Family Fitness: Stretches Everyone Will Love
By Derek Beres
Family fitness: Stretches everyone will love! During the winter, it can be difficult to get yourself, not to mention your family, to do any exercise. My suggestion: Get everyone going with a gentle stretch session. Stretching will not only help relieve stress, but also energize your entire body. It’s also a great way to get kids moving in a focused manner.
Below are a few great stretches for you and your family to enjoy. All you need is comfortable clothing, a carpeted floor (or a yoga/exercise mat on hardwood), lighting that’s easy on the eyes and down- to mid-tempo music. On a last note, if you are going to help one another stretch, heed the advice of Dr. Timothy McCall in Yoga As Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing: Adjustments should be gentle, like the “laying on of hands” from biblical folklore. Never push too hard or tug too firmly. Remember: You are attempting to reduce, not aggravate, stress!
Cat/Cow Sequence: Moving Your Spine
Nothing feels as good as getting your spine moving, which is why many yoga classes begin with a simple cat/cow sequence. It loosens the muscles around your spine and gets blood flowing into your shoulders and intestines, which helps digestion.
- Begin on your hands and knees with your hands placed directly underneath your shoulders, and your knees placed directly below your hips.
- With your inhale, allow your midsection to relax while you draw your shoulders together on your back and gently gaze up. Try not to arch your neck too much; instead let your shoulder blades guide your gaze upward slightly. Let your tailbone lift and feel your sit bones widen.
- Begin to draw your belly button in and up as you exhale, tucking your chin into your chest and rounding your upper back, like you are pushing the floor away. Try not to cramp up around your neck; there should be a stretch, but you don’t want your collarbones to feel as if they are being pinched together. As your navel pulls up and in, your tailbone will lengthen, giving you a nice release in your lower back. Repeat for 10-15 breaths.
Cobra: Energize While Calming
After you finish your cat/cow stretches, lie flat on your stomach for Bhujangasana, or Cobra. If you’ve ever read Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, you might recall that “the Swede’s” father had no affiliation with yoga but did Cobra every day to alleviate stress. It’s also a wonderful pose to do if you’re feeing sluggish and tired, as it offers you a burst of energy.
- Place your hands next to your chest, with your thumbs just behind the level of your armpits. Allow your forehead or chin to rest on the ground.
- Keeping your hands on the ground, begin to draw your shoulder blades onto your back, like you were trying to squeeze your elbows together. Press the top of your feet firmly into the ground; this is important, as you don’t want to clench your butt and tighten your lower back.
- As you draw your elbows in, begin to gently straighten your arms. (They most likely won’t straighten fully; don’t force it.) Let the action of your shoulders begin to lift your chest and, lastly, your head. It’s important to keep your pelvis (around where you’d wear a belt) on the ground. Cobra pose is an energizing movement that really works your shoulders and upper back. When lifting your pelvis, you are relying on arm strength (and probably crunching your low back). After a few breaths, easily lower your head back to the ground. Repeat five to eight times.
Child’s Pose: Finding Strength in Relaxation
Perhaps the most relaxing pose is Child’s Pose. It stretches your lower back and hip flexors, as well as your ankles.
- After your Cobra sequence, place your hands underneath your shoulders and gently press your seat to your heels, allowing your upper body to rest on your thighs. Don’t worry if it does not reach, especially if your hips are tight; again, don’t force any of these movements. If this position bothers your knees, roll a towel or blanket up and place it behind the backs of your knees, as this will take pressure off the joints.
- Either rest your arms straight out in front of you or next to your hips, with your head on the ground (or a block or pillow, if this position bothers your upper back or neck).
- Take 10 deep breaths into your lower back. With every exhale, see if you can allow your hips to rest downward a little more.
Twisting out the Rest
Twisting will not only calm your nervous system, but also stimulate digestion, which can also be very helpful around this time of year!
- Slowly lift yourself out of Child’s Pose to sit on your heels. If this bothers your knees, you can sit cross-legged. If sitting on the ground doesn’t feel good, you can sit in a chair.
- Place your left hand outside of your right thigh and easily twist your upper body to the right. Try not to twist your hips; allow the twist to begin in your abdominal region, using your shoulders drawing together once again to accentuate the movement.
- Feel like you’re growing taller with each inhale, and as you exhale, draw your navel into your lower back and shoulders together a little more to enhance the twist. You can rest your right hand on the ground behind you, though you don’t want to feel like you’re leaning back at all.
- Take 8-10 long breaths here. Slowly return to center, take a breath and try the other side.
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is Completely You’s Getting Unstuck blogger. A journalist, yoga instructor and DJ/music producer, he has written for such publications as Departures and The Huffington Post. He teaches yoga at Equinox Fitness and Yogis Anonymous, and is one-half of the music production team EarthRise SoundSystem. For more info, visit DerekBeres.com.