Saturday, April 3, 2010


How important is stretching for our bodies?


While currently, there are many different philosophies and opinions on the topic of stretching, the key is, try not to let all of this information overwhelm you and stick to the basics....listening to your body. There is a lot of great information out there, but if it doesn't feel right for you, then perhaps that's your body trying to tell you something.

Ultimately, in order to keep our bodies healthy, we need to stay open and spacious. Set your intention to create openness in your own body, then you'll begin to feel where your body wants to go.

Just to name a few benefits of stretching...
  • Musculoskeletal health and alignment. Tight muscles can cause structural imbalances. Imbalances may lead to compensation patterns. This is where injuries may pop up. Stretching helps muscles to lengthen, release and reset thus facilitating structural alignment.
  • Joint health depends on strong, flexible muscles...muscles that hold us together, support us, yet allow for freedom of movement. Tight muscles may lead to joints being compressed.
  • Emotional health can be greatly improved with ease of movement. Movement increases overall blood flow which means lots of oxygen. Oxygen supports life. Plus, we all feel better when our bodies move more fluidly during exercise and with day-to-day activities. When experiencing tightness in our bodies, it creates a blockage of and the natural "flow" of our body may be impeded.
  • Respiratory health benefits from an open, flexible structure. If our muscles are tight, then breathing can be restricted. Even a tight low back can restrict breathing...tight shoulders, and of course, a tight chest are culprits as well. Remember, breathing is three dimensional....filling the belly, expanding the diaphragm, filling the upper chest raising the clavicles and shoulders.
Here are a few key elements of how to approach stretching - simply and mindfully:

Listening to your body is number one. Checking in with yourself...taking time to hear what it's telling you. What feels tight? Am I sore? Do I feel pain? Is my range of motion compromised? Are there any past injuries that are creating strain? Listen. Your body can tell you a lot....what to stay away from, how long to hold a stretch, and when you can breathe deeper into a stretch.

Stretch safely - always work with your breath. Never push yourself thinking that it's good to go that extra bit. This is what injuries are made of. Always breathe into your stretch, only going as deep as feels comfortable while maintaining proper posture. Once you take yourself out of alignment structurally in order to stretch further, you could be compromising safety.

Take your time. Never rush your stretching session, nor the actual stretch. If you don't have time, then only do one or two stretches that will be most beneficial for you at that moment. Holding a comfortable stretch while breathing at least 5-10 belly breaths yields an effective stretch and feels very satisfying. Keep your breath steady and through the nose, out through the nose.

Allow your body to warm up before stretching. Perhaps this means a few minutes of walking - then stretching - then fitness. Perhaps this means, foam rolling before stretching....which, by the way, is the most beneficial time to foam roll. Using the foam roller in this capacity allows the tissue to warm and lengthen, thus promoting a safe, effective follow-up stretch. Never just head into a stretch routine, say, just after sitting at a desk all day or just after waking in the morning. Think warm.

Simplify. Stretching doesn't have to mean adhering to a strict regiment.....a lengthy session of multiple stretches, every day, before and after fitness. Stretching can be your friend. Stick to a few stretches, and visit them as the body dictates. For example, as a runner, I know that my glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors are usually my problem most times, that's where I'll focus. However, if I discover on a run that my breathing didn't feel fluid, then maybe I'd focus my next few stretches on opening my chest, shoulders, back and sides.

Consistency is most beneficial. Whether you are very active or not, being consistent with your stretching self-care will enable your body to maintain flexibility and good muscle behavior.

Not sure how to do that stretch...find out the correct way...don't be afraid to ask. This is extremely important....especially for those trying out new stretches or may be new to Yoga. More often than not, when not properly informed, you can really injure yourself by not doing a stretch correctly. Remember, it's your body...every body is different...what may work for one may not for another...and that's ok.

Movement is health, and stretching facilitates movement. Of course, when stretching ceases to release those tight and sore muscles, go ahead and implement massage into your routine. Massage has all the same benefits of stretching and then some!

For those of you who aren't stretchers, and I know you're out there, perhaps Thai Yoga Massage is for you. This would be a great way to get your body introduced to opening and expanding in a passive manner, thus building your flexibility and making room for more comfort with your own stretching self-care.

Stretch safe and Stretch happy!