Stretching is a wonderful physical activity, but it also does wonders to our mental health.
After spring break, as I headed back on campus to start a new quarter, I was determined to improve my physical and mental health. How can I knock two in one? I have mirrored some stretching exercises and yoga poses whenever I had to loosen body tension, but I have not integrated these workouts into my daily routine. To kick off the quarter with a healthier mindset, I decided to start my mornings and end my nights with a yoga routine along with some additional cool-down stretches.
Already after my first day, my body felt flexible and light and my mind became calm and reinvigorated. Now, after six weeks of consistent stretching, I noticed improvement in flexibility, posture, and emotional well-being. Also, as someone who suffers from tense shoulders and neck pain, daily stretching has reduced muscle strains, making zoom meetings and studying bearable.
If you are struggling with zoom fatigue or need an energy booster, consider the benefits of stretching that will make you want to move your body!
1. Flexibility & less risk of injury
As we are stretching, we are constantly extending our muscles and joints to prevent tightness. Without it, our muscles can shorten and become weak. For instance, as we sit on a chair for hours during lectures, we are tightening the hamstrings in our thighs. Stretching enables us to loosen tense muscles and perform in strenuous activities without injuries. Increasing body flexibility helps reduce muscle cramps or strains and will increase the longevity of our joints.
2. Increase blood flow and circulation
When we are stretching and moving our bodies, we are enhancing blood flow to our skeletal muscles and sending oxygen to our brains. Improved circulation shortens injury recovery time and is especially beneficial for overworked muscles.
3. Improve posture
Strengthening our muscles increases our body awareness. This means that even if we are not trying, our body will remind itself to sit up straight from a slump position. With yoga, we are activating breath control while incorporating body contractions to help realign our bodies into better posture.
4. Great stress reliever
To keep stress under control, we want to eliminate any potential stressors. In fact, body stiffness can actually trigger stress since it restricts movement, affecting how we feel physically and mentally.
As previously mentioned, stretching allows for better muscle circulation and increases oxygen levels in our brains--this prompts mood-elevating blood flow to the brain. Breathing deeply in between stretches sends signals to our brains to relax, and we can ultimately find inner-peace and balance.
5. Boosts energy levels
As we stretch, we are moving our bodies as well as de-stressing. Stretching and yoga may seem like subtle exercise but they require strength and endurance, especially when strengthening under-activated areas of the body. When pushing our mind and body beyond its limits, we are lowering our hormone cortisol--our primary stress hormones--to rekindle our energy and enhance our mood. This is why stretching is great to do when we wake up in the mornings or before participating in athletic activities.
In our current situation, it feels almost impossible to start each day with energy and positivity. But engaging in isometric exercises like yoga and stretching, can make a huge difference in our health. We do not have to be professional yogis, but we can become avid stretchers!