By Vanessa Voltolina
Depending on your area code, fall and winter usually bring about colder, dryer or windier conditions—or all of the above. And while we are mentally aware of these changes and feel the chill on our skin, our muscles and bones can freeze up, too, making for stiff and achy joints.
“Just as applying ice to an injury helps keep inflammation and swelling down (by constricting the blood flow to that area), colder weather constricts blood flow and tightens our muscles, and the ligaments, and tendons that surround them,” says Cassandra Vitale, yoga instructor at FreeSpirit Yoga in Long Beach, California, which offers yoga, Pilates and kids yoga.
Conversely, applying heat to an injured area allows for more blood flow because it expands the body. “This is why in the summertime, we often feel more relaxed, and our joints and muscles more limber,” adds Vitale.
Shake off the colder weather with these four stretching moves from Vitale to get your blood flowing while stretching and strengthening your joints and muscles:
Starting from your hands and your knees, take a deep breath and place hands 3 inches in front of your shoulders. Tuck your toes under, and as you exhale, press your hips up and press your thighs up and back, says Vitale. Press your chest toward your thighs. Spread your fingers and let your head hang down. Take a few breaths and then rest.
The downward dog “stretches the entire body,” she says. It also “lengthens the spine, stretches the legs, arms and back.” This is a great pose to release the neck and lower back, as well as strengthen arms, legs and core.
Roll Out Ankles and Wrists
“These simple movements tone and lubricate the joints and help to keep us from injuring our hands, feet, ankles and wrists,” says Vitale. To roll out wrists, move your wrists in a circular motion left, then right. To roll out ankles, spread feet should-width apart from a standing position. Plant your left toe into the ground while your right foot remains flat. Rotate your left ankle forward and back, as if you were drawing a circle with your heel. Repeat five to eight times before stretching your other ankle in the same manner.
Seated Forward Fold
This “stretches the hamstrings, the calves, Achilles tendon, and strengthens the ankles,” says Vitale. It also stretches the spine. To perform a seated forward fold, sit up tall with your legs outstretched, making sure your legs are only about hip distance apart. Flex your feet.
Sit up as tall as you can on an inhale and on your exhale slide your hands down your legs toward your feet. Let your hands rest wherever they reach and take deep breaths while you extend through the crown of your head trying to lengthen your spine as you breathe.
On an inhale breath, draw your shoulders forward and up toward your ears, on an exhale press them back and down toward your hips. Repeat with the breath a few times, bringing the arms into the circular movement. “This opens the shoulders, the neck and the upper back to allow for more range of motion and release of tension,” says Vitale.
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