When you first get up in the morning, you have basically been in a static position for a number of hours. The human body tends to get stiff when it spends a long time in the same position—it would rather be moving.
Take this first opportunity at the opening of your day to wake up your muscles with some gentle stretching.
If you have prepared your spine adequately for sleeping (see Before Going to Sleep section in the book), your spinal discs should now be uncompressed compared to the previous night. Your spine is ready to respond well to your stretching wake-up call.
The following stretches will give you a place to start as you begin to incorporate this kind of movement into the fabric of your daily life. As you become more aware of the relative flexibility or tightness of various areas of your body, you can add a few more techniques to this list, or substitute others that work better for you.
1 abdominals: finger-and-toe reach
The Setup: Lie on your back on a comfortable floor, complete with carpet or mat if you like. Stretch you legs out long, and your arms overhead, letting them extend along the floor behind your head.
The Stretch: Point your toes and reach them away from your torso as far as you can. Feel your legs get longer. Reach your fingers along the behind you, allowing your arms to get longer as well. You will feel the stretch in the abdominal space between legs and arms. The space will elongate and hollow out.
This stretch lends itself to a slow, inhale/exhale breathing rhythm. Inhale: gather yourself for the stretch. Exhale: reach your upper and lower limbs away from each other. Make each breath a long, deliberate one.
2 lower back: flexion
The Setup: Lie on a comfortable but supportive surface, such as a carpet or an exercise mat. A bed doesn't provide enough support for your body.
Make sure the back of your neck is nice and long. This means your chin will be more tucked into your chest than pointed to the ceiling. Cultivate the feeling that some friendly hand is pulling the base of your skull gently along the floor, allowing a long, free feeling to appear in the back of your neck.
The Stretch: Place one hand on each knee (or behind each thigh) and pull your knees toward your chest. Look for a feeling of length in the muscles of your spine below your waist—your sacrum.
3 back: side
The Setup: Sit on a stool or in a chair with your knees bent and feet on a stool rung or the floor. Keep your shoulders facing forward; be sure you don't turn them to the side. Lift your left arm up at your side, palm facing inward. Grasp a stool or chair leg with your right hand. Look straight ahead. It may be helpful to check your position in a mirror.
The Stretch: Begin to reach your long left arm slowly to the right. Counter the weight shift created by pressing your left sitting bone down onto the stool or chair. You will feel the stretch in your left side. As you lean farther to the right, you will be able to move your right hand farther down the stool or chair leg and feel more stretch. Try pulling upward with your right hand to see if that will increase your feeling of stretch. Your neck curve matches the curve of your arm. Repeat on the other side.
4 neck: back
The Setup: Sit or stand comfortably with the spine straight and shoulders relaxed. Locate the little bony nodules at the base of your skull. They are on the left and right sides at the back.
The Stretch: Lift up underneath those spots with several fingers of both hands; let your neck lengthen in response to the lift; and let your head bow forward as your neck lengthens. It's important not to jam your neck vertebrae together. Do this stretch with the idea of creating length in the back of your neck. At the same time, sink your back and shoulders straight down and away from the pull. When you want to release the position, assist your neck muscles as they return your head to its original position by continuing to lift and pull under your skull.
5 shoulders: front
The Setup: Stand facing an open doorway. Stand comfortably with your feet planted solidly underneath you. You should be very well balanced, with your knees slightly relaxed. Extend your right arm straight out to the right. Drop your hand below shoulder level and place your open palm against the edge of the doorway. Monitor your shoulder so that it doesn't hike up; keep it relaxing down, free of tension. Both shoulders should be at the same height.
The Stretch: Keeping your arm straight and palm on the doorway edge, slowly turn your torso to the left, away from your extended arm. Look for the feeling of stretch in the front of your right shoulder and/or in your armpit area between shoulder and chest. Repeat with the other arm.
For more stretch techniques, tips and specially designed sequences for a fit and flexible body, check out Stretching with Ease by Linda Minarik.