Can you touch your toes?

Last week, I happened to observe a bunch of Chinese kids hanging out after school. A little girl, perhaps six, was doing homework with two boys, possibly 12 or 13. First she memorized songs and then she read aloud a few questions on PE.gumby2

“Can you touch your toes?” she asked the boys.

They were skinny and seemed not particularly athletic, hunched over their electronic gadgets. I wouldn’t count on them to throw a pass or do skateboard tricks with a full list of skateboard decks, but I figured that they (and all preteens) could at least touch their toes.

“No way!” one of them laughed, springing up to prove it. With a rounded back, he bent down, hands hovering just below his knees.

The other boy also stood up to demonstrate. Reaching down, he bobbed his back—boing, boing, boing—trying to press lower. He got as far as mid calf.

The little girl’s fingers grazed her toes. “I can do it,” she said.

“That’s because you’re still young,” one of the boys explained, with blithe resignation.

I could hardly contain myself from bursting into full uttanasana, palms flat on the floor. I also got a kick out of the boy’s self-image as being old—and his using age as an excuse (just like Beth in this prior post). They were all still kids! Aren’t children supposed to be flexible? I see toddlers with bones and muscles as pliable as Gumby, dropping into splayed-out virasana or tumbling backward into halasana. When do kids’ tissues begin to stiffen?

I found the following info on the YouthSportsParents website:

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7 thoughts on “Can you touch your toes?

  1. On top of everything else you have to deal with as a teenager, Uttanasana becomes a challenge. I didn’t realize this until I had a few teens in my class one summer. They flopped into Virasana and backbends with glee, but forward bends were killer.

    I also marvel at the loss of flexibility in the feet. My boys (2 and 5) could play the piano with their toes, but none of my students can move each toe independently of the others. Shoes? Decades of standing? I dunno…

    Like you said, use it or lose it…

  2. I sure hope it comes back at 13 or 14, because the kids I teach are up to 12 ish, and unless they are dancers or gymnasts, their toes are a long way off.
    I think their bones grow faster than their muscles, which is part of the problem.
    It’s inspirational though for them to see us oldies do what they can’t.
    Look at Iyengar, 91 in December, and most of the world can’t pull off what he can. Use it or lose it!

  3. Jamie, I agree! I started practicing yoga this year (January) and when I started, I couldn’t touch my toes. Around June, I realized I could! Around August, I realized I could touch the floor with my fingertips! And around October, I realized I could rest my fingers flat! I’m looking forward to placing my palms on the floor. Who knew that bending over could be such a milestone?

  4. One of my favorite Bikram yoga teachers, Emmy, is now in her early 80s. She can still put her leg all the way behind her head.

    I heard the most fabulous story: Emmy, an unassuming looking 80-something year old woman (who really looks 60-something) goes to a doctor for a physical. He condescendingly asks her, “Can you touch your toes?” She gives him a Look and says, “With what?”

    (She can pretty much touch them with her head…)

    THAT is the way to age! Yoga, yoga, yoga. It’s never too late to get it BACK.

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