As adults, most of us have forgotten that instinct to stretch.
Animals do it and so do babies, but how many adults do? As adults, most of us have forgotten that instinct to stretch. However, it can be revived.
I once read an article on exercise which said aerobic type exercise should be done three times per week but stretching is a must do every day if you are to experience good health.
Nearly forty years ago, I began to learn the value of stretching. For about eight years, I had been plagued with such extremely painful back that I couldn’t take a step without pain, and lifting was out to of the question. Doctors, of all persuasions, brought no relief; morning and night I was doing their prescribed set of exercises. Finally, a trip to the University of Iowa back clinic solved the problem when a young therapist taught me two simple stretches in such a way that in less than three weeks, I was pain free. The stretches he taught me have become a daily habit. First thing when waking, while still in the bed, I do back stretches, along with some others I have learned and added. They are a part of arising and retiring routine—morning and night. Five minutes of stretching makes all the difference. The therapist told me if I did them the rest of my life he guaranteed I would have no more back trouble. So far, he has been right. He said back pain is caused by weak out-of- balance muscles. Muscles get weak and can’t do their job of holding the bones in place.
Stretching helps keep our muscles strong and in balance. Yoga, which incorporates stretching with emphasis on body, mind, and spiritual awareness, has stood the test of time. No one knows for sure how long people have been doing yoga, but we do know it has been around for at least 4,000 years and possibly as long as 8,000 years. As one who is about to complete 11 years of participating in a yoga class 3 to 5 times every week in a class—I can vouch for its benefits.
In his book, The Genius of Flexibility, Bob Cooley calls stretching “becoming untangled”. Being hit by an automobile and left with a mangled body started him on a path of learning that led him to stretch physically, mentally, emotionally, and spirituality. Even though he had been told by all the doctors he would never walk again and it was doubtful if he would live, he regained his body and became healthy by “stretching with resistance”.
Everyone can relearn what they knew at birth, how to stretch. Regardless of age, flexibility, or state of health, you can learn to stretch and benefit. Stretching needs to be a valued part of your daily routine, whether or not you do any exercise. Even if you are bedfast, or unable to walk, you can stretch. There are simple stretches you can do while watching TV, at the computer, talking on the phone or getting into or out of bed.
Stretching doesn’t require much time and it can be done as you go about your daily activities. Some of its huge benefits are reduced muscle tension, increased range of movement in the joints, enhanced muscle coordination, increased circulation of blood to the various parts of the body (which increases healing capacity), increased energy levels, body awareness, and flexibility.
Rule number one in stretching is do not bounce! Bouncing can cause small tears in the muscles, resulting in scar tissue. At the point of pain, stop! Your body is telling you that you have gone a little too far. If you persist in stretching each day, you will find that you will become more flexible, and you can stretch further without pain. Stretch slowly and with concentration with your awareness completely on your body and breathing into the stretch.
A few simple stretches you can do before you get out of bed are: 1. Stretch your right arm above your head as you stretch your left food with your toes turned up toward your body; repeat on the other side. 2. With your knees bent, and your feet flat on the bed, push the small of your back toward the bed tilting the pelvis while breathing out. Relax and repeat. 3. With your hands around your knees, slowly pull the knees toward the chest while breathing out. Relax and exhale as you slowly lower your feet to the bed with the knees still bent. As you get used to stretching do more repetitions but remember to move slowly and breathe into each stretch. You may be surprised how much better you will feel by doing these few simple exercises before you start your day. If you get up with a stiff sore back, you will see improvement within a week.
The more you stretch, the more you will want to stretch as it feels so good to get the kinks out. Stretching mentally, emotionally, and spiritually is important to overall health and well being. Get out of the rut and learn do something new and different. Remember, “A closed mind is like concrete; thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.”
(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at email@example.com)