Stretch that Stress Away

Stretch that Stress Away

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The Stress-Less Stretch: A Two- to – Ten Minute Stretch Program for Stress Reduction


Why Do I Need to Stretch?

As some of you may already know, my background is in the spa industry. On paper, working in a spa sounds ideal—spending your days amid beautiful surroundings, soft lighting, soothing music and delicate breezes perfumed with aromatherapy, but the reality is that working in the spa industry is grueling. Those who do it may love the work, but eventually they will suffer physically from the demands of the job.


When I stopped working in the treatment room, I expected the aches and pains to go away. But, what I discovered is that all the repetitive tasks I had performed for years had taken a toll on my body. What repetitive motions produce, over time, is a shortening of the muscle and the fascia that surrounds the muscle. We refer to this as "hyper-tonicity," and what it eventually causes is a distortion of our bodies and our posture.


To address the specific physical challenges I encountered as a spa technician, I compiled a series of stretches into a short routine; and I taught these stretches to spa technicians all over the country. Even though I no longer work in a spa, I have found that the repetitive motions I carried out each day are not that different from the ones I now do at my desk and during my travels, which is why I still use these stretch techniques. These specific stretches address the main areas of hyper-tonicity in the body by providing a release that is in direct opposition to the motions we find our bodies having to repeat.


What is The Stress-Less Stretch Program?

I call this series The Stress-Less Stretch Program because this system of stretches helps to de-stress areas that are chronically over-worked, which in turn helps to combat the fatigue and postural dysfunctions that result from the repetitive movements. These stretches can be done by anyone according to their own level of flexibility.


How Do I Begin a Stress-Less Stretch Program?

The Stress-Less Stretch Program is an excellent way to begin and end your workday, or as a reviving tonic to relieve stress and strain throughout the day. The program works best if you can complete the entire cycle as described below. However, if you can only find two minutes for stretching, simply perform the stretches as noted (_) below. If you have 10 minutes, perform more repetitions and take a couple of extra deep breaths as you linger at the deepest point of the stretches that are held in place. By breathing into the stretch you will find that with each breath you can move a little further until you feel a "barrier" or a point of resistance.


During the stretch, focus on the sensation created as the muscle lengthens. Stretches will feel intense but should not burn, feel painful or cause tingling. If you have any injuries, medical conditions or physical conditions that substantially limit your range of motion, you should consult your physician before doing the Stress-Less Stretch Program.

The Stress-Less Stretch
º Denotes that this is a critical stretch for the 2 minute program


SEATED STRETCHES (You will need a chair or stool.)


1) Ankle Rotations

–From an upright, seated position, arms hanging at your side, rest your right ankle on your left knee

–Slowly rotate your ankle a minimum of 4 times and repeat the rotations in the opposite direction

2) Seated Forward Stretch (AKA: Piriformis Stretch)

–From an upright, seated position, with your right ankle still resting on your left knee, slowly bend forward, keeping your back

completely straight
–You will feel a deep stretch in the piriformis muscle in your buttocks and the back of your propped-up leg

(FYI: The pirifomis is the pear-shaped muscle, which is often responsible for that tingling and burning sensation down the back of the thigh called sciatica.)


3) Spinal Twist º

–From an upright, seated position, cross your right leg over your ¥ Draw your straightened right arm back behind you,

reaching and looking back until you feel a good stretch


4) Upper Trap/Arm Stretch º

–From an upright, seated position, arms hanging at your sides, stretch your right arm toward the floor.

–Turn your head to the left side and without drawing your shoulder upward, try to touch your nose to your left shoulder
–You should feel an intense stretch in you upper traps on the right side of your neck
–Slowly raise your arm upward, inline with your body, until your arm is parallel with the ground and your palm is facing down
–Continue moving your arm in an arc until it is reaching outward, directly in front of you
–Turn your palm upward and re-trace the same path back to the original starting position


5) Upper Trap/Neck Stretch

–From an upright, seated position, drop your head to the left side (left ear to left shoulder)
–To intensify the stretch, drape your left arm over your head
–Allow the weight of it to gently increase the stretch
–Hold for a minimum of 15 counts then release


6) Chicken Neck

–From an upright, seated position, push your head forward, (face forward, not the top of your head) as far as you can go,

isolating the movement in the neck, keeping the shoulders in place
–Pull the head back as far as you can go allowing the chin to "double up"

(Tip: The head should glide back and forth like a drawer being opened and closed)

7) Anterior Neck Stretch (Hands Behind Head) º

–From an upright, seated position, interlace your fingers and put them behind your head
–Draw your elbows back, away from your face
–Then slowly tilt the head back slightly arching the upper back

(Tip: You should feel the upper chest open and a stretch in the area of the sternum.)

