A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE IS A WEALTHY LIFESTYLE.
DO YOU START YOUR DAY THE RIGHT WAY?
What is the first thing you do in the morning when you open your eyes? Before you think about coffee. You stretch out your arms and legs from the sleeping position you are in and prepare to stand. Stretching is instinctive for humans and animals after a long night’s sleep and the benefits are more than you think. In this article, we delve deeper into the art of stretching and show you how to maximise your ‘morning stretch’.
Stretching not only feels good when you wake up, but it also does good. Sleeping in the same position overnight can result in stiffness due to lack of movement. Blood pressure and heart rate also drop and rest during this time, which means that you need to do more than just open your eyes in order to wake the body up every morning. The purpose of stretching is to alert the brain to the fact you are awake. The brain then sends signals to the muscles, alerting them to also ‘wake up’. Stretching helps to get the blood flowing again throughout the body, increases energy levels and reduces the risk of injury while you are awake and active. More energy at the start of your day means less stress and increased productivity.
We spoke to Vanessa Morton at ‘The Yoga Space’ in Pegeia for some expert guidance on her most recommended stretching exercises (or yoga postures). We also discussed the health benefits and contraindications of each.
1. Child’s Pose – Balasana
The Child’s Pose is a calming and centering yoga posture which encourages the relaxation response, stretches the quads and lengthens the lower body. Anyone suffering from knee problems, frail knees or arthritis are best to avoid this posture.
- From kneeling, bring the big toes to touch and take the knees slightly wider than a hip’s distance apart.
- Release the hips towards the heels and soften the groin.
- Reach the arms out in front, a good shoulder distance apart. If the shoulders are stiff, it is ok to go wider apart. Explore and see what feels right for you.
- Lengthen the sides of the body from the outer hip to the outer wrist.
- Try to keep the forearms lifting away from the floor. Arms straight.
- Spread the fingers and root the entire circumference of the palm into the earth and rebound up through the inner upper arms.
- If you feel tension in your neck, it may feel more comfortable to stack your hands underneath your forehead.
- BREATHE – Take a slow, full breath in through your nose and notice the back of the chest expand whilst the ribs widen. As you exhale through the nose, see if you can sink the buttocks back down toward the heels. Feel the spine gently relax over the thighs.
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths, or however long feels good for you.
2. Cat & Cow – Bidalasana
The Cat and Cow posture increases circulation in the back and shoulder muscles. It helps you to establish an even and conscious breathing pattern and develops awareness of where the spine moves easily and where it feels restricted. Regarding the lower back, be mindful not to overarch and keep the navel to the spine. Regarding the neck, try not to extend through the chin; lead with the chest. If the wrists are sensitive, try coming on to the fist of the hand instead. Knees can be supported with a blanket.
- From a Table Top Position, bring the hands underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips. Straighten the arms and line the creases of the wrists so they are parallel to the top edge of your yoga mat.
- INHALE Cow Stretch.
- Reach the chest forward, press the shoulder blades into the chest and draw the shoulders back away from the ears.
- Arch the back, lengthen from the pubic bone to the sternum (chest) and distribute the stretch evenly along the entire length of the spine. Spread the collar bones wide. (Avoid overarching the lower back)
- EXHALE Cat Stretch.
- Round the back completely from the tailbone all the way to the crown of the head and spread across the shoulder blades, flexing the spine.
- Keep drawing the navel to the spine.
- BREATHE – One breath, one movement.
- Take several rounds of Cat and Cow, or more if it feels good.
3. Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana
This posture will come with practice, patience and discipline. It increases the range of motion in the shoulders and strengthens the upper body whilst stretching the hamstrings and calves. Props and/or alternatives can be used for this posture. Avoid this posture if you have high or low blood pressure, history of a stroke, glaucoma or detached retina.
- Take the palms a little wider than shoulder width and the wrists parallel to the front edge of the yoga mat. Tuck the toes and lift the hips into the air.
- Move the chest back toward the thighs and relax the head – arms straight! Inversion.
- Roll the shoulders away from the ears.
- Press the floor away with your hands to lengthen the arms and back up.
- Keep the neck in line with the spine.
