Yoga has never been primarily a method of keeping fit, although health and mental stability are the results of yoga practised correctly. Because our stretching and relaxation system is based on this ancient system, it is not intended to make you conform to a particular standard of physicalor a fashionable look.
Instead you should find yourself at ease with your body as you strengthen your muscles and improve your posture. Practised regularly, our stretching and relaxation system promotes good health, whatever your physical type: it increases your stamina, it reduces fatigue and, above all, it makes you more resistant to stress and minor physical ailments.
ENJOY STRETCHING EVERY DAY
You may occasionally be inspired to start a fitness programme by some fantasy image of how you would like to look or behave. The probability is that all too soon reality catches up with you, and you give up, disheartened and disillusioned. Alternatively, perhaps you hurt your body by forcing it to conform to an unrealistic ideal.
This section is based, not on an unreal fantasy, but on the practical needs of men and women in their everyday lives. The stretches, relaxation and breathing can be started by anyone at any time in life. The stretching and relaxation system is not a rigid discipline designed to punish your body, but an enjoyable way of releasing tensions and improving your health through an evolving method that you can tailor to suit your individual needs.
The people who attend regular classes all have one thing in common – that they lead busy lives, without much time for themselves. Having worked with people over the years, I have seen that those who practise regularly, if only for a few minutes a day, derive much more benefit than those who only attend a class for a weekly workout. Regular practice is therefore the basis of our stretching and relaxation system.
ANYONE CAN STRETCH
But practising regularly is not always easy. You need to be motivated by a positive attitude towards your body and its use. Over the years many students have asked for a daily programme that would help them start practising when they least felt like doing so. As a result of these questions, I have devised a system of graded stretches, designed to be an enjoyable way of taking your body through the full range of physical movements. The system can be followed by anyone, from stiff beginners to gymnasts. As long as you practise regularly and sensibly, you can adapt the system as yourimproves. This means that your practice progresses and does not become dull or stale.
Although all of our stretches are graded, that doesn’t mean that this section should be seen as a ladder of excellence which you have to climb. The stretching and relaxation system should be a pleasure to do, bringing a feeling of revitalized energy each time you practise. If you are elderly or stiff you will benefit as much from the ‘less stretch’ movements as the younger and more supple will from extending a bit further.
STRETCH IS NATURAL
As you adapt to the demands of modern life, you acquire tensions and areas of stiffness. Even sportsmen and keep-fit enthusiasts seldom use the full range of their bodies’ possible movements. Over the years natural posture is pulled out of alignment by habitual muscular tensions, and your capacity for standing upright and balanced to allow free movement with minimum effort is lost. This stretching and relaxation system will help you re-align your posture and aid your natural ability to adapt to your surroundings, as well as keeping fatigue at bay. It works in harmony with your natural gifts of re-adjustment and recuperation, rather than imposing something alien or difficult on your body.
RELAX AFTER STRETCHING
Stretching and relaxation go together: when you stretch your body, you feel ready to relax afterwards; as you concentrate on the movements and understand what you are doing, you also calm down. Relaxation is an essential part of daily life. When you practise the stretches you begin to understand the meaning of relaxation, as muscular tension releases. When you finish stretching, the natural conclusion is to lie down quietly and give yourself a few minutes of stillness.
BE AWARE OF YOUR BODY
This stretching and relaxation system will help you improve your health sensibly by becoming aware of your own body and how it is constructed. It will show you how to improve your body’s performance and will encourage you to help yourself with minor physical and emotional problems. It is not about getting thin through exercise and there are no diets or arduous regimes included in this section.
However, we do want you to think about your bodies constructively, so that they feel good and look good.
We all need high levels of energy to cope with the multiple pressures of modern life. We can all benefit from learning how to use our bodies with the maximum efficiency for the least expenditure of energy. This stretching and relaxation system will help you achieve this.
This Stretching and Relaxation System section of the website tells you how to stretch and relax. Used properly it will serve you for many years. It is a system to work and live with, not just to read from beginning to end.
In this section, the stretches are explained in detail. Each basic stretch has alternatives: ‘less stretch’ movements for those who are stiff or who are beginners; ‘more stretch’ positions for those who have practised for some time and who are supple. Make sure that you are following the precise instructions for each stretch, especially when you first start to practise.
Relaxation is discussed here. If you find the classic position for relaxation uncomfortable or unsuitable, there are alternative positions. Once you are used to relaxing, you may like to include some deep breathing.
• STRETCH TOGETHER
This is a light-hearted look at how to enjoy stretch with your family or friends. You may take it in turns, or you can simply stretch together.
• HAVING-A BABY
This section can help you before, during and after the birth. The stretches develop naturally from many of the other stretching routines featured in this section.
• RELIEVING STIFFNESS
You may find certain stretches difficult because some part of your body is particularly stiff. Special stretches to loosen stiffness are given in this section. Ideally you should do them daily for as long as your problem persists, immediately before your regular practice programme.
• RELIEVING STRESS
This section is a little bit different, as it is not about regular routine. As you practise the Stretching and Relaxation system, you will discover that extending your body can have a profound effect on the way you feel mentally. Here, we suggest ways of applying the technique to help you surmount crises in your life brought on by stress.