Jess Bouharevich of White Rainbow Regenerative Yoga Farm, a yoga instructor with 15 years experience, lives and breathes spiritual exercise practice. Her studio is located in Peru, N.Y., a town not too far away from the Canadian border.
“The first time that I had ever experienced the power of connecting my breath to my movements, that was it for me. I was hooked,” she said. “I was hooked because it was so simple to breathe and be present.”
In our daily lives, yoga helps us stay flexible in our bodies and in our minds. As we get older, our bodies have the tendency to tighten up, and stretching on a regular basis eases the discomforts of everyday living. In our society we are sitting constantly, and our bodies are just not meant to do that, she said. Stretching allows you to feel good, and yoga fights the pleasure taboo within our culture. It’s OK to do things that are just for yourself that make you feel content and satisfied.
Stretching will undoubtedly aid in preventing soreness and injury, but stretching must be done properly to achieve these benefits. “Every body is unique, and a lot of times people try and do certain stretches or certain postures because they see someone else doing it. Without proper guidance or proper instruction, you can hurt yourself even more,” Bouharevich said.
Stretching is a wonderful and simple way to heal your body, but take into consideration that you need to do what is best for you. Along with listening to your body’s needs while you are stretching it out, Bouharevich also emphasizes the importance of rest and recovery.
How do I begin my flexibility journey?
If you are uncertain where to start, some stretches you can try include: forward folds with legs bent or extended, reaching your arms over your head and arching your body to each side and lunges. She said the stretch or posture should elongate your spine, and the most approachable stretches are usually done when seated.
“You can use those stretches as a measure to see how you’re progressing,” she said. You can measure your progress by asking yourself questions like ‘are you able to reach a bit further’ or ‘are you able to straighten your legs a little more?’
Another place to start your flexibility journey is by reflecting on how flexible you are in this moment and recognizing any physical trauma you may have gone through, where pain could be more evident. “We all carry emotions and experiences differently in our bodies,” Bouharevich said.
Bouharevich differentiates between dynamic and static stretching, with dynamic stretches being movement based and static stretches being held still in one position. She suggests beginners focus on what feels right for them. But also advises to keep in mind that there is a time and place for both of these stretching types. “Dynamic stretching is incredible to help loosen up the connective tissues and fascia in the body,” she said.
However, stagnant or static stretching may be best for someone just starting out, as one can allow themselves to become present within their bodies, with just themselves and their breath. This can be tremendously restorative for the body, she said.
Bouharevich also explained how sitting may be affecting your goal of becoming more flexible. The way we sit and what we are provided to sit in does not usually align with the makeup of our bodies. The way we have become accustomed to sitting is not meant for how our spines move. She suggests propping your hips up, as to not let them tighten up and to not let your back hunch forward, whenever you do have to sit for long periods of time.
How much and for how long should I be stretching for?
If you’re wondering how long to do each stretch for, Bouharevich said from her experience, staying in one stretch or posture for five deep breaths is sufficient. Even three deep breaths is enough, as long as you are being intentional, focusing on the position and putting your energy into the stretch, she said.
As well, it is crucial to note you shouldn’t feel any pain while stretching or doing yoga. “You don’t have to fight through it, if it hurts, you stop,” she said.
If you want to improve your flexibility, you should be stretching everyday: consistency is key. Every single day, for the rest of your life, you should practice stretching, but that is quite daunting to hear, she noted. Even so, if you’re looking to restore your body or reach your flexibility goals, the only way you’re going to get there is by practicing regularly. “Whether you do it for five minutes every day or you do it for five hours once a week, you’ll see more results with five minutes every single day,” she said.
It’s just not necessary to devote large portions of your day to stretching for hours on end, which is quite unrealistic for most people anyways. She encourages making it a small part of your daily routine, and sticking with it. Furthermore, she understands that not everyone will have access to a yoga studio or gym to do their stretches in, and that is OK. All you need is yourself. You can stretch while binge watching TV, while in bed right after your alarm goes off in the morning or even while you’re making yourself some dinner. Make the decision to put in the effort and make it become part of your lifestyle, she said.
Stretching and becoming more flexible, like anything one may do to try to become a healthier version of themselves, takes time; it is not a one-and-done type of process. It needs to become a habit and one of the things you just do during the day, without a second thought. “You can add it to where it works for you, and that’s the most important part,” she said.
As long as you get those five minutes in, it doesn’t matter when you do it. It’s all up to you and what works with your lifestyle. “I try to encourage people, as best I can, just to sneak it in, squeeze it in, and then it doesn’t feel like a chore or then it doesn’t feel like a workout,” she said. This may help you make the practice of stretching become something you want to do because it makes you feel good, not because you have to do it. Those improvements and results you see when you become more flexible will push you to keep doing this for yourself.
When is the best time to stretch?
For some people it may help to stretch at a specific time everyday. She suggests stretching first thing in the morning. From her experience, stretching right after you wake up is the perfect way to set your intentions for the day, she said. Those aspirations you set for your day may be physical, emotional or spiritual. As well, she suggests challenging yourself to do the stretch or posture that you are having the most difficulty with right as you wake up. Doing this will probably make every other problem you face later in the day a little easier to cope with, she noted. It’ll give you the feeling that nothing can stand in your way. You’ve already tested your physical ability to the utmost, so what else can stop you?
Another time to practice your stretches could be right before you go to bed, she said. This would be the ideal way to wind down the day and get your body and mind relaxed before you doze off for the night.
Where should I do my daily stretches?
As mentioned earlier, you can easily do them in your own home, but what’s key, she said, is to find a safe space. A safe space may look different for everyone; your bedroom, the shower, your car or a yoga class, are all different options.
“People open up when they feel safe and are more apt to be vulnerable,” she said. If you’re not in an area where you feel comfortable, it’ll make it that much harder to reach your flexibility goals, as we are much more prone to stiffening or tensing our bodies in places we do not feel secure in.
“There is so much power and energy in a community practice, like coming together to do stretching in a group setting,” she said. Being with others while stretching isn’t to compare ourselves to others, but instead to come together with people who are all working toward a similar goal. Being with like-minded people may help push you to reach greater heights.
Things to Keep in Mind
Breathing is an essential part of practicing stretching or yoga, and there are many techniques that can help you reach what you’re looking for. For instance, Bouharevich said there are breathing techniques that will allow you to warm your body in the depths of winter or cool your body down during the hottest parts of summer.
One technique that may be especially helpful for beginners is buzzing bee breath, which is meant for those who are distracted easily or have a hard time focusing while doing simple tasks. She explains that all you need to do is hum as you exhale, focusing on the sound and vibrations made inside your head and body. She does forewarn though, time tends to slip away using this technique, so make sure you set aside some extra time if you want to try this out for yourself.
“All you need is your breath. You don’t need fancy clothes to do it, you don’t need a studio membership to do it. You can do yoga any time, any place, for free,” she said. That was the gateway to her healing.
Your experience may be completely different from Bouharevich, but if you don’t start your journey toward becoming more flexible, you’ll never know. Stretching may end up being more than just physically healing for you.