A stretching series to help you better manage stress
How are you? We ask this important question a lot throughout the day, sometimes even to strangers. But when’s the last time you redirected this meaningful question inward?
More than ever, our brains have a significant number of tension-triggering events to process. And while there is no getting around the fact that stress is an inevitable component of life, we must find ways to manage it to preserve our welfare.
When left uncontrolled, stress overwhelms all facets of life. It impacts our ability to think clearly, operate fully, and feel content, and can even impair physical wellness by spiking blood pressure and hurting heart health. Chronic stress is a silent killer. But with the right skillset, it doesn’t have to be.
November is the perfect time to check in with yourself. By prioritizing your needs now, you can better enjoy the holidays, keep up with the dashing pace of December, cope with the colder months ahead, and feel more at peace.
Over the next three weeks, you can sharpen your tension-taming tool kit by learning stress-reducing exercises such as stretching, meditation, and mindfulness-based aerobics. When we are under pressure, stress tends to accumulate and the longer we carry this weight with us, the more fatigued and burned out the body feels. That’s why, to kick off this calming course, you’ll begin by learning the power of stretching.
In just 15 minutes, you can release soreness and stiffness from the knotted muscles that cause daily discomfort and interfere with your ability to function at your best.
For this, you will need a yoga mat (or a carpeted floor), and a long resistance band (or body towel). Before you begin, create a setting where you can relax. Turn off devices, find a space that’s comfortable and without distractions, and wear loose-fitting clothing that allows your body to move freely. Don’t hesitate to light your favorite candle and play calming music.
Sit tall with legs crossed. Take a deep breath. On the exhale, try to release any tension from your body. Drop your shoulders, pull your shoulder blades back, open your mouth slightly to relax your jaw, close your eyes, and keep your hands open with palms up.
Slowly bring your chin down toward your chest, hold for 10 counts, then lift up toward the sky for 10 counts. Now look over your right shoulder for 10, back to center, then to the left for 10. From here, roll your head to the right five counts, followed by five to the left.
Continue to sit with your legs crossed and take a deep breath to lengthen your spine. Lower your right arm to the floor so your weight is resting on your forearm.
Take another deep breath and bring your left arm up and over your head so your fingertips are pointed to the right. Feel the little muscle between your ribs open. Hold for 20 seconds. When ready to return to center, take another deep breath in and exhale as you sit back into the starting position and extend your right arm overhead.
Rest on your back and draw your knees into your chest. Lightly grasp your legs just below your knees.
Hold this position as you massage your lower back against the floor by gently rocking back and forth, remembering to breathe evenly as you go. Continue for 30 counts.
Remain on your back with legs bent and both feet flat on the floor. Using a resistance band, place the center in the middle of your right foot.
Keep your lower back in contact with the floor as you extend your right leg into the air. The goal is to have a straight leg and flat foot, but only lengthen it as much as your muscles will comfortably let you. Hold for 20 seconds.
It’s important that you keep your upper body relaxed. Your neck will want to brace, and when this happens we tend to hold our breath. Focus on remaining relaxed. Repeat on the opposite side.
Continue to rest on your back. Extend your arms and legs out to your sides, palms up. Take all the time you need to stay in this peaceful position. Keep your mind clear, breath steady, and enjoy.
These exercises are intended to reduce stress. However, they are not a substitute for seeking professional help from a licensed mental-health professional. If you need a referral, try starting with your primary health care provider.
Ashley Blake Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach in South Jersey. Learn more about her virtual training program at ashleyblakefitness.com.