What I’ve Learnt From Stretch and Smile

This blog is full of great posts about all things stretching, flexibility and smiling. I encourage you to read all the posts i’ve made and check out my Twitter and Facebook pages as well for additional posts I’ve shared from other sources. However, if you don’t have the time to look through it all then you’re in luck because this is a one stop shop for everything I’ve covered so far in the campaign. This will serve as a mini summary and contents page of the campaign, discussing what I’ve learnt and found interesting and linking to blog posts for more in depth information.

So here is what I’ve learnt:

– There are different methods of stretching for different purposes.
Static stretching is a simple form of exercise and flexibility improvement, dynamic stretching is perfect for warming up before sport, PNF stretching is a difficult but effective way to quickly increase range of motion, myofascial stretching is good for relieving tightness and ballistic stretching is just plain bad for you! Find out more in my post Other Ways To Stretch.

– Stretching offers HEAPS of benefits.
Seriously, doing regular stretches and improving flexibility will positively affect your health and wellbeing more than you would think! You can lose weight, sleep better, de-stress, prevent injury, improve posture, gain muscle, perform better and ultimately – feel better. For more benefits check out these blog posts – Posture benefits, flexibility benefits, physical benefits, mental benefits and gym benefits.

– Sometimes stretching is bad.
As awesome as stretching is (and it is very awesome) there are times when stretching can be bad. It can reduce your power if you do it before sport/exercise, it can cause injury if you do it cold or stretch improperly and it can’t fix all muscle problems and pains. For more times when stretching is bad see When Not To Stretch.

– A lot of people don’t know how to stretch properly.
I was originally one of these people and you might be too. There are a lot of misconceptions about how stretching should be done but once you’ve learnt the right way you’ll realise it is easy and effective and you’ll never stretch improperly again. For proper technique and advice check out this Super Simple Guide to Stretching

Stretching and Posture

By lengthening, loosening and strengthening muscles through stretching you don’t just become more flexible; you improve your posture as well!

Good posture is the maintenance of natural spine shape and is important for health and wellbeing. In the modern world people are spending more time at desks, in the car, hunched over a laptop and sitting in general. This causes a weakening of supportive muscles in the legs and abs, the shortening of hamstrings and quadriceps, the tightening of hip muscles and a shift in the angle of your pelvis and shoulders. All these things will in turn cause a misalignment of the spine and poor posture.

Photo Credit: joelogon via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: joelogon via Compfight cc

Poor posture can cause problems like lower lung capacity, repetitive strain injuries, higher chance of injuries in general, back pain and conditions like rounded shoulders or a pot belly. It can be corrected and maintained by using ergonomic furniture at the office, continual awareness and adjustment of posture when sitting and standing, taking regular breaks from sitting and of course, regular stretching!

Photo Credit: number657 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: number657 via Compfight cc

Does your office have regular stretch breaks? Research has shown that by taking a break for stretching, office workers will improve their posture, mood and work efficiency. If you don’t, you should speak to your boss about implementing a stretch break during the day or holding a seminar on proper ergonomics and posture tips. They might be interested in Stretch Break, which is software that can be installed on workers computers to remind them to take breaks and lead them in a stretching session. Or if you want to focus on your posture individually there is also an app called Ergonomics that instructs you on equipment setup, gives you workplace specific stretches and reminds you take a break from sitting. Alternatively, you could just follow a stretching plan like the one pictured below.

via http://www.mindfulwellnessmassageandbodywork.com/media/Computer%20&%20Desk%20Stretches%20001.jpg

6 Times When It is Better To Be Flexible

Being flexible is great for your physical and mental health wellbeing, but it also can come in handy in these real life situations.

1. Limbo competitions.

Do you want to impress that cute man/woman you just met on your cruise ship? Or win awesome limbo competition prizes? Or do you just want to go as low as you can go? Studies show that being flexible is the best way to win limbo contests and reap all the fame and fortune that comes with it.

Hermes Conrad from Futurama. Sorry for potato quality!

2. When you get old.

Maintaining flexibility as you age can prevent a lot injuries and complications that are common amongst the elderly. Regular stretching will make you more flexible, healthy and improve coordination. This means less chance of falls, muscle strains and back problems, which can be extremely painful and difficult to manage and fully recover from when you’re older.

