Ahhh....don't you love feeling the release of tension after a good stretch? Well, here's why you need to stretch for more than 15 seconds:
1. Stretching one muscle requires the relaxation of the surrounding muscles. For a stretch to be optimal, you can't clench any other muscles. It's important to take a few seconds and get consciously comfortable before you lunge into lengthening. Once in the stretching position, you must then relax all the surrounding muscles. To make sure you're not clenching, try wiggling your toes or swaying slightly to ensure you're relaxed while stretching, and not clenching.
2. Breathing deeply takes time. Once you are comfortable, start each stretch with an inhale so deep that it overflows past the belly and fills the muscle you are stretching. This may take some practice, but energy flows where intention goes. So take a moment and breathe deeper than your belly, INTO the muscle. Try it a few times until you can feel the muscle expand with your breath, like a balloon, and then go ahead and lean into the stretch and exhale. Keep up the deep breathing throughout the stretch.
3. Muscles are flexible, but protective. The stretching preparation above should take 30-60 seconds. For an effective stretch, the sensors in the muscles need time to trust that the muscular tension that is happening is intentional and not a stress. To override these sensors, you only have to wait an additional 30-60 seconds. This timed muscular release in physiological terms is called 'creep.' It is the moment the muscle sensors realize the stretch is for the good of the organism, and at this point your muscles are optimally lengthening and this is called 'sustained stretching' or the kind of stretching that gives the long-term benefits of flexibility.
4. Muscles need to breathe, too. Now that you're resting in a consciously comfortable stretching position and breathing deeply, focus your breath on essentially inflating and deflating the part of the muscle which feels most tense. You may feel more tension in the muscle on the inhale, and a release of tension on the exhale - go with it! Move slightly into and out of your stretch with your breath, never pushing into a stretch to a point where your breath is restricted.
5. Sustained Stretching can relieve painful knots. When you wake up to a painful crick in your neck, work with the above sustained stretching principles as you await a massage appointment or your hands-on lover to come relieve your knot. Holding a stretch for 1-2 minutes, combined with intentional breathing and help from the heat of your trusty shower head, can help ease the pain in your neck!
Important to Remember: Less force More time = Optimal Stretching.