Just because you can’t go to the gym or take your favorite yoga class, doesn’t mean you can’t stay active. Now, more than ever, it’s important to move your body and keep active — for both your physical and mental health.
In this week’s post, we suggest a daily dose of stretching and yoga. Both are good for the body and good for the soul — any time of course, but especially in April, which is Stress Awareness Month.
Jess Hamilton, manager of the fitness centers at Texas Health Neighborhood Care & Wellness Burleson, Fort Worth and Willow Park, gave us a few tips last week about cardiovascular training. But no matter the exercise, she suggests first and foremost to listen to your body.
“If you work out hard and you’re sore and need to take a full day off, then you need to take a full day off,” says Hamilton, who’s been a certified yoga instructor for 20 years. “But you should be stretching every single day. It helps you maintain mobility and independence throughout your lifetime.”
If you don’t stretch, you’re tightening one area of the body and generally elongating muscles in another area. By sitting at a desk, for instance, all hunched over as you type on your computer, you’re tightening your chest muscles which in turn causes your back muscles to lengthen and weaken.
“It’s a snowball effect,” Hamilton says. “Your posture gets bad in the upper body, which moves into the lower body and affects your hamstrings.”
To offset that, stretch one leg out as you’re sitting, she says. Keeping your spine straight, bend over. Hold for an inhale and exhale, then repeat on the other side. Another desk stretch: Sit tall, press your shoulders down while you reach your arms behind you and grab the back of the chair.
But before even sitting at your desk, start by stretching when you wake up, before your feet even hit the floor. Lie on your back, reaching your arms over your head and pointing your toes toward the foot of the bed. Strrrrretttchhh. Does that feel grand?
Another way to get stretching in is through yoga. Yoga is good for flexibility, strength and balance. But, Hamilton adds, it also provides a deeper connection.
“It’s a time to slow down,” she says, “to let your stress and anxiety go away and to take care of yourself. It’s taking a step back from our lives and being able to live in the moment. You’re not anxious about what happened before or what will happen after. You’re trying to center the body and live in the moment and feel the body breathing.”
Which brings us to the main fundamental of yoga: breath. You want to focus on your breath, on breathing deeply and slowly through your diaphragm and not shallowly through your chest. Your belly should expand when you inhale and contract when you exhale.
OK, ready for a few poses? Here are three. Ideally, do three rounds of each.
Bird dog pose
Get on your hands and knees. As you inhale to the count of four, slowly extend your left leg straight back. If you feel stable, reach your right arm straight ahead. Keep your hips and shoulders square while bracing your core. Exhale to the count of four, bringing your arm and your leg back to the floor. Do the same on the other side and repeat four more times.
Modification: If you can’t do a standard bird dog, Hamilton says to instead work on pulling your navel to your spine as you keep a nice straight back. Raise your right arm without shifting your hips. Alternate arms, then do it one leg at a time.
Once you get the hang of that, you can toughen the workout. With arm and leg out, pull the knee and together and extend out again. “Movement is slow and controlled,” Hamilton says.
Wide-legged forward fold
Stand with your legs wide apart, toes facing forward. As you inhale, place your hands on your lower back. Lean back in a slight backbend. As you inhale, fold forward, reaching to the ground. Keep knees soft or bend them deeply as needed.
Modification: If you feel dizzy as you bend over, Hamilton says, put a chair in front of you. Keeping your knees soft, lean forward so you can feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Rest your hands on the back of the chair and rest your head on your hands.
“Exhale as you fold,” she says. “Stay folded for about a minute, inhaling to the count of five, pausing, exhaling to the count of five.”
Yoga supine pigeon
Supine pigeon pose. Start on your back, legs outstretched. As you inhale, hug your right knee into your chest. Exhale, placing your right knee into your right hand or the crease of your elbow.
Your right shin should now be perpendicular to your body. Slowly pull the shin towards your face, keeping the right foot in dorsal flexion. Once complete, switch sides. Repeat four more times.