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It's September — and that means waving goodbye to laid back summer days and welcoming the hustle of the fall season. With kids going back to school and work schedules picking up, it can be hard to keep exercise a priority this time of year. That's why this month we're keeping it simple by focusing on making stretching a daily habit.
Despite how important stretching is for your health, it’s often something we overlook. But flexibility is worth making the time for. It doesn’t just reduce recovery time and risk of injury when exercising, but it also makes completing everyday tasks easier and reduces aches and pains. And taking the time to slow down and show our muscles some love can also be a great self-care activity that boosts for our mental health.
The good news is you don’t need to devote a ton of time to stretching to feel the results. Start with just five minutes a day.
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Can you commit to stretching for 30 days?
The reason so many of us forget to stretch is because we aren’t in the habit of doing it. So let’s start small. To help you make stretching a habit, I challenge you to commit to doing this five-minute stretch routine every day for a month. Yes, committing to just five minutes a day can have positive effects on your physical and mental state. You may have to remind yourself about your stretching routine for the first couple of days, but once you start feeling the benefits, it will become second nature.
Until it does, print out the calendar and keep it somewhere it will catch your attention — like the fridge or your bathroom mirror!
Halfway through the month we're going to up our daily stretch time to 10 minutes. If that doesn't work for your schedule, feel free to stick with 5 minutes. Or consider breaking up your stretch into two, 5-minute sessions. Perhaps one in the morning and another to wind down at the end of the day?
5-minute yoga stretch
This is a 5-minute yoga stretch that I encourage my private weight-loss clients to do daily. Not only is stretching and yoga good for flexibility and weight loss, but it’s also good for overall muscular health and body function. There are two types of stretching we will perform in this routine:
Static stretching is a longer hold and is found in many Hatha yoga classes. Holding a stretch or a yoga pose for 20 seconds or more helps release muscular tension and stress. This type of stretching is generally performed at the end of a workout when the muscles are already warmed up.
Dynamic stretching is more movement-based stretching and can be similar to Vinyasa flow yoga. The benefits of these types of stretches is that they help improve range of motion and flexibility of the body as a whole. These stretches literally flow from one move to the next to help loosen up the body. They are also a great way to warm up before exercise.
I included both types of stretching into this routine to give you a well-rounded stretch that can be done any time of day. Try it in the morning to start your day, as an excuse to step away from the computer for an afternoon break, or as a way to wind down before bed. If you want to couple this stretch with a walk, I recommend using it as a cool down since it does include some of the static stretches that are best done after exercise.
If you don’t have a mat, you can do the kneeling yoga sequence on the carpet, a towel or a blanket to help support your knees.
Remember to breathe
Performing a daily stretch routine with yogic breathing will help more than just your flexibility. Yogic breathing improves immune function and helps with fatigue and stress. If you’re not sure how to perform yogic breathing, use the movements as a guide.
Each movement will be synced to the breath. Inhale through the nose, and then exhale through the nose. During the holds of each pose, you can also continue with this deep breathing while you think about relaxing more on the exhale and expanding more on the inhale.
Kneeling stretch sequence
Kneeling mountain pose
Start in a kneeling position with your knees on the ground and the tops of your feet on the mat. Straighten your quads and back so that your body forms a straight line from your knees to your head. Raise your arms straight up overhead and reach toward the sky.
Hands and knees
Flow your arms down so that you are on all fours. Make sure your hips are over your knees, your hands are underneath your shoulders, and that your weight is equally distributed between your hands and knees. Pull your abs in and push the ground away from you to keep your whole body engaged.
From your hands and knees, gently move into the cow pose by arching your back and dropping your stomach toward the mat, looking toward the sky. As you exhale, move into the cat pose by pulling in your abs and rounding your back toward the sky. Repeat this 10 times.
Low runner’s lunge
From an all-fours position, step your right foot forward and bend the knee so that the knee is over the ankle. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your left quad and hip flexor. Place your palms onto your right quad or onto a chair if it’s close by. Hold for 5 deep breaths and then switch sides.
