Stress-reducing exercises for every fitness level

Aug 31, 2014 at 3:00 a.m. ET

Wired? Treat yourself to a stretching session. It'll not only improve your posture, blood flow and muscle strength, but it will leave you feeling relaxed and ready to take on the world. The best part? You only need 10 minutes and you can do it any time, anywhere. Exercise physiologist, Robyn Papworth, from Move 4 Health, shows us how.

Meditation

Photo credit: Robyn Papworth

What to do: Hold each stretching position for 15 to 20 seconds, breathing slowly and deeply as you do so. Relax, then repeat the stretch one more time before moving on to the next.

Top tip: Don't stretch to the point of pain — that won't do your body any favours. You should feel the stretch, but be able to hold it comfortably for at least 30 seconds.

Forward bend

Bending stretch

Photo credit: Robyn Papworth

Place a chair or stool in front of you. Take a couple of steps back and spread your feet shoulder distance apart. Bend over until your arms are so long they touch the chair, and hold. Be sure to relax your shoulders and really feel the stretch down your back.

If you want to step it up a notch, get rid of the chair; simply fold forward and let your arms hang down. Bonus points if your hands touch the floor.

Hip flexor stretch

Hip flexor

Photo credit: Robyn Papworth

Pop one foot up on a chair and, placing your hands on the seat for balance, step back with the other foot. Adjust yourself until your body is one straight line from your leg to your shoulders. Keep your shoulders back and down and your chin high. When you feel a beautiful, opening stretch at the front of your hip, that's when you're doing it right. Repeat on the other side.

Long leg stretch

Long leg stretch

Photo credit: Robyn Papworth

Take one step back from your chair and put your feet hip-width apart. Place both hands on the sides of the chair, and lift one leg up in the air. Point or flex your foot to enhance the stretch. Try to keep everything from your foot to the top of your back in a straight line and lift your chin. Repeat on the other side.

Is your body getting in the way of your workout? Check out how to handle common exercise issues >>

Cow pose

Cow pose

Photo credit: Robyn Papworth

Yogis, you'll be familiar with this stretch. Position yourself on all fours, with your hands and knees shoulder and hip-width apart. Curve your back upwards and let your head drop (with control). This pose is excellent for loosening any tension in the back.

Got an extra minute? Go on and do the reverse of this yoga pose — known as the "cat". Return to neutral spine, then arch your back so you feel a stretch in your lower back and tummy. Imagine you're a kitten purring after a nice, long nap and you've got it.

Knees to chest

Knees to chest

Photo credit: Robyn Papworth

Sit down and position yourself so you're sitting on your tailbone. Lift your feet off the ground, pull your knees into your chest and wrap your arms around your ankles. Keep your head high and posture proud, and relax into the stretch — which is kind of like giving yourself a hug.

Take your pick

To finish off, choose one of the following yoga poses and hold them for as long as you like. A minute is great, 5 minutes is even better, and 10... well, now you're just making us jealous.

  • Child's pose — tuck your legs under your body, fold over so you're sitting on your heels, and reach your arms out in front.
  • Savasana (corpse pose) — lay flat on your back and just be.
  • Viparita karani — scooch your butt up against a wall, then pop your legs up. This gets the blood flowing through your body, leaving you feeling ridiculously relaxed.

Mini meditation

Papworth loves wrapping up this stretching session with an express meditation. Sit up straight in a quiet place, relax your shoulders and jaw, and breathe slowly. Then, read or think of this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who knows what's up when it comes to zen.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
Breathing in, I notice my in-breath has become deeper.
Breathing out, I notice my out-breath has become slower.
Breathing in, I calm myself.
Breathing out, I feel at ease.
Breathing in, I smile.
Breathing out, I release.
Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.
Breathing out, I feel it is a wonderful moment.

Love Robyn’s advice about active living? Check out her website.

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