"The best exercise," says physical consultant Daeshik Seo, "is stretching. It gives shape to the body, makes you strong and flexible. Any sport needs stretching first."
Breathing is the key to stretching Seo-style: "Without a steady breath flow the muscles tighten up." To experience the effect, bend over, hold your breath and lift yourself up. Feel the tension and pressure in your lower back? Now try the same thing, but inhale yourself up. The movement should feel much smoother.
"Different motions take different breathing patterns," says Seo, but in general, exhale on a contracting movement and inhale on an expanding movement. Never hold your breath for longer than 5 seconds. "Try to feel what is happening in the body when you move. Don't move blind."
If you feel any tightness while stretching, "think of blue--a soothing color--and breathe it through the tense part." To keep your balance, pick a spot to focus your eyes on and remember your center of gravity--called the ki--about 1 1/2 inches below the navel.
Seo recommends stretching the top of the body first and moving gradually down to the feet, ideally to the accompaniment of classical music. "So you don't shock the heart," always begin on the left side first.
Among Seo's stretching exercises:
Breathe. Prepare your mind and muscles for movement with several long, deep breaths. Be sure your lungs and abdomen expand as you breathe in and release as you breathe out. Breathe in for 8 counts, then out for 8 counts. Repeat 4 times.
Body Wake-Up "Heart Massage." Stand with legs shoulder-length apart, knees slightly flexed and toes pointed forward. Breathe in as you reach arms straight up and arch back, thrusting pelvis forward. Keep mouth closed, palms toward ceiling and eyes looking up. Hold 2 seconds, then exhale as you flip palms down and bend forward, keeping arms stretched out until torso is perpendicular to the floor. Repeat.
Shoulders. Stretch your left arm straight out in front of you in a "Hail Caesar"-like salute (similar to a "poling motion" in cross-country skiing); rest your right arm at your side and breathe in. Bring left arm down, right arm up and breathe out. Continue alternating arms while breathing in and out. When the motions become familiar, speed up the movement, but keep it fluid, and flick your wrist at the end of each arm motion.
Neck. Shrug shoulders, then release. Repeat a few times. Stand tall, breathe in then exhale as you try and bring your ear to your shoulder without raising the opposite shoulder. Concentrate on pushing the opposite shoulder down. Repeat on the other side.
Lower back. Breathe in as you stretch arms overhead, keeping hands just a shoulder-width apart, then exhale as you circle your upper body to the left, then down. Inhale as you continue the circle to the right and back up. Reverse.
Back. Stand with legs shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward, arms stretched out in front of you, elbows straight. Inhale, then exhale, as you twist your upper body--including your head--as far to the left as you can, being sure your hands stay a shoulder-width apart. Inhale as you come back to face front, then exhale, repeat the twist to the left and inhale as you come back to front. Try the same movement with arms stretched out at shoulder height, then angled down slightly.
Abdomen. Sit down with your legs straight out in front of you and your hands resting on the floor slightly behind your hips, keeping elbow straight. Breathe in, then exhale as you hinge at the waist and raise your legs so your body forms a "V". At the same time, raise your hands and extend your fingertips to your toes. Hold for one second at the peak of the motion, take a short inhale, then exhale as you return to starting position.
Legs. Sit down with your legs straight out in front and your palms on the floor at the hip joint. Inhale, then exhale as you bend from the waist--keeping chest out--and grab your feet and pull them back toward you. Breathe in as you return to upright position. Try this with feet pointed, then flexed.