Dry Shampoo How-To: Extending Your Style Between Washes , 0 Comments

By now, we all know that washing your hair every day is a no-no: not only does it strip your hair of its natural oils, it also causes you to run through shampoo and conditioner at an alarming rate! To save some money (and your hair), we recommend going at least 2 days between rinses. If your scalp is prone to being a grease spot, have no fear! Dry shampoo is the de-slicking and texturizing miracle in a little jar that you've been needing. Our favorite at SZL is One Love Organics Dry Shampoo Powder; formulated with rice starch, kaolin, and bamboo stem extract, it soaks up the excess sebum at the roots and leaves a fresh, mild scent on your locks. This is a great product to rub onto your ends to achieve texture, and to apply all over if you want volume when styling. And the best part is, there's never any white residue! Just follow our suggestions below to have gorgeous hair no matter what day of your wash cycle you might be on...

Day One: The first day of any hair cycle should be the day you've washed your hair. After shampooing and conditioning with the right formula for your hair type (paraben- and sulfate-free products are a must), squeeze the excess water from your hair and then wrap it in a towel. Keep your hair wrapped for at least 10 minutes, and then unravel and gently press any residual dampness away with the towel (NEVER rub! This destroys your strands!). Spritz on a leave-in conditioner or strengthening serum, then style as preferred. To minimize damage, wait until about half of your hair has dried before blasting it with a blow-dryer. Wear your hair loose.
Day Two: On your first day without washing, the best dry shampoo to apply is an aerosol (French brand Klorane makes one that has already become a cult favorite). Since it's only been 24 hours since rinsing, a few quick bursts at the roots should be all you need. Separate your hair with a comb, starting at the middle and going off to the sides, and spritz a line down your head every inch or so. Allow it to absorb for 2 minutes, and then disperse the product throughout with a brush. You can wear your hair down on this day as well, but I recommend clipping the top section back to keep your hair from touching your face too much (this stops your strands from absorbing oil from your forehead and cheeks), and applying a dollop of moisturizing oil to your ends to prevent moisture loss and breakage.
Day Three: Now is when you'll need to start using a non-aerosol dry shampoo powder (enter One Love Organics). Brush your hair out to distribute the remaining natural oils from your scalp all the way down to the ends, and then divide the hair as you did previously. This time, gently sprinkle the powder along the line, and rub it in a bit before moving on to the next section (space your lines about an inch from each other). Once you've done your whole head, allow the powder to absorb for at least 5 minutes, then flip your hair upside-down and use your fingers to rub the remaining powder into your scalp. You can also scratch, gently, to create a bit of volume. Once you've done that, and have no visible white residue, style your strands into a ponytail or braid (while your roots may no longer be fresh enough to wear your hair down, your ends are still fine. Use a little shine serum or hair oil on your tips to make them look glossy and keep your hair moisturized).
Day Four: As with the previous day, use a dry shampoo powder to get rid of any oiliness (trust us, you'll be loving One Love Organics at this point!). This is the day when you want to make sure you use a good leave-in moisturizer to make sure you're not drying out your ends. Dr. Bronner's Lavender & Coconut Organic Hair Creme is a personal favorite, and it doesn't weight my fine hair down. You can actually apply more conditioning product than you usually would, since you'll be styling your hair up anyway. My go-to up-do is a timeless classic: the ballerina bun. Tie a pony tail high on the back of your head, twist your locks around the base, and pin into place. To add flair, you can style with a headband, a decorated hair comb, embellished bobby pins, or a ribbon.

Day Five (OPTIONAL): For those really looking to give their hair a break, take one extra day to pre-condition your hair before washing again. On this day, plan to have your head covered (hats, kerchiefs, scarves, and turbans are all acceptable cover-ups). Apply plenty of nourishing hair oil or leave-in conditioner, and then style your hair into your cover-up. After you wash your hair the next day, it will be silky and soft from the actions of the previous day!

