Choosing Joy Amid Constriction

This time of year is a tough one. For most people, the days are getting darker and shorter and the weather cooler. The trees are changing colors, which is beautiful, but slowly leaves things more and more bare. School is in full swing and work is often hectic now before the regular holidays hit. If you’re Jewish, it’s also the last stretch of the High Holidays and I always feel my endurance running low even as we’re encouraged to be more joyful for a week more.

This year, especially, I feel tightness in so many parts of my life.

It’s been a banner year for us, with cancer treatment, work stress, my son’s Autism being harder with the isolation of Covid…and then just the isolation of Covid itself. Add to that the normal stresses of two teens in high school now…and yeah…I’m feeling tightness in our budget, tightness in our space at home…tightness in the amount of free time and joy we have.

And then there’s my legs.

Running is going well and I’m slowly increasing my miles each week with 3 runs a week now alternated with weight lifting and then rest on Saturdays. My endurance is the best I can remember it being, but my legs…yeah…that’s where the problem lies. My legs are tight as bowstrings, the muscles hard as rocks. When I was a beginner runner the last time around, I mistakenly thought this was a good thing. “Great!” I thought, “my legs are SO strong!” In reality, they were just really, really tight and eventually those tight muscles pulled enough on my knees that I wound up having to stop running and do physical therapy and I never quite got back into it after that.

This time around, I know that tightness for what it is, and I’m working on it. Working on it, though…is a slow and painful process.

Life is often like that…in order to work through what feels like it’s constricting us, we often have to move deeper into it, letting go of resistance to it. If our budget seems tight, then we need to look more carefully at what we’re spending and tighten that down rather than pretend there’s no tightness there and spend away. If work seems overwhelming, then I need to focus more on growing my skills to meet the challenge…avoiding the problem never helps relieve that feeling of contstriction.

So it is with my muscles. I’m stretching and then I’m using all kinds of tricks to really dig into the most painful parts of those muscles. Whether it’s a foam roller, a hard rubber ball, or things that look like medieval torture devices with teeth, I take those things to the place where things are most tender and then…I spend time right there, where the most constriction is. Only by being willing to stay there, in that painful place, and face that tightness head on does it begin to open up and relax.

The only way out is through. Apparently, I make all kinds of fun faces while I do this because it’s also become a source of family entertainment. Hey…I do what I can for bored family members stuck inside!

As I try to relax into the pain of something hard pressing into a really tight knot in my shin, I think of how true this lesson is everywhere…spiritually as well. Right now, it’s hard for me to muster much enthusiasm for Sukkot. On Friday, I really wasn’t feeling yet another holiday and I was avoiding the cooking and everything to do with it. It was only when I faced what needed to be done and started the work that my mood began to lighten. How much sooner could I have been feeling better if I hadn’t avoided it so long, if I’d surrendered to it sooner, letting go of my resistance and leaning gently into wherever I felt pain?

Another lesson from my poor sore legs is that most work in our lives has to be done in small bits over time. Change works best when you’re consistently doing a little bit rather than trying to do it all at once. If I try to stretch too much at once or dig too deep into a muscle…I risk making things worse. If I try to push myself too hard all at once at work or at home, I risk the same. Small, incremental changes, pushing just into that edge of discomfort, are the most sustainable way to make progress, not huge binges of activity. Those huge binges of activity are more likely to wear me out and leave me burnt out rather than inspired to try a little bit more, whether it’s stretching my quads or cooking for the week, or praying.

Just as my muscles and joints are all interconnected and tightness in one area affects things far down the line, so is my life all interconnected. What I do in one area impacts others, for positive or negative.

As we head into Fall and finish up one holiday season, I hope I can remember these lessons, both for the sake of my knees as well as the sake of my sanity.

Published by Geek-Yoga

Yoga Instructor, Fitness and Nutrition Geek, Network Engineer, and Wife and Mother of 2 living the dream in Milwaukee, WI.

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