Stretching is something that we all do intuitively. Get out of bed in the morning, you might stretch your arms up over your head and point through the toes. Get out of the car after a long drive, you might instinctively stretch your arms over your head and then bend forward to loosen up. Even though stretching is something we all do intuitively, its not always something we do intentionally. There are several different ways you can stretch depending on your intention. And everyone seems to have a new, amazing, special, highly technically stretching technique they would love you to learn from them. It doesn’t have to be that confusing.
Below are a few key points to remember when stretching in general.
Remember to breath
This is the most important part of stretching. Slow, deep breathing has the power to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system. Parasympathetic response is what makes you relax, and a body that is relaxing is less likely to hold on to muscle tension. Try mimicking how you breath when you’re resting or about to fall asleep.
Pushing yourself too quickly into a stretch is similar to telling yourself to “hurry up and relax.” It wont happen. Your brain wants to keep you safe and it knows you are safe with the muscle lengths you currently have now. If you move too fast, your brain will trigger your muscle spindle to contract the tissue even stronger. This is the opposite of what we aim to do while stretching.You have to slowly coax your tissues to release. Slowly move into a stretch until you feel a gentle end of your range of motion. This is known as the end-feel. Once you’re there just hangout and breath.
This is not to say avoid discomfort. When you reach your end-feel, there will probably be some mild discomfort. This should be a “hurt-so-good” feeling, not a “oh my god, I’m going to die” feeling. If the discomfort makes your body tense sharply or it makes you hold your breath, its probably too intense. The “no pain, no gain” adage doesn’t work with stretching.
Thirty to Sixty Seconds
Once you reach a comfortable stretch, hold it while deep breathing anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds before releasing. This will give your body time to adapt and change. If you’re new to stretching, start at the lower end of the time frame (maybe even around 15 seconds) and over several different stretching session you can slowly increase the length of time that you’re in that particular stretch. You can repeat this 3-5 times for maximum benefit.
Yoga can help
Taking a hatha yoga class from a knowledgable teacher can help you develop the right approach. There is a lot more to yoga than just stretching, however it is a significant part of asana practice, and a good teacher will be able to help guide your breath and explore your body. Avoid teacher who like to show off or those who have too big of an ego. There are other things to look out for but that’s the biggest sign of a crappy teacher in my opinion.