By Jamuna Rangachari July 2012 A great way to start the day is to stretch yourself. Apart from the feel-good factor, stretches reduce pain even in chronic conditions and make your body flexible and supple, says Jamuna Rangachari When my late mother-in-law lived with us, she would get up in the morning and stretch, stretch, and stretch, to whatever extent she could for at least ten minutes, and only then get out of bed. A patient with chronic rheumatoid arthritis, she suffered from intense pain, but that did not deter her. When my husband asked her to relax, she would smile and say, “Please go and make me a cup of tea, but let me try moving my limbs to whatever extent I can.” GL Sampoorna, psychologist and founder of ‘Oneiric’, a centre for psychological empowerment, says, “The body has been in a state of total relaxation and inactivity for many hours of the night, and it needs the time to warm up and awaken gradually through stretching. If we do this, the body will gently awaken each of its cells, muscles, tendons and ligaments at its natural pace.” Jacques Gauthier, from United States of America, now runs a healing centre after he and his wife healed themselves through stretching. He says, “I found out about stretching the hard way. Sixteen years ago, my doctors told me to buy a wheelchair, and prepare for being a quadriplegic for the rest of my life. I was crippled by vasculitis, arthritis, and osteoporosis. The pain was so severe that I could barely move. My wife had to help me get out of bed in the morning, help me shower, in short, in everything I had to do. All I could do on my own was lie in bed, meditate, and pray.” Amazing results Jacques heard about a healer whom he met subsequently. The healer told him about stretching. Despite the pain and doctors advising him not to exercise, he decided to try. He says, “It was extremely painful at first, but within six weeks, I had regained 50 per cent of my function, and in seven months of intense stretching, I was back to normal.” His wife too joined him and soon her persistent back pain vanished. He also has written about a woman who healed herself from multiple sclerosis – it took her a total of two years stretching for an hour a day. She has been doing it for ten years, and keeps good health. Now she does yoga, plays golf all summer, and goes skiing in winter. In fact, she is in far better shape than her family and people known to her! He also says that people tell him that when their pain goes away, they have more energy, and are able to start the activities they had stopped, due to stiffness and pain. Techniques Stretching is simple, but always do it in the right manner. Make sure you breathe slowly. Move slowly in and out of the stretches. Pay attention to your body. Your body will tell you how far to go. You should stretch until you begin to feel some resistance. Stop, and count your breaths, and you will probably find that you naturally relax further into the stretch. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. It has been found that holding a stretch for 25-35 seconds gives optimal results. Rather than count the seconds, you can time your breathing to find out how many relaxed breaths you take in 30 seconds. Then you can time your stretches by counting your breaths. What is important is that the muscle experiences movement and is stretched, not how far you stretch. Remember that stretching is not a competition. Extend your body only to the extent possible. Do not give up – the first few days may be the hardest, as you have not been stretching for a long time, but keep at it. As you continue the stretches, your body will slowly become more flexible and supple. Positive resultsStretching will not set us back in work. On the other hand, we would actually gain time because we wake up feeling good emotionally, alert mentally, and refreshed physically. We will move faster, and being more alive, alert, and in the present, accomplish our tasks at a naturally quicker pace.Sampoorna says, “From my personal experience and with clients, I find that stretching regularly improves health and increases the sense of well-being. The body knows it all, and has its natural healing and coping mechanisms. If we would just listen to our body’s wisdom, there is nothing much that we would have to learn.” Jacques says, “By putting together different ideas, we realised that stretching exercises become anti-inflammatory. I talked to many healthcare providers about it, and they said that it made sense. They observed the effects of stretching with their patients, and found it to be true. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. It has been found that holding a stretch for 25-35 seconds gives optimal results. This explains why stretching reduces pain. Inflammation causes pain, and when the inflammation is gone, the pain is gone.” He also says, “Most people notice some results within the first week, and the benefits grow with time. With a serious condition, it can take months and years for the problem to resolve, but even chronic problems can be healed through stretching. I know this because I have seen people do it. It is not that they go to a healer and the healer heals them. We have to do the stretches and the body will then respond. Naturally, the more you stretch a day, the faster the results happen, but for most people 15 to 20 minutes is enough to make a big difference.” Shameem Akhtar, a yoga teacher in Mumbai, says, “Stretching is very important because it cultivates the slow twitch muscle fibres, which are the endurance muscle fibres that give you stamina and power. They heal faster due to more blood supply to them and last longer when the physical challenge is upped. The fast twitch muscles, developed by sports (like sprinting) are not as flexible, have less blood supply (which is why they are white in colour) and do not have the rejuvenating capacity that the red coloured slow twitch muscles have. To develop the slow twitch muscle fibres you need to do stretching, and intensely. In this way, whatever your activity levels, you will heal faster, last longer, and be more healthy. Stretching promises flexibility, which has more health benefits than just the body aesthetics it assures.” Multiple benefits Jacques says, “I have seen from my own experience and the reports of so many people whom I have taught, that stretching is extremely beneficial. People tell me that the pain goes away, they have more energy, and are able to start doing all kinds of things they had stopped doing, due to stiffness and pain. Beyond that, people have even reported recovery from many problems, which are not considered curable.” In addition to the woman mentioned above, who recovered from multiple sclerosis, people have reported good results in healing arthritis, headaches, back/neck/shoulder pain, bursitis, depression, fatigue, and even conditions like fibromyalgia. The body has a tremendous ability to heal, but we have to help it along by taking proper care of it. Stretching is one of the easiest and most effective self-healing tools. Jacque says, “That, along with correct eating habits and relaxation makes for what I like to call the “immune triangle.” Take care of them, and you will take care of your health!”The benefits, according to Shameem, are: • Flexibility. In yoga that means that the energy channels are clear and less blocked. • Any healing occurs only when there is rich blood supply to the injured /sick part, and flexibility moves (stretching poses) ensure that. • Stretching before and after other forms of exercise, prepare and heal the muscles involved in that activity. For instance, in running, leg muscles are prepared for the intense contraction of running. Hence, if you stretch before you start and after running, it relieves the contracted and tense muscles. In fact, unless you stretch after such activity, you are likely to hurt, or be sore the next day. Stretching heal, revives, and strengthens. And that is not stretching the truth!
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