- Maria Vasylivna

Household Tips: Keeping Your Kitchen Tools On Point , 0 Comments

We all know that, when building a home, the kitchen is always the most expensive room to build. So it should come as no surprise that quality kitchen utensils also cost a pretty penny. Living a healthy lifestyle often means going with the traditional, tried-and-tested options for kitchen tools (at least until all those new coatings & chemicals are sufficiently studied!), and while I have always been a huge fan of cast-iron pots and pans, the other material for cooking utensils that I love is good old wood. I'm partial to teak cutting boards and bamboo spoons/spatulas, but these items often require a little more work to keep them in tip-top shape (after all, nobody wants splinters!). The best way to keep your wooden kitchen incidentals smooth and waterproofed is to give them a good scrub every 2 weeks. To do this, all you'll need is my super-simple kitchen scourer. It only calls for two ingredients: lemons, and table salt!

Before you start scratching away, take your wooden cooking tools and make sure you've washed off all residual food and oils. I recommend dropping them into a soap soak for a few minutes to soften them up before scrubbing. Simply stopper up your sink, and fill it with enough water to completely cover your things. Next, add a dash or two of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps Pure Castile Soap (the peppermint-scented one is really great for covering up kitchen odors and keeping your cooking space, and dishes, smelling squeaky clean). Froth the water up a bit to mix the soap well, and then drop your wooden components in. Don't let them soak for longer than 5 minutes! Drain the sink, and rinse everything under warm water. Next, slice a few lemons in half (the amount of lemons you'll need will depend on how many things you're scouring). Once they're cut, take your knife and poke it gently through all the little sections to really release the juices (lemons have natural antibacterial properties, so don't worry about germs... they'll be effectively nixed). Pour about a tablespoon of table salt directly onto the exposed lemon half, and then press it (salt side down) onto the item you're looking to clean, and scrub away! 

The lemon juice, mixing with the salt, will create a smooth, antibacterial surface on your wooden items. If you feel as though an item needs more salt, go ahead and pour some more on (switch out your lemon halves when you can no longer get a few drops of juice with an easy squeeze). After your things have been polished to your idea of perfection, let them sit in the lemon-salt mixture for about a minute before rinsing them off with cool water. Allow your things to dry on a rack, and then store them away for their next use. You'll find that this method of upkeep will increase the longevity of use for your wooden minutia, and keep them super smooth! 

- Maria Vasyivna

While The Sun Still Shines... , 0 Comments

Summer is nearing its end (say it isn’t so!) but there is still plenty of time to get outside and take in as much of the warmth and brightness of August as you can! In fact, for those who are continually applying and reapplying sunblock, or hiding in the shade or under large hats and long sleeves, these habits can actually become harmful. While it is important to understand your body’s limits and never allow yourself to burn, exposing your bare body to the sun is vital to maintaining optimal health. It is estimated that at least 32% of adults and children in the US are deficient in Vitamin D. It just so happens that I myself was diagnosed with this condition at the beginning of June! Vitamin D, often called ‘the sunshine vitamin,’ is an often-overlooked component of overall wellness (most likely due to skin cancer fear-mongering). The fact is that Vitamin D is not a substance that is easily supplemented via pills or even diet. Our bodies are made to produce 90% of our Vitamin D via a reaction in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight… and when we are obsessively slathering ourselves in SPF, that doesn’t happen.

But what about skin cancer?! A very real concern, there are a few simple steps that you can take to safely obtain your daily dose of Vitamin D. First of all, we can make sure to time our sun exposure correctly. The sun is at its strongest, and most damaging, between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM. By being out of doors in the early morning or late afternoon, we can avoid the most potent UVA/UVB rays. If you are lucky enough to be at the beach, a stroll by the waves before breakfast or a pre-dinner jog on the sand is a great way to get your blood flowing, while simultaneously knocking ‘get some Vitamin D’ off your daily checklist. It is imperative that you not wear sunscreen and try to expose as much of your bare skin to the sun as possible. You want to make the process of absorbing Vitamin D easy on your body, and nothing makes it more difficult than physically blocking the sun’s rays! Secondly, keep an eye on the time. The average person will need only 15 minutes of uninterrupted sunshine to get their fix. If you are fair-skinned, you may need as little as 10 minutes, while those who have a darker complexion might need as much as 25.

