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Conscious Stretching: Learn to Live Life On The Edge

By Joe Weston

It’s already February 2009. How have you been doing with your New Year’s resolutions? Are you staying focused on your goals? Are you seeing movement towards the things you desire and in the areas of your life you want to see change?

In my last article, Breathing A New You, I mentioned that, even though we desire new things in our life and we want to change and grow, we forget that in order to do that, we must go through a period that is uncomfortable and we need to give up some of the old ways to make room for the new. We can’t seem to break out of our ruts or old habits, so, eventually we fall back into old ways. Sound familiar?

The question I so often get from clients, friends, even from myself is “Why?” Well, here’s the thing: First of all, we put a lot of energy into thinking about what we want, but don’t seem to find the way to actually make it happen. From a Taoist perspective (as well as modern science), thought is energy. So all the energy that you would need to effectively manifest the things you desire go into thinking about it. No wonder we don’t succeed in actualizing our desires. And no wonder we are usually so tired. Think of all the energy that goes into worry, complaining, going around in circles in your head about certain issues.

Three-Step Process to Effective Change: Step One—Stop Worrying
So what does it take to succeed in changing your life? Well, the first step is to end the phase of thinking about what you want to change and instead make a plan. Stop the unnecessary worry, whining and thinking. Doing this is like repairing a leak in your energy reserves so you begin to build up the energy needed to succeed. It’s good to dream, to strategize and to make a clear plan of action. Once you’ve done that, then it’s time to get to work!

Step Two: Breathe Out the Old
In my last article, I suggested how getting into the practice of doing Conscious Breathing will help you generate the energy needed to follow through with your goals. The breath not only releases tension and frees up energy in the body, it also helps you recognize where you are stuck and keeping yourself from new experiences. When you consciously change the rhythms and holding patterns of your breath, you can literally get yourself out of a rut, let go of habits, behavior and addictions that are no longer serving you and make room in your life for new things to come your way. Take a look at the article for some simple and powerful breath techniques to help you achieve this.

Step Three: Stretch Your Life, Live on the Edge
In this article, I would like to look at how Conscious Stretching can be a great practice for mustering up the courage and skill to actually go and make change, and also learn to feel comfortable living on the edge.

In another past article, Stretch Your Body, Stretch Your Life, I go into detail about stretching correctly, and how this concept is a great metaphor for living your life. To actually stretch a particular muscle group, you slowly approach the edge where you begin to feel resistance and discomfort. I call this the “resilient edge of resistance. “ This is the point where the dialogue, or the dance, begins between you and the muscle group. This requires a certain level of presence: you must be aware enough to listen to the muscles in order to dance on this edge. It is the muscle that determines how far you can stretch. Not you. It is important to emphasize that if you are not on this edge, you are not stretching!

Many of us overstretch, causing damage to the muscles, or we don’t stretch far enough, not getting the full benefit of our efforts. Why do we do this? Because we are too distracted to concentrate long enough on what we are doing, or we don’t want to honestly see that are edge is not as deep as we want to believe, or we just don’t want to feel the discomfort.

Feeling At Home With the Uncomfortable
Many of us avoid this place of discomfort. Of course! Who wants to feel uncomfortable? We either numb ourselves out with food, various stimulants, TV, the internet, and working out—or, we over-stress ourselves to the point of cutting off our feelings. We keep ourselves distracted. A good example of this is the current workaholic epidemic, which causes burnout and many stress-related ailments. In the short term, both seem comforting. We don’t have to feel fully the pressures and anxieties of life. But unfortunately, we also don’t get to feel fully the joys and the adventures.

But here’s the thing: no change, growth or true happiness will occur without a period of discomfort, of the unknown, of letting go! This is the success of making lasting change in your life. The more you can feel comfortable on your edge, in that place that is not comfortable, the easier and quicker you will see change in your life. So, by stretching yourself in life, as well as in your body, you gain more flexibility and flow, bringing you back to a deeper awareness and the ability to feel and experience the fullness of your life.

Taking Yourself to the Edge
Stretching your body requires the honesty to admit what your limits are, the courage to go to the edge of your limits, the patience to stay in that place without giving up, and the adventurous spirit to slowly let your muscles relax you into a new place, an expanded version of yourself!

