How Teaching My Mom To Stretch Brought Us Together and Helped Us To Slow Down

My mom has always been a runner. In the farmlands of Jamaica, she and her cousins grew up with little to do after school but outrun the trouble they got themselves into. When she moved to the United States at the start of her junior year of high school, she dreamed of being an Olympic sprinter. Even now, she is the fastest 55 year old I’ve ever met. My grandmother has always been a worker, for whom the idea of stillness does not come naturally. Despite dealing with back pain, to her, there is always something to do, and she believes that she is the one to do it. I inherited this from the women who came before me.

Being in constant motion (I'm a volleyball player turned actor) kept me from thinking about—well—me. But that didn’t last very long. Six months after getting my Master’s degree, I found myself immobile. An autoimmune disease called Neuromyelitis Optica had severely damaged the nerves in my spine from T5 and down. No one ever talks about how painful and painfully long nerve regeneration takes, so I will: It hurts and it takes forever. Full stop.

Stretching helped to give me a bodily awareness and a groundedness that I didn’t have before.

Stretching was one daily action that my physical therapist recommended to improve my range of motion and ease the pain. Gradually, I began to feel my muscles and gain control of my body. Stretching helped to give me a bodily awareness and a groundedness that I didn’t have before. Now, it’s years later and I’m pretty much back to normal (save some numbness in my quads). During this extended period of COVID-19-necessitated social distancing, I have steadily been encouraging my mom to stretch with me. The only problem is that she thinks I’m trying to kill her.

She is one of those runners who enjoys the run, but doesn’t thoroughly stretch afterward, meaning that she's grown accustomed to general muscular tightness and is of the mindset that excessive stretching is for “the young and the limber". But I have been on a mission to change that.

When we have our mother-daughter stretch time, I always ask her where she feels tight so I can tailor our time for her needs. Most of the time, it’s in her lower body because of all the running. So I show her some quad, hamstring, calf, and inner thigh stretches. Let me tell you: This woman starts praying from the moment we put our yoga mats down. I tell her to breathe into the stretch and stay in it for a few seconds and she is asking Jesus for strength and endurance. I show her a new stretch to relax her hip flexors, and she'll nearly suck the enamel off her teeth in response. You might say, my self-imposed job has not been easy.

And yet, after each stretching session she feels so much lighter and freer in her body.

And yet, after each stretching session, she feels so much lighter and freer in her body. Unfortunately, she does immediately forget about that feeling when our next mother-daughter stretch time comes around, so the cycle starts again but I think that’s part of the bonding.

Learning to sit with your body can be challenging, especially for people who are used to being on the go like my mother and grandmother. Stretching forces us to slow down and breathe deeply into uncomfortable spaces in our bodies for growth and healing. Being able to do that on my own has been very rewarding but there’s something very special about practicing stretching and mindfulness with family.

Recently, my mom has gotten more on board with our stretching time (though she doesn’t want to admit it). This past Wednesday, we talked about the difference between “doing” and “being” and how her aversion to stretching might be connected to a fear of just “being”. There was a lot of silence in that conversation which I will tell myself is attributed to heavy thinking. All I know for sure is that at the end she asked, “What time are we stretching again? Friday?” And undoubtedly, we will.

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