We just wrapped up another work week in lockdown and somehow May is here. As we move into another month of living through a pandemic we wanted to ask you a question that we realized we don’t ask often enough:
How are you feeling, physically?
Are you having more aches and pains than usual? Are you manifesting stress in common tension areas? Are you checking in with your physical state regularly?
Your body and mind are inextricably linked, and they feed off of each other. These are abnormally stressful times for us all, which makes it even more important to give your body the care and attention it needs so you can better support your mind and emotional health.
And yes, regular exercise is absolutely a part of that — but so is releasing the physical tension and muscle tightness that builds up throughout each day. Many of us are now sitting at makeshift desks, using smaller screens, and assuming ergonomically unfriendly positions to get through these work-from-home days, and that can cause a lot of muscle shortening, tightening, and cramping. We don’t know about you, but by the time Friday night hits it feels like we’ve been hit by a truck (or 7… physically and emotionally).
A great way to combat this is by incorporating regular yoga into your weekly workouts, but there’s something you can do that’s even simpler and an equally important part of any fitness routine: Stretch.
We know stretching circuits are much less sexy than a full yoga flow, but if you’re short on time and need quick relief we’ve got 9 restorative stretches that will make a huge difference to how your body feels after a long day (or week!) of work. We’ve grouped it below by muscle groups to focus on, starting from your head and working your way down!
Anterior Scalenes (Neck)
The anterior scalenes are on either side of your neck and they’re busy all day holding your head upright. Now, if you’re looking at the same thing for a long period of time (ahem, phone or computer screen) your anterior scalenes will stay flexed in that one position. Tiring, right? You bet, and after a while you’ll feel the neck pain creep in.
Restorative Stretch 1: Gentle head rolls will do the trick! Start by tracing circles with your chin in a clockwise direction, making your circles wider and wider each time. Switch and do the same in the counter-clockwise direction. Make sure to breathe!
Upper Trapezius (Shoulders)
These muscles come down from the neck in a triangle shape, controlling the up and down motion of your shoulders. If you spend a lot of time writing or typing, your upper trapezius muscles will be constantly lifting your shoulders up,especially if your chair isn’t at the optimal height to your desk (#ergonomics). By the end of the day, hello stiff shoulders!
Restorative Stretch 2: Sit upright and tilt your head so the top of it points to the right wall, elongating the left side of your neck and shoulder. Try to keep good space between your right ear and right shoulder so you don’t cramp up that side. You can place your right hand gently on the left side of your head to get a bit more of a stretch. Switch and do the other side.
So much of what we do these days (texting, working on computers, sitting and eating) is done with our hands right in front of us. This position naturally rounds your shoulders and causes your chest muscles to shorten (and tighten) up. This also compresses your chest cavity, making it harder for you to get a deep breath and can contribute to feelings of anxiety, which we don’t need more of a right now.
Restorative Stretch 3: Stand in a door frame and raise your arms up into a U-shape, so your elbows are in line with your shoulders Place your hands on either side of the door frame and lean forward slightly to help open up your chest and stretch those muscles. You can also do any heart opener yoga poses, such as Puppy Dog Stretch or Cobra.
All that typing, texting and fine motor work throughout the day requires all the small muscle groups in your forearms, wrists, and hands to work overtime. When you work them too much, they can get inflamed, and carpal tunnel pains can start to set in.
Restorative Stretch 4: Reach your left arm straight out in front of you. With your fingers pointing down, gently pull them toward you with your right hand. Hold for 10 seconds. Then, point your fingers up and again, gently pull towards you. Repeat on your right arm.
Spinal Stabilizers (Back)
You spinal stabilizers are a series of muscles that work together to keep your spine… stabilized. Makes sense! When we’re sitting at a desk for long periods of time, they take on a lot of the load at keeping everything in balance and if you have poor posture, this can lead to lower back pain.
Restorative Stretch 5: Use the Legs Up The Wall pose. Lie down on the ground next to a wall to help your spine get into a neutral position. Then, turn your body so you can lift your legs straight up in the air and rest them against the wall. For our pregnant mamas, who wouldn’t want to be on their back for an extended time, a Wide-Legged Child’s Pose can also help.
Ah, the piriformis. A tiny little muscle with a big personality. Sciatica sufferers will know it well, and despite it’s size it can cause a surprising amount of pain. It’s tucked deep under your glutes, towards the top of your buttocks. When we’re sitting the piriformis stays engaged, while the glutes are relaxed, and after a while that makes the piriformis a bit angry. When it gets angry, it gets inflamed, and you’ll start feeling it.
Restorative Stretch 6: The figure four! You can do this standing, seated, or reclined but we’ll detail a reclined figure four as it can be the easiest way to feel it quickly. Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Take your left ankle and place it on your right knee, so your left knee points out to the side. Flex your left foot to protect your knee as you loop your hands behind your right thigh. Gently pull your right leg towards you until you feel that stretch in your left buttocks. Feel that muscle tightness? That’s your piriformis. As always, everything you do on one side, repeat on the other.
This group of muscles are responsible for basically all movement coming from your hips: lifting your legs, lowering your legs, and you know… walking. When we sit for long periods of time (are you catching the theme here?) they stay in an engaged position and the front of your hips can get a little gummy and stiff. As women, we actually hold a lot of tension in our hips, and regularly stretching our hip flexors is a great way to relieve that.
Restorative Stretch 7: A kneeling lunge is the best way to target your hip flexors. From a kneeling position, step your left foot out so it’s slightly in front of your knee. Keeping your hips square, gently lean forward until you feel a soft stretch in your right front hip. Repeat on the other side!
Have you ever sat for a long time and when you finally stand up it feels like your hamstrings aren’t long enough? Well, they’ve actually shortened! When we sit our hamstrings are relatively relaxed, but what the body does over time is shorten the muscle, as it thinks we don’t need that extra length. What’s important here is to encourage that muscle to stay active throughout the day when possible.
Restorative Stretch 8: A dynamic hamstring stretch throughout your work day is the best way to combat tension here. Standing up, step your left foot out in front of you, and lift your toes up so they point toward the ceiling. Hinge at the hips as you reach your arms down towards your left foot and then circle back up to standing. Keep doing this until you start feeling a stretch and lengthening in your hamstring. Repeat on the other leg.
Plantar Fascia (Foot)
The final one may be a surprise, but we hold a lot of tension in our feet and (this won’t be a surprise) but sitting for much of the day can cause the ligaments in the bottom of our feet (plantar fascia) to tighten up, and when those guys get inflamed it’s one of the most common causes of orthotic pain.
Restorative Stretch 9: Standing less than an arms length away from a wall, step your left foot forward and angle it to about 45˚, with your heel on the ground and toes pressed into the wall. Very gently lean your body forward closer to the wall until you feel a stretch in the arch of your foot. Hold for a few seconds, shake out your foot, and repeat on the other side.
For guided stretching circuits safe for your stage of pregnancy or postpartum be sure to download the Baby2Body app.