This is a great way to look at how you can live your life. You can practice these same principles of Conscious Stretching with different aspects of your life—work, relationship, spiritual practice, or sports. Think about what you would need to do to go to your edge in any of these areas, and go there. If it makes you uncomfortable, then you are heading in the right direction. Being in the place of "uncomfortable" means you are truly engaging with others, with your true self and with life. You are alive! Once you find your edge, stay there, keep breathing, and persevere and be open to what unfolds and where this dance with life leads you. This doesn’t mean being reckless. That’s not being on your edge. That is more like over-stretching and causing harm to yourself.

Letting Go of the Old
Let’s look at an example: Coffee. Let’s say you drink a lot of coffee and you would like to stop drinking coffee but can’t seem to do it. Let’s say you drink 10 cups of coffee a week (or maybe 10 cups a day for some of you). Don’t stop cold turkey. That would be like stretching past your edge and risking damaging the muscle. Don’t go down to nine. That would probably be too easy and you will never accomplish your goal. Take a moment to decide how may cups you could drink that would cause you discomfort. Let’s say six.

Now commit to drinking six cups a week. No more, no less. It must be six! If this truly were your edge, this should make you a bit irritable, a bit “edgy.” Stay present to the feelings and do some Conscious Breathing to move the emotions and the energy. Be patient, be courageous, and stay open to the experience. If you stay with it, you will notice that you will get to the point where six cups is easy. Congratulations! You have stretched your limit. You have found your new edge. You have expanded into a new you! When you are ready, go to five cups, and so on, and so on. Sounds too simple? Well, yes, it is simple to talk about it and harder to practice it. Try it and see.

Getting What You Want
Here’s another example. Let’s say you are single and you desire a partner but can’t seem to find one. Well, let’s look at the steps:

  1. Step One: Stop whining about the fact that you don’t have a partner. Use that energy to make a plan of action and see what habits and patterns in your life are not serving you in accomplishing your goal.
  2. Step Two: Start doing some Conscious Breathing. Feel in your body where you hold yourself back, where you shut off your feelings of love, joy and excitement, the physical and emotional rut you have gotten into which keeps you from having new experiences.
  3. Step Three: Now that you have opened up your body, mind and emotions to possibility and released energy, as well as having a plan of action, figure out what you could do today that would put you on your edge, something that would be a manageable risk.
Would that be sitting at home by yourself waiting for the phone to ring? No, that’s like under-stretching, resulting in no change. Would it be setting up seven to 10 dates per week with people you don’t know? No, that’s like over-stretching, causing stress and anxiety.

So, what would your edge be? Maybe it’s deciding that you will talk to one new person a week and see if it maybe leads to setting up a coffee date (that is if you are still drinking coffee!). Maybe there is a couple of people at the gym you think are attractive and interesting, but have never had the nerve to go and talk to. Well, go do it! Take yourself to your edge.

The first few people you talk to may not be interested in a date, but if you stick to it, you will find someone who will be. And if you keep it up, you will notice that you will feel more confident around others, you will be more open, you will flow easier with the natural rhythms around you, resulting in your becoming more attractive, the person everyone wants to go and talk to. And you will be more receptive to what life has to offer you.

Every time you take a manageable risk—something that puts you on edge, that is new—you take a step into the unknown. With each conscious encounter with the unknown, you expand your limits, you redefine who you are, and you live your life to the fullest. By practicing these three steps, you train your body and mind to open to new experiences and feelings, and increase your awareness to be open and awake to more of what life has to offer. When you can feel at home in this space, you will naturally become more of who you have always wanted to be.

About Joe Weston: Joe Weston is an international workshop facilitator and personal life coach. Born and educated in New York, Joe lived in Amsterdam for 17 years and now lives in California. He is committed to helping others embody spirituality and supports others on their journey towards personal fulfillment and empowerment. Joe brings a wealth of insight to his work based on many teachings, including Tai Chi Chuan and various spiritual traditions—plus his experience in theater and various organizational trainings. He also volunteers for the Liberation Prison Project, teaching Buddhism to inmates. To find out more about his workshops and his personal coaching, visit www.joeweston.com.