8) Arm Across Body Shoulder Girdle Stretch

–From an upright, seated position, draw the right arm across the front of your body, holding it just below the shoulder girdle REPEAT THIS STRETCH ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE


9) Twisted Forearm Shoulder Stretch

–From an upright, seated position, place your right elbow on the inside of your left elbow and twist your forearms around each

–Stretch you arms forward and upward, hold for a minimum count of 15



10) Forearm Flexor Stretch

–From an upright, seated position, hold you right arm straight out in front of you
–With the left hand pull gently back on the right hand to stretch the flexors of the forearm


STANDING STRETCHES (You will need a chair and a strap or towel.)


11) Hamstring Stretch

–From a standing position, place the heel of your right foot on the seat of a chair and lock your hands together behind your

lower back
–Bend you body forward, keeping your back straight (as if your hip joint was a hinge)
–Bring your upper body as close as you can to your straightened right leg without dropping or shifting the hips or bending the


(Tip: You should feel the stretch down the back of your leg in your right hamstrings.)


12) Quadriceps Stretch

–From a standing position, lift the right foot up and hold your ankle with the right hand
–Try to straighten the body as much as possible so that your right thigh is in alignment with the other leg

(Tip: You should feel the stretch in the groin on the right and down the front of the thigh.)


13) Shoulder Rotation with Towel or Strap

-From a standing position, grab the strap with both hands and holding your hands as far apart as needed to be able to draw

your hands up and over your head and behind your back
–To get the full benefits of this stretch, focus on lengthening your arms as if they were being pulled away from the body
–Repeat this motion slowly bringing your arms to the front then to the back
–Find the point where the stretch is the most intense and "hang out" there breathing into the stretch

14) Side Stretch with Towel

–From a standing position, (feet in a wide stance) still holding the strap, and keeping your entire body in line, allow your arms

to move be drawn to the side (as if someone was pulling the end of the strap on one side) j
–To get the full benefits of this stretch, focus on lengthening your arms as if they were being pulled away from the body
–Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side

(Tip: You should feel the stretch down your side in the Quadratus lumborum muscle between your hip and your rib cage. For this stretch to work it is important not to "collapse" the body by bending forward or bending your arms—just go as far as you can.)

15) Triceps Stretch Behind Back (Both Sides)

–From a standing position, hold one end of the towel with your right hand and bring that hand up behind your head and let the

strap hang behind your back
–Reach toward your lower back with your left hand and grasp the strap
–Inch your hand toward one another as far as you can go
–Hold in that position and take a couple of deep breaths

(Tip: You should feel the stretch in the triceps muscle on the back of your upper right arm and in the trapezius on the left side.)


16) Helicopter Arms Horizontally

–From a standing position, (feet in a wide stance), hold your arms straight out to the sides, perpendicular to the ground.
–Swing the arms horizontally to the left then the right allowing them to be relaxed and gently slap the shoulders alternately

17) Windmill Arms Vertically (Both Sides)

–From a standing position, step the right foot forward into a slight lunge
–Swing the arms upward in an alternate motion in front of you for a count of ten allowing them to come to a slow stop
–Step forward on the left foot and repeat, this time swinging arms in the opposite direction

–And finally, another optional stretch that lengthens the posterior (backside) side of the body is…

18) Chair Hang º

–Standing behind a chair with a back, hold on to the top of the chair back
–Bend over and take as many steps back as needed to form a 45 degree angle with your body
–Relax into this stretch breathing deeply for at least 15 seconds

(Tip: You should feel this stretch in the arms, shoulder girdle, low back and hamstrings.)

Want to Know More?

When I originally developed this program I got a lot of advice from the folks at the The Rossiter System, It is a Cincinnati-based organization that goes into the workplace to assist with ergonomic issues as well as coaching employee stretching programs.


There are also many good books on stretching; one of my favorites is "The Whartons' Stretch Book" which will give you a great understanding of the body's natural range of motion. If you are shopping for only one, narrow your focus to those that combat on-the-job stress and strain, such as "Stretch," by Mark Evans, as opposed to books that focus on stretching for sports related purposes.


Finally, for those who dare, yoga and Pilates, which both incorporate stretching and strengthening movements, are great ways to keep your body flexible, pain-free and working at its peak. Many YMCA's now offer yoga classes and so do chiropractors. For more options, the Yoga Journal has a state by state directory in every issue and a Web site that can also direct you to teachers and classes in our area: The techniques for both yoga and Pilates do vary, so call ahead to get the specifics so you'll know what you're in for.


Whatever method you choose, stretching is probably right up there with drinking water and consuming fiber as one of the simplest, cheapest and most effective ways to improve the way you look and feel. And while stretching is not the complete solution to pain and fatigue, I guarantee that if you do these stretches every workday for one month, you will notice a difference.


Click here to see a slideshow of Paula demonstrating various stretches you can perform at the office.


The Stress-Less Stretch Program is for informational and educational use only. The information contained in this site should not be construed as medical advice or instruction. If you need medical advice, contact your healthcare provider.