3. In the bedroom.

Better flexibility means better positions and better sex. Whether it allows you to hold your favourite position longer or try out some of the more challenging positions in The Kama Sutra, being flexible will definitely improve your sex life. So start stretching and winky smiling now 😉

Photo Credit: JPBennett1 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: JPBennett1 via Compfight cc

4. In the game.

Being flexible means better performance in many different sports. Not only does it prevent injury, it also improves things like power, vertical leap and kicking and throwing distance and occasionally it creates incredible plays, catches, tackles, etc.

5. At the office.

Better flexibility means better posture. Posture is extremely important in many aspects of life but it can particularly affect how you work. Research shows that proper posture can boost energy and increase brain function which is essential for work.

6. Running away to the circus.

Thinking about cutting off all ties to the real world and running off with the circus? Well being flexible would certainly help your cause. Trapeze artists, tumblers, mimes and contortionists all need to be extremely flexible to perform their amazing individual acts.

Photo Credit: lydia mann via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: lydia mann via Compfight cc

5 Great Yoga Poses For Flexibility and Posture

Yoga is a great way of exercising the body and mind and has a range of benefits that have been discussed in a previous blog post (which can be found here). One benefit is that it can increase flexibility and improve posture by stretching and strengthening muscles and correcting the spine. Below are 5 poses, which can be done by beginners and advanced yoga lovers alike, that do exactly that!

–     Eye of the Needle Pose (Sucirandhrasana)

Eye of the needle is an extremely relieving pose that will help stretch your hips and glutes. Lie on your back, put the sole of your right foot on the floor and then place your left leg across your right knee. For some this will be enough to feel the stretch, for those more flexible you can hold your right knee and bring it closer towards your chest. Hold this pose, release and then swap legs.


–   The Lunge (Anjaneyasana)

The lunge is a good pose because it can be modified for any level of flexibility. For beginners, a standard lunge should be enough to feel the stretch. If you’re more advanced, try putting your forearms on the ground or lifting your back foot to your bum. This pose is great for stretching muscles in the hips and quads.


–     Eagle Pose (Garudusana)

This is a relatively simple pose that stretches the shoulders, which can become tight from driving a car or sitting at a desk. This pose can be done in a seated position, or if you want a bit more of a challenge you can stand on one leg and cross the other leg over it. This method strengthens the legs and improves balance as well as stretches the shoulders. Remember to do both sides.


–     Locust Pose (Salabhasana)

A great pose for beginners, the locust will energize you, warm you up, strengthen your back muscles and improve your posture. Simply lie on your stomach and then lift everything off the ground, keeping your palms facing the floor and your neck elongated. You can go further by placing your hands behind your head, which will also stretch your chest and shoulders.


–     Seated Wide Legged Straddle (Upavistha Konasana)

This pose stretches the hamstrings and calves and improves posture by elongating the spine. Simply take a seated position with your legs flat on the floor in front of you and then open your legs as wide as is comfortable. Point your toes to the ceiling and engage the hamstrings and hold this position. For beginners, sit on some padding or lean against a wall if sitting up by yourself can’t be done. For those more advanced, bend forward between your legs as far as you can while keeping your back straight and then hold this position.


For best results try to stretch every day and as always, remember to smile! 🙂


Stretch the Soul

Stretching has many physical benefits – some of which were discussed in my last post – but it can also have positive mental and spiritual effects as well. Some of these will be discussed below.

Exercise is an Anti-Depressant

The first mental benefit of stretching is one that comes after the completion of any type of exercise and becomes greater after pro-longed exercise routines. It is believed that exercise can improve mood and help fight depression. This article from the Harvard Medical School reviews a multitude of studies that review the positive effects of exercise on people with depression and concludes that exercise is a valuable tool for fighting depression.

Still feeling depressed? Maybe this baby stretching will fix that…

One of the reasons this happens is because of the release of endorphins into the brain and body that occurs after exercise. This is part of the body’s biological response to exercise and they act as a natural painkiller as well as having effects on the mental and emotional state of someone. This release of endorphins will make you feel happier, improve sleep, boost self-confidence, lessen anxiety and is one big reason so many people enjoy exercising,

Energy Boosting

Many people stretch each morning in order to kick-start their day or when feeling tired to re-energize their body and brain. By stretching you are increasing blood flow and circulation, you are breathing deeply bringing more oxygen to the brain and you are releasing stored stress and tension in the muscles (and mind). This is effectively waking up you and your muscles.

