Exercise doesn’t have to be grueling to improve your strength and stamina. Slow stretching improves both flexibility and strength, in addition to helping to firm and tone the body. These exercises are designed to achieve suppleness, eliminate tension, and firm up muscle tone.
Stretch plays an important role in exercise, which are performed slowly and precisely. If done four or five times a week, they will guarantee a sleeker, fitter, more supple body.
Good posture is vital, but it only comes with practice. At first, you may feel some discomfort from your new position. It will help if you concentrate on elongating as you inhale, and work into balance as you exhale. Think tall!
- Stand with your legs, hip width apart, feet and knees facing forwards. Balance the weight evenly between the heels and balls of the feet, not allowing ankles or arches to roll in or out. To ensure that this is not happening, lift the toes off the ground to align, then place them down again.
- Don’t lock or bend knees. Keep them relaxed and imagine that you are raising the kneecaps without moving them.
- Exhale and pull navel into the spine, tucking the pelvis under (pubic bone comes forward) and lessening the arch in the back. Draw the cheeks of the bottom in towards each other.
- Inhale and elongate your ribcage, pulling it out of the waist. Exhale as the pelvis comes into balance. Do not allow the chestto be pushed forwards.
- Inhale; as you exhale, rotate shoulders in a backward and downward movement towards the middle of the back.
- Keep the back of the neck lengthened. Try to make your head touch an imaginary hand that is being held one inch above the top of your head.
- The weight of the entire body should be evenly distributed between the heels and balls of the feet. When you feel this, relax your bottom but do not lose the lift you feel throughout the body.
- Stand in perfect posture. Keep shoulders down as far away from ears as possible. Drop chin forwards slightly. Inhale and, as you exhale, lengthen your neck, then take your ear down to one shoulder and hold for five seconds, making sure that the opposite shoulder does not lift up. It helps consciously to draw the elbows down to keep the shoulders still. Repeat twice on each side.
- Start as above, and turn head to one side to look as far behind you as possible. Return to centre, then turn to the opposite side. Again, be conscious of keeping the shoulders down by drawing the elbows downwards. Hold for 10 seconds on each side. Repeat twice.
- Stand in perfect posture, feet slightly apart. Drop the head slightly forwards. Take left arm up behind it. Slightly bend the elbow.
- Inhale and, as you exhale, pull on the arm with the right hand, stretching gradually until you feel a comfortable stretch along the underarm. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
- Aim to place the left hand on the right shoulder blade. Inhale and, as you exhale, change the line of pull gently downwards, towards the shoulder blades. Hold for 10-15 seconds. Change arms and repeat the movement.
SHOULDER BLADES STRETCH
- Stand in perfect posture, feet hip width apart. Interlock hands above head, keeping the elbows bent.
- Inhale, pull navel into the spine. Exhale and slowly take elbows back behind head to the left, centre and right before bringing them in front of you (create a circle).
- Keep shoulders down throughout. Don’t involve the head or upper body in the movement.
- Repeat the circles three times in each direction.
SHOULDERS / SHOULDER BLADES
- Stand in perfect posture, feet hip width apart. Hold arms at shoulder height in front of you, palms facing.
- As you exhale, keep arms at shoulder level and slowly take them backwards, making sure that you extend your fingers and palms to their limits. Use only your arms and shoulders to make the movement. Do not involve your head and neck.
- Keep head and body steady by pulling navel into the spine and letting your shoulders do all the work. Don’t lean forwards or lift your shoulders, as the exercise will not be so effective. Hold for five seconds. Repeat the movement several times.
FRONT THIGH STRETCH
- Holding on to the back of a chair, stand on one leg and grasp the ankle (not the arch) of the other foot with your hand. Ensure that the foot of the standing leg faces forwards and that the knee is relaxed. It must not be locked tight.
- Move bent leg forwards without raising hip. Try not to hang on to the chair for support.
- Inhale and lift your rib cage upwards. As you exhale, pull navel into spine and tilt the tail bone forwards. The pubic bone should line up with the hips.
- Inhale, keeping the lift in the rib cage. As you exhale, shrug shoulders back, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Remember to keep the tail bone tucked under the whole time.
- Inhale and keep lifting the rib cage, with navel pulled in. Without releasing tilted tail bone, exhale and draw leg backwards to line up the thighs. Your arm will straighten and you will feel an upward stretch in the chest and a downward stretch in the front of the thigh. Don’t bounce the leg backwards, but hold the position just until you feel comfortable, then release. Change legs and repeat.
CHEST AND SPINE STRETCH
- Stand about an arm’s length away from a wall, feet hip width apart, legs and feet facing forwards.
- Raise and place both arms above you on the wall, shoulder width apart. Ensure palms and fingers are stretched to their limits and that the elbows are locked straight.
