I spent most of my life being inflexible – in both senses of the word. I’d like to think that I have loosened up mentally, hard for a rule-loving girl and equally hard to measure. I know for a fact that my body is more flexible.

I was born lacking typical baby flexibility. It really worried Ma when my little legs couldn’t go up over my head. The doctor assured her it was okay. I don’t know that she was completely convinced.

From being an inflexible child, I grew into an inflexible adult. Just before I turned 30, I took a yoga class, thinking it would help. It was horrible! The women were competitive and looked down on those of us aspiring to get closer to our toes. Okay, some of that last part might have been projection, but they did have a superior attitude.

Can't Touch Toes

[Thank you Kitzzy for letting me use this photo and for showing that I wasn’t alone in being unable to touch my toes!]

During grad school in England, I got brave and signed up for a six-week-long yoga class. I am so glad I did. Before class, a group of us were sitting out in the hall, and it came out that none of us could touch our toes. There was much rejoicing!

As class time approached, someone thought to try the door, and it was open. Inside, doing a headstand, was our instructor, an Italian yogi-in-training. He made it very clear that this class was not competitive. He also told us if we were sore, it was because we didn’t listen when our bodies told us not to go further. There was to be no complaining/bragging about that.

During those six weeks, I was able to get to where I could touch my toes. It was short lived, however. I never really gained the upper hand on my flexibility until after my knee surgery. Stretching was a big part of rehab. I got to where I could get my palms on the floor with really warm muscles; I could easily touch the floor with them cold.

After my dance career ended, I had a little pity-party and quit stretching. I realize, though, that as I get older I will need flexibility and balance even more. I’m back on the bandwagon. I know that I really need twice a day sessions to get back where I was, but much like with my foam roller, knowing is not doing. I’m trying to give myself the kick in the butt I need to get going, but you need flexibility for that!

Can you touch your toes? or Does anyone actually like competitive exercise sessions?

12 thoughts on “Inflexible”

  1. I am impressed that you were able to go from no toe-touching to palms on the floor. It just goes to show that we can do anything if we put our minds to it!! And no, I hate competitive exercising. Everyone’s different physically… why do we need competition to spur each other on in an exercise class for goodness’ sake? Most of the time I feel like a winner just getting to the class on time. Don’t rain on my parade just because I can’t balance my whole body weight on my fingertips for two minutes.

    I danced from a really young age, and I swear that is why I am so flexible today – we spent a large part of each class stretching. I should not be as flexible as I am – I’m rather tall and usually the two don’t go together. But I find stretching – and yoga – to feel so good that I try to do either one pretty regularly.


    1. I agree that showing up is often more than half the battle with exercise classes. Why would anyone want to add to that? When I was taking pilates, the cheap studio was competitive but I refused to go there. If after a few movements I realized that tension was too high, I would stop and reduce it. Normally a couple other of the younger participants (20 somethings) would look at me with gratitude and lower their tension as well. Life is too short for that!

      Did you enjoy dancing? I don’t know that I would have when I was younger. I had to grow into accepting that my body could do more than transport my brain around.


  2. I can touch my toes when I bend my knees…yeah, that’s about as close as I can do it. I haven’t been able to touch my toes by just stretching. I did stretches for a long time so I could be more flexible, but I never seemed to make much progress. It’s not a huge exercise goal for me anyway even though i should probably stretch more than I currently do.

    I hear you on the competitive nature of exercises. When I’m in the gym, I feel as if some guys overdo their weight lifting simply to show off to others. They’ll do sets way above what they should be doing. In order to do it they put in really bad form. Makes me wonder why they even bother. I’d rather do it right and get the most out of my workouts.


    1. We all have our priorities. I think flexibility is one of mine because I had it once, and I can feel it slipping away. Before I could easily touch my toes, stretching was no where on my priority radar.

      I’m glad to know it is not just a female thing for not wanting the gym to be competitive. You have a very practical approach to doing workouts well and not showing off to get the best results.


  3. I’m incredibly inflexible – always have been. Even when I trained and taught Karate and was at my most flexible, it was still not amazing. OK, by that I mean not as good as I wanted it. I did the competitive fitness thing with myself, mostly. Of course, I do that a lot and not only with exercise and fitness. I do know that whether or not I can touch my toes, stretching does feel amazingly good and helps me feel well overall.


    1. Whenever I take a break from stretching and then return to it, I am always shocked at how amazing it does feel. It makes me wonder why I stopped in the first place.

      Like you I am competitive with myself in most things. I’d much rather compare myself to what I used to be able to do than other people. At least that way I know it is a standard I could reasonably reach.


  4. I have always been able to touch my toes. My husband and two children, however, cannot get their fingers anywhere near their feet without bending at the knees. This was really torturous when my kids took Taekwondo. There was a lot of stretching done in classes and even after 4 years, they still couldn’t reach their toes. Sometimes the instructor would go around and gently push on people’s backs to get them to stretch further, but my inner “mon(m)ster” came out and told him to never do that to my children. Sometimes some of the kids would be in tears after him pushing them too far. I always hated that.


    1. Good for you for teaching your children that just because an instructor is doing something, it doesn’t make it right! That pushing, no matter how gentle, can tear muscles!

      I am envious of your innate flexibility. My mom and sister have it. I feel like the only woman in my family without it.


  5. NO – definitely don’t like competitive classes. I go to do the best I can and know when I’ve pushed it too far. And speaking of inflexible – I had to go to a physical therapist for rehabilitation after I broke my shoulder a couple years ago snow skiing and the therapist told me I had the tightest fascia he’d ever worked on. How’s that for something to be noted for? Apparently my tightness and inflexibility run more than skin deep. In fact, now you’ve reminded me that I need to find a massage therapist who specifically works on that again – before I curl up into an uncurlable, unfurlable ball of knots.


    1. Glad I could be a reminder for that massage! I don’t think I’d like to be known for my tight fascia either.

      My problem in the past with competitive classes (or worse, physical trainers) is I would allow them to push me further than I knew my body could go, and I ALWAYS got injured. I’m so glad I quit comparing myself to students who obviously live to show off in those classes and put my focus inward.


  6. I was the opposite – born very flexible – so I took it for granted. Up until my 40s I could bend every which way, but now in my 50s I have to really stick with a regular stretching program to avoid having everything seize up permanently.
    I took a beginning yoga class several years ago, and even some of those supposed newcomers were competitive. The instructor tried to discourage it, but there was a definite sense of some being “better” than others. I have an opposite response to competitiveness(I withdraw and refuse to participate), but it can be very destructive for many people. It was especially discouraging because a lot of students were there to learn yoga in order to improve their health after injuries or heart ailments.
    I’m glad you found the right combination of instructor and environment to allow you to get that flexibility!


    1. I did get very lucky with that class. Back when I was young and stupid, I didn’t realize that I could simply elect not to participate in the competitiveness. I found with Pilates that I had my own sense of feeling “better” than others by intentionally avoiding the fray and using less tension or not finishing all the reps if I knew my body couldn’t (and shouldn’t) do it. I finally learned that I was there to improve myself and these strangers didn’t matter.

      It was quite a shame to have that level of competitiveness in a yoga class where people were attending in an attempt to regain their health. Does it really make you a better person if you can do a move more agilely than someone getting over a heart attack? What is with people?


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