Issue 8 Stories
The Best Medicine

Stretching the Limitations of Getting Older

I have the flexibility of a tree trunk. A redwood tree trunk. With five coats of varnish. And then wrapped in iron.

In other words, I’m not very flexible.

My lack of flexibility isn’t solely the result of my quickly advancing age, although that definitely hasn’t helped any. But even in grade school, while all the other kids were able to sit cross-legged on the floor, I could never hold that position for more than a couple seconds before tipping over like a tiny, prepubescent drunk who had had one too many cocktails.

I envy limber people. I marvel when I see individuals doing the splits. Whether they’re nimble cheerleaders or large, burly hockey goalies whose legs stretch out in each direction when trying to stop a puck, I wonder how they do that without their entire body snapping in half like a crispy taco shell. I have trouble straddling almost anything, let alone resting each of my legs on the floor in opposite directions. In fact, I just tweaked one of my quads simply by typing that sentence.

The problem is that lately I’ve been trying to exercise more, and I know stretching should be a part of my routine. But instead of taking a few minutes to stretch beforehand, I tend to run without warming up. I also don’t stretch after finishing a workout. The unfortunate result is that I end up walking like Frankenstein’s monster the rest of the day, plodding down the hallway at work stiff-legged, as if my knees have been installed backwards. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s been my problem all along.

My resistance to stretching has stemmed in part from my misguided understanding of what is involved in doing it correctly. I always felt I needed to do complex moves, such as wrapping my leg behind my neck until I could put my big toe into my opposite ear, and other kinds of impossible contortions. So I enjoyed reading the article about stretching on page 41 because it not only gave me a better summary of the benefits of stretching, but it also showed me ways to stretch that look like something most any human being ought to be able to do.

And given that I am aging, the article was a great reminder that stretching isn’t just for people who work out—mobility and flexibility are exceptionally important attributes to have as one gets older. I already find myself making loud sounds as I pull myself up out of a chair at home, the same sort of painful grunts my father used to make years ago when rising from his chair. If you’re familiar with the bellowing of a bull sea lion, it’s a lot like that. And if you’re not familiar, it still sounds like that.

So I like the idea of being more limber. I’m particularly fascinated with tai chi because I’ve always been intrigued by the people I’ve seen doing it, in part because I’m impressed with how fluid their movements are, in part because it looks like something very doable, and in part because I think it would sort of make me look like a ninja. Granted, a slow-motion, slightly aging ninja, but a ninja nonetheless. I’ll take whatever I can get when it comes to ninja status.

I only wish I had learned about the sorts of stretching exercises included in this article when I was in second grade. Maybe I wouldn’t have been subjected to so many breathalyzer tests.

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