Stretching should never be a stressful activity – it should be relaxing and non-competitive. You don’t need to be physically fit to start stretching. Even if you have never exercised before or you haven’t exercised for a long time, stretching will allow you to get in touch with your muscles and improve your body’s flexibility. To gain maximum benefit from stretching, tailor your workout to suit your personal needs and your own musculature. If you practise as often as you can, stretching will gradually become an integral part of your lifestyle. Whatever your age, you will benefit from feeling healthier and finding life more rewarding. Whether you sit at a desk all day, do physical work or drive long distances, this chapter will give you all the information you need to enable you to stretch safely and enjoyably.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Stretch your arms out in front of you at just below shoulder height. Clasp your hands with your palms facing away from you. Inhale. As you exhale stretch your arms upward toward the ceiling – you should try to get your palms flat. Keep your shoulders down and your abdomen strong, and don’t lock your elbows too rigidly. You should be able to feel the stretch all the way up your arms. Breathe in again, bend your elbows and bring your hands down toward your head. Repeat 4 more times.
Lie on the floor on your back, both knees bent, feet hip-width apart. Place your right ankle across the front of your left thigh, opening your right knee. Lift your left foot off the floor and place your right arm through the middle of both legs to clasp your hands at the back of your left thigh. Breathe in. As you exhale gently pull your left leg toward your chest. Use your right elbow as a lever to push the right knee open slightly. This will increase the stretch through the right buttock and open out your right hip. Repeat 5 to 8 times with each leg.
This stretch can feel rather awkward at first. However, once you master the movement you will feel the stretch in your deep buttock muscles and also around your hip. This stretch is particularly good if you have sciatica. Here, I have suggested three alternative stretches.
PROBLEM: I find it difficult to reach the back of my thigh and clasp my hands without my shoulders tensing.
SOLUTION: Use a chair. Bend your left leg and rest your left foot on the chair. Bend your right knee and place your ankle across the front of your left knee. Relax and breathe deeply in this position. The closer you are to the chair, the more you will be stretching.
PROBLEM: I find it uncomfortable to open my knee outward because my hips are so tight.
SOLUTION: You could try the target position without opening your right knee. Or try standing on your left leg and hug your right knee to your chest. This is also good for your balance. Remember to keep your back straight and your abdominals strong.
PROBLEM: I would like to stretch my buttocks and hips without having to lie on the floor.
SOLUTION: Sit with your right leg bent across the other, your knee open, your right elbow resting on your leg. Breathe in. As you exhale lean forward keeping your back as straight as possible. Let your elbow gently push your right knee down.