If you told me that you wanted to learn how to swim and I said great, I have a perfect way to teach you how to swim. Then I proceeded to hike with you cliffside, precariously perched 100 feet over the surface of the deep blue ocean. As you stood there, braced against the wind, asking details of how you were going to learn to swim, without warning, I shoved you off the side of the cliff, and waved as you flew screaming through the air.
Chances are you wouldn’t learn to swim when you hit the water.
Growth—new habits of mind or body, doesn’t happen from a place of fear.
I know as you’re reading this, there may be someone out there who says— YES! that’s the perfect way. Please shove me off the cliff! Fear is the only way I am motivated to learn new habits, or drop old patterns.
For most of us, lasting growth begins from a place of security. A place of feeling grounded, centered, with a little bit of ease, a plan, and support, armed with a desire to thrive, not just to survive. Maybe a modicum of fear, because maybe we need to fear losing something (balance, healthy blood pressure, clear mind) to get off the proverbial couch.
This isn’t the JUST DO IT NOW mentality, the— one-more-30 -day-challenge or 10 video course to succeed— that marinating we do in our western culture. If we listen, our cultural messages are constantly screaming—do it now, do it better, aren’t you ashamed at how long you are taking, you wimp, look what everyone else is doing! Oh, how easily the storm of shoulds and need-tos gather.
The truth is my older daughter learned to swim by throwing herself in the water. I wanted to bring her into the low end with her little floaty wings and hold her belly, while I coaxed and held her. She would have none of it. When I wasn’t looking, she threw herself into the deep end, and proceeded to swim diagonally towards the bottom of the pool. I leapt in and saved her, dragged her up, still kicking, sputtering, and coughing. She lay there in the warm sun on the concrete, but before I knew it, that three year-old was doing the same thing again.
The difference is that she was throwing herself in the water. She made a choice. Growth does come from a place of making a brave choice, but making that brave choice from a desire to expand, to flourish, to thrive—not because we think we need to look like someone else, not because we need to fit into society’s image of what we should be, not because that we’ve fallen prey to our culture’s ageism, able-ism, sexism…
We make a brave choice to expand, to grow because it matches our deepest heart’s yearning, to flourish and to thrive. The Greek root of the word happy is human flourishing—living in sync with your inner spirit, your heart’s deepest desire. It is not the transitory emotion that we might experience when that mocha Frappuccino tastes really sweet and icy delicious. That is surface happy, nothing wrong with it, just like any other transitory emotion, it comes and goes, as it is designed to do. Thriving joyfulness comes from moving forward, making a choice to bravely expand with liberating self-love.
The mental health world calls this titration— where we move into a little bit of expansion and then we come back into our comfort zone, assess, and then we move back into expansion, test that a bit, then we come back into our comfort zone. In and out, back and forth between stress and comfort.This is the way that we care for our nervous system, to keep us out of flight/fight mode, so we build our capacity to stretch a little bit more, not only for our bodies, but for our hearts and minds as well.
Let me use a yoga asana (pose) example. You can try this with me, if you’d like. The video below goes through the process for Dragonfly, a pose not only for expansion for hips and legs, but also for mental clarity and calm. If you’d like to skip down to the end and give it a try, I promise not to throw you off a cliff.
Grab a beach towel or sturdy blanket, maybe two, a couple of cushions, pillows, and a book or two, or yoga blocks. Sit on the floor, legs straight-ish, and open in a V shape. If this isn’t possible, no worries, most people get tight tendons in the hips and legs, you can also sit on the edge of a armless chair with legs wide. In yin yoga, a school of long stretch yoga, this shape is called dragonfly, a leaning forward of the spine, stretching all the muscles, nerves and connective tissues along the spine, lengthening the side body, inner and outer leg tendons, fascia and muscles around the knees, the Achilles tendon, glutes, and a good stretch for the hamstrings.
Once you are in this V -shape, notice if your low back is rounding. If it is too much to straighten your back, sit on a folded up towel or sturdy blanket, slide forward to put your low back at an angle forward, tipping your pelvis. Your legs don’t have to be straight, maybe put a rolled towel under your knees. If this is still incredibly tight in your body, sit on a chair, you can work down to the floor.
You can also do this laying on your back maybe on the floor or a bed, lift your legs up and open them up into a V shape, if you’re laying on your back, reach up and hold onto your thighs, draw your thighs and your knees in towards your shoulders. Try a towel or a belt to help draw your legs a little bit closer to your body.
I’ve been teaching yoga for a long time, so I have some flexibility in my hamstrings, but if I lean forward, say, I just got out of bed, I’m not going be able to lean very far forward, I’ll feel tightness in the back of my thighs and around my knees. I might even feel it down towards my ankles.
If you are feeling discomfort when you lean forward, place a book or two in front of you and see if you can lean on the books or blocks, or onto the seat of a chair or couch. If the back starts to round, straighten up, move back into a place of some comfort. Remember we’re dancing right at the edge of the comfort zone, in and out. Then when you are ready, take a few breaths in through the nose, out through the mouth, and slowly slide forward again.
Try anchoring your attention to the breath by noticing the texture, speed, length of inhale and exhale. Notice it in your belly, your ribs, moving the chest and shoulders. If the mind wants to focus on what hurts, re-anchor the attention to the breath.
As we’re testing the boundaries of our comfort zone, leaning forward, we are doing more than lengthening muscles, we are also rebuilding the capacity of our subconscious mind and the autonomic stress reaction to hold both comfort and discomfort in the same moment, which deepens our nervous system resilience.
This simple stretch deepens our courage, so that we can step a little farther into flourishing, into growth, mentally, emotionally, physically. And if this sounds like high expectations, could it hurt to maybe lean into the possibility that this all might be true?
Research shows the first minute or so in a stretch affects the musculoskeletal system, the second minute affects the energy flow in the connective tissues, the fascia. The third/fourth minute affects organ systems, and then the nervous system. So this little stretch can bring calm and ease to the whole body, mind and heart.
Now bend your knees, feet to the floor, slide side to side, make some circles with your knees, maybe wiggle or massage your legs— whatever feels comforting to you. Try not to get up and leave, stretch your legs out for just one more minute. As you lean forward one more time, notice if something is changed, celebrate even a centimeter closer to the floor.
Celebrating any change is important, teaching our nervous system we don’t have to cling to the negative. Lay down on your back if you can, maybe knees bent and feet on the ground, slide your knees side to side. Breathe deeply and evenly, and gently massage or tap the center of your forehead, just above your nose, bringing energy to the wisdom center of your brain, sealing in the knowledge that growth and change is always possible.
If you are interested in working with me 1:1, to offer you the support for growth, either virtually through zoom or FaceTime, or in-person, contact me today for availability.