Stretching out before working out is something we should all do, but often don’t. It takes time, and by the time many of us get to the gym, we’re already in a hurry, our monkey-minds jumping ahead to: picking up the kids, what’s for dinner, when can I do my taxes.
I know the problem. I’ve been there many times. Why take precious moments to gently stretch when what you really want to do is push hard and burn up last night’s quesadillas as quickly as possible?
First, you must focus. I don’t care what kind of workout you plan to do, you will do it better -- with more enthusiasm, greater benefit and fewer injuries - if you come to your exercise time relaxed and focused on The Present Moment. That’s what a well-executed lunge can do for you. (Or any good stretching sequence, for that matter.) It can help you still your mind, relax your body and reconnect to your breath. And from there, great things can happen.
Second, you must learn the lunge. There are many variations - arms raised overhead, with weights, eyes closed - but I suggest you start with a basic lunge and build from there, using your imagination and/or a personal trainer.
Doing it perfectly isn’t nearly as important as doing it consciously.
- Step 1: Stand and extend. Stand in a relaxed, erect posture, your legs shoulder-width apart. Exhale and step your right foot forward a few feet. Adjust the distance so the soles of your forward foot and back foot are flat on the ground. Then bend your front knee until it is stacked over your ankle, while straightening your back leg and rolling up onto the toes. Balance and breathe. Squeeze your inner thighs and feel energy in your legs, up your spine, at your heart center, aiming as high as the crown of your head. Enjoy this pose. Settle into it. Do it with the kind of strength that comes from relaxation, not struggle.
- Step 2: Hands to the ground. Now exhale and slowly bring both hands to the ground in front of you, on either side of your forward foot. If you can’t comfortably reach the ground with your palms or fingertips, don’t be discouraged. Just accept what your body is telling you this day, knowing some day soon, if you keep coming back to this exercise, keep stretching, strengthening and breathing, your flexibility will improve.
- Step 3: Expand across your chest. Once you feel stable - back leg energized, front knee bent at a 90-degree angle, balancing lightly on both hands - gently lift your chest up and feel your heart open to the sky, even just a fraction. That will help stretch the front of your body, across your sternum. But don’t forget about your back body. It needs some loving, too.
- Step 4: Inflate across your back. Keep your chest lifted, sense where your shoulders blades are (clue: start with your back) and draw them apart, stretching broadly across your upper back. To expand across your lower back, get a mental picture of where your kidneys are - one anatomical drawing is worth a thousand words - and exhale into them, right and left, blowing them up like the little balloons they are not.
- Step 5: Strengthen your bent knee. Now for the real fun. Exhale, and in one motion, gently straighten your front leg and bring your hands up so they can rest on your hips. Don’t fall down. Lift and open your chest and heart once again as you feel the action in your legs and torso, front and back. Your hips should be balanced - not tilted right or left - and facing forward. To help your balance, soften your gaze and focus on one specific point ahead. Smiling helps, too. Listen to the sound of your breath to keep your mind from straying.
- Step 6: Return and repeat. After five breaths or so, bend your front knee and return to the starting posture. Repeat this entire bend-and-straighten sequence several times before switching to the other leg.
Remember: Once you get in the groove of doing some warm-up lunges, they only take a few minutes. Really. But those few minutes are exactly what you need to transition from busy, busy, busy to focused and alert and ready to play your best.