“What are the best stretches for relaxing?”
Lately I have been asking my students to curl up in a ball-like version of baby pose (Balasana), with amazingly soothing effects. Simply keep your knees and feet together and roll down as you exhale with the belly slightly pulled in, and rest your forehead on the ground. Allow your arms to fall softly by the sides of your body. Once you are nicely curled forward, you can relax the belly and breathe gently in the belly directing the movement of the breath toward the lower back. Stay for as long as you like.
Note: if your head doesn’t reach the ground, use some soft blankets to cushion your forehead.
It’s amazing how tight the sides of our bodies can get. Whenever we practice any side stretches such as this, most of my clients make the sound “aaaahhh”…as a sound of relief.
Simply exhale as your stretch each side and if one side is tighter than the other -most likely-, stay a little longer there.
Note: if sitting cross legged on the floor is hard for you, you can easily do this stretch sitting on a chair or stool.
Legs up the wall
The absolute favourite stretch for relaxing at the end of the day…ideally, you bring your buttocks to the wall and lift your legs up against it. If this is too hard for you to begin with, you can also leave a small space between you and the wall, no problem. The legs are stretched but try not to tense them up too much: the feeling should be of feeling supported by the wall.
As for the upper part of the body, you can either leave the arms resting along your sides or take the stretch a little further by placing them above your head, on the ground. If the arms don’t touch the ground when you do this, open them until they do. Stay as long as you like breathing in the belly and across your ribs.
The large muscles at the front of the legs tend to be very tight when we are stressed. Long sitting hours or too much running around can cause this, so it is very important to release them if you truly want to have a feeling of letting go. Lying on the floor face down, hold on to the right foot with the right hand, left hand resting under your forehead. Let the breath help you here. I always tell my clients to “breathe down into the hips”, which may sound a bit strange, but the truth is that our diaphragm is attached by a tendon to the pelvis, so when we breathe properly we effectively move the pelvic girdle also. So breathe as down as possible, and gently press the front of the leg to the ground, without forcing it. Stay as long as you like, staying longer on the tighter leg.
Note: If you have a knee injury, avoid this stretch and follow the recommendations of your therapist.
Lying down twist
To finish off, gently do an easy lying down twist on the ground. This doesn’t have to be a perfect pose. Just lie on the floor, extend your arms to the sides and twist. You stay for a few breaths on each side (a little longer on the tighter side), or you can make the twist looser by moving from side to side gently, as you breathe.