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Self-Care in Quarantine: Exercises to Heal the Mind and Body

Self-Care in Quarantine: Exercises to Heal the Mind and Body

“My back feels so tight.” announced the faint voice coming over the speakerphone. Later that day, the sounds of a teenage girl crying are followed by her mom’s explanations, “She’s sad without her school friends.” Throughout the day, I witness multiple conversations of people blurting out their frustrations with homeschooling the kids, sharing makeshift home offices, and negotiating who will be next to load the dishwasher. There were multiple reports of increased stress levels and joint pains, mostly back, neck, and shoulders. It’s not that I work in healthcare or a school office. Rather, I’m quarantined with my sister, a full-time Pilates, and Yoga instructor, who now teaches from her living room.

The uncertainty of the current times also takes a toll on people’s psyche. Who hasn’t felt back pain when they’re stressed? Or tense shoulders and a stiff neck? The coronavirus new reality disrupted our mundane routines. There is no need to walk to the train, take the kids to school, or run errands around town anymore. These days, one’s commute may require zero physical effort. All you need is to walk from the bathroom to the kitchen and then to your home office. A stark contrast for those who were previously used to an active lifestyle.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, physical activity can be any form of movement that uses the body’s energy. The HHS guidelines dictate that to gain health benefits, adults must “move more and sit less.” The Centers For Disease and Control (CDC) adds that movement improves the quality of sleep, mood, and increases energy levels. It recommends a minimum of two and a half hours of activity, spread out over the course of a week, at a moderate pace. You should be able to talk while you walk, at this exertion level, but not to sing.

The below stretch program was designed to help you restore your mind and body, so you can navigate the new normal of the COVID-19 more comfortably. The sequence consists of a series of regenerative stretches for the entire body. These exercises can be done anywhere, but a dedicated space may help you stick to this practice more effectively. If possible, try adding some plants and candles to create a cozy area where you can decompress from daily stressors.

For this workout, you will need a mat or towel, two yoga blocks, or a stack of books, and a chair. Be creative and use what you have. Remember to breathe naturally and to hold still in each pose for a minimum of 15-30 seconds. That is about three long breaths. You may follow the entire sequence, or just select a portion of the program each day. If you choose to do the movements a la carte, remember to warm up first for at least five minutes before you start.

  On a mat:

1)      Cat and Cow: On a mat or towel, go on hands and knees position. Align your hips directly above your knees, and the shoulders directly over the wrists. Inhale as you arch your back, and exhale as you round it (taking the shape of a Halloween cat). Repeat 4-8 times. This stretch will warm-up your back preparing your body for the exercises to come.

2)      Needle thread: On hands and knees, open the right arm, then thread it under the body. Rest the shoulder and head over the arm on the mat. Breathe for 5 counts, and then return to all fours position. Start again on the opposite side. Repeat two times on each side. This is a great stretch for the shoulders.

3)      Downward facing dog: From an all-fours position, spread the palms of the hands wide and extend the knees lifting the legs from the mat. You should form an inverted V shape. With the hands in front of the shoulders, hips are the top of the triangle, and the feet hips-width apart. As you count to 8-10 while holding this position, keep breathing, and feel free to pedal the knees. Imagine all negative energy from the day running down from your spine through the head, down to the floor and away from the body. To get out of this position, return to plank gently placing your knees on the mat. This movement mostly stretches the hamstrings and calves, while strengthening the shoulders. Yet, it focuses on the core to help support the body.

4)      Runner’s lunge: From a kneeling position, step with the right leg forward. Place the right knee over the right heel. Never allow the knee to go over the toes.  As a challenge, you may tuck your toes from the back leg, and lift the knee up. To help balance, place your fingertips on the floor, framing the foot that is in front of the body. This stretch will lengthen your hip flexors that get shortened from sitting all day.

5)      Runner’s lunge with an upper-body twist: From the runner’s lunge position, twist open toward from the front leg, lifting your arm.

6)      Bridge: Lying down on your back, bend the knees and place both feet on the ground. Lift the hips high at once, and then lower it one vertebra at a time. Start by lowering the upper back and ending with the sacrum. Make sure the knee is over the heels, and not going over the toes. To prevent arching your back, imagine that you are wearing a tight band around that ribs, holding them together toward the midline of the body.

7)      Child’s Pose: Sit back on your feet, separating your knees to allow for the hip to stretch as well as the back. Feel free to place a pillow between your seat and your feet.

Image: Daniela Borodin

Seated on a chair:

1)      Arms reach overhead: Interlace your fingers extending the arms overhead. As you exhale, gently bend to each side stopping in the center. Repeat a couple times each side.

2)      Hamstring Stretch: Extend one leg straight in front and bend from the hip, over the leg. Make sure the kip the back elongated and the knee straight.

3)      Hip Flexor Stretch/Supported Lunge: Sit sideways with one leg supported on the bench and one lunging off it.

4)      Piriformis Stretch: Sitting tall, cross one leg on top of the other, crossed in the shape of a numeral four. Maintaining your back as lengthened as possible, fold forward over the legs.

5)      Upper Body Stretch (Flexion): Seated tall with the legs apart, bend over so you can touch the floor (use a stack of books and place your hands over it to support your back if necessary). Engage your core.

6)      Upper Body Stretch w/ a Twist: Add an upper-body twist as you place one hand on the floor. Brace your core as you twist the upper body.

Standing:

1)      Leg and ankle limbering: Standing tall, bend one knee at a time while articulating the ankle of the moving foot.

2)      Quadricep Stretch: Standing on the right leg, bend the left leg, then reach and hold to the left foot behind you. Use a belt or towel to help you grab the ankle if you’re feeling too tight.

3)      Side Lunge stretch: With the legs apart wider than shoulders’ distance, bend the right knee only and transfer your weight over the right leg. Press your hip back so that your right knee will remain over the right ankle. Keep the left leg straight as you go towards the right. This will stretch the inner tight on the left leg. Alternate sides after holding steady for a couple of breaths. Repeat twice on each side.

Image: Daniela Borodin

4)      Chest/ shoulder stretch: Standing tall, interlace the fingers behind your back. Lift the arms behind your body, with the hands clasped together, and lower it close to the buttocks.

5)      Standing calf stretch: Step one leg forward in a lunge position. Keep the heel of the back leg pressing against the floor. If you can’t lower the heel entirely, bring the rear foot closer to the front foot until the full range of motion is possible.