Monday, September 22, 2014

Anti-Gravity Stretches Everyone Needs To Do

Anti-gravity stretches to improve posture, reduce pain, and make you feel good!

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Stiff neck, stiff back, tight shoulders, low back pain, and the list goes on and on. We all go through it, it's part of being a human who sits all day. That's not the end of the story. There are things we can do to relieve some of the discomfort, the pain, improve our posture, and give our poor back a break.

Gravity Stretches

Your body in a lot of ways is like a car. If you maintain it properly, you can avoid costly repairs down the line. If you think the mechanic charges an arm and a leg, go into an operating room for an arm or a leg and look at the bill afterwards. Even with insurance, it's costly.

Let me introduce you to the world of gravity stretches. Think of your body as Jenga and gravity stretches as a way to level your body out. Add them to your health and maintenance routine and they will change your life. You will notice instant relief, but they work better when you do them consistently over time. They will chip away at the knots and hot spots you've accumulated.

Foam Roller Posture Opener

This is a great one to start with. All you need is a long foam roller (at least 36 inches and preferably high density), but if you don't have one, you can make do with a shorter roller, a pillow, and sofa cushions. Put the pillow under your head and the cushions under your glutes. What's important is that your chest gets to open up. It will begin to relax your neck, open your chest, your traps, your back, your shoulders, and let your glutes rest. It's literally the opposite of sitting in a chair and will undo a lot of the rounding of the shoulders, forward neck, and slouching we've developed. If you have good balance, you can put your feet up on the wall, the couch, or a chair. This will allow for better circulation and give your heart less work to do. Gravity stretches allow your body to be in an environment to heal.

  • Optimal time is 5 - 15 minutes but even 30 seconds will provide some relief. Once you get into position though, you may not want to get up.

Physio-Ball Posture Opener

If you don't have a foam roller, you can use a physio-ball (also known as a balance ball). It's something many gyms, offices, and homes have but lately they're just collecting dust. Mostly because people don't know what else you can do with them. Well here's another use for them besides just sitting.

Whether you sit on a ball or a chair, you will end up slouching so get up and lie down! It provides a little extra relief for the neck because of the nature of its shape and a bit more of an aggressive chest stretch. You will need more strength to hold this pose but the benefit will be in strengthening of the glutes, the low back, and stretching of the hips. This is something I have all my athletes and martial artists do to recover. This is a more advanced pose than the foam roller version and if you have poor balance or fear falling, start on the foam roller.

  • Optimal time is 3-5 minutes but again any amount of time helps.

Physio-Ball Back Stretch

This probably is the most enjoyable stretch. If you've never done this stretch, the first thing you might do is make an audible sigh of relief. Just by looking at it, you get an idea of why this feels good. It's lengthening out the whole spine, including the neck, and it's stretching the arms as well.

  • Optimal time is however long feels good. If your arms get tingly and you get a strong head rush, it's time to get off the ball. Get off the ball slowly just in case you're light headed.

Legs Up The Wall Pose

This has so many benefits for healing and recovery. Something many athletes are forced to do by their coaches after practice. Based on your flexibility, you can be flush against the wall, or away from the wall. The key is to be comfortable, don't force an aggressive leg stretch. Putting your legs above your heart and allowing gravity to no longer pull on your back will not only produce good things for your body, but it's beneficial even against anxiety. This is why this posture is so popular in yoga.

When you're here, open your palms up to align your shoulders, or put your hands on your belly to focus on your breathing. Part of poor posture and discomfort stems from dysfunctional breathing. With less gravity on your body, focus on breathing with your chest and your stomach, not with your traps, shoulders, and upper back. Lie here and just clear your mind.

Something that pulls on our back is our hamstrings, this pose creates a mild but constant stretch of our hamstrings. A version you'll see at the end of class in many martial arts schools is to hold this pose while spreading the legs, to allow gravity to open up the hips and groin to help attain the splits. If you want to improve flexibility in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Mixed Martial Arts, consider this a must.

  • Optimal time is whenever your legs go numb. Take a short nap here. Five minutes will feel like an hour.

Victory Pose

Here's my favorite pose. For inner strength, confidence, and just to make you feel good. It's something universally understood by every race and culture. It's a pose even blind people assume when they feel victorious. Harvard Business School professor and researcher Amy Cuddy gives a fantastic TED talk about the benefits of power posing. Whenever I feel nervous or low, I steal some time to take this pose and self talk to myself and coach myself into the right mindset. Often you will see fighters come out to the ring with this pose, or raise their hands in this pose when their name is announced. Don't save it for the end, own this pose.

Other considerations:

  • As much as all of this is important, so is less sitting. Consider getting a standing desk, this is what I use at home and my neck and shoulders have never felt better. Antidotes aren't the only way to deal with poison, you can also... you know... take less poison. Just a thought.
  • Self massage and daily mobility drills have been the secret to better movement and less injury for people of Asia and Eastern Europe. Calisthenics was the common name for it in the US but has mostly disappeared after the 50s. Consider adding it to your daily habits and rituals and keep yourself running in tip top shape. Nothing will replace more movement (refer to my poison analogy). So move more and sit less.
  • When you're ready to take it up a notch, put it all together into a fitness routine. Exercise is the most proven method to improve the body and also the brain. You brush your teeth right? Now it's time to give your body the same respect you've given your teeth.

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