How To: Come into a tabletop position with your hands and knees on the ground. Align your shoulders directly above your wrists, and your hips directly above your knees. Inhale as you drop your belly while raising your head and tailbone (“cow” position). Exhale as you round your back upwards tucking your chin into your chest and your tailbone under (“cat” position). Repeat 5 times with slow, deep breaths.
Benefits: This stretch is commonly applied in yoga and stretching routines to improve mobility across the entire spine – lumbar (lower), thoracic (mid), and cervical (upper). The lumbar spine in particular can become compressed due to poor posture or a sedentary lifestyle, resulting in lower back pain and sciatica (compression of the sciatic nerve). The thoracic spine can round forward too much from spending time looking at a computer screen, resulting in a hunched upper back. The “cat” portion of the stretch decompresses the lower spine, while the “cow” portion strengthens the muscles in the back and counteracts an overly-rounded upper back. This is a great stretch to do first thing in the morning to loosen up stiffness in your back.
How To: Stand and hold onto a wall or chair with one hand, or sit in a chair. Raise your right foot and cross your right ankle above your left knee. Sink your hips back and bend your left knee while standing on your left leg, folding your torso towards your legs. You should feel a stretch on your outer hips. Hold for 5-10 breaths before releasing and switching sides.
Benefits: This stretch alleviates tightness in the piriformis, often caused by sedentary lifestyles, which can result in lower back pain and sciatica (compression of the sciatic nerve). This is a great stretch to do before and after running and workout routines that incorporate squats to prevent knee pain and injuries. It is also a great stretch for those with sedentary lifestyles for relief of lower back pain.
Stretching Exercise #3: Butterfly Stretch
How To: Sit on the ground with the bottoms of your feet placed together, knees opening outward into a butterfly position. Sit up tall, and gently lean forward. Hold for 10 breaths. Alternatively, begin in a supine position, lying down on your back. Bring the bottoms of your feet together for a supine butterfly stretch (as shown in the photo to the right).
Benefits: This exercise stretches the inner thigh / adductor complex, which can become tight from spending too much time in a seated position and result in lower back pain and knee pain. This is a great stretch to do after a long commute or flight.
Stretching Exercise #4: Hamstring Stretch
How To: Sit on the ground with your legs extended straight in front of you. Inhale and raise your arms overhead. On the exhale, fold forward from your hips, and reach your hands toward your shins, ankles, or feet depending on your available range of motion. Hold for 10 breaths, trying to relax deeper into the stretch on each exhale.
Benefits: This stretch alleviates tightness in the hamstrings, which is highly correlated with lower back pain and knee pain. Tight hamstrings are common among frequent exercisers, as well as people with a sedentary lifestyle. Consequently, stretching the hamstrings is key to preventing injuries from active lifestyles and preventing back pain from sedentary lifestyles.
Stretching Exercise #5: Gentle Neck Stretch
How To: Place your right hand on the top of your head. Extend your left arm diagonally down toward the ground while using your right hand to gently tilt your head to the right. Hold for three breaths, switch sides, and repeat two more times on each side.
Benefits: Neck and shoulder pain is very common amongst women, due to stress and leaning the head forward to view computer screens. In some cases, neck and shoulder pain can trigger migraines and other issues. This stretch gently releases tension in the neck and shoulders and can be done virtually anywhere – from your desk chair, on an airplane, while standing in line at the grocery store, etc.
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