Ever since graduate school where I researched the powerful impact of combining mindfulness with exercise, I've been a huge fan of using any movement as an opportunity to bring awareness to the moment.
Stretching (or flexibility training as we call it in the exercise science world), is in itself a wonderful practice to balance the body and when combined with focusing on the breath and/or anchoring your awareness in the present moment, magic happens.
We extensively discuss the benefits of mindfulness elsewhere, so we'll focus here on stretching and how to add this tool to your self-care routine.
What are the benefits of stretching?
Stretching is an effective tool used to lengthen our muscles, reduce stiffness, improve flexibility and coordination, increase balance:
Improved Flexibility: Stretching increases our range of motion as it lengthens our muscles.
Increased Circulation: Consistent stretching can improve circulatory health both short and long term by increasing blood flow.
Decreased Back Pain: Stretching is a good tool for strengthening back muscles and therefore decreasing pain in many areas of the back.
Decreased Stress: Stretching relaxes the body and activates our parasympathetic nervous system which calms us.
Where do I start?
Regardless of your history with exercise and stretching, there is no experience needed in order to begin to incorporate stretching into your everyday life. Check out the pages below and let's go through some practical examples of stretching exercises that will only take a few minutes of your day!
Flexibility is a huge component of stretching and an important aspect to understand as you begin to incorporate stretching into your everyday life. Flexibility is the ability of our joints to move through their full range of motion.
There are many factors that affect our flexibility, such as joint structure, muscle elasticity and length, and nervous system regulation. The makeup of our joints and their communication with our nervous system play a vital role in our range of flexibility and overall joint health.
Our muscles and other tissues support our joints, and when those are tight, our joints are much more subject to stress which can ultimately cause deterioration. When we have poor joint flexibility, this can cause abnormalities that lead to the deterioration of cartilage cells around those joints.
While you're adding these stretches to relieve aches, pains, muscle cramps, or improve body position, increase good posture, stimulate relaxation, and improve mobility -- keep your mind focused on your breath. Bring your awareness to the places in your body that you feel tension, and breath into those spaces, allowing them to loosen a little more.
Keep this practice enjoyable! If it's painful to stretch, back it off and decrease the intensity. Stretch in a way that feels good, and increase difficulty as you feel ready.
By maintaining our flexibility through stretching, we continue to benefit our overall health. A principle known as FITT or Flexibility, Intensity, Time, and Type, is a proven way to work on our flexibility consistently. Check out an example of this model below from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)!
Don't forget to screenshot the above images to continue practicing these stretching and flexibility techniques on your own!
Learn more about bringing mindfulness into your day below: