Sunday, March 06, 2011

Surprise! New goal set for self improvement...

A few days ago, I discovered somewhat to my surprise that I had set a new goal for myself: improve my flexibility so that I could touch my forehead to my knee in what is known in Yoga circles as Jansirsasan:

Why was this a surprise, you might ask.Well, a few months ago, a friend who is an avid Yoga disciple and teacher was going through a divorce. She commented that she believed that there is a link between physical and mental flexiblity. That if a guy couldn't touch his toes, he was probably also (mentally and spirtually) a rigid, inflexible person.

You will probably not be surprised to hear that her ex-husband was very inflexible in every aspect (according to my friend, of course). I promptly showed her (and my wife) that I could, in fact, touch my toes.

So I was very glad of that. The reason, though, that I could touch my toes is that I had already been focusing my stretches on improving my flexibility, mostly because it made my back and legs feel better.

When you get right down to it, though, touching one's toes doesn't really make you all that flexible. So I continued to work on my hamstring and leg stretches. And then when I was talking to my wife about my stretching and how I was getting closer and closer to lowering my head all the way to my knees, I realized that in fact I had set a goal for myself of doing just that - and I hadn't even known it! Ah, strange brain....

So now at least twice a day, I tear myself away from my desk, lie down on my mat, do a bunch of abdominals and then focus on my stretches. I am currently about 3 inches away from my knees.

And I have two weeks to close the gap, because that's when I will see my friend again. And I want very much to show her that I can do Jansirsasan (even if I can't necessarily do much of anything else very well in Yoga).

If you are, like me, a programmer who spends hours and hours in front of a computer, I strongly urge you to get into a daily regimen of abdominal exercises and stretching (yoga or otherwise). You will have far fewer problems with your back and hips; your legs will not ache from lack of mobility and tightness.

And you will, as a consequence, write better and happier code.


Erik van Roon said...

Oh my god!
Please thank your friend for me.
Because she gave me some very useful insights about myself.
I always though of myself as a (mentally) reasonably flexible person.
But now I understand that the car accident that ruined my back also ruined my personality.
Without me, or anybody around me, even knowing it.
Though I must admit that I was never able to touch my toes, so I've obviously always been rigid.

If you run statistics on a table with a percentage so low, in effect the sample size is 1 row out of the millions in the table, do you expect to get accurate explain plans?
If you base your claims about the relation between mental and physical flexibility on one disappointing marriage, do you expect to get a statistically correct prediction about men in general?

Tim... said...

I love stretching. I'm not sure it makes you mentally more flexible, but I know it chills you out big time.

It's good to have goals, but make sure you don't get all macho about them. Different muscle groups progress at different rates and forcing stretches out of frustration is a good way to get injured fast. If you find yourself holding your breath or grimacing you are not doing it right. :)

Having balance should be your number one priority. Having uneven flexibility can put a lot of strain on your joints.

There are lots of ways to stretch and all have their pros and cons. I've been reading stuff about flexibility for about 26 years. I've written some summary notes about basic approaches here. It mightmgive you some ideas.

Keep us updated with your progress.



Steven Feuerstein said...

Thanks for the advice, Tim.

And regarding your pages on stretching: WOW! What a great resource. Thanks for sharing what you have learned...

Funny, I was just thinking today: "Don't push too hard. When you do that, you know you get injured."


Tim... said...

It's especially true of stretching. It takes time to understand how much you can cope with. Sometimes you feel great and just keep going and going. You don't notice any problems while you are warm. Then the next day you feel crippled. With time you will learn your edge.

One of the reasons Yoga is great is it encourages you to learn about your body, rather than just blasting it. Having said that, it is not the fastest way to get flexible. What you have to do is find the balance between progress and safety that works for you.

Another thing people forget is flexibility without strength actually makes your joints more fragile. Increasing your range of motion is great, but it should not be done at the expense of strength. If you look at all extremely flexible people (yogis, dancers, contortionists, rhythmic gymnasts, martial artists) they are never flimsy. They always work on strength as well as flexibility. A strong muscle is easier to stretch than a weak muscle.

Anyway, I will shut up before I start boring you. :)

If you have any questions feel free to email me. I love talking about this stuff and I've got a long history of stretching, martial arts and Yoga, so I've seen this from several perspectives.