Secrets of Stretching

You can’t stretch like you fold laundry.

At least once each day, you’re going to be doing some stretching. It’s up to you whether you view it as yet another chore to do in the shortest possible time, and possibly with a sense of resentment (“didn’t I just stretch yesterday?”). But you can learn to love it, or at least experience the benefit enough to make it a cornerstone of your self-care routine. The secret of falling in love with stretching is to get interested and invest some energy into it.

Set the stage.

You’ve probably already claimed some space in your home for stretching and fitness. Or maybe you’re a daily visitor to a local gym. Either way, dress appropriately and make sure you have what you need to be comfortable. A proper closed-cell mat and a thick closed-cell pad if you are going onto one knee to stretch your psoas.  If your PT uses a prop that feels like it’s in the right zone of challenge, get one for yourself.

Practice ‘Single Moment, Single Activity’. 

Before beginning your first stretch, feel your feet on the floor and take a few breaths low in the belly as a transition from whatever you were doing before. Now bring your full attention to this new activity.

Be precise about time.

Get a timer app on your smartphone or tablet, or a clock with a prominent second hand. Stretch for the thirty seconds or minute that your PT recommends, and then transition without pause to the other side or next stretch. Within each stretch, inhale without straining, gently lengthening upward as if lifted from the top of your head, and with each exhale, relax into the stretch.

Be precise about the form.

PT exercises are intended to work certain muscles or muscle groups in specific ways. You don’t need to understand all the underlying anatomy and physiology, but the nuances of form are essential.  Maybe your tailbone is supposed to be tucked forward or neutral or tilted back.  Or you’re supposed to keep your scapula down, or “think tall”. Whatever gentle suggestions you receive from your PT, let them come to mind when you do that stretch, as you are likely repeating whatever mis-orientation your PT saw at your session.

Each stretch is different.

A quad stretch is a very different animal than a psoas stretch. There’s more range in one, and likely more tenderness in the other. Approach each stretch with curiosity. If you notice one side is more limited than the other, resist the temptation to make up a story about it, whether it’s an origin story or an idea about how one side is more something than the other. Just be with the stretch and breathe. That said, if one side is more restricted, you may want to stretch that side first and then return to it.

Keep breathing.

Whatever the intensity of the exertion, keep your oxygen flowing to your cells by continuing to breathe. Once you’ve been working on your core strength, you’ll learn to keep your core (your abdominal muscles) active while breathing. Just imagine that your abdomen is drawn in towards your spine, and let your breath expand laterally and to the back.

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