It’s a strange sensation to be aware you are in a bad mood, yet not have the faintest idea what caused it or how to snap out of it. It could be an infinite number of things. Maybe you took that joke at lunch a little too personally. Maybe an excess of stress is weighing upon you like a heavy coat in summer. Maybe the world just doesn’t seem as bright and sparkly today.
Whatever it is, a little self-love can do wonders. If you’re in a bad mood, the cure may be as simple as a luxurious cat stretch.
For a long time, I would witness my own mood shifts and began to see a correlation between bad moods and muscle tightness—especially my calves. Far-fetched, perhaps. But as soon as I stretched my calves, the euphoric yet painful release swept the edge right off any negativity. Okay, you’re probably thinking I am a little crazy. But there is scientific evidence to back up the claim that stretching on a regular basis can make you happier.
Neuroscientists believe stretching our bodies is part of a brain-body feedback loop. You know how smiling can oftentimes make you feel happier? The same goes for stretching: it can make you more relaxed and open to the world. Changes within your physicality can profoundly affect your brain.
What’s more: everything in your body is attached by a tight suit of fascia. Tightness in your legs affects the tension in your shoulders and so on. Because of this, stress that you hold in your hips can affect the muscles all the way up through your lower back and to your skull.
Besides causing a lot of aches and pains—which will put anyone in a bad mood—this tension can work along that brain-body feedback loop to lend an undercurrent of anxiety and stress to all your moods. Along with range of motion exercises and massage, gentle stretching is paramount for keeping things loose and lubricated. It also provides additional neurological benefits like improving heart rate, blood pressure and hormonal regulation.
Any stretch that feels good, especially that slightly painful-euphoric sensation, is one you should be doing. If a stretch is extremely painful, you should especially be working up to it. That means there is a lot of frozen tension present.
However, some stretches are more effective on our moods than others. Generally, we all hold a lot of tension in our hip joints, making pigeon pose an effective starter stretch for relieving stress and anxiety. The posture, which you can see explained here, helps to undo the damage of long term sitting and to release emotional tension. It lengthens the piriformis muscle, a small gluteal muscle that is often underused and too tight. But if that is too intense for you, there are hundreds of choices that you can practice.
Next time you feel a bad mood coming along, take some time to revitalize your body and your brain. When built-up stress and muscle tension is gone, the world can begin to look like a friendlier place.