Barre Series: Ballet Stretches
We work our bodies hard and push them to their limits. We constantly ask them to perform for us by pulsing, lifting, squeezing and contracting - not only every time we work out, but at any given moment to keep us upright and defying gravity to stand, walk and run! Therefore it is integral to incorporate a stretching routine into your day or week, especially after a workout session, to elongate and stretch the body back out, to nourish the muscles & fascia and to treat our bodies with love & care.
So why is it important to stretch?
Promotes Relaxation & Reduces Muscular Tension
Stretching and opening the pathways of the muscular, fascial and nervous system acts as a relaxation & calming method to the body. Unloading and unlocking tension from the muscles can help you "unwind" from the daily stress and anxiety many face, with stretching providing mental calmness and clarity.
Working with a range of stretching techniques can help increase your range of motion across the joints by keeping the muscles, tendons and ligaments supple and limber. This allows you to find extension and length within the body as you enable the body the space it needs to explore its full range of motion, increasing your functionality to perform and enhance movement patterns.
Encourage Realignment to Neutral Posture
When our muscles become tight and overworked they pull on the joints and move the body out of our natural, neutral alignment. This misalignment of the skeletal system changes the way we bear weight, move through space and carry ourselves - often leading to postural related pain & injury. When we focus on stretching out these tight muscles, we can help shift the body back to its neutral alignment and realign the skeleton so that we find more ease in movement and strength within our systems.
Improve Circulation & Reduce Muscular Pain
Stretching helps to increase the flow of fresh, oxygenated blood to the muscles and surrounding tissues, providing nourishment and helping the lymph system to drain away some lactic acid. This then decreases the healing and recovery time of worked muscles, which can then reduce the onset of DOMs (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and the pain associated with inflammation post-workout.
The Ballet Stretch Series
This stretch series is ideal to move through after a workout or dance session. Ideally hold each posture for 5-10 breaths and as always, give equal attention to both sides of your body. Remember to soften through slight discomfort, but never past a point of pain. If it does feel painful, reduce the range of the stretch and find a place that you can relax and feel an easing out of the muscular tension.
For these stretches, you can always substitute the barre for a lower height object such as chair, table or the back of a sofa to achieve the same effect at your own beginning Range of Mobility and increase up to the barre when necessary. The most important part is to connect to your breathe and honour where your body is, within any given stretch. Use an exhale to release tension as you move deeper into the stretch, and look for full deep inhalations to continue to draw oxygen into the body to provide nourishment.
1. Facing towards the barre with the legs in a parallel alignment, step one leg back and press the heel into the floor as you soften and bend the front knee. As the body weight shifts forward, look to elongate the posterior line of the back leg and stretch the calf from behind the knee down past the heel towards the floor.
2. From here, step the back foot in slightly and bend both knees, bringing to body more upright and sharing the weight load between both legs, looking to stretch into the lower portion of the calf towards the Achilles Tendon.
Hamstrings & Adductors
1. Facing diagonally towards the barre with the legs in an external rotation. Lift the leg further from the barre up onto the barre and elongate the spine to find length through the body. Keeping this length, fold forward over the lifted leg to encourage the body weight to assist the stretch down the hamstrings and external rotators of the hip.
2. Keeping this leg lifted onto the barre, rotate the body to face towards the barre and find your lifted leg in a deep external rotation (Hint: The closer your body is to the barre, the more openness required in the hips. If you feel a tightness, sift the body further away from the barre). Again extend the body before folding over towards the raised leg and gain an added lateral stretch through the side body.
Glutes & Piriformis
Facing towards the barre with the legs in external rotation. Lift one leg onto the barre and cross the ankle towards the opposite shoulder as you gently allow the knee to lower towards the barre, so that you have a right angle with the shin running parallel across the barre. Aim to square and level the hips. You then extend and elongate the spine, before lowering the upper body over the leg and deepening into the stretch around the outer hip, glutes and piriformis.
Quadriceps & Hip Flexors
1. Facing towards the barre with the legs drawn together in parallel. Flex one knee and draw the heel of the foot towards the booty, taking a hold of the foot with the same side hand. Keeping the knees drawn together, squeeze the hips forward and gently increase the stretch by bringing the heel closer to the glutes.
2. To reach into Dancers Pose, press the foot into the hand and extend through the hip flexors, tilting forward gently through the spine as you reach and extend the back leg up and away to find openness through the front of the thigh and hips.
1. Coming down onto the knees, with the big toes touching and the knees a comfortable distance apart, sit back towards the heels with the hips and reach the arms forwards so the palms are pressing down into the mat. Look to round your spine into a big C-Curve, gently drawing the abdomen away from the thighs to open the back into a deep flexion.
2. Lifting the hips off of the heels and bringing the hands underneath the line of the shoulders to find a neutral spine & pelvis. Feed one arm underneath the other to rotate and twist the thoracic spine, gently resting the weight down into the lower shoulder and allowing the body to open in rotation. Repeat to the other side.
3. Lifting to a Downward Dog or Inverted V, cross one ankle across the top of the other and finding your balance through the grounded hand and foot, lift the same side hand off the mat and reach back towards the crossed legs to find a deep rotation through the spine and a stretch down the back of the hamstrings and calves.
As always, pay equal attention to both sides of your body and honor yourself by taking the time to ease through these stretches.