I have incorporated basic stretches during my sauna session to make up for the missed class. Over time I have developed a series of sauna stretches that can be executed effectively in the confines of a tiny box.
Stretching, in conjunction with infrared heat, holds tremendous benefits. Improvements in flexibility are greater because we can work with elongating the passive range of motion of a deeply warmed muscle more effectively than a cold muscle. There is also an opportunity to better hydrate the muscle. The long-lasting effects of a deep stretch session in the sauna are also a big plus.
Standing tall, using the sauna wall as support, bend your left knee and grasp your left ankle with your hand. Pull your left ankle gently towards your buttock until you feel a stretch in the front of the left thigh. If you have knee issues or are extra tight, you can loop a sauna towel around the ankle and pull slowly. Do not arch your back while doing this stretch; try to keep the pelvis tucked, (think tail between your legs) buttocks slightly engaged, and the bent knee close to the right knee. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Sit on the far-left side of the sauna toward the front of the bench. Reach your right leg out straight and to the right (to avoid hitting the front of the sauna). A sauna backrest is a great tool to assist in this position. Point your toes firmly up to the ceiling. Slowly, keeping your back straight, start to bend forward at the hips toward the right toes. You should feel a stretch in the back of the upper leg or hamstring. Keep your eyes and chest focused on the right front corner of the sauna in front of you. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat by shifting your body over to the left side of the sauna and extending the left leg.
Sit in the middle of the sauna bench. Raise the left leg and cross the left ankle over the right knee in the “figure-four” position. Keeping your back straight, gently lean forward until you feel a pull in the back of the left hip and glute area. If you need more of a stretch, you can gently press down on the bent knee. Keep your chest up and lean your sternum toward the front of the sauna. This will keep you from rounding your spine. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Stand with your arms at your sides. Expand your height by imagining a string pulling from the top of your head. No slouching for this stretch! Slowly run your second finger down an “imaginary” pant seam, (because no one wears actual pants in the sauna) as far as you can. Hold the position for 20 seconds and then return to neutral. Repeat on the opposite side. You should feel the stretch strongly between the ribs and hip of the side from which you are bending away.
We have all seen a puppy rise from a nap and stretch his front paws out as far as possible and drop its furry chest to the ground. For humans in a sauna, here is how you would perform this excellent chest opener. Place both hands as high up the sauna side wall as you can. Walk your feet back toward the opposite side wall. Now drop your chest and head through your extended arms, opening up the chest and extending the spine. Hold this stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds. This is an excellent stretch for the abdominal, pectoral, and latissimus muscles.
When you stretch your neck, you should pick one direction to stretch and not roll your neck like a bobblehead. Our necks are sensitive and prone to clicking and clunking with age. The rolling type stretches can be aggravating to the delicate tissues beneath the surface. Picking one direction to stretch is the best method to safely and effectively elongate the neck muscles, providing lengthening and lubrication. Start with your right hand coming up and over your head and place your flat palm on the left side of your head. Gently traction your head into lateral flexion (side bend) toward the right. Use the weight of the arm to provide the stretch but do not pull. Return to neutral after 20 seconds and repeat on the opposite side. Finish with both hands coming up and over the head to traction the head forward. Drop the chin and again let the weight of the arms provide the nice stretch along the back of the neck. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds and return to the neutral position very slowly.
Sit in the middle of the sauna bench. Raise your right arm over and behind your head by bending at the elbow. Your right hand should be just touching your left shoulder or back. Reach over with your left hand and grasp the right elbow. Use your left arm to pull the elbow into a stretch. You should feel the stretch along the back of the right arm or the triceps muscle. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
Sitting on the bench of the sauna, reach your right arm up and back to the topmost rear part of the sidewall you can reach. Keeping your hand planted, slowly turn your torso and head to look toward the left side of the sauna. You should feel a stretch throughout the right pectoral or chest muscles. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
Remember to hold all sauna stretches for a minimum of 20 seconds. You can do more if it feels great! Pay close attention to how you are feeling. If you are feeling lightheaded or dizzy, stretching may be too much for you while enjoying your sauna. Remember to breathe throughout all stretches.