Mindful stretches can put our body and mind at ease.
Training, competition, and even just our everyday lives can be stressful. Stress promotes cortisol production, which causes belly fat, which is linked to Type 2 Diabetes and can contribute to other health issues.
What can we do to combat stress? Meditation is a good strategy, but getting into meditation can be hard for first timers. I have recently redoubled my meditation efforts, thanks to a new meditation space in New York called Inscape. Not only is it a lovely space and extremely calming in a city that is inherently stressful, but it incorporates technology in thoughtful ways.
Each meditation is guided through a recording and begins with a series of stretching exercises in order to prepare the body to sit, relax, and focus for meditation. I think that this concept is interesting because yoga’s primary purpose is to prepare the body for meditation, to prepare the body to sit, so let’s arm you with some ways to prepare you for meditation or to simply sit and relax after a stressful rehearsal or performance.
Start in a comfortable upright seated position. I like to sit on a low cushion to support my ankles from the floor. Make yourself truly comfortable, and what comfortable means will change throughout your practice.
If you need back support, feel free to sit in a chair with a back, against a couch on the floor, or against a wall—whatever makes you feel supported. Some people take two smaller pillows and use them as support under each of their knees. I like to use a soft blanket over my legs, especially if the room is cold.
This routine should not be about putting your body through the paces; it should be about putting your mind at ease.
Three Easy Maneuvers
Here is my favorite series of stretches from an Inscape meditation. Start with your hands on your hips with your fingers pointing forward and your thumbs at your back. Take a deep breath, lift through your spine, and rotate to the left. Feel the rotation come from the base of your spine, lifting up and out of your hips. As you exhale, return to center. As you inhale again, rotate to the right, exhale center. Repeat this process 10 to 20 times.
Interlace your fingers at the base of your head. Inhale, lifting up and out of your hips and fully expanding your ribs, and tip over to the left, pointing your right elbow up to the sky. Go over to the left as much as is comfortable and easy, but hit your edge. Exhale and return to center. Inhale up and over to the right, lifting your left elbow up. Repeat this process eight to 10 times.
Take your arms out in front of you, parallel to the ground, and interlace your fingers with your palms apart. Inhale and move your shoulders up and forward. As you exhale, release your shoulders down and back. Continue this slow circular breath, emphasized by your shoulders for eight to 10 breaths. This sequence is one of my favorites simple stretches. It feels really good on the body. Make sure your breaths are slow and full.
These maneuvers can be used as a moving meditation. If your mind begins to wander, focus on your breathing and the quality of your breath.