When you think about flexibility you probably imagine a yogi twisting his body into some impossible and slightly repellent yoga pose. In truth flexibility is much more than performing complicated yoga moves and should be a part of daily life for everyone. Having a flexible body means being protected from injury and an increased ability to bounce back from physical stress.
Working on improving your flexibility is not complicated and doesn’t even take up a lot of time: just ten minutes a day can vastly improve your body’s flexibility and improve your mood in minutes!
Begin by assessing your body’s current state of flexibility. Sit on the floor with your legs straight and move them apart until your feet are approximately twelve inches away from each other. Lean forward and place your hands as far as you can comfortably reach. Note the position or mark it with an object, and then eyeball the distance from your maximum reach to your feet. If your maximum reach is six inches or less from your feet, that’s great! You can still use some work but you’ve already got a great start! A reach between six inches and your knees means you’re okay; anything that doesn’t pass the knees is ready for some serious work.
Don’t get discouraged, though: flexibility is one of the easiest and most pleasant physical activities to incorporate into your daily life. You won’t get sweaty or smelly doing stretches and the feeling of relaxation after a good stretch is priceless.
Start by choosing a certain time to set aside every day strictly for your stretching and flexibility training. One of the best times is in the morning right after waking up. Your muscles are ready for some action and stretching before your day begins can help you start the day in a calm frame of mind. Bedtime stretching is also a good option since the moves relax you and prepare you for a good night’s rest. If you are prone to exhaustion at the end of the day, though, you may be tempted to put off stretching at bedtime. Identify the time of day that will work best for you and then stick to it.
You can use a stability ball or piece of resistance tubing, giving you nearly all the tools to get a killer flexibility workout. Next you should locate a place where you can stretch in peace and make it known that you are not to be disturbed during your flexibility training. You will probably want a yoga mat to use unless the floor is carpeted. Create an area that appeals to you and draws you in – if you are turned off by your surroundings, stretching won’t seem so appealing.
Here is a simple sequence that stretches all major areas of the body and offers plenty of room for modification. All stretches should be held for a minimum of ten seconds and should never be pulsed or pressed beyond your comfort level. If you feel any pain, stop immediately and consult a medical professional. Perform this sequence at least once a day for two weeks and you will begin to see the difference in your body’s flexibility.
1. Begin by standing tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your arms resting comfortably at your sides. Take a deep breath and raise your arms above your head as you inhale. Exhale as you bring your arms downward. Repeat this movement three more times for a total of four.
2. Bring your right arm up and bend your forearm towards your back. Take your left hand and place it at the elbow and gently press back and hold to stretch the tricep. Repeat the movement with the opposite arm.
3. Now bring your right arm across your chest as though you were hugging yourself. Use your left hand to gently press the upper arm against the chest and hold. Switch arms and repeat.
4. Raise both arms over your head, lace your fingers together with your palms facing up and press toward the ceiling to stretch the biceps, spine, and abdominal muscles.
5. Bend at the waist and let your arms hang down as far as possible and hold. If you can touch your toes, gently push yourself to touch the floor. This stretches the back and shoulder area.
6. Drop to your hands and knees, lower your head slightly, and pull in your abdominal muscles as you round your back like a cat and hold. This stretches the spine and works the core muscles.
7. Lie facedown on the floor with your palms facing down near shoulder-height. Gently lift your upper body up as far as is comfortable for you and hold. This stretches the abdominal muscles and trapezoid muscle.
8. Sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you and feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Sit forward as far as possible, place your hands on the floor between your legs and hold. This stretches the spine and hamstring muscles.
9. Gently roll backwards until you are lying on your back. Bring one leg across your body as though you were crossing your legs, let the opposite knee support and gently press the leg back and hold, stretching the hamstring and gluteal muscles.
10. Finish by extending your legs straight in front of you, raising both your arms over your head and tensing your body from head to toe for a count of five. Release; then repeat. When you are finished, roll on your side and push yourself up from the floor.
Using a yoga ball to increase flexibility not only heightens your range of movement but increases your core strength at the same time. With the added versatility a yoga ball gives you, you can achieve deeper and more effective stretches.
Begin in a near-sitting position with your ball behind you.
Curl backwards and move your feet outward until you are lying comfortably over the exercise ball. Your head, neck, back, and shoulders should be arched over the ball and supported by it.
Extend your arms out at your sides so they are parallel with the floor.
Hold this position for 20-30 seconds while breathing normally - don't hold your breath.
Lower your arms to your sides and roll back to the starting position.
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