Last week we made the connection between stress and strength training. This week we make the connection between stress and stretching. If stress is the coiling of the spring, ever tighter and tighter, then stretching is the way to unwind. It relaxes the body, mind, and spirit. After giving you the opportunity to take a 20-question Stress Test, this Provision identifies several practical strategies for stretching stress away. Just do it easy is the way to go.
There were no replies to last week’s Provision on stress, which makes me think that everyone was either under too much stress to read the message or under so little stress as to make it irrelevant. Something tells me it’s not the latter! ☺
To test that hunch, I thought I would share with you an assessment developed years ago by Thomas Leonard, one of the pioneers of the modern coaching movement. It’s designed to determine the extent to which we have become hooked on stress to get things done. How many of the following statements are true for you?
q I drink caffeinated coffee or drinks to get or keep going.
q I eat sugar to calm myself down.
q I tend to overpromise and then rush to get it done at the last minute.
q I find some way to sabotage myself or a project, yet usually pull it off.
q I tend to take on more than I really want because I feel I can.
q I react strongly to the unexpected.
q I find myself getting very upset or irritated (whether I show it or not) when people let me
down, miss deadlines, or do less-than-optimal work. Sometimes I take it personally.
q I arrive at work rushed or already “on.”
q I get grabbed by surprises and disturbances and then I can’t calm down for a day or
q I feel an inner rush or lack of stillness or peace much of the time.
q I am clearly winning at work, yet working very hard.
q I’m the kind of person who tends to find the toughest way to get something done.
q I drive more than 5 miles over the speed limit, tailgate or criticize other drivers.
q I tend to run or arrive late, even if it’s not my fault.
q I find that I attract more problems and disturbances than I feel I deserve.
q Money is currently tight and I have been working on getting ahead, but haven’t.
q It is difficult to focus on any one thing for more than 10 minutes at a time.
q I don’t give myself plenty of time during the day for the things that are likely to come up.
q I talk a lot even after people have stopped listening.
q I please people to the point of feeling compulsive, regardless of appropriateness or
Leonard and those who followed in his footsteps, such as Coach U and CoachVille, draw the line at four true statements. Five or more would suggest that you, like most people in our culture, are addicted to stress.
That may sound strange, to think that people could be addicted to stress, unless you put two and two together from last week’s Provision. Stress, you may remember, is a highly-evolved response of the sympathetic nervous system designed to protect us from danger. Instead of relying on rational, cognitive processing, which takes time, the stress response relies on neuronal and hormonal processing to generate reactions in the blink of an eye. Those reactions • typically fight, flee, or freeze • generate and rely on chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol for their rapid response and heightened sensitivity. Without them, our species would have disappeared long ago.
At their best, adrenaline and cortisol are episodic and short-lived responses to imminent threats. Once the threat has passed, they clear from our system until the switch gets flipped again. The longer we go between stressful events, the longer we will enjoy optimal wellness.
Unfortunately, many of us in our culture have become accustomed to continuously elevated levels of adrenaline and cortisol. One might say we have become addicted to the adrenaline rush. As I discussed last week, this has many ill effects not only on our physiology but also on our psychology and on our relationships. The chronic diseases of civilization, ranging from cardiovascular disease to attention deficit disorder to violence, can all be traced back to our addiction to stress. We were never meant to live this way.
So what’s the cure? Easy does it! Here were some of Leonard’s solutions from more than six years ago:
I would add at least one more to the list (which may be a byproduct of number 12 on Leonard’s list). Trigger: Pushing through the pain to get the gain. Solution: Enjoying the experience in the moment.
That is the LifeTrek philosophy when it comes to exercise and life. Without disparaging resilience and persistence as important parts of life, we nevertheless question the mantra of “No Pain, No Gain.” All too often that mantra is a surefire formula for injury and disability, whether we’re talking about physiology, psychology, or relationships. It’s better to listen to our bodies and to treat pain for what it is: a message that it’s time to back off or make a change.
That is certainly my approach when it comes to long-distance running and aerobic exercise. I do what I do for the love of it, in the moment, and not for some future results. I push through the pleasure, not the pain, which makes each and every moment a gain in and of itself. There is no pain involved with the push, unless I suffer an injury (which is a rare event). There is rather the joy of experiencing life in all its fullness.
To enjoy life in that way and to avoid injury, “Easy does it!” is a mantra to live by. That’s no endorsement of sedentary lifestyles. Remember: the mantra encourages us to do it. Life is not a spectator sport and couch-potatoes risk more health and wellness problems than those who push the pain threshold. But there is middle way between extreme exertion and no exertion at all. The key is to find the flow zone, the sweet spot, where we risk neither injury nor inactivity.
