The importance of stretch - featuring Philly Power Yoga & Thrive Pilates

Why yes, that is me sitting in the center of the floor trying to take a picture as inconspicuously as possible. Gotta do what you gotta do.
So I'm no expert on the biomechanics of stretching, but what I can tell you is this: when I started working out 7 days a week, I noticed that my body was getting all kinds of crazy stiff. Sure, I'd follow along in the 2-3 minutes of "stretching" that most fitness classes cram in at the end, but somehow that was doing little to ease my aching muscles, which only seemed to grow tighter with each progressive workout.

I knew I'd need to start making stretching a more regular part of my routine, but let's face it, I'm lazy. Maybe that's a hard thing for you to believe after I've just stated that I workout every day, but the truth is that I'm motivated by being in the presence of others, hence the reason I have ClassPass and get my fitness nearly 100% through group exercise. When it comes to stretching, unless I'm actively being told to do it, I tend to forget, or I simply succumb to the less healthy, but more tempting desire to just take a nap on the couch in my free half hour.

Then I discovered "Stretch & Restore" yoga at Philly Power Yoga & Thrive Pilates (20th & Walnut in Center City), and it's become a life-saving part of my Sunday routine ever since.

I didn't know it at the time, but I now understand that this is a form of yoga called "yin," essentially a passive practice that's focused on restoring the mind and body rather than increasing your heart rate or strength. Although some of the poses will be familiar from typical yoga classes (things like frog, pigeon and my perennial favorite, shavasana), you'll hold them for longer than normal - typically 3-5 minutes - allowing you to really get deep stretches into the muscle tissue. Some of the poses will likely feel easier than others, depending on which of your particular muscles are more flexible, so while I personally could lay in half pigeon for half an hour, the 5 minutes we spend in frog routinely feels like torture (even though I know it's good for my ever-tight hip flexors).

The first time I took this class, I literally almost fell asleep during a shoulder stretch, which is how I knew this was a keeper. And if falling asleep during a yoga class seems totally crazy to you, here's some more mood-setting context: the class is led by a wonderful instructor named Colleen, and she has this amazingly soothing voice that has a way of bringing an aura of relaxation and calm to the space. Her playlists are almost entirely made up of croony, Indie music from The National, and the class is performed in the dark with just the flickers of some LED candles strewn across the floor. Put all three together, put me in pigeon pose, and I'm literally yawning because I feel so darn relaxed.

And that's the real reason why I love this class as much as I do. I leave feeling like zen jello. Colleen routinely asks us what areas of the body we want to focus on before we begin, so if I come in with particularly tight hamstrings, low back or shoulders, I know she'll set me up in a posture that will ease that tension. Regardless of the lineup, I always feel better leaving the building than I did when I came in, and that goes for my body and my mind.

The class I take is 75 minutes and starts at 6:30pm on Sundays, but in looking at their schedule online, it seems that Colleen also teaches this class on Wednesdays and Fridays during the day (although those classes appear to be just 60 minutes, and you'll miss out on the candles, since it'll be daytime!). In totality, this stretch & restore yoga is only one of MANY types of classes offered at the studio, but since I use ClassPass and can only go there 3x a month, I use my allocation solely on stretching. If you head over for another class type, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you've liked!

Outside of this particular studio, tell me your thoughts on stretching in the comments below! Do you do it regularly enough? What are some of your favorite stretches?


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