You know you make me want to … STRETCH!
Feeling tight and sore? Miss being able to visit your massage therapist to work out some kinks in your neck or knots in your back? Does working from home have you less active than you’re used to? Because many of us are housebound these days due to COVID-19, with very different routines than we perhaps once had, we may find ourselves feeling a little less mobile, with tighter muscles than we are used to. With this in mind, stretching is still a very good, easy and light activity to incorporate into our daily routines to keep us moving and feeling good. Often overlooked by many, stretching doesn’t have to be overly complicated or time consuming. Rather, it is something that is easy to take a five-minute break for and something that can really be re-energizing. Benefits of taking a few minutes to stretch include:
- Increase flexibility
- Increase range of motion
- Improve your performance in physical activities
- Increase blood flow to your muscles
- Improve your posture
- Help to heal and prevent back pain
- Relieve stress
- Decrease tension
- Calm your mind
Here are a few favourite stretches focusing on gently increasing back mobility, opening up your shoulders and chest, and reducing neck tension. Try incorporating these into your everyday routine.
Whether you are watching TV, working on the computer or scrolling on your phone, your neck carries a lot of strain as your head is propped forward during each of these activities. To release some of the tension in your neck, either standing or seated, take a moment to:
- Look up towards the ceiling as high as you can without there being any pain
- Slowly rock your head to one side and hold for 10 – 15 seconds
- Repeat this same thing on the other side
- Hold for 10 – 15 seconds
- Do this two to three times per side
- Then slowly look down towards the floor
- Slowly roll your head to each side in semi circles so that your ear meets your shoulder and your chin stays somewhat centred on your chest
- Hold for 10 – 15 seconds twice per side
- Remember to take your time and go slowly
You will usually feel the stretch at the base of your neck and top of your chest for the first stretch and for the second stretch you will feel it along the back of your neck and the sides of your neck.
Shoulders become quite tight and rounded forward when we sit for long periods of time either working on our computers or spending quite a bit of time on our phones. This next stretch requires you to stand and find a doorway in your house. Using both arms:
- Stand at the open doorway
- Raise your arms so they are parallel with the floor and bend your elbows 90 degrees
- Rest your forearms on either side of the doorway, perpendicular to the floor
- Relax your shoulders down and slowly lean into the doorway so that your chest moves forwards and your arms move backwards
- Hold this stretch for 10 – 15 seconds, take a short rest and then repeat 3 to 4 times
For more of a stretch or to find the stretch that works best for you:
- Move your hands up and down the doorway from head to waist height
- Hold this stretch for 10 – 15 seconds a couple times
- Remember to go slowly, take your time and be gentle with your body
You will feel this stretch along the entire pectoralis major muscle or, in simpler terms, across your chest. This is great for opening up your chest and creates a nice squeeze through your upper back.
Alternatively, you can stretch one arm at a time using the same idea as above.
As you start to stretch, you can turn your body in the opposite direction of your arm to feel more of an opening along the front of your shoulder. Do this for 10 – 15 seconds twice per side.
There are many stretches for the back, but to keep things simple and easily accessible from anywhere in your house, we will look at three stretches. The first requires you to be seated, cross legged is best if you are able to do so and is comfortable for you. Once seated:
- Reach your left hand to the floor so that it is holding you up and reach your right hand to the sky
- Slowly start to tilt your spine (lean) over to the left as your right hand follows and reaches towards the left wall
- If you are quite flexible already, you may find that your left forearm ends up resting on the ground
- Switch over to the other side slowly (Think tall grass blowing gently in the breeze!)
- Reach your right hand to the floor and left hand to the sky
- Slowly start to tilt your spine to the right
- Hold for 10 – 15 seconds twice per side
This stretch targets your entire side body and helps lengthen and release the spine. The next stretch will work on spine mobility through a gentle twist. Sitting upright and as tall as you can:
- Wrap your arms around you, giving yourself a hug
- Slowly rotate your entire upper body as far as you can to the left and hold
- Slowly rotate your entire upper body back through centre and to the right
- Hold this for 10 – 15 seconds twice per side
To finish off your back stretches:
- Place both hands on the floor in front of you
- Slowly start to lean forward so that your back lengthens forwards
- You do not need to go super low or deep in this stretch, just enough so you feel a good stretch up and along your spine
- Hold for 15 – 30 seconds once (or twice if you have time)
Remember, it is important to be gentle with your body, especially when stretching it out. Move slowly and carefully in each stretch and take your time, moving mindfully until the end of each pose. There is no need rush nor to push it past your comfort level because stretching is supposed to feel good. Most of all, remember to continue to breathe during each stretch and just enjoy the 5 or so minutes you have taken for yourself!