Feb 022011

photo from Personal Best Stretch

My new DVD, Personal Best Stretch, will soon be released. For that reason, I’d like to share the benefits of stretching that have become so apparent to me in recent years.

I’ll be the first to admit that in my younger years, I was the reluctant stretcher. I was that unruly group exercise class participant that would walk out as soon as the stretching component of the class began. I have more important things to do, I told myself. While many fellow competitive swimmers and class participants could do the splits, I could barely touch my toes. But what did I care? I was getting in my cardio and I was young enough that I didn’t really feel any significant discomfort as a result of skipping out on the stretch. I was, however, constantly stressed out and was diagnosed as having ulcers in my early 20s. But at that time I wasn’t able to make that association that for my mental and physical well-being, I really needed to work some “slow down and chill” times into my day.

The first catalyst to changing my habits was being assigned a stretching class at the Miraval Arizona Resort and Spa in 2005. By this time, I was over 40! At first, I didn’t enjoy teaching the class. Time seemed to stand still and I gritted my teeth and willed it to all be over. Then a couple of weeks after I began teaching, I began to notice some interesting occurrences. I felt a tingly, peaceful bliss as the class progressed and felt more patient and compassionate the rest of the day. My flexibility began to increase and the age-related stiffness that had begun to plague me in the morning and at the end of the day started to abate.

Still, I mostly stretched only when a class was assigned. In 2010, I had two injuries; one involving the external rotators in my shoulder and the other involving my sacroiliac joint. When I had these two injuries back-to-back, I knew it was time to change my habits. And I have been diligent ever since. I now always warm-up the rotator cuff muscles with a dynamic series of stretches before I swim or weight train. I also stretch the muscles that tend to restrict movement in my shoulder on a daily basis (often with my eyes closed and focusing on breathing to really relax). I also often roll and stretch the muscles that throw my back out of whack, including my piriformis, gluteals, and IT band. I listen to signals from my body about what needs to be stretched.

Now, I consider stretching to be as important to my day as the rest of my exercise program. It enables me to continue to improve my swimming times at age 48, helps me feel relaxed and in a good mood, keeps my muscles subtle and my body pain-free.

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