If you’re still skeptical about baring your epidermis sans SPF, perhaps the list of conditions resulting from Vitamin D deficiency will sway you into the sun! The complications range from the physical (hypocalcemia, rickets, cardiovascular disease) to the mental and emotional (depression, dementia, schizophrenia), and are not exactly my idea of summer fun. And if premature aging of the skin is the thing stopping you from pointing your naked self skywards, drinking just one cup of green tea a day (if you have been out in the light) can help fortify your body against early signs of aging. Studies have shown that green tea is full of powerful antioxidants, which fight off the hallmarks of passing years and prevent sun damage. So if you’re a tea person (as I am), brew yourself a cup and enjoy it al fresco, basking in the sunshine and in the knowledge that you are doing your body some good. And if you'd rather forego the caffeine, by all means! To each his, or her, own!

- Maria Vasylivna

Preventing Headaches: Steps to Ensure a Pain-Free Day , 0 Comments

Headaches are one of the most common, and disruptive, woes of the workday. For those of us who suffer from them, their onset can be anything from simply annoying, to downright debilitating. While being an advocate for a pharmaceutical-free lifestyle has had many health benefits, day-to-day ailments like the headache have proved particularly tricky to treat holistically (the temptation to just pop an Advil and be done with it has struck me many a time!). Through my own experiences, I've discovered some personal tension triggers that I can now actively avoid, or remedy, whenever a headache encroaches on my productivity. Some of the most universal causes of headaches include:

  • Stress
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of, or too much, sleep
  • Diet
  • Allergies

Tackling these issues one at a time, and understanding which ones are causing your headaches, are key points in prevention and treatment. When it comes to stress, I find keeping a soothing essential oil (such as lavender or chamomile) to be indispensable. If you feel a headache coming on, take a few moments to quiet yourself. Proper circulation is vital in expediting the effects of aromatherapy, so I make a conscious effort to have correct posture when seated, regardless of whether I'm about to take a few moments to myself or not. Dabbing the oil onto the septum of the nose, and taking deep breaths while focusing on proper breathing technique, is a simple way to begin the relaxation process. If, like myself, you find that your stress headaches are accompanied by stiffness in the back of the neck and shoulders, I also recommend using a few drops of the essential oil to massage the affected area. If you are at home, or work from a home office, when your headaches strike, another simple remedy is to do a black mustard seed footbath. To do so, crush 4 ounces of black mustard seeds, and top them with boiling water in a bowl large enough to submerge your feet all the way up to the ankles. Once the water has cooled enough for you to dip your toes in, soak for approximately 20 minutes.

Dehydration is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to headaches. A simple way to avoid this particular trigger is to monitor your liquid intake. To do so, take your current weight in pounds, and divide the number in half: that is how many ounces of water you should be drinking daily (if you're not being physically active). If you exercise, or break a sweat for longer than 5 minutes, you should up your liquid intake by at least 8 ounces per half hour of exertion. If plain water is too bland for you, some of our favorite healthful substitutes include raw coconut water, herbal teas (iced or hot), and freshly-pressed juices (fruit and vegetable). Regulating your sleeping patterns is also an important part of evading headaches. 8 hours is the recommended norm per night, but if you end up getting less, a nap can be a godsend. Be sure to monitor your naptime, though! A short nap should be no longer than 20 minutes; after this point, the brain begins to descend into deep sleep, and it is jarring for your system to interrupt a REM cycle. Allow yourself 1.5 hours for a long nap, to fully recharge your body and complete one REM cycle. Any more than that can disrupt your circadian rhythms, and contribute to problems such as insomnia.

When discussing diet as a contributing factor to headaches, it is crucial to understand your own sensitivities and intolerances for foods. Personally, I find that avoiding coffee, red meat, and the majority of dairy products effectively neutralizes my propensity for headaches. However, each person is different, and gaining insight into your own body's tension triggers is a necessary component to healthy, holistic living. An easy way to pinpoint your own dietary red flags is to keep a logbook: record your consumption of 'trigger foods,' and compare them to a record of your headaches. It should be fairly easy to pick out the culprits then! Lastly, if you suspect allergies to be at the root of your troubles, I recommend purchasing an air purifier and cleaning your living space at least once a week (to get rid of irritants and pollutants). While conventional air purifiers (machines that suck in air, pass it through a filter, and then release it back into the room) come in many forms and at different price points, I have also discovered a much simpler way to cleanse my domestic quarters; by burning 100% pure beeswax candles. When lit, these candles exude negative ions, which effectively "clean" the air. And they also smell delicately sweet, which I consider to be an extra impetus towards incorporating them in your daily routine. Let the candles burn for at least 2 hours, and always trim the scorched wick down to about 1/4 of an inch after you've blown the flame out. Once you have all these bases covered, you'll find that the frequency of your headaches will decrease markedly, if not disappear altogether! 

