Stress can be a vicious circle: your mind is in overdrive with all the planning of lessons, speaking in front of a classroom full of students with different degrees of interest in what you have to say, dealing with different personality styles and learning abilities and so on.
When your mind is busy all the time with stressful thoughts your body responds in kind by creating tension in your muscles. And in turn, standing around all day without moving too much can result in muscular tension with the associated aches and pains that translate into discomfort, adding to an already stressed mind.
Although when I work with clients these days is mostly great fun and something I look forward to, it wasn’t always this way. You may be surprised to learn that Fitness Professionals experience similar issues to those of you teaching in schools. Not all clients are fun and easy going, some had an extra 20 years or so experience in the arts of self sabotage and resistance to learning compared to their teenager counterparts!
The thing is if you don’t find a way to handle your stress your health, both physical and mental, will suffer in the long run.
Stretching is a great way to interrupt the vicious cycle of stress. I see this all the time with my Thai Yoga Massage clients: as I manipulate their bodies they start to release tension and when the treatment is over they are mentally relaxed and re-energised.
You don’t need to do a full yoga workout every time you feel the stress levels rise.
All you need is a few minutes in a quiet place to re-center yourself so you can carry on with your day in a better frame of mind. Then, when your working day is over you can indulge in your favourite stress releasing activities without time constraints.
I don’t know you but for me stretching and finding my centre when I am stressed is something that I like to do away from the public eye. It allows me to switch off from my environment and bring the focus back onto myself.
For you working in a school environment with people everywhere all the time finding somewhere private can be tricky, especially if you don’t have your own office where you can hide for a few minutes every now and then during the course of your working day.
You might be able to have the canteen all to yourself for a short while as other teachers are busy with their classes or perhaps there you could hijack your students’ favourite hiding spot or, if everything else fails, the restrooms or showers will have to do.
The simple stretches I am going to suggest don’t require you to touch the floor with anything other than your feet so you don’t have to worry about getting dirty or finding a large area. They are also easy to perform in normal work clothes as long as they allow to move freely.
Because we are focusing on stress relief as opposed to sports performance you don’t need to push yourself to get deep into the stretches. All you need to do is focus on your breath and let go of any tension you feel as you perform each exercise. You can hold each stretch for as long as you need to but make sure you do so for a minimum of 10-15 seconds.
When you feel like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders there is a good chance that this area is tense. Start here.
With your right hand cup the back of your neck and apply positive pressure to squeeze your neck muscles between your fingertips and the heel of your hand. Squeeze and release as many times as you need until you feel the muscles starting to relax. Swap hands. Repeat.
Next bring your right hand towards your left shoulder and place your fingertips on the back of the muscle between your neck and your shoulder (trapezius). You can squeeze and release along the edge of the muscle and you can also reach with your hand further down your back and apply positive pressure with your fingertips in a circular motion. If you feel any tight spots hold the pressure for a short while and then release. If your flexibility allows it follow the contour of your shoulder blades and apply pressure with your fingertips on the muscles along the side.
Throughout this don’t forget to take deep breaths to help you let go of the tension. Especially as you come across any tight spots.
When you are done you should feel more inclined to stand with a better posture as your shoulders and upper back muscles are more relaxed allowing you to keep your shoulders back as opposed to hunched forward.
By giving the muscles in the back of your thighs a good stretch you will allow your back to relax more and be able to move about with greater ease.
There are many variations of this stretch. The easiest one that requires no props or gym attire is to place one foot in front of the other, bend the back leg slightly while you straighten the leg that’s forward as you pull your toes towards you so that the heel touches the floor. While keeping the back straight bend forward at the hips until you feel the stretch along the back of the leg. Once you feel the resistance become stronger hold that position as you take a few deep breaths imagining all tension is dissipating.
To change the intensity of the stretch you can bend forward more or less. Play with this.
If this version of the stretch doesn’t do much for you, you can make it more intense by elevating the straight leg. If you have a window ledge of a suitable height you can do the stretch ballerina style: one foot on the ledge and bend forward until you feel a jolly good stretch.
