You already make regular appointments with your massage therapist because you know that getting massages is great for nearly every part of you. You’ve been feeling better, getting sick less often, and are even sleeping a little better. However, savvy as you are, you might be neglecting to take care of your muscles before, after, and in between massages as well.
Stretching is an often-overlooked aspect of body care. Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles, increases your joint range of motion, and enables your muscles to work their fullest potential. To get started, be sure that you don’t try and stretch cold muscles. The optimal time to stretch is after a light session of exercise, such as a 10-minute walk or jog. Aim to hold each stretch, without bouncing, for 20-30 seconds. Before a massage, stretching can help make your muscles more accessible and loosened up for your massage therapist. The day after a massage, if muscles feel a little tight, some gentle stretching following a warm bath can be very helpful. Here are a few of our favorites:
- The Toe-Touch, or as close as you can get. Even though this is a least-favorite stretch for many folks, it’s nonetheless an important one. This stretch addresses your hamstrings (the group of four muscles on the back of each thigh), the lower back, and the muscles around your shoulders. Hint: If you can’t quite reach the floor (few of us can), then rest your hands on a hard surface at the level that is raised from the floor. Yoga blocks, a kitchen chair, a stack of books, or a step stool all work just fine.
- The Butterfly. Such a delicate, fun name for such a killer stretch! Sit with your feet touching soles in front of you with your knees bent, gently press down on your bent knees toward the ground, bending at the waist. This stretch helps out your hip adductors, which, when tight and inflexible, can lead to a greater chance of injuring your knees or lower back.
- The Hip Flexor Lunge. A truly satisfying stretch when done correctly, this one can take some finagling before the proper form is found. Kneel on the ground, and then bring your right foot forward, flat on the ground, into a kneeling lunge. Bring your right flat foot forward, keeping your right knee above your right ankle, and lean into the lunge. You should feel a deep stretch in the muscle that runs below your hip bone. Repeat on the left side. The small-but-mighty hip flexors are responsible for keeping your hips and lower back strong and properly aligned.
- The Standing Thigh Release. Channel your inner ballerina for this heavy-hitter. Stand with your abs engaged and your feet together. Bring your right heel toward your tush and grasp the top of your foot with your right hand. Raise your left arm over your head, or rest it on a chair. Press right foot into hand to increase stretch along front of thigh. Switch sides and repeat. This effective stretch targets your abs, arms, hip flexors, hips, and back.
It’s true that stretching helps keep your muscles in healthy, flexible condition. However, the very act of focusing on your muscles for a long, slow moment forces you to pause your activity, thoughts, and busy-ness. You allow yourself some space to treat your body well, and appreciate your muscles and ligaments. Good for your body, good for your mind; stretching is just one more important step on your path to wellness.