by Princess Draupadi
Why Should I Stretch More?
The human body loses flexibility as a natural part of the aging process. General body stiffness can lead to various problems in later life. This includes inexplicable aches and pain, which is often a result of ‘tightness’ in certain parts of the body. Incorporating stretching as part of your regular exercise routine will ensure your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints stay healthy and youthfully supple.
My Personal Challenges
I’ve got one major disadvantage as a yogi. Namely? I’m stiff. Yes, weird as it sounds, my body, though naturally slim, is extremely inflexible. I envy my yogi friends who can do splits in mid-air, turn into wheels and perform superhuman feats in flexibility (Sivananda Acharyas, think Osheyani). It’s amazing what some of them can do. What takes me ages to accomplish in terms of flexibility, my friends do it like it’s a walk in the park. It doesn’t help that I am desk-bound most of the day due to my job.
But guess what? I can’t complain because I choose to do it. Complaining doesn’t make things any better either. In other words, I can eventually push myself to do things like full splits – it just takes a lot of pain and an insane amount of effort.
A Note about Stretching and Strength-Building
Flexibility and strength-building must go hand-in-hand for optimal health results and to prevent injury. Think ballerinas – they look frail, but they’re incredibly strong for their size. Can you imagine the strength required in the various leg muscles and joints to dance en pointe for long hours? It comes from a lot of intense and varied muscle training exercises, plus a ton of discipline. So, if you’d like to start working out and stretching more to gain more flexibility, I’ve got a few tips for you.
Follow these 4 easy steps to stretch safely and prevent injury.
Step 1: Have a hot bath. It may seem odd to shower before you work out. However, if your body is really stiff, this is an excellent way to warm up those rigid bodily tissues. You’ll find that after a hot shower, your body becomes more fluid and pliable. You can also stretch more easily and hold the stretch with less pain.
Step 2: ALWAYS warm-up before you start stretching. Any kind of light to moderate full-body exercise is considered adequate warm-up. About 20 reps of hatha yoga Sun Salutation, light jogging, brisk walking or cycling will all work. The key here is to get your muscles warmed up enough to be stretched. Attempting to stretch cold muscles will almost certainly guarantee an injury or serious damage.
Step 3: Go slow and take it easy. If your job requires long hours of sitting down, you may quickly realize that your body has gotten pretty stiff from all that forced immobility. If you haven’t done any serious stretching in a long time, it’s important to take it easy for the first 2 to 3 weeks. Trying to push yourself too hard too fast will only backfire, especially if you tear something. Be gentle and ease into stretches gently. Stop if there is pain. Breathe deeply when holding your stretches – this gets more oxygen into your blood and subsequently, your muscles. Try holding each stretch longer and longer each time, gradually building up the waiting time. Finally, try to stretch every day or as often as possible, as persistence equals progress.
Step 4. Increase your range of motion on a daily basis. The last thing you want after all that pain and effort is to become stiff all over again. Increasing your range of motion means using your body in ways you don’t normally do in terms of exercise; for instance, kicking higher or stretching into a front split while watching TV. You need to ‘use’ every bit of flexibility you gain with your continual efforts, or you will eventually get rigid. Try some ballet inspired exercises – if you don’t have a dance barre to stretch on, improvise with household furniture. If you play sports, try kicking or jumping higher.