Almost every morning, as if through some divine intervention, I am reminded to stretch. Awakened by a cold, wet nose nudging my elbow, I open my eyes to see my dog in what, in the yoga world, is called the "down dog
" position. She doesn't do it because she knows it's good for her. She doesn't do it because it's part of a class. She does the stretch because it's what her body is telling her to do because it feels good after a night's sleep.
However, at this point in my life, I need the instruction and motivation of a teacher to guide me through what my body should otherwise know inherently. So I began taking a (beginning) yoga class every Wednesday and I love it. I'm already an active, energetic person as it is. I get my aerobic activity through swimming, running, biking, etc. As some yoga practices move through various stretching strengthening poses at a pace that increases heart rate, what I need in my life is a way to wind down while focusing on lengthening my muscles. A way to turn my mind off and my spirit inward. This is what my yoga practice has given me.
Our tissues become taut when they are contracted or lengthened for too long. Muscles like to be used, but then they prefer to return to a neutral state (i.e. not contracted or lengthened). In cases where muscles have been contracted for too long, stretching the muscle is a great way to remedy the tightness because, simply put, stretching lengthens soft tissues. But, in the cases where muscles have been lengthened for too long, we should be stretching the opposing muscle group.
For example, many of us today complain of bad backs and put our focus on our back muscles because that is were we feel the pain and stress. In actuality, we should turn our focus to stretch and lengthen our abdominals, hip flexors, and quadriceps so that the back muscles will become contracted thereby helping them to return to a neutral state. So in the case of the bad back, the back muscles are being lengthened and the abdominals are contracted. To counteract the prolonged lengthening of the back muscles, either stand or stay seated and arch your back, maybe even raise your arms and reach back. Hold this position for a few slow breaths and repeat throughout the day. By stretching out the abdominals we can relieve the back tension.
The benefits of stretching range from injury prevention to stress reduction. Stretching can also prolong the salubrious effects of a massage and can also provide some much needed "me time," which for many of us is a rare thing. Imagine giving yourself 10-15 minutes everyday to yourself so you can concentrate or maybe meditate on your health and well-being. Sounds nice, right?! Whether you practice your own stretching routine or you enroll in a yoga class, the cumulative effects of investing time in yourself will payoff as flexibility and well-being increase and pain and stress decrease. To learn more, click here
to read about great tips on stretching including a 10-15 minute stretching routine!