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How to Get the Most Out of Stretching (and Out of Life)!
by Mary Maddux for

IMPORTANT NOTE: columnist Mary Maddux originally wrote about the amazing Jacques Gauthier in Stretch! The Remarkable Story of Jacques Gauthier (and How You Can Stretch Your Way to a Healthier Body) - you are encouraged to check out that article as well!

Mary has worked in the healing arts in both conventional and alternative settings. With an MS in clinical social work, she has worked as a counselor, helping people cope with the stresses of life. While working as a hospice counselor, she was introduced to various alternative healing arts. She eventually developed a healing arts practice and has taught many workshops.

She and husband Richard are producers of two renowned CDs, Sleep Easy: Guided Meditation for Deep Rest , and Pure Relaxation: Guided Meditations for Body, Mind & Spirit. Mary is the "voice" of these CDs while Richard, an accomplished composer of music for meditation with 20 years experience, created the music.

Almost a year to the day from when stretching expert Jacques Gauthier first visited my California town on his walk across the US, he returned. He didn't look a day older, but he was most definitely, as the saying goes, "a year wiser". Having taught stretching to hundreds of people in Europe during the past year, he has continued to refine his art.

"I love to teach stretching because it helps me learn more about stretching", Jacques stated, explaining that in the past year he has found how to make the stretching even more effective.

As always, he tells people to move slowly into each stretch, but now asks them to stop stretching at the first sign of resistance.

"Your body knows its limits. If you try to stretch past the point of resistance, the muscle will contract to protect itself. As soon as one muscle contracts, all its neighbors will contract as well." You may feel that you have to push the body to stretch further, but in fact that only causes the body to tighten up. Effective stretching comes from cooperating with the body.

Jacques instructs students to hold the stretch once the point of resistance is reached. During this time, they are instructed to shift their attention to their breathing and count their breaths -- "Start counting your breaths and before you know it your muscles will naturally lengthen and your body will go a little further in the stretch." When we do not push our body, it relaxes and the stretching happens naturally.

(According to Jacques, holding a stretch for about 30 seconds seems to bring the best results. You can time yourself to find out how many breaths you naturally take in 30 seconds. That way, rather than counting 30 seconds while holding the stretch, you can count your breaths.)

Bringing Awareness to Your Breathing

When you bring your awareness to your breathing, it is not possible to be caught up in your mind. Your focus is more on your body. Not only is this relaxing, but it keeps you from ignoring your body's signals. It is essential in stretching, and in all we do, to pay attention to the messages from our bodies.

When we listen to our body and give it what it needs, we are rewarded with a pleasurable sense of well-being. Stretching, when done properly, should feel good, and it will feel pleasurable if we do not force the body to go beyond its limits.

This approach -- going to the point of resistance, stopping and counting your breaths -- sounds so simple, but actually doing it may not be so easy. In fact you may find that it is quite difficult! Just try it and see if you can move slowly into a stretch, notice the first sign of resistance and then stop pushing. Chances are you'll start to stretch and before you know it you've gone as far as you possibly can without causing yourself great pain. All of a sudden you're past the body's natural resistance and didn't even notice it happening.

Many of us are in the habit of pushing ourselves in a way that is counter-productive, and our culture of "no pain, no gain" reinforces this habit. We feel that success will come through "overcoming" the natural limitations of our bodies and minds rather than cooperating with them. Jacques' new instruction in stretching is actually a lesson in living.

Our bodies will not only tell us how far to stretch, but what to eat, when to rest, etc. Our bodies are constantly giving us vital information about how to care for ourselves, but we need to learn to listen.

5 Reasons Why the "Stretching Toward a Healthier Life" DVD by Jacques Gauthier Gets's TOP Recommendation:

Stretching Toward a Healthier Life1. It presents 15 stretches that stretch all the key muscles groups throughout your entire body (something we did not see with several other guides we reviewed)

2. It only takes about 15-20 minutes per day total to do the complete stretching

3. Stretching expert and host Jacques Gauthier and his wife Dorothee Lavoie demonstrate each stretch in their entirety, including insights on what NOT to do

4. In addition to stretching nearly 100% of the muscles in your body, Gauthier chose 15 stretches that you'll find actually feel good and are easy to do (many stretches in other programs are not)

5. The production quality of the video and sound is excellent. (Many other DVD productions on stretching are not.)

6. (BONUS REASON: FREE SHIPPING for a limited time no matter how many copies you order!)

Read More about the DVD & ORDER NOW

Our culture is so focused on productivity and performance that we tend to drive ourselves in a way that causes stress, injury and disease. Not only does this ultimately undermine reaching our goals, it destroys our quality of life.

Enjoying Something Produces Better Results

The lesson we can learn from Jacques' method of stretching is that doing things in a way that is relaxing and enjoyable actually produces better results. Taking care of ourselves -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually -- is the foundation for true success, not to mention enjoyment, in life.

Stretching is a wonderful way to care for ourselves, and practicing stretching in the way Jacques teaches is great practice for enjoyable and successful living.

Jacques recently told me, "I try to get people to forget about performance and to enjoy themselves. It's not important how far you stretch compared to yesterday or compared to someone else. It's not about performance. The body loves to move and the activity of stretching gives the body the movement it needs for health and well-being. The funny thing is you actually will stretch further when you forget about performance. It just happens naturally when you are relaxed."

So here's my challenge to you. Try stretching Jacques' way -- go just to the point of resistance and count your breaths. See what happens, and keep at it until you are having fun. When you can stretch and really enjoy it, you've mastered the art of stretching. When you can really enjoy life, with all its inevitable ups and downs, you have mastered the art of living!

A Recent Letter to Jacques and Dorothee Gaultier about Their Top-Recommended Stretching Guide on DVD…

Tue, 18 Apr 2006

Dorothee and Jacques,

"I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this with the world!!!

Two years ago--January 6th--I fell from the top of a cattle feeder (only about 10 feet most) and hit the metal step of the tractor twice before ending face down on frozen ground; I could not get up (due to a concussion) and had to crawl fifty yards to the fence to pull myself up and it took approximately 1 1/2 hours to eventually make it another 150 yards to my truck to call my daughter to come and close the gate before the cattle got out of the lot.

Stretching Toward a Healthier LifeI could hardly move for the next week and could not sleep well for the next 4 months. Chiropractors and massage therapists only brought temporary relief. Three weeks ago I was waiting for my daughter at my chiropractor's office and came across an article from notebooks he had put together for his patients to was about stretching and how it helps to slow the aging process and relieve pain.

I ordered the DVD and have been doing the stretches for about 3 weeks now...I HAVE NO PAIN IN MY LEFT HIP AND THE RIGHT IS MUCH BETTER!!!! It was very hard (and painful!!) at first, but each day is easier and I can honestly feel/see improvement!!! Even my daughter, who is a beautiful ballerina, is amazed at the improvement of my flexibility in this short time and for some of the stretches I am more flexible than she is! She has had to take it very easy though, because she pulled two muscles in the groin area in each leg recently and it must heal before she can go all out for dance.

This is just so awesome it is hard to explain...but you both know exactly what I mean!!!! I just had to thank you and I so wish you would hold a conference in the US particularly the Midwest, and specifically the Kansas City Missouri area...Thank you again."

-- Susie White, Hardin, MO

Read More about the DVD & ORDER NOW

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