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How to stretch yourself physically and mentally

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Sarah Meharg personal trainer and therapist in Solihull
Stretch yourself

In the last of my series of blogs on goal setting and achievement I am exploring stretch in the literal and metaphoric sense.

In the previous blog I talked about how, for a goal to be successful, it is important to only introduce one or two new variables at a time. Getting the “just right balance” is not easy and might involve a bit of experimentation. When we stretch ourselves mentally we widen our experiences and find out how resilient and adaptable we are.

Our body is designed for our survival. This is a great ted talk on stress, why we have it and why it is key to our survival as individuals and as a species.

When we physically stretch and breathe slowly we send a message to our fight and flight system that we are safe and well.

I want you to try something for me. Read this sentence and then close your eyes and whilst keeping your eyes shut touch your nose with you hand.

Was that something that was easy for you to do? We often think of ourselves as having 5 senses, these are the ones that are telling us about the outside world but we also have more sense telling us about our internal body. Proprioception is the sense of knowing where our body is in space. We do not need to look at our body to know where to it is positioned or how to place it. We are able to judge how much force to use because we are getting messages from the proprioceptors that are telling us how much or little stretch our muscles have and what position they are in.

The Reticular Activating System is a small area at the base of our brain with wide connections throughout our brain. It has a role in regulating our alertness so can help us be at the right level of attention. Most of our senses are within nerve pathways connected to the Reticular Activating System and alert us to danger. Proprioception is not linked closely with the system so it is thought that when we activate proprioception we calm and turn down danger signals.

When we physically stretch and breathe slowly we send a message to our fight and flight system that we are safe and well. Stretching, pulling pushing lifting and climbing all provide proprioceptive feedback. Creating opportunities to stretch during our day we are sending regular signals to our brain that we are safe. This means it is more likely that we will experience contentment and be able to focus clearly in our daily tasks.

Sarah Meharg Personal Trainer and Therapist in Solihull
Feel supported and challenged

As well as physically stretching it is also important to mentally challenge and stretch ourselves. By stretching what we think we are capable of doing we build up evidence that we can manage difficult or new tasks. We can gain confidence that our bodies will keep us safe from harm and gain proof that we can handle challenges. So when we step out of comfort zones can feel scary but it does open up opportunities and help us develop new skills and understanding about ourselves.

In previous blogs I have outlined the five steps I encourage clients to focus on:

1) Identify the statement or goal that you have made and ask WHY.

2) Identify steps and activities that will have benefit to you.

3) Know your barriers

4) Start in a place of safety

5) Stretch physically and mentally

By following these steps we can evaluate if an activity is bringing us nourishment, if something helps us to thrive is will enable body positivity.

A body positive personal trainer knows when to step back but will be there if you need to revaluate. My goal for you is for you to be able to do the activities that give you meaning but for you to know that you are not defined by what you do. You are enough.

IF you have enjoyed these blogs please comment on here or social media about what other topics you would like me to cover. I am currently pulling information together on the scientific rationale as to why exercise help with mental health difficulties but I am also keen to cover other topics.

Sarah is an Occupational Therapist and personal trainer who is passionate about helping people flourish @MoodLifterPT She is always happy to be contacted if you want to find out more.

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