Animals have a lot to teach us about feeling our best. All three of my dogs and my cat greet the day with a very thorough stretch. These stretches address the neck, back, and legs, working out the kinks so they can move more fluidly. Some yoga poses are named after these stretches, commonly known as up-dog, down-dog. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, my pets wake up from sleeping and routinely perform their two stretches before doing anything else.
Even though I knew how good I feel after stretching, I wasn’t always consistent in my efforts. I would stretch more if I had something going on that reminded me. Stiffness and soreness in my neck and back would usually be my wake-up call to get back to regular stretching. Then, I would start to feel better and simply skip that one extra thing on my to-do list.
One day, while watching my kitty take a very slow and sensuous stretch before leaving her cozy spot in the sunshine, it dawned on me that I could take a cue from my cat in order to become more consistent in my stretches. Instead of expecting myself to perform a whole series, I decided to do two or three of my most effective stretches before getting out of bed in the morning. I began to take a minute to stretch before my feet hit the floor. It’s surprising how much difference this small effort has made in how I move through my day.
If you have stiffness and soreness when you get up in the morning, why not try a little experiment? Sit up, tucking your chin to your chest. Slowly and gently reach your hands toward your feet. Reach only far enough to feel a gentle stretch. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Relax, take a deep breath, and repeat once more. Hit the deck, and pay attention to how you feel. If you notice an improvement, add a few more of your favorite stretches.
Next month, I’ll share some of my favorite morning stretches with you. There’s a reason that yoga, with its slow and deliberate postures, has endured through so many centuries. Stretching can be more than physically helpful. A slow and gentle approach can also be a calming and centering way to start the day.