Use these easy and elegant movements to stretch the entire front and back of the legs.
I recently attended an all-day seminar. While the subject matter was completely worthwhile, and the day was overall enjoyable, my legs felt like jello by the time I drove home. When sitting for a long time, circulation and muscle movement are severely diminished. These two simple ballet movements stretch both the front and back of the legs, improving muscle function and circulation and lessening pain. The next time you find yourself sitting for a long time, give them a try!
“Plie” literally means “bent”, which describes a slow and continuous bending of the knees. When done slowly, this movement will stretch the front of the legs and hips. If you're interested in strengthening these areas, 3 sets of 8 deep plies will certainly have your thighs burning!
Begin with your feet hip width apart, toes turned out slightly from the hip (rather than from the knee).
Step out a few more inches so your feet are wider than the hips, and gently bend the knees, lowering your body softly. You can certainly stop here and feel a bit of a stretch, but go on to the next step for more of a challenge.
With your weight grounded evenly in your feet, heels flat, lower your body and bend the knees further, so that your upper legs are parallel to the floor. Don't bend your knees beyond your toes. Slowly straighten the knees back up to standing. This is one repetition. Repeat five times for a set.
“Releve” means “raised,” describing the action of raising the body to stand on the toes, rather than the soles of the feet. This will activate the calf muscles, as well as the hamstrings and gluteal group. It also stretches multiple muscles in the foot.
Begin standing up straight, with arms either at your sides or stretched out for balance. Turn the toes out gently from the hip (rather than from the knee). Take a breath and center yourself, activating your core muscles and straightening your spine.
Slowly move to elevate the heels, standing on the balls of your feet. If you notice yourself teetering a little from side to side, this is normal - take a moment to steady yourself, and pay attention to the individual muscles in your toes and feet. Slowly lower back to the soles of your feet. Repeat five times for a set.
My favorite combination of these two positions is to move from a light releve into a slight plie with the heels together. This stretches the entire back of the leg, and creates lovely movement and fluidity in the knees and upper thighs.
If you notice me performing these stretches in my Westport office waiting room between massage therapy clients, you'll see how much I love them! Give them a try - I'm sure your legs will feel freer and stronger. In fact, ballet is all about strength and freedom of movement; I think that's why I feel such affinity for it, along with regular massage therapy! Enjoy!
I realize I'm fortunate; I don't have a desk job. I have an engaging, physical job that allows me to move very freely throughout the day, and connect with wonderful clients. It's rewarding both for my clients and for me.
But a few times a year, I attend seminars. These are usually from 9-5, in a large stuffy room. In fact, as I sit typing this, I'm sitting in a huge room at the local courthouse for jury duty. It's during times like these that I think I empathize most with my clients who sit all day long. In future posts, I'll explore a full body stretching routine, but for now, I'll focus just on the neck.
The neck is comprised of seven cervical vertibrae (C-1 through C-7, beginning at the top of the neck). These vertibrae are connected to each other by ligaments, which provide stability and restrict movement. Tendons connect the vertibrae to muscles, which allow movement and can provide strength. Generally, there is little need to strengthen the muscles of the neck; their primary job is only to hold up and turn our heads.
The neck is therefore unique in needing to provide both stability and freedom of movement. In order to stretch it properly, we want to respect the ligaments which provide that stability by not pushing them past their threshholds, but also challenge the tendons through movement, which will keep them relaxed and functional.
Basically, don't try to force yourself to move beyond the point of comfort.
To stretch the trapezius ("traps"):
If you're seated, grab the seat of your chair with your hand firmly. Keep your elbow locked and unbent. Let your head fall to the opposite shoulder; let your entire body move a little toward that side. This should produce a lovely stretch in the side of the neck and shoulder. Hold (for as long as possible!) and repeat on the other side.
To stretch the side of the neck (sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles):
Turn your head to about 45 degrees, with your shoulders down and chin straight out.
Let the crown of your head fall toward your back, letting your chin point up. Hold your head with your hand, and gently pull even further back and toward one side. Change the direction of your chin to engage the smaller muscles. Hold only for a few seconds in each position and repeat on the other side.
Finally, while still holding your head gently with your hands, return your chin to center, and very gently pull your head toward your chest. Then let your eyes roll up to the sky, and let your head fall back as far as possible. Hold these positions only for a few seconds each.
These stretches should provide a lovely feeling of freedom of movement in the neck. You might even feel a few inches taller! The next time you're in a long class, on a long car ride, or even at work, take a few minutes to try this lovely routine. It'll be the most restful part of your day!
If you still notice some restriction of movement at a certain point in your neck, or if you have any pain, feel free to make an appointment with me to work on it more thoroughly. I'll see you in my Westport office!
This produces a lovely feeling of freedom of movement in the back, spine and ribcage
The Latissimus Dorsi (“Lat”) muscle is one of the largest in the body, covering a large part of the back. It's incredibly easy to stretch, but is often overlooked in our daily stretching routines. It's worth knowing where this muscle lays in the body; it can affect not only tension in the back, but rotation in the torso and even ribcage, affecting comfortable breathing. This stretch is fantastic after sitting for a long time, or first thing in the morning after waking. It should produce a lovely feeling of freedom of movement in the ribcage, back and spine.
The Lat attaches from the upper arm, forms the back of the armpit, and drapes down the back, attaching to the spine just below the shoulderblades and stretching the length of the spine to the pelvis. This means it affects the ribs and spine, especially in the lower back.
Since the Lat attaches from the arm to the back, we need to move the arm away from the line of the spine in order to stretch it.
Stand with arms out straight at your sides, spine very straight.
Raise one arm up straight, over your head.
Take a deep breath, pull your abdominal muscles in, keep your pelvis straight, and reach that arm over your head, letting your spine bend as far as comfortable. Keep your feet firmly planted, and your legs locked comfortably. Hold for about 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.
This stretch is great for anyone who sits all day, or even for someone who drives for a large part of the day, as that uses the Lats as well. It's one of the most relaxing stretches you can perform! Add it in to your daily routine, and you'll feel amazing. If you notice any pain or restriction while stretching, hold for an extra second, or better yet, book a massage therapy appointment! I'm happy to help you work out the rest of the kinks. I'll see you at my Westport office!