I have a habit. I’ve had it for decades. 45 years to be exact. I stretch or do yoga almost daily.
15-45 minutes a day of my key yoga-esque stretches eases my body and mind. 15-hour plane rides—no problem. Kung-fun gardening—no back aches. Dancing till I drop? Blissful jelly body. No aches. No pains. No fatigue. I’m not exaggerating. At 63-years-old, I know what my body is feeling and why.
If your bones, joints, and muscles are sore, achy or stiff—reluctant to go for that five-mile hike or 18-hour plane ride, try my stretching routine below over a two-week period. Let me know how it affects your body. Also please adapt it to your body’s needs—we all hold our tension in unique places and are built differently. If you would like to listen to my instructions instead of reading them, I will send you an audio file on request.
Before you bend down to touch your toes, or perhaps only as far as your knees— connect with your breath! Use your inhales to expand your tissues and your exhales to release tension. Deep breathe into each stretch so your body lengthens from the inside-out by breathing into the area you are stretching. Direct the inhalation to the epicenter of the tight spot. Expand it with your breath. Slowly, breathing four counts in and four counts out. Stay focused. This will also calm and harness your mind. Hold stretches for at least one minute. It takes that long for the muscles, tendons, fascia, and joints to get the message they are elongating.
What about props? All you really need is your time and attention—though while practicing at home, I use a yoga mat, a strap, and a foam block. I also follow up my session with a ten-minute inversion with my legs up in the air and my sacrum supported by the block so that everything is higher than my head. Being upside down floods my brain with blood and hence, oxygen. It also drains the leg veins and is beneficial in counteracting varicosity. ( I will be writing more about the benefits and possibilities of inversions in a future post).
The suggested stretches and yoga poses below are just a partial program for me. I usually add-on plank, sun salute, virasana, pigeon, tree, and 120 sit-ups. This takes about 45 minutes total. Please configure your own program once you get in the habit of stretching into your day.
- Align your feet, and then your whole body, from the ground up. Center your weight evenly over both feet, let your tailbone hang neutrally. Drop your shoulders and lift your neck up from the crown of the head.
- Reach your arms and hands to the ceiling feeling the stretch all the way down to the hips. Lower your shoulders. Lower your arms slowly like bird wings.
- Reach up again and bend to one side to stretch the waist and then go over to the other side. Float arms down.
- Roll shoulders backward in a full circle slowly.
- Lift your head up out of the shoulder girdle and then stretch it to one side toward the ear and shoulder. Switch sides. Breath into the trapezes making sure they are lowered and rolled onto your back.
- Lower your chin to your chest. Breathe into the back of the neck while you are stretching your head forward..
- Bend your knees slightly to unlock them and slowly rotate hips in a full circle working out the tight spots. Go in the other direction.
- Tilt your tailbone forward and back like a porch swing. Do this several times.
- Extend one leg forward and flex your foot to ceiling. Bend from the hips with a straight back and reach for your toes on the extended leg. Let your head drop toward the knee. Hold and breathe.
- Roll up and change sides.
- Align your feet parallel under your hips, bend forward with a straight back toward your feet. Let your head hang and breathe into the hamstrings.
- Lie down on your back. Bring your knees into the chest and breath into the sacrum/lower back region. Roll both knees to one side—resting them on the ground, and rotate your head in the opposite direction from the knees. Change sides.
- Roll onto stomach and stretch arms and legs in opposite directions.
- Get on all fours and round your back up to the ceiling with an exhale. Slowly arch your back downward inhaling deeply. Do this several times in both directions to flex the spine. (Cat-Cow in yoga).
- Bring heels down to your butt and lie in child position resting on floor. Once again, deep breathing into your lower back.
- Get into a squat, dropping your tailbone toward the floor. Try to get your feet flat on the ground with heels down.
- Straighten your legs and hang your head toward the floor with parallel feet, breathing into the hamstrings.
- Roll up very slowly, head last. Raise your arms to ceiling and pull yourself upward through every finger joint.
Now your are ready to rock n’roll! Enjoy your stretchy body and make this a routine in your life. Every muscle will thank you.
P.S. Avoid distractions—No phone calls, emails, selfies, or cat-petting. Just you, the mat and your body.
P.P.S: Who is my favorite yoga teacher EVER? Alison Smith at YogaWorks in Mill Valley, CA. A master at conveying how to truly benefit from your practice.
Read my article “Inversions Make You Smarter” — an informative how-to on increasing blood flow to the brain. Deep Core Work for Back Support is a specific guide to yogic back work with my teacher Alison Smith.