Our bodies were meant to move, but many of us do not move enough to maintain adequate ranges of motion around our joints. As we lose the flexibility we may be more prone to injury from muscle pulls, or if the muscle/fascia imbalance is one-sided, a joint may be pulled out of alignment creating discomfort or pain. Stretching is an easy and relaxing way to maintain your range of motion and increase it if needed.
Stretching refers to the practice of elongating a muscle or muscle group to its fullest length. Though we may not realize it, stretching is actually a natural, instinctive behavior. Upon waking, most of us will instinctively reach our arms overhead and stretch from fingers to toes. Our body naturally craves a “stretch” after long periods of sitting or inactivity. This natural instinct is your body’s way of telling you that stretching is good.
Benefits of Yoga stretching
Despite its recent boom in popularity, yoga is an ancient practice that owes its roots to a number of Indian spiritual traditions. Yoga poses increase your strength and flexibility levels by placing your body in unusual positions for extended periods of time. These poses, called asanas, tend to focus on specific body parts and often include breathing and meditation techniques. While some advanced stretches can be intimidating, don’t be put off by pictures of yogis in contortionist positions. Yoga is another fantastic way to increase your flexibility; yoga tends to stretch entire fascial lines (many muscles that are connected together with connective tissue) at once, doing away with stretching individual muscles, and in the process, teaches us how to stretch as our body was meant to be used.
Here are some of the benefits why you should start adding regular yoga stretching to your life:
- Improve your performance in physical activities
- Decrease your risk of injuries
- Help your joints move through their full range of motion
- Increase muscle blood flow
- Enable your muscles to work most effectively
- Improve your ability to do daily activities
For best results, stretch gently enough to feel a pull, but no pain, and as you hold the stretch over 30 seconds to a minute or two, wait to feel the area loosen. If you feel a tightening sensation as you are holding the stretch, you are probably stretching too hard, and the muscle is contracting in order to prevent injury, which ultimately defeats the purpose. Be certain that you feel the stretch between the joints and not at the joints, as it is important not to stretch the ligaments that hold your bones together, nor the tendons that connect the muscles to the bones. For example, as you stretch your hamstrings on the back of your upper leg, you do not want to feel the stretch behind the knee. Try bending your knee slightly, or adjusting the angle of your leg to move the stretch into the muscle.
Commit to your weekly yoga stretching practice!