About a month ago, I was challenged by my employer to make a healthy behavior change for 21 days. I took a close look at my exercise regimen and realized that while I was getting the recommended amount of cardio and weight training, I was lacking stretching 2-3 times a week. To me, stretching has always seemed so trivial and boring in the grand scheme of fitness and wellness. It wasn’t until the 21 days were over that I understood the benefits of increased flexibility, relaxation, lengthened muscles, better posture, and quicker muscle recovery and energy.
I started off very motivated, staying on schedule the first few days and going to a couple yoga classes at the local recreation center. A typed-up, official contract with specific goals and rewards was hung on my wall as a reminder of my new commitment to attend two Pilates or yoga classes and stretch on my own before bed twice a week. I recruited my roommate to keep me accountable and help keep track of my progress when the going got tough. Who would have ever thought that stretching would be difficult?
Not too soon after, life kicked in and I no longer felt like taking the time to stretch in the midst of a hectic schedule. I imagine we can all relate to feeling too tired or busy to make the healthiest choices, like going to the gym or resisting that huge slice of cake. Going to group classes with a friend made stretching more interesting and more of a learning experience, rather than suffering through it on my own. My biggest success was actually using at-home Pilates DVDs for 30 minutes on days after I taught weight lifting fitness classes, and then felt significantly less sore. I found that planning my schedule ahead of time and using at-home options tended to reduce the number of excuses I had to back out of stretching that day.
I was anxious to get a quick fix of flexibility, but was realized the whole point in making this a HABIT was to make it a behavior I could fit into my schedule for life. I needed to be realistic. No, I did not necessarily adhere to my original goals set out in the contract; I failed many days along the way. However, by the end of the 21 days, I did achieve stretching to touch my toes and I can feel a huge difference in my body’s overall relaxation, circulation, and flexibility. Hey, 60 percent success rate is better than zero percent! I finally got to the point where I needed to stretch not because I KNEW it was good for me, but because I felt good after doing it.
Now, I start to crave the time where I can calm my body down and focus on being thankful for the air I get to breathe everyday. As much as I’m physically stretching, I like to think of the process as a metaphor for my life. How can I be more flexible in dealing with those around me? No matter how life changes or challenges you, you have the power within you to bounce back, adapt, and overcome.
What can you do for 21 days? You may just be surprised at what you learn in the struggle of trying something new!