Stretching it Out

Chicago Public Radio by Jennifer Brandel

Jennifer Brandel: The last time I could touch my toes must have been shortly after birth. 

If and when I try to, I end up looking more like a zombie searching for a contact lens.

I have never been flexible; I have always wanted to be. And that… is my secret shame.

Countless attempts to practice yoga or Pilates at gyms has made it a very public shame that neither technique could rectify. So a while back I just kind of gave up and figured I was defective.

But then that was until last year when my best friend from high school, Anne Tierney told me about this new system with ancient roots called “Meridian Flexibility.” Apparently you can get results in as little as 20 minutes – results that don't go away come morning.

The way Anne described it to me was pretty magical:

Anne Tierney: Like picture it like you go and eat a whole cake, and you could take one pill and then you just didn't eat that cake. It's kind of like that. (Hahaha!!!)

JB: The cake = tightness and the pill = this system. Now Anne and I have a long history of practical jokes – so I didn't exactly buy into her whole “cake & pill” explanation.

But she's actually one of the world's foremost trainers in this flexibility system. Anne got serious for a moment, and she and her training partner Steve Sierra broke it down in terms I could swallow:

Steve Sierra: It's a system that utilizes resistance stretching and resistance strength training in order to change the body, to realign the bones, to facilitate recovery, and pretty much to progress the human form.

Tierney: It also works along the lines of traditional Chinese medicine – kind of like a form of acupuncture without the needles, where we're stretching along the meridians. It provides an increase in strength as well as flexibility.

I'm into the idea of needle-less acupuncture.

Anne and Steve tell me that the system releases more than physical tension – it can release emotional tension, too. Anne explains:

AT: You hear a lot of people today who are like it's “mind body” and it really is. We've worked with quite a few psychologists, among other people, who really believe that trauma is trapped in the body. So a lot of our focus at times has been on releasing that trauma from the body. And it's pretty powerful. There are sessions you know where people will break down and cry – and it's just a real release.

JB: I've shed enough tears in fitness classes, so this is not exactly welcomed news. But I'm open to it. If overcoming my childhood awkward decade is what can make me limber, then let the tears floweth (deep breath).

Steve assures me that I will feel the difference from the very first time I try it.

SS: You can do this twenty minutes a day; you can do it every other day. It just keeps building – it's not a system where if you just stop then you regress.

JB: Alright.  I've been pussyfooting long enough.  I'm in

AT: Stretching should feel like warm taffy being pulled apart. That's what the muscles should feel like.

JB: A dozen people join me in this pursuit of stretchiness. Some are were yoga teachers, others athletes, and a few just like me – stiff schlubs sick of their condition.

They paired me up with an experienced trainer – Peter Merlin. He shows me the ropes.

We go went through sixteen different stretches that correspond to sixteen organs and meridians in the body. It went like this: Peter pulled on my arm or my leg in one direction, I resist him. Next I push Peter with that same arm or leg and he resists me. He tries to explain the logic behind it all.

JB: That's confusing

Peter Merlin: Well you just have to remember target, opposing, balancing, opposing, target balance – opposing of target balance then…

JB: I don't quite get it. But hey - it works! In ten minutes my toes and hands got about eight inches closer to each other and I am sweating profusely. But thankfully, so is everyone else!

AT: I think everyone noticed a pretty dramatic change after going after the balancing and opposing – yeah, no? Yeah? Excellent. See – it's that simple.

JB: I was and still am astonished at the physical results I achieved in 2 classes. And the stretching had an emotional effect, too! It made me feel more assertive, more confident. And it's when I feel confident that I tend to do something dumb.

JB: I'm about to attempt a handstand.

AT: Kick your legs towards me – towards the wall

JB: Ahh. Ok. Um where is the wall? Ahhh!

Class: Laughing uproariously

JB: Yes - I managed to humiliate myself in yet another fitness class.

Since that course I've managed to do the self-stretches about once a week, which is far less than is recommended. Still - I've noticed some dramatic changes in my posture, my stance, even my state of mind. Anne agrees:

Now that I've discovered Meridian Flexibility, I don't even bother trying to touch my toes anymore. This is partially because I now know true flexibility is far more complicated than that outdated measure. But more than that, it's because I don't have to - I can palm the floor. Booyah Yoga.


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