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Let’s face it: Life can be stressful. Whether it’s deadlines at work, worrying about bills or just trying to get everything done, it can feel like you don’t even have time to breathe, much less relax.
The good news is you don’t need a live-in massage therapist or a two-week vacation to unwind. “The easiest way to improve anxiety caused by stress is to move the body,” says Sibyl Knight, DO, a physician at The Osteopathic Way in Santa Cruz, California. “Prey animals often shake after being hunted. Our human nervous system is able to let off some physical stress through movement, as well.”
Small efforts like this de-stress stretching routine can have a huge impact on our mental and physical health. According to Knight, a 10-minute walk, five minutes of movement or even just two minutes of breathing deeply can profoundly affect the body’s physiologic response to stress.
This routine only takes a few minutes and can be done in your office, living room — or on that tropical vacation if you’re lucky! It focuses on the chronically tight areas of the body — neck, shoulders, lower back and hips — and with a little practice can be done in as little as 10 minutes.
Neck Stretch Series
Whether we’re staring at a computer screen or hunching over our phones, our necks are often bent and strained in awkward positions for hours at a time. Fortunately, you can do this three-exercise series from a seated or standing position, making it the perfect way to start your de-stress stretching routine.
To begin, lift your chest slightly and retract your chin to align your neck. From there, tuck your chin toward your chest to stretch the back of your neck. Hold this position for five to 10 seconds, then lift your chin back to the starting position. Repeat three to five times.
Once you’ve stretched the back of your neck, return to neutral and turn your head as far as you can to one side, keeping your neck in line with your spine. Hold for three to five seconds, then turn your head back to the front before turning to the opposite side. Hold and then turn back to the first side. Twist three to five times to each side.
For the final movement, bend your head sideways, bringing your ear toward your shoulder. Hold for three to five seconds, then gently tuck your chin down and roll your head across the front of your chest, ending with your head bent toward the opposite shoulder. Hold for three to five seconds, then reverse the direction of the roll to return to the first shoulder. Repeat three to five times.
Not only does the move relieve tension in your shoulders and chest, but it also creates more space for your ribs to move, making it easier to take deep, relaxing breaths. You can perform this stretch from a standing or seated position.
Interlock your fingers behind your back and press your hands down to extend your elbows and pull your shoulders back. Keep your chest up and your head balanced on top of your spine. Extend up and breathe deeply, opening your chest. Hold for three to five breaths, roughly 20 to 30 seconds.
A staple of yoga routines, the forward bend is an excellent way to relieve stress and tension in the lower back. While it is most effective from a standing position, you also can perform this in a seated position. You can even go straight from the chest opener to the forward bend, keeping your hands clasped behind your back as you stretch.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees straight but not locked out. Bend at your hips to hinge your body forward. If your hands are free, reach them toward the ground. The goal is to keep your hips high and extending toward the ground for spinal traction. Bend your knees slightly if you need to. As flexibility improves, you’ll be able to keep your knees straight.
A combination of the Frog and Dragon, the Fragon stretch is a hip mobility favorite among CrossFit athletes, but even if you don’t get your sweat on in a daily Workout of the Day, you can still benefit from this movement. Tight hip flexors tend to exacerbate lower-back pain and stress, and better mobility around the hips improves postural alignment and movement.
Begin on the floor in an all-fours position. Step one foot up into a low lunge. Turn your back knee in 90 degrees to open up the hips, then drop down onto your elbows if you can. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Lying Torso Rotation
Known in yoga as the Revolved Abdomen Pose, this move tones the belly while stretching the lower back and hips. Twisting poses also promote deeper relaxation and are good for digestion and circulation.
Lie on your back and pull both knees up, hugging your knees to your chest and breathing deeply to relax and stretch the lower back. Keep your legs up and drop both arms out to the side in a T.
Take a deep breath in, then exhale and allow both legs to fall to one side, twisting your hips. End with your legs on the floor pointing toward your elbows. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, then pull both legs back up. Repeat on the opposite side.
By the end of this de-stress stretching routine, you’ll feel more relaxed and flexible than when you started. Use it anytime you need a quick reset, especially to unwind at the end of your day.