When people learn that I am a yoga teacher, I usually get one of two reactions. The first is "I love yoga!" And the second is "I know that I should do yoga, but I am too _____ (fill in the blank). Quite often this statement is followed with a list of reasons why they can’t or don’t do yoga. If you have a regular yoga practice, you may find yourself smiling when you read this, because you have had a similar experiences with friends and associates when they discover that you are a yogi.
That being said, I know that I may be preaching to the choir when I tell you that (drum roll please)…. stretching is good for you.
My hope, is that by sharing some of the many BENEFITS of stretching in this blog, you may be motivated to add stretching into your daily routine, and if you already stretch regularly, you will feel inspired to continue this healthy mind/body practice
Below are five of the major benefits of stretching, and some overall guidelines.
1. GREATER FLEXIBILITY
Regular stretching and healthy movement patterns reduce muscle and postural and balances and thereby reduce the risk of injury. When we stretch shorten muscles it helps our joints to maintain a "normal" range of motion
It’s natural to lose some flexibility as we age, but our "number" shouldn't relegate us to the sidelines in life. I teach yoga and fitness classes at a university, and I am seeing more and more young people who have tight hamstrings and low back muscles because of the amount of time they spend sitting.
Whether you are an athlete, or someone who spends most of your day behind a desk, regular stretching, can give you a greater flexibility in the ability to move with more freedom in your daily life.
2. INCREASES STRENGTH
Improved flexibility can create greater strength by giving you control as you move through a greater range of motion. This can equate to deeper squats, hinges, and lunges...all movements that translate into every day, functional movements like tying our shoes, picking something up off the floor, or moving groceries into the car.
3. REDUCES THE RISK OF INJURY
With greater flexibility and strength, we are less likely to get injured. Stretching increases oxygen and blood flow to the muscles and joints and improves overall circulation.
Even when we do everything right, we may have an occasional injury. I have personally found that when I do have the occasional injury, mindful movement and yoga speeds up my recovery and reduces the amount of pain that I am experiencing.
4. RELIEVES STRESS
We can all benefit from this. Research has shown that when you stretch, your blood pressure goes down. Combine that with mindful breathing, and you can turn stretching session into a type of meditation. Mindfully notice what you are feeling as you hold or move through your stretches.
5. LIFTS YOUR MOOD
This is my favorite reason to stretch. In short...it feels good. Our brains release "feel good" hormones to improve our moods, reduce our pain, and even help us concentrate better.
GENERAL GUIDELINES TO STRETCHING
- Start where you’re at. If you have physical limitation’s, that are concerned, you talk with your doctor physical therapist to get their approval or suggestions before beginning a journey.
- Warm up before you stretch. You don’t have to go through an entire workout before stretching, but it’s best to do a little movement first. This can be anything from foam rolling to doing a few sun salutations, or taking a little walk around the block.
- Don't force a stretch. There is a difference between discomfort and pain. It is possible to injure yourself stretching. Move into a stretch mindfully and only increase the depth of the stretch as it feels right.
- Start with the tightest muscles first. Usually the tightest muscles limit the movement of all of the muscles around it.
- Vary your routine. You can stretch the same muscles in a variety of ways and from different angles. You can stretch standing, laying down, or sitting. Explore different variations to get the best results.
- Be consistent. It takes regular consistent practice to achieve long lasting results.
Stretching can help you feel better both physically and emotionally. You don't have to be like Gumby (I'm dating myself here), with natural flexibility in order to reap the benefits of yoga and mobility practice. If you already have a movement practice, keep it up! And if you haven't started yet, get started. You won't regret it!
Positive Psychology Life Coach