This highly valuable tool is often overlooked when addressing health needs.
For the Drivers who don’t have time to read the text below. Stretch, your IQ will increase.
For the Expressives whose mind will be onto other things before the end. Stretch, your flexibility will improve personal relationships (not sure if that is true but it sounds good).
For everyone else, enjoy.
Let’s first take a look at the overall picture. There are 5 healthy habits. Yes you know them by now, they are nutrition (including hydration), rest (including meditation), cleanliness, a positive mental attitude (including emotional awareness and emotional maturity) and Exercise!!
The latter, exercise, is further broken down into 3 types, strength, stamina and suppleness. Today we are just looking at suppleness.
What are the benefits?
The basic three are that you feel good, you decrease the chance of injury and you enhance your flexibility. But as well as this you also reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, reduce anxiety, stress and fatigue, improve posture(!), enhance muscle coordination, increase range of motion of the joints (we’ll come back to this), enhance kinaesthetic intelligence (and this), and reduce muscle soreness.
So there is a lot to be said for taking a few minutes each day to stretch out.
Now to the practicalities of stretching. Only use stretching to warm down, not to warm up! (Do warm up before exercise, only do not use stretching to achieve it). This will lessen the chances of injury as well.
So what is stretching, why is it painful? Do you think the pain is because the muscle itself is tight? That the muscle fibres are all bunched up and need to be pulled out? Well actually what is muscle without a nerve supply? To answer that question take a look in your local butchers. The only reason a muscle holds tension is because the nerve system tells it to hold tension. Without nerve supply muscles are slabs of meat…
We call the amount of tension a muscle holds its tone. High muscle tone therefore is a tight muscle with limited movement, not because the muscle fibres are tight, but because the nerves tell the muscles to be tight.
So when we stretch the pain we feel is the nerve system saying, “Er, are you sure about this? If you continue to lengthen this muscle I cannot guarantee the integrity of the joint over which the muscle passes”. This or “ARRGGGHHH stop stretching joint may snap”. Either way, the pain is your nerve system staying within self-imposed limits to protect a joint the best way it knows how, by limiting movement.
When we stretch therefore we are not pulling out muscle fibres, but in fact retraining the nerve system to a new safe distance of movement. What our conscious mind is saying is “now, now I know you think you need to hold tight, but in actual fact you can let go and everything will be ok”, well that or “Loosen up man, it’s all cool, I’ve got this.”
By connecting with the nerves that supply muscles, by consciously breathing into the muscle that is being stretched, you are also strengthening the nerves that provide feedback from the muscles. This builds awareness – you gradually become more and more subtly aware of how much tension a muscle holds so that you can make more and more subtle adaptions in response to stress, stored stress and muscle tension. A stronger nerve system and better feedback from the body’s muscles increases kinaesthetic intelligence, one of the seven core intelligences and the one in which David Beckham is considered a genius…
Therefore, stretch every day, to reduce pain and increase intelligence, oh and improve posture!!
Remember to hold the stretches for 20 seconds and alternate sides between stretches, practicing for three times on each side. i.e. 2 minutes of stretching for each muscle. As a minimum stretch hip flexors and upper trapezius muscles every day.
Upper Trapezius (side of neck to along the top of the shoulder blade)
o Patient position – Patient begins seated on an exercise ball with arms hanging by their sides.
o Motion – Reach over and place the right palm on the left side of the head. Slowly bring the head to the right while pulling the.left shoulder to the floor until stretch is felt. Only use the hand for guidance, do not pull with the hand.
o Duration – Hold stretch for 3x 20 seconds and repeat on the other side
Iliopsoas – (Front of hip)
o Patient position – With one knee on the floor the opposite foot is out in front of the body with the ankle slightly in front of the knee. The body remains upright, imagine a straight line from the shoulder through the hip and down to the knee on the floor.
o Motion – Tail bone is tucked under the body with very slight forward movement until the stretch is felt at the top of the leg of the knee on the floor.
o Duration – Hold stretch for 3x 20 seconds, alternating between sides.