|Photo by Melissa Donald|
When it’s hard to reach that top shelf in a kitchen cabinet or bend over and tie a shoe, it’s often because our muscles are tight and lack flexibility. Stretching and flexing the body regularly can relieve tightness and increase pleasure in one’s daily routine.
“Learning to stretch and move to the edges of our body is a way of showing the body that we love it, care for it, and respect it,” says Rebecca Braden, a yoga instructor for 22 years who leads classes at the Northeast YMCA in Louisville. “We don’t want to be aggressive and forceful in the way we push the body. Start where it’s easy and then meet the challenge with compassion.”
Rebecca says that gentle yoga can relieve pressure on joints and soothe pivot points like hip sockets and elbows. Stretching and lengthening muscles can also reduce stress on the body’s ligatures and tendons, thereby preventing injury.
Gentle yoga, as its name suggests, is a much less strenuous form of this ancient practice and does not require complicated poses or perfect balance. It’s a place where beginners and others enter the practice gently and progress at a personal pace. As the body opens, so do our thoughts, Rebecca says.
“Rather than believing that you can no longer get down on your knees because you’re too old, we look at how that thought is actually blocking our progress,” Rebecca says. “Our culture grooms us to think that we need to change the body or fix it as though something is wrong with it. That’s not true. The body naturally wants to be in movement regularly.”
Rebecca suggests that a simple way to begin stretching and opening the body is to lift the chest, put the head back and greet the moment. By expanding and being present, we move in the opposite direction of contraction and tightness, which is caused by pain, worry, and inactivity.