Stretching & Relaxing for Better Health

By: Dr. Tanvi Maharaja, PT DPT

 As a mom, I find myself constantly on the go. Life happens to all of us, but we women tend to take on more than our fair share of stress. 

Thankfully, there are some relaxation exercises, known as restorative exercises that help ease stress and tension. Our body loves movement. Our body also loves relaxed diaphragmatic or belly breathing. The combination of the two works wonders on our body by calming the nervous system and improving joint and muscle flexibility and health.

Here are some of my favorite restorative exercises:

Child’s Pose

This stretch can be performed for relaxation of the muscles along the back.

Coming on all fours, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, lower your buttocks towards your lower legs and sit back to feel a nice stretch along the sides of your shoulders and upper back. As you go further down, the stretch can be felt along the lumbar spine. 

Modifications include arms folded to support the forehead, or pillows under the abdomen to support the belly. Pillows can also be used behind the knee for anyone with pain with bending their knees all the way. Enjoy this stretch and make it more interesting by bringing your feet together and your knees further away from each other (known as wild child!).

Happy Baby

This is a great stretch for the lower spine and the pelvic floor and is often used for the treatment of pelvic pain. 

Lay on your back with your knees up and feet comfortably on the floor. Slowly bring one leg up and hold the ankle with the hand on the same side (right hand holds right ankle), then bring the other leg up and hold the ankle on the other side (left hand holds left ankle).

Modifications include resting the lower legs on a couch or using the wall to support your feet (by scooting the butt all the way to the wall). Always use a pillow under the head and neck for this stretch. Luxuriate in this stretch by adding some slow deep breathing. 

Open Book

The open book is an amazing stretch for trunk rotation: a movement that most people do not do enough of in their everyday lives. Laying on the side with a pillow under your head, knees together with a small towel under the knees, open one arm and let it go as far as possible (do not over stretch the shoulder, turn from your chest more than just the arm). Once you find a comfortable range, get the rhythm going by breathing in on your way out, and breathing out on your way back to the starting position.

Cat Cow

The entire spine gets a wonderful mobility workout with the cat cow (or cat camel) stretch. This stretch is performed on all fours, with alternating movements as follows: the head/neck and the tail move downwards to arch the mid back, then the head/neck and tail turn upwards as the mid back dips down. Can you guess which is the cat and which is the cow?!

Cobra

And finally, the cobra stretch for complete spinal extension from the neck through the thorax to the lumbar spine. Start by laying down flat, hands next to your head, keep the neck straight by keeping the chin close to your chest and start pushing down to lift the head and chest away from the floor. Resist the tendency to look up. A pillow under the lower leg helps ease tension on the ankles. A few slow deep breaths get the ribs moving well too.

Breathing is the focus during all these stretching exercises to get the maximum benefit of relaxation and “letting go” of muscle tightness and to “unclench” muscles that we unconsciously hold on to. Breathing is slow and relaxed, never forced, and focusing on the breath coming in and leaving the body adds the wonderful element of mindfulness to each exercise. 

Start with small durations of holding the stretch and only a few repetitions to begin. In general, stretches are done fewer times but progressively held for a longer time (ranging from 30 seconds to up to 2 minutes) if no other discomfort is experienced during or after the stretch.

These exercises are general stretches and are not intended to serve as medical advice. If you have any medical condition or have pain with any of the stretches, please see your physical therapist to tweak the exercises to best suit you.

Keep moving!

Stay strong, stay healthy!!


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