Poor flexibility can lead to all manner of chronic aches and pains, whether its low-back pain caused by tight hip flexors (which you get from sitting all day!) or neck pain caused by tight back muscles (also a consequence of poor posture and sitting all day!). When muscles get tight, writes Jordan Metzl, MD, author of the bestselling book The Exercise Cure, other muscles have to work overtime to compensate, and that can make even the most basic tasks, like walking and driving, painful.
The solution? Daily stretching! It keeps all your muscles in balance, he says, preventing them from getting too tight.
Try the following five poses every day as a way to destress and focus your energy, or as part of your regular workouts. For best results, hold each asana, or pose, for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing deeply and slowly through your nose. Breathing is key. If you are unable to perform the pose as described without undue discomfort, back off a bit (reaching for your shins rather than the feet on the forward bend, for example).
Stand with your feet together and big toes touching. Relax your shoulders and lengthen your neck. Let your arms relax along your sides, palms to the front, and gaze forward. Optional: Raise your arms straight above your head, palms facing in, elbows facing out. Add in a side stretch by leaning to one side, then repeating for the other side.
Stand with your feet together, arms at your sides. Exhale as you bend forward at your hips, reaching your hands toward the floor. Imagine folding your body in half.
NOTE: For beginners, bend as far as you can and hold for 30 seconds, making sure to breathe slowly and deeply.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right leg and lower yourself until your right leg is bent 90 degrees and your left knee is almost touching the ground. Keep your weight resting on the heel of your front foot and the ball of your rear foot. Raise your arms straight up over your head, keeping them shoulder-width apart. Keeping your arms straight, bring your palms together. Hold for 30 seconds, return to the starting position, and repeat for the left leg.
Begin on all fours with your knees hip-width apart and your hands shoulder-width apart. Your hips should be over your knees and your shoulders over your wrists. Walk your hands a few inches in front of your shoulders. Curl your toes under, lift your hips, and straighten your legs. Push into your palms to draw more energy into your lower body to help elevate your pelvis. Keep your arms straight and have your body form an upside-down V.
Stand with your feet one leg-length apart. Rotate your left foot out to a 90-degree angle and your right foot inward to a 45-degree angle, keeping your heels aligned. Lift your arms out to your sides until they're parallel to the floor. Bend to your left and extend your left arm to the floor outside your left ankle. Your right arm should point to the sky, and your right shoulder should be vertical with your left. Keep your core engaged and your legs straight. Hold for the specified time, then switch to the opposite side.
Exercise is medicine! Learn how to make it work for you in The Exercise Cure, Dr. Metzl's pill-free prescription for everything from chronic pain to low libido, depression and more! Available from the following retailers:
• Rodale Store
• Barnes & Noble