Updated: Jul 11, 2020
By Jasmine Chiam & Zhen-Phang.
Mindful Body Stretching (MBS) is a useful MINDFULGym tool for relaxing the body. The exercise works by stretching various body parts and relating to the bodily sensations mindfully – with kindness, beginner’s mind, and wisdom. Though the practice seems simple, beginners frequently make these seven mistakes:
1. Mindless stretching
When we practice MBS, we should focus on the bodily sensations associated with the stretching and relaxation of various groups of muscles. It’s common to have random thoughts, plans, and worries during the exercise. Learn to acknowledge them, and let them rest at the background of the mind, like clouds passing through the sky.
Direct the attention to how the body feels (mindful stretching), instead of the thoughts (mindless stretching). As you bathe your body with awareness, get feedback from the body, and adjust the stretching for your needs.
2. Lack of kindness
During the MBS, we sometimes overstretch the muscles in the body. As a result, the exercise causes muscle cramps, and we’ll be in pain. Try to apply kindful attention by adjusting the posture, intensity, and duration of stretching, so that you feel comfortable.
If there’s muscle cramp, gently massage the area and relate to it with kindness, for instance, by saying, “Hi, Toes. Sorry for not being thoughtful. I’ll be gentler and more caring the next time when we stretch.”
Remember to smile as you’re sensing the body as it helps significantly to soften, soothe, and relax the body.
3. Not enough creativity
Repeatedly performing the same exercise the same way is dull. We’ll easily fall into the trap of losing interest in the practice. Try to be creative and imaginative when we carry out the MBS.
For example, when you do the posture of "superman," try to visualize, you’re flying to a sunflower farm. You’re enjoying the beautiful scenery and savoring the fresh air. Remember to smile and smell the beautiful sunflowers. Discuss with your friends how they creatively adapt their MBS. Some MINDFULGymers combine the exercise with mindful breathing, the use of soothing music, aromatic ointment, and integrate with a selected yoga stretch.
4. Too ambitious in practice
After learning the MBS, many participants are highly motivated. They aim to practice the complete set of exercises three times per day, every day. Very soon, they’ll discover it’s not practical, and they stop practicing totally.
Being overambitious is a common mistake for newbie mindfulness practitioners. It’s usually more helpful to start slow and customize the practice for individual needs.
I frequently use only the head, neck, and shoulder postures when taking a break from using the laptop. In supporting my loving-kindness meditation, I often apply just the facial stretches and "superman" pose with mindful breathing. When I wake up in the morning, I prefer the legs stretches and singing the 'Rasa Sayang' song. So, remember to begin slowly and build up your practice gradually.
5. Too serious and rigid
Come on, let’s have more fun in training. When we’re too serious, it’s challenging to make progress. Try to adopt a beginner’s mindset as you explore the different poses in MBS. Be playful, child-like, and adventurous in examining different ways of doing MBS.
There are no absolute right or wrong ways, only helpful or unhelpful ones, depending on needs. And our needs are different from others; it can also change from time to time. So, be flexible in your cultivation.
6. Unwise use for specific conditions
The MBS is usually taught for general relaxation and wellness. If you’re using the tool for more specific conditions, such as insomnia and chronic pain, it often requires further understanding and skillful integration - wisdom.
For example, in overcoming insomnia, MBS is best done with the knowledge of sleep hygiene and combining it with the body scan, body grounding, and loving-kindness exercises. As for chronic pain, the MBS is used to turn toward and befriend pain (not to get rid of it). If we use mindful stretching mainly to relax and be pain-free, we’ll likely feel disappointed and aggravate the pain.
7. Unrealistic expectation of benefits
Being mindful is not going to make all our life problems disappear. The whole purpose of cultivating mindfulness is to help us cope and make peace with daily challenges.
When we’re relaxed with MBS, it’s easier to embrace changes and find wise solutions to problems. The MBS is a foundation body-based mindfulness practice. On its own, the tool can’t help us avoid being stressed out unless we transform our mindset. For maximum benefits, the tool has to be integrated with other methods that focus on a mindful attitude (e.g., 5 Mindful Vitamins).
Guided Mindful Body Stretching (Short):
Guided Mindful Body Stretching (Long*)
*The long version has more instruction for guided practice.