top of page

7: Physical Alignment Practice #4 - Stretch!

This series considers the importance of developing that intra- and inter-personal harmony by offering holistic practice considerations. They are intended as regular practices to support being in ‘right-relationship’ with yourself and with others. However, they are not prescriptions so much as offerings from which you may choose, modify or replace as you wish.


The emphasis here is on the interconnected whole that is each of us and that surrounds us. As you read through these, please take time to reflect on how you experience these interconnections to enhance your consciousness.


For an an understanding of the intent and context this blog post, please visit the blog series introduction.


...............


Engage in a regular routine of mindful (and appropriate) stretching


We all know that maintaining flexibility is important, but how many of us stretch regularly? I don’t necessarily mean two hours of Ashtanga Yoga under a heat-lamp. Stretching can simply be a daily five minute routine of basic stretches, each held for 20 seconds. It can also be a regular yoga class taught by an instructor or even an online tutorial or class.

In whatever form you do it, stretching your muscles and tendons is an important part of a healthy alignment practice. In fact, limber muscles and tendons support anatomic alignment with the different joints, including the hips and shoulder sockets, knees, ankles, back, neck and more. Stretching also reduces tension in the muscles, increasing circulation allowing for waste matter (e.g. lactic acid) to be released from the tissues after exercise, which helps with recovery.

As you age, your muscle fibres will naturally become less pliable, so countering that with regular stretching after a day of walking or sitting at your desk (when your hamstrings will tighten), will help to increase mobility and range of motion and maintain muscular health and vitality.



Stretching impacts your mental and emotional state too. When you are feeling mental and emotional stress, your muscles tighten up often manifesting in the neck and shoulders, but also across your entire body. By stretching you are countering this tension, relaxing the muscles and reducing levels of mental/emotional stress. It goes both ways. When you stretch mindfully, with diaphragmatic breathing, present to how your muscles are feeling, you not only reduce over-stretching but you are engaging your integrated whole in a calming, methodical process.

Consider this:

- Static vs. Dynamic Stretching. Static stretching consists of longer (20-30 seconds) stretches, whereas dynamic stretching involves broader ranges of movements that are not held in any one position. Both are helpful forms of stretching at appropriate times for each.

Before exercise, especially in the morning, your muscles fibres are relatively rigid, less pliable, because they have not been engaged extensively as during exercise. It’s important to engage in light dynamic stretching that focuses on range of motion and avoid hard static stretching that risk injury to the muscles and joints.


After exercise, when your muscles are extended and more pliable due to their active use and increased blood flow, it is helpful to then engage in static stretching which helps to expel the lactic acid build up in the muscles that result from the micro-tears incurred during exercise.


- Mindful stretching. This will slow your thinking down and help you to be more present and less consumed by the stressors of the day or concerns about tomorrow. If you are stretching before bed, this will aid in more restful sleep. If you pay attention to your breath, occasionally filling your belly with air, and how your body is feeling in different places, you will more effectively activate your parasympathetic nervous system. This will slow your heart-rate down, reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) production and improve circulation.

My Approach:

I stretch both after exercise and each night before bed.

- After exercise. While I’m often jumping into work or tending to my daughter after my morning runs, I take a moment to stretch on nearby steps and if needed on my yoga mat after a shower. This consists of 20 to 30 second static stretches to my calves, hamstrings and quads with additional stretches to my back and chest and arms. When on the mat, I tend to use a ‘down-dog’, ‘warrior 1 and 2’, and a few other basic yoga postures before enjoying my protein smoothie.


- Before bed. During law school as I approached bed time, when my mind was still deciphering court briefs and legal arguments, I found that stretching on the floor and focusing on my breathing really helped to settle me down for a good night’s rest and mental and physical recovery. I’ve used this approach ever since – it’s pure gold for me:

I start with a minute or two of simply lying flat on my back to straighten out the effects of sitting and slightly hunching over during the day. I feel into my back muscles as they relax and my spine as it straightens out, breathing mindfully through the process. I then engage in various stretches, as noted above, continuing to breathe through them. I find that spinal stretches (pulling one knee up and to the opposite side), while stretching your other arm out and facing in the opposite direction, to be especially relaxing.

This 5 minute routine helps me get to sleep quickly and soundly, waking up feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

- Let’s go outside. When I stretch after exercise or during the day, or even before I shower at night, I do so outside on my patio. If I find myself out in nature with time, I find that stretching is a great way to be present to and connect with Mother Earth. Engaging in a healthy productive activity in nature has immense spiritual benefits by connecting with our source.



Conclusion:

Whether you want to engage in a full-on yoga class or simply a five minute stretch, developing a habit of flexibility practice is important for your longevity, body, mind and spirit, as well as preventing injury and recovering well from exercise. It is also a moment for being present to and connect with yourself as well as to the natural environment.

References / Readings:

2 Comments


Garrett Weiner
Garrett Weiner
Jun 06, 2020

@Jeaniechu -


Thank you so much for this helpful post and information! Indeed, I've commented in some of the other posts about bio-feedback and how we physically manifest our emotions and in the latest post (#9) discuss how we can focus on our feelings and needs to resolve conflicts and create greater levels of awareness and acceptance.


If I combine that with what you've said below, it makes me wonder if there is a way to utilise physical postures to enhance awareness and the resolution of emotional conflicts within ourselves and others.


In other words, to help us be more aware of what our emotions are and to process them in a healthy way - not as an avoidance mechanism,…


Like

Wonderful!


Just to share my personal experience and understanding of flexibility which may or may not resonate with all. Keeping an open-mind to all nonetheless.


As a psychologist and yoga instructor, I would like to draw the link between physical flexibility and psychological flexibility; in particular, how enhancing physical flexibility raises our awareness and allows us to be more conscious of our emotions, which in turn allow us to tune in, process and enhance psychological flexibility from a more holistic and vantage point of view of our emotions and needs.


In your previous and current posts, you mentioned about connection with the body and mind. The body holds a lot of tension physically and emotionally. While most people are aware…


Like
Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Archive
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page