Stretching to Lengthen
Stretching portions of class are just as important as the challenging work sections. Active stretching lengthens the muscles after they have been contracting and strengthening, yielding a long and lean physique. The body’s “neural reflex arc” stops the body from overstretching our muscles. That said, when we enter into a stretching position that is uncomfortable (but not painful) and hold it for 30 seconds to 1 minute, a message is sent to our central nervous system, which causes the muscle to relax into the stretch. In essence, this tells our brain that we are safe in this position. Because we are influencing our body’s natural reaction, we must stretch mindfully by maintaining correct form. Whether you need some extra stretching after a barre class, want to learn how to stretch after a run, or would like to relax your mind with a stretch, try these restorative stretches- guaranteed melt away soreness and stress. Hold each position in complete stillness for at least 1 minute (many of these stretches can be held for 3-5 minutes) for the best results.
Stretches: Calves, hamstrings, ankles, spine, arms
Other benefits: Because it is an inverted pose (heart is above your head), it can both energize and calm you, lending you a you a clear perspective.
Form: Plant your hands and feet as if you are coming into a high plank. Then send your tailbone toward the ceiling as your ears come between your biceps. Press your heels toward the floor. Maintain light pressure on your fingers. Widen your shoulder blades and emphasize length in your spine.
Other benefits: This hip opening stretch can also ease low back pain and sacrum or sciatic nerve sensitivity.
Form: Bring your right knee out in front of you so that your shin is parallel to a wall in front of you. Flex your foot and shift your hips so that they are squared off. If your hips cannot align, you can place a block under your right glute. Gently fold forward, keeping your hips square, and relax into the stretch. Switch legs.
Stretches: Back muscles, abdominals, neck
Other benefits: Increases the mobility of the vertebrae and increases circulation of spinal fluid.
Form: Kneel on hands and knees. Align your hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. Come to a neutral back stance. Press into your palms and pull your abdominals in and up toward your spine to gently round your back. Exhale and tilt your tailbone under. Now, reverse the movement. Inhale and relax your abdominal muscles as you lengthen your upper body. Gaze toward the ceiling and un-tuck your tailbone. Slowly move through a few rounds of this pose.
Stretches: Hips, inner thighs
Other benefits: Hip-opening stretches can also relieve anxiety and stress. Hold this pose longer to go deeper into the work and the benefits (can hold >5 minutes).
Form: Kneeling, place your knees as far apart as possible without straining. Adjust the position of your feet so that they are exactly in line with your knees (not further in toward your centerline). Flex your feet and relax your upper body as you fold forward and place your forearms on the ground or on a block.
Stretches: Hips, inner thighs
Other benefits: Can help lengthen your lower back and is deeply restorative.
Form: Begin seated. Bring the soles of your feet together making a diamond with your legs. Gently fold forward. You may bring your hands forward or hold on to your feet and press gently into your inner thighs with your elbows to deepen the stretch. Gaze down and relax your upper body. To stretch your hips more, bring your feet closer to you. To stretch your hamstrings more, draw your feet away from your body.
Stretches: Hips, inner thighs, lower back
Other benefits: Can improve your balance and improve digestive circulation.
Form: Stand with your feet wider than hip distance apart. Turn out your toes. Bend your knees and sink down until your hips are lower than your knees. To find your balance, you may place your palms on the ground. Now, slowly bring your hands to heart center pressing together and use your elbows to gently press right above the knees to open your inner thighs and hips. Draw your heart forward and up to lengthen and stretch your back.
Stretches: Back muscles
Other benefits: Improves mobility of the vertebrae.
Form: Begin lying down on your back. Press your lower back into the ground. Lift your knees and feet into a tabletop position. Rotate your lower body to the right as your knees fall to the right. Continue to lie flat through the upper body. Allow your knees to relax to the floor to stretch your spine. Switch sides.
Stretches: Quadriceps, psoas, hips
Other benefits: Improves your balance, core strength and awareness.
Form: Start kneeling on the ground. Step your right leg forward so that the knee is above ankle. Draw your left leg long behind you to stretch the quad muscle while keeping your hips square. To advance, push into the ground with the ball of your left foot and lift your left leg off the ground. Open through the chest bringing your heart forward and up. Hands may rest on your right quad, in heart center, or overhead for a gentle backbend. Switch legs.
Written by Mary Sullivan Beckley