ONEAs a home-based health writer, I feel very aware of how important movement is to my body and mind. But that does not mean I stay on top of the routine. Definitely, every few hours, I will yawn and stretch, reaching my arms to the sky and adding a little neck roll. However, I know this is not enough.
So when it came time to add breaks to my daily routine in the form of written work, I took the opportunity for renewed responsibility. For this experiment, I decided to do three previous episodes of Good Moves by Well + Good all day for a week: a gentle Pilates routine before work. a lunch break; and the 4: 30-the-day-is-almost-over-and-all-is-due-to-this-yoga stream.
The results were – almost disappointing – quite significant. I’m quite tall and have bigger breasts, which, as Jessica McManus, FAAOMPT, physiotherapist, functional health coach and owner of Full Circle Wellness PT, told Well + Good, can cause neck and shoulder pain when I look forward to writing all day. Although I try my best to have a good posture when I sit down, I still round my shoulders forward a few times. Taking these deliberate breaks not only relieved muscle tension, but significantly affected the stress levels of the workday.
I started each day of stretching with a simple eight-minute morning routine so I would not feel like I was biting more than I could chew. Honestly, I always wanted to be a man who pulls in the morning, but I’m the man who goes back to the kitchen and is desperately looking for coffee. The biggest thing I noticed about starting the day with these stretches was that it was shockingly easy and simple to do a little physical activity before work.
Sometimes I really fall victim to the prospect that if I am going to exercise, it must be all or nothing. I have to get dressed in the right clothes, wake up with two extra hours and find a fitness class that I have to move to. And then, because I have set the bar so high, I tend to end up not moving at all. Eight minutes of easy Pilates did not change much for me physically, as it offered me the opportunity to realize that movement could fit into my day as easily as the 10 minutes I spend scrolling on my phone before getting out of bed.
This stretching routine probably affected me more physically – and surprised me more. Because most of the pain I have comes from my neck and shoulders, I knew this was going to be the stretching routine I had to incorporate a few hours into my late morning, around 11am. Boy, I was right. The daily practice of stretching my chest, neck and shoulders really relaxed the tension I hold in this area. Even after just a week, I have much less pain than before this experiment, so it seems that the neck, chest and shoulder stretches may be here to stay as far as I’m concerned.
This workout was a bit advanced and the habit was probably the hardest to follow. I chose it very deliberately, though: The end of my day can be stressful. It’s time for the clock to tick and I have to finish the work. As a result, I can tend to really get into the belt and not move a muscle out of my diligently fluttering fingers and my chewing gum intensely for concentration.
Every time my alarm clock rang at 4:30 pm, I had to stop what I was doing and get on the mat for 20 minutes. This was very difficult each time. Something about an object in motion that remains in motion versus an object at rest Really wanting to stay calm comes to mind.
But the reward was much greater. Not only did it calm my mind and nerves, but my hips were also very grateful for the range of lower body stretches this routine offers. It even helped me better archive my articles: After taking these last deep breaths, I was able to return to whatever piece I had worked on with a calmer, clearer, more relaxed mind.
Everything I took away from a week off breaks
If I had any doubts about how a stretching break and a wider stretching routine could clear my mind and reduce my stress levels, they were gone after I did it every day for a week. By Friday, I felt like I was thinking about some excitement and sadness. I was excited to learn that I really had a lot of power over the feelings of anxiety and pain in my upper body. My sadness came when I realized how easily I could incorporate stretching into my day with some determination and planning.
I’m honestly not sure how to continue stretching as a regular habit. The act of stretching seems like flexibility, honestly – the more I do it, the easier it becomes and the less uncomfortable it feels. However, being with your body on a mat requires some mental and emotional effort that I do not always want to rely on. (This experiment made me feel extremely grateful to work from home, where I can stretch my yoga mat and do some good stretching whenever I want.) Taking a week to practice this has taught me a lot, but I think I need more commitment before I really feel it is something I will insist on.
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