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Stretch your limits

Bharat Savur | Updated on April 11, 2013

20mp Girl stretching

Soften rigid muscles, and make stiff joints more pliable.

Stretching is not just a pleasurable activity, but also a gently dynamic wake-up call to all muscles, ligaments, tendons, tissues, and organs. I have always included various stretches in my fitness classes, and I’d been getting feedback about knee pain vanishing. Now, I’m receiving more testimonials from different sources as to how stretching has helped heal arthritis and osteoporosis. The most striking case is that of a multiple sclerosis sufferer who did one-hour stretches daily, and is still doing them. In a dramatic turnaround, she now plays golf in the hot summer months, and skis on snow-clad slopes in winter! Every time I hear of fitness coming in as a healing answer to a heartfelt prayer, I want to cheer from the rooftops!

Of course, the credit goes to the brave ones who grit their teeth and stretch, considering there are no instant results, not even overnight ones. It takes great determination, utmost patience, and unwavering perseverance to go on day after day, wondering when the magic will happen. As anyone who has suffered will tell you, it is progress even if the pain subsides and the stiffness remains — it’s a beautiful sign that something positive is happening inside. And as the stiffness abates, it’s like stars appearing one by one like little lamps of hope in the dark skies, softening all that’s rigid, making elastic all that’s hard and unyielding. And the magic is truly felt when streams of energy burst forth in this glorious absence of pain. The body unbends, mind brightens, and spirits rise.

Before stretching, you need to warm up your muscles. Why? A cold muscle is brittle — it injures easily, whereas a warmed-up muscle is pliable and won’t tear. How do you warm up your muscles? By spot-jogging. If you’re not able to spot-jog, you can cycle your legs in the air while lying down, or make rowing motions with your arms.

Then, you must stretch slowly, smoothly, leisurely. Be like a parent towards your body. Give it your full and loving attention as you stretch. Stretch until you feel a gentle, un-crinkling effect — no strain. Now, hold the stretch for 30 seconds or 14 breaths. Don’t over-extend, be comfortable. Then relax. Repeat the stretch three times; later, increase to five. Over the days, you will stretch farther without even realising it. Some stretches I recommend are:

Side stretch: Stand with feet apart, left arm extended over head, elbow bent. Now, bend sideways to the right sliding your right hand down the right leg as far as possible; simultaneously press to right with left arm. Pulsate for 30 counts to a point of tension, never to a point of pain. Repeat on the other side.

Ceiling stretch: Stand with feet apart, arms raised above your head as though you want to touch the ceiling. Bend slightly backwards as you gaze at the ceiling. Hold for 14 breaths. Repeat three times.

Knee stretch: Lie on your left side and raise your right leg so that the thighs don’t touch. Hold for 14 breaths. Repeat three times. Next, lie on your right side, raising your left leg…

I equate stretching to meditation. I stretch and a group of muscles and a joint feel a beautiful tug, a call to open out. My mind is totally absorbed in the act of stretching rather than thinking about accomplishing something. I am bringing relief, peace, a joyous expansion, inside my body.

By stretching, I am gently telling the muscles, joints, ligaments, cells in my body, “Hey buddy, let go of the knots of pain you are holding on to, just let go… trust me, you’ll feel better.” And over the days, I think the body actually begins to trust the stretcher and begins to let go of the physical knot. There’s an energy release, like ice thawing, and frozen emotions melt. In the melting and returning to its original flow, the energy heals inflammations that are the primary cause of most pain in the joints, muscles, or anywhere else. And as the inflammations subside, you begin to feel the ‘aah’ of blessed painlessness and the warmth of tissues coming back to life.

On the physiological level, the red slow-twitch muscle fibres that give us stamina, and the white fast-twitch ones that power us with strength, experience a fresh flow of blood supply due to the stretches. This promotes healing and you transform from being a patient to being an athlete. It may interest you to know that the marathon runner has a high proportion of the red fibres in his/ her thighs — these help him/her to stay the course, whereas the 100 to 400 yard sprinter has a high proportion of the white fibres that give power to his/her quick dash.

Finally, if you have any joint or muscle pain, consult a good, experienced, orthopaedist who will personally demonstrate the stretches you require. Why suffer when you can stretch?

The writer is co-author of the book Fitness for Life.

Published on April 11, 2013

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