Are Being Flexible and Stretching Good For You?
We go with yes. Being flexible is part of life when things do not go your way. Stretching allows for more flexibility in more ways than one.
In most people’s busy lifestyle, sometimes self-care falls by the wayside. We know exercise, and proper nutrition are essential, however stretching is often overlooked.
Professional athletes know the importance of stretching because without it, they are at more risk of injury. Also, as we age, we realize the necessity of flexibility to prevent damage.
Why Stay Flexible?
In addition to improving flexibility, stretching can help with balance, increase blood flow to muscles, increase range of motion of joints, correct posture, relieve stress, and calm the mind.
Life causes wear and tear on the body. Stress, injuries, and exercises may cause “knots,” tight muscles, and tendonitis.
There has been controversy with stretching. Studies show to do so before working out, and other studies show to do so after working out.
If you use intuition and basic common sense, one will know that stretching is essential. Our ancestors were moving and using their bodies all the time. In our more sedentary lifestyle, it is necessary not only to move but to elongate the muscles actively.
What Happens to the Muscle When We Elongate Them?
Flexibility increases in the muscle, tendons, and ligaments as we elongate them. It will change the water content in the muscles and stimulates stem cells that can differentiate in the tissues.
Elongation can modify the sensation leading to less pain and help grow our tissues. The change in the body is the neuropathic pathway of the alpha gamma reflex loop. The alpha gamma reflex loop goes to the spinal cord and tells the muscle to contract, thus being down-regulated, which means less contraction and tightness in the tissue.
Increasing muscle length is key to physical well being. Watch this TED on increasing muscle length.
Less pain, longer muscle, and new muscle growth mean improved mobility and improved posture and longer life. These are a few reasons we vote yes to do it daily.
How Do I Stretch?
There are three main types:
- Static, both active and passive.
Static is holding the stretch for 10-30 seconds and breathing into it, using your breath and remaining still for about 30 seconds. Older individuals may need a longer time up to 60 seconds to be sufficient.
Passive is using something else, such as a strap, wall, or bamboo to help. With another person, passive stretching can be achieved to elongate the muscle for you as done in bodywork.
Dynamic stretching is moving through a smooth, controlled motion about 8-10 times to stretch the muscle/tendon. These are small movements that help bring mobility to the joint and loosen the muscles. If you are injured or over 65, then one needs to be careful with dynamic stretching, and static stretching may be more suitable.
Pre-contraction stretching is contracting the muscle directly before elongating. This type of stretching offers the same benefits as above, although it may require more instruction.
I’m not flexible. Can I benefit from stretching?
Everyone is born with a certain amount of flexibility; however, we can increase that with stretching. People with a hyper-flexible or hyper-mobile joints seem to have more stretchy collagen than type one collagen and may consider strengthening as much or more than over-stretching.
Tendons and ligaments are made up of collagen, type 1 and type 3 and elastin. The ratio can be different, which can lead to more or less flexibility. If you are not flexible, then stretching is a must to ensure fluid movement as we age.
I first learned about the importance of strength and flexibility at 20. I was in great shape; however, I did not know to stretch or how vital stretching was. My tight hamstrings caused difficulty touching my toes, leading to the occasional low back pain.
I stumbled upon Iyengar yoga and was hooked not just for the benefits of the flexibility of body but the flexibility in the mind. “Yoga allows you to find a new kind of freedom that you may not have known existed.” B.K.S. Iyengar.
This type of yoga focuses on proper alignment using props to help to achieve the benefits of the pose. By using the asanas (poses), one can make increased flexibility in muscles, ligaments, and joints, which allows for the stability of the body.
Iyengar Yoga facilitates both static, dynamic, passive, and active stretching. The other benefit is the calmness that comes to the mind. The poses are designed to connect the mind and body with the breath, offering freedom from thoughts and liberty in the brain. For more information about Iyengar yoga, check out the book, Light on Yoga.
In athletic endeavors, it is imperative to keep the body flexible for optimal performance. Strength is only as good as the flexibility and movement. When building muscle without stretching, the tissue becomes thick, putting stress on the tendons, which can lead to tendonitis and worse a popped tendon. These injuries can take months to heal. We practice prevention with proper and regular elongation of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The looser the body is, the faster it can perform. The tighter it is, the slower it will respond.
What To Do?
What we have found is a daily stretching routine is crucial. Upon waking in the morning after celery juice, we spend a few minutes stretching both the upper body and the lower body. We use a combination of bamboo stretching, yoga, range of motion stretches, and The Happy Body Program. After stretching, then meditation. The stretching frees the body allowing for freedom in mind and the ability to sit longer in meditation.
Recently, I became lazy with my stretching routine. Of course, the body gives a sign when it needs something. Well, my body gave an alert causing pain. I’m not sure how it happened; however, my conclusion was the lack of stretching. I pulled a band in my back that went from my right hip to my neck, intersecting my diaphragm. I was in so much pain; it was challenging to perform daily tasks of living. Thankfully, bodywork resolved the issue quickly. Now I am reminded that the regular stretching prevents these type of pulls.
As with any success in life, it takes persistence and consistency to achieve results. Over time, we have less pain and much more flexibility due to stretching regularly.