Rigid Sister Meets Happy Feet

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Wicked, Twisted or Just Plain Rigid

Twisted Sister, the cool Byron Bay cafe

You might have heard of ‘Wicked Sister’ (a brand of wash bag) or ‘Twisted Sista’ (a cool café in Byron Bay) but what about ‘Rigid Sister’?

Well that was me, mentally and physically, according to my darling brothers. They always had a handy label for me, starting with the self-explanatory ‘Bottomy Boo’ when I was five.

Rigid vs Flexible

Rigidity must be in my DNA because (bizarrely), much later, I was drawn to study Biochemistry at Uni.

I’d always felt at home with logical processes and linear thought (read ‘rigid thinker’). One problem was, and still is, that I’m hopeless at Maths.

Kim is the opposite: a flexible and lateral thinker who stuns me with the leaps and connections he makes. He also adds up supermarket dockets in his head to make sure they’re right. Often, they not.

(This contrast between us can be productive, but not always. Kim can have great ideas and I make them work; other times, everything goes to hell in a hand basket.)

Fraternal Flexibility Incorporated

Anyway, Sister Blister Tracey had always been the butt of fraternal jibes about mental inflexibility. Later on, it didn’t help that my two brothers were also physically ultra-flexible.

Elder Brother, Kit, was (and still is) an authority on stretching for prevention and remediation of injury – and a whole lot more. (I’m not trying to short-change him. Find out more here.) It didn’t help that second elder brother, Greg, was one of his senior instructors. Talk about a double dose of derision.

Brother Kit doing a very basic stretch

Sibling Ignorance

What they could do with their bodies astounded me.

At the time, I was still doing linear things like walking and swimming; all in one plane.

I was strong and getting fit, but I couldn’t bend down to the floor or reach up to a shelf without pulling a muscle – and I was only in my 30s. And, I was still battling my weight; the perennial problem for me.

Yet, I never asked my elder brother to teach me his art. Since when could an older sibling know anything of value?

Marketing Meets Flexibility

Kit on the cover of Overcome Neck & Back Pain

Well that all changed, back in 1995, when elder brother Kit asked me to market his first book, called Overcome Neck & Back Pain. It’s still in print.

I was bit worried about having a family member as a client but my choices were limited at the time.  My then hubbie had left (he had lots of reasons; I was a piece of work back then) and money was tight. I’d always loved marketing and was always willing to ‘give anything a go’, once at least. Anyway, I took up Kit’s challenge, but with mega-trepidation.

My Brother The Guru

It was in writing backgrounders for Angus & Robertson, Dymocks and ABC Shops that I realised just how extraordinary my elder brother was, and why he had achieved guru status worldwide in the realm of stretch therapy.

By then, he’d been studying and practicing in this area for 25 years and his approach to posture, flexibility and stretch was, and still is, unique. All this had blissfully passed me by. Did I mention what a closely-knit family we were?

He’s now 71 years old, has been stretching for 54 years, and is the most flexible person I’ve seen, except for his ex-gymnast wife, Olivia, who is on another plane, altogether.

A 65-Year-Old Pretzel

Anyway, at last, I began to sip the Cool Aid. I started attending stretch classes with one of Kit’s many expert instructors, Cherie Seeto.

I was in my 30s and there was a 65-year-old French woman in the class called Suzanne. She could fold her body into pretzel-like shapes with ease and then gracefully unfold, like magic. I was transfixed.

When  asked her how she did this, she simply said: ‘ I started stretching 20 years ago’. Oh, I see.

Why Wide ROM =  Youth

Something Kit says is simple: ‘if you stretch properly, you will become more flexible’. Simple cause and effect.

By that (I now know) he means you will increase range of movement (ROM). Back then, I thought stretching was just a 5-second calf-stretch before a run, walk or swim. Kit calls that action limbering or getting back to where you were yesterday. Stretching is going to a new place altogether. A new ROM.

(Now that I’m 67, I know that getting older usually means reduced, not increased, ROM. If we can increase our ROM, we can stay youthful and supple, moving with ease not pain, just like Suzanne the French pretzel.)

But I didn’t believe any of that stuff back then.

A 20-Year Stretch  

So, by January 2022, I’d been stretching seriously for about 15 years. I say ‘seriously’ but I was no longer attending supervised classes and was nowhere near French Suzanne’s flexibility. Clearly, there was more to it than just the number of years doing it.

