Jan 31, 2022 • 6 min read
Gentle stretching is a great way to balance the body and mind after an intense practice or game. It is important for many reasons, such as:
In Eastern thought, yin and yang are the two complementary forces that make up all aspects of life. Yin is a symbol of earth, femaleness, and rest. Yang is a symbol of sky, maleness, and activity. Most youth sports consist of lots of running and movement; this is considered yang energy. It is important to balance the active yang energy of a game with the yin energy that comes from rest and stretching.
Try these five stretches or stretch pairings with your young athlete to help them recover their body and balance their mind on rest days.
Child’s pose is a great way to lengthen and round the spine and bring about feelings of calm to the mind. Kneel with toes touching and knees together. Slowly, bend over and touch the forehead to the ground as if you’re making the shape of a rock or an egg. If this is uncomfortable, try spreading your knees wider apart. Arms can be at the sides, palms facing up, or extended in front of the head with palms on the floor. Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply; hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
This two pose sequence is great for the spine through a gentle arching and rounding of the back. This movement also strengthens the abdominal muscles.
Start on all fours with the spine and neck in a neutral position. The back should be flat, like a tabletop. Eyes should look straight down to the ground. Inhale, drop the belly down, and slowly lift the neck and head up. This is the cow half of the pose—picture a cow’s swayed back with bony hips.
Next, on an exhale, lift the belly and spine so the back is arched like a cat’s. Gaze toward your belly button. Alternate 5 to 10 cat-cow stretches, then return to the neutral hands-and-knees position.
The following two stretches work the arm and shoulder muscles in opposite directions. It is balancing for the body to do them one after the other. You can do them seated in a cross-legged position or standing up.
Spread your arms out wide with thumbs face down and palms facing backward. Gently press palms toward the wall behind you while gently squeezing your shoulder blades together. You don’t have to go very far at all. Hold for 1-2 seconds then come back to the starting position.
For the hug stretch, extend your arms out wide to the sides, but this time, keep your palms facing forward and thumbs pointing towards the ceiling. Then, wrap your arms around your chest like you’re giving yourself a hug. Feel your shoulder blades gently move away from each other. Repeat a few times, slowly or with your breath and be sure to switch the cross of your arms on the hug.
Most kids are familiar with the butterfly stretch, which works the inner thighs and opens the hips. In a seated position, place the soles of the feet together and hold them with your hands. This is also called the cobbler’s pose because you look like a cobbler inspecting his shoes to be repaired.
The legs are bent with knees out wide, forming the “butterfly wings”. Elbows can be bent and resting on the knees. Gently press the knees down to increase the stretch. To add a spine stretch, come into sleeping butterfly by leaning forward at the hips and and reaching the forehead toward feet. Some very young or flexible kids can kiss their feet. Make sure they’re clean!
Bonus Pose: Knees to chest
From butterfly pose, roll onto your back for a great transition pose, called “knees to chest.” Lying on the floor, bend your knees and bring them to the chest. Rock gently back and forth or side-to-side. You can even make figure-eight patterns with one hand on each knee if that feels good. Repeat several times.
This pose is good for stretching the glutes, chest, and oblique muscles. From the knees to chest pose, keep hugging one knee into your chest and straighten the other leg to rest on the floor. Then cross the bent knee over your body towards the opposite side of the room. Keep both of your shoulders on the floor. You can extend your arms by your side or cactus your arms. If it feels good on your neck, turn your head to look in the opposite direction of your bent knee. Take 3 to 5 slow rounds of breath and then switch sides.
These poses are easy on the body and calming for the mind during rest days. To deepen the calming effects, match your movements to your inhales and exhales. Typically, any stretch that lengthens the body is good to do on an inhale. Any pose which contracts the body can be synchronized with an exhale. Don’t worry too much about getting it right. Just keep breathing long, full breaths. Remember to enjoy the slow downed pace of recovery days with your young athlete.
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Sarah Kostin is a freelance copywriter, published author, and former children’s librarian. With a background in yoga, mindfulness, life coaching, and ultramarathon running, Sarah has a passion for writing about fitness, mindset, personal growth, and overall well-being.