Take the first five minutes of the day to help you stay supple and strong. In fact, you don’t even have to get out of bed.
My 80 year-old mother bent down to reach into the depths of a cupboard to retrieve a wayward item that had fallen off the shelf. Her spine stiffened and her hand shot to her low back. “Ouch, my back!” she exclaimed. Wincing with pain, she returned to an upright position. “I guess I’m getting old,” she said.
As someone who studies posture and skeletal alignment, I desperately wanted to say something helpful in that moment that would change her perspective on aging and restore her hope for the future.
I wished she’d had a user’s manual we could reference to figure out where she’d gone wrong and protect her from injuring herself in the future. I searched for words to lift her spirits, but I came up blank.
Therein lies my inspiration for writing this article. I wish to empower all mothers
and fathers to form new relationships with their bodies that will improve their quality of life. Aging doesn’t have to mean our posture will deteriorate.
My mother told her physician she’d injured her back when she bent down to pick up something. A more accurate explanation might have been, “I’ve spent the last 25 years sitting at a desk for 10 hours a day, wearing high-heeled shoes, feeling stressed out, and then I tried to contort myself into a position with no prior strength or flexibility training.”
Our tendency is to think pain can happen because of a single incident (like bending down into a cupboard) and not because of the slow accumulation of micro-damage to our tissues — after 25 years of sitting at a desk, etc. We don’t see how the habitual ways we hold and use our bodies are making us weak.
The good news is we can improve our physical capacity and restore suppleness at any age and fitness level. For starters, I suggest changing the relationship between our outer soft tissue covering (skin, muscle, connective fiber) and our inner harder tissue (skeleton). When the outer covering pulls inward more than the skeleton pushes outward, especially across the front of our bodies, we get hunched shoulders, a forward head, a thickened waist, and a protruding belly. We forget that our skeleton has to push out.
Easy morning stretches for posture
Here’s the trick: Push in – pull out
There’s a simple way to balance this “push out/pull in” relationship. Every morning before getting up from bed, take five minutes to gently and stretch the body from head to toes in all possible directions, paying particular attention to upper back, shoulders, and hips.
These stretches will unfold naturally and organically without needing to be scripted by a specific exercise program. Your body already knows how, but here are some suggestions to get your bed-stretching started:
Stretch the webbing between fingers and toes. Explore the strong sides of the body by bending to the side. Reach the arms up overhead to elongate the muscles in the torso, shoulders, and arms and then contract the muscles at the same time as stretching them. Pull the knees towards the chest and enjoy the bend of the knees.
Shrug shoulders to ears. Gently spiral neck and torso to encourage the movement of cerebral spinal fluid up into the brain. Make the body as big as it can be and as small as it can be. Gently breaststroke arms and legs drawing big circles, stretching from the inside out. Wiggle the spine from side-to-side and front-to-back to enjoy its suppleness, like a slippery eel.
Feel the weight of the all the bones in the body and imagine the flesh melting off. Roll to the right side to get up.
Come to standing. With legs slightly bent, feet directly under the hip bones. With both feet pointing forward, gently rock back and forth from toes to heels to stretch the muscles of the feet and calves.
Stack the head and chest on top of the pelvis. Allow the rib cage to expand sideways with an inhale and free the collarbones to lengthen horizontally.
Stomp each foot into the floor several times, not to pulverize the flesh but to stimulate the marrow of the bones. Feel the bones of the feet and legs pushing down into the floor and even beneath the floor.
Interlace the fingers and lightly grip the bones of the fingers while making a figure-8 with the wrists. Use one hand to vigorously rub along the top of the other to firm the skin and increase circulation to the fingers.
Slightly shake the head from side-to-side, making the littlest “no” in the world, releasing unnecessary tension in the neck and jaw. Nod the head up and down, leading with the eyes to activate the vestibular system for better balance and reflexes. With minimal effort, balance the skull on top of the spine.
Use the palms to gently press the ears against the sides of the head and rub up and down to awaken the ear drums. Inhale and shrug the shoulders up to the ears. Exhale and let the weight of the shoulder blades drop without forcing. Let them rest.
Yawn the mouth and open the eyes wide, making big blinks to stimulate the optic nerves, looking at the colours and shapes as if it’s the first time you’ve seen the world. Breathe and enjoy. The future is bright!
Assume an attitude of hopeful curiosity about this simple routine. Be consistent. Just stretch in bed for a period of five minutes before you get up. This will gently unwind habitual tension and cultivate a new level of suppleness.
Our bodies are built to move. As I like to say, “Motion is lotion.”
More Insight: Check out this article on injury prevention if you’re working out at home.
Author: Suzanne Béchard, BPR, has studied extensively with advanced practitioners in movement therapy, stretch therapy, posture and various forms of dance. As a dance and fitness instructor, she has spent over 20 years practicing and refining techniques that enhance natural beauty, grace, and quality of life.