Do you love to stretch? I know I do! Opening our bodies and increasing our range of motion also opens our minds, hearts, and spirits. A flexible body is akin to a flexible way of living. As such, the art of stretching is one that benefits us on many levels---mentally, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. This is why taking the time to stretch before and after a good, hearty workout feels so darn amazing. We live in our heads far too often these days, with so much of our time spent in front of screens and hand-held devices. Stretching is a way to increase body awareness and become moreembodied, which helps us lead healthier, happier lives. The bottom line is this: youneed to stretch. And you need to do iteveryday.
But how do you choose a style of stretching that's right for you? There's no one-size-fits-all way to stretch. In fact, there are handfuls of ways to lengthen those beautiful muscles of yours in order to maintain flexibility and mobility throughout your life. Let's take some time to explore some of the most effective ways to do so.
Static stretching is probably the most common form of stretching. You basically come into a pose (like straddle position, for example) and hold it for an extended period of time. You arestatic in a stretching pose, breathing deeply in and out as you hold a particular pose. If you're familiar with yin yoga, then you're naturally quite familiar with static stretching. Yin yoga is a style of yoga that holds yoga poses for three minutes or longer. When you stay in a stretch pose for long periods of time, you actually lengthen the fascia around the muscles. This is incredibly beneficial for the body and mind. It's also a highly effective way to relieve stress and tension---both mentally and physically.
Loaded Progressive Stretching
With loaded progressive stretching, you need a partner---someone who places a weight of some sort (or their own body weight) on your body to push you further into a particular stretch. If you're in a seated straddle pose, for example, your partner would gently push on your back, which naturally helps your body move forward into a deeper version of the posture. Once you've reached your edge, you can push the envelope even further by having your partner push you once again---hence, the progression. This style of stretching is perfect for those who get motivation from a friend. Sometimes, working in pairs is just what the doctor ordered for a dedicated practice to take place.
Dynamic stretching is perfect for those of you who'd rather not sit still. The word 'dynamic' refers to movement. As such, dynamic stretching simply means continuously moving into and out of stretch poses. It could be likened to vinyasa yoga, in the sense that this style of yoga links breath to movement, and continuously moves through each posture without taking time to hold a pose. In dynamic stretching, you're constantly moving into a stretch, and out of one. Just make sure that your muscles are adequately warmed up before going full speed into dynamic stretching movements.
Wushu stretching was never on my radar until now. It's a form of movement that suits those of you who love martial arts. It's also advanced, so you'll want to be quite athletic and agile if you intend to add wushu stretching to your exercise regimen. Wushu stretching takes strength and discipline, as poses are held for long periods of time---sometimes up to several minutes. To imagine what wushu stretching is all about, conjure up common martial arts stances in your mind, and then picture holding those positions for substantial periods of time. As you can see, it's a challenging form of stretching, optimal for Wushu practitioners and martial arts enthusiasts.
Ballistic stretching is similar to dynamic stretching, but with more rapid movements. It involves quick movements of the body, which need to be controlled to prevent injury. In this form of stretching, we use rapid movements to exceed our normal range of motion. Ballistic stretching is ideal for those of you who take part in fast action sports---the kinds that require rapid movements and quick extensions of the body. Another advanced form of stretching, this one should be done with control and adequate body awareness in order to prevent injury.
PNF stretching, also known as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, was created to benefit stroke victims and others who've suffered traumatic brain injuries. PNF is also beneficial for people with orthopedic problems. Not only is PNF great for increasing flexibility and range of motion, it's also a seriously effective method of rehabilitation. Pretty cool, huh?
So how does it work? There are three primary types of movement used in the PNF method. Firstly, theHold-Relaxmovement is just as it sounds. You hold an isometric contraction in a stretch pose for a few moments, followed by a few moments of relaxation. Secondly, theContract-Relaxmovement involves a dynamic (moving) stretch, rather than an isometric one, followed by a relaxation period. Then there's theEccentric-Relaxmovement which consists of a muscle contraction working against an external force, followed by a period of relaxation. During theEccentric-Relaxportion of PNF stretching, it's important to make sure the external force remains reasonable, rather than excessive and over-the-top. You certainly don't want to injure yourself---doing more harm than good!
As you can see, there are all kinds of fascinating ways to stretch! Stretching is both an art, and a science---one that you should always take seriously to protect your body from injury. It's sometimes easy to get carried away, allowing your head to lead the way, rather than your body. But this can get you into trouble, so always listen to your bodily sensations. They are more intelligent than you probably give them credit for. You want to travel to your edge as you stretch, while avoiding pain or tingling. If you ever feel numbness or tingling, pull back, as this often signals a nerve issue. And most importantly, have fun. Take ample time for the relaxation and self-care that stretching provides. You are worth it, and so are your precious muscles!