Stretching. What does this mean, really? Stretching is a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle's felt elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone. (Thank you Wikipedia!) Dictionary. com gives us this: to draw out or extend (oneself, a body, limbs, wings, etc.) to the full length or extent (often followed by out). So we have these definitions, but what does it mean and what does it do? Why are we told that stretching can help us so much, if we are diligent about doing it?
First thing. Stretching is good for you. The science behind stretching is pretty simple-the more you do it regularly, the more you will be able to move. A more detailed look at what stretching does gives us this: when we stretch and push our muscles to move into a position that for some, might be uncomfortable, it helps the tissue talk to your body and push a 'reset' button. There are receptors in our muscles designed specifically to respond to stretching. Fittingly, they are called stretch receptors. When we push the muscles to stretch and 'feel the burn', those receptors are triggered to remember to keep that length instead of reverting back to where they were before the stretch. This communication helps our body lengthen and stay stretched out, so we can move better and more efficiently.
Second. Stretching can increase blood flow and flexibility. When we don't stretch (regularly), our body doesn't want to and sometimes can't move for us. The muscles can get 'stuck' where they are and tighten down during inactivity and create pulling on joints or bones. This can all lead to aches, pains, or probably more often, a compensation in our movement. We know that our body does not want to work efficiently for us. Not at all. So, when we don't stretch, we are, in a way, giving it permission to create those compensations and saying that it's okay to not work the way we want it to. We can also increase blood flow simply from the movement of the stretch. We have to put our body into different positions in order to stretch different muscles or groups of muscles, so there is going to be more than just one part of our body that is affected by the movement of a specific stretch, thus, creating blood flow. When we create blood flow, flexibility comes along with it. Whether in the muscle or the joint, something is going to be moving better for us, and be more willing to move when we ask it to. There are other factors involved with this, for sure, but stretching is a simple way to help our body do the things we want it to and make those things easier for us to maintain.
Third. You can probably do more than you think you can and I'm about to tell you why.
I have been focusing on myself in small ways over the last few months. One of those things has been doing yoga with our transitional fitness trainer/yoga teacher Carla. Number one, she's wonderful and has helped me do things I didn't think I could do. Yes, I did say yoga, but, we have been doing a LOT of stretching and mobility and it has made a difference. For someone who doesn't have a 'yoga body', this has helped me move better through my days, not have as many aches and pains waking up first thing in the morning and I'm able to do what I love, better: Massage Therapy.
I think we are always capable of doing more than we think we can, but, stretching can put that right in front of you, and make you see what you really can do. How? Well, start with sitting on the floor, legs out to the side-as far as you can get them-and reach out to one of your toes. Depending how far you can get with this, you may feel pretty good about it, but what happens if you do this every day for two weeks? Then how far can you reach? Can you touch your toes, or go beyond? Maybe it's something like this that you never thought you could do, but, with continual practice, you CAN do it! Maybe you add one stretch a day, or add one minute a day to the same stretch; whatever it is you choose to do within stretching itself can make a huge improvement, and I guarantee you'll end up doing something you didn't think you could do, because I have.
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