Did you know that our natural flexibility starts to decrease as early as our teenage years? Doing a regular morning stretch routine will help keep your body flexible, all the while helping your blood flow, reducing back pain and muscular tension, decreasing stress and improving your overall well being. Inspired by yoga, these five simple exercises should not take more than ten minutes of your morning. Try them at home and see how your day gets off to a better start!
The Chest Stretch
Upper back and neck pain affect many of us, thanks in part to long hours spent in front of computers. While that kind of pain is undoubtedly caused by tensed upper back muscles, our pectoral muscles have their share of responsibility as well. Tensed pectoral muscles cause your shoulders to bend forward and add extra strain to the upper back. Stretching them on a regular basis will greatly reduce back pain.
To stretch them properly, join hands behind your back, your fingers and palms pointing towards you, your arms straight. Push your shoulders back, stick your shoulder blades together and gently raise your hands while keeping your arms straight.
If you want this chest stretch to be even more intense, bend your torso forward with your hands still joined behind your back and your arms straight.
The Upper Back Stretch
Nicknamed “plague of the century”, upper back pain bothers countless people and is responsible for many injuries. What’s most annoying about it is it’s pretty hard to get rid of. Starting the day by giving a good stretch to those tense muscles will help you calm this persistent pain.
Start by turning your head slowly from left to right – as if you were saying “no” – then up and down – as when you nod “yes”. Next, bend your shoulders forward as far as you can and fold your head downward as if you wanted to touch your chest with your forehead. Slightly bend your knees and join your hands behind them. In that – awkward – position, stretch the upper back and the neck by pushing forward, as if you were trying to stand straight up.
Keep stretching for about 20 seconds, then relax and repeat one more time.
The Torso Twist
Twisting your torso will relieve your spine and relax your back muscles. To prepare your body to the relative intensity of a torso twist, start by rotating your torso from left to right while standing up, letting your arms swing freely. Then, lie down flat on the floor on your back. Bend your legs – both your hips and your knees should form a 90 degree angle. Spread your arms out on the floor on either side of your torso, also at a 90 degree angle.
Slowly tilt both your legs to the right side until your knees touch the floor, just under your right arm. Turn your head to the left. Breathe and hold this position for about 20 seconds, then rotate the legs and the head in the other direction. Repeat the routine two or three times.
The Downward Dog
This very complete stretching exercise has many benefits. It lengthens the back of your legs and your entire back, all the while gently improving your core’s and arms’ endurance. Getting it right may take a little practice – go slowly at your own pace.
Start on your hands and knees. Your knees should be directly under your hips and your hands just a little above your shoulders. Spread your fingers on the ground and really feel your whole hand pressing into the floor.
Next, curl your toes under so they are touching the ground and slowly unwrap your body, lifting you hips until your legs and arms are stretched and your body is forming an inverted “V”. Breathe into the position and allow your body some time to adjust. Your arms should be stretched out, but feel free to bend your knees a little and to lift your heels if you feel that the stretch is too intense in your legs. Keep pressing the floor with your hands as well as with the outside of your feet. Make sure you keep your shoulders low (don’t scrunch them up to your ears) and relaxed. Do not round the spine. Stick your tail bone out to increase the stretch. For every breath you take, try and stick your tail bone a little further out.
Hold the position for about one minute, then slowly and gently go back onto your hands and knees, uncurling your toes, and breathe.
The Child Pose
To relax the back and gently stretch the neck muscles after Downward Dog, the next exercise is Child Pose. Moving from your hands and knees at the end of Downward Dog, lower your buttocks so you are sitting on your ankles and calves, and then let your chest rest on your thighs, stretching your arms out in front of you. Your forehead should touch the floor – if this is too intense for your back and neck, place either one or both of your hands between your forehead and the floor to be more comfortable. Still too much pressure on your neck and back? Close your hands into a fist and rest your head on your hands.
If done on a regular basis, this stretching routine should give you more energy and improve your flexibility. Just be sure to respect your body and its limits while doing it! Of course, when you stretch, it is normal to feel some discomfort, especially if your muscles are really tense. This discomfort should never become pain and you should never feel dizziness or cramps. You’ll get the best results by going slow and being gentle with yourself.
Photos courtesy of Mireille Mayrand-Fiset
With thanks to Catherine Gonthier for kindly accepting to demonstrate the exercises.
Guest Author Bio
Mireille is a travel, music and theater enthusiast. She wrote for the stage and television, and is now working as a freelance blogger for Le Yeti, a Montreal-based bike dealer.