“Stretching…you do it when you wake up in the morning. Baseball fans do it in the 7th inning. Animals do it after a nap. There’s nothing like a good stretch. Its normal, its natural, and it feels great. And more and more people are also discovering that stretching is great for them.”

~ The Stretch Deck, Olivia Miller

In my experience, gentle stretching is the single greatest action we can take toward keeping our muscles resilient, supple, pain free, functioning smoothly and with full range. It’s the most effective and simplest way of decreasing pain, knots and spasms due to muscle tension. It’s a brilliant way to get to know your body and to feel what’s tight, what’s relaxed, the difference, and how that effects muscle function and dysfunction. In short, for those of us in the 2nd half, if we wish to maintain the former and minimize the later, stretching is essential.

GETTING STARTED

My recommendation for the best way to get started is with your massage therapist (yes, I have a bias :-). They will listen to you, consider your past injuries and chronic issues, assess your body for tightness, pain, and limited range. They'll give you professional advice on what muscle groups will benefit most from stretching and recommend specific stretches. They'll also be able to follow your progress, re-assess, coach and cheerlead during your regular appointments together.

If you haven't started the Massage piece of Everyday Well Being yet and prefer to start with the Stretching piece, that works too. It will take more effort and attention, but that's part of the reward if you want to DIY! Grab a notebook and pen. Jot down any stretches you’ve done in the past that were a positive experience. Then write down the areas of your body that you feel would benefit most from stretching. Next, look at the linked stretches on the website for the ones that correspond to what you wrote down. Print them up. Now you’re ready to try them out and begin building your stretch sequence. Link them in a way that feels both logical and flowing to you. Remember to be very gentle. Don’t push the stretch and don’t hold it for too long at first. Keep your routine simple and short. Little by little, you’ll find more stretches you want to add and you’ll be ready to increase the stretch and the amount of time to hold it. Let your practice be full of ease and flow. It should feel good. Really! Keep going back to your notebook to update the sequence, add notes, remind yourself of things you’d like to incorporate, and list resources you want to explore further.

If this is your first solo stretching practice, the key words are slow, comfortable and ease. Its actually harder to go slow and stay present in your body and be aware of everything you’re feeling. But doing exactly that is what will help you build an effective and satisfying home practice without injuries. I encourage you to take the Extreme Slow challenge. With it, you start with just one stretch on Day One. Ease into it, get comfortable with, and don’t push it in either the amount of the stretch or the time the stretch is held. See how you feel Day Two. If there is no soreness, do what you did on Day One again. Take Day Three off, being keenly aware of how your body feels. Once you can do the same stretch on two consecutive days, without soreness the day after, you’re ready to move on. On Day Four, add another stretch, really easy. Day Five, if you’re not sore, do it again. Take Day Six off. You get why the slow challenge is a challenge! In essence, the slow method says, add one thing at a time, make it comfortable, stay aware of your body’s reaction, and move forward accordingly. Slow is a brilliant way to isolate exactly how your body reacts to each stretch and for you to establish a baseline for where your body is in relation to the stretch. If you push too much, too soon or throw too much into the mix, you not only have a greater chance of soreness but you won’t know for sure what caused it. In addition, when you are working solo, with only yourself as the responsible party, its simply not worth it to cause yourself any discomfort, and certainly not any injuries!

RESOURCES

  • Your Massage Therapist. Don't have one yet? Click here or on the massage icon.
  • The Stretch Deck. This box of cards is what we have posted on our stretches link. It’s a great way to put your own customized program together and to change it up whenever you want or need to. www.ChronicleBooks.com
  • Stretching by Bob Anderson. An old standard for stretching that has withstood the test of time. It has lots of everyday routines, routines for specific issues, focuses, and sports. And good illustrations. www.ShelterPub.com
  • Yoga by Rodney Yee. Anything by Rodney Yee is a great place to start for yoga stretches. Including his DVD’s.
  • Somatics by Thomas Hanna. A fascinating book with an unconventional approach that I embrace, agree with, and use. A Lifelong Books publication.
  • Classes on Television: OPB broadcasts Classical Stretch and Priscilla’s Yoga every morning. Check your local Public Broadcasting guide and/or online options.
  • Local classes: most cities and towns have yoga and stretching classes available in community centers and clubs, if those venues are an option and preference for you.
  • Mary's Woods classes: our favorites are Mat Yoga, Chair Yoga, and Stretching. Click here for class schedules and descriptions

OUR EXPERIENCE

I began to put my own stretching routine together eight years ago after muscle injuries in my back that put me out of work for six weeks. I began very gingerly with just a slow and gentle spinal twist. I understood and felt the benefits right away. As a massage therapist, I was embarrassed I hadn’t noticed the issues creeping up on me and had to sustain an injury before I got proactive about starting a regular stretching routine. However, I know I’m in good company because many of my clients have had the same experience. The shift into the second half sometimes surprises us and we wonder why, when such a short time ago, being strong and resilient required no effort, that now it suddenly does. The good news is, the practice itself becomes a pleasure and the reward of the resulting wellness even greater as we have created it ourselves.

Most of my clients are pleased with the results they get from our massage sessions. When I suggest they can get even more benefit by adding specific stretches that target the same muscles, they're not always convinced. But on seeing the results after consistent application of the stretches, they are! Oftentimes, the results are downright miraculous, resolving chronic issues and pain they thought they would simply have to live with. Its been very empowering for many of them to realize how many of their aches and pains are within their own power to alleviate and that additional physicians, painkillers, or surgeries are not always necessary.

My suggestion for frequency is 3-5 times a week. The length of routine will vary between individuals, as well as over the course of your practice, due to varying needs, abilities and preferences. My own routine started with just a couple stretches over 5-10 minutes. I've added to it over time and now it runs between 20 and 40 minutes. I recommend picking a time of day and a place in your house that works well, and then stay consistent with it. Don't forget to put on comfortable clothes and maybe some music you like in the background. Try starting out with a minute of simply sitting, relaxing and breathing slowly. Most of all, make it your own, and enjoy!

If you’re unsure about anything or have questions, check in with someone in your network - your massage therapist, physical therapist, yoga teacher or fitness instructor. Or here on the website.

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