Try these six essential stretches every day to improve your mental and physical health.
By Amina Daniels
When asked the question: “Do you take care of yourself?” our immediate inclination is to answer “yes.” But when asked, “In what ways do you take care of yourself?” most of us will falter a bit.
While it seems like an obvious thing to incorporate self-care into daily living, we often forget to really take care of ourselves — to deliberately care for our mental, emotional and physical health. And it’s not that difficult, we just have to be mindful of it, and start to incorporate small things that will nudge us in the right direction.
Stretching is a tangible thing we can do daily that is not only good for the body, but for the mind and soul. Numerous studies support the short- and long-term benefits of various types of stretching, including static stretching, dynamic stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation), to name a few. Stretching helps decrease stress, enhance range of motion, reduce risk of injury, improve circulation, increase performance, keep joints healthy… the list goes on and on.
Here are six stretches that will help you feel better, move better and function better in your daily life. You can choose one or two of them, or do all six. Maybe treat yourself by playing some soothing music, or light a few candles. Really let your mind go, and let your body be your guide while you move through these poses and stretches to give yourself a true break.
Total Hip Opener
This stretch is a tremendous one for your lower back, hips and quads. It’s also a nice “mind quieter” because you really need to concentrate on where your body is in space, and work on balance.
Execution: Standing, reach back with your right hand and hold onto your right ankle. Take a high wave with your left hand, then slowly hinge forward, left hand reaching out front, and pulling slightly with your right arm on your right leg to remain balanced and feel a nice stretch. Lower. Repeat on the other side.
Note that this stretch can be a little tricky, so give yourself a break if you don’t get it right away. It can require some practice, but when you do get it, you’ll love it — revel in it! (A modification is to reach out and hold onto a wall or chair.)
Rock It Out
This feel-good stretch works the hamstrings, glutes, thighs, hips — the entire lower body. Do what you can, and as you practice this flowing stretch you’ll find that you’ll be able to reach farther and go lower over time.
Execution: Stand with feet very far apart, hands in prayer position at your chest. Start to rock your hips back and forth to each side, and as you limber up, push your glutes out and extend those hips farther to each side, slowly rocking your body to the right then the left, getting into a deeper stretch each time. Take hands to the floor if comfortable. Go as deep as feels right.
This classic yoga exercise is sooooo good for your back and also your core. This can be done daily any time you need to “regroup” your lower back. You know, the small ache you get from sitting at a computer or from being on your feet all day. Take a moment and go into Cat Cow and give your back a break.
Execution: Place your palms and knees on the floor to come to tabletop position. Round your back and drop your head toward floor. Then slowly reverse the stretch by arching your back and raising your head and gaze toward the ceiling.
This is another yoga pose that is an amazing back extender. Again, most of us sit at a desk, or even run around all day. We typically don’t move in ways that extend and bend the back — backward. It’s so important to reset your posture and your spine periodically. Do this daily if you can.
Execution: Lie on a mat or the floor on your stomach. Bring your forearms to the floor and hands palm-side down flat on the floor. Raise your head, shoulders and upper back off the floor by arching your upper back (keep your midsection on the floor). Gaze forward. Hold. Lower and repeat.
Lying Spinal Twist
Twisting the body is great for generating blood flow and getting oxygen in and around your internal organs. It essentially wakes up your insides and gives your body a nice refresh.
Execution: Lie on your back on the floor with your arms straight out at your sides in a T. Bring your knees toward your chest in a 90-degree angle, then, keeping legs together and at that 90-degree angle, lower them down to the left, and slowly bring them back up and down to the right. Continue this motion, feeling a stretch in your lower spine.
Seated Side Stretch
This one, well, it just feeeeels good!
Execution: Sit on floor with crossed legs. Place your right palm flat on the floor beside you, and raise your left arm high to the sky, feeling a stretch across the entire side of your body. Release and switch sides.
If you haven’t been deliberately caring for your body and mind, start here. When you take time to move your body and slow down your mind, both will give back to you tenfold!
Amina Daniels is a high-energy fitness professional, who champions her studio, Live Cycle Delight, based in Detroit’s West Village. Amina will also open Hot LCD this spring, which will offer yoga and Pilates. She holds fitness certifications in RYS200 from Kripalu, Group Strength, Personal Training, TRX Camps, TRX Group Fitness, TRX Rip Trainer and Indoor Cycling by Schwinn Bikes and Real Ryder.