Books by Noah:

Kindle editions, too.

Getting Better at Getting People Better

Freeing Emotions and Energy Through Myofascial Release

Meet Your Body

Stretching at the CORE

I've been asked recently to put a simple stretching routine on our site so that those who want to challenge their bodies to work more efficiently have a few more ideas and pointers. So, I’m going to include eight of my favorite basic stretches/awarenesses. Always, you, the client, are in charge of your own process; so take yourself into these stretches and ideas as far as you can safely go.

How do you know what’s safe? I believe if you simply focus on breath as you stretch, you’ll know when you’ve tried to achieve too much—too difficult a stretch will take your breath away! That said, experiment with these stretches, which could be the basis of a five-thirty minute routine you design for yourself; or you may just use these ideas in daily activities.

I'm currently quite interested in Peter Levine's latest book, In An Unspoken Voice, in which he suggests that much trauma can be released simply by taking the body into the painful spots with very slow motion movements. I think he's right:  too often we're fearful of moving into our pain. I believe if we slowly and respectfully move into pain, we can move through it.

  1. Big Toe Pushups: Begin by noticing that your feet may not match each other, either when weight is on them or off them. As you lay down, do they match in mirror images? Can you make them look more alike? As you stand, do your feet support you equally, or does one move to the outside, or carry more weight? Ask your feet to match; then, pointing big toes straight ahead, lift yourself through your big toes—a big toe push up. Focus on toes, knees and hips staying in alignment as you lift.  Now—which foot is weaker? Put your weight in that foot; lift the other foot totally off the ground and practice a one-legged toe push up.
    You may need to hold onto a counter, table or railing and actually lift yourself with your arms as much as with your foot when you begin working to wake up this big toe hinge.

  2. Soften the knees: Too many of us protect our knees. Experiment with unlocking your knees as you stand. By staying slightly in your toes and softening your knees you’re already shifting your entire body above. Now, see stairs as an opportunity to learn to use your knees again. Hold railings if you want or need the support; but climbing stairs, allow the heel to stay off the step and sink down; then that toe to lift you up and through the step, putting weight into and through the knee you’ve been protecting.

    Coming down stairs, ask the knee to hold and support the body’s weight as it bends and transfers the body weight through the knee and onto the next step. An alternative knee workout is a simple squat…gently allow yourself to knee bend/squat as far as your body wants to allow you to bend; then challenge yourself to learn to squat/bend a bit further.

  3. Open the hips and SI (Sacroiliac joints): This is so easy it's almost embarrassing, yet very necessary. Learn to soften the pelvic bowl, hips and the junctions of the hips to the sacrum by lying on the floor or bed on your back. Pull/push one heel and inner arch as long and far away from the hips as you can while jamming the other leg/heel up into the pelvis as tightly as you can. Simultaneously, keep your low back into the floor or bed. Hold on and breathe—relax—then go in the opposite direction so the long leg becomes short and the short leg becomes long.

  4. Forward with resistance: This is to open and soften the low back; though it will also stretch hamstrings, calves, upper back, shoulders and head and neck…in other words, a good all-round stretch. Stand facing a clean wall, perhaps 16-18 inches away from it. Bend forward, allowing your head to touch the wall; then begin sliding and stretching your head down the wall toward the floor. How far you get down the wall isn’t important: When you've arrived at your furthest reach of this forward bend, simply push/pull/lift your low back gently toward the ceiling and breathe. I hold this position for between 30-60 seconds. Some days this is my 60 second workout for the day. If you want to make this even more work, first turn the toes inward — pigeon-toed.  Then make sure you're keeping your inner arches down into the floor. This should make you feel hamstrings even more!

  5. PSOAS drag: I give this stretch/exercise to nearly anyone without worrying whether they’ll damage themselves—whether they’ve had back surgery or are contemplating it; even if they have degeneration of a disc or a sharp pain; done slowly and carefully, this is simply, helpful. Lie on your back on the floor, suck your belly button into the ground, think length in both legs, and draw/drag one knee toward the ceiling while that heel drags toward the hips and body. Remember to keep the low back into the floor and ask the head and neck to stay long as well. Some people feel like nothing is happening when they try this maneuver; I ask them to stay with it. I’ve also had a report of a client having a half-hour emotional release from simply focusing on releasing and relaxing this area with one or two drags up and down. The guts hold some powerful emotional and physical charges, so it makes sense that by stretching and relaxing the front of the back and the guts, we’re changing the entire being. You may even feel the challenge on the side where the leg isn’t moving. Just be aware of the feeling, even if there’s none; and practice lengthening instead of shortening the middle of the body as you breathe.

  6. Open the Heart: Too many of us have forward-curving postures. Some of this poor posture is based on tasks we do (computing, driving, accounting, detail work or overusing recliner chairs, etc); some is based on a desire to be emotionally protected by closing off our 'heart hinge'. Lie on the floor, but put some bolster under your back at the heart hinge area: a pillow will work, a massage bolster, two tennis balls tied into a sock; even a shoe or a jacket can become your bolster. Now, focus on lowering your low back into the floor while the back of your neck also reaches for the floor while the top of your head reaches long away from your tail while you open your heart area while you breathe! This can be a life changer, posturally and emotionally. I sometimes use the arm of a couch as my bolster.

  7. Shoulder Stretches in the doorway: I believe many shoulder problems derive from a fear of using the full range of motion of the shoulders (much like knee problems come from lack of use). Therefore I hang from doorway trim whenever I have a chance. If you’re shorter, you may need some sort of step or stool to help you reach the trim with fingertips and without too much stretching: hold onto the top of the trim and allow your spine to sink down and long toward the floor, while you ask head and neck to lift, lengthen and rotate. Sometimes I’ll hang by one arm only; then ask my body to turn in either direction as I hang, to create a better stretch for that particular shoulder.

  8. Get your head on straight: Ida Rolf used to suggest we all remember to keep the top of the head up and the back of the waist back at the same time. It’s a good cue: it allows us to remember to create length in the entire spine as well as energy up into the head and neck (and therefore down into the shoulders and arms). Stand, clasp your hands behind your head and pull your head forward as your chin moves toward your chest. Now, ask the base of the head at the top of the neck to move back and up while you continue pulling the head down and forward. Breathe! When you release this stretch, you may feel recharged.

The above stretches are meant to be ideas and challenges. If they work for you, I’m happy. If they don’t, perhaps instead they’ll trigger for you ideas about what you need to do to stretch that which isn’t working in your bodymindcore. If these stretches have made sense to you and you want more information, you may want to purchase my book Meet Your Body, which encourages you to think along these lines to reclaim your body and its hinges. Good luck! And remember, YOU are your own best authority...others can show you ideas, but you're in charge of making them work for you.

— Noah Karrasch