Are you feeling tight or sore? Do you have muscle stiffness or cramping, but don’t have time to get to yoga or book a massage? Are you realizing that you’re not going to live forever and you need to start taking care of yourself? Haha (or maybe not so haha), well, me too! And that’s why I put together a few simple techniques for you to help stay supple and vibrant, so we can live the lives we want. A little self-care goes a long way in the world of human potential.
You hear people say it all the time, “Once you hit 40’s it’s all downhill from there!” Rubbish, I say! There are way too many people in their 80’s, 90’s and beyond who are living happy, healthy, functional lives. But there are a few things they’re doing on regular basis to help keep themselves supple and strong. We all know about the exercising and the diet, but here I’m making a plea to keep yourself mobile and agile.
All it takes is 10-15 minutes everyday of a little self care and you’re free to go live a vibrant life. Obviously, if you have an acute injury, you might need to see a professional. I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on the internet. I am, however, a 46 year young endurance athlete and yoga teacher, so I do know a bit about the body and how it functions. These are just a few tips to help keep up some good maintenance on your body.
There are a few kinds of stretching, but since we are talking about recovery here, I want to show you a few static stretches. This kind of stretching, or yin yoga, as it’s referred to, is about holding poses for a long time. There is a general consensus in the world of physical therapy and yoga, that muscles take at least 30 seconds to relax. It would be fantastic if you took 15 minutes to do a few poses that will help increase your flexibility in your hamstrings (the back of your legs), your inner hips, and your outer hips and glutes or butt muscles.
The first pose is simple. It’s called head to knee pose. Sit down, straighten your right leg forward, bend your left knee and bring your foot to the inner thigh of your right leg. Then, begin to lean forward reaching for your right foot. If you’re more flexible, you’ll grab your foot with both hands, but if you’re less flexible, reach for your knee or calf, or whatever you can find. The idea here is to feel that stretch in the back of your leg. You might feel a stretch in your lower back, but please make sure that if you feel any pain in your lower back, that you refrain from rounding your back. That will only make it more painful and compress the discs. Hold this pose for 1-4 minutes then change sides.
The second pose is frog pose, this is for the inner hips, groin, and adductors. Come onto your hands and knees, make sure your knees are protected by some cushion like a yoga mat or blanket. If you’re on your living room rug that’s fine too. From your hands and knees begin to move your knees further and further apart. Get them as far apart as possible. You’ll begin to feel this in your hips, then make sure you turn your feet out. Next, come down on your elbows. This is just the set up. I know, it’s very intense. Finally, the stretch begins as you begin to walk the hips back gently. You’ll want to find the spot where you can ease back into that stretch. I call it the sweet spot of surrender. Not too deep, but not too easy. I recommend at least 2 minutes in this pose, but you can increase to four or five.
The third pose is pigeon pose. You can begin on your hands and knees again, then move your right knee closer to your right hand and a little outside the hand. You want the lower part of your right leg on a 45 degree angle from the knee to the foot. Your right knee is outside your body while your right foot is over near your left hip. This stretch is for your gluteus maximus, a.k.a. your butt. You may also feel it in your hamstrings. Another disclaimer here. If you feel this in your knee at all, please make sure you stop. It’s not worth hurting your knee. You can move the leg and see if you can find a position that doesn’t hurt your knee, but never push into pain in the knee.
This work is our second topic because most people have some sort of ball lying around, whether it’s a tennis ball, a hard ball, soft ball, hand ball, lacrosse ball, something. And if you don’t, you can pick one up at a nearby store for a few dollars. I love ball work because it allows you to get much more specific with your target point.
For instance, you can put the ball right on the lower calf, then put the weight of your second leg on top of the bottom leg to increase your release. If you’re feeling up to it, you can roll the ankle in both directions or snap the foot forward. This will give the connection of the calf a great massage ultimately opening up the area giving rise to better flexibility.
This basic theory can be used for muscles throughout the body. Using your ball, simply find your tight spots, begin to put some load on the ball, then if possible, begin to move the limb you’re working on. For instance, if you’re working on your deltoid, or shoulder muscles, you would begin to move your arm, after you given enough time to simply let gravity do it’s work. Sometimes that’s enough.
Most people hate foam rolling and I don’t blame them. It can be super intense, painful, and doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything good. However, it is, it really is, I promise you that. Think of it like a massage where you’re creating better circulation and moving some of the proteins that cause soreness through your body. The blood and lymph systems will help to flush out the tightness.
Similar to the ball work, foam rolling is done by putting your specific spot on the foam roller, allowing gravity to work first by leaning into the tender spot, then rolling back and forth when possible. For instance, if you are starting with your quadriceps, you want to begin with laying on your stomach, then placing the foam roller under your thigh. This can be very intense, so you may want to start with a little bit of pressure than increase it as you work out some of the kinks. Once you’ve let some weight onto the muscle I recommend moving slowly up and down reaching the entire length of the muscle. Move slowly at first. This will make things a lot more manageable. Then rinse and repeat. You can use the same technique with your calves, hamstrings, low back, upper back, shoulders, etc.
I believe that keeping yourself mobile is one of the most important ways to continue living life as freely as you want. I’m sure you’ve been in the situation before when you had an injury and the first thing you thought was, “why wasn’t I taking care of myself better?” Well, now you no longer have an excuse. Your life depends on self care in so many ways. We’re not going to stop the aging process. In fact, we’re not even going to slow it down very much, but we really can increase the quality of our lives in just a few short minutes every day. So stretch, get a ball or a foam roller, and get to work! I actually have a bunch of videos that can help get you started here. You can also find me on the social media channels @teddymcdonald. I’m always here to help.
Originally published on the author’s website.