Now that the days are getting shorter and a pandemic and election still in our midst, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and worn out during the day. However, we have learned to never underestimate the power of stretching our bodies to relieve anxiety and stress. When energy is waning and stress is rising, it’s pretty incredible how a little deep breathing and muscle movement can completely reinvent your mood, energy, and outlook.
Below are a few stretches that can be done when you need a quick pick me up. They don’t require any special clothing, equipment, or training – just a willingness to take a break and recharge.
Shake off anxiety and clear your head
There is no aspect of relaxation more important than breathing. When we get particularly overwhelmed with work, politics, or the news, our breathing often becomes quite shallow. Deep breathing alone can have a huge impact on our state of mind and restore calm, clear thinking.
To begin square breathing, sit in a comfortable, upright position on the floor or in a chair. Inhale through your nose for four counts (1, 2, 3, 4). Hold that breath in for four counts. Exhale through your nose for four counts. Hold that breath out for four counts. That’s one cycle.
Repeat 10 times, going at your own pace: Inhale 2, 3, 4. Hold 2, 3, 4. Exhale, 2, 3 4. Hold, 2, 3, 4.
Standing with your feet hip-distance apart, reach your hands behind you, clasping them together in a fist at the base of your back. Looking straight ahead, lift your clasped hands as high as you can behind you, pulling your shoulder blades together. (If you want more of a stretch, you can fold over your legs, and let gravity pull your clasped hands toward the floor.) Hold for five full breaths. Backwards and forwards a few times, then repeat the stretch, holding for five full breaths.
Standing Forward Bend
Release back and neck tension
Keeping your feet hip-distance apart, fold over your legs. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees. Try to relax into the pose for five full breaths. (If you want a little help from gravity, grab opposite elbows and let your head hang down.)
Then stand up, take a few breaths, and fold over your legs again. This time shaking your head “no” and nodding your head “yes” as you hang over your legs for another breath cycle.
Release neck and shoulder tension
Interlace your fingers, and raise your arms above your head, with your palms facing upwards. Try to keep your arms in line with your ears, while you look straight ahead and relax your shoulder blades down your back (don’t shrug them up!) Hold for five full breaths in and out through your nose.Let your arms fall down to your sides, roll your shoulders backwards and forwards a few times, then repeat the stretch, holding for five full breaths.
Try to incorporate these stretches into your routine to relieve tension and stress, and improve focus, mood, and energy levels! The most important thing to keep in mind as you’re stretching is continual breathing, and not trying too hard. If something hurts, ease off the stretch a little bit, and keep breathing.