In this episode we will be taking a deeper look at stretching. We’ll be checking out how it benefits our body, aids with training recovery and has huge implications in reducing stress and anxiety.
Stretching is not always comfortable or exciting. It could even be seen as a little unsexy considering it doesn’t give you the same visible benefits as lifting weights. Stretching is what helps keep our bodies functional though.
One of the best reasons I’ve found for stretching is that it helps to reduce muscle tension in the body. When the body is able to begin to relax our stress and anxiety levels will drop.
I’ve found this particularly helpful in relieving my own anxiety. I’ve been using stretch combined with breathing exercises to help keep my body in a calmer state which has really helped keep my anxiety at a manageable level.
HOW DOES STRETCHING AND MOVEMENT RELIEVE STRESS AND ANXIETY?
Tension in the body creates a physiological response. When our muscles are tense we tend to chest breathe (breathing shallow in the tops of our chest as opposed to stomach aka diaphragmatic breathing.
This tension combined with shallow breathing increases our heart rate.
When our heart rate is increased it creates more tension in the body. This increases our heart rate even more.
As you may know anxiety causes an increased heart rate. Having an elevated heart rate can cause an anxious response when there is no direct physical threat or danger to us.
This increased anxiety influences our cortisol (stress hormone levels). Having elevated stress hormones leads to even more stress.
It’s a hectic cycle
BUT WE CAN WORK TO BREAK THIS CYCLE AND REPLACE IT WITH ONE THAT IS MUCH MORE BENEFICIAL TO OUR BODIES AND OUR MINDS.
When we work to relax our muscles through stretch and deep breathing, we can gradually reduce our heart.
Reducing our heart rate allows us to move our bodies more freely which helps our muscles relax and we can then breath deeper using our diaphragm.
As we deep breath and our muscles relax and our heart rate slows our anxiety levels begin to drop.
As our stress and anxiety levels drop, our cortisol levels to begin to level out as well.
Continued stretching coupled with deep breathing helps maintain relaxed muscles and reduce further tension in the body. This helps release us from the cycle of tension, stress and anxiety.
THERE ARE A HEAP OF DIFFERENT WAYS YOU CAN STRETCH AND RELAX YOUR BODY.
We’ve been creating a library of movements on YouTube that are safe and explained in depth to give you an understanding of how to move, what it’s stretching and why it’s beneficial.
I believe that before anything else, we need to be able to move our bodies as best we can. This is what keeps them safe to do the things we want in life.
I’ve also been running weekly live online stretch classes that are a blend of mobility exercises and yoga. With a particular focus on incorporating breathing into each movement. Because how we breathe is a factor in how our bodies are functioning.
Yoga is an excellent practice to help stretch while adding breathing to the movements as well. Stretching and breathing is like the ultimate relaxation combo. Yoga is based around balancing the body and the mind to reduce stress and stretch and strengthen the muscles.
If you jump on YouTube you’ll find hundreds of yoga videos to follow along to. The classes are seriously white washed and cis het but there are still some great instructors out.
I’ve been following yoga with Adriene and they are a pretty cool human who puts out fun easy to follow videos plus they have their doggo in their classes with them which is super cute. You could also check out Hips Yoga with Jessamyn Stanley who is a rad as body positive human whose focus is on supporting hip health through yoga practice.
Pilates is another good option though it’s very core focus. It is great for improving posture but unlike yoga has less of a focus on stretching or connecting the body and mind and more of a focus on relaxing the muscles. It is a great rehabilitation practice post injury particularly for backs. Unlike yoga it doesn’t come from a background based in India with deep spiritual roots, so doesn’t come with the same feel of cultural appropriation that mainstream yoga has.
Though it is quite white washed with the image that it’s more for slim white cis het women, there are actually some incredible humans working to break down these barriers and bring the world affirming pilates tutorials. Jump onto YouTube and check out Hannah at Moving Mango or Gentle Pilates Flow with Isa-Welly.
Then there are more flow style practices that have a more playful style about them such as the practices taught by Ido Portal. He has created a whole school of movement that is about flexibility, mobility and finding a playful joy in movement and being the very best as you with your own unique abilities.
If you’re wondering where to even start with all of this, try exploring ways that you can move that help you feel good. Don’t think that you have to stick to one particular style. The movements that I practice personally are a combination of flow style movements, yoga and mobility practices. Movement can be creative. Starting with one particular practice doesn’t mean that you have to stick with it.
Don’t look for perfect, look for consistency. Move any way that you can. It can feel intimidating to move in the beginning. It feels ploppin’ weird and a bit uncoordinated. That’s totally ok. There is no perfect, there is only the ways that you can move and that’s unique for you and you’re the best person at doing that.
You can jump onto YouTube and check out our stuff, some yoga, pilates or ido. Or a combo of all because moving is fun and the best way to relieve stress and therefore reduce our anxiety.
If this seems a bit much, You can start with stretching movements that you can do while laying in bed… The beauty of stretching is that you don’t even have to get up to be able to do the things that are beneficial to your body. That’s a huge win.
You can also practice deep breathing while in bed.
Work with where you are at and do your best. The fact that you’re moving your body is fluffin glorious and all that matters. You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone else to be successful at your movements.
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