In 1980, I met a guy living on the Big Island in Hawaii that wrote a book called, “Stretching”. His name is Bob Anderson and if you can still find his book, it will change your health and well being.
While you are reading this, millions of people are learning that movement equates to better health and fitness.
When you leave your house and look around, what do you see? You see people walking, jogging, running, playing racquet sports, cycling, surfing, swimming, shooting hoops, and playing ball.
Why are they doing this? Enjoyment? Yes. Better fitness? An even bigger yes. People have discovered that an active lifestyle leads to better fitness and a fuller life. They have more stamina, resist illness, stay trim, and enjoy greater fitness. And all these equate to more self-confidence, less depression and frustration, and more energy to do things later in life.
Then of course, against their endless quest to get rich by prescribing synthetic chemicals to keep us well, the medical research took a walk on the wild side by conceding that a great deal of ill health is directly related to lack of physical activity.
Being aware of this fact, in addition to changing eating habits and more awareness of ill health is directly related to lack of physical activity, is changing lifestyles.
So, this incredible enthusiasm for movement has become a reality and not a fad. We now realize that the only way to prevent the diseases of inactivity is to remain active – not for a month, or a year, but for a lifetime.
Way back, our ancestors did not have the problems that go with a sedentary lifestyle because they had to work hard to survive. They stayed strong and healthy through continuous, vigorous outdoor work. They would chop and dig and till and plant and hunt and all the other stuff they did. But with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, machines began to do what used to be done by hand. Then as people became less active, they began to lose strength and the instinct for natural movement.
Yes, machines have obviously made life easier, but they have also created serious problems. Instead of walking, we drive; rather than climb stairs, we use elevators; while once we were almost continuously active, we now spend most of our time sitting on our butts.
Without daily physical exertion, our bodies become storehouses of unreleased tensions. With no natural outlets for our tensions, our muscles become weak and tight, and we lose touch with our physical nature and a complete sense of well being.
In the 70’s we took on a critical awareness of the necessity for a healthy life and found that good health is something we can actually have control over, and by doing this we can actually prevent poor health and disease.
By constantly moving, we rediscovered the joys associated with an active healthy life and the rewards that come with it.
The body’s capacity for recovery is phenomenal. A surgeon can make an incision to remove or correct a problem and sews us back up. Then the body takes over and heals itself making it so that nature finishes the surgeon’s job.
We all have this capacity for regaining health, whether it be from something as radical as surgery, or from poor physical condition caused by lack of activity and a bad diet.
By now you are probably asking, “what the hell does all this have with stretching”? I am so glad you asked.
Stretching is the crucial link between a sedentary life and an active life. It keeps the muscles supple, prepares you for movement, and helps make the daily transition from inactivity to vigorous activity without undue strain.
It is especially important if you run, cycle, play tennis or golf, or engage in other strenuous exercises, because exercises like these promote tightness and inflexibility. Stretching before and after you work out will keep you flexible and help prevent common injuries like shin splints, Achilles tendinitis from running, and sore shoulders or elbows from tennis.
So, with the vast amount of people engaging in various forms of exercise now, correct information is vital. Stretching might be easy, but if done incorrectly can actually be a nightmare. So, it is essential to understand the right techniques.
When done properly, stretching feels incredible. The good news is that you do not have to push your limits to go further each day. It doesn’t have to be a personal contest to see how far you can stretch. It should be tailored to your body encompassing your individual muscular structure, your flexibility, and your tension levels.
The key is regularity and relaxation with the object of reducing muscular tension to promote freer movement and not to attain extreme flexibility, which often leads to overstretching and injury.
Check out a dog or a cat. They instinctively know how to stretch and they do it spontaneously without over-stretching. They do it continually and naturally tuning up the muscles they will have to use.
Stretching is peaceful, relaxing, non-competitive, and not stressful and the subtle, invigorating feelings you get allow you to get in touch with your muscles. It is completely adjustable to the individual and there is no need to conform to any restrictive discipline.
With the right approach, anyone can be fit. Stretching does not require you to be a great athlete, but you do need to take it slowly, especially in the beginning. It takes time to allow your mind and body to adjust to the stress associated with physical activity. Remember to take your time, start easy and be regular. There is no way you will get into shape in a day just like Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Each of us is a unique physical and mental being with our own comfortable and enjoyable rhythms. We are all different in strength, endurance, flexibility and temperament. If you learn about you, you will be able to develop your own potential and gradually build a foundation of fitness that will last a lifetime.
Everyone can learn to stretch regardless of age or flexibility. You don’t need to be in top physical condition or have specific athletic skills. Whether you sit at a desk all day, dig ditches, do housework, stand at an assembly line, drive a truck, or exercise regularly, the same stretching techniques apply. They are gentle and easy and will conform to individual differences in muscle tension and flexibility and can be done any time you feel like doing it: at work, in a car, waiting for a bus, walking down the street, on the beach, in the water, or after a hike.
What does stretching accomplish?
- It will reduce muscle tension and make the body feel more relaxed.
- It helps coordination by allowing for freer and easier movement.
- It prevents injuries and muscle strains.
- It makes strenuous activities easier because it lets the muscles know they are going to be used.
- It develops body awareness.
- It promotes circulation.
- It fells good.
- It loosens the mind’s control of the body so the body moves for its own sake rather than for competition or ego.
When you begin to stretch spend no more than 30 seconds in an easy stretch with no bouncing. Go to the point of mild tension and relax as you hold the stretch. The feeling of tension should subside as you hold the position. If not, ease up and find a degree of tension that is comfortable.
After this easy stretch, move slowly into a bit more until you again feel a mild tension and hold it for no more than 30 seconds, again with no bouncing. If this tension does not subside, back off a little.
Then do it one more time with no bouncing. You will see and feel your stretch increase but ease off if it is uncomfortable.
Then move on to a different muscle stretch and follow the 3-step procedure.
Breathing should be slow and relaxed and under control. If you are bending forward to do a stretch, exhale as you bend forward then breathe slowly as you hold the stretch. Do not hold your breath while stretching. If a stretch position inhibits your breathing pattern, it is an indication that you are not relaxed. So, ease up on the stretch so you can breathe naturally.
One important point to realize is that your muscles have an innate protective feature. Anytime you stretch too far, a message is sent to the muscles to contract, keeping them from getting injured. When you stretch too far, you will tighten the very muscles you are trying to stretch. Just go slowly and patiently.
All of us that were athletes in our younger years grew up with the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. Don’t kid yourself. Stretching, when done correctly, is not painful. So, pay attention to your body, be cognizant of your limitations, and realize that pain is an indication the something is wrong. On bending stretches, bend from the hips and not from the shoulders or head, as it will round the shoulders and put pressure on the lower back.
At 79, I am in 3 softball leagues, race walk, swim, and teach women’s self-defense classes based on 20 or so years of Wing Chun training. And trust me, if I didn’t stretch everyday I’d be in big trouble. Oh yeah, my diet has made it so I don’t have any illnesses or take any meds.
“Stretching” by Bob Anderson