Here's How to Start Feeling Your Best in Just 15 Minutes Everyday
(Though we won't be surprised if you want to invest more time in these exercises as your body starts feeling better and better!)
Neck Circles - 1 min
Begin by turning the head side to side. Pause at what feels like your end range as you look right and left, take a couple of breaths and then see if you're able to turn any further without strain. Move your head and neck in a semi-circle at first, trying to keep the shoulders still so that you're isolating movement in the cervical spine. If you feel comfortable moving the head through a full circle, at the top range when the head begins to tilt back, refrain from looking all the way up above you; instead, lift the gaze to only 45 degrees or so. Complete circles or semi-circles in both directions.
Shoulder Circles - 1 min
Move the shoulder blades through 4 ranges of motion: elevation (shrug), protraction (rolling forward), depression (sliding down) and retraction (pulling back). Be sure that the movements are complete—all the way up, all the way forward, all the way down and all the back. See if it's possible to move the shoulders through smooth, fluid circles without bending the arms or letting the head and neck get involved.
Arm Circles - 1-2 min
With the palm turned forward, lift one arm in front until it is above your head. Once you enter the "sticky" zone where it feels difficult to keep the arm in rotation, turn the hand over so that palm and thumb begin to point down and bring the arm all the way through the circle. It's important to keep the arm straight at all times and to keep the rest of the body still. If possible, it can help to do this movement in front of a mirror to make sure that your chest, hips and head aren't moving with the arm. Teaching the body to isolate different areas will have it feeling and moving better in no time.
Slow Spinal Roll-Downs - 2-3 min
Begin by dropping the chin toward the chest, feeling the weight of the head bring a stretch into the back of the neck. As if wearing a heavy helmet, allow the head to stay down and slowly begin to round the shoulders, stretching the shoulder blades apart, and eventually roll down through the entire spine. This action is meant to be done VERY slowly. Try to avoid falling forward where the chest goes forward and hips go back. Unlike a hip hinge (which is also a healthy movement), this exercise is meant to segment the spine, meaning that each vertebra should try to move independently from the others. Once you're at the bottom (where knees can be bent as much as necessary), pause for a couple of breaths and then slowly roll up the same way you came down - one vertebra at a time. Repeat 3 times.
Cat/Cow - 1 min
On all 4s, move the spine segmentally and slowly through flexion (rounding) and extension. Notice if you can move the different parts of your spine independently—ideally we want our spines to articulate and move fluidly in order to keep the discs healthy and maintain spinal flexibility. It can be challenging to move one part of the spine into flexion and another into extension at the same time...how'd you do?
Wrist Stretching - 1 min
Bringing mobility back into the wrists will do wonders for those who spend a great deal of time using computers or doing intricate tasks with their hands. If you experience pain in your wrists, this is likely a sign that they need a little more TLC. Incorporate a few of these movements to start building more awareness of where your tightness lies. If this is a problem area requiring additional attention, get in touch with us for more - we have plenty of exercises designed for better wrist health!
Hip Circles - 1-2 min
On all 4s, bring one knee into the chest with the heel squeezing in toward the sit bone so that the hamstrings are engaged. Lift the knee to the side, circle it around behind you so that the heel lifts high, and then return knee to the chest. While creating these circles with the hip, it can be temping to lean to one side or collapse into the arms, letting the elbows bend. Try to keep the elbows straight and abdominal muscles braced so that the pelvis, spine, shoulders and head remain relatively static while the moving leg finds full range. Move each leg through 5 circles in each direction, going slowly with control.
Ankle Flexion Stretch - 1 min
Losing ankle flexion can have a negative snowball effect on the rest of our movement patterns: walking, running, climbing stairs and squatting will be optimized with better ankle mobility. Kneeling with one foot in front of you, use your upper body to apply weight so that the knee goes beyond the toes. You might feel a stretch in the back of the ankle or calf, or experience tension in the front of the shin. Moving the shin in small gentle circles can help loosen these tissues. Hold for a minimum 30 seconds on each side.
Toe Exercises - 1 min
Since our feet spend so much time inside our shoes, their ability to move intelligently diminishes over time. Try to reserve at least a minute every day when you're in bare feet to pay attention to your toes. Can your big toes dorsiflex (lift up)? Can you isolate your big toes from your smaller toes? How much control do you have when balancing on the balls of the feet? Spending more time without shoes on is a great way to start building more awareness in the feet. Treat your toes to a great stretch seen here, with fingers spreading each toe from those around it—this might feel uncomfortable at first, but over time, your feet will thank you for it!
Downward Dog - 30 sec-1min
Start on the hands and knees. Keeping the knees bent, lift the hips so knees come up off the floor. Reaching the hips up and back, feel the spine lengthening (not rounding) and the arms reaching into the ground as the armpit area opens up, bringing the shoulders into full flexion (overhead position). Peddle the heels up and down, alternating sides. Twist the hips, stretch the waist and find your own ways of expressing movement in this transformative pose.
Squat - Minimally 1 min
The squat is a fundamental position which ideally should be comfortable and possible to sustain for longer than a minute. Unfortunately, the majority of those living in the Western world struggle to squat in a resting state due to lost ankle, knee and hip mobility. If you struggle with squatting, you're not alone! Simply use something like a small wedge or weight plate under the heels, or if that isn't sufficient support the hips on one or two yoga blocks. Squatting with the hips parallel to the knees is fine to start; eventually, we want the hips to sit lower than the knees, with knees going forward of the ankles (shins past 90 degrees).