Stress is a fact of life, especially in our modern world. You work long hours, have all sorts of responsibilities at home, and on top of all that, you prioritize serious, often intense, training.
You deal with stress–both good and bad–on a daily basis, but how much time do you take to decompress from all that stress?
Probably not enough.
You definitely can’t avoid all stress, and I wouldn’t recommend trying, but it’s important to give your body and your mind a chance to relax and recover from all those stressors.
Below, we’ll talk about why it’s so important to take this time to counteract your daily stress, and I’ll share a simple stretching routine you can use as often as you need, to prioritize the health and wellness of your mind and body.
Recovery and Relaxation Technique Benefits
Getting our bodies to calm down and recover well from the stresses we undergo everyday is imperative for our health and performance. Whether it’s the everyday hustle and bustle, or recovering from a particularly strenuous workout, it’s best to have some consistent down time to avoid physical and mental burnout.
Our autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for the ongoing background functions of our bodies, works without our conscious involvement, and is divided into two opposite and complementary parts–sympathetic and parasympathetic.
Sympathetic Nervous System–You’ve likely heard of the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system, where in times of stress our bodies release adrenaline and other hormones to give us a boost of energy for dealing with perceived emergencies.Parasympathetic Nervous System–Whereas the sympathetic ramps you up, the parasympathetic pulls you the other way and turns your dials down. This “rest and digest” response decreases your heart rate and pressure, and dampens your systems to help with proper rest and recovery.
The routine we are sharing today works to stimulate the parasympathetic response and balance out the sympathetic response from exercise and other activities. A certain amount of stress is positive and healthy, but ongoing stress without sufficient recuperation and recovery is not.
You’ll notice a theme to these exercises where you are progressively “rounding” your body.
Yoga postures that emphasize a “flexed” or “folded” positioning have been classically touted as calming and relaxing. And though some of the mystic reasonings are debatable, there have been both practical experiences, as well as research that attest to their helpfulness in stimulating the recovery response.
And current scientific research shows that the post-stretching response by our bodies tend toward increased blood flow, lowered cardiovascular markers, and autonomic nervous system effects.
This approach, along with deep, slow, and even breathing are a big part of helping us to recover and relax well.
In addition to the routine below, we discuss some more recovery strategies in this article.
Relieve Stress with Our Relaxation Routine
This routine focuses on movements and stretches that will help you relax and wind down.
The emphasis in how you practice these movements should be on relaxing the body, rather than trying to push yourself too hard. So, be sure to practice each exercise at a level that is comfortable for you and doesn’t cause additional undue stress.
You can use this routine daily, at the beginning or end of your day. Spend 30-60 seconds on each exercise, for a total of about 10 minutes of practice. Make sure to breathe deeply and evenly throughout each exercise.
If you’ve done some of our programs, you may notice that Rachel is demonstrating these stretches differently than how we usually teach them.
For instance, in Mobility, we teach the seated forward fold with the chest upright and back straight, but in this routine, it’s done with a rounded back. That’s just because the goal is different. Here, we’re not trying to specifically improve flexibility, but rather to promote relaxation.
Let’s look at each exercise in detail:
Knee to Chest / Double Knee to Chest
On your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor, pull one knee up to your chest. You can clasp your hands behind your knee if your knee feels strained with your hands on top. Your lower back will naturally flatten to the floor. (You don’t need to force it.)If it feels good to you, you can bring your knee more to the side of your chest.Hold for three to five breaths and switch legs.Then, in the same position, draw both knees up to your chest. Again, you can bring them farther out to the sides if you are comfortable. Don’t pull in so tightly that it restricts your breathing.
Supported Neck Flexion
Lying on your back, bring both knees up toward your chest with your ankles crossed.At the same time, bring your hands behind your head to bring your head toward your knees.Don’t strain in this position. Only go as far as is comfortable for you. Hold for 3-5 deep breaths.
Supported Knee Extension
From the same supine position, bring your legs off the ground, and put your hands behind your knees.Keep your knees bent as much as is comfortable for you, and support the knees with your hands (keeping the head on the ground).Hold for 3-5 deep breaths.
Now, turn over onto your hands and knees, in a tabletop position.Press into the ground gently as you arch your back as much as you can without discomfort. Let your head hang freely and lift your midback up. Imagine someone pulling up on your spine.You’ll likely need to shift around a bit and play with where your weight is, and how far apart your elbows and knees are. Once you’ve settled in, breathe slowly and deeply and stay in this position as long as you are comfortable.
Kneeling Hands on Head
Kneel down with your knees wide enough that you can bring your upper body between them comfortably (child’s pose). You may be more comfortable with pillows/cushions under your knees and shins (and between your calves and thighs).Place your forehead on the ground and clasp your hands behind your head. Your elbows will be around the level of your ears.Like the rest of the positions, allow yourself some time to shift and adjust your positioning until you feel comfortable.
Seated Forward Bend
Sitting with your feet out in front of you, bend your knees so that you can comfortably rest your upper body on your legs.Cross your hands and place them on top of your ankles, and settle your head down on your shins.Rock and wiggle a bit to settle in, then breath deeply and relax into the position even more.
Pancake with Bent Knees
Sit up with your legs in front of you, then bring your legs apart with your knees bent.Don’t worry too much about how wide your legs are, or how much you have your knees bent. Just get into a position that is comfortable.Round your back to bring your torso forward and place your hands on the ground.Again, if any part of this position is uncomfortable for you, just use props to create a more comfortable setup for yourself.Hold for as long as is comfortable.
Stand up with your legs wide, then bend from the hips and let your head and arms hang between your legs.Feel free to bend the knees if that feels more comfortable, and use cushions as needed under your head.Hold for 3-5 deep breaths.
From your hands and knees, push your butt up into the air.In the video, you can see Rachel demonstrates the position with the knees bent as well. Do whatever is most comfortable for you.Hold for as long as is comfortable.
Get into as deep a squat as you can, while remaining comfortable. Round out your back to bring your head between your knees as much as possible.If squatting deeply is a problem for you, sit on a low stool as shown in the video, and get into the same positioning with the spine. (And if you’re having trouble with your squat, check out our squat tutorial!)Hold for as long as is comfortable.
Recovery is (at least) Half the Puzzle
Working toward big goals in training and in the rest of life is extremely important if you want to keep moving forward. But if you don’t take the time to relax and recover, you’re setting yourself up for feeling burned out (both mentally and physically) and for potential health risks down the line.
Take a few minutes a day to work on this routine, and see what a difference it makes.
And if you’re pushing yourself too hard in your training, it may be time to take a step back, focus on the basics, and learn to balance intense training goals while prioritizing recovery and mindful movement.
Our Elements course is a good place to start.
Prioritize Recovery Alongside Your Goals
Elements helps you work toward serious training goals—strength, flexibility, and body control—while prioritizing recovery through mindful movement.
Your Foundation for Physical Autonomy