I grew up dancing at my Mother's studio and always admired the ballerinas who effortlessly had their legs up to their ears. I would spend hours a day training and then after training, go home and stretch until bed. So much so that my nickname growing us was 'Stretch". I got my first yoga book at the age of 14 and started to try to copy some of the more contortionists type poses. This planted a seed of possibilities into my head that I have strived for ever since. Many of you know that I have battled severe rheumatoid arthritis. After almost a year of being completely immobile, I had to start from scratch. I felt stiffer than the tin man. Each joint felt like it needed oil or lubrication and my muscles were frozen tight. I started very simple, from the ground up. I mean bending my legs and arms was a lot for me at the time. But each day I did some sort of movement or stretching, as minor as it was. My original intention was just to be able to put my shoes on again and to help keep my Rheumatoid Arthritis at bay but through dedication and discipline I got my mojo back. Today I continue to stretch every single day, even on my off days or days that I'm too tired to work out. There is no excuse to not stretch.
Here are some tips that will help you Stretch.
1. Give yourself 5 minutes every day to stretch. I often stretch in bed, before I go to sleep. I have an elastic band or you can use a towel and I put it around my foot. Both legs straight, one straight up towards the ceiling,other leg flat on the ground. This gets deep into the hamstrings but doing it laying down gives you the ability to focus on the stretch and less on the balance. The key is to stay there long enough for the hamstrings to lengthen. I recommend at least 30 seconds to one minute each leg.
2. Hot Epsom Salt Baths. I am a big advocate of epsom salt or mineral salt baths. They are great for your over all well-being and warm up your body perfectly to stretch afterwards. I recommend soaking for 15-30 minutes. Putting on warm clothes, including socks afterwards to keep the heat in and using this time that your body is warm to stretch and open up. I love putting my bum up against the wall and opening my legs into a wide split, letting gravity take over. Ending the day in a slight inversion is also great for your overall wellness and will encourage a great nights sleep.
3. Make the effort. For most of us not born double jointed. Flexibility is muscle memory. So it has to be done repeatedly to see results. Don't get frustrated. Find peace within the stretch. Every time you push a little bit more, you become more flexible. Refrain from pain. Find the balance between pushing too hard and not enough, then sit in that space for as long as you can. Every little bit counts. Remember a couple of years ago I couldn't walk or dress myself due to stiff joints.
4. Use your breath. When we are stiff, fear takes over and we tend to tighten up our muscles even more and then we retain our breath causing us to get stuck and stiff. Instead use your breath to encourage your body to open up. Get into a stretch, inhale and let go on the exhale. Open your mouth wide on the exhale to mimic what you want your body to do.Always come back to the breathe when you get stuck or stagnant.
5. Get creative with stretching. I often stretch during family movie night or while I'm on the phone. I try to use my time wisely so that I don't feel like I have to stop my world to stretch. I just incorporate it into my life. That truly is the key to overall well being. It is small things every day that become part of your life.
*Flexibility is achieved through practice.Just like a beginner pianist is not going to know how to play a Concerto overnight. It takes years of discipline and effort.