Stretch and Challenge
Modern life can involve a lot of sitting – sitting at a desk, watching TV, sitting in meetings, mealtimes, commuting… the list goes on. We can be tempted into feeling guilty about all of the sitting we do and convince ourselves that the remedy to this is to punish ourselves with gruelling workouts or the old reliable negative self talk. What if there was another option? Well, what if we considered doing more deliberate and controlled stretching during the day?
Stretching can be profoundly beneficial to our health and wellbeing and doesn’t need to be reserved for the Yoga studio or after a run. Simple stretches done regular can counteract the negative impact of the sitting we do by keeping the muscles flexible, supple and strong. However, stretching does not only have a positive impact on our body, it can also help our mind and mental state.
Stretching for my mind
There is an indisputable mind body connection, which means our emotions and physical health share a strong bond and cannot be seen as mutually exclusive. Our muscles absorb stress that we experience day-to-day and they can hold on to that much longer than necessary, resulting in a build up of stress strata over time. Deep and slow stretching can help us to calm the nervous system and makes us slow down and switch off the fight-flight response. Often we don’t even realise we are holding tension in our body until suddenly we notice our shoulders are scrunched up to our ears and there are aches and pains in places we didn’t notice before, which is why making stretching a daily habit is such a good idea. This doesn’t mean we have to roll out the Yoga mat and set aside a full hour to indulge ourselves in a deep stretching practice, this habit can be built from five minutes per day.
How to Stretch
The general rule of thumb is to stretch to a point where you reach your ‘edge’ – that place between feeling nothing at all but before moving over the line into discomfort. If you feel significant discomfort or any pain try easing off a little and just take things gently. Here are some examples of daily stretches that you can do in rotation for 5 minutes.
Standing with feet parallel and hip-width apart, bend from the waist allowing your arms to hang or reach for your toes. Aim to bring your chest toward your thighs, keeping your legs and back as straight as possible – remember if you feel pain release a little and you can do this by bending the knees slightly. Hold this for 3 or 4 deep breaths before coming back up slowly and steadily.
Upper Back Stretch
Clasp both hands together and stretch your arms out in front, keeping them at shoulder level. Look down towards the ground or your toes and gently round the upper back. Again, take 3 or 4 deep breaths here before gently releasing.
Counter the upper back stretch with a chest stretch. Begin with standing with the shoulders back and down, away from the ears. Interlace the fingers behind the back and draw the arms back and upwards while at the same time opening the chest by gently pushing it forwards. Do this for the duration of 3 to 4 deep breaths; this will help lengthen the chest muscles.
Begin by laying on the floor or a bed bend the knees and extend the arms out to the sides. Drop the knees to one direction and gently allow the gaze to fall over the opposite shoulder, bringing a gentle twist into the spine as if you’re wringing out a cloth. Take 3 to 4 breaths on one side and then gently change the direction. Try to keep both shoulders on the floor throughout.
Hip and Lower Back Stretch
Remaining in this laying down position simply draw the knees into the chest and wrap the arms around them. Gently hug the knees into the chest and perhaps you can even try a gentle rock side to side. This posture can help to open the front of the hip flexors and release tension in the lower back. Do this for 3 to 4 deep breaths and begin the process again.
Summary of Stretch Benefits
- Increased mobility and range of movement
- Better posture
- Higher energy levels
- Reduced stress levels
- Better circulation
- Reduced risk of injury
- Alleviate pain and tension