Monday, August 10, 2015

Relieving Stress through Stretching

Stretching out is something we often see athletes do prior to playing their sport of choice, as it is a known tool in preventing pulled muscles and other injuries.  It also improves performance and allows a wider range of motion for a wide variety of activities.

Yet, stretching is also a helpful tool in Stress Reduction because it helps us to become familiar with the difference between tension and relaxation.  The reason this is so important in Stress Management is because we can sometimes reach the point of carrying chronic stress in the body, and when that happens, we lose touch with what it feels like to release tension and regain relaxation.  The result is that when we attempt to relax, we might feel too guarded to “just let go”, and releasing tension in the muscles becomes complex or nearly impossible.  This guarded stance can lead to insomnia and muscle pain.

In a well-known relaxation technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation, individuals are trained to tighten, tense and flex various areas of the body.  They then learn to hold that tension for just a moment before letting it go in a release that relaxes the muscle and tendons completely.  For instance, tightening the fists as tight as you can, holding it, and then letting it go by relaxing the fists and letting them become limp and loose.  The strategy is not just for the purpose of stress reduction, but to train individuals to notice the difference between tension, and relaxation.

Very simple stretching exercises can be used for the same reason.  Reaching down to touch the toes, and then slowly coming back up.  Reaching up to the sky, and then lowering the arms and hands and shaking them out as if they were wet rags.  Wrinkling up the face and then releasing it into a smooth smile.  All of these methods use the same concept that Progressive Muscle Relaxation does, in that intentional tightening is followed by gentle releasing, and an awareness of the difference between the two takes place so as to train oneself how to first notice tension, and then how to release it at any given time.

Thanks to Tambako the Jaguar for the great photo Stretching lioness