the barre and then turn around and have it on the barre in attitude derriere. After all of these barre leg stretches we would then get on the floor and try to stretch into the splits.
At first, my body was not having it. The barre hurt my ankle and it was hard to do the stretches. But as time went on, I noticed that it was easier an easier to stretch, especially since I would practice the stretches at home as well as in class. The splits continued to elude me, however, but since I was preoccupied with the other aspects of ballet like balancing and remembering the combinations I didn’t give it too much thought or importance.
The next ballet teacher I had did not have us do that many stretches in class, though we did do some challenging ones like putting our bent leg on the barre, plie-ing and and bending towards it. I still continued doing the stretches the previous teacher had taught us at home, but I didn’t keep trying to get into the splits. I think I had kind of given up on it but I was excited with my improvements in other areas.
So imagine my surprise one day when I was showing a classmate how far down I could go and found myself all the way down. Just as it had previously happened with the butterfly stretch, I was in shock. I was actually doing the splits! I couldn’t believe it.
At this point in my life I am the most flexible I have ever been and it feels great. I have heard it been said by various people that flexibility is lost as you age, that you are the most flexible as a child. While that may be the majority, it doesn’t have to be an absolute rule. There are exceptions and that is something I find extremely uplifting. There is hope. It is not too late.
Another thing that I find curious is that I was able to do both of these things after I had given up on them, yet when I was trying my hardest it just wouldn’t happen. It does make me wonder if I am limiting myself or if I am my own worst enemy.
An even weirder thing a friend once said to me was that you can’t have body flexibility unless your mind is also flexible. She said you must show that you are flexible about life before your body will respond with flexible joints. I’m not going to say that she is necessarily correct, but it is a pretty big coincidence…