For me, executing my beauty routine in the morning can be hit or miss. I'm not a morning person by nature, so in order to avoid stressful beauty-related meltdowns in front of the mirror, I usually implement one body positive beauty technique that I consider to be extraordinarily helpful: Before I get ready, I stretch.
It might sound a bit odd, but in my experience, I find that stretching first thing in the morning helps relax my muscles after a night of sleeping in a tightly-wadded ball of blankets. It genuinely puts my brain, which seems to wake up and immediately switch to auto-stress mode, at ease. It also helps me slide into the day without feeling rushed, irritated, or uncomfortable in my post-sleep body.
Now, this isn't to say that I'm doing a 60 minute yoga routine before I apply my mascara. As I mentioned, I'm not a morning person, and my ability to perform expert yoga poses has plenty of room for improvement. My stretching routine is basic and quick, but still manages to have positive effects on my overall attitude. However, I was curious as to whether people who stretch regularly and at length had any insight into my preferred body positive beauty technique, so I decided to ask a couple of the pros.
"By stretching every day, you give your muscles, joints, and connective tissues the opportunity to move freely and spaciously. This type of action is the complete antithesis of typical Western human action — sitting at work, sitting en route to or from work, or sitting at home," Jessamyn Stanley tells me in an email. Stanley is a Durham, North Carolina-based yoga instructor whose social media influence has afforded her the opportunity to travel the world with her practice. A rare voice in the yoga world, Stanley is a black, plus size woman whose skills on the mat are matched only by her activism and desire to make yoga more inclusive for everyone.
"Ultimately, stretching allows you to maintain the limber bodily structure that the human body is designed to have but which gets lost in pursuit of Western goals," she explains. "Most of us forget that we're actually meant to run and leap on a daily basis — humans were not designed for stagnant activity. Stretching is a way to maintain your body's innate grace and elegance."
Perhaps the maintenance of my body's grace and elegance is why stretching, for me, feels like such a necessary part of my beauty routine — after all, what I'm after in the morning is a feeling that I have my shit together. Rachel Dolan, a 30-year-old choreographer and Baptiste Power Yoga teacher at Down Dog Yoga in Washington, DC, also gave her insights on the matter.
"I firmly believe, through my own experience, that yoga has a tremendous effect on your perception of yourself," she tells me in an email. "Stretching gets us in touch with how our body is feeling, which may help us make more positive decisions throughout the day."
At this point, I began to think of my morning stretches as something that could benefit me well beyond my beauty routine. Perhaps given its effectiveness before I start preening, primping, and preparing myself for the day, it could also set the tone for how I feel in my own skin throughout the day. Still, though, there is something to be said for the feeling of being utterly relaxed and in tune with your body before you look in the mirror.
"As a dancer, positive self-image has been a struggle my whole life," Dolan tells me. "And for me, yoga was the answer to find[ing] self-acceptance. I believe stretching is a big component of that."
Still though, when it comes to stretching as the answer to positive self-image, both Dolan and Stanley agree that loosening your limbs is only part of the picture.
"I think it's best to disassociate the perception of self from any physical activity," Stanley tells me. "By doing so, you will always set yourself up for unfulfilling goals and disappointment. I think it's better to stretch for the singular reason of doing your body a favor. Yes, it will change your self-perception, but primarily because you're actually giving your body an opportunity to show its true strength."
Stanley's last point is what really resonated with me, and showed me exactly why a good morning stretch has become an unmissable part of my beauty routine, as necessary as washing my face or choosing my favorite red lip: Taking the time to stretch is synonymous with taking the time to remind myself that I value my body, that my body can do a lot, and that it has strength. The decision to stretch isn't the only answer to starting the day with confidence, but it is a huge part of it.
So if you're feeling like you just can't seem to start the day like the force of nature that you are, try taking a few minutes to stretch before it actually begins. It might not change your life completely, but it's nothing if not a positive addition to your beauty routine.
Want more body positivity? Check out the video below, and be sure to subscribe to Bustle's YouTube page for more inspo!
Images: Andrew Zaeh/Bustle (1); mynameisjessamyn/Instagram; Courtesy Rachel Dolan (Photo By Meghan Powell Photography)