Tense shoulders. Clenched jaw. Tension in our eyebrows. Yep, that’s stress knocking on our door and our bodies reminder that we need a little TLC. And we’re all about finding ways to reduce stress because, let’s be real, life can be stressful. One thing that has been working wonders has been practicing stretches for stress relief. We’ve found that a little bit of movement has been the much needed respite our bodies have needed since we’ve been spending more time (or, rather all of our time) at home.
We looked to some experts to help us round up some stretches that anyone could do from anywhere; the easier the better! These stretches can help lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and elevate your mood. And that sounds pretty amazing right about now, so let’s get stretchin’.
How to get the most out of your stretch session
First and foremost, stretching should not add stress to your life. “When it comes to stretching routines, the best thing to do is to keep it simple,” says Mobility Coach and wellness expert, Alexandra Ellis. Additionally, she suggests, “Focusing on one body area and one stretch a day, rather than something that’s too complicated or long. By keeping it simple, it’s more likely you’ll keep doing it, which is more important!”
“To get the most out of a stretch, shift your focus from the point of the stretch out to the opposite ends of where the stretch is happening, keeping the muscle you are stretching relaxed,” suggests Sarah Vaynerman Founder of Work From Om. And she provides a great visual for improving our form, “If you are stretching your hamstrings, think about pushing down or out through the foot, away from the hamstring AND about lifting or reaching the hips up and back, also away from the hamstring. It’s just like stretching a rubber band… you don’t do that from the middle, you pull smoothly from each end.”
Some of the best stretches for stress relief
Seated side bend
The seated side bend is like doing your best impression of a rainbow. To practice a seated side bend, Sarah Vaynerman, suggests, “Sitting tall in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. reach your hands straight over your head and interlace to point straight up to the sky. Breathing in, lift up through the ribcage and hold. On your next breath in, gently begin to point your fingers to the right thinking about lifting rather than hinging. Hold for 3-5 breaths, then gently lift up again straight overhead. Repeat on the left side.”
Straight leg stretch
You can’t go wrong with a straight leg stretch. Great for your back and hips, this beginner friendly stretch uses a towel to gain extra leverage and deepen the stretch.
To practice a straight leg stretch, Alexandra Ellis says, “Lay on your back and bring your straight right leg up towards the ceiling. Hold on to a strap or towel looped around your foot for extra leverage. Go only as far as you need to feel the stretch on the back of your leg and calf. Hold for at least 2 minutes before switching sides.”
Seated cat cow
One of our favorite yoga poses has been modified so we can do it at our desk? We’re listening… Sarah Vaynerman, recommends, “Sitting tall in a chair with both feet flat on the ground, reach your hands straight over your head and interlace your fingers. Breathe in to reach up, then curl your upper spine as you breathe out, dropping your hands to reach straight out from your heart. Inhale to reach up again and repeat for 5-10 breaths.”
Commonly used to relax muscles after doing challenging yoga poses, the Child’s Pose calming, stress-relieving effect also makes it an excellent part of a morning and evening routine. Research even shows that it can help improve sleep.
Yoga teacher, Lucile Hernandez Rorigues suggests that, “To start, kneel on the floor in a resting position. Bring your feet together and separate your knees by creating a V shape. Make sure that your butt is resting lightly on your heels. Slowly, reach your arms forward and bring your chest lower to the ground. Your belly should rest in between your thighs and your forehead on the floor. Hold the pose while gently breathing in and out.”
Seated pigeon pose
Okay if there was ever a more Zoom-friendly stretch, we’d like to see it! Try it out by following Sarah Vaynerman’s steps, “With a straight spine, gently lift your right foot and place your right ankle on top of your left knee, making a 4 shape with your legs. Keep your right foot flexed to protect the knee. To stretch the outer hip, you can gently press your right thigh away from you and/or slowly lean forward for 5-15 breaths. Then move your right foot back to meet the left, flat on the ground. Repeat on the left side.”
Twist things up to show your spine, hips, and back some love. To practice a seated twist, sit with your feet firmly planted on the group and a straight back. Bring the back of your right hand to the outside of your left knee. Inhale to lift the crown of your head higher, then exhale to twist towards the left. Keep your hips square as you twist from the upper body and the shoulders. Hold for 3-5 breaths, return to center, then repeat on the other side.
With a straight spine and feet planted, extend arms out to the side, parallel to the floor. Strongly flex your fingertips up to the ceiling and spread them wide. From there, take a deep breath into your chest, and strongly exhale, imagining the exhale moving out both sides of your chest, down the arms and out through the palms. Hold the arms and hands in place as if you are keeping two walls from caving in on you. Take 3-5 deep breaths.
Sarah Vaynerman provides some insight into this amazing stretch, “The pericardium lining goes through the front of your chest, so this stretch literally can stretch your heart. In moments of stress and anxiety, it increases blood flow and oxygen to the heart and can help you calm down. Combined with deep breathing, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the body and mind, this stretch is amazing for stress relief.”
The psoas stretch
Often referred to as the fight-or-flight muscle, the psoas muscle can be targeted with a simple stretch. This one is especially helpful for those of us who spend our day at the computer (guilty as charged). The best part? You can control how gentle or intense the stretch ism, making it one of our favorite stretches for stress relief.
To practice the psoas stretch, lay down on your back with your knees up and your arms at your sides. Lift your hips into the air, tucking your sit bones under, think cheesy 80s aerobics. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Lower your hips to the ground. Repeat as many times as you’d like.
Ooh, we’re feeling better already!
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