In your mind’s eye, visualize a rubber band. Now see yourself taking hold of it, and giving it one good, swift stretch. Now let go. Did you see what that rubber band did? It snapped right back. Maybe it stung your hand; maybe it flew across the room. That rubber band was exercising its true nature, that of always snapping back to its original form.
In yoga and therapeutics, “the rubber band effect” tells us that when we stretch our muscles and make changes in our physical bodies, these changes must be made slowly, steadily, and continuously over a long period of time if we want the effects to be lasting. If we stretch our muscles too quickly, they make like a rubber band–which is to say they snap right back to the way they were.
In the Anatomy & Therapeutics training that I am taking right now, my instructor (the inspiring Brenda Dowell) was describing this effect while she explained to us about muscle tissue and stretching, and it got me thinking. The rubber band effect doesn’t just take place in our physical bodies. It takes place in other realms of our life as well.
There have been times along my journey, “eureka” moments when a lightbulb suddenly went on and I realized something profound about myself. Like a flash of lightning, some dark corner of my life would be illuminated—an old pattern that I was stuck in, a belief system that no longer served me, a way of being in the world that was at dissonance with who my spirit was trying to become. These were energizing moments. I felt as though clutter and cobwebs had been brushed aside and the path forward was laid out with perfect clarity.
And then I tried to walk down that path. And it was hard. What had at first seemed clear and obvious started to get muddled once again. I found out that recognizing my old, limiting patterns was not the same as releasing them. I would take one courageous leap forward, but before I knew it, I would snap back to what was familiar. It was the rubber band effect.
In those moments, it was easy to be hard on myself. Why couldn’t I do it? Why weren’t things changing the way I had been certain that they would in that lightning bolt moment? Many books I have read would have me believe that this is how it happens: you have an epiphany, you make a grand gesture, and suddenly your life will be different. But I have found that is not the case, at least not for myself. Old patterns are powerful and deeply rooted, whether they be physical, spiritual or emotional. One swift stretch is not going to make a lasting change. It is the slow, steady, continuous working away at it that will allow us to start to fully realize our soul’s potential, and to reach tender new roots down into the earth to take hold.
I’ve come to learn that my true work here is to start to cultivate an awareness of the little things that subtly shift, and to give myself credit for the baby steps I take in new directions. It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes gentleness with myself. But there is a beauty to it as well, this kind of loving attention to the small shifts of the present moment.
Thankfully, we are not rubber bands. We may snap back to old habits from time to time, but when that happens we can take a breath, and take another step forward.
“True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” – Leo Tolstoy