- If the hamstrings (back of the legs) are tight, keep the knees bent and the heels lifted. It’s more important to keep the hips high and the spine straight than to get the soles of the feet to the ground.
- Relax the eyes.
- BREATHE – Take deep breaths, drawing the navel to the spine on exhalation.
4. Standing Forward Bend – Uttanasana
This yoga posture stretches the hamstrings and inner thigh muscles. This is the perfect position for lowering blood pressure and has a cooling and calming effect on the brain. This exercise is not recommended to anyone suffering from disc disease or disc herniation. Also, avoid this if you have a history of reflux, hiatal hernia, glaucoma or detached retina.
- From the Downward Facing Dog, walk your feet toward the hands and let the upper body hang.
- Have your feet hip-distance apart and root down the four corners of the feet.
- Hinge from your hips rather than from the waist.
- The neck, head and eyes are relaxed, and the knees bent to start with. If there’s no tension in your lower back, you can slowly start to straighten your legs.
- As you inhale, find length through the spine, exhale and the head moves slowly towards the feet.
- 10 breaths here and you’ll feel a foot taller.
5. Standing Side Stretch – Parsva Urdhva Hastasana
The Standing Side Stretch stretches and strengthens the hips, legs, ankles and side of the body, increasing the range of motion (lateral flexion). While this posture is ideal for toning the waist and tummy, the psoas muscles and upper thigh muscles also get a good stretch. This stretching position improves overall posture and helps with better use of the lungs and increasing oxygen; strengthening the heart. This yoga posture is not recommended to anyone suffering injuries to the lower back (lumbar) or that suffers with sciatica, neck or shoulder problems.
- Stand tall, legs together, hands by the side of your thighs (Mountain Pose)
- Open up the chest, keep the spine erect.
- Place your hands together in front of the chest and interlock fingers from both hands. Release the index finger towards the sky.
- Inhale slowly and raise your hands upwards, over the head.
- Stretch your hands straight, touching the biceps to the ears.
- Now, while exhaling slowly, bend sideways to your left side, keeping the hands straight and biceps touching the ears.
- Stay at the last point you reached and feel the stretch on the opposite (right) side, from the waist to the shoulders and hands.
- Now, inhale slowly and come up to the centre.
- Again, exhale, and this time, bend sideways to your right side.
- Keep your biceps touched to your ears and bend sideways as much as possible.
- Stay at the last point and feel the stretch on the opposite (left) side.
- Stay as long as you can.
- Remember to breathe, then inhale again and come back to the centre.
- Exhale and come back to Mountain Pose.
- You can move dynamically between sides and hold each side for 3-5 breaths.
6. Tree Pose – Vrksasana
The Tree Pose strengthens the thighs, calves, ankles and spine, all whilst stretching the groins and inner thighs. This yoga posture will improve balance over time and relieves sciatica and flat feet. The Tree Pose is not recommended to anyone that suffers with headaches, insomnia, low or high blood pressure. It is also not recommended to anybody that is frail or has difficulty standing, suffers with osteoporosis, inner ear or balance problems.
- Stand in Mountain Pose.
- Shift your weight slightly onto the left foot, keeping the inner foot firm to the floor, and bend your right knee.
- Reach down with your right hand and clasp your right ankle.
- Draw your right foot up and place the sole against the inner left thigh; if possible, press the right heel into the inner left groin, toes pointing to the floor.
- The centre of your pelvis should be directly over the left foot.
- Rest your hands on the top rim of your pelvis. Make sure the pelvis is in a neutral position, not tipping forward nor back.
- Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor.
- Firmly press the right foot sole against the inner thigh and resist with the outer left leg.
- Press your hands together in a prayer position and gaze softly at a fixed point in front of you, on the floor, about 4 or 5 feet away.
- You can challenge yourself and raise your arms above the head.
- Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. BREATHE.
- Step back to Mountain Pose with an exhalation and repeat for the same length of time on the other leg.
- Return to Mountain Pose.
Finish off by taking a few moments in gratitude for beginning your day the right way.
For more information about the exercises or for additional guidance on a routine best suited to your physical ability, please contact Vanessa direct on 99 289134 or visit her Facebook page for details on classes at @VanessaMortonYoga.
Article by Cyprus in Style Magazine.