Weekend Challenge: Relaxing Spinal Stretch
There’s no doubt that with the holidays quickly approaching, life can get hectic and stressful. So this weekend’s challenge is a relaxing move that incorporates breathing and stretching to help you achieve inner calm while you stretch muscles that typically get tight when you are tense. It’s done sitting down, so you can stop anytime and take a “stretch break” with this exercise.
Science confirms that stretching helps to relieve stress, and there are real physiological benefits to stretching regularly, especially if you breathe correctly while you do it. We’ll discuss why this is so, and how you can incorporate more of this healthy practice into your daily life.
When you are tense and stressed, your body responds by tightening various muscles, especially those in the shoulders, neck, and lower back. You may experience pain in these areas, and they may feel hard and tight to the touch. This is, essentially, the body’s fight or flight response when it becomes chronic rather than acute (as in a real emergency).
These areas of the body where tension is held compromises blood circulation as blood vessels get compressed under the muscle tension, and the muscles become oxygen-starved and unable to function properly. This can also cause inflammation.
In addition, chronically contracted muscles (“hypertonic” muscles) can give rise to misaligned joints and poor posture as the dysfunctional muscles literally pull the skeleton awry. Muscles thus compromised are also prone to injury because they lack suppleness.
Stretching mitigates and eventually eliminates this physiological stress response. It releases muscles and improves circulation, and many stretches (such as the Relaxing Spinal Stretch) incorporate deep breathing to reduce stress more efficiently.
Let’s look at these physiological functions in greater detail.
Every bodily system depends on blood flow for oxygen, nutrients, delivery of immune system cells, response to injury, and more. The constriction caused by stress-tightened muscles impedes this crucial flow, and gentle, regular stretching releases this tightness and allows the arteries and capillaries to open up and supply the tired muscles with much-needed blood.
No less important is the circulatory system’s role in carrying away toxins and pathogens. Without motion and movement (including stretching), this cleansing effect is not performed effectively, and acidic toxins can build up in your body. This contributes to chronic acidosis, a state of imbalanced body pH that is the primary cause of osteoporosis and a host of other health problems.
Posture And Self-Confidence
Controlled stretching improves posture by correcting a hunched-forward position and limbering up the muscles of the back and shoulders. Stretching also helps align the pelvis.
Improving your posture has more benefits than you might realize. Amazingly, maintaining a correct posture helps you view yourself in a more positive light. Scientific evidence actually shows that improving your posture also improves your self-confidence and self-esteem, and even lowers cortisol levels (more on cortisol in a moment). To read more about one of the most notable studies on this topic, please click on the link below:
Stress And Your Bones
It’s no secret to Savers that stress damages bones, and while it does so in many ways, the biggest culprit is the increased cortisol production that accompanies chronic stress. The science is clear as to the detrimental effects of cortisol on bone health; if you got the Save Our Bones Program, then you know that an entire chapter is devoted to this topic and many studies are cited that show the correlation between cortisol and decreased bone density.
For more information about stress and how it harms your bones, please click the link below to read this article:
The good news is that science also points to stretching as a highly effective means of reducing cortisol levels. According to a one-year, randomized, controlled trial involving 170 participants, regular stretching resulted in “significant decreases in salivary cortisol, chronic stress severity, and stress perception” among the group which stretched regularly.1
Time and time again, slow and deep breathing is recommended by psychologists, counselors, and all sorts of health professionals as an effective means of management for anxiety, anger management, and other issues. Deep breathing also alkalizes your body, relieving acidosis and setting the stage for strong, youthful bones.
I am quite sure that after reading about all the above benefits of stretching, you’re eager to learn the details of the Relaxing Spinal Stretch.
This exercise is done while seated. A stool, bench, or armless chair works best, as you will be bending to the side. To enhance the relaxation element, try playing some calm, peaceful music before you begin.
- Sit on the edge of your chair. Fold your hands together in front of your chest, interlacing all of your fingers except your index fingers, which should be pointing upward. Your hands will remain in this position throughout the exercise.
- In one continuous motion, slowly take a deep breath as you point your fingers toward your front and straighten your elbows so your arms are straight out in front of you. Then bring your arms straight up over your head.
- Slowly exhale as you gently press your arms against your ears and stretch your spine straight up toward the ceiling.
- Inhale slowly as you bend to one side, keeping your arms in their overhead position. Keep your back straight and bend at your pelvis; don’t bend in the middle or top of your back. Hold this position as you slowly exhale.
- Inhaling slowly again, straighten up again and stretch upward for a few seconds, exhaling slowly while you hold the stretch.
- Slowly bend to the other side and take a deep breath, once again holding the stretch to one side while you slowly exhale.
- Repeat steps 4 through 6 four to six times, as long as you are comfortable. And of course, you can do this stretch multiple times a day if it works well for you and does not cause pain or discomfort.
Keep your relaxing music on and try following up with these other Weekend Challenges:
Stretching is so important for bone health that the Densercise™ Epidensity Training System contains stretching exercises. In fact, each Densercise™ session begins with a warm-up that includes stretching and there are no fewer than 10 stretches for the cool-down sessions.
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I hope this weekend’s challenge will provide some much-needed stress relief, and that you’ll have a great weekend!
1Corey, Sarah M., PhD, et al. “Effect of restorative yoga vs. stretching on diurnal cortisol dynamics and psychosocial outcomes in individuals with the metabolic syndrome: the PRYSMS randomized controlled trial.” Psychoneuroendocrinology. 49. (2014): 260-271. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4174464/