My grandmother is one busy woman! At age 74 she works on multiple projects throughout the year, travels and likes to bake bread with her grandchildren. Her secret? Well, she only eats food that comes within 50 km radius, she doesn’t stress about aspects that cannot be changed, prefers walking over driving and loves memories over presents. She also told me that it’s very important to stretch in the morning to wake the body and mind. One is for sure… I haven’t been following her instructions and sleeping on a couch has absolutely crushed my back and neck, making me grumpy and unable to focus.
While doing research about stretching and its possible benefits I’ve stumbled on an intersection- stretching is very good for your body vs stretching is good for nothing. Well well, ain’t that interesting! There are as many different viewpoints as there are people, taking into consideration that we’re all a bit different I’ll try to draw out some know-hows while also do some mythbusting.
First, some word explanation. Static stretching is a type of stretching where you hold your pose for 30 seconds while your body is in a rest position, dynamic stretching happens when you stretch your muscles in the range of motion without exceeding the static-passive stretching ability.
Pros of stretching
- Provides elasticity to our muscles which is good for blood circulation in tissues. Especially with office work where you tend to sit a lot, stretching will come handy! Glute muscles are some of our biggest muscles so stretching them will loosen up the entire body and help you prevent from future pain in the body (knees or lower back) or injuries. (I’ll drop this article here if you’re more interested in a firm tush!)
- Improves joint mobility. As we grow older, muscles tighten and the range of motion decreases. Simple stretching can help lengthen the muscles, making daily activities easier.
- Improves posture and balance. Stretching the muscles of the lower back, neck and shoulders help keep the back in a better position and improve posture.
- Helps decrease tension and headache, improves wellbeing. When done properly, stretching gives relief from tension that stress brings us.
- Injury prevention before training- stretching increases muscle flexibility, true, but muscle injuries occur within the normal range of motion. When increasing the flexibility and pain tolerance of muscles it can lead to injuries instead.
- To enhance performance during training- as you read, stretching increases muscle flexibility but it can also lead to slower reaction since the muscles are more elastic and the first explosive strength is absent (sprinting for example).
- Muscle soreness prevention after training- instead, it can lead to injuries if you stretch a trained muscle to much or too aggressively. It has been proven that there is little if any help in prevention of muscle soreness.
“Stretching is as important as exercising itself… Stretching can help you tone-up assuming you follow your stretches with strengthening exercises. When a muscle is stretched (and held for 30 seconds) two basic things happen in that muscle. Firstly, the muscle starts to relax and secondly, the muscle increases in length. For your joints this will result in greater range of motion and improved movement quality. If you’re able to effectively move in greater ranges of motion and improve movement quality, your exercise routine will become more efficient and effective and you will prevent several injuries (that comes when sitting for a long time for example).” – Marlen Heldemeel, Personal trainer at Kalev Boxing
Work, office, sitting… yoga
Smart people have said that when mostly sitting, our spine curves, pushing our lungs into a position where it is harder to breathe which subsequently reduces the amount of oxygen getting into blood, into brain and eventually equals to concentration problems. Simple solutions to that would be:
- Pick up your lunch instead of ordering it
- Stretch your calves and Achilles tendon by standing against the wall, toes pushed up against the wall, heel on the ground
- Stretch down and try to touch the ground
If your job requires lots of sitting take a little break every 30 min. Stretching shouldn’t be painful, instead the sensation should be stretching without pain. Feeling pain = not doing it; feeling pain = overdoing it!
[blockquote author=”” pull=”normal”]”Today, the choices you make regarding your physical and mental well being should be taken seriously- what kind of a life do you wish to live when 80+ hits? When did you take the time to think about it?”[/blockquote]
I’d like to go deeper and not only look at the body as a tool to keep us going but dig deeper, deeper into the body where the mind and soul rest. There is the body, the mind and the soul- as a self diagnosed wannabe spiritual person I do believe that in order to feel comfortable in one’s existence these three points have to be connected. In 2013 I took a trip to Sri Lanka to experience the depths of my mind through the practice of Vipassana Meditation.
To take it into a sentence that would paint a clear picture: this breeze of fresh air that hits your face after you’ve been sleeping with a closed window the whole night! Scary (for sure!) but it also shows that there is so much more than what we think is visible on the surface. Our body holds a lot in it- because of our experiences from childhood, because of the artwork that the mind can create and because of the way we physically treat our body.
I’m not encouraging you to go through what I did, my journey required a firm wish to go and work with the depths of me. Meditation and/or yoga is a great way to become even bigger than we are with our personal or professional accomplishments, to perceive further from the limitation of the five senses.
What and why yoga?
The word itself means ‘’union’’ of the individual and the Universal Consciousness or Spirit. Yoga is one’s path to learn about the limits of one’s body and mind and how to breathe through difficulties. The practice of physical exercise, the flow through asanas (postures) is a preparation of the body for meditation. Through different poses strength and flexibility is practiced, will it be asanas through quick succession to create heat in the body or slowly to build stamina. The greatest philosophy in yoga is that every individual has their own practice. Through time you will learn that it is a noncompetitive practice that will allow you to let go of ego and accept that you are no better than me. Every day is different and your best will vary through days also.
Practicing yoga will work on your flexibility but it also helps to build strength. It’s not only to touch your toes but the way you do it- alignment that will help you prevent injuries. Yoga has a lot of attention on breathing even in the most basic poses, giving a sense of mindfulness in your practice. Stretching is something that you do with your body, yoga is concentrating on your body, breath, mind and spirit. Stretching is a part of yoga but it doesn’t stop there…
“There has been a lot of talk over stretching along with a certain amount of controversy. When it comes to the question of how to stretch and whether it’s necessary, l like to act by how I’m feeling and advise you to listen to your body as well. When stretching feels good then go for it! Whether it should be dynamic or static is also up to you and your goals – what is it that you would like to achieve. If, for some reason, your dream has always been to do the splits, then holding that pose statically for some time is okay, but if you are looking for a better muscle and joint health, better movement in your everyday activities and more energy then dynamic stretching is probably the way to go. Being totally subjective, I would say yoga is a great way to move your body and to do it at your own pace, being mindful about movements and also to give you a better understanding of what it really is that you need – both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, when it comes to yoga, a certain picture has been painted by the social media of people bending themselves into pretzel like when this is so not the case. The practice of yoga is not about who can touch their knees with their nose or hold a handstand longer, it’s about enjoyment, positive energy and appreciating the moment and the never ending movement. It’s up to you what your practice looks like and I’m sure there’s a class out there that suits you. Just keep exploring and moving!” – Reesi Kallas, yoga teacher at OMAklubi
Most probably you’re gonna do what you’re doing for a while more..maybe even see new people entering and leaving your office/team, whatever…so I better suggest you to take some thought on how to treat your body, this unit that has to keep you going for this journey.
[blockquote author=”” pull=”normal”]”Stretching is something that you do with your body, yoga is concentrating on your body, breath, mind and spirit. Stretching is a part of yoga but it doesn’t stop there…”[/blockquote]
Bottom line what I want to underline also is that: do stretch please! But when you do, decide for dynamic stretching, life is all about moving. I’ll leave You with some exercises that are easy to follow and have zero tolerance for excuses like ‘’I don’t have time’’…they don’t take any compared to many other activities 🙂
To find yoga..well.. It is very individual but the almighty internet will be there to guide you – And the easiest way to know is to try!