The Art Of Allowing: Why You Need To Stretch More

Nobody can deny the beauty of a strong, resilient physique. And physical prowess is an undeniably wonderful thing. But what about the other side of the coin? The silences are as important to music as the played notes; in the same way, the passive, still and yielding body is as important to our wellbeing as active effort—maybe even more so.
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
benefits of stretching
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

The benefits of stretching go beyond the physical side. Explore why allowing the body and mind to loosen and melt can also become an emotional and spiritual practice on its own.

We Are Our Bodies

“A man is born gentle and weak; at his death he is hard and stiff. All things, including the grass and trees, are soft and pliable in life; dry and brittle in death. Stiffness is thus a companion of death; flexibility a companion of life. An army that cannot yield will be defeated. A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind. The hard and stiff will be broken; the soft and supple will prevail.” — Lao Tzu

Perhaps one of the most pervasive modern beliefs is that we merely inhabit our bodies, rather than being them, as though our physical forms were mere vehicles to carry our more important souls, minds or personalities. A consequence is that we treat our bodies like any other material object in the world—something to be manipulated, changed or handled in just the same way as a car or kitchen appliance.

And so we find ourselves with the “no pain no gain” mantra—or more generally, a relationship to our bodies that’s based on force. We assume that the body needs to be whipped into shape, controlled, or molded into the correct form through discipline and effort. We prize the mental toughness needed to foster strength and physical fitness, associating active vigor with goodness, and relaxation and release with being weak or lazy.

Nobody can deny the beauty of a strong, resilient physique. And physical prowess is an undeniably wonderful thing. But what about the other side of the coin? The silences are as important to music as the played notes; in the same way, the passive, still and yielding body is as important to our wellbeing as active effort—maybe even more so.

The Benefits Of Stretching

Rather than simply tacking on a random stretch before or after a workout, the patient and deliberate relaxing of the body can be art all on its own. To balance an overly active, forceful attitude to the body, we can make room for a completely different approach: one of complete allowing.

Instead of tightening, the body is loosened to let go of tension. Instead of focused, effortful action towards a goal, the body is allowed to melt, to simply be what it is. Sadly, many health-conscious people deplore the idea of softness in the body—we want to be toned and controlled. Even when we stretch we might be tempted to rush the process and yank and pull ourselves through it, competing with the person on the yoga mat beside us to see who’s winning the flexibility competition!

But the benefits of stretching are not limited to the physical. Rather, stretching encourages a fuller, more balanced relationship with the body based on awareness and receptivity. Stretching can be a gentle emotional and even spiritual practice, right in the here and now.

Why Stretching Is So Good For You

In the following, we will be delving into the diverse benefits of stretching for body, mind and soul.

1. Stretching encourages you to listen to your body

Unless you’re in pain or ill, how often do you pay your body careful, compassionate attention? Are you tuned into all the little flutters of your senses, your heartbeat and breath, your posture? In an abstract, mechanized world, it’s easy to dismiss the body, taking for granted that it will tick along regardless of the punishment we throw its way, or the demands we place on it despite its fatigue.

One of the benefits of stretching, however, is that you start a conversation with your body. No longer just commanding it, you consciously listen, respecting what your physical being is asking for. Stretching fosters more masterful bodily awareness and integrity, alerting you to small problems before they become big ones.

Read more: Restorative yoga offers us the opportunity to listen to what’s arising in body and mind, and to let those energies dissipate as we neutrally witness. Learn more about the benefits of yin yoga for body, mind, and soul. The yang styles of yoga consist of strong, dynamic, standing postures—discover how to bring more awareness to your asana practice and deeply connect with your body and mind in the here and now.

2. Stretching reminds you to take joy in your physical form

How much of the day is spent lugging the body to and fro, pushing it into one activity after the other, like it’s nothing more than a pack mule meant to serve? But the body is an exquisite gift—and you’re meant to enjoy being alive in it! It’s easy: when you stretch, you feel good.

Doesn’t it feel marvelous to release and let go? Isn’t it delicious to fully own your arms and legs, to savor a stretch right from the base of your spine to the tips of your fingers? We are not machines. Stretching reminds us to enjoy the sensation of life, relishing every living, breathing inch of our physical experience.

Read more: This article is a reminder of how to bring joy and gratefulness into your everyday life, even in difficult times.

3. Stretching releases blocks and tensions

The next time you’re in a bad mood, notice whether you’re unconsciously holding your breath. Are you also clenching some other parts of your body?

Deliberately loosening and inviting yourself to open has the remarkable ability of letting a negative mood flow on. Many of us are chronically tight and anxious, clinging to resentments and worries just as we hold onto stiffness and rigidity in the shoulders, neck and back. You could talk about trauma, anxiety or sadness in therapy for years—but physically stretching out permits your body to process these emotions, too.

Stretching Is Always Available To You

Unfortunately, the body sometimes gets a raw deal, being demoted to the last place on life’s priority list. Even those who cherish their health and wellness may nevertheless take a harsh and punishing stance to their physical form, only engaging in order to contain, constrict or control the body.

Thankfully, stretching is an antidote. And it’s available to you right now and in every moment. To have a body is beautiful—be calm, accepting and maybe even celebratory of this fact! Practice the art of allowing. Gracefully let the body be. You are always invited to open up and let suppleness and ease take the focus for a while.

Daily stretching can be a profound spiritual practice that teaches us to let go, to loosen up (physically and figuratively!) and humbly soften to our experience, without force and without expectation.

Read more: Vidyamala Burch explains five reasons why mindfulness is helpful for living well with pain as well as a collection of tips, guided meditations for pain management and memorable slogans to help us practice.

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