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Experts Explain How Your Brain Changes When You Stretch

Writer: JAY POLISH | Outlet: Bustle

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"As a part of a total exercise program, static stretching can serve to increase blood circulation to the brain, reduce stress and tension, and help with improvement in mood," says Dr. Nailah Abdulbaaqee, M.D., a provider at One Medical. That's because of the way your mind and body interact when you sink into that forward fold. Increased blood flow to your brain can boost your energy along with your mood and mental clarity, leaving you more prepared to grapple with your day's tasks.

Stretching isn't all about warming up or cooling down from your workout, says Ali Duncan, a yoga instructor and the founder of Urban Sanctuary, the first women-run, Black-owned yoga studio in Denver, Colorado. It's also about soothing your mind. "When our breath is deep and the inhalation is long and the exhale even longer, we trigger our parasympathetic nervous system," Duncan explains. "This type of breathing calms the fight or flight part of the brain and allows the body to relax even more." The calmer your mind, the easier it can become to think clearer — which is definitely helpful when you're getting ready for your seventh Zoom call of the day.

Just make sure you're focusing on your breath rather than just going through the motions. "To stretch effectively, you have to slow down and come into your body awareness, which can ground you and make you feel more present," says Helen Phelan, a Pilates instructor who specializes in body neutrality and mindfulness. One way to do this is to imagine getting longer into each stretch every time you inhale, and sink deeper into your stretch each time you exhale. Your muscles and your mind will learn to relax, all at the same time.