Flexibility is an integral part of whole-body wellness, and incorporating restorative stretches into class can reduce risk of injury and increase overall fitness for your clients. After a workout, fatigued muscles may contract, and the best way to boost recovery is to stretch while the body is still warm. Give your clients the chance to fully relax and release any tension post-class with these juicy stretches!
Wide-legged Forward Bend
The wide-legged forward bend is a therapeutic and soothing stretch. It brings length to the spinal cord, and it stretches the back, legs, hips and groin. Depending on arm placement, it can also open shoulders for a full-body stretch. With the heart above the head, you get fresh blood circulating to cleanse and renew, making this a relaxing and restorative stretch.
For a standing wide-legged forward bend, you will take a comfortable, wide stance of three feet or so with toes pointed slightly out. Inhale with hands on your hips, opening your chest, and then slowly bend at the hips with the top of your head reaching towards the floor as you exhale.
You can place your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart with fingers spread open and facing towards your face, or you can keep your hands on your hips and hang, letting the spine lengthen, maybe with a block for the top of your head to rest on. Stay here for five full breaths and then gradually come up, pausing halfway to stabilize.
To add a shoulder stretch, you will begin standing with arms behind you and fingers interlaced, palms facing down. As you bend forward, you will let your arms hang behind your head, allowing gravity to pull and stretch your shoulders.
Many class exercises work the quads and hip flexors, which tend to be muscles we neglect to stretch as thoroughly as we should. The crescent lunge is a stretch that can be modified for various levels of flexibility, making it ideal for group classes.
Starting in a lunge, drop the back leg to the floor with toes against the floor or curled under for more stability. To protect the back knee, you might put a blanket under it or fold up a mat for extra cushion, especially for anyone with knee problems. Gently lean forward into the front leg, feeling the stretch in your quad and hip flexor, breathing steadily and holding before repeating on the other side.
For a deeper stretch, bend your back leg and flex your foot with the sole facing the ceiling as you reach the arm on the same side to grab the foot. Gently pull the foot towards the buttocks for a deep quad stretch.
Anyone who has practiced yoga will be familiar with downward-facing dog — a core part of many yoga sequences! While also a strength-building posture, downward-facing dog promotes relaxation of the neck and cervical spine, stretches the hamstrings, shoulders, and calves, while releasing tension in the lower back. As with any posture that puts your heart above your head, downward-facing dog promotes circulation in the upper body and head, which has a relaxing and detoxifying effect.
To do downward-facing dog, start in a tabletop position with hands aligned under shoulders and knees under hips. Press your hands firmly into the floor with fingers spread facing straight ahead and distribute weight evenly through fingers and knuckles. Curl your toes under and raise your pelvis up, straightening arms and pointing your sit bones towards the ceiling with active legs. It is okay to keep your knees bent if your heels do not touch the floor with your legs extended, and it’s important not to lock the knees in place. You can pedal your feet to gently stretch your hamstrings as you adjust to the posture. Gaze towards your navel while taking steady inhales and exhales.
Stay in this position, reaching your legs and hips back while pressing into your hands and feet. To release, you can bend your knees and return to a tabletop position, or you can carefully walk your feet towards your hands and hang there in a forward fold before slowly rising to stand.
Child’s pose is a comforting, restorative stretch used frequently in yoga sequences to regain quality of breath and to stretch the back and shoulders. Pressing your forehead to the floor helps you re-center and focus, which is soothing after a tough workout.
To get into child’s pose, you can start from downward-facing dog, or come onto hands and knees in a tabletop position. With your hips squared and legs placed hip-width apart, you will recline back onto bent knees, letting your forehead rest on the floor with your arms outstretched, palms flat on the floor. Breathe here for ten full breaths before slowly coming out of the posture.
Release tension in the low back with a gentle rotation stretch. This rotation of the spine will wring out impurities in the abdomen and stretches the quadratus lumborum on both sides, muscles that benefit from gentle stretching especially for people with sedentary jobs.
For the rotation stretch, you will lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms stretched in a T or goal-post position. Squeeze your knees together and then let them fall to the left side while you turn your head to look over your right shoulder. Breathe here, letting the body relax into the position with a soft gaze or eyes closed. Slowly come back to center and switch sides, letting knees drop gently to the right while you look over your left shoulder, breathing into the stretch before returning to center.
Double Pigeon Pose
Double pigeon pose, or fire log pose, is a stretch that gets at the outer hips, glutes, and groin and is a simple, deep stretch that is easy to incorporate into class. This can also stretch the lower back by adding a forward bend. Double pigeon is a great stretch for runners and following any exercises that focus on the lower body.
Start by sitting upright with legs extended in front of you. Bend one leg at about a 90-degree angle with the shin parallel to the front of the room and your foot flexed. Then, carefully bend the other leg and stack it on top of the bent leg, aligning your shins as best you can. You will feel a deep stretch in the glutes and outer thighs. You can stop here or you can bend forward from the hips and reach your hands out to stretch the low back as well. Take several deep, steady breaths here and then switch legs to stack the leg that was on the bottom on top.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose
For a deeply restorative stretch at the end of a tough workout, you might set some time aside to incorporate the reclining bound angle pose, which promotes deep relaxation after a period of activity. This stretch cools the body and relaxes abdominal muscles, ideal after any core-intensive exercises.
From a seated position, you will gently recline back and outstretch your arms and legs. Then, gently fold the legs and bring the soles of your feet together, letting legs splay open with control to open hips and groin muscles. Make adjustments to support the lower back, including padding the back with a blanket or pillow. Likewise, you can support the legs and hips by placing a block beneath each knee for extra release.