If you feel the muscles in the lower back pulling as you stretch it’s a good sign: they are engaged and ready to let go.
If they are tight they too contribute to discomfort in the lower back as your movements become restricted, and on top of that they can cause you to feel pain in your knees and along the outside of your thighs.
The easier and most practical version of this stretch that doesn’t require you to roll on the floor or wear a gymnast’s outfit is to simply bend one leg by bringing the heel towards your glutes as you grab your foot with the hand on the same side. Pull that foot towards your glutes and push the hips forwards until you feel a strong stretch along the front of your thigh.
If you struggle for balance hold on to the back of a chair or to a window ledge or a door handle. Alternatively, if you are in an open space and don’t have anything or anyone to hold on to you can stretch the opposite arm in front of you. If you can pick a point in front of you and focus your gaze on it.
For most people this stretch will be enough but if you don’t feel much you can make it more intense by resting your shin on a wall or door and then pushing your weight back.
Unless you are super flexible you will feel this.
Although stretching the hip flexors may not result in immediate relief from stress it will pay big dividends in the long run by eliminating that annoying tugging feeling in the lower back as you stand and walk. It’s all part of investing a little bit of time into your self care.
The easiest hip flexor stretch that doesn’t require you to get down on the floor is a variation of a normal lunge: you take a bit step forward with one leg, drive the opposite knee towards the floor (without touching it) and then you shift your weight forward by moving the front knee forwards so that it goes past your toes. You may need to straighten the back leg to feel the stretch more. Try both variations and go with the one that makes you feel better.
Just make sure you keep both hips pointing forward and your shoulders back whilst allowing the spine to follow its natural curve. You should feel mild discomfort in the front of the hip that’s being stretched. Hold it for a few seconds and then switch legs.
If you don’t feel much as you do the stretch this way try elevating your back foot by resting it on a chair. Essentially you are doing a Bulgarian split squat which will strengthen your hip flexor muscles as well as stretching them. If you push down deep enough you will definitely feel this!
To get the most benefit out of this stretch do it like this: start with your feet hips width apart, cross your arms in front of you and while keeping your back straight start bending forward at the hips. Your crossed arms should be simply dangling to provide a counterweight. They are not engaged in any way, shape or form. Feel the spine lengthening as you do this. If your lower back is tight you may find this uncomfortable but stick with it. Once your back is parallel with the floor take a deep breath and, very slowly, start to flex the spine so that your head is moving towards the floor.
The tighter your back, the slower you need to do this. Feel the gaps in between each vertebrae open up as your spine relaxes and lengthens. Your forearms should be parallel with the floor at all times and your crossed arms and head are the weights pulling you down. Take deep breaths throughout and feel the tension in your back dissolve as you relax into this position.
Once you have reached the maximum range of motion hold the position for a little while and play by shifting your weight backwards and forwards and notice where you feel the stretch most. When you are ready to come out of the stretch gently and slowly reverse the movement and voila’ you are ready to get back to work with a calmer mind and a more relaxed body.
The stretches you did so far have helped you let go of tension both physical and mental. Now imagine yourself opening your heart and body to replacing the tension with positive energy and good vibes. If you can see the sun from where you are turn towards it, close your eyes and open your arms to the sides and back as you feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Imagine absorbing its life giving power and allow yourself to bathe in it as you release more negative thoughts with each outbreath.
One of my tee-shirts explains this technique very well. It simply says “exhale the bull***t, inhale the good s**t”.
If in doubt about the purpose of your stretching session remember my t-shirt and you’ll be set for success.
Best of luck and if you have any questions about anything discussed in this article pop on over into the Network and drop me a message.
Personal Trainer. Thai Yoga Massage Therapist. Mental Health Ambassador. Martial Artist. Animal Flow Instructor. Social Scientist. Blogger. Sometimes Vlogger. Maid to the quadrupedals in my life.
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