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The Right Way to Stretch

The Right Way to Stretch

For many people, it’s part of the morning routine: brush your teeth, comb your hair, get that first cup of coffee, and do some stretching, like touching your toes, the way you learned to do when you were a kid. After all, we know that stretching is a common exercise for dancers and athletes, who use complex stretching routines to prepare for extreme physical activity.

But there’s a big problem: it’s hurting us, and we really need to stop.

That’s the opinion of mind and body fitness expert Anat Baniel, author of Move Into Life: The Nine Essentials for Lifelong Vitality (Harmony Books), who believes that stretching is an activity – contrary to the health and longevity of our muscles.

“Muscles aren’t meant to be stretched like that,” she says. “Muscles are meant to contract and relax. Stretching them puts stress on them, and rips muscle fibers, forcing them to constantly repair themselves after each time you stretch. Your body’s movement shouldn’t cause repeated damage. It should be more harmonious, and flow naturally.”

Baniel still believes in the ritual of touching one’s toes, but has devised a method of stretching that actually increases flexibility and motion, without damaging muscles.

“Many of us have tried to touch our toes while standing, just to discover – again and again – how out of reach they are for us,” Baniel says. “My method introduces just a few variations that should make a noticeable difference.”

Here’s what she advises. First, stand up, spread your feet comfortably, gently bend down, and let your hands move toward your feet. Notice how far you go, without forcing, and come back to standing. Then:

Stand, spread your legs comfortably, bend your knees a little, and put your right hand just above your right knee, on your thighs. Put your left hand just above your left knee. Then lean on you legs with the weight of your upper body resting on your hands. Begin to round you back and at the same time pull your belly in and look down at your belly. Then gently arch your back, push your belly out, lift your head, and look up. Go back and forth like this four or five times.

Come back to standing and simply bend forward and take your hands down toward your feet. Is there some change already?

Stand with your feet spread, your knees bent a little, and this time lean with both hands on your left leg, just above the knee as before. Very gently and slowly round your back and look down, then arch your back, free the belly muscles – push them out – and look up. Go back and forth four or five times. Then stand and rest for a moment. Feel how you stand.

Stand with your knees a bit bent and spread, and this time lean with both hands on your right knee. Very gently and slowly round your back and look down, then arch your back, free your belly muscles – push the belly out – and look up, Go back and forth four or five times.

Stand up with your feet spread comfortably and simply bend down and feel if you can bend more easily and father than before. Baniel now suggests you check to see if your toes are closer to your hands.

“They should be, because the variations provided by this exercise supplied your brain the information it needed to figure out how to let go of tight muscles and tendons,” she says. “You were able to quickly and safely accomplish much more than you might have accomplished by stretching.”

Born in Israel, Anat Baniel, who has a master of arts in clinical psychology, lives and works in San Rafael, CA and has established a reputation as one of the world’s authorities in finding ways to access the brain to overcome pain and limitation and increase vitality. Baniel is a mind/body/fitness expert who apprenticed under Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli scientist and one of the pioneers of the mind/body movement. It was through her work with tens of thousands of people whose lives she helped transform, that she developed the Anat Baniel Method. Her method is designed to improve human functioning through movement with attention, variation, awareness, turning on the learning switch and more. Anat’s approach to a creative and energetic life is based not only on the all-important regimens of diet, exercise, and stress management, which many of us are already following, but upon providing the brain with what it requires for us to grow, evolve and thrive.

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Read more: Exercises, Fitness, Global Healing, Health, Spirit

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8:40AM PST on Jan 4, 2014

Good posting. Thanks!

1:54PM PDT on Jun 2, 2011

Thank you!

2:50AM PDT on May 27, 2011

thanks, learned from my dancing days - and need to start up again

11:19AM PDT on Sep 27, 2010


8:43PM PST on Feb 19, 2010

The issue as I learned it, growing up surrounded by dancers in my mother's modern dance company, was the bouncing. The bouncing while you stretched was thought to tear muscles. I only learned this from a few teachers. Some teachers coninued to do it, some didn't. But I agree, that stretching and bouncing probably tears muscles. I like the feeling of slowly stretching. Push yourself incrementally further, but don't bounce back and fourth.

7:00PM PST on Dec 3, 2009

I'm more than a decade dancer and a lot of times people "bounce" in their stretching. It's one of the worst and easiest ways to rip muscles and seriously harm your body.

1:30AM PST on Nov 25, 2009

Good information. Thanks.

6:51AM PDT on Jul 18, 2009

Thanks Mel!

7:44AM PDT on Jul 16, 2009

Yeah, there are a lot of problems with this article. I am a certified personal trainer, a yoga, martial arts, and pilates instructor and I find that this there are too many problems in this article for it to have been circulated. Regarding the tearing of muscle fibers, yeah that does happen, primarily in weight training. You want and need it to happen! They are called microtears and the healing process is what makes muscles stronger. The same happens when you stretch. The only reason stretching is dangerous is because people think that stretching should be the warm up to more strenuous exercise. Actually, you need to warm your muscles BEFORE you stretch. Envisions your muscles much like taffy, you don't pull taffy when it is cold, you warm it, then stretch it. STRETCH AFTER YOU WARM UP AND IT IS VERY GOOD FOR YOUR BODY AND MIND!!!

9:37PM PDT on Jul 14, 2009

I'm a Yoga Instructor, Massage Therapist and Registered Nurse, and Anat Baniel's is no base in truth that I know of.
Jean French, sorry but there is no length of time for a stretch that is right or wrong in Yoga, only what is appropriate for the individual engaged in the stretch at any given time. One size does not fit all. I can't speak for Physical Therapy except that they are bound by protocols. Yoga on the other hand is mor "Flexible" No pun intended. What is true about stretching, Is the way you engage in it. Never bounce, force or jump into a stretch. That is a recipe for tearing muscle fibers!
Regarding this article or should I say Anat Baniel's statement that stretching causes damage shows how completely ignorant she is about muscle fibers. A body builder builds muscle bulky muscle fibers with a particular method of pressing and a swimmer builds lean muscle fibers with another method. Regular stretching builds muscle fibers as well, causing the muscles to lengthen. When you cease to stretch, you lose muscle fibers. Hence, the muscles shorten and you are not as flexible or even stiff. Most people have chronic pain and stiffness because they do not stretch. Being immobile and only engaging in strengthening exercises is a formula for eventual crippling pain and loss of natural physical movement. I'm sure you've all heard the expression "use it or lose it." The same holds true for stretching. So don't stop just because of one misguided opinion.

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