- Maria Vasylivna

No Deodorant? Don't Sweat It! , 1 Comment

We here at SZL are constantly on the lookout for commercial products that we can substitute with more natural alternatives. One of the hardest for us, so far, has been the attempt to get away from traditional deodorant/antiperspirant. While health food stores and organic wellness boutiques now carry a vast array of aluminum-free options, the 12-hour performance that we’ve become accustomed to has never really been matched by these all-natural competitors. Being the sort to exercise vigorously a few times a week, I’ve experimented with various brands, and even attempted making my own (a debacle that I will not share here). I’ve also tried simply “refreshing” my underarms, aka splashing them with water, throughout the day, but that was not a convenient solution either.

When we talk about deodorant, it is important to remember that most of them today are really antiperspirants. The aluminum factor is basically a “sweat inhibitor,” which means that it physically blocks our pores, thereby stopping the wetness from escaping. When people sweat, they do not acquire a distasteful scent because they are sweating: the pungency occurs because bacteria on our bodies mix with the sweat, causing foul odors. Sweat on its own has a simple, soft smell, just of damp skin. But when you mix in bacteria, dirt, and other pollutants that attach to our bodies… whew!

This is exactly why the easy, natural solution to deodorant that I recently discovered is so effective. I am talking about none other than run-of-the-mill isopropyl rubbing alcohol. When my mother first suggested it, I baulked at the idea. After all, that stuff’s for disinfecting scrapes and paper cuts! How could it possibly work as a deodorant? But its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties are exactly what makes it work for our underarms. By killing, and inhibiting the growth of, all those nasties in our armpits, rubbing alcohol essentially nullifies the stench that we attribute to our sweat. If you are running laps, or out on a hot day, you will still sweat… but your sweat won’t smell. This is, in fact, an ideal situation, because sweating is the body’s heat regulation and toxin expellant system. When we don’t sweat (by blocking our sweat glands with commercial antiperspirants), we are really trapping toxins and making our bodies work overtime to adjust our temperature. Not the best thing to do! The solution? After you get out of the shower, simply soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol, swipe it over the skin of your underarms, and let it dry before putting your arms down. Then, go forth and conquer!

- Maria Vasylivna

Practical Household Applications for Beeswax , 1 Comment

Are you as astounded with the versatility and healing properties of bee products as we are? Sharing nature's ready-made therapies with you is a passion of ours here at SZL. In conjunction with our articles on apitherapy, we thought we'd share some practical applications of beeswax for use around the home. Below, a list of the many ways that you can put beeswax to work for you!

  • Egg decorating: the most popular use of beeswax is in decorating traditional Ukrainian painted Easter eggs, known as 'pysanky.' The wax protects the colors from mixing, and helps the finished product really shine!
  • Waxing thread: trying to sew something, and the thread just keeps catching on the fabric? Run a lump of beeswax over the spool to promote color and fabric-safe sliding.
  • Waterproofing shoes: worried that your boots or TOMS will get ruined in the rain? Beeswax is a great, all-natural waterproofing agent, and is safe to use on most fabrics (use caution when applying to suede, gently sweep it down the length of the shoe in a downward direction, never brush it up!) 
  • As countertop polish: are you countertops looking a bit dull, but you don't want to use a chemical-laden polishing spray? Beeswax is the perfect alternative, and is safe for all surfaces, including granite and marble.
  • To prolong wooden kitchen utensil use: extending the life of your wooden kitchen utensils is easy, rub them with beeswax after rinsing! Not only does it leave a nice sheen, it will prevent splinters as well.
  • To make non-toxic crayons: have little ones that put absolutely everything in their mouths? Consider making your own chemical-free coloring sticks with beeswax. (Check back for our recipe later this week.)
  • To wrap food/home-made cheeses: are you tired of constantly wasting aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or wax paper? Beeswax can be rolled into an excellent reusable food wrap; it can also be used to create an edible rind on home-made hard cheeses!
  • As an envelope sealant: sending out fancy invitations? Give your cards an aristocratic feel with your own wax seal! Simple melt some beeswax onto the flap of the envelope (you can also make impressions in the wax with a signet ring, if you care to be really fancy).
  • To coat nails/screws: when remodeling or doing home repairs, pesky screws and nails can slip right through your fingers! Avoid this issue by rubbing a lump of beeswax over them to provide grip and extra stability (this will also keep nails from sliding about when you're trying to drive them through).
  • To prevent tarnish: beeswax is an excellent anti-rusting agent for bronze items! Pots, pans, pitchers, statues, and other home paraphernalia will benefit from a quick coat of beeswax to ensure lifelong shine. 

