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The Before-Bed Workout

Between getting the kids to and from school, your job, and errands, it’s tough to find time to exercise during the day. You may want to squeeze in a workout in the evening, but also don’t want to rev yourself up before bedtime. The solution? Stretch it out. “It’s an ideal way to unwind and de-stress after a long day,” says Jessica Matthews, an award-winning fitness and yoga educator, senior adviser for the American Council on Exercise, and author of Stretching to Stay Young.

To help you get moving and prep your body for sleep, try her yoga-inspired stretching routine. All you need is a mat and a small hand towel. With each move, focus on taking a slow, mindful breath through the nose.

Move 1: Cat-Cow

1. Begin in a hands-and-knees position with wrists below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Maintain a neutral, extended spine, with toes tucked under.

2. Inhale, softening your belly toward floor and gently arching your back. Tilt your tailbone and chin toward the ceiling.

3. Exhale, gently rounding your spine. Draw your chin toward your chest and untuck your toes, placing the tops of your feet on the floor. Repeat 10 times.

Move 2: Downward-Facing Dog 

1. From cat-cow position, walk your hands slightly forward until your wrists are ahead of your shoulders, with knees below your hips and fingers spread.

2. Press your palms firmly into the floor. Inhale while tucking the toes under.

3. Exhale to extend your legs, drawing hips and tailbone toward ceiling to create an inverted V-shape with your body. Draw your heels toward the floor while maintaining the length in your spine. Engage the upper arms, and allow your head and neck to remain in a neutral position between your biceps. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

Move 3: Thread the Needle

1. Release your knees to the ground, returning to a hands-and-knees position. Turn your head to the left and slide your right arm underneath your left, with your palm facing the ceiling.

2. Keeping knees stacked over the hips, extend your left arm fully in front of body and press your right forearm and upper arm (if accessible) firmly into the floor. Hold this stretch for 30 to 60 seconds; switch sides. 

Move 4: Reverse Tabletop

1. From the hands-and-knees position, swing your feet to one side. Shift to one hip to move into a seated position, with knees bent and feet on the floor. Place palms directly behind you, with fingers pointing toward your backside.

2. Inhale, pressing into hands and feet to lift your glutes off floor, extending your hips toward the ceiling.

3. Exhale, drawing your shoulder blades toward one another to open your chest toward the ceiling. Carefully and gradually lower your head back, tilting your chin up. Hold this stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.

Move 5: Figure Four

1. From a seated position with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, recline on your back. Pick up your right foot, crossing your right ankle above your left knee as your right knee opens to the right into a “four” position.

2. Keeping your head, neck, and shoulders in contact with the floor, lift your left foot off the ground, keeping the left knee bent.

3. Thread your right arm through the space between your legs, and reach your left arm around your left leg to interlace your hands behind your left thigh. Guide your left knee toward your chest and hold this stretch for 30 to 60 seconds. Slowly unthread your arms, and release the legs to starting position before switching sides and repeating.

Move 6: Assisted Supine Hamstring Stretch

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Draw your right knee toward your chest, looping a small towel around the sole of your right foot. Hold one end of the towel in each hand, palms facing one another.

2. Extend your left leg across the floor while extending your right leg up. Press your right heel toward the ceiling to draw the leg as perpendicular to the floor as possible.

3. Keeping the back of your head and shoulders on the ground, apply gentle pressure using the towel, bending the elbows and drawing your toes toward your shin. Hold this stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch sides.

Move 7: Head-to-Toe Stretch

1. Place a small rolled towel beneath the small of your back. Stretch both legs along the floor.

2. Inhale, stretching your arms overhead with your palms facing the ceiling. Allow your arms and hands to touch the floor, or draw them as close to the ground as possible while keeping your back in contact with the towel. At the same time, point your toes away from your body. Gently squeeze your glutes to help minimize the stress placed on your lower back. Hold this stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.

Move 8: Supine Spinal Twist

1. Return your arms to your sides, bend your knees, and plant your feet on the floor. Remove the towel. Extend your left leg on the floor, keeping your right knee bent.

2. Inhale, pick your right foot off the floor, and draw your right knee toward your chest with your hands.

3. Exhale, extend your right arm out to your right side, palm facing up. Use your left hand to gently guide your right knee across your body to fall outside of the left hip.

4. Turn your head to look toward your right hand. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch sides.

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