Sometimes I wish there was just one exercise or stretch I could do daily that would act as a catch-all. It would relieve tension, stretch muscles and leave my body feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
Unfortunately, there isn't such a thing, but I have found something that’s close: the forward fold stretch. It's similar to the stretch we all did in gym class (bend forward and touch your toes), but it’s more refined and more intentional.
Stretching the right muscles
This stretch is amazing if you’re working at a desk all day. It only takes 2 minutes and it will leave you feeling surprisingly refreshed. To understand why, let's look at what the forward fold looks like and what muscles it stretches.
- Place your feet apart. Stand tall and roll your shoulders back. Inhale and let your arms hang loose. As you exhale, bend forward and bend your knees enough to bring your palms flat to the floor and your head pressed against your knees.
- Feel your spine stretching as you pull your head down. Try to straighten your legs to deepen the stretch.
- Breathe and hold for 4-8 breaths
- When you are ready, bend your knees again and return to your initial position.
This stretch activates your abdominals, quads and calves. It stretches your hip muscles, hamstrings and lower back. These same muscles often feel tight and sore after several hours spent sitting at a desk.
The forward fold stretch also stimulates digestive, urogenital, nervous and endocrine systems.
Folding into yourself
Start slowly and don't overdo this stretch! It can be tempting to push your body too much by interpreting more intense sensations as a sign of progress, but keep in mind that relaxation is an important component of this stretch.
Be mindful of your own body and don't push yourself. Instead, allow your body to open up naturally. If you force a forward fold, your muscles may end up becoming tense and resisting. To master this pose, you need to breathe deeply and focus on letting go of your resistance.
More importantly, if you have a recent or chronic injury to your legs, hips, backs or shoulders, this stretch may not be safe for you, so make sure to listen to your body.