- Maria Vasylivna

Ashley's Tips for a "Healthy-Made-Easy" Summer , 1 Comment

Ah, summer. Long overdue vacations with friends and family have finally arrived and warm, sunny, days start to replace those dreary days of winter. Although dreaming of hot beach days and cool ocean swims would be enough to put a smile on just about anyone’s face, we can’t help but dwell on the thought of hopping back into sleeveless shirts, shorts, and swimsuits again. As barbeques, art fairs, and outdoor events boast delicious, seasonal food, we still feel the pressure to lose weight. Quite the predicament, right?!

But don’t put your summer goals to rest just yet! There is an easy way to boost your confidence while continuing to take care of your body during the summer months. The key is to make sure you are consistently doing activities that create happiness in your life, while also being conscious of the things your body needs. By keeping these small tips in mind and knowing that you have the capability to be the best version of you, your memorable summer will be a fulfilling one as well (pun intended).

1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Water is a crucial component to the summer experience in more ways than you might think. Water comprises about 60% of the human body, making it easy for us to utilize this essential fluid to the max. Water drives physiological processes like digestion, while controlling our body’s internal temperature through perspiration. Warmer summer temperatures may cause our bodies to work harder to stay cool, resulting in an increased loss of hydration. To prevent excessive fluid loss, drink a minimum of 64 ounces per day. Increase this number by 8 ounces with each added hour of physical activity.

2. Try cooler workouts: No, literally! The hot temperatures, both at the beach and during a long jog, affect performance, putting additional stress on the body. Try to wear light, loose clothing that allows you to stay dry and cool, and if you must exercise outdoors, do it in the early morning or evening, when temperatures will be at their lowest. If not, the increased heat and decreased hydration could result in fatigue and muscle cramping.

3. Change up your childhood favorites: Unlike sugary popsicles and bacon-cheddar-stuffed hamburgers, there are many summer foods that won’t make you feel as if you ‘fell off the wagon’. Lots of great fresh produce is now in season! Tomatoes, watermelon, and strawberries can be added into several different dishes that will increase flavor and variety for your barbecue spread. Substituting a tempting ice cream cone for a cool cup of berry-topped frozen yogurt or whipping up a festive salsa with delicious mango and black beans are a just a couple ideas that will leave your guests smiling and satisfied.

4. Ditch the idea of the “summer diet”: There’s no perfect diet, and diet rules usually go out the window during fun backyard BBQs. Let loose and ditch the restrictive mentality, but still be sensible when making food choices. Be mindful of portion sizes and incorporate more healthy, fibrous foods like kale salad or summer squash before diving into a hot dog. Filling up with low-calorie options before a calorie-dense food will cause you to eat less of the not-so-healthy item. Be inspired to take on new healthy habits and surround yourself with people that support and share your health goals. It’s easier to stay on track when you have friends who also create healthier picnic foods and are eager to follow up a meal with a volleyball game!

5. Remember the Z’s: The dog days of summer can make the days and nights feel so long that you don't want to miss a minute. You may find yourself staying up later as the days are longer or taking mid-afternoon naps to gear up for an evening dinner party. This sporadic sleep schedule can lead to exhaustion, as it interrupts a normal sleep routine. Continue to aim for 8-9 hours of Z’s per night. According to Meir Kryger, MD from the National Sleep Foundation’s Board of Directors, this prolonged season is the prime opportunity to rejuvenate with energy and redevelop a healthy and routine sleep schedule!

