Stretching It All Out

Grief! It’s a big one. Just recently I read a wonderful piece written for the Diabetic online magazine, A Sweet Life, by Michelle Sorensen on Grief and Diabetes.  It touched me enough to write to her, “Thanks for reaching out! ” she replied, stressing how powerful it is to make friends with other people who are in the same boat.

How often do you find yourself toughing it out, thinking you can do this all on your own or feeling unsupported and misunderstood by family and friends. It’s been an absolute blessing for me to discover a huge community out there which thinks like I do. But I still find myself falling into despair at the smallest change in levels or when something else happens with my health. It reminds me that grief is not something I can ignore, even though I’ve come a long way in accepting this disease.

Grief has a lifespan and like a garden it need tender loving care. For me Yoga is the perpetual gardener.

When I first started practicing Yoga I’d find myself bursting into tears just about any time I put my body into a compromising position. I reassured myself that I was crying from pain. But deep down I knew that I was releasing deep seated grief and shock. It took me years to understand why and how that happens in a Yoga class.

As children we freely express our emotions, but as we get older an outburst or crying spell gets suppressed. It’s really not a good look going ape at your desk or crying on the subway. So where does that unexpressed emotion go? It buries itself in the body, preferably where we can’t feel it.

We have a complex and detailed nervous system. It kicks in to protect us by sending energy to the limbs, so we can run away from danger or it sends energy to the vital organs to replenish and revitalise our system. The brain, spinal column, stomach and heart are saturated with both major and minor nerves whereas the legs, have very few.

Something my teacher Alan Finger shares is that our stress accumulates in the back of our legs because there are less nerves there. Hence the tight hamstrings and tight lower backs. The best way to free up the tension is to stretch the hamstrings.

I can see you grimacing as I write. I know, I know… those hamstrings are tight!

I’m going to share a secret from another one of my favourite yoga teachers, Simon Borg Olivier.  It’s called the principle of reciprocal inhibition. Which means; when you contract one muscle the opposite muscle releases. By working the thigh muscles in a leg stretch your hamstrings release and with it goes your emotional stress.

Below is a simple stretching sequence you can do in a supine position to open and release the hamstrings. Make sure to accommodate the fact that you might not be able to reach your foot and have a belt, long strap or sarong handy.

Sequence for Hamstrings

Lie on your back with both legs extended, feet flexed and legs together arms relaxed along side the body

hamstring sequence Rachel Zinman Yoga

Bend your right knee and clasp the front of your shin while keeping your left leg extended with the left foot flexed

half hand to foot posture for Hamstring Sequence Rachel Zinman Yoga

Take hold of the outside of your right foot and straighten the leg halfway. Press your foot into your hand while pulling your foot towards you. You should feel your thigh muscle working and your hamstring engaged as well

reclining hand to foot pose Rachel Zinman Yoga

Next clasp both hands behind your thigh and slowly straighten the right leg. pressurise your hands with your hamstring as you pull the leg towards your chest.

Full hand to foot pose Rachel Zinman Yoga

If you can easily straighten your thigh, reach your right hand to take hold of the outside of your right foot, keep engaging you right thigh as you pull the right leg towards you.

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To finish, bend the right knee clasp the shin with the hands and then release the leg and life flat. Repeat on the other leg.

Sequence for Hamstrings

Lie with both legs straight for a few moments before moving into you day

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