About a year ago, I injured my leg during a run. Nothing too serious. But enough to keep me off the pavement for about 4-6 weeks. I knew that one of the main causes of the injury was due to not stretching properly before or after my runs. So I decided to dedicate the time I would have spent running, on stretching.
I laid out my yoga mat in the living room, turned on Pandora, and started stretching my legs. What started out as just a 30-minute stretch each day, focused on hamstrings, shins and calves, developed into hours spent stretching my entire body.
Listen To What Your body Is Telling You
Our bodies have a way of telling us exactly what is wrong and how to fix it. It can do this in very obvious ways, such as a stomach virus, or in this case, my injured leg. Other times you have to dig a little deeper.
By taking the time to really focus on stretching and listening to what my body was telling me, I realized how many other areas of my body could benefit from these techniques. And over time, these variations were no longer a warm up; they became the focal point of my practice. I would easily spend 2 hours at a time just stretching.
When we focus on what we are doing, at the very moment we are doing it, we begin noticing things that would otherwise go unnoticed if distractions were present. By focusing solely on a stretch or any movement, we begin to understand that it’s a combination of muscles and even joints that are restricting or allowing for those ranges of motion. It’s not just the legs; it’s also hips, back, shoulders, and even the neck. Everything is connected in our bodies (I know, duh), but just think about that for a second.
Your body is constantly talking to you. If you have lower back pain or knee issues, these are signs that your body is trying to communicate with you and let you know it’s time to change something.
Stretching has numerous benefits, and as we get older we become more susceptible to muscle strains or other soft tissue injuries so it becomes more important to incorporate stretching to our routine. While it doesn’t directly prevent or reverse injuries, it does allow movements to become more fluid and improves blood flow to muscles. It also improves posture and flexibility and increases energy levels.
Mentally, stretching has allowed me to establish a closer relationship with myself, overcome anxiety and eliminate a number of other ailments I have struggled with for years. It’s difficult to say which of these are directly attributed to my stretching if some are from diet or a combination of both. But since my lifestyle change, I’ve seen nothing but improvements.
I’m not suggesting you follow my routine; you have to do what works for you and what your body needs. And you’re the only one that can figure that out. No one else can do that for you. But I’ll make some suggestions.
“30-60 minutes of being uncomfortable, is better than being uncomfortable your entire life.”
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, take about 30 minutes for yourself and follow these steps.
- Grab a mat or towel, and just sit there for about 2 minutes as you silence your thoughts
- Extend your legs straight out, touching the heels of your feet together
- Reach over to try and grab your toes or ankles
- Hold the position in a way that is not too painful, but still uncomfortable
- Without thinking about the pain (which I know, is hard at first) hold that position for as long as you can
- After you get past what I call the “transition period” where your body is adjusting to the new information, do a quick scan of your body; from head to toe (I actually start with my toes, but it’s up to you)
- Notice how your toes feel, your ankles, knees, hips, back etc. You’ll start to notice all the areas in your body that are tight
- Pinpoint the area that is most uncomfortable, take a deep breath. As you breathe out, focus just on that area. Direct all of your attention to that one space as you slowly let go of your breath
- Take another deep breath, trust yourself and extend a little further
“If you want to change you have to be willing to be uncomfortable”
If you’re just getting started with this, don’t push it too far because you can injure yourself. Just start with the areas that are tightest for now. The goal eventually is to just let go, and by focusing your thoughts and energy on your movements, you’ll start to recognize the signals your body is emitting.
“Your body can do anything…It’s just your brain you have to convince.”
Everything is mental, and the more I’ve let these areas go, the more I see it translate to other aspects of my life. Most breathing exercises that create self-awareness have a direct impact on your overall attitude.
Life is funny. It took an injury to force me to not only recognize the importance of stretching but also realize how much I actually love it. Don’t allow an injury be the reason for you to get started. Just start today, start now!
“By stretching yourself beyond your perceived level of confidence you accelerate your development of competence.”