When pondering writing this article (being the Yoga nerd that I am) I got really excited to get into talking about the anatomy and physiology of what occurs when we stretch, define different types of stretching, and provide a whole list of stretching recommendations. I set to work in front of my computer and spewed out more information than any normal person should know on the subject. I also realized that I would have bored most of you into a deep sleep after you got past the first paragraph. So instead here’s a 10 reason list of why you should stretch. I hope it inspires you.
1. It is essential in preventing common injuries such as sprains and strains.
2. It helps you recover from workouts quickly, by improving circulation to the muscles.
3. When your muscles are more limber your posture improves, and you have less difficulty performing everyday tasks.
4. It can help your breath more deeply and naturally, which reduces stress throughout the day.
5. Stretching improves body awareness which can help us be more informed of what’s going on in our bodies. You are your own best physician.
6. Improves proprioception (sense of the orientation of ones limbs in space) Why is this important? Because, believe it or not our bodies can forget our own range of motion when we restrict our movements and range of motion by our modern living patterns. We sit in our cars till we get to work where we sit at a desk then back in the car to get home where we watch tv while eating dinner in our favorite ez chair. Get the picture? When we don’t use our full range of motion chasing wild boars for dinner and running away from saber tooth tigers like we were designed to do, our muscles actually accommodate our lack of movement by getting shorter and less flexible. Use it or loose it baby!
7. Stretching can improve our health and energy level by increasing circulation which brings much needed oxygen to our muscles and removes wastes that otherwise build up in our tissues causing us to feel chronically sore and tired.
8. It can improve our mental focus. When we make our stretching routine a meditative practice by synchronizing our breath with our movements and focus on the breath while holding a static stretch we are engaging in a higher state of awareness and a type of mental focus not common in this modern society. It exercises your brain! Ancient yogis figured this out about 6 to 10 thousand years ago so it’s about time we reclaimed this ancient wisdom; don’t you think?
9. When we stretch we are actually relaxing our muscles and if our muscles are relaxed the rest of us is sure to follow, both mentally and physically. (Be sure when you’re doing your stretching routine you relax the target muscle or group of muscles. The only way to stretch and elongate muscle is to relax it. Any sort of “effort” or “powering into it” is counter productive. (If it’s not relaxed it’s not being stretched.)
10. Stress reduction is the gold mine benefit of stretching. For most of us one of the ways stress manifest in our bodies is by chronic tension or tightness in our muscles. This can cause a stiff neck, headaches, poor posture- pinching nerves, and even poor digestion. Becoming aware of where we hold our stress and stretching plus relaxing those areas can contribute to overall stress reduction.
Convinced yet? I hope so. For anyone interested in the mechanics of stretching in the human body a great resource is a free downloadable pdf called “Everything you never wanted to know about stretching”. Just google the title and you’ll find it. An anatomy teacher who holds a phd in kinesiology recommended it to me many years ago; and though the author is a self proclaimed non-expert in the health field, he discovered as I have that all the available information and books on stretching pretty much say the same things, and can be boiled down to 68 pages. So stretch intelligently and grow the happiness in your life by honoring your body and health.
Shawn Kinsella LMT, CA, PYT