“I need to stretch more”…”I’ve never been able to touch my toes”…”I don’t have the time”….
If you are reading this article, then you care about your body and you definitely have time to stretch. You could be stretching right now as you are reading!
Creating overall health requires you to buy into a package. A healthy lifestyle change demands multiple shifts in how you view and treat your body. These shifts are how you make adaptations both physically and mentally, how you feed your body (nutrition), how you strengthen it (training and exercise) and how you soothe it (stretching and relaxation).
Let’s talk about soothing. Just that word alone brings a sense of calm. You have had a rough day, why not soothe it out at the end? Big work out? How about ending it on a calming note?
You DO have the time to incorporate stretching/flexibility training into your day. It is usually the first thing to be scratched off the list but bringing it back will be the key in keeping you going longer and stronger.
Flexibility is the ability to move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion. The only way to increase your flexibility is through targeted physical activity that lengthens the muscle. Stretching on a simplistic level is one of the most intuitive abilities we have. You naturally move to lengthen areas of tension. The next step in the progression is to develop a short routine that covers your major muscle groups AND make the time to offer this to your self for 10 – 15 minutes a day, 3 – 5 times a week. So out of 10,080 minutes of the week, I am asking you to set aside 30 to 75 minutes total. Hmmmm…..is that possible? Stretching should be a relaxing activity. A reward for the hard work you have done today.
Before I give you the basic five moves, here are some pointers on how to make your stretching most effective.
1. Warm-up or be in your warm-down phase.
Warmed muscles provide the perfect environment for gaining length via stretching.
2. Find a comfortable place on the floor to spread out and remove your shoes. Really.
3.Breathing. The breath is critical in gaining flexibility. The breath serves as your indicator, your barometer if you will, to signal when you have gone too deeply into your stretch. Inhale as you initiate the stretch, exhale as you reach the point of resistance. Focus on making this a pleasant experience, not a painful one. Breathe into the sensation and exhale to lengthen and release the tension. Each breath brings you closer to a new found length in the muscle.
4.No bouncing allowed. No pain allowed.
Once you feel tension, the muscle is being stretched. No need to go beyond this point or you will inhibit the benefits of the stretch. Move into and out of the stretch at a fluid, measured and equal pace.
Here are a few basic stretches to add to your day, starting today. You have the time.
Enjoy, breathe and think long, fluid thoughts…and muscles!
Cat/Cow – begin on all fours ( thus the cat/cow visual) round the back up like a mad cat, press the palms into the floor, drop the tail bone, tuck the chin. Reverse the movement by softly arching the back, lifting the chin, lifting the tail bone and dropping the chest between the shoulders. Repeat 5 times.
Standing arm stretch – Standing position, feet hip distance apart. Reach arms overhead. Grasp left wrist with right hand, firmly plant both feet into floor, lengthen the left side of the body by leaning to the right “tractioning” by gently pulling on the wrist with the right hand. Hold for 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side switching to the left hand grasping the right wrist. 5 breaths.
Bent knee lunge – standing, feet hip distance apart, step right foot forward about 3 feet. Drop left knee to ground. Slowly press forward thru the right knee and feel the stretch in the front of the left quadriceps. Bring an awareness to your breath and allow the exhalations to soften the intensity of the stretch. 5 slow rounds of breath. Release the stretch, straighten the back leg, step the feet together. Now step the right foot back 3 feet, drop the right knee to the ground and repeat the sequence on this side. Remember, you are not going for pain you are just moving into the sensation of stretching, then allow the breath to guide you from there.
Seated spinal twist – Sitting on the floor, extend you right leg and flex the ankle. Bend the left knee and plant the left foot up by your sit bone. Reach your right arm up then bring it down on the outside of the left thigh placing your hand on the floor. This begins the subtle and slow rotation of your spine. Envision your spine as a double helix. As you begin to press your outer left thigh into your upper right arm the natural movement is for the spine to begin it’s slow twist. Allow your head and field of vision to eventually rotate to look over the left shoulder. Stay here for 5 breaths. Slowly unwind the twist, switch legs and arms and repeat on the other side.
Reclined Cobbler’s pose – Lying on your back, place soles of feet together, bending the knees and let them fall open like a frog. Let the pull of gravity do the stretching. This is a very relaxing posture. Stay here as long as you like.
Stretching isn’t rocket science. It’s very simple and rewarding and portable.
Take it a day at a time and you will see improvement.