We spend so much of our day keeping our bodies still, that it is fast becoming a health crisis. Sitting may be becoming the new smoking. Yet your body is designed for movement.
How does your body feel when you move? Perhaps it feels a little sluggish when you start? May be the muscles feel tight and the body heavy to begin with? As you continue to move, do the muscles loosen up and the body feels lighter? Have you noticed that when you get up in the morning, your body feels a little tight or stiff? After a long period sat down, do you notice that your body feels stiff, tight and sluggish?
The Body in Movement
These things are definitely true for me as well as the hundreds of martial arts students I have taught over the years. What I have observed is that people’s bodies move more freely and powerfully the more they move. When muscles loosen in movement they increase the range of movement of the body. Consequently the body feels looser and lighter. This is partly through:
- blood flow
- the body warming up as it generates heat
- the muscle fibres running over each other as the muscles relax and contract
- fascia moving (for more details on fascia see here https://www.drnorthrup.com/muscle-fascia/)
Be it walking, cycling, running, swimming, martial arts, yoga, tai chi or going to the gym, the body benefits from regular movement, keeping it supple, loose and flexible. In short, with regular exercise, the body feels more expanded, open and energised.
There is also the additional quality of being mindfully in your body. Not all movement is mindful movement. Moving with awareness increases your sensitivity to more of your body’s sensations, including:
- your position of body in space
- economy of movement
- spatial awareness
- how your body feels
- when the body needs stillness, rest, movement and exercise
- non- verbal communication
- emotional state and expression
As you exercise mindfully, your attention and awareness are in your body, which means you have a relationship with your body. This awareness can go far beyond movement. You can become attuned to the sensations, tensions and feelings in the body physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Because these four aspects of your being are connected, mindfulness of the body in movement can increase awareness of your whole being.
When the Body is Still
The converse is also true. When the body is still for long periods of time, the muscles begin to shorten. That is why you feel stiff after a good night’s sleep or a long stint in the car, at your desk or on the sofa. Consequently, the body feels contracted, closed and sluggish. If your life style is one of moving from bed, to car, to desk, to car, to sofa and back to bed (or some variant of that), then a whole day might go by when your muscles and fascia have not warmed up or moved to the full range of movement they are capable. Perhaps this has been the case all week or all month or all year?
Over time your body progressively gets more contracted, closed and de- energised. How do you think this impacts on your body, how it feels and what it feels capable of doing? How do you think it presents itself to the world? What affect might this have on your mood, feelings, emotions, mindset and connection to you and the world?
Being in the Head
When you do not exercise, your awareness has little need to go to the body. Instead it remains in the head. You become disconnected from your body and the language it speaks. Therefore you may be less likely to notice the subtle signs your body gives you that things are not well emotionally, mentally, physically or spiritually. It also does not tell you when things are joyful, powerful, exuberant and flowing.
This “being in the head” is a very common state of being in our modern age. People may even speak about thinking what their body feels like, as if the body is an abstract thing. Through mindful movement, exercise and living, I suggest that we live more fully and openly with a deeper sense of awareness in the body.
This makes us more present and aware of what is happening in our being moment to moment to moment. What is happening in your body IS the present. It is happening right now and so it connects you to a much larger present. I am not suggesting you live like this all the time. This would be impractical. Yet to practice the skill of mindful presence gives you the ability to move your awareness from your head to your body whenever you wish, opening you up to the wisdom and awareness in the body.
So to start this process off I have five short videos for you. Watch all five in one go. Watch one ad come back to the rest later. Whatever works best for you. They offer some gentle stretches that can be done throughout the day. Please do not do these exercises if you are already injured. If you are in any doubt, please consult your doctor before embarking on any type of exercise, including stretching. The key is to be gentle and aware. Placing your awareness on the muscles and fascia you are stretching means you will not over- do the movement and injure yourself. It should never be painful. It should feel releasing, relaxing and rejuvenating. Give it a chance. The muscles and fascia need time to respond to your gentle attention. See how you feel after a week, a month.
The Muscles to the side of the neck (see the video here)
These muscles get very tight over time when your head remains still for prolonged periods such as when working on a computer, texting or driving. By tilting your head gently to one side and then the other, you can loosen these muscles and remove the tension that builds up over time.
The muscles of the chest and the front of the shoulder (see the video here)
Working at the computer and holding the steering wheel as you drive pulls the shoulders forward, contracting the muscles at the front of the body. Over time, this curves the upper back forward creating a hunched feeling. This communicates an inward feeling making it harder to embody a state of confidence, presence and power. This stretch can help with bringing the shoulders back in relation with the spine, opening up the chest and shoulders.
Stretching the muscles around the upper spine and sternum (see the video here)
The top half of the torso can get very tight effecting the breathing as well as larger movements with the arms. Impaired breathing can severely affect your state of calm and confidence. Therefore, loosening the muscles involved in breathing is essential to help combat stress and anxiety. These are two of many stretches that impact the muscles involved in breathing as well as posture.
Loosening the muscles in the forearms (see the video here)
Typing and driving can tighten these muscles a lot, especially if you have poor technique and do not use your body as it is designed. Regular stretching of these muscles can reduce tightness and discomfort and increase your productivity.
Spinal twist (see the video here)
Your spine is made up of loads of joints between your vertebrae. Yet when we move, the tight muscles around the spine really restrict the range of movement of which we are truly capable. This stretch works the really deep muscles as well as massages the organs in the body increasing mobility as the fascia around the organs becomes more loose and flexible.
Over to You
I hope you find these exercises useful. I have done them for many years and always feel better when I do them on a regular basis. Sometimes I let it slip. I am human! How do you feel after doing the stretches? Which ones do you find easier? What ones are more challenging? Do they make your life style more comfortable? Are you generally aware of your body? If not, does the stretching help? How are things changing after doing the stretches for a week or more? Are you inspired to do more? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below. And if I can be of any assistance, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help.
Pass it on
A sedentary life style is incredibly common these days. The physical issues we develop as a result of these are widespread. Just because they are common does not mean they are right for your health and wellbeing. If you know people who are adversely affected by a sedentary life style and stretching might help, please forward this blog to them and help them get out of pain and discomfort. Thank you.