Just Call Me Gumby

I did a backbend on Friday. With a spotter, sure, but still – first time I’ve managed to do one from standing. If you had asked me a few years ago if I thought this would be happen, I probably would simply have given you a blank look. Me, backbend? At this weight? Hell, I couldn’t even do one when I was a kid! I could bridge up from the floor, but I always fell on my head when I tried it from standing. Sure, I didn’t understand about hinging then, and I do now – but now I am a lot taller than I was at that time, and we won’t even TALK about how much heavier.

Then I started taking classes with Diana – who has us bridge up in warm ups as a matter of course. Usually more than once. It’s actually a great ab stretch, after all the crunches she makes us do. The first time I did her warm ups, when she had us on the floor on our backs with our hips up and I heard her say “now push up to a backbend!”, I was certain that I just hadn’t heard her correctly. But no, everybody (including her) was up in a backbend. That was a SERIOUS struggle – my shoulders were really not strong enough and I really barely had enough flexibility in my spine. I had barely managed to get UP when she was getting us down and moving to the next thing.

Well, I’ve been in classes of hers for 3 years now. I’ve gotten some strength back in my arms and shoulders, and a LOT more flexibility back in my spine. I have gone from barely even being *able* to bridge up, to getting up all right but having it make my lower back ache, to having it feel pretty darn good and looking forward to that part of warm-ups. That progression is already blowing me away.

I *always* wished I could take tumbling, growing up. I still burn to take a tumbling class, but between my age, my height, my lack of strength, my weight, and my injured hip, I don’t think it’s a possibility. I’ve never asked Diana outright, but mostly because I don’t want her to say no. I can still do a cartwheel (only on one side) and I can bridge up to a backbend from the floor, and I did do a handstand (with Jessica to spot me) a while back, but that’s it.

In the advanced jazz class, Diana also has us do these drills for standing backbends. 3 or 4 times through just bending as far as you can, then (in theory) on the last time going to a full backbend but landing palms *up*, and sliding through the body and out to laying flat on your back. Now they’re also supposed to then slide back to their feet (so legs are bent) and arch themselves back up to standing, without hitting full backbend on the way. Needless to say, I don’t do any of the final part – I just do one more bend back as far as possible. In recent weeks, I’ve noticed that “as far as possible” has gotten a lot closer to the floor. I brought it up with Diana, and she thinks I can do it – she thinks I have the strength and flexibility to pull it off. I just keep hitting this point where I’m *sure* that I’m going to fall on my head. Probably in part because I’m afraid of everything (love that anxiety disorder) and probably in part because I fell on my head plenty of times when my friend tried to teach me when we were kids. Who knows. She sometimes spots the kids so they can complete something that’s had them stuck, and I’ve gone from being glad she ignores me to wishing she’d offer to spot me too. This past week, there was a new girl in class, and she happened to be standing next to me through warm ups and backbend drills. Diana came to spot her, and then turned around and asked if I wanted a spot too. Aside from the part of me that automatically screamed “you’re too fat! Diana would break herself trying to spot you”, I was really glad that she had. She kept a tight grip on me (she wanted me to feel safe – she knows the head games I play on myself), so I definitely can’t claim that I did it on my own, but still – I achieved a backbend from standing, and got my head and shoulders to the floor – then my shoulders got stuck and I couldn’t complete the slide out, but who cares?

So we’ve been talking about it. Bless her heart, I email her a *lot*, and she somehow finds the time for my rambling, even though she’s super busy. She suggested that we try it again this week with a lighter spot and see what I’ve got.

She was a gymnast before she was a dancer, and she teaches *all* of the tumbling classes herself, so I know she knows from spotting. And I’m finding that (so far) I’m not even worried that she’ll miss it if I get almost there and then can’t control it – though we’ll see how I feel about that when we get closer. I’m just really hoping that this won’t become yet another thing that I chickened out on, let my anxiety keep me from doing, and regret for the rest of my life. I really almost *need* to do this, to prove… I don’t even know what. To prove something to myself. That I *can* still change, maybe? That even if I can’t “beat” the anxiety that I don’t have to let it paralyze me? That it’s okay to trust someone, even after too many years of being let down too many times? That it’s okay to trust *my body*, even though I constantly fret about my weight, how out of condition I am, etc? I don’t know, really. All of that and more.

On the trust front – it was a very interesting experience. Now, to begin with, I already trust Diana implicitly. But I also outweigh her… probably by at least a hundred pounds, likely more. She’s got 4-5 inches on me, but she’s so lean! I do know that spotting is more a question of leverage than brute strength, and that she is also very strong, but it still makes me nervous. I think some of my own insecurity got in there, too – I know that I am, on the whole, far more needy than anyone wants to deal with, so I spend much of my time trying to keep myself from overwhelming people. This is much the same concept, only rendered on the physical plane instead of the emotional. And yeah, it would be like me to make that connection (though subconsciously – this only came to my conscious mind as I am writing this). Of course there was a piece of me that was dreading failing and/or making a fool of myself in front of the kids. But… that all hit a back burner more easily than I would have expected. I did have to say something like “are you sure I won’t break you?” – honestly, I have no idea what she actually said in reply. I just know I looked in her eyes and my crazy brain quieted down. And then she held me and I just did it. Just like that. Piece of cake. Didn’t even think about the girls (who, guaranteed, would all have been watching). Didn’t think (any further) about breaking Diana, or landing on my head. Just did it.

And there was this very interesting moment (if deeply fleeing) when I hit the point where I normally would feel like I was going to land on my head. Actually – I couldn’t identify that point. Which was a relief – I was slightly worried that it would be related to being at a certain angle of my head or something, rather than the actual physical reality of the distribution of my weight and balance – glad to know that I was wrong, there. But anyway, there was this sudden instant of realizing that, for once, I *didn’t* feel like I was going to land on my head. And, in fact, I *knew* that I was *not* going to land on my head – and that in this case it was because Diana had me. And I know I can trust Diana absolutely. It’s a serious warm-fuzzy kind of a feeling, to have that kind of trust in someone (literally putting your physical safety in someone else’s hands is not easy to do!), and to find that it’s completely justified.

That part was AWESOME.


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