Stretching and strength exercises in the morning
Let us explore what will happen if you engage in light exercises each morning as soon as you wake up. It will only take at most 15 minutes or, if you are short of time, 5 minutes to wake your body up and ready to face the day energized, radiate and reflect positivity, increase your focus and concentration and thereby to be ready to deal with anything that comes your way.
When we are in the arms of Morpheus (an ancient Greek god of dreams), not only do we rest and relax but we stay in the same position for prolonged periods of time.
In the morning, not only do we change from sleeping to being awake, but also the transition from horizontal position to vertical and a return to weight bearing for the spine. This vertical position of the body remains in this vertical state for the majority of the day. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare the body for the day ahead by following a series of light exercises.
What happens while we sleep
Gil Hedley, Ph.D., the founder of Integral Anatomy Productions covers this very topic in his video “The “Fuzz” speech”. According to Gil Hedley, each time we go to sleep the interfaces between our muscles grow a filmy fascia, very thin and delicate, which he has named the “fuzz”. If we stretch in the morning the “fuzz” melts. Do you remember the feeling of stiffness we may have in the morning or after an injury if that part is protected by us staying immobile for some time? Gil Hedley explains it as the solidifying of our tissues. Let me quote him: “We need to stretch! Each cat in the world gets up in the morning and stretches its body!”
If we do not stretch or we do not use our body properly the fuzz builds up. Those fuzz fibers start lining up and intertwining, thicker fibers are forming, therefore our movements become limited. We may feel stiffer and become rigid. It affects the gait. Sometimes we call it aging, but this is actually incorrect. If you stretch each morning, when the fuzz is thin and disappears easily after gentle exercises, you feel light and energetic the rest of the day and your life.
It is an essential and complicated structure in our bodies, created by nature to enable us to be in an upright position! The spine consists of bones called vertebrae, joints which are formed by vertebrae, muscles and ligaments which allow our spine to be mobile, intervertebral discs that act as shock absorbers. The spine is fundamental to numerous movements such as walking, bending, twisting, dancing and whatever actions are needed. The muscles surrounding the spine need to be strong and flexible in order to support this structure and keep it in its correct anatomical position. A strong and healthy back, if well maintained through exercise, should remain so for a long time.
Set of exercises
Many of us are well aware that regular yoga and Pilates classes help to improve physical and psychological states, positively influence our body, well-being and help us to be at peace with ourselves. In yoga, there are many exercises, (in yoga this is called asanas), which are performed in a certain sequence. The set you will find below consists of:
First, you will get rid of the fuzz formed during the night and secondly, get a feeling of lightness and a surge of energy throughout your body. I will boldly assume that each time we watch major swimming competitions, we watch top class swimmers performing with agility and grace in awe. They achieve this through diligence to stretching exercises. Let me introduce to you stretches used by swimmers all over the world, because these same exercises are also suitable for you to do each morning as soon as you wake up.
While stretching and performing slowly, if you close your eyes you will better feel the movements. The movements should feel pleasant and be careful not to overstretch to the point when you feel pain.
The exercises you will find later in this article work for me and I hope they will do the same for you, or you can follow a set of exercises that you may find on the internet or in fitness club classes and choose exercises that you like and are suitable for you. Be aware that there is a tendency to focus on working out the muscles on the front of body, paying less attention to the muscles at the back. The proposed set allows you to work out all the muscle groups, back and front. It is important to be mindful (consciously aware) of those areas of your body that you are exercising. In modern life most people spend most of their time sitting in their car, at their desk, on their sofa etc. and often do not pay attention to our posture. Balanced exercising of strong muscles of the back, buttocks, and the back of the legs are responsible for correct posture and pain-free neck and back. It is, therefore, recommended to concentrate in exercising these muscles.
At the beginning, you can start with low number of repetitions to get your body used to the movements. Later, when you are used to these exercises and start feeling stronger and fitter, it is very important to find physical activity to your liking and start exercising regularly. In the meantime, let’s start cheerfully and actively every day!
Exercise 1. Starting position. Stand with your back straight, feet slightly apart and parallel. Look straight ahead, lengthening all the way up. Push your shoulders back, chest out, arms by your side and relaxed. Contract your muscles below your belly button and pelvic floor. Breathe in and expand your rib cage in all directions. Breathe deeply and smoothly and in controlled way. Breathe in and breathe out is one breathing circle. Try to keep this body position throughout the day whenever you remember.
Exercise 2. Roll your head, without bending the back of your neck too much. 5 to 8 rolls in one direction, 5 to 8 rolls in the other.
