Stretch to Health (Part 1)
We aren’t given an owner’s manual for our bodies, but much like regular oil and fluid changes are critical for the longevity of our cars, the same can be said of stretching for our health and longevity. Many people are intimidated or overwhelmed about how to stretch, when, and how frequently. My goal in writing this three-part series is to take the mystery out of stretching and begin to guide you on how to look after your body for a better and longer life.
In Part 1, I want to describe for you a simple and efficient way to keep your spine limber and strong, allowing your nervous system to work more effectively. I recommend this routine be done daily and it can take less than a minute to perform once familiar. If you are new to stretching I recommend going slowly and gently to start. Stretching is a wonderful way to listen to your body, improve flexibility, increase confidence and energy and restore balance but it can be detrimental if overdone. There is no perfect rules as to how long you should hold or repeat these stretches. Feel your body, breathe and aim to increase your flexibility slowly over time and start with one to three repetitions for each until you feel a good stretch. Good luck and enjoy 🙂
Spinal Stretch Routine
1. Forward Bend:
With your legs straight, bend forward and reach for your toes. This can be done standing or sitting on the floor. I recommend trying to keep the lumbar spine straight because it’s safer for those with back problems and it isolates the hamstrings (muscles behind the thighs). It’s ideal to incorporate the neck and mid-back so the entire spine gets lengthened. If you are unable to touch your toes do not despair; with time, repetition, and effort even the stiffest people can surprise themselves with improved flexibility.
2. Reverse Bend:
With straight legs, bend your upper body and neck backwards. Again, this can be done standing or lying, but if you lie down, lie on your stomach (prone). For those with non-optimal balance I recommend lying on the floor or even a bed with your hands under your shoulders similar to a push-up starting position. If standing, place your hands behind yourself resting just above the buttocks for support. In yoga, this stretch is known as the Cobra. It’s a wonderful stretch but like all stretches, takes time to improve. Some people with lower back issues find this stretch aggravating. Often this is caused by too much extension in the lower back. Be mindful of spreading this stretch through the entire spine and include the neck. Don’t concern yourself if you are unable to fully straighten your arms when prone, even resting on your elbows can be very effective for this stretch.
There are several variations for this stretch as it can be done standing, sitting in a chair, or sitting on the floor. For the standing version, clasp your hands together in front of you and rotate your body as far as you can to the right and the left. Make sure to turn your neck as well. If you are sitting on a chair, place your hand on your opposite knee and rotate as far as you can to that side. The other hand can be placed on the upper part of the chair and you can use both hands to push for a greater stretch. To achieve this stretch sitting on the floor, I recommend bending one knee with the other leg outstretched and place the opposite hand on that knee for leverage (see diagram).
4. Lateral Bend:
This stretch can be done sitting or standing but I feel the standing version is preferable when possible. The idea here is to bend your spine and neck as far as you can to each side. This can be done with arms at your side or by reaching one or both arms in the direction of the stretch. This stretch feels terrific and is relatively easy for most people. Try changing the way you do this stretch to see if you prefer a particular style; for instance, you may find you like having a wide stance or prefer stretching with both hands clasped together overhead.
For more detail about these stretches, please view my spinal stretch routine video on Victoria Family Chiropractic’s Facebook page or YouTube channel. We offer a Stretch to Health class and if interested be sure to call our office at 250-592-5553 for availability.
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