Incorporating stretching weekly into your life can improve your mental health in a simple and direct manner. Everyone experiences mental stress, but often that stress can manifest itself in physical stress as your muscles contract in response to stress. As muscles can tense up when you are stressed out, you may not even notice until you stretch to release the tension. Stretching is an easy way to relax tense muscles. Stretching is also a form of light exercise, so you can still enjoy the endorphins that come along with it and see an improvement in your mood as well! Another way stretching improves your mood is by alleviating chronic pain that creates anxiety.
While the debate over whether stretching prevents injury is still up in the air, there are simple stretches you can do to improve your posture and avoid developing lower back pain. Athletes especially tend to have bad posture if certain muscle groups are overdeveloped (shout out to those swimmers and their heavy back and shoulder muscles). Improving your postural tone with anything along the chain from your neck to your toes can help your lower back whenever you’re sitting or standing. Stretching muscles that contribute to your back support (hamstrings, quadriceps, abdominals, chest muscles, glutes) can improve their ability to relax and contract, and reduce the load on your back. Whether you are managing pain or stress, stretching can be a simple release and satisfying way to achieve a better state of mind. It is important to stretch, but it remains a supplement to everything else you do.
The pressure of exams, the holiday season, or any unexpected daily occurrence can increase your level of stress. Taking five minutes to focus on your body during these mentally straining times can help reduce muscle tension that is commonly associated with stress. The stretches listed below are aimed specifically at loosening the lower back muscles directly and through stretching muscles that contribute to back support, aiding in stress relief.
- Knees to Chest Stretch:
This is a great stretch to start loosening up your back, hamstrings, and quads. Lie face up with your back flat on the floor and your arms extended at your side. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Lift you legs to your chest and hug your legs just below your knees. Release your legs and bring your feet back to the floor. Repeat this movement five times or until you feel your lower back tension release.
- Lower Back Single Leg Lateral Stretch
- Cobra Stretch
Once the lower back is warm and loose, the cobra stretch will engage the mid-spine region, hip flexors, abdominal and chest muscles. Lie face down with your hands beneath your shoulders. Extend your arms, pushing your torso away from the floor. Hold position for 10-15 seconds. From there, rotate your head over your right shoulder, and hold for 10-15 seconds. Return to the center position, and the rotate you head, looking over your left shoulder. Hold position for 10-15 seconds.
- 3-Way Shoulder Stretch
From the cobra position, moving onto the shoulder series will release tension in the upper back and chest muscles. For this stretch sequence, you can start in either a standing or kneeling position. Cross your fingers in front of your chest and extend your arms. Reach as far as possible to increase the stretch. Next, cross your fingers behind your back. Lift and extend your arms to increase the stretch. Finally, cross your fingers overhead. Reach your hands as far as possible to increase the stretch. Hold each way for 10-15 seconds.
- Hamstring Oblique Stretch
The final stretch of the stress relief routine will focus on the muscle groups that contribute to back support, the hamstrings and obliques. Sit on the floor with one leg extended at a 45 degree angle and your other leg bent with your foot touching its opposite groin. Hinge at your hips and reach your inside hand towards the extended foot. Reach your outside hand overhead and towards the extended foot. Hold that position for 10-15 seconds. Return to the starting position and switch your leg position. Repeat the movement for the opposite side.
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