Nearly everyone has arrived home after a trying day at the office feeling as if they were run over by a 2-ton bus and dragged over gravel for a few miles. Your first instinct is probably to collapse on the couch with a brewski, not push through a yoga workout on YouTube. However, making the latter choice could feel oodles better — with none of the hangovers associated with beer.
A little neuromuscular manipulation can fix what ails you from head to toe. Here are five common aches and pains that can be alleviated with a good stretch.
1. Tension Headaches
Headaches come in more than a dozen varieties, from migraine to caffeine to allergy. Some women find they strike more often during certain parts of the menstrual cycle. Other times, they occur after accidents or even severe emotional trauma — your body’s pain center processes both agonies similarly.
Most headaches arise from tension. Your brain and spinal cord are encased in a sensitive membrane called dura mater that lies near small muscles at the base of your skull. When the dura becomes strained — perhaps after long hours at the computer — it sends these muscles into spasm, delivering pain signals your brain interprets as a headache.
Nearly any yoga form or physical exercise will interrupt these pain signals and relieve the muscle spasms. However, a long, slow yin-style stretch session may be your best bet if you’re physically fatigued and disinclined to get off the floor. You should practice mindfulness, but there’s nothing wrong with a little “boob-tube” background noise if the mere thought of trying to clear your head while you stretch fatigues you further.
2. Lower Back Pain
Can you bend over and touch your toes? If you can’t, your inability might lurk behind your chronic lower back pain.
Your hamstrings are the big muscles running from the back of your knees to your hips. They begin to pull your pelvis backward when you sit a lot, making it harder to stand and walk. You often lean forward to compensate, destroying the natural curve in your lower spine and leading to trouble.
How do you elongate your hamstrings, especially if your boss objects to giving you walk breaks throughout the day? Stretch them! A simple forward fold is all you need. You can do so standing up by bending over to touch your toes, seated on the floor as you reach forward and wrap your feet, even supine as you lie back and reach up to grab your toes like a happy baby.
3. Upper Back Pain
Your entire posterior chain can grow tense and tight during your workday. Many people manifest stress and tension in their shoulders, and a good stretch can ease it.
One pose to try even at your desk is a double-handcuff. Place your hands behind the back, clasping them as you pull down and lean your chin toward your chest. Thread-the-needle is another excellent pose for easing upper back pain. Begin on your hands and knees, extending one arm beneath you, across your body. Lower your upper body toward the ground, feeling the sublime stretch in the reaching shoulder.
4. Hip Tension
Another place many people carry tension is in their hips. It isn’t uncommon for people to become emotional during moves like supine pigeon during yoga class — and it isn’t because they’re hurting themselves. It’s the release of stress trapped deep in their body’s fibers.
You can open your hips by lying on your back, crossing one leg over the other, figure-four style. Then, reach underneath your bottom leg, pulling your hips toward your chest.
A standard pigeon likewise opens your hips. Bend your front knee at a 45-degree angle or less, extending the opposite leg behind you. Stay elevated on your hands for a lighter stretch or bend down over the front leg for a more intense move.
5. Knee Aches
Did you know the right stretch can ease some knee pain? People with iliotibial-band syndrome will find certain moves to be lifesavers. Your ITB band runs along the outside of your thigh. It goes across your knee, inserting at your tibia — one of your two shin bones. Your knee is a bony joint, and all that sliding over various structures can cause inflammation a stretch can alleviate.
Try this move: From a supine pigeon pose, place your bottom foot back on the floor. Then, let your top knee fall in the direction it’s pointing. You should feel an incredible stretch down the outside of your bottom thigh. That’s your ITB band. Wiggle around gently and breathe into the move for several minutes.
Stretch It Out
You might want to do nothing more than collapse on the couch after a long day. However, the right moves could ease those aches and pains quickly, and you’ll feel good doing them.
Try alleviating these common aches and pains with a good stretch. You should see your doctor for recurring problems, but you might find the best cure lies on your yoga mat.