life requires movement
Life propels us into forwarding motion and change-modify as needed
It’s not a failure to change an exercise to suit your needs, whether it’s because of pain, age, or stiffness. There’s a back door to every stretch. Nor is it cheating to use props and modifications. It’s just plain wise.
The body can move in multiple directions with a great deal of ease, yet people are often deterred from doing stretching exercises because they worry about feeling discouraged. We would all love to look like the models featured in this book, but use them to help you see the stretching exercises clearly, not to compare yourself with them.
Some of the stretches may feel a little strange or unusual, especially if you are new to exercise. Part of the reason we stretch in unusual positions is to identify our weak links, so pay attention and focus on what feels too tight, too loose, or painful.
If an exercise doesn’t feel right, there’s always a way to make it more accessible. Some people have trouble sitting on the floor because they have tight hamstrings, glutes, or tightness in the lower back, or a combination of one or more of these. Sitting on a footstool, ottoman, towel, or bolster can give just the lift needed to make the stretch possible.
Knees should never hurt during stretching. If they feel painful, support them on pillows or bolsters to take the pressure off. Another tip for this pose is to move the feet farther away from the groin.
Pay special attention to your knees and monitor them for signs of pain or discomfort. “nay pain, nay gain” definitely does not apply to these difficult joints. If you need to, prop them up with pillows when you are sitting to take the strain off the ligaments. If they feel tender when you kneel on them in weight-bearing positions, support them with some form of padding. Straighten them out of a bent-leg position if it feels uncomfortable. If one of the knees refuses to straighten, as it might in the Lying hamstring stretch, use a towel, belt, or strap to reach the foot.
You can increase or decrease the intensity of a stretch as it suits you (perhaps your body feels different on different days or at different times of day) by pulling or extending more or less. Breathing and relaxing help you stretch farther. Alternatively, try modulating the intensity of a stretch by elongating in a progression from one to ten, and then reducing it. The level of intensity should never go into the “strain zone” and you should not have extreme pain after you have performed your stretches. Remember: compare only yourself to yourself to make the greatest gain.
Help for different stretches. A towel over the toes acts as a strap for a hamstring stretch – elastic exercise bands don’t work so well. Under the pelvis (right, above) will help you to sit forward on the sitting bones. A rolled towel placed under the head straightens the neck and helps you avoid neck pain (right, center). A towel is excellent as padding when you are kneeling (right, below).