A good morning stretch feels good. Remember to stretch your neck to warm the muscles up after sleeping and prevent injury.  Photo Credit: Loving Earth via Compfight cc
A nice morning stretch always feels good. Remember to stretch your neck to warm the muscles up after sleeping and prevent injury.
Photo Credit: Loving Earth via Compfight cc

For a list of good morning stretches that are simple and not too difficult or straining for the sleepy stretcher check out this article from Popsugar.

Meditation and Focus

The Way of Stretching: Flexibility of Body and Mind says that, “meditation is the exploration of the pauses between thoughts… If you can observe your thoughts as neither good nor bad, just there, and identify with the calm between your thoughts, your moods and perspectives will become more balanced.”

When stretching you should inhale and exhale deeply. Counting these breathes or the seconds you hold the stretch for, is a good meditation technique to help find this calm. Taking a short period of time out of the day to stretch is a very useful way to relax the mind and de-stress. This will leave you feeling more at ease and focused.

Tangible and Positive Results

Another encouraging benefit of stretching is that it can quickly produce tangible and positive results both physically and mentally. For example you will:
– Feel happy in yourself for doing something productive for your fitness and health.

– Enjoy seeing how much more flexible you are getting (Can you touch your toes yet? Can you get your hands flat on the ground?)

– Feel the release of your physical and mental stress.

– Feel more connected and aligned to your body.

These mental and spiritual benefits of stretching are some of the best reasons to start stretching and smiling. In combination with physical benefits they make stretching a clear choice for anyone who wants to have a balanced healthy lifestyle. Have any of these benefits made you consider starting a stretching routine? Let me know in the comment section below!


A Simple Guide To Stretching

–                Why Stretch? Exercise and Flexibility is Important.

This campaign wants to convince you that stretching to improve flexibility and well-being is an extremely important part of overall physical fitness. Anyone who wants to live a healthy lifestyle – whether you’re trying to lose weight, improve your health, maintain activeness as you age or even get ‘swole’ – should really consider stretching. It has a wide range of benefits including:

  • Wider range of movement
  • Improved circulation
  • Better co-ordination
  • Decreased chance of injury
  • Faster recovery

And these are only the physiological benefits. Stretching is such a simple and calm activity that for many it provides a source of mood control and meditation. Stretching for 15 minutes each morning can energize you for the day ahead and conversely, stretching before bed can be relaxing and meditative.

Of course, this is not a new discovery and there are many people who actively incorporate stretching into their daily routine. Whether it is through static stretching, dynamic stretching, the ancient practice of Yoga or the much less ancient Pilates, stretching has proven benefits in many people’s lives.

photo credit: illusionwaltz via photopin cc
photo credit: illusionwaltz via photopin cc

–                How to Stretch? No Pain, Still Gain.

There has been lots of debate about the best methods and techniques of stretching and various studies both supporting and disputing the different facts and myths surrounding it. But I don’t want to get into that just yet. Instead I want to start with these simple rules for static stretching so that you can start right away:

  1. Don’t stretch too far. You want to be able to feel your muscles stretching and hold that position just before the point of pain.
  2. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds. Anything less than this won’t properly stretch the muscle and you won’t improve flexibility.
  3. Slowly release the stretch. Quickly jumping out of a stretch can cause injury.
  4. Remember to breathe and smile. Breathing will help further your stretches and carry oxygen to your muscles while stretching your smile is proven to make you feel happier. And you deserve to feel happy because you’re doing something good for yourself by stretching. Good job you!

If you follow these rules you’ll always be stretching safely and efficiently.

–                What to Stretch? Head to Toe.

Stretching each muscle group of the body is important for improving flexibility, balance and co-ordination and no muscles should be forgotten or favored. Sometimes people only stretch the areas they feel are tight or sore and this isn’t good because each muscle affects each other. For example, sometimes soreness in the lower back has nothing to do with your hamstrings but is actually due to your hip flexors. Personally I find it best to start at the top with neck stretches and work my way down to my calves.

You can find comprehensive examples of different stretches for each muscle group here.

–               When to Stretch? Whenever You Can!

Stretching is a great form of exercise because it can be done in almost any situation and at any time. There is no need for any special facilities or equipment; you can literally do it anywhere. Whether you’re in bed, in the shower, on the bus, watching television, cooking dinner or waiting for a machine at the gym there is nothing stopping you from doing a few stretches. The key is consistency. Doing 10-20 minutes of stretching each day will significantly increase and maintain your flexibility and will provide you with all the benefits mentioned before. Stretching for a short period every day is far more beneficial than stretching for a long period every few days.
For daily stretching reminders remember to like my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter!