Thursday, September 28, 2023

Stretches to Start Your Day

Even after eight hours of a good night’s sleep, do you find yourself feeling lethargic and stiff? If so, it might be time to be done with the snooze button and refresh your morning with some stretches.

You don’t have to run a marathon the minute you open your eyes but a few stretches to get your blood flowing and kickstart your day is never a bad idea.

Morning stretches are also a great way to maintain your flexibility, improve your posture and warm up your muscles for the day.

You can actually begin stretching in bed, once your sleep is broken, lie in bed flat on your back, eyes shut, legs stretched out, and focus on your breathe, with each breathe, give gratitude for the new day, then focus on your stretched legs. Stretch them out, point your toes, flex your feet 2-3 times, circle your ankles clock wise and counter clock wise 2-3 times, finally bend your knees, twist to one side, then the other, again 2-3 times, then sit up, dangle your legs, prees your feet to the ground and stand slowly. This routine prepares your body for the day after a restful night.

Once you have done your personal hygeine bit, spend ten to fifteen minutes doing these stretches followed by a twenty minute walk if possible. These stretches can really make a difference to your body and mind and even set the tone for the rest of your day.

You will feel rejeuvenated and energetic.

Below are a few easy stretches that involve holding a position for about 15 to 30 seconds to help set off a relaxation response in your muscles.

  1. Child’s Pose —

This pose stretches out many muscles in your body. It stretches out your spine, opens up your hips, pelvis and thighs, also calms the brain and relieves stress and fatigue.

  • Begin on all fours on your yoga mat.
  • Make sure your knees are directly under your hips and your big toes are kissing each other. If having your toes touch puts too much pressure on your knees, keep them slightly apart.
  • Inhale and feel your spine grow longer, inch by inch.
  • As you exhale, take your buttocks back to your heels and tuck your chin towards your chest.
  • Stay in this position with your forehead touching the ground and your arms stretched out.
  • Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and focus on your breath. Repeat 2-3 times
  1. Neck Stretch —

A simple neck stretch can release pent up tension. Be gentle while doing this stretch as most peoples necks tend to be quite stiff in the morning.

  • Start by slowly bringing your left ear down toward your left shoulder.
  • Lightly use your left hand and pull the right side of your head toward your left shoulder. This should bring your left ear and shoulder closer together.
  • Hold this position for 15 seconds and focus on your breathing.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  1. Cat-Cow Pose —

These two poses are done together. This flow increases the circulation of spinal fluid, lubricates your back, stretches and elongates your back and torso while gently massaging the organs in your abdominal area and relieving any built up stiffness and tension in your spine, abs and back.

  • Start on all fours in a tabletop position. Your spine should be straight and your shoulders should be over your wrists. Relax your shoulders and look straight.
  • As you inhale, curl your toes, drop your belly, arch your back and move into the cow section of this flow. Make sure your shoulders are rolled back and down.
  • Look slightly upward toward the ceiling.
  • As you exhale, press your hands into the ground, tuck your tailbone and round your upper back. Round your back like a lynx and flow into cat pose.
  • Repeat this flow for 5 to 10 breaths.
  1. Glute Bridges —

This exercise is best done on the floor but a semi hard bed is also fine. You should also avoid this stretch if you have any problems with your back, abdomen, knee  or ankles. The glute bridge opens up your hips, stretches it out and even strengthens your glutes and hamstrings.

  • Lie on your back with your arms by your side and your palms facing down.
  • Bend your knees and keep them hip-width apart while your feet are firmly flat on the floor.
  • Lift your hips, keeping your arms flat by your side.
  • Your weight should be on your feet and you should feel the stretch in your glutes instantly.
  • Hold this position for 3 to 5 breaths.
  • Slowly lower your hips back down until you are back to your starting position.
  • Repeat this for 3 to 5 cycles.
  1. Side Stretch —

Here’s a simple way to open up your chest and shoulders. This stretch can be done seated or standing.

  • Stand or sit tall with your feet hip width apart and your hands by your sides.
  • Keep your core engaged and reach for the sky with your right arm and bend sideways to your left side.
  • Allow your left hand to slide down your leg until you feel a deep stretch in the right side of your flank and torso.
  • Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat it on the other side.
  1. Knees To Chest Stretch —

I like to call this stretch the hugging yourself stretch.  Holding your knees towards your chest boosts blood flow to all your vital organs, reduces bloating and improves digestion.

  • Start by laying on your back with your knees bent and arms by your side.
  • Slowly bring your knees as close to your chest as possible.
  • Hug your knees with both hands.
  • Focus on your breath and hold the stretch for at least 8 to 10 counts.
  1. Downward Facing Dog —

This pose resets your nervous system, calms the brain down and energizes the body. This mild inversion stretch is extremely therapeutic for sciatica pain and fatigue. A lot of your body is working and stretching in this pose.

  • Go on all fours, inhale, straighten your arms, raise your hips and straighten your legs.
  • As you exhale, press into your hands and roll your shoulders down and back.
  • Your spine should be neutral in this position.
  • Your heels don’t have to be touching the ground here (it doesn’t reach the ground for most people) but work on trying to touch your feet to the ground.
  1. Cobra Pose —

This yoga pose will stretch you right out and you can slither into the rest of your day, stiffness free.

  • Lie on your stomach with your hands pressed near your shoulders.
  • Tuck your elbows in by either side.
  • Gently raise your head and chest while your hips and pelvic area remain glued to the floor. This is the baby cobra pose
  • If this feels good you can take it a step further by lifting your stomach while your hips and pelvis continue to be stuck to the floor. Now you are a full fledged cobra.
  • Hold this pose for 5 breaths and repeat a few more times to reap all the benefits.
  1. Happy Baby Pose —

Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you can’t be a baby for a few minutes every morning to release and pent up tension in your thighs, hips, groin and back.

  • Lie on your back and bring both your knees to your chest.
  • Grab both feet from the outside or grab your big toes.
  • With your knees bent, pull your feet toward your armpits so your knees are spread wide.
  • Press your shoulders and back upwards and flatten your spine.
  • Rock from side to side for 8 to 10 counts.

Tips for stretching safely —

Stretching is supposed to help prevent problems and not cause them. Make sure you take every precaution while doing your morning stretches, you can do three to four different poses on alternate days instead of all nine.

  • Listen to your body- Do what makes your body happy. While it is good to motivate and push yourself, do not overdo it.
  • Watch your posture- proper form and posture is key when it comes to stretching. This helps prevent accidental injuries.
  • Breathe- Your breath is so much more powerful than you think. Breathing helps your blood circulate and relaxes your body. Rely on your breath!
  • Don’t rush through the pose- Hold the pose and give your body enough time to respond to each stretch. No jerky movements.

 The takeaway —

Everyone has their own morning routine. Incorporating light stretching into your morning madness can do a whole lot of good. You’ll stimulate your organs, your brain, your muscles and set the tone for the rest of your day.

Stretching every morning doesn’t take much out of you and it pays off!

Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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