That’s especially important when it comes to stretching. It’s as easy to go too far as to not do it at all. Neither one is a good idea. That’s why I like the dynamic stretches developed by muscle therapist Tasso Spanos of Pittsburgh, PA. The stretches are a series of walking steps that can be done before and after exercise as a way to both warm up and cool down your muscles. Here’s the drill:
- 12 steps Pigeon Toed (toes pointing in), 12 steps Normal
- 12 steps Duck Walk (toes pointing out), 12 steps Normal
- Repeat 1 & 2
- 12 steps Charlie Chaplin (bent over at the hip, hands on lower back), 12 steps Normal
- 12 steps West Side Story (lunge and click fingers to outside of flexed knee), 12 steps Normal
- Repeat 4 & 5
- 12 steps Heel Lift (elevate with each step), 12 steps Normal
- 12 steps Skip (smile with each stride), 12 steps Normal
- Repeat 7 & 8
- 12 steps Sideways Right (right over left and left over right), 12 steps Normal
- 12 steps Sideways Left (left over right and right over left), 12 steps Normal
- Repeat 10 & 11
- 24 steps Backwards, 24 steps Normal
Tasso has other drills as well, that stretch the core, arm, and upper-body muscles. With more than 100 dynamic stretches, his Feeling Better Exercise Video is a great resource for those who want to do it easy. I recommend it highly, either as a warm up to and cool down from more vigorous exercise or as a stand-alone routine.
The classic work for static stretches, Stretching by Bob Anderson, recognizes the same need to take it easy. I love some of the observations, now written almost 30 years ago:
Our ancestors did not have the problems that go with a sedentary life; they had to work hard to survive. They stayed strong and healthy through continuous, vigorous outdoor work: chopping, digging, tilling, planting, hunting, and all their other daily activities. But with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, machines began to do the work once done by hand. As people became less active, they began to lose strength and the instinct for natural movement.
Machines have obviously made life easier, but they has also created serious problems. Instead of walking, we drive; rather than climb stairs, we use elevators; while once we were almost continuously active, we now spend much of our life sitting. Without daily physical exertion, our bodies become storehouses of unreleased tensions. With no natural outlet for our tensions, our muscles become weak and tight, and we lose touch with our physical nature, with life’s energies.
Stretching is the important link between the sedentary life and the active life. It keeps muscles supple, prepares you for movement, and helps you make the daily transition from inactivity to vigorous activity without undue strain.
Stretching feels good when done correctly. You do not have to push limits or attempt to go further each day. It should not be a personal contest to see how far you can stretch. Stretching should be tailored to your particular muscular structure, flexibility, and varying tension levels. The key is regularity and relaxation. The object is to reduce muscular tension, thereby promoting freer movement • not to concentrate on attaining extreme flexibility, which often leads to overstretching and injury.
Stretching is not stressful. It is peaceful, relaxing, and non-competitive. The subtle, invigorating feelings of stretching allow you to get in touch with your muscles. It is completely adjustable to the individual. You do not have to conform to any unyielding disciple; stretching gives you the freedom to be yourself and to enjoy yourself.
In other words, do it and do it easy. Never bounce up and down or stretch to the point of pain. These methods do more harm than good. Instead, work your muscles gently and gradually to promote optimal movement. Whether you use Tasso Spanos’ dynamic approach, Bob Anderson’s more traditional static approach (reach and hold, first easily then developmentally but never drastically), or other approaches such as the Eastern traditions of Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong, the act of stretching gets not only your body but also your mind ready for natural movement.
Stretching is, in fact, the great antidote to stress. If stress is the coiling of the spring, ever tighter and tighter, with all measure of negative effects, stretching is the uncoiling of the spring, ever looser and looser, with all measure of positive effects. If you scored five or above on the Stress Test in today’s Provision, then chances are you’re not stretching regularly and effectively. Given the stressful nature of modern life, the more stretching we do the closer we will come to optimal fitness.
Coaching Inquiries: What did you score on the Stress Test? How does the score impact your motivation for change? What strategies would be helpful to you in reducing your addiction to stress? How could stretching become a daily part of your routine? Could you fit it in around the edges of what you do now? What classes or groups could assist you to get in gear? How could you learn to do it easy?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
I have a question about your Provision on nutritional supplements Click. Can you please let me know the name of the supplement you take for cholesterol reduction, that contains phytosterols, and also where to buy them? (Ed. Note: The product I use, Cholestepure from Pure Encapsulations, is available only through licensed distributors. Without recommending a particular company, you will find similar ingredients in products by Source Naturals, Nutraceutical Science Institute (get discount coupons for NSI products from Vitacost), as well as Puritan’s Pride. Hope that helps!)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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