For over 20 years I had a running joke with myself. As the dark days of December bore down – time to make perennial New Year’s resolutions – I’d half-heartedly say to myself, “now, this is the year I’m going to start stretching.” Ah, but 30 became 40… and 40 became 50, and I was still too caught up in the slipstream of my ADD inertia. Too buzzed on espresso, stoke, testosterone, THC, or whatever else to actually slow down, and learn how to move my body to its desired limits.
It took the loss of my dear old dad to throw a ball-peen whack in my world, forcing me to my mat. There, in an effort to quiet my monkey brain and tamp down my grief, I was taught how to breathe. I learned how to utilize the lion’s share of my lungs which had remained for-the-most-part inert, and began feeling the physical rewards of elongating my connective tissues to their happy place limits. Exhale.
While I realize most of you shiny-faced kids are well off from being bombarded with AARP mailings, I’m here to tell you– you can’t get started too early in meticulously tending your vessel. Want to remain strong on the skin track, stay on your whitewater game, and maintain your paddling prowess for lengthy surf sessions at Punta Perfecta? Well, you best take Uncle Miguel’s advice and start figuring out ways to keep your body pliable.
Ah, there is more to this flexibility regime than biceps, hamstrings, and sun salutations. Look around our collective mountain communities; we’re surrounded by beacons of inspiration in the form of those who model the sage practice of actively flexing their brains. Continuous learning, in whatever flavor you choose, is key to carving fresh grooves in your gray matter. Whether by pursuing new skills to build furniture, take a master gardener class, sharpen your Español, bump your avy awareness, transition your career to a higher purpose, or simply breathe life into your creative epiphanies, there are infinite ways to expand your mental bandwidth. It’s arguably the most important muscle in our bodies – the one that deserves the most frequent stretching – and it sits squarely between our ears.
Perhaps you’ve heard Stephen Hunt’s poignant quote, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” I’ve long pondered why I, and most of my amigos, have an affinity for chosen discomfort. Clearly, it’s a deeply seeded element of our caveman/cavewoman DNA, to opt out of our comparatively plush, high-thread-count lives and sometimes choose, instead, a virtual bed of nails. Why else would we enjoy shivering in an -18F° snow cave in the Glacier backcountry – for days on end–merely for the promise of an unmolested line and the wish of a wolverine sighting? Or, deal with explosive gastrointestinal issues (and related Third World realities) just to post up in the bowels of Mexico on an extended surf mission? Or, simply beating our heads against a proverbial wall, pushing to achieve new personal records, be they real or existential? These are just a few ways we – in our happy bubbles – choose to stretch ourselves and live closer to our respective edges.
Yet, this burning compulsion to push limits and sacrifice comfort for personal gains might also be applied to expand our willingness to give back. As populations continue to swell and our attention spans dwindle, stretching our compassionate energy and actions to serve something more profound than ourselves is key. Whether it’s rallying people to vote, helping local youth who’ve gotten off to turbulent starts in life, devoting yourself to building out a new trail system for your community, or growing food for others; pick something you truly give a rip about and sink your teeth into it.
In hopes of adding light to the world, here’s one last stretch I’ve adopted: Keep a running list of long-lost friends (and family) who’ve affected your journey, and make regular outreach efforts to keep them on your radar. This semi-random reconnect ritual has me reaching out to folks I haven’t seen or spoken to in years or even decades. I know this may sound radical, but I actually call them – out of the blue – on the phone(!) without any dire provocation or agenda. The goal is to surprise them, to caringly catch up on their lives, and try to make their day just a skosh better. Ultimately, I guess the goal is to let them know that – in this bat shit crazy, slam-dance-cosmopolis world – they matter, and you’re there for them. This stretch can be a real heart opener.