At a yoga seminar about 20 years ago, I admired the body and graceful gait of a shapely young woman walking ahead of me. When we got into the classroom and I saw her face, I realized she was in her 80s. She had been teaching yoga for many years, and her body looked and moved like that of a young woman. It was a good lesson.
I do a little stretching most days to stay flexible, although I don’t do a full yoga routine as I once did. I aim for 10 minutes with more a few days a week, especially in the winter when I’m not gardening and have more time. If you’ve never taken a yoga class, I suggest you try one. We grow increasingly stiff as we age if we don’t do something to keep our muscles loose. A little stretching combined with a strength routine is an excellent remedy.
I suggested this group of exercises for women who spend most of their work day sitting in front of a computer. They were interested in simple stretches for lowering physical and mental stress and avoiding back pain.
If you’ve taken a yoga class, you can create your own 10 minute stretching routine. Include forward, backward, and twisting motions. Stretch the neck; we hold so much tension there. Most of the stretches provided below can be done at your desk. A minute here, a minute there. Never over-stretch, bounce, or jerk. Stretching should feel relaxing and never hurt.
Sit erect and forward of the back support of your chair. Cross your legs, so the left knee is on top. Place your left hand behind you and twist to the left, using the left hand for gentle leverage. Hold, rotating the upper body as far as is comfortable. Turn your chin over your left shoulder and look behind you. Keep the shoulders relaxed and down. Breathe softly and hold stretch for 15 seconds, accentuating the twisting motion on each exhalation. Return to the center, relax and repeat in the opposite direction. Repeat.
Seated Shoulder Stretch
Sit on your chair seat with feet spread a little on the floor. Relax shoulders down and back and keep head in line with spine. Interlock your fingers and turn your palms out (or bend wrist so that back of hand faces you and touch the fingertips of two hands together) and stretch arms forward. Lift straight arms above your head, keeping shoulders down and back. Raise arms slowly until you feel a stretch in the shoulders. Relax those shoulders and breathe. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds while you breathe slowly, emphasizing the stretch on the exhalation. Repeat.
Stand in front of a chair with feet hip-width apart, knees lightly bent. Keep your back straight and your neck in line with your spine. Bent forward from the hips and place outstretched hands on a table or the seat of a chair, depending on your flexibility. Keep the back straight and the hips centered over your ankles. Feel the stretch in the back of your thighs and calves, but don’t overstretch and hurt yourself. As always, be gentle and only go as deeply as you can without rounding your back. Repeat the stretch twice for 15 seconds each time, emphasizing the stretch on the exhalation. As you gain flexibility, bend your elbows a little to increase the stretch in your hamstrings.
Level 1: Stand next to a chair with your back facing the side of the chair, holding the back of the chair with your right hand for balance. Bend your left knee and rest the back of your foot or your shin on the chair. Keep the right leg slightly bent through the movement. Breathe and feel the stretch. Slowly increase the bend in the right leg to increase the stretch. Perform this stretch twice for 15 seconds on each side. If this is easy, move to level 2.
Level 2: Stand behind a chair, holding the back of the chair with your right hand. Keep your right foot on the floor with the knee slightly bent. Bend your left knee, bring your heel toward your buttocks, and grasp your left foot with your left hand. Hold stretch for 15 seconds on each side, emphasizing stretch with exhalation. Don’t over-arch your lower back or pull your leg to the side to get the heel closer to your buttocks. Keep your knee in line with your hip.
Moving the back in concave/convex positions.
Two variations of the beginning position for cat stretch:
1. On the floor on hands and knees, hands directly beneath shoulders, arms straight, hips up and back, directly over bent knees. Back parallel to the floor.
2. Stand in front of a chair, bend forward to let seat of chair support hands, keep a straight and strong back with knees soft (not locked).
Stretch 1: While exhaling, let the head hang down and hump the back to stretch back muscles. While exhaling, raise the head and let the waist sag toward the floor.
Stretch 2: Exhale, turn laterally and look over your shoulder, creating a spinal curve like a letter C. From above, the spine looks crescent shaped. Inhale and slowly turn your face to the center. Exhale and look over your other shoulder. Keep your hips over your knees during this move—don’t wag your tail too much.
Sit with head, neck, and trunk straight and facing forward. Keep the shoulders down, back, and stable. Do all stretches slowly and consciously since the neck is an area that carries lots of tension and is easily hurt.
1. Forward and backward bend. Exhale and bring the head forward, tucking the chin toward the chest and stretching the back of the neck. Inhale and lift the head up and back, stretching the muscles of the front of the neck. Repeat slowly a few times.
2. Chin over shoulder. Exhale and turn the head as far to the left as possible, trying to bring the chin in line with the shoulder. Inhale and bring head to forward position. Exhale and turn the head to the right. Repeat.
3. Ear to shoulder. Exhale and bring left ear toward left shoulder. Inhale and come to center. Exhale and move right ear to right shoulder. Inhale and come to center. Don’t raise shoulders to meet the ears. Repeat.