Stretching and Adversity: If You Can’t, You Must.




There is a saying: if you can’t, you must.

It means, if you can’t do the things right now you want to do, then you need to work on getting there immediately. For example, if you want to increase your flexibility and, say, touch your toes…. and you CAN’T touch your toes now, well then the only way you’re going to get there is by touching your toes. Goethe says, “Begin it now!”


The past few days my right leg has been in agony. I thought I hurt it skimboarding with my brother a few days ago (falling and stomping). So, of course, I go on a 5 hour hike up a stream, over vines, scrambling, and rock climbing to a waterfall. Needless to say, later that night my leg was HURTING. I couldn’t bend it without excruciating pain. I was making arrangements to go to the doctors here on Maui the next day to check it out…. knowing full well the best they could do is give me crutches and some aspirin — neither of which I wanted because I didn’t want aspirin or any other crutches — BECAUSE I WANTED MY LEG TO BE HEALTHY AND HAPPY AND GOOD! 


I wake up the next day and it’s feeling alright… at first — until I take three steps and it gives way. Now I’m thinking to myself: what the hell! Why is my leg hurting?! I did everything right! Why me?! So I spent most of the day on a beach chair reading and watching the waves, hobbling to the kitchen every now and then for a mango or some papaya (yum!). 

Finally, I couldn’t take it. I had been studying yoga and the urge was too great in me to exercise — so, I got down for 30 quick pushups. Feeling good… My blood pumping, I decided to take things further: maybe if I stretched out my leg it would help…. no — it hurts too badly! That couldn’t possibly help!!

My curiosity compelled me to try it. I leaned forward, paschimottanasana… ahhh — the first stretch in 3 days. It felt great! I decided to go further — janu sirsasana (one legged forward bend). Wow. The first thing I notice was that when I bent my leg to do the other side, there was no pain….

it felt amazing!! My leg felt fine and fresh and young again — I jumped up and down screaming “Yes! Yes! Yes!” – the neighbors probably thought I was crazy because our door was open. 

I had found a weakness in myself — and instead of confronting it head on, dealing with the problem, I ran away thinking I could hide from it. I laughed thinking that I could have been feeling better days before!

We are all given challenges — pain and fear being some of the two greatest of them. The question is, how do we respond to these challenges? Do we tense up and run away — saying to ourselves “it’s better this way?” Or do we question ourselves — our circumstances — do we refuse to accept the most daunting aspects of our fate?

This may seem like an overstated conclusion for something as small as stretching my leg out — but listen, haven’t there been times in your life when the solution to your problem was the ONE THING you thought would only make it worse? I mean, look, sometimes it happens when we’re looking for our keys! Someone, like our mother brother or sister, will say “did you look in the drawer” and we say — “NO! OF COURSE I DIDN’T LOOK IN THE DRAWER MOM! THERE’S ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, 100%, NO-WAY-IN-HELL I PUT IT IN THE DRAWER!” Then after hours of unsuccessful searching you figure, what the heck — I’ll just pop my head in the drawer (not for MY SAKE of course, but just to say I’ve looked there) and VOILA: there it is, the thing you’d been looking for and thought couldn’t possibly be in the drawer. 


I’m not saying this is always the case. Of course there are times when we think something isn’t good for us… and it really isn’t good for us. We think smoking isn’t good for us — and we’re probably right about that (except of course if we’re stressed out TO THE MAX and our heads are about to explode and the only thing that could ever calm us down and unwind us is a single drag…) — exceptional circumstances barred, we can be pretty good at judging what isn’t good for us….

however, we can also be ABYSMALLY TERRIBLE at it!! For example, have you ever seen someone at a party or in a shop and thought to yourself: wow, there’s something interesting about that person. I would LOVE to go over there and talk to him/her. How many of you went over and talked to that person — without hesitating? without thinking twice? without looking first in the mirror or thinking about what to say?

And how many of you didn’t go talk to that person? How many of you thought, after thinking about it for a while: nooo — this isn’t right! And, our mind wars with itself, sink deeper and deeper into paralysis: I want to… but I…. I want to but I…. I want to, but I….. I want to… But I…. CAN’T. 


Now I believe everything is a learning lesson. Nietzsche said, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and we would be wise to take his advice… especially considering that we’re going to fail many more times than we ever succeed — especially because if we never try, we’ll never be able to succeed. Instead of sitting around sulking when things don’t go our way — obsessing over “what the problem is” — we can focus on solutions. We can move our energy towards what we want as opposed to focusing it on what we don’t want. So, we hit an upset — so we’re met with adversity. So we lose the match–one battle. We do not fail. We learn. 


Take a moment to think about all the things you think you can’t do — not the things that are IMPOSSIBLE to do, but, then again, I’m not exactly sure what is or isn’t possible, so go wild, include anything you want to. Think about these things. Maybe it’s making a phone call to someone you’re intimidated by but need to talk to. Maybe its meeting a total stranger. Maybe its getting up on a stage to express yourself. Maybe it’s going to the gym — or writing that essay you’ve been thinking about — or cramming for an exam — or applying for a job interview — or just opening up your mouth wherever you are right now and screaming like a maniac — WHY? because you want to!! Anything….

And think to yourself: if I can’t, I must.