5 Stretches for Stress Relief from a Physical Therapy Alumna

A former student in the School of Education & Health shares wellness advice and reveals which Manhattan College experience inspired her physical therapy career.

Uchenna Onyia (née Nwafili) 08 DPT, COMT, CERT DN, is a licensed physical therapist and owner of Optimum Physical Therapy, a rehabilitation service provider in Kennesaw, GA. Before receiving her doctorate degree in physical therapy from Old Dominion University, Onyia was an allied health major at the College. There, she also played on the women’s basketball team, which became foundational to her career. 

I tore a ligament in my knee while playing basketball, which exposed me to the world of physical therapy,” Onyia remembers. 

The injury and experience afterward led her to switch her studies from biology to allied health, and the rest is history.

Below, Onyia offers five stretches to reduce stress and anxiety, which have affected many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, these movements relieve neck and back pain in the body.

  • Upper Trap Stretch:

    Uchenna Onyia demonstrating the upper Trap Stretch

    Gently bend your head toward one shoulder. Place the hand on the same side on top of your head, and gently pull your head in the same direction to intensify the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and perform three repetitions on each side.

  • Prone Press Up:

    Uchenna Onyia demonstrating the prone press up pose

    Lay on your stomach and place both hands underneath your chest. Gently press up while keeping your hips on the floor. While arching the back, take a deep breath and allow hips to sink further down. Hold this posture for 10 seconds, then drop down to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions total.

  • Downward Dog:

    Uchenna Onyia demonstrating downward dog pose

    Keep both feet pointing toward your hands and sink heels into the floor, while keeping the legs as stretched as possible. 

    Relax the head and neck and elongate the spine by sinking the chest downward toward the mat or floor beneath you. Hold for 10 seconds, remembering to breathe throughout. Perform 10 repetitions total.

  • Cat/Cow Stretch:

    Uchenna Onyia demonstrating the cat/cow stretch

    Start with your hands and knees on the mat or floor, in a tabletop position. Gently press your belly down toward the floor and hold for five seconds, then draw the spine up toward the ceiling to stretch in the opposite direction. Hold for five seconds. Perform 20 repetitions of this sequence.

  • Child’s Pose:

    Uchenna Onyia demonstrating child's pose

    While on your hands and knees (in cat/cow stretch above), gently rock your bottom down toward the heels and sink the chest down toward the ground. Hold the stretch in your back and shoulders for 10 seconds. Perform 10 repetitions total.

By Christine Loughran