- Ashley Lytwyn

Aromatherapy 101: An Introduction to Essential Oils , 0 Comments

The strongest sense tied to memory is that of smell. This is a fact that I have come to exploit in my health-centric lifestyle, by indulging in scents that have proven effects on the body. While in the winter I favor long, hot baths infused with essential oils, summertime requires a different kind of pampering. I have found that the easiest ways to utilize aromatherapy in the warmer months is by  either mixing my own massage & body oils, or creating custom blends for my candle diffuser (which I light during meditation and stretching sessions). Different people have different needs and varying preferences when it comes to aromatherapy, but becoming accustomed with some of the more popular essential oils is a good step in discovering your personal inclinations in this area of DIY therapeutics. I recommend first reading our articles to discover which oils will best suit your needs (are you looking to relax, to balance yourself, to invigorate, to heal, etc.), and then stopping by your local health food store to sniff at their selection of oils. Happy hunting!

  • Lavender - arguably the most popular, and well-known, essential oil, so much used because of its relaxing and therapeutic effect on the body. It is soothing to many of the body's systems, including but not limited to the circulatory, digestive, muscular, nervous, and respiratory. Not to be confused with lavandin (which is a lavender hybrid, and much more camphoraceous), it is generally acknowledged that the best lavender is grown in the mountainous regions of Provence, France. 
  • Peppermint - a scent that is familiar to most, it is cooling and refreshing. Very effective in allaying digestive woes, problems with the head (sinusitis, headaches, bad breath), and menstrual pains. The oil is distilled from the leaves and flowering tops, and English peppermint is reputed to be the best.
  • Ylang-ylang - popular in the perfumery business, it is often called 'the poor man's jasmine.' A relaxing scent, it is especially well-suited to treating disorders of the nervous system (depression, insomnia, tension), and has been said to aid in lowering high blood pressure. It mixes well with most oils, but is most frequently paired with sandalwood.
  • Frankincense - relaxing and rejuvenating, it was much prized in Biblical times (hence the offering to baby Jesus). It is excellent for treating conditions of the respiratory system, particularly those associated with inflammation of the mucous membranes. Distilled from a resin that is harvested from the bark of trees that grow in East Africa, the ancient Egyptians used it to make rejuvenating face masks.
  • Camphor - warming and stimulating, this oil is perfect for treating muscular issues, such as aches and pains, rheumatism, and sprains. It is also reputed to soothe nervous system issues like hysteria and shock, and improve circulation. It comes from trees which grow naturally in China and Japan, but are now cultivated in Sri Lanka and California as well. 

As these are just a few of the essential oils, you'll have to check back with us for our up-coming, in-depth articles. For now, I will leave you with 3 of my favorite aromatherapy combinations. 

  1. Ylang-ylang and clary sage
  2. Peppermint, bergamot, and mandarin
  3. Lavender, chamomile, and benzoin

- Maria Vasylivna

Healing From The Inside , 1 Comment

As bone broth seems to be having its "diet fad" moment, we thought it would be a good time to repost part of an article that we shared with you previously. Below, details on how to repair your gut and balance the stomach flora simply by adding 2 kinds of food to your diet! 
"Two of the most powerful foods for healing the digestive lining are bone broth and sauerkraut. Incorporating these foods into your diet will help balance gut flora and repair damaged gut lining. The result is a strong immune system, reduced chronic inflammation, eliminated food intolerances, and the ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients. All of these lead to increased energy, elevated mood, clear radiant skin, clarity in mind, healthy joints, thick, gorgeous hair and nails, and anti-aging benefits.
Bone broth: Contains amino acids, hyaluronic acid, collagen, glycosaminoglycans, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. These will heal and seal the gut lining, ultimately leading to vibrant health and the prevention inflammation and illness. Drink 1-3 cups throughout the day before meals.
Fermented vegetables / Sauerkraut: Full of beneficial bacteria, sauerkraut will help restore normal stomach acid production and balance your gut flora. Begin by drinking the liquid, starting with a small amount (1 tsp. - 1 tbsp.) and increasing until any digestive problems decrease. To further the healing process and up your intake of fermented food, add small amount of the fermented vegetables to your meals and increase to 1/4 - 1/2 cup per meal."
- Allie White

