Stretch Goal

So there I was, maybe twenty years old, sitting on the piano bench at the dance studio where I worked as an accompanist. My usual classes were all ballet, and I played classical music for those. Never have I grown so bored with eight measure phrases (or so good at hacking nearly any piece of repertoire into eights bars). On this particular occasion, I was filling in for the pianist who handled the modern dance classes, and those began not at the barre, but on the floor, with stretching.

“Get off that piano bench, Grace Ann,” said the instructor. “Stretch with us. It’ll do you good.”

This was a beginning modern dance class, and I’d taken beginning modern my self, so I knew the drill. Head and neck, shoulders, arms, back, and finally the big muscles in the legs. The instructor was right. At that point, I’d been spending four hours a day on the piano bench for years (practicing), and then I’d do more hours for the accompanist gig, or class reunions and wedding receptions. My young adult back was killing me, and stretching helped.

Fast forward another twenty years, and I’m married to a hardcore athlete, whose edition of Runners’ World tells me, “Stretching is the most neglected aspect of adult fitness.” We walk, we jog, we do weights, we watch what we eat, we keep an eye on sleep hygiene… we do so much, but I know that stretching rarely makes my list. Stretching helps prevent injuries, brings down inflammation, increases muscular blood flow, stimulates endorphins… for something that doesn’t entail much exertion, it’s good medicine.

And stretching, in another sense, is exactly what a well written character in fiction must do. In every book, if I do my job as an author, Lord Julian (who finally got a cover for A Gentleman in Pursuit of Truth) cannot be quite the same person on page one that he will be by the end of the book. He must risk his ego, his heart, or his safety, maybe all three. He must wrack his brains, and he must test his relationships so that somehow, he has a little better range of motion or resilience at the end of the book than he did at the beginning.

Villains don’t or can’t stretch. They shrink, getting more and more vindictive, greedy, narrow-minded, and selfish as their stories progress, and at some point (I haven’t always done this well), when they are presented with an opportunity to stretch, they refuse the challenge.

I was reminded of the crucial quality of willingness to stretch at the barn yesterday, when a student told me he knew how to say thank you in German. He was proud of this, so I taught him some more German. Please, good-day, farewell, one-two-three, my-name-is, the horse… With each word, he repeated it to himself several times, and did not care in the least that the word for the horse (“das Pferd”) can sound a little the English word fart (and maybe that’s not such a false cognate, when you think about it).

This guy was determined to stretch his vocabulary, just as he had to stretch his courage to sit on that great big beast and try to explain to it where to go.

As we enjoy the waning weeks of winter, I want to give some time and attention to stretching–physically, professionally, interpersonally. If I’m careful about it, there’s no downside, and I might have learn some cool new words.

Do you stretch? Is there an area where you’re thinking of taking on some stretching? Lady Violet Says I Do is finally coming out in audio on the web store, on-sale date of Feb. 1, 2024. I’ll send gift links to three commenters.

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15 comments on “Stretch Goal

  1. With hyper mobile joints I have to be careful with stretching/yoga, to stretch just enough for happy muscles, but not baggy tendons, if you will. What seems to most necessary is pedaling a stationary bike, slowly, every day for 10 min. It seems to remind my tendons and big muscles of full range of motion, safely. Even if I walk and do other stuff, my janky middle aged joints demand pedaling, or makes me pay.
    That’s my inside the house goal, my out in the world goal (inc social media) is really focusing on being kind & useful (or being silent) in a year that looks like it’s going to need it more than ever.

  2. I have been doing some morning stretches for a while now but I know I need to do more, especially for my neck. I’m still doing some exercises just for my replaced knee, but it’s coming up on a year now and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to stop doing those so much. If so, there’ll be room to add the neck stretches/exercises that I know I need to do.
    I’m not so much about other stretching these days, however. I did do a big stretch in my late 30s/early 40s when I decided to take the science and math classes I skipped in my liberal arts undergrad program so that I could get into a computer science master’s program. I succeeded though they weren’t my favorite classes. I’m settling into my “golden years” of not being required to accomplish all the things. I try to keep up with the major news and read some non-fiction but mostly I’m content to read mostly romance and just live my life. I’m contemplating a river cruise and a move out of Florida, both of which will be stretches for me, but I’m not rushing anything.

  3. Pingback: Busy, Busy, Busy!!! | Grace Burrowes | I believe in love.

  4. I do stretch. It’s one of those things that I’ll get out of the habit of because I’m short on time and its an easy thing to drop, but then my legs suffer after my runs. So then I start the stretching routine up again. Yoga is great for stretching, and depending on what’s going on my life, I love to add yoga in to my fitness routine. I need to get back to my yoga right now!

  5. I also have loose joints but can do Soma Yoga and restorative yoga which focuses on releasing vs. stretching. I find physically the sense of contraction sets in quickly if I ignore yoga for a while, age has really accelerated that for me.

