Have you ever had a friend say to you (with frustration), “I eat well, I exercise, I get good sleep, but I still don’t feel well?” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. These are all important pieces of the wellness puzzle and they are all great. Sometimes you stumble about the perfect combination and any dis-ease you are feeling disappears. Some of us have to uncover those missing pieces. Those hidden, internal stressors that may create symptoms or even sabotage our other efforts. Breath is one of these things. We all know that we need air to live, but most of us leave it at that. Breath is like food, however…the source and the quality mean everything!
Ever had a knot in your shoulder blade that you just couldn’t work out? Of course you have! How about the little twinges of pain in the posterior that many of us refer to as sciatica. You ask a loved one to work on it for you and he complains that his thumb hurts after a few minutes, but it’s still there. You lean up against the door jam and try to work it out…but nothing! Maybe you even stretch…good for you! But no luck. It’s 8:00 at night and you can’t possibly see how you are going to fit a massage or chiropractic appointment into your schedule the next day, what with Jimmy’s soccer game and Jenny’s ballet class and that project due at work…UGH! What to do? What to do? Well, definitely make that appointment with your therapist of choice but in the mean time here are a few tricks of the trade to hold you over!
Tennis balls can be one of your best friends when you have a pesky knot that just wont budge. Simply take two tennis balls and put them into a long sock or nylon stocking and tie off the end. Lie down on the floor and strategically place the balls where you feel the muscle adhesion and roll yourself around on them. Yes, you will look completely ridiculous, but you will feel so much better! You can also sit on the balls in a chair to help relieve tight glutes and hips, which may contribute to sciatica. Keep a set in the car if you drive a lot and use them on long trips to keep your hips and shoulders happy.
If you are feeling particularly masochistic you could use lacrosse balls in place of tennis balls as described above. Two lacrosse balls taped together with duct tape is a great way to work those sore muscles on either side of your spine and works great on the shoulders too!
Those spiny little guys that fluff your laundry can also provide deep muscle release and increased blood flow to affected areas of the body and thereby promote healing. Rolling one along the sole of your foot is a wonderful treatment for plantar fasciitis. Squeezing one in your palms releases and energizes tired computer hands and fingers.
If you are not into DIY here are some products you can purchase.
No matter who you are or what you do, the chances are pretty good that you’ve experienced low back pain at some point. Most people that I meet, both as a massage therapist and as a yoga teacher, list it as their chief complaint. Yoga and massage are great, and can definitely help ease the discomfort that comes from long hours sitting at a desk or carrying toddlers around the house, but more often than not a few days (or hours) after a treatment or adjustment we’re right back where we started. This is where a little preventative maintenance can come in handy. This simple exercise will help to relieve some of that low back congestion by literally creating space in the spine. Just a few minutes each day and you’ll feel two inches taller!
You will need a yoga strap for this one. They can be purchased almost anywhere these days for around $10 and it’s a great investment. Look for one that is at least 10′ long. Fasten the strap and hook it securely over a door knob or railing. Make sure that it is fixed and can support your weight. If you have a yoga mat you can lay it out so that it is parallel to the yoga strap.
Now step into the yoga strap and lower it down to your hips. Bend your knees as much as you need to, so that you can touch the ground.
Slowly being to walk your hands and feet away from each other. You should feel the strap at your hip crease and you will begin to feel some traction of the spine.
Eventually you will come fully into a Downward-Facing Dog Pose
. There should be very little weight in the hands and you should feel a great stretch in the low back and shoulders. Hold this pose for two or three minutes and breath deeply throughout.
Carefully step your hands and feet back together and roll up one vertebrae at a time. If you feel lightheaded at any time, continue to hang over like a rag doll until it passes and then begin to roll up again. Step out of the strap and enjoy the space.
NOTE: If you have chronic low back pain or any disc issues, please consult with your health care provider before trying this exercise.
As a massage therapist and yoga teacher I’ve worked with 100’s of clients and students, but I can count the major complaints on two hands: tight hips, tight shoulders, neck pain, low back pain, heel pain, headaches, anxiety, depression…you get the idea. Good nutrition is always helpful and can certainly improve mood and reduce inflammation, but sometimes we need to call in the big guns!
So in place of Movie Night, I’ve decided to change the Friday format to include some of my other areas of interest and expertise: fitness/yoga, stress management and self-care/massage. Don’t worry, when I come across some more good YouTube videos I’ll be sure to share!
Most of us spend the majority of the day working in front of ourselves. Whether we are typing, reading, driving or holding children, the arms are forward and the muscles of the chest are shortened & tightened while muscles of the back are stretched & weakened. You may have noticed in the mirror or in a picture that your shoulders roll forward slightly and depending on your age and job you might even have developed some rounding of the thoracic spine as well. This condition, called postural kyphosis, used to be reserved for the elderly, but I’ve seen it in teenagers recently! Not only is it pretty unattractive, it is one of the primary causes of back pain, neck pain, migraines and weak hips. Tight muscles also go hand in hand with anxiety. It seems to be a chicken and egg scenario with some saying that anxiety causes muscle tightness and others saying that muscles tightness causes anxiety. I’m not sure it matters which came first, but I am absolutely sure that relaxing your muscles (especially the pectoral muscles of the chest) can improve anxiety.
If I could give one yoga Rx to everyone I know it would be this simple stretch. Find 10 – 15 minutes each day and set up in a quiet, low lit area of your home or office. Roll up a dense towel or blanket and lie down so that the roll goes right across your shoulder blades. The tops of your shoulders should drop off of the roll and stretch down toward the floor. Put your arms out like the letter T with palms facing up. If your neck feels unsupported add a pillow under your head or a smaller towel roll under your neck. Depending on your level of flexibility you may have to make the shoulder roll thicker or thinner, softer or harder. You should feel a stretch across your chest but it shouldn’t be so deep that you can’t comfortably lie here and breathe for 10 – 15 minutes.
Most of us work hard and play harder and beat ourselves up pretty good along the way So it’s important to take some time each day to unwind and undo some of the damage that comes with life and age. Even if you’ve already begun to notice the effects of poor posture and repetitive stress it’s not too late to make a difference. With the proper stretching and strengthening you can make some major changes in both your posture and your daily comfort level. That being said, please see a licensed health professional if you are experiencing daily pain or frequent anxiety…. and even if you’re feeling pretty good a little preventative maintenance can go a long way!