In addition to being a massage therapist, I am a yoga teacher. I am a proponent of the benefits of some sort of regular yoga practice. I understand that some people don’t have the time in their busy schedules for such a routine. Additionally, I understand that some people are, well, just not the biggest fans of yoga.
In order to help facilitate the ongoing physical, mental and energetic openness that my clients feel after a massage, I am always prepared to offer a few quick easy stretching routines. Here are a couple that I’d like to share with you!
“Cat/Cow Flow”: This flow - or movement with breath - is very popular as a warm up routine within a larger yoga practice. But if done regularly, simply taken on its own, it is highly beneficial for loosening the spine
I will outline directions for the routine below:
First, come to hands and knees on the ground (or preferably on a softer surface, like a yoga mat). This start-off point is called “table top position”. While in this position, we’ll place our hands shoulders’ distance apart and our shoulders right above our hands. Our knees will be hips distance apart and our knees will be right below our hips. Finally, our back will come to a neutral position so that it is not excessively curved in either direction.
From this starting point, we will start to inhale and slowly and raise our heads to bring the crown of the head towards the tailbone. This movement starts to open up the chest towards the ceiling and brings our shoulder blades together on our back. In this motion we want to emphasize that feeling of opening up the chest to the sky, with our gaze going upward. Then, on our exhale; we will start to reverse this movement and bring the crown of our head towards our pelvis. With this motion we are now starting to curl inward, rounding the upper spine (like a “scared cat”) in the complete opposite manner as what we did when we inhaled. As we curl in, we engage our abdominal muscles and slowly release our breath. On our next inhale; we start to repeat these movements as a cycle.
Repeat these movements for as many breaths as you’d like. You can even start to play around with the pace - elongating the breath even more and more or shortening the breath and working the flow more quickly. This routine is great for warming up your whole spine, creating openness in the entire back (especially the upper back) and for building strength in your core. The focused, elongated breath work and “moving meditation” also aides in creating deep relaxation. You may find it beneficial to imagine the breath circulating throughout the entire physical body as we create these movements.
“Eye of the Needle” pose: This pose is very beneficial for another common area of tightness: the hips and gluteus muscles, the IT bands, and for those who are dealing with the symptoms of sciatica. This intro-level hip opener eventually progresses to the deeper stretch call “pigeon pose.” (Once pigeon pose is reached, the additional benefits of a forward fold are added). I recommend that many clients do this stretch EVERY DAY.
First, lie on your back, with your legs extended and arms resting alongside the body. Bending your knees, place the soles of your feet flat on the floor at hip distance apart, with your thighs parallel. Straightening the left leg upward, extend the left heel towards the ceiling, bend the left knee and then cross the left ankle over the right thigh, just above the knee, on the thigh. Flex your left foot. Slide your left and right arm through the space between your legs, clasp both hands around the back of the right thigh, then draw the right knee slowly towards the chest.
Switch your legs and repeat this same stretch on the other side. During the stretch pull your knee inward and remember to continue to flex the foot that is in the air, keep your back flat on the mat, and release both shoulders to the earth.
This introductory level hip opener is gentle and safe. Once it is practiced regularly, it can lead to deeper hip openers - pigeon and double pigeon. Those who are dealing with sciatica symptoms are not the only ones who can benefit from this series of movements. This stretch is beneficial and enjoyable for runners, for people with lower back pain, and for men.
I will be posting more blog posts in the future concerning simple, beneficial stretches and postures for everybody and every body. Stay tuned!!
Daniel Cordua is a Licensed Massage Therapist and member of the NCTMB. His interest in the potential of intuitive bodywork led him to study at Cortiva Institute School of Muscle Therapy in King of Prussia, PA. Daniel integrates his training into a bodywork practice that is both methodical and intuitive, identifying the best modifications to fit each client’s specific needs. To read more, visit Daniel’s bio or schedule an appointment.