Was there seriously a time when yoga classes were an hour and a half and I attended them? That seems so extravagant these days. Even when I owned a yoga studio, I rarely had the time to take long classes, and this lack of luxurious time for yoga is even more apparent now that the chandelier of motherhood hangs overhead.
Is it even worth it to stand up and stretch right now? Do small doses of movement really matter?
An emphatic, "Yes!"
Whatever seems to be taking your time away from exercise, know that even a quick session of yoga will completely shift a despondent perspective into an inspired one. I feel confident declaring that mere minutes of daily stretching and movement could actually change a person’s life. So how do we make ourselves practice movement more often? We make sure that we can do our stretches and exercises anywhere, anytime.
My skin will start glistening with sweat from a simple ten minutes of movement and stretching in my kitchen. A daily movement session can be uneventful, just tossed into your day, no props, no mat, no special clothing. Yet still the effects are profound.
My husband and I try to carry out a 10-minute movement session at least once a day. The time can feel unremarkable, but the following day we often notice a subtle soreness from the muscles we worked. We accomplish both physical fitness and mental well-being with these zippy, unexceptional “workouts.”
I use countertops for push-ups, benches for tri-cep dips. I hang from monkey bars at the playground with my daughter, and by pulling my shoulder blades down my back as I hang, I can feel the musculature of my shoulders reintegrating into my core (mostly at my obliques). These playground monkey-bar hangs help me release neck tension and also increase my grip strength, bringing much appreciated blood-flow and vigor back into my wrists and hands.
If I am feeling fatigued, I do a makeshift inversion, wherever and whenever I might find myself needing a pick-me-up. I lean over and rest my elbows on my thighs and lower my head. Usually I set a timer on my watch and try to hold this position for at least a minute. While doing this, I stretch my hamstrings and my back. I sometimes add cat/cow movements (flexing and arching my torso) to reap the benefits of healthy flexion/extension and a reliable spine. When I roll my spine up (belly engaged) I find myself a new woman at the top: calmer and less fatigued.
I’ve done this forward-fold hang in a grocery store parking lot, tucked in my open car door. I’ve also done this on the beach in lieu of just sitting all day in a beach chair. I’ve even done this stretch in an airport bathroom stall.
This “inversion” can offer much-deserved traction on the spine, particularly in the neck. Those with low blood pressure aren’t advised to have their head below their hearts, but just tilting forward at the hips can give a person the space for some simple cat/cow motions in a standing position and can release tightness in the lower back from prolonged sitting or standing.
One of the easiest movements I do throughout the day is to roll my shoulders back – one at a time and slowly, intentionally – to reset my upper body from the inevitable tendency towards rounding forward and collapsing.
This movement is so simple - you can do it right now, even as you are reading.
Seriously, try it: roll your right shoulder up and back. After you reset the right shoulder blade, can you not feel a difference? Your right shoulder feels more integrated, doesn’t it? But now you’re lopsided; so give the left shoulder some love as well. Up, back, and down with the left shoulder blade. A simple reset.
Movement begets movement. The more you move, the more you crave movement, and the same applies to stretching. Start moving and stretching as often as possible. Do arm circles whenever you can - one arm at a time or both, forward and backward – to awaken the upper body, mobilize the shoulder girdle, and stretch the chest.
You’re prepping dinner? Great! Pause, (put down the knife) and place your hands on the counter. Step back until you make an L-shape with your body (this is like a down dog turned on its side) and feel the opening of your chest and shoulders. Breathe into your armpits for 3-5 breaths. As you go back to slicing cucumbers, feel the change in your mood.
Chatting on the phone with your mother-in-law? Go to a wall and turn to the side. Slide the arm closest to the wall up the wall. Keeping your side-body close to the wall with your arm raised overhead like a vine growing up the wall, feel the lengthening of your lateral torso. Hold about a minute and then repeat on the other side. Notice the change in your posture and your breath after lengthening your side body.
Feel like you’ve been in the car too much one day? Hop out at the charging station or the gas pump and do arm circles or neck rolls. Wait in line at the grocery store while doing heel raises to strengthen your feet and ankles and challenge your balance. Or try standing on the balls of your feet and bending your knees a bit, without locking your ankles or tilting forward in the upper trunk, and with arms relaxed at your sides. This should build some heat.
And while you're balancing, consider how you could integrating your lifestyle (your hobbies, athletics, occupation) to help you create some daily movements or stretches to help alleviate the inevitable strains of being a human adult. Where do you hold your tension? Be honest: do you need more movement to get your blood flowing or do you need more stretching to calm your system down?
Make a mental or actual list of your go-to movements: a list long enough that you don’t simply repeat the same motions every day and also enjoyable enough that you don’t dread doing them. I have about twenty motions on my list, but I mostly circle back to my preferred motions - five of them - that I find truly help me reset.
My list of go-to movements is “fun” for me; I don’t dread them. Therefore, I happily and willingly return to them each day. Also, I never feel like I have to plan my movement sessions; I simply set a timer and begin with a motion from my list. Of course, you don’t have to stick to motions on your list. Be creative and curious about new movements and stretches that might help your body.
You can incorporate movement into your life right now. There is truly no excuse. And this resolve has the loveliest side-benefit of helping you learn more about your body. To learn, you have to listen. And as you listen more closely to your body to discover movements that support and reinvigorate your unique system, you will become better friends with your body. You'll feel amazing when your body is your best friend.
"Move-it-or-lose-it" is one of the most practical mantras to live by. And if you are moving and stretching on a daily basis, you are honoring this body you call home. Your efforts will pay off. You will maintain the privilege of mobility, the foundation of health.