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  • The Secret to Stretching (Why You Shouldn’t Try to Stretch)

    relax into a stretch

    The Secret to Stretching is to Stretch Gently.

    You’ve heard me say it before: moving into a stretch until you’re really feeling a burn is counterproductive. This is because it activates a reflex that causes the muscle to contract to protect itself from being over-stretched and torn.

    Some people seem to innately grasp the concept of gentle stretching and are able to transition into this more effective method fairly easily. Others find the concept difficult to put into practice. It seems the harder they try to stretch gently, the more elusive effective results are.

    For years, I puzzled over why some people found it easy and others found it difficult, if not impossible. Then I made a breakthrough in my own stretching practice and the light bulb went off.

    The A-ha Moment

    I never had a problem with the concept of moving into a stretch until I was just beginning to feel a stretching sensation and staying there until I felt a release. After all, it was a lot more comfortable to do it that way than it was to push until I felt “a really good stretch.” Plus, I got loads of positive bodily feedback every time I felt a muscle let go and was able to move deeper into the stretch as a result.

    Although gentle stretching always felt effective to me, I was never able to go really deep into certain stretches like forward bends. As a short person (5’2″), I find myself on tiptoe to reach things more times a day than I care to count. Because of this, my calf muscles are always tight and that has prevented me from easily touching my toes for as long as I can remember. I could sometimes do it, if I spent inordinate amounts of time stretching out the back of my legs and hips, thereby neglecting the rest of my body.

    Then one day, I decided to do my daily stretching right after my daily meditation instead of before it. The results were like night and day. 

    So, What’s the Secret to Stretching Gently?

    After meditation I always feel deeply relaxed, and going into my stretching routine while feeling relaxed that day gave me a much deeper practice. That was the first time I was able to touch my toes after only a minute or so of stretching. It felt like I was, for the first time, actually allowing my body to stretch instead of trying to force my body to stretch. 

    That’s when it hit me: The secret is to not try. The secret is to allow.

    You might think that, after my realization, I would always meditate immediately before stretching. I don’t. I actually prefer to stretch first; my body is more comfortable sitting in one position for 20 minutes when I stretch first. However, I still get the same results.

    Here’s how you can, too:

    1. Take a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
    2. Repeat until you feel your body begin to soften with a relaxation response.
    3. Slowly move into the stretch until you just begin to feel the stretching sensation.
    4. Take another deep breath.
    5. Allow the muscle that you’re stretching to relax.
    6. Breathe into the muscle if you don’t feel it beginning to relax.
    7. If you’re doing a standing stretch, allow gravity to help. For instance, if you’re doing a side-bending stretch to the right: Bend to the right. Bring your left arm over your head. Let your right arm relax and feel heavy; allow gravity to lengthen it as it’s drawn toward the floor. Let your right shoulder relax and feel heavy; let gravity draw it toward the floor. Let your head and neck relax and feel heavy; let gravity draw your head toward the floor. Let your hips relax and expand, thereby allowing the stretch to move into the side of your hip. Let your left arm relax and feel heavy; let gravity lengthen it and extend your reach over head.
    8. Take another deep breath and allow your body to relax and lengthen even further.
    9. When you’re ready, slowly resume your starting position.
    10. Repeat with the other side. (left/right, front/back)

    It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to do something that you completely undermine your ability to just do it. This is a great way to get out of your head, and into your body. 

    Try it and let me know what you think. And please, if you found this helpful don’t forget to share it with others.