On Stretching

I’m on day four of physical therapy for a herniated disc in my back (side note: is there anywhere else one can herniate a disc?)

My therapist told me that my initial injury and lingering discomfort could probably be from my tight muscles and, consequently, my severe inflexibility.  This makes sense. And like any rational person, I took thirty-two years and a stranger to  internalize the importance of stretching.

Please, Jon, do not make this a metaphor about stretching one’s self to try new things or meet new people. DON’T DO IT.

Humans, especially Americans…especially teens and young adults…especially guys, are hard-headed. We’ll smoke even though we can mentally recount all the different ailments and ugly side effects.  We’ll find ourselves returning to unhealthy relationships though we have an internal monologue about the stupidity of staying with these people playing on repeat.

“Which is why we need to push ourselves to extend beyond our comfort zone.”

Stop it.

For me, I always knew I should stretch, even though most of my soccer and basketball coaches never really pushed me to do it.  Probably because they assumed a stick like me didn’t have muscle or the capacity to be pliable. So, I went through youth sports and high school swimming without anything more than a slight bend at the waist and a half-hearted count to ten when my other teammates stretched.

With swimming, and even water polo, I figured I couldn’t really pull a muscle. The only thing I had to worry about was maybe tendinitis, besides swimmer’s ear and butt itch from wearing a speedo for too long (these last two ailments obviously can’t be remedied by stretching).

“We often lull ourselves into social, emotional, psychological, spiritual, intellectual complacency.  If we don’t strain ourselves, we will never reach the heights we could touch.”

Seriously, Jon, shut up.

My wife, who dealt with her own ailments after leaving competitive swimming, reminded me of the importance of stretching.  I even witnessed the benefits of these exercises when she went through physical therapy, yet I balked at yoga, core exercises, and stretching.

“If only you were flexible enough to try something for more than a day.”

I swear, I will hit you if you continue trying to make this metaphor work.

So, in July of this year, after a year of running, not stretching, playing basketball, not stretching, sitting slouched in chairs, not stretching, hiking mountains, not stretching, driving and flying, and not stretching,  I found myself in the greatest pain of my life after bending over to pick up my daughter.  A current of pain surged from my toes, through my hips, and up to my spine, where my body locked on to an unrelenting choke-hold on my nervous system.

“You know, we are often constricted by our rigid adherence to habits and conformi–”


Instead of doing fifteen minutes of activity a few times a week, I had to deal with two months of sciatica, which got so bad that a thirty minute car ride became unbearable, to the point of tears.  This ordeal culminated with a midnight emergency room visit, where I shuffled into triage wearing slip-on water shoes, baggy shorts, and a shirt that reads “This is what an awesome dad looks like” (on the shirt, there are also two fists with thumbs pointing at my head).

An awesome dad doesn’t let his body seize up from neglect.

sniffles while mumbling incoherently about being a role model for growth and open-mindedness for our kids.

I’m faithfully following through with my exercises.  My daughter is even stretching alongside in her adorable, not-technically-correct way. I’d chastise her for incorrect stretching, but she can bring her feet up to her mouth.  I can only do this figuratively (which, unfortunately I do quite often).

*whispers* “why can he speak figuratively and I can’t?”

I hope to soon be able to touch my toes. Yes, this is sad.  No, I don’t need your judgment. Beyond being able to say I can adequately bend at my hips enough to brush dirt of my shoes, I hope I can prepare my body for a less-painful life by safeguarding against those conditions that can be prevented.

And so, by doing the small things, I will be able to fully engage in the bigger moments–I will be able to extend myself to reach people and places I never thought possible–I will finally realize a better version of me.

*Soft whimpers* while the backside of a hand threatens to rake across the face

Stretching is important. I wonder if this idea of flexibility and developing one’s self goes beyond just physical exertion. Meh, oh well. I won’t think too hard about it.

Open weeping