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Cats are smart. I watch how my Joe stretches when he gets up from a nap -- only to flop back down to sleep again. Joe will even stretch while he's walking, sort of looking like a slinky pull toy. Cats know that in order to be pounce-ready, joints and muscles must be limber and loose. And they know that stretching just feels good.
Cats are a good role model when you realize that your joints didn't get the memo about 40 being the new 25. Now, when I jump out of bed, it takes my ankles a minute or two before they realize they're being called to duty. So I have learned to take the extra five seconds in bed to stretch and flex. I don't dash out the door for a run or a 10-mile hike without first stretching out my calves for a few minutes -- if I don't, I'll be sorry later. For as many times as we've heard "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," it never quite hits home until you're an adult (hmmm, that can be said for a lot of those adages).
My friend Susan is an avid yoga enthusiast and has the bod to show for it. She's 59 and looks 20 years younger. As a hair stylist, Susan spends most of her day on her feet, but says she sneaks into the back room between clients to do the traditional yoga cat stretch in order to relieve stress on her back and shoulders. Get down on all fours and exhale as your arch your back up (like an angry cat) then inhale as you slowly ease it back down. This is great for those of us who sit behind a computer all day, too.
Several years ago an ergonomics specialist came to work to show us computer users how to prevent CTS and other injuries and aches. The best stretch she showed us was one I still use today: Hold your right arm straight out, palm up (in that "gimme" gesture) and with your left hand, gently bend the fingers on your right hand downward. Feel the stretch through your fingers, wrist and elbows? This is worth doing a couple times a day if you're a Mad Keyboarder like me.
Yoga neck rolls can be done at your computer, while washing dishes, anytime you feel a little stiff. Slowly drop your right ear to your right shoulder (don't bring your shoulder up to meet your ear), and then repeat with left ear to left shoulder. Chin down to chest, then dip your head back and relax your mouth. (I've taken yoga classes from only two different instructors, one for and one against the clockwise/counterclockwise head roll movement.)
Stretching not only feels good; it's good for you. I've likened it to my recent attempts at making bread from scratch (without a bread machine). The more I knead and stretch the dough, the lighter and airier the bread turns out. Of course, I only learned this after having several loaves of bread turn out to be bricks! So think about that the next time you're sure you can't spare the extra minute for a good stretch.