Exercise 3. Roll your shoulders. The rolls are nice and big, head stays in place. 5 to 8 rolls in one direction, 5 to 8 rolls in the other.
Exercise 4. Roll your arm forward in a circular direction for 5 to 8 times, then backward for 5 to 8 times. Repeat with the other arm.
Exercise 5. Interlace your fingers in front of you, roll the hands for 10 to 12 times in one direction. Then roll them to the other side for 10 – 12 times.
Exercise 6. Put your hands on your hips, feet are wide apart. Roll your hips for 5 to 8 times in one direction, then for 5 to 8 times in the other. If possible do this exercise in front of the mirror to ensure that the movements are symmetrical and the head does not move too much.
Exercise 7. Grab your toes and try to push your heel toward your buttock as much as possible. If necessary, outstretch your other arm or use a chair to balance. Knees together, hips forward. Keep this position for 10 to 12 breathing cycles. Repeat with the other leg.
Exercise 8. Hug your knee, bringing it as close to your chest as possible. Roll your foot for 8 to 10 times in one direction, 8 to 10 times in the other. Repeat with the other leg.
These exercises take only five minutes.
If you still have inclination to continue, then the following exercises based on yoga and Pilates will strengthen your muscles.
Exercise 9. Starting position – feet to be touching including the big toes. Place your weight all over your feet. Contract your knee caps, front and back muscles of your legs, buttocks, stomach, lengthening up. Chest out, shoulders down, look straight ahead. Straight arms by your side, fingers pointing down. Engage all your muscles. Keep this position for 10 to 12 breathing cycles. Then raise both your arms over your head palms together, lengthening up. Keep this position for 10 to 12 breathing cycles.
Exercise 10. Start bending your knees slowly, slightly leaning forward as is you are about to sit on a chair. Your arms and your spine are in line. Keep lengthening, engaging your legs and torso muscles. Keep this position for 10 to 12 breathing cycles.
Exercise 11. From the starting position bend your right knee placing your foot (toes pointing down) against your left inner thigh just above your knee. While keeping balance, raise both arms above your head, palms together. Push your raised foot against your inner thigh against each other. Keep stretching upwards, keeping this position for 10 to 12 breathing cycles.
Exercise 12. Feet about one meter apart from each other. Arms out to the side, parallel to the floor, palms facing down. Turn your right foot at right angles to your left foot and then slightly turn your left foot in. Contract your left knee cap. Bend your torso, trying to place your hand on the floor next to your foot. Stretch your left arm up so that it is in line with your right shoulder. Ensure that the back of your legs, your back and your hips are all in one plane. Look to the fingers of your raised hand. Keep this position for 10 to 12 breathing cycles. Repeat the same to the other side.
Exercise 13. From the starting position raise your heels, lengthening your spine and remain in that position for 3 to 5 breathing cycles. Lower your heels and start rolling down. Pull your abdominals in, drop your chin to your chest, stretching your neck. Relax your arms and (curve or curl) your chest area. Slightly bend your knees, keep rolling down and curl or curve or round your lower back. Allow your shoulders, chest and upper torso to be relaxed and heavy and feel (sense) the lengthening the spine. Keep this position for 3 to 5 breathing cycles. Bend your knees more and place your hands on the floor.
Exercise 14. Walk your hands forward until they are beneath your shoulders and shoulder distance apart. Look down at the floor just around 15 cm ahead of your fingers. Contract your knee caps, your stomach and pelvic floor. Open your chest and move your shoulders back ensuring that your neck, spine and legs are aligned. Engage your muscles, especially the muscles at the back. This is the Plank, a very popular and useful exercise. Keep this position for 10 to 12 breathing cycles. If your wrists are weak, you can place your elbows on the floor so that they are beneath your shoulders, keeping your forearms parallel, looking at the floor at the level of your fingers.
Exercise 15. Push-ups from knees on the floor, feet raised. Inhale and bend your elbows. Lower your chest to the floor, not your head. Exhale and extend your elbows. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
Exercise16. From the Plank raise your hips up. Then lower your hips down and look up. Pull your abdominals in. Pay attention that there is no pain in your lower back. Return to the Plank and walk your palms towards your feet. Knees are slightly bent. Let your upper body hang over your feet. Keep this position for 10 to 12 breathing cycles.
Pull your abdominals in and roll up. Start with your lower back, then chest area and neck. Stand nice and straight, feeling happy and full of energy as long as possible for the rest of the day or for the rest of the day!