Have Less Stress: Quick Moves

Too busy to work out? Try these tips.

By: Cathy Alter, Sophie Gilbert

Getting your blood pumping and your heart rate up is great for taking your mind off your worries. But if you don’t have time for a real workout, try these quick stress-busting tips from experts.


“Set your alarm clock ten minutes early. When it goes off, hit the snooze button and for the next ten minutes simply stretch. Nothing complicated, just stretch whatever feels tight. During these stretches, remind yourself that the day will present you with the choice to see challenges as opportunities for growth.”
—David Keller, owner of Fitness for Life Georgetown

“If you’re sitting in a chair all day, do spinal twists. Plant both feet on the floor, your knees in line with your hips, and sit tall in your chair. Take a deep inhalation, then exhale and twist your body to the side with your head and neck going in the same direction. This helps to stretch the spine, loosen the hips, and relieve lower back pain.”
—Faith Hunter, DC yoga instructor

“One thing you can do at home is just lie down on your back with your legs up against the wall for three to five minutes. It’s amazing how calming it can be. It changes the blood flow in the body and is the beginning of turning yourself upside down, which is a key yoga tradition. It can lower your blood pressure, which gets elevated with stress.”
—John Schumacher, founder of Unity Woods Yoga Center in Arlington, Bethesda, and DC

“When you’re doing anything that pulls your head forward—typing on your BlackBerry, reading, even driving—your neck and jaw become stiff. Try putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth. You’ll instantly release the tension through your jaw, neck, and even your shoulders and upper back.”
—Elie Cossa, personal trainer at DC’s City Fitness Gym

“To release tension, take a moment and get out of your chair to realign your neck and upper back muscles. Stand with your knees slightly bent, your abdominal and gluteus muscles engaged. Once you feel stable, lift your shoulders up toward your ears and then slowly roll them back and down, inhaling on a three count on the way up and exhaling on a three count on the way down. Aim for at least 20 shoulder rolls, and repeat the exercises two to four times throughout the day.”
—Sara Warlick, personal trainer at Pure Intensity Personal Training in Bethesda

“Fast-paced exercise is a home run for stress because your mind pays attention to what you’re doing and not what you’re stressed out about—and the effects can last for hours. A great fast-paced exercise is the Kettlebell squat swing. Stand straight and hold a Kettlebell—a dumbbell will work, too—between your legs. Squat down like you’re sitting on a bench. As you come up to a full stand, simultaneously elevate your arms to at least eye level. Repeat this movement slowly at first, and eventually rev up the momentum until you’ve got a good pendulum swing going. Aim for one minute to start, and work up to five minutes.”
—Mike Libercci, owner of Human Movement in North Bethesda

“If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, get on the floor, on your back with your arms at your sides, palms on the floor. Slowly point and flex your toes so your whole body shifts slightly back and forth. I call this the cranial-sacral rock. It’s a primal move that relaxes you.”
—Margo Carper, personal trainer at Definitions and the Four Seasons, both in Georgetown

“Let off some steam with shadow boxing: Keeping your elbows in and close to your body, start throwing straight punches, twisting your hips with each punch. Do this hard and fast for a few minutes to really get the heart going.”
—Todd Leff, DC personal trainer

“If you get stressed in crowded parking lots or at traffic lights, focus on your breathing. Inhale for four counts, hold your breath for a moment, and then exhale. It slows your heart down.”
—Karen Garcia, owner of Studio Body Logic, a Pilates studio in Arlington and Alexandria

“A way to physically relieve stress is a forward fold. Stand with your tush against the wall and step out 6 to 12 inches, with your knees slightly bent and your feet a little more than hip distance apart. Then gently fold your torso down, reaching your fingertips toward the floor without any goal of touching your toes. Hold onto your elbows and shake your head from side to side or make little circles. We call this the rag-doll pose. Folding forward activates your parasynthetic nervous system and reminds your body it’s okay to relax.”
—Debra Perlson-Mishalove, founder of Flow Yoga Center in DC

This article first appeared in the December 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.

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