Feeling anxious? Stretch your body!

The COVID-19 isolation has a lot of us feeling anxious and on edge . . . and I want to share one of my strategies to calm myself. If you’ve known me well for any length of time, you’ll be surprised at my answer.

For too long I resisted doing daily stretching or yoga. I’m super not-flexible, and stretching usually hurts.

But I’ve had a daily yoga practice for a couple of years now—and am getting wonderful results.

Those results aren’t that I’m now flexible and able to do a lot of yoga poses.

The results, however, ARE that I’m more flexible than I was. My daily movements are easier and less-painful than they were before I started.

And my mind is less anxious. That’s not something I expected from yoga.

There is some kind of connection between tight muscles and ligaments and anxiety. Maybe it’s the parasympathetic nervous system. I did a little Googling and didn’t find much to support this, but I can tell you from personal experience that the slow yoga stretches and my mind/body anxiety are connected.

There’s something about slow stretching that helps my mind to relax. It’s as if tight muscles cause stressful thoughts—or vice versa. Whichever way it goes, stretching helps both.

So if you’d like to lessen your anxiety about what the effects of COVID-19 and this time period of social isolation mean, try some slow stretching.

You can Google “stretching series” or “stretches for” and put in your age group or which part of your body feels tightest. Maybe “stretches for people in their 50s” or “stretches for back pain.” You can also Google “stretches for anxiety.” You’ll get lots of articles and videos with each of these categories and can choose which ones speak to you. If you can’t get on the floor, there are plenty of stretches you can do in a chair or standing. Just Google “chair stretches.”

You can Google “yoga for beginners” or “yoga for anxiety” or “yoga for old people.” Try different topics to get different results and look at the articles and videos to see which appeal to you.

You can also do no Googling and trust your body to tell you what stretches you need. Be like a cat or dog and slowly stretch however your body wants to stretch.

There’s no right answer to what stretches you do. The main thing is to decide how long you want to spend and to make it a daily practice. Five minutes will help. Longer will let you get into stretches more deeply, and that’s where I’ve found the most slow-down-anxiety help. Acupuncture has also helped relieve my muscle tension, but that’s another topic that I wrote about in January. I can just say that the two (yoga and acupuncture) are working well together for me.

This morning my brain wanted me to worry, so I did about 20 minutes of slow stretches: some in a chair, some standing, and some on the floor.

Some days my body wants the harder yoga poses (harder for me, not hard for most folks). Some days my body wants all easy stretches. I trust it to know what it needs.

Some days I think my body only wants five minutes of stretching, and 25 minutes later I’m still on my yoga mat.

And some days my body says “five minutes will be plenty.” And that’s all it wants.

This is something you can’t do “wrong” as long as you don’t force your stretches.

You can’t do the wrong slow stretches for the wrong amount of time.

Because any slow stretching will help you.

Figure out when you can do stretching every day. I do it before I have breakfast while I’m waiting the 30 minutes to an hour I’m supposed to take before eating so that my thyroid med can be absorbed. Also, I choose before breakfast because yoga goes better on an empty stomach.

Another time might work best for you. Right-before-bed stretching is a good way to wind down and relax your body and brain so you can sleep better. But lunch time might work best for you. Again, there is no “wrong” time as long as your body says “yes” to it.

I’m going to end with this link to an article from Runner’s World about the legs-up-the-wall stretch. When I happened to run into the person who became my yoga teacher, I was complaining of restless legs to someone else. My soon-to-be yoga teacher overheard me and recommended this pose—and showed me right there in the store how to do it. I’d forgotten about it until writing this post today, and since I’m having trouble with restless legs again, I’m going to add this to my daily practice for a couple of weeks to see if it helps.

You know what?

I know it won’t hurt!

And doing some daily stretching won’t hurt you, either.

If you’re feeling anxious, that’s all the more reason to get started.

Maybe tonight or tomorrow morning.

Or the next time you’re feeling anxious.

Whenever it is, I promise . . .

Both your body and your brain will thank you!

Legs up the wall (from the Runner’s World article linked above)

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