Most people know the benefits of exercising regularly, and make a point of adding it to their weekly schedule. However an often skipped yet equally important practice is the act of regular stretching. Stretching provides a ton of great benefits to your body, and only takes a few minutes to practice each day.
Here are 5 stretches that you should incorporate into your daily routine, along with the potential benefits you stand to gain from doing each of them.
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How It’s Done: Begin on your hands and knees with your hips set directly over your knees, your shoulders in line with your wrists, and a neutral spine. As you inhale, slowly arch your spine so that your belly sinks towards the floor as you simultaneously raise your sit bones, lift your head, and press your chest forward.
Then, as you exhale, round your spine, tuck your tailbone, and lower your head towards your chest (although don’t forcefully press your head to your chest. Just allow it to release as far as it feels comfortable).
Continue this rhythm for 5-10 breaths.
Benefits: Not only does this stretch warm up your spine, but it also massages and stimulates some of your internal organs, including the kidneys. This stretch is great for strengthening the spine and neck, and can even help improve your posture and balance as well.
How It’s Done: This stretch begins in the same starting position as the cat-cow. Once you are set on your hands and knees with your knees and hips, and shoulders and wrists in line, maintain your gaze on the floor. As you exhale, lift your left arm straight in front of you as you simultaneously lift your right leg straight in the air behind you (you should aim to have both your arm and leg that are lifted as close to parallel to the floor as possible).
As you inhale, lower your arm and leg. Then repeat with the opposite arm and leg on your next exhale. Repeat this sequence for 10-20 breaths.
Benefits: This stretch is extremely beneficial for improving balance in your body while also engaging your core muscles. These essential stability muscles are crucial for good posture, so performing this stretch every day will help strengthen them to promote proper body alignment.
How It’s Done: Begin by laying on your back with your hands resting at your side and your knees bent with your feet resting on the floor. Your feet should be approximately shoulder width apart. As you exhale, slowly lift your pelvis up towards the ceiling and off of the floor, so that you make a diagonal line with your body.
Pause at the top for 3 seconds before you lower your pelvis back down to the floor, inhaling as you lower yourself. Repeat this sequence for 10-20 breaths.
Benefits: Pelvic tilts are a wonderful stretch for strengthening your lower back and improving flexibility. Anyone can benefit from performing this stretch, however those suffering from lower back pain will find it particularly beneficial.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
How It’s Done: Support yourself for balance by placing your hand on the back of a chair or against a wall. Then, with your legs hips distance apart and facing forwards, lift one leg and rest it on a stair or bench. Keep this leg straight and foot flexed, and the leg that is still on the ground as straight as possible.
Then, without rounding your spine, gently bend from the waist and bring your chest towards your raised leg. Take a few deep breaths as you hold this stretch, then repeat on the other side.
As your flexibility increases, you may gradually increase the height of the object you place your raised foot on, and you will be able to lower your chest closer to your raised leg.
Benefits: Your hamstrings are one of the major muscle groups in your body. They are used regularly, and are connected to key points in the body including the knee and pelvis. Because of this, tight hamstrings can result in back, knee, hip, and sciatica pain, as well as difficulty lifting things. By stretching this important muscle group every day, you can benefit from a reduced risk of injury, improved posture and flexibility, and reduced back pain.
Lying Spinal Twist
How It’s Done: Begin by laying on your back with your arms fully extended to each side and resting on the floor, palms facing upwards. As you inhale, draw your knees in towards your chest. Then, as you exhale, slowly lower your legs (still bent) towards one side as you turn your head to look in the opposite direction. Rest in this position for a few breaths before returning to the center, and then lowering your legs and turning your head in the opposite direction.
Benefits: This stretch is wonderful for releasing tension in your lower spine, improving flexibility in your hips and low back, and bringing your spine back into proper alignment. The gentle twisting of this stretch also stimulates your digestive system.