5 stretches to release tension
It’s safe to say that things have been a little bit tense this past year. And our bodies have been feeling it. Back pain, neck pain, feeling tight, heavy, or just plain sluggish – whether it’s switching up ergonomic workspaces for the kitchen table, or not getting out and about as much, a lot of us are feeling the strain.
If you’re experiencing pain that is impacting your daily life, it’s a good idea to speak to a GP. But for more minor complaints, something as simple as a targeted stretch could make a whole lot of difference.
“Increased flexibility, greater range of motion, and easing of pain and tension,” says Rachele Gilman, director of stretch inc. – an organisation that offers one-on-one assisted stretching – when asked what the benefits of stretching are. But, as she points out, it’s not just good for our physical health.
“Stretching eases tension and, in certain cases, promotes relaxation. It also increases blood flow and oxygenation,” she explains. “All of these things help us feel better, and when we feel better, we live better. Essentially, unless there is an injury or disorder like hypermobility, most people benefit from even one-off stretching, but see and feel massive improvements from consistent stretching.”
Of course, the key thing there is ‘consistent’ – Rachele recommends 10 minutes a day at home, and once a week or every two weeks for assisted stretching – and that’s where we can often fall short when trying to take up a new practice.
“Probably the easiest way to motivate yourself is to set a goal,” Rachele says. “Try not to set something like the splits in the beginning – maybe work on touching your toes with a flat back, or getting your leg to 90⁰ in a hamstring stretch. Or learn what muscles you’re working during your favourite activity, and focus on stretches that complement that.
“Props are also a good way to motivate. Using blocks or a strap can assist your stretching and take you a bit further in your efforts. Finally, try some assisted stretching with a partner.”
Like any kind of habit-building exercise, it may take you a little while to get into a natural swing of things, but ‘little and often’ is a good mantra to have in mind, and make sure that you move within your comfort zone, to begin with.
Ultimately, the goal of a regular stretching routine is to feel better in your body, to address specific areas of concern, but also to take some time to yourself to tune in to the sensations of your body – so often, we go through life oblivious to the things our body is telling us.
And while options like stretch inc. exist to take your stretching experience to the next level, anyone can pick up this wellbeing habit, at any time. Here, Rachele shares five stretches to target different areas of your body, and to help you let go of tension:
Assisted calf stretch
Calves can be difficult to stretch, so getting a little help can provide a lot of relief. The person being stretched should lie on their back with both legs extended. Remember to keep breathing and relax. The person assisting should kneel near the feet and lift one leg slightly. Support the heel in one hand, and place the other around the foot, fingers on the top and thumb at the sole. Gently pull the heel down and towards you, while pushing the toes into a flex position. Hold for 15 seconds, relax, and repeat. Stretch both sides.
Assisted chest opening stretch
The person being stretched should sit on the floor, or in a chair, and interlace their fingers behind their head – with elbows wide. The person stretching should kneel or stand behind them. If kneeling or sitting on a chair with no back support, the person stretching should gently place the side body or legs against the seated person’s back, for support. Place your hand and forearms on the seated person’s arms, and gently pull back. This will stretch the shoulders, the upper back and the chest.
Extend your arms in a ‘T’ shape, or into cactus arms. I find that I get a better stretch through the chest with cactus arms, and it takes up less space, but do what works for you. Bring the sole of your right foot to the floor – in line with your left knee – hook your toes, and then bring the bent leg towards the left, use your left hand to gently guide the knee closer to the floor while keeping both shoulders firmly planted, and your head turned towards the right. Hold for about 45 seconds. Remember to breathe and take the stretch a little deeper if you can.
You can join Rachele and stretch inc. online on Mondays and Fridays for a 45-minute stretch class, or join a free 10-minute Instagram live on Saturdays.
Stand tall with feet slightly closer than hip-width distance. Drop your left hand to your side, lift your left foot back, and hold your ankle in your hand. The quad stretch will have varying intensity for everyone. The goal is to work on pushing the engaged quad back to deepen the stretch while keeping the hips facing forward and bringing the knees into alignment. Work on engaging the core. Pull the tail bone down to help engage the pelvis and prevent unnecessary arching in the back. If you lose your balance, don’t worry. Just try again. When quads are tight, it can contribute to low back pain and knee pain and both of those can impact mobility. Hold for 45 seconds
Hamstring stretch with strap
Start on your back. Bring your right knee to your chest, wrap the towel, belt, or strap around the centre of your foot. Extend your leg up, keeping it straight, and simultaneously keep your other leg down and straight or grounded. Use the strap to increase the stretch by pulling the leg closer to your face. Hold for 45 seconds.
While you can buy specialist equipment to aid your stretching routine, you can also make the most of things you already own.
For example, if you don’t have a mat, you could try layering some blankets on the floor. For a block, cushions work just fine and can be stacked to the right height. And if you’re interested in working with a strap, give a pair of tights a go.
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