Stretching Beyond the Habits of Your Mind and Body

By Heath and Nicole Reed
[Savvy Self-Care]

The benefits of stretching abound. Advantages include improved posture and performance, more range of motion (ROM) and flexibility, and increased circulation and injury prevention. And what we love most about stretching (and why we keep on stretching) is how it makes us feel. After a brief calf stretch on a walk, a neck stretch squeezed in between clients, or a forearm stretch on the way home in the car, we always feel better. We feel longer, stronger, more spacious, and relieved.

Bio-Psyche Operating System Upgrade

The feeling of creating space from the inside out has its own benefits experienced in the body and in our mind. Author Joe Dispenza, DC, refers to thoughts as the “language of the mind” and feelings as the “language of the body.” Every stretch gives us the opportunity to merge the language of our mind and body to experience enhanced sensations and refreshed awareness. When we invite new possibilities into our being—like stretching—we invite new neural pathways to grow and connect.
The classic neuroanatomy axiom “what fires together wires together” is on display as we rewire our brain by doing something new and practicing it over and over again. In other words, as we update our software (i.e., rewrite the habitual code of our thoughts and feelings), our hardware (nervous system) is modified. Interestingly, you can also do this in reverse. By changing your physicality (posture, exercise, rest, etc.), you can change your software (thoughts and feelings).
What are the physical and mental habits that are wired into your operating system? Do they emphasize more of what you want to feel and think? We suggest that whatever you do, choose the habits that generate the qualities you yearn for and quench your desires—and do those more often.
For us, stretching is one way we continue to grow our happiness capacity. It’s a way we practice feeling good in our bodies, and a way to encourage the circulation of feel-good hormones and help create a container for positive thinking.

Goldilocks Stretch 101

Stretching, when done safely and regularly, is restorative, relaxing, pleasurable, and healing. But you can overdo a good thing. We request that you not tolerate pain during any stretch. Pain is described differently by different people, but there are two clear indications from your body intelligence that you’re reinforcing pain:

1. You hold your breath.
2. You unnecessarily tense up other muscles in a stress response (the usual suspects are tightening your shoulders, neck, or jaw).

Instead, look for the “Goldilocks stretch.” Refrain from too much intensity, where you’re holding your breath or tightening up, but also not so easy that you’re blankly going through the motions without finding a sensory-rich experience. Only stretch to the edge of tension, where you can continue to breathe with soft muscles. This way, you’ll avoid injury while getting the most from stretching.
Also, because fascia takes a minimum of 20–30 seconds to stretch, hold the following stretches for at least three deep breaths or 30 seconds. We recommend imagining you are sending your breath into the area where you feel the most sensation. Visualize inflating that area like a balloon with your breath, an intention, and/or your smile. To create structural change and to calm the mind, consider holding stretches for up to two minutes. Most importantly, refuse to feel any pain as you show yourself the same kindness and compassion you share with every person who rests on your table.

Wrist Flexors and Extensors Stretch

To create space in your wrist flexors, place your open palms on the table so your fingers are pointing toward your body (Image 1). Keep elbows soft, lengthen into your neck, and slide your shoulders down toward your back pockets. Shift your body weight forward and back until you find your perfect Goldilocks stretch.
To create space in your wrist extensors, try this same stretch, but place the back side of your hands resting on the table with fingers pointing toward you (Image 2). Explore the perfect stretch sensation for you as you shift your body weight. Both these stretches help increase circulation of blood, lymph, and synovial fluid, as well as rehabbing or prehabbing repetitive stress injuries in the hands, fingers, thumbs, wrists, and even elbows.

Thoracic Opener

Place both forearms palm down and shoulder width apart on the table while you step back, hinging at your waist until your upper body is parallel to the ground (Image 3). This will help open your shoulder girdle, counteract rounded shoulders (excessive thoracic kyphosis), and create more space in your heart center to allow for wider, deeper breaths. And you may also receive the extra bonus feature of a sumptuous hamstring stretch.

Psoas Release

Stand beside your table and lift your leg so the front of your thigh is resting on the table (Image 4). You may want to rest your hands on your hips or on your low back as you either lean your upper body forward (to reduce the intensity of this hip flexor stretch) or lean your torso back (more intensity) until you feel a perfect stretch. After at least three breaths, gently release the leg off the table, take a few steps and walk around, and then repeat on the opposite leg. With this stretch, you’re not only stretching your core and helping ease or relieve back issues, you’re also fine-tuning your balance.

Piriformis Opener

Face the table as you lift one leg up and place your leg with a 90-degree angle bend in your knee on the table (Image 5). If your outer leg isn’t completely on the table, you may want to place a blanket or bolster under it for more support. Dorsiflex your foot to protect your knee, and cease this stretch if you feel any pain in your knee. Stand tall, lean backward, or drape your upper body over your thigh to feel your Goldilocks hip stretch (Image 6). As you rest here, feel yourself soften and melt into the sensations of your stretch. After you unwind the leg off the table, walk it out for a couple steps and repeat on your other leg. This stretch is especially beneficial for the deep six hip rotators (think piriformis and pseudo sciatica projects) and the iliotibial band, and can also assist in releasing unnecessary tension from your sacroiliac joints.

Hamstring Relaxer

Face the table as you lift one leg onto the table, resting your foot and calf on the table, and choose to maintain a straight leg or slightly bent knee (Image 7). Lengthen your spine as you breathe in, then start to reach your belly toward your upper thigh, reach the chest toward your knee, and then finally let your head reach toward the toes. This practice will help unlock the often-stubborn hamstrings and, in fact, help release the entire posterior kinetic chain—from the soles of your feet to the top of your scalp.

Self-Care Beyond the Comfort Zone

Whenever we intentionally change our routine, we stretch beyond the habits of our mind and body and activate the multifaceted possibilities of our inner resourcefulness. Your actions become an invitation for new possibilities and a new awareness of yourself. As we experience and practice something new, our body-mind is then liberated to become a container of feel-good hormones that transcend old habits of criticism, stress, or suffering. Stretching beyond what’s already known literally and figuratively breaks the chains of the past and introduces new territory for our mind and body to play and explore.
As you stretch into new spaces, consider making your practice so ridiculously easy and irresistible that you can’t help but be drawn to practicing it everyday. Every time you invest in self-care, you demonstrate to yourself, others, and the world that you matter. And in this way, you become an invitation for others to do the same.