There’s a reason you might call someone a “ball of stress” or a “stress ball.” The feeling of stress can make us feel like we’re tied in knots, tensing up emotionally and physically. Just think of what your shoulders do in response to looming work deadlines or family bickering.
“Lots of times when we get really stressed we start to round in on ourselves,” says Pilates instructor Brian Spencer of East River Pilates. Does that crunching and contracting sound familiar?
If so, give this new 12-minute de-stress stretching routine from Spencer a try. He describes it as “perfect for if you’re feeling a little hectic or chaotic and you want something nice, simple, and easy to calm your brain and your body.”
Stretching has been proven to increase serotonin levels, which helps regulate our mood. So it’s working on a brain level, as well as helping relieve the physical manifestations of stress in your body, like shortened chest muscles from all that hunching over your laptop.
Spencer starts with a series of stretches in child’s pose to help you let it all go. “Child’s pose is a pose of surrender,” he says. “This is a great opportunity to get rid of any element of gripping, holding, or controlling that you’re feeling in your life or in your body.”
The idea of “surrender” mimics a Mayo Clinic-recommended relaxation technique called progressive muscle relaxation which involves gripping muscles and then releasing them. The act of releasing physically can help us release mentally, too.
From some leaning and twisting in child’s pose to open your sides, shoulders, and back, you’ll move into cat-cow poses to help lengthen your spine, and add some threading the needle to make space across your back and increase mobility in your shoulders. Next, baby cobras will help you counteract that rounding by opening up the collar bone. A series of stretches like happy baby and hamstring extensions done on your back will help bring it home to a resting, hip-opening butterfly pose.
Feel that stress melt away with every breath.