Kneeling hamstring stretch
Begin on your knees with your back straight. Keep your left knee on the ground as you move your right leg straight out in front of you, resting the heel on the ground. Your leg should form a 45-degree angle with the ground. For more of a stretch, push your heel into the ground and lean forward, hinging at the hips. Hold for 5 deep breaths and then switch sides.
Standing stretch sequence
Standing mountain pose
Stand with your feet hips-width apart and your arms straight down at your sides. Make sure you’re balanced, and begin to press your big toes together. Straighten your legs and tighten your quads so that you remain firm and balanced. Squeeze your glutes while straightening and elongating your spine, neck and shoulders. Raise your arms straight up overhead and reach toward the sky.
From a standing position. Reach the arms out to the sides and up, and then dive forward hinging at your hips. Hanging forward with a slight bend in your knees, allow your chin to rest towards your chest. Let your arms dangle. If you’re able to, try to touch your palms or fingertips to the floor on either side of your feet. Hold this for 5 deep breaths.
Gently press your fingertips into your shins or quads. Inhale and lift your upper body away from your quads while keeping your back straight until your upper body is parallel to the ground. Release and come back to a forward fold.
From a standing position, step your left foot back behind you. Bend your right knee so that your quad is parallel with the mat. Reach your arms toward the sky and straighten your back. Hold for 5 breaths, relaxing the shoulders, before switching sides.
Standing hamstring stretch
Begin in a standing position. Place your right heel on the ground in front of you with the toe pointing toward the sky. Bend your left knee slightly. Press your heel into the ground and hinge forward at the hips so that you feel the stretch in your right leg. Press your hands onto your right thigh. Hold for 5 breaths before switching sides.
5-minute bonus stretch
Halfway through the month we're going to up our daily stretch to 10 minutes by adding this bonus routine!
Seated cat cow
Sit on the ground in a cross-leg position. Place your hands on your knees and sit up straight. Inhale as you pull your knees with your hands, helping to guide your chest forward and arch your low back. Lift your head toward the sky. Then exhale and round the back, leaning back slightly until you feel a pulling with your hands on your knees. Think of moving your torso away from your knees. Repeat 5 times each.
Seated cross-legged forward fold (left and right)
From a cross-legged, seated position, inhale as you reach your arms straight over your head. Exhale as you lean your chest forward over your legs, reaching your arms forward and resting them on the floor. Hold for 3 breaths. Feel a stretch in your low back. Then walk your hands over to the right and reach your arms on a diagonal to the right. Feel a stretch in the left side of your waist and back. Hold for 3 breaths, then walk the hands over to the left and reach your arms on a diagonal to the left. Feel a stretch in the right side of your waist and back. Hold for 3 breaths, and then move on to the next exercise.
Seated side stretch
Sitting up straight in a cross-legged position, inhale and reach both arms up overhead. Reach the right hand down toward the ground on the right side of your body. Exhale as you reach the left arm up and over the your head toward the right side of the room. Hold for 3 breaths, and then come through center. Repeat on the other side, and then move on to the next exercise.
Lying figure four
Lying down on your back, bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Grab your left hamstring with both hands, and pull the left leg in toward your chest. Flex the right foot and feel a stretch in the right glute. Hold for 3 breaths, and then switch sides. Then move on to the next exercise.
Lying down on your back, hug both knees into your chest. Open the arms straight out to your sides into a "T" shape. Keeping your torso facing forward, lower the legs to the right and turn your head to the left. Hold the stretch for 3 breaths, then come to center. Switch to the left side, hold for 3 breaths, and then move on to the next exercise.
Lying knees to chest
Lying down on your back, hug both knees into your chest. Wrap your arms around your legs so that your hands rest on your shins. Gently pull the legs in closer to the chest and reach the tailbone down toward the ground. Feel a stretch along the entire spine. Hold for 3 breaths.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com