Five practical stretches that can be done first thing in the morning before your cup of coffee and while you’re still waking up.
You pandiculated this morning. Yes, you did. Don’t deny it. Pandiculation is the act of yawning and stretching simultaneously that is generally done when waking. As a new year begins, usually with promises of healthier diets or exercise, a basic tenet of health, stretching, often is overlooked.
As an Instructor, such light exercises have been vital for me to function as a grounded, centered and effective group leader on backpacking expeditions. Most Instructors need coffee to function in the morning—I just need 10 minutes of stretching. Practicing martial arts off and on for 15 years along with rock climbing and occasional yoga classes, I picked up an efficient routine of five practical stretches that can be done in the mornings while pandiculating.
Start with just the Monday exercise, then each day following add the next exercise into your routine as an addition. Your alertness will increase as the routine is expanded, you’ll feel more limber and your back will thank you. To complete the week, do one random stretch on the weekends, then repeat the full routine the next week. Continue throughout the year and beyond. No more starting your mornings half-awake, rushing out the door in a daze.
Word of Caution: the first time you do these make sure they’re done gently and slowly. If you feel pain, numbness, or tingling stop.
Monday – Become Taller
This stretch is something we all have done without thinking but now do it with purpose.
If you’re in bed, or even in your sleeping bag facing up, place your hands over your head horizontally, extend your arms and legs as long as you can to make yourself taller. Pay attention to how all your muscles respond, and how your spine feels when it’s elongated. If you have a headboard, slide down some even if your legs are sticking over the foot of the bed. Repeat 3x. Yawning is optional.
Tuesday – Ankles
More attention should be given to ankles, especially if you are hiking with a 30lb pack, or if you are on your feet all day at work.
In bed, facing up, pull up your knees into your chest and hug them as tightly as you can. This starts loosening your upper leg muscles and lower back. At the same time, rotate your ankles in circular motions, at least 10x clockwise, and then 10x counterclockwise. Then point and flex your toes 10x each.
Wednesday – Back
In our everyday lives, we rarely spend time on the floor like we did when we were children. This is a good stretch that gets us back to a child-like nature, invites us to play and grounds us.
To address discomfort in your back, sit on the floor for the remaining stretches. While sitting, bring both knees comfortably to your chest and rest your hands on them. Slowly and gently lean backward and use your knees as an anchor to control your descent. Starting from your tailbone, allow each of your vertebrae to touch the floor individually as your spine rolls out and makes contact with the floor. You may hear some pops and cracks, but that release should feel good! While your back is fully on the floor, you can add on the first stretch from Monday by stretching yourself flat on the floor, arms extended overhead. Do this whole stretch one time through.
Thursday – Half Lord of the Fishes Pose/Ardha Matsyendrāsana
This is one of my favorite stretches, and what I usually do to conclude my routine. This yoga pose twists your torso, stretches the front of your thighs, improves spinal mobility and helps with digestion.
- Sitting on the floor, extend your right leg out and cross your left foot over your right knee.
- Wrap your right hand around your left knee, and at the same time extend your left arm behind you. Turn your head in the same direction looking past your left hand. Twist your torso. Then, repeat on the opposite side.
Optional: For more of a twist, plant your left hand on the floor, away from the base of your spine, so you can twist even more. Repeat on the other side.
Friday – Spinal Hang
This is a stretch that I came up with myself after feeling that my spine was continuously compressed from sitting in class and at work.
Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you, plant your hands by your sides, and raise your torso by pressing into your palms. Your legs remain stationary on the floor. Start lowering your torso back toward the floor, but then immediately raise your torso again using the strength of your arms. This will result in a swift tug on your back as gravity does its job and pulls the spine down to elongate it. The sensation might feel foreign, but will be very satisfying. If you’re in the office, the spinal hang can be performed in a chair as long as the chair has sturdy armrests. Do this as many times as desired.
Begin your day with these simple stretches and you will see that continuous stretching throughout the week will increase alertness and flexibility, setting you up for a healthy, productive year. Ready to get stretching?
About the Author
Victor instructs for New York City Outward Bound Schools (NYCOBS) and is a climbing Instructor at Boston University where he is also a Site Supervisor, managing a team of specialists at a Covid-19 collection site, which tests all staff, employees and students. In his free time, he’s either shooting/editing videos, performing music, slacklining or creating content for online publication. Read more of his blogs here.