Why stretch? 10 reasons you must stretch to release stress and…
Stretching. Personally, I love it. How about you?
Is stretching part of your regular exercise and daily practice?
Or have you been skipping stretching from your workout routine?
If you have, then you know this to be true: You have been experiencing back pain and /or tight muscles after your workouts. Not to mention you feel embarrassed you cannot bend forward and touch the ground. And your hips most likely feel quite restricted in their movement.
“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30 you are OLD. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are YOUNG.” J. Pilates
Most of my clients who are into gym workouts avoid stretching. Most of my clients are quite inflexible. It always astonishes me to see “older” yogis in their seventies who are much more flexible than my clients in their 40-ies.
So, why most people resist stretching?
In London, I find this is the case because people perceive stretching as something passive that takes away from their free time. To be fair, some of my clients would love to do it but don’t know how to stretch properly or when to include stretching into their workout. And some others are afraid of emotions that are being released through yoga practice and stretching. I have seen many times tears being released after yoga and I can assure you it’s a wonderful and healing process!
When you allow yourself to slow down and stretch your body with attention and kindness, you will start to experience profound benefits for your wellbeing. You will feel more relaxed, your body will feel taken care off, you will become more compassionate, your muscles will lengthen and this in turn will improve your workouts.
In its most basic form, stretching is profoundly instinctive and natural activity; it is performed by both animals and humans. As you know, you stretch instinctively after waking from sleep or after long periods of inactivity.
Types of Stretching
During my personal training course, I have been taught that there are four different types of stretching:
Static – muscle is stretched until mild tension is felt at which point stretch if held for about 30 sec
For instance, the static stretch of touching your toes would be to fold front until you feel mild tension in your lower back/hamstrings and then hold for about 30 sec.
This type of stretching lengthens your muscles and it should be done slowly and gradually.
Ballistic – rapid bouncing stretch that stretches the muscles to a maximum
For example, the ballistic method of touching your toes would be to bounce and jerk towards your feet. This type of stretching is popular amongst athletes, but you can try it if you are very fit physically and already reasonably flexible. This method is thought to stretch muscles faster and further than static stretching. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) warns against ballistic stretches due to a risk of straining or pulling a muscle.
Dynamic – walking or movement stretch. Examples of this method include arm circles, arm rises, neck circles / lateral flexion, knee circles etc.
PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) – this method is commonly used in clinical environments to facilitate rehabilitation. Resistance is applied for a particular muscle, with a shortening contraction of the opposing muscle to place the target muscle on stretch. There are many techniques used for PNF and I have found this method to be a very efficient way of increasing flexibility.
Here is an example of Contract – Relax PNF stretching technique I use with my clients:
I move my client’s extended leg towards his or her chest to a point of mild discomfort. This passive stretch is held for 10 seconds.
On instruction, my client contracts the hamstrings by pushing their extended leg against my hand. I apply enough force so that there is resistance while allowing my client to push their leg to the floor. This is the ‘contract’ phase.
After this “contract” phase, I instruct my client to ‘relax’ and complete a second passive stretch held for 30 seconds.
When to Include Stretching into Your Workout?
Research work by McNair (2000) and Knudson (2001) gives great guidelines and suggests that the use of dynamic stretches are the most appropriate exercises for the warm up. By contrast, static stretches are more appropriate for the cool down.
That said, you can include neck circles, shoulder circles, arm rises, hip circles and knee circles into your warm up session, along with some bending forward stretches to open your spine and extend space in between your vertebrae. When cooling down you can include cobra pose, downward dog pose, chest stretch and folding front stretch into your routine.
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How Often Do You Need To Stretch?
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching all muscle groups at least twice a week.
In my experience, I’d say stretch twice in your twenties, trice in your thirties and minimum 4 times a week if you are over 40. Personally, even though I train almost every day and as a yoga teacher I’m reasonably flexible, I can still feel quite stiff and rigid. My body and mind need daily stretching to open and grow. Stretching allows me to release stress, negative emotions and expand my energy.
Set intention at the beginning of your workout: I intend to make my body and mind more flexible
“Everyone is more flexible after exercise because you’ve increased the circulation to those muscles and joints and you’ve been moving them,” explains MD Laura J. Martins.
In Yoga we stretch to increase flexibility and to release emotional tension from our muscles, which in turn automatically changes our subconscious patterns.
Mainstream psychology believes that we store emotions in our mind. But if our Self comprises of mind, body & soul wouldn’t it make sense that we store our emotions in all aspects of the Self?
Natural medicine and yoga believe that we store our emotions in our muscles too.
Every experience in your mind and soul is accompanied by changes in your body’s chemistry. Our feelings of stress (or anger, anxiety etc.), are reflected in our body by generating disturbing or discomforting sensations (such as pain in the belly or tight shoulders). Over time, your mind-body-soul system reflects your emotional history.
Through yoga, you can release the emotional toxicity stored in your muscles. As you stretch your muscles, you can influence the mind, change your thought patterns and facilitate stress and emotional release.
Ultimately, Yoga asanas, breathing practices, and meditation free the flow of your vital life- force energy known as prana or chi.