Note: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes and is not medical advice.
Stretching can be considered a form of gentle exercise, but it is also a self-healing method. If you stretch regularly, your body will feel more relaxed all the time, and you will move more easily with less restriction and stiffness. Stretching can especially help people who are chronically tense and individuals with some nervous system disorders, since stretching relieves the load on the nervous system. Stretching decreases tension and muscle spasms, restores flexibility, releases connective tissue restrictions, and increases range of motion. Stretching can also lessen pain and discomfort from postural or structural problems. People who do not maintain a normal range of motion of all muscles slowly lose their flexibility. A full range of motion of muscles maintains health and youthfulness during the aging process.
Stretching can be useful for relieving tightness in any specific area of the body. However, daily stretching of all the major muscle groups (full-body stretching) optimizes flexibility and ease of the entire body. Full-body stretching also relieves tension in the entire nervous system and is great for enhancing your self-awareness.
There are different ways to stretch. Some stretching can be accomplished through activities such as synergetics, yoga, and pilates. For more precise and focused stretching, I promote two basic ways to stretch. One is a slow and easy general stretch (static stretching), and active isolated stretching (active stretching).
Generally, when most people want to start a stretching program, I recommend that they begin using the stretches that they already know. This is usually a very quick and easy way for most people to start stretching and begin getting in the habit of stretching daily. If you don't already know some stretches, find some books or videos on stretching. For a beginning stretcher, any good book on the topic will be fine. For your convenience in finding the most current books, videos, and DVDs on stretching, here is a link to Amazon: Search Amazon.com for stretching books, videos, DVDs, and other materials.
Typically, after stretching for a few weeks or months, you will feel more ease in the muscles you have been stretching. The stretches will become very easy and take less time. Soon you will probably start to notice that other areas of your body are feeling tight and restricted. That is a good time to learn and add new stretches to your daily regime so that you can progress with loosening up your entire body.
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is useful in bringing quick results to those who do not wish to use the slow, static stretching method described above. AIS can be done as an assisted stretch (someone helps the person stretch) or can be learned to practice at home alone using a stretching strap for assistance.
What is AIS? AIS is an active stretching method using movement, a two-second stretch, breathing, and assistance at the point of stretch. I have described how AIS is done in my AIS article.
Some people can learn AIS from a book, but most will need to learn the details of the stretches from a therapist or teacher. The book Specific Stretching for Everyone by Aaron Mattes teaches self-stretching using this method. The book Active Isolated Stretching by Aaron Mattes is the best book on stretching I have seen. Each stretch is shown in sequential photographs, and the names of the muscles being stretched and strengthened are detailed. This book shows both self-stretching and assisted stretching.
Stretching cannot always take care of loosening up all areas of tightness and restriction in the body. To assist the process of loosening up the entire body, the practice of Skilled Relaxation may be of great benefit. Another aid to loosening up the body is massage and rolfing. Self-massage may also be used. Beginning an exercise program can also help provide feedback about which areas of the body are still tight and which need loosening. Learning self-awareness methods such as Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais may also be helpful^ Return to Top
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by Jan DeCourtney, CMT