Full-Body Stretch in 10 Minutes , 0 Comments

Being a dancer, I have always felt the need to stretch. Exercise is vital for daily health, and spending just 10 minutes stretching can get your blood flowing and activate your muscles. While there's no need to break a sweat, increasing your circulation will give you an instant glow and perk up your mental faculties (making this stretch session perfect for when you're feeling that mid-afternoon slump). Since each body is different, you can incorporate different types of stretches to suit your needs (avoid neck pulls if you have stiff muscles, or focus more time on your legs if your calves are tight), but the order in which you warm up and stretch your muscles is the most important of all. 

The first thing to know is that it is best to work your way from the top down; this means starting with your head and neck, and finishing with your legs. I like to start my stretch sessions by doing head circles (rolling my skull on my neck 360 degrees), alternating between clockwise and counter clockwise. Even when doing a simple warm-up like this, you want to really sink into each movement. When I drop my head down, I try to push a little further than my head would naturally fall on its own. When it is fully flung back, I tilt it enough so that I can feel the stretch in the muscles on either side of my throat. Once I have done 4 or 5 circles in each direction, I stretch my neck and the tops of my shoulders by doing the following move: first, tilt your head to one side (as though you are trying to touch your ear to the top of your shoulder). Then, take the hand that is on the same side as the one your head is tilted towards, place it on the side of your head that is now upturned to the sky, and gently push your head further towards your shoulder. At the same time, use your opposite hand to pull your opposite shoulder down towards the ground. This should enable you to really stretch the sides of your neck.

After this, I move on to shoulder circles. I like to do at least 10 each way, backwards and forwards. When those are done, I hold my arm in front of me at a 90 degree angle to the floor, and then fold it so that my hand is resting on top of the opposite shoulder. From here, I use my other arm to gently push my bent elbow further towards the opposite shoulder, letting me stretch my shoulder blades and the top of my back. I follow this move with arm circles, again at least 10 each way, backwards and forwards. Next, it is time to engage the torso. To begin, hold your hands in front of your chest, with your elbows bent straight out to the sides. Twist from side to side, gently at first, without moving your hips (the goal is to isolate your movement just to your chest). After a few repetitions, start pushing into your twists to really get a stretch. This is also a great move to gently activate your obliques! I recommend doing a minute of torso twists to really get the blood flowing.

By now, you should feel pleasantly warm, and your body should be "waking up." It is time to move on to the hips and legs! The easiest way to quickly warm up the entire leg is to do lunges. With your hands on your hips, take a large step forward, then sink straight down until your back knee almost touches the floor. Without leaning your upper body, push to stand with both of your legs together again. Do at least 10 lunges for each leg, and then you're almost done! Standing with your feet together, pointing forward, gently roll your entire body down until your hands touch the floor. It is imperative to 'move through' this stretch, which means feeling each vertebrae in your back as it folds downward. Roll back up the same way you went down, and repeat this move 5 times. On the fifth time, don't roll back up. Instead, with your hands firmly on the floor, alternate bending a knee. In this position, when you bend your right knee, you will feel more of a stretch in the back of the left leg, and vice versa. Remember, never hold your breath when stretching! It is paramount to keep breathing at all times. I usually alternate bending my legs for at least 30 seconds before I roll back up.

And now you're almost done! I like to finish off my quick stretch sessions by activating the ankles with circles and forced arch presses. For the circles, start by rolling your feet outwards, away from the body, and then switch directions (5 circles each way ought to do it). After that, standing with your feet together and pointing forwards pop one leg so that only the balls of your feet and your toes are on the floor (your knee will be bent out in a 45 degree angle). From here, bend your standing leg and push into the bent foot. Do at least 10 forced arch presses for each leg, then shake it out! You'll feel energized and relaxed, and it will only have taken you 10 minutes to recharge. You can modify these stretches to your personal needs if you'd like, but this is the basis for any successful stretching session. Here's to being limber!

- Maria Vasylivna