- Inhale, pull navel into the spine, tilt pelvis forwards (to keep the stress off the small of the back). As you exhale, lift the chest forwards and upwards towards the wall, at the same time drawing the shoulder blades together and down at the back (chest and breastbone lifting, shoulder blades dropping).
- Keep body in a straight slant by keeping the pelvis firm and not allowing the bottom to stick out, otherwise you’ll put stress on your back. You’ll feel the chest opening up and spine lengthening, as well as a stretch in the arms and shoulders. Try holding for 15 seconds, initially, then build up to 30.
- Kneel on all fours, legs forming a straight line with the hips and hands (palms down, fingers flat and forwards), which should be placed slightly forward of the shoulders. Legs should be hip width and arms shoulder width apart. The back should be relaxed.
- Inhale. Exhale, pull navel into the spine and arch back as high as possible, relaxing the head and back of the neck. Press shoulders down towards the shoulder blades. Hold this stretch for five to 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat three times
COMPLETE SIDE STRETCH
- Imagine an imaginary line painted down one side of your body, from wrist to underarm, past the side of the knee and on to the ankle.
- Lie sideways on an exercise mat or thick blanket directly on this line lengthening the body until the lower hip bone is parallel with the top. Extend the arms over and under the head, just behind the ears. The head should not drop forwards.
- Bend the lower leg for balance at a 40 angle to the body, aligning the knee and heel. Ensure that the upper body and shoulders have not been allowed to drop forwards of the hips, otherwise the back will become curved.
- Grasp the top arm 7.5 cm (3inches) above the wrist with the lower hand. Flex the foot of the top leg until the heel is square with the knee, the toes and knees facing forwards. Tilt the pelvis to ensure that the small of the back is kept flat.
- Inhale. Exhale, hold the tilt, pull navel firmly into spine and lift the top leg off the ground in a straight line with (and no higher than) the hip. Ensure the foot has not moved forwards and the hips have remained steady. The spine should be one straight line from the nape of the neck to the tail bone, and aligned with the back of the head and the heel of the foot.
- Inhale. Exhale, keeping navel pulled in, and lift rib cage towards the shoulders. Lengthen the hip and leg in the opposite direction (pushing with a firm heel) until you feel the waist open up. Concentrate on lengthening the chest upwards instead of pulling on shoulder socket with the arm.
- Once the stretch feels comfortable, relax the foot and hold the position for 10-15 seconds. Change over to the other side. Repeat the movement one more time.
HAMSTRING AND TENDON STRETCH
- Kneel on all fours, legs hip width apart, with the knees and feet forming a straight line.
- Bring up one leg in front of the hip, ensuring that the knee is placed over the heel.
- Align hip bones and shoulders so the hips and upper body face forwards. Curl the toes of the back leg under the foot, so the heel and knee form a straight line.
- Place both hands (shoulders square) on either side of the front foot, shoulder width apart.
- Inhale. As you exhale, pull navel into the spine and shrug the shoulders back away from the ears, pulling the chest forwards, and raise the back knee off the ground. Try to open the back if the knee by pressing the heel away from you. Do not bounce the hips. You must keep the back in a straight slant by not allowing the hips to drag down. (If you do, the hip of the stretched leg will hang down, throwing your weight off balance, twisting the groin and pinching the lower back.) If done correctly, this position should feel quite comfortable. Hold pulled into the spine.
- Flatten back foot. Inhale, keep the navel pulled in and, without altering the alignment of the legs, shoulders and arms, exhale and move your hips backwards (hip bones parallel) until they are directly over the back knee. Your front leg will extend and hands remain on floor.
- Inhale. Exhale, pull navel in, align hips and balance your weight evenly. Lengthen the spine and take your chest as far forwards towards the front leg as is comfortable, keeping shoulders pressed back from the ears. (Any stress felt on the back means either that your hips are uneven or that you have dropped too far forwards.) The stretch in the front hamstring should be quite comfortable. (If you feel pins and needles or any stress, this means the legs have not been sufficiently warmed up or that you are over-stretching.)
- Hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds, then centre the body until both knees are bent. Place the front leg under the body and relax on the floor, bottom resting on heels and head on arms. Change legs and repeat the movement.
Simple stretch movements build strong muscles, too. Strength comes from holding the stretched position. When you perform the exercise properly, muscles may actually shudder because they are working hard. Stretching firms and lengthens the muscles, making them slender and streamlined. Performed regularly and correctly, they can smooth the way in coping with life’s pressures, as well as promoting a sleeker, more supple body.
Stretching works by increasing flexibility, especially of the spine, which houses the central nervous system and its connections to every part of the body. Stretching, makes muscles relax and, in so doing, improves circulation and allows waste to leave the tissues. This makes it a potent weapon against cellulite.
The physical aspect of stretching also has profound psychological benefits. The link between emotional tension and muscle tightness is well known. Gently lengthening the muscles helps to flush out such tension. Nothing seems to work quite like it for discharging stress which, if left bottled up, contributes to fatigue and other problems.