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Benefits of a Stretching Practice:
Over the last couple of years, I have converted my 20-year “yoga” practice into a “stretching” practice - and feel better at age 50 than ever:
No back ache or pain, shoulder pain, or hip pain - and when one pops up I have a plan to stretch it out
Muscle response, control, and definition
Peace of mind that I have a back stretch, shoulder stretch, and hip stretch routine that will adapt my body every single day as I get older
My goal is to get you feeling that way without taking 18 years to do it :) - you can start 100% today. So here’s my
Quick Start Guide to a Stretching Practice
Focus on the Feeling, not the Pose. It doesn't matter what it looks like, it matters what it feels like. We are going to use poses to create feelings in the body - instead of “doing” poses to make shapes with the body. As soon as you feel the therapeutic stretch, you’re doing it perfectly - no matter how deep (or not) you are in the pose. In that sense, there’s no such thing as “I can’t do that pose” - in a Stretching Practice, the question becomes, “can I use this pose to make a new feeling somewhere?” (The answer is Yes). Even if you’re just slightly leaning in the direction of the pose and you make a stretching sensation, that is enough. Move through the poses with that feeling as a goal - just enough to tell you when you’re making a difference in your range of motion and blood circulation - give yourself a little mental high-five for it - and move on to the next.
You Are 100% Flexible Enough to Stretch. You can stretch right now while reading this - spread out your fingers wide, or raise your eyebrows a little more than normal until you feel it. Moving a part of your body to create a new therapeutic range of motion for a muscle is stretching. A Stretching Practice is just organizing those feelings in a way that leaves your muscles, joints, and whole self feeling better than before. Endurance is not part of a stretching practice (if you feel tired at the end, we need to change something). Intense cardio/calorie burn is not part of a stretching practice (do something else you like for that). But with this light engagement + high repetition approach you’ll feel the difference and see the changes in places you were tight - where it counts.
Wobbling = Strengthening. When you are trying to balance on one leg and rocking around to keep from falling, your brain is figuring out which muscles to fire up to keep you steady. So “my balance is terrible” just means your brain needs more wobbly time to organize your muscles. Wobble away and give the brain a chance to make your legs stronger.
Stretching = Strengthening. When you make a stretch feeling, you are activating muscles in a new way in order to create that feeling, re-awakening muscles you already have and deepening your brain-body connection. So you get stronger at the same time you are improving your range of motion and blood circulation. Very efficient!
Stretching = Better Breathing. We all know we need to breathe more deeply to keep calm. Even the Wall Street Journal is talking about the long term health benefits of breathing more than we generally do. But knowledge and intentions don’t always lead to actual improvement beyond a few deep breaths...why? Because as soon as our brain quits thinking about breathing and goes back to autopilot, we breathe only as deeply as the flexibility of our rib cage and breathing muscles there will allow. Want to breathe better without having to think about it? Target those muscles to stretch..
Stretching = Brain Power. When you are making a stretch feeling, your mind must be totally engaged. You can’t fake a stretch feeling - but you can fake a pose. It is totally possible to “do” a pose on autopilot when you’re really not feeling anything - or, worse - avoiding feeling anything just to “do” the pose (I did that for many years). Concentrating on making the stretch feeling guarantees a mind-body communication. Add up enough of those little brain-body signals, and you finish knowing yourself much better.
Stretching Changes With You. Tired that day? You can stretch. Not much time? You can stretch. Stuck in a chair? You can stretch. Used to be flexible? You can stretch. Never been flexible? You can stretch. Old? You can stretch. Stressed? You’d better stretch. Injured? You can stretch (maybe other body parts while the injury heals). Body doesn’t work the way it used to? You can stretch.
Stretching is Your Brain Thanking Your Muscles for temporarily holding stress away from the brain. In life, we let tension build up in the shoulders, tightness form in the hips, and restrictions close in our ribcage so the brain can keep thinking about what we are doing and not about how we are feeling. A Stretching Practice repays that favor and rebalances that energy from the brain back to the places we held the tightness, making us feel more centered and complete. In that way, I guess it sounds like yoga after all :)
Practice notes for the ⚡Electric Stretch⚡:
Go into the pose until you feel a stretch somewhere (depending on the pose/how you feel that day). You are looking for places in the body that are tight - places that our brains normally avoid because we don’t like the uncomfortable feeling while we are using the brain for daily life. Think about where you hold tension normally: Shoulders? Hips? Neck? All of the above? Make sure you reach those areas as much as possible. Key: adjust the depth of your pose so you can hold it there for a long time without getting tired - saving your brainpower for the muscle work.
Isolate and contract your arms muscles (biceps/triceps depending) 100% and then pulse them to 110% four times. Making a slightly deeper stretch (depending on the pose) each rep. Arm movement should be minimal so the joint is not absorbing the motion, the muscles are stretching to absorb the energy your brain is putting into them.
Isolate and contract your core muscles/”stomach”/abdominals/pelvic floor/Kegel muscles/muscles you use to keep from going to the bathroom to 100% and then pulse them to 110% four times. No control there yet? You’ll get it. When you try to contract one thing, ten things tighten? You will be able to refine over time.
Isolate and contract your legs muscles (thighs/quadriceps or glutes/butt muscles depending, sometimes pointed toes and sometimes pointed heels) to 100% first and then pulse to 110% four times.
You’re not trying to make yourself tired. You are using the pose to create a stretch and then opening/deepening the connection between your brain and particular parts of your body. Adjust your depth so the pose is about stretching, not endurance.
Start to pay attention to the way different muscle firings enhance the stretch on the opposite side of the body: pulsing thigh muscles release hamstrings, pulsing core muscles release low back muscles, pulsing arms muscles release back/shoulder muscles. Refine your muscle control to be able to target and release tension and you will not worry about tightness in your body any more, because you’ll know exactly how to deal with it :).