Stretching for Geeks

These stretches come from the intersection of my circus self and my geek self. I first presented this as a talk at Hillhacks in October 2014, then came back to Japan to film the videos.

For people who spend many hours of the day sitting at the computer, stretching is a welcome relief. These five sequences will help get blood flowing to all parts of your body, combat fatigue, alleviate pain and improve your focus so that you can hack a little longer.

Do them as frequently as you wish – there’s no such thing as too much stretching – but be sure to take them slowly and stop before the point of extreme pain or injury.

Hands & Wrists

Give your typing hands a little bit of love with some stretch and massage. Make it even better for your body by doing this while standing up.

  1. Fists. Hold your hands in front of you at shoulder level. Open and close your fists 5 – 10 times.
  2. Air Typing. Wiggle your fingers freely. Alternate bent and straight knuckles.
  3. Hand Massage. Press into the flesh pad of your hand below the thumb. Work your way to the center of the palm. Press along each finger. Rotate the fingers. Repeat on the other hand.
  4. Press. Press your palms together at chest height with elbows out to the sides. Press the wrists down toward your belly.
  5. Wave. Interlock your fingers and alternately raise and lower your elbows to create a wave in your wrists.
  6. Fist Circle. With your fingers interlocks, rotate your wrists in a full circle to the left several times. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  7. Shake It Out. Release your hands to your sides and shake your hands to remove any remaining tension.

Neck & Shoulders

Loosen up your neck and shoulders and combat a hunched posture with these stretches. Do them standing for best effect.

  1. Turn. Slowly turn your head to the right, keeping your chin level and looking over your shoulder. Hold for 5 seconds. Return to the center and turn your head to the left. Repeat as desired.
  2. Chin Tuck. Start by tilting your head back slowly so your chin  rises and neck lengthens. Slowly tuck your chin down, trying to touch chin to chest. You can rest your hands on the back of your head for assistance, but don’t press down.
  3. Expansion. Take a deep breath to fill your lungs. Press your shoulders and shoulder blades back while pressing forward at the breastbone. Collapse your chest in, rounding your shoulders forward and crossing your arms around to your shoulders.
  4. Shoulder Rolls. Roll your shoulders back a few times, then forward a few times. Can you get them moving in alternation? How about in opposite directions?
  5. Test stretch. Press your palms together in front of your nose and close your arms so that the elbows touch. Slowly lift your arms as high as is comfortable. Hold for ten seconds. Can you get your elbows to nose level without them separating?

Spinal Flexibility

This is a seated stretch sequence based on Kundalini yoga. You’ll work your way up the spine, moving a different section with each dynamic stretch. Remember to breathe during these vigorous stretches.

  1. Ice Cream Cone. Focussing on the very tip of your spine as the point of the cone, circle your upper body at the shoulders to form a cone. Your head is the ice cream.
  2. Camel Ride. Pull your belly button in, then press it out to flex the lower back.
  3. Washing Machine. Hold your arms out at shoulder level – angling hands to the sky or resting them on shoulders. Twist side to side using the center of the spine. Increase your speed then slow back down to stop.
  4. Flapping. Grip your hands palms together in front of your heart. Keeping your arms in a line, flap your elbows up and down as fast as you can to work the spine between your shoulder blades.
  5. I Don’t Know. Lift your shoulders up towards your ears (I don’t know), then drop them forcefully back down (I do know!). This flexes the large knot at the bottom of the neck.
  6. Paint. Imagine your skull filled with paint. Roll your head slowly to coat the inside of your skull. If your upper neck is stiff, draw spirals with your nose instead.

Toilet Sequence

This one can be done in the privacy of a toilet stall if you’re feeling shy about stretching in public. Be sure to put the seat lid down first. Flushing afterwards is optional.

  1. Arms
    1. Stretch your arms over head, flipping your hands to face the ceiling.
    2. Rotate your upstretched arms in both directions.
    3. Release your hands, your arms down to your sides and rotate from the shoulder and wrists.
  2. Face
    1. Pucker your lips, then open your mouth wide.
    2. Shift your lower jaw side to side.
    3. Keeping your face straight ahead, look to the right, then down, left, up. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  3. Torso
    1. Bracing your left hand on your right leg, twist your body to the right. Hold for ten seconds and check the toilet paper supply. Repeat on the other side.
  4. Hips
    1. Cross your leg so that your right ankle is on top of your left knee. Gentle press your right knee down. Repeat with the opposite leg.
    2. In the same cross leg position, lean forward. Stretch your arms forward and aim to touch the floor.
  5. Ankles
    1. With your toes on the floor or with your leg supported, rotate your ankles in both directions

Balances

These are handy for your standing breaks. Education research shows that balance and cross body moves like this can help reset and “plasticise” the brain for better learning. If nothing else, you can laugh as you topple over.

  1. Tiptoe. With your feet hip distance apart, rise up on your tiptoes and hold for ten seconds. Slowly lower down. repeat. Try lifting your arms above your head – this engages your core muscles and makes the balance feel different.
  2. Tree. Press one foot into your thigh or calf, keeping the knee pointing out. Focus your gaze on a steady point in front of you. Hold your hands on your hips, in the air, or out to the side. For a challenge, try swaying in the breeze, or for a bigger challenge close your eyes.
  3. Floating. Establish balance on one leg while the other floats up to the front, side and back. This can be done with the knee bent or straight. Repeat with the opposite leg. For a challenge try it on tiptoe.

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