(Article first published on The Candidly.)
Being cooped up in the house with few outlets for our stress and anxiety has us all on edge. We’re constantly learning how to balance productively working from home with educating our children with maintaining our relationships. It’s a lot. And with gyms and yoga studios closed because of the quarantine, our fitness routines have been totally thrown off schedule.
Add in our constantly terrifying news cycle, and you’ve got a recipe for frazzled nerves, stiff necks and shoulders, and tension headaches. Now, more than ever, managing stress is necessary to keep our immune systems functioning properly.
And while exercise, taking a walk, and limiting your news intake are just a few things you can do to stay sane right now, here’s another: stretch.
Stretching might seem like a simple, semi-useless task we only ever seriously consider before or after working out. But stretching can do more than just prevent an exercise-induced muscle pull. It can actually be soothing. Think of that breath you take when coming out of a deep stretch—doesn’t it kind of feel like the first good breath you’ve taken in years (or months? weeks? How long has this thing been going on for now? Is time just an endless abyss?).
So here are four super easy stretches you can do right now, no equipment needed. You don’t even have to change out of your pajamas.
1. Seated, Forward Extension
This stretch can be done seated with legs crossed or kneeling while sitting on your heels (if sitting cross-legged is uncomfortable). Once seated comfortably, take a deep breath in as you place your hands on the floor in front of you and slowly “walk” your fingertips away from your body as far as you can.
Not everyone can go all the way down to the floor, as in the photo, and that’s fine. Find your limit and stop there, taking long deep breaths. Let your head drop, relaxing your neck. After a few breaths, see if you can walk your fingertips a little further. Grip the floor with your fingers and feel the stretch down the sides of arms and the length of your back down to your hips.
Now, remaining low to the ground, walk your fingers to the left, leaning your torso to your left side. Go as far as you can to the left, then stop and breathe long and deep. Repeat on the other side.
Finally, with your torso still low, walk your hands back to the center and then slowly walk them back towards your body until you are again sitting upright. Take a deep breath. Exhale.
2. Seated, Spinal Twist
To transition from sitting cross-legged or kneeling, stretch your legs out in front of you then bend your right leg in a sort of half-butterfly stretch, so that the outside of your leg rests on the ground, your knee is pointed outwards, and your foot is near the left inner thigh. Then bend your left leg so that the knee is pointing up at the ceiling and the bottom of the foot is flat on the floor. Scoot your right leg inwards, so that your right foot (still resting on the floor) is underneath the left knee, and then lift your left foot off the floor, take hold of the ankle, and bring your left foot to rest just outside of your right thigh. I know—that sounded incredibly complicated, but just try to mimic the leg placement in the photo above, if that’s easier.
Take a deep breath in and extend both arms up overhead. Exhale as you turn your torso to the left, bringing your right arm to rest in the space between your left knee and chest. You can bend the elbow (as pictured) or keep the arm straight.
Twist your torso completely and bring your left hand to the floor behind you. Look over your shoulder as far as is comfortable for your eyes and hold the posture. With each exhale, see if you can twist just a bit further.
To come out of the twist, slowly bring your head around first, then unwind the rest of your body. Shake out your legs and transition to the other side.
3. Seated, 1 Leg-Extended, Side Stretch
Sit with your legs extended in front of you then open them as wide as is comfortable. When you feel a stretch in the groin, stop. Take a bend in your right knee and bring your foot to the inside of your left thigh.
Stretch both arms up overhead as you inhale, then exhale and bend at your hip toward your left leg. Stretch the left arm as far as it can go. If you can grab your toes, great. If not, no problem. Just let your hand rest on your shin. Stretch your right arm up and over your head as far as you can, extending your fingers toward your left foot until you feel the stretch along the side of your body down to your hip.
If you want to deepen the stretch, extend all the way over until you can grab your toes with your right hand. Believe me, it can be done. And if it doesn’t happen today, know that in time, with practice, your flexibility can increase and it can happen.
This has to be the most beautiful and unsung hero of stretches. Simply stand up with your feet parallel to each other, hip-width apart, or with big toes touching, heels slightly apart, extend the arms overhead, take a deep breath in, and exhale as you bend forward at the hips, letting your torso come down and allowing your head to hang toward the floor. Breathe long deep breaths and hang out like a rag-doll. Alternatively, you can bend your arms and grab hold of opposite elbows and gently sway from side-to-side.
To experience different intensities of the stretch, gently shift your weight from your heels to the balls of your feet and back again. What I love about this stretch is how gravity helps you and the longer you stay in it the further down you can bend with the eventuality being that your forehead can touch your knees.
For those of you that just muttered ‘Yeah right,’ under your breath, I understand. Some of us have incredibly tight hamstrings that will forbid us from ever reaching the floor. Not a problem. You still get the benefit of the stretch just by allowing your body to hang and extending your fingers towards your toes. If you’d like to feel greater support during the stretch, do it while standing with your back to a wall and let the wall support you.
When you’re ready to come out of the stretch, do it slowly, slowly, slowly, rising up one vertebra at a time, with your head coming up last. If you rise too quickly, you’re likely to get a headrush and feel dizzy. Take a deep breath and feel the difference in your body.
Really savor each stretch. Take as much time as you can; I recommend staying in each stretch for a minimum of three breaths, which is what really works wonders on your stress and anxiety levels. You’ll feel renewed and refreshed afterward. And maybe you’ll even feel motivated enough to change out of your pajamas.
But, no pressure.
Tamara Jefferies MA, is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.
Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.
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