Why do people feel more relaxed after yoga class? Is it the movement? The breathwork? Stretching those tight muscles? Yes, yes and yes! It’s all of those things. However, stretching alone can help a lot to decrease the stress in your life.
Studies have shown that stretching decreases the production of cortisol, and exercise increases serotonin levels. Cortisol is the hormone that regulates the stress response. It plays important functions, such as responding to danger, and controlling blood pressure. However, when we have too much cortisol in our system the body reacts as if it is in danger and produces the” “fight or flight” response….blood pressure and heart rate increase, muscles become tense, digestion may be compromised, and emotional stress accompanies the physical stress we feel.
A great way to combat these unwanted symptoms is stretching. Stretching increases blood flow, decreases cortisol and increases serotonin (a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood and is sometimes called the “happy chemical.”) This explains why the stretching that happens in yoga class can lead to a quieter mental state and reduced anxiety.
When you don’t have time to join a yoga class, stretching is something that can be done at home on your own. It doesn’t require any special equipment or props and it’s ease\y to schedule into your day. For effective stretching, remember these tips:
- Stretch Every Day: Plan a time that works best for your schedule and needs. For example, stretching before bed can help you sleep. Stretching first thing in the morning gets your day off to a good start. Stretching prior to exercise warms up the muscles and increases blood flow. Stretching after exercise helps muscles recover better from a workout.
- Hold Stretches for 30-60 Seconds: Many people hold a stretch briefly. Initially when you stretch a muscle, it actually contracts. With time the muscle lengthens and you feel the muscle release and relax. Remember, your muscles did not get tight overnight, so give them the time they need to lengthen and stretch.
- Watch Out for Compensation: Often when we stretch a muscle, other body parts (shoulders, low back, hips, etc.) kick in. Be aware of the shoulders hunching up, the low back is arching or the glutes tightening up and give them the mental cue to settle down.