    I love learning new things, and thrive on novelty. Because I also love cozy teatime and life is so busy, sometimes I have periods where reading is my biggest source of novelty and I am enjoying more nonfiction to provide that need to learn something new.

  6. I do my minimalist stretching in the shower. It’s large and is squeeged out after each use. I have some reaches, squats, tai chi moves, deep knee bends… Then is is dried a bit and I get a few more.

    My stretch goal is to get at least my head out the door every day and to try to get a grip on our son’s belief he is bi-sexual. That may make a contortionist of me.

  7. At my age (72 and counting!) stretching has become more important than ever before. My husband and I take a “Fitness to Fit You” class twice a week, which incorporates barre work, weights, balance and stretching. We are the youngest people in the class! Once a week we also attend an “Essentrics” class, which combines moves from yoga, isometrics, tai chi and several other disciplines. We have also started playing Pickleball, a new to us sport. With my unreliable knees, I never thought to spend time with a racquet in my hand running around a court, but we play every week, as long as I wear my knee braces. If we miss any of the classes I really feel the difference. As far as emotional “stretching,” when I was offered a position that was created for me at our local senior center a few years ago, my initial instinct (being a painfully shy introvert) was to refuse. But I pushed myself to step outside my comfort zone and took the job. Six years later, I’m still loving it! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  8. Physically, I’m stretching my time at my treadmill desk following some vascular repair on one leg that left me too sedentary for the liking of the knee on the other leg that’s had 2 stem cell procedures & hurts less when moved judiciously & regularly.

    On the personal skills side, I’m stretching my repertoire to learning the art of soda bread, in search of the perfect (or at least edible) homemade loaf.

  9. I’m not known for having an extensive palate; I’m not a foodie. My sons, on the other hand, are very daring in their food choices. My oldest son and I went to an indigenous restaurant in Minneapolis called Owamni. All of the food prepared there is native to our country. No milk, no gluten. Nothing considered to be colonial. Food is served to share. I let my son order with minimal input from me. I was determined to “stretch” myself and try everything. I’m happy to say the food was phenomenal. And I ate everything. It felt good to stretch!

  10. If I don’t do physical stretches every morning of my neck at a bare minimum, my body rebels and won’t let me move much at all. Most weeks I attend Pilates classes twice to help with coordination, balance, and muscle tone. I do need to stretch in other ways as well. Ironically, I say that I need to stretch when I’m about to add not to enter me in the drawing since I don’t do audio books mostly because of hearing loss thanks to a shingles attack several years ago.

  11. When I was a runner, stretching was my least favourite part. Can’t says that things have changed much, though I did enjoy it while taking yoga for ten years. I found it invaluable while teaching full time and tutoring part time.
    When I retired, I was really looking forward to being able to take as many yoga classes as I wanted for one fixed price. However, since I was no longer in the classroom (though still tutoring privately), the need for stretching and relaxing dwindled.
    Now, stretching mainly happens when I’m reading my romance and other books in my favourite place: bed.
    Stretching intellectually takes place as I own up to others my new-found love of romance novels instead of hiding my recent addiction, thanks to Grace and other romantic fiction authors. Long live love!

  12. I started doing yoga regularly about 7 years ago, & physically noticed that it improves my spring and ease of movement. It’s easy to feel that as I get older I’ve learned all I need to. But strangely I appreciate expanding awareness now more then when I was younger & oh so busy.

  13. When I first started practicing Pilates, about 20 years ago, I absolutely hated the stretching. I felt it was such an evil trick to call the tortuous positions (in my mind, anyway) “stretching.” Stretching was supposed to be fun, relaxing, luxurious! Well, it took quite a while for my lovely instructor to convince me (despite my groans) that it really was lovely! Now in my 70’s, I still practice twice a week and swim or walk the other days. When I see people my age or younger struggle to perform basic movements I want to urge them to move! Move your body! It can all begin to get better with a long luxurious stretch in bed before you even get up in the morning..

  14. Yoga seems to be the only way I stretch Physically without hurting myself (most of the time). Professionally: as I am retired, I have maintained my Licenses by taking continuing education courses which have nothing to do with the professional specialty I pursued when employed. This has been very fun. Interpersonally; I would say I am doing terrible. I don’t seem to be able to develop new relationships beyond the light social level.

    My big stretch will be to do things I have never done in the past for fear of failure – as soon as I get up the nerve to start.

  15. Stretching has always been, for me, much, much more than the physical. In my “later years” I moved out of the coxswain’s seat and into the shell as a rower despite being a titch under 5’ tall. Now, that sounds like “physical” but the mental and psychological movement that had to happen before I did that took over 40 years and included A Lot Of New and Broadening Experiences!!!! The difference between being “in charge” of a crew and being either part of a crew or solely responsible in a single was like going from teaching ballet to dancing contemporary with a side-hop into jazz and Oh! maybe a swing through Highland. Talk about brain and body and heart stretching!!! Thanks, Grace, for making me think about this!!