To be frank, I was getting lazy, taking shortcuts and not always achieving what Kit calls ‘correct form’. By that I mean, I was going through the motions but not focusing on posture, position or feeling whether the stretch was changing anything.

A Spot of Guilt

So, feeling a bit guilty, I checked Kit’s website and discovered he was now selling courses. One was the Stretch Therapy Starter Course.

Although I’m not a beginner, I am a former scientist and believe in ‘going back to first principles’ if I want to understand anything well. So, I completed the course and found just that: I’d missed the essence. I also learnt the updates of the stretches that had moved on to new heights, while I was still doing the same 15-year old sequences.

Happy Feet

Part of the Foot Sequence

Then came the ‘Happy Feet’ moment.

One of the sequences in the Starter Course was just called the ‘Foot Sequence’. It’s now called ‘Foot Awakening Sequence’ which is more like it. (By the way, I must speak to Kit about some snapper names for his sequences). It’s all about activating our feet to move the way they were intended. It involves inserting fingers between toes, pushing, pulling, wringing and a lot more. (Here’s a link to the video)

In short, I thought it a bit silly until I walked around afterwards. Talk about Happy Feet! After less than 15 minutes, my feet were in heaven, feeling like I’d had a professional foot massage with all the works.

More than that, they looked and worked differently. I now do these stretches every week and, when I took up dancing, these stretches became essential.

A Well of Pain

In recent years, my dear hubbie, Kim developed a few small but annoying health issues, at least to him.

He developed bursitis in a hip, yet it took 18 months and seven practitioners (including specialists) to gain a correct diagnosis. During this time he stopped playing tennis, his greatest love in sport.

He then had a fall on a bush walk with me and split a patella (knee cap).

Also, during the search for a correct diagnosis of the hip, Kim discovered he had Lumber Spine Stenosis – narrowing of the spinal canal at the lumber (buttocks) end. He was in a well of pain.

Losing It

Cutting a long story short, he wasn’t walking normally and this started to cause foot issues: numbness and instability, which was wrecking his confidence.

We hadn’t noticed it over time, but he was doing none of the things he’d done all his life, and his ROM (range of movement) was really suffering.

Instead of the cut and thrust of tennis, he was just walking, but not very far and not very well.. Thankfully, he was (and still is) lifting weights, doing isometrics and high intensity interval training which helped to the Black Dog at bay, to some extent.

Yet, Kim was getting unfit, cranky and feeling old, useless and mortal. It was a classic case of ‘use it or lose it’ but we didn’t think of that at the time. It just felt like inexorable, creeping old age.

Unhappy, Jan

‘Wine Pearls’ – great marbles for feet

I’m not Guru brother Kit (now or ever) and, yes, it was a risk, but I started taking Kim through the Foot  Sequence. This was about two years ago.

Boy, he was ‘unhappy, Jan’, especially inserting 5 fingers between and around his 5 toes and doing wringing, pulling and pushing movements. He felt some of the actions were a bit silly but, to his credit, he persisted.

‘Dah dah!’

After just 6 sessions, Kim told me ‘I can feel my toes a lot more; they’re moving differently and they even look different’.

Dah dah! His toes were now more separate and working independently (rather than as fused or twisted tangle) and they were supporting him better.

In just 2 weeks the numbness has started to go and, in its place, awareness of his feet in a way he said he’d never felt before. Yay! Well done, Bro!

Testing Progress

We add a couple of silly things to test our progress: picking up a silk scarf and small steel balls which are chillers for wine. (Sorry, Ian Jackson, your lovely gift has a novel new use now.) Both of these are picked up and moved using just the toes. Kim was really grumpy the first time we did this, as he couldn’t get anywhere near doing either. In 2 weeks he could do both.

2024 update: we’ve been doing the ‘Happy Feet’ sequence for over two years now, regularly every week. Kim continues to gain tiny increments of strength, agility, sensitivity and awareness with every session. We’re loving it.

‘Happy Feet’ is now a permanent fixture in our routines. It’s been a foot-changer and life-changer

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Kim Brebach

Tracey James

Hello, I’m Tracey James, boomer, former scientist, technical writer and Fixer of Things at M&M. In my spare time, I like to walk, swim and garden.   

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