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20 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k m a r c h / a p r i l 2 0 2 0 SAVVY SELF-CARE best practices Stretching Beyond the Habits of Your Mind and Body By Heath and Nicole Reed The benefits of stretching abound. Advantages include improved posture and performance, more range of motion (ROM) and flexibility, and increased circulation and injury prevention. And what we love most about stretching (and why we keep on stretching) is how it makes us feel. After a brief calf stretch on a walk, a neck stretch squeezed in between clients, or a forearm stretch on the way home in the car, we always feel better. We feel longer, stronger, more spacious, and relieved. BIO-PSYCHE OPERATING SYSTEM UPGRADE The feeling of creating space from the inside out has its own benefits experienced in the body and in our mind. Author Joe Dispenza, DC, refers to thoughts as the "language of the mind" and feelings as the "language of the body." Every stretch gives us the opportunity to merge the language of our mind and body to experience enhanced sensations and refreshed awareness. When we invite new possibilities into our being—like stretching—we invite new neural pathways to grow and connect. The classic neuroanatomy axiom "what fires together wires together" is on display as we rewire our brain by doing something new and practicing it over and over again. In other words, as we update our software (i.e., rewrite the habitual code of our thoughts and feelings), our hardware (nervous system) is modified. Interestingly, you can also do this in reverse. By changing your physicality (posture, exercise, rest, etc.), you can change your software (thoughts and feelings). What are the physical and mental habits that are wired into your operating system? Do they emphasize more of what you want to feel and think? We suggest that whatever you do, choose the habits that generate the qualities you yearn for and quench your desires—and do those more often. For us, stretching is one way we continue to grow our happiness capacity. It's a way we practice feeling good in our bodies, and a way to encourage the circulation of feel-good hormones and help create a container for positive thinking. GOLDILOCKS STRETCH 101 Stretching, when done safely and regularly, is restorative, relaxing, pleasurable, and healing. But you can overdo a good thing. We request that you not tolerate pain during any stretch. Pain is described differently by different people, but there are two clear indications from your body intelligence that you're reinforcing pain: 1. You hold your breath. 2. You unnecessarily tense up other muscles in a stress response (the usual suspects are tightening your shoulders, neck, or jaw). Instead, look for the "Goldilocks stretch." Refrain from too much intensity, where you're holding your breath or tightening up, but also not so easy that you're blankly going through the motions without finding a sensory-rich experience. Only stretch to the edge of tension, where you can continue to breathe with soft muscles. This way, you'll avoid injury while getting the most from stretching. Also, because fascia takes a minimum of 20–30 seconds to stretch, hold the following stretches for at least three deep breaths or 30 seconds. We recommend imagining you are sending your breath into the area where you feel the most sensation. Visualize inflating that area like a balloon with your breath, an intention, and/or your smile. To create structural change and to calm the mind, consider holding stretches for up to two minutes. Most importantly, refuse to feel any pain as you show yourself the same kindness and compassion you share with every person who rests on your table.

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