Saturday, December 29, 2007
Trigger points are tight bands or knots in a muscle that get activated and create a specific pain pattern. The pain may be distant to the originating muscle, and then can cause a trigger point in that muscle with a cascade effect of soreness. Many things can activate or perpetuate the points, including poor body mechanics, overuse, and cold. Here’s a great website with self-care information, http://www.pressurepositive.com/infocenter/myofascial-trigger-points.asp.
Once activated, a trigger point can trigger a chain of pain, so you’re better off to prevent them in the first place. Tip #1 is to stay warm. You might think that going from the house to car doesn’t require bundling up; after all it’s only a couple of minutes until the car heater kicks in. However, that’s enough time to cause a cranky muscle that will be easily activated by some other activity. The answer? A scarf wound around your neck.
When you get to the office or back home, keep the scarf on until the room warms up. As the temperature fluctuates in my office, I’ve been putting my lovely, red scarf on and off. And during winter storms, when the electricity goes out, remember to keep your neck covered. We often get under blankets that leave the neck unprotected. Sleeping in a turtleneck may be the answer.
Trigger points also get activated in the hips. If you are susceptible to hip pain, wear a jacket that covers your derriere when you go in the cold. You might assume that going for a walk will warm these muscles, but like the trip from house to car, it can take many minutes for the blood flow to reach all parts of the gluteus maximus (which doesn’t really get worked too much when walking on level ground anyway).
Even though we live in the temperate Pacific Northwest, we still need heavy jackets, hats, gloves, and scarves to keep our muscles healthy. Plan your winter wardrobe accordingly to stay warm and keep the trigger points at bay.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
A little research reveals that good slumber has many health benefits. An article from Shape Magazine notes several health problems, including increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and immune system weakness that correspond to lack of sleep. http://women.webmd.com/features/your-new-1-stay-healthy-mission-get-more-sleep
The Washington Post reports that lack of sleep is linked to poor health outcomes in several studies, including increased risk of obesity and cancer. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/08/AR2005100801405.html . One study showed that poor sleep adds to inflammation in the body, which means that a full night’s rest is particularly important when you are healing.
With all the extra germs that seem to surface this time of the year, it helps to pay extra attention to your immune system. This article from WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-prevention-top-ways-to-avoid/flu-hygiene-healthy-habits, gives four tips to boost your immune system.
1) Eat vegetables
2) Exercise regularly
3) Get plenty of sleep
4) Reduce stress
Healing of any type requires the body’s resources. When you’re awake, these resources are applied to activity. When you’re asleep, your immune system can devote itself to the healing without interruption.
Make yourself as comfortable as possible with the support of pillows, warmth, and whatever else you need so your rest can be complete. Snuggle up and get a few extra winks, for good health.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
You probably think that I'll recommend glucosamine. My experience is that it reduces symptoms about 50% of the time. It helped speed my recovery from whiplash after an auto accident, but isn’t for everyone. If you decide to try it, you want to get good quality supplements that don’t include fillers. This website gives good information about glucosamine: http://www.glucosamine-arthritis.org/glucosamine/glucosamine-side-effects.html.
What I do recommend is smooth movement. Let me explain why. Arthritis occurs when cartilage, the protective covering on the ends of bones, is damaged. Its major function is to absorb and release synovial fluid, which cushions the impact so bones don’t bear the brunt of movement. Cartilage doesn’t receive direct blood flow, so it depends on movement to circulate fluids. As a matter of fact, cartilage will atrophy and degenerate unless it’s used regularly.
There are many joints in the body to nourish, over 100 in the spine and more than 20 in each hand. This website from the Colorado Springs Orthopaedic Group, includes fabulous pictures that illustrates arthritis in the hand: http://www.handuniversity.com/topics.asp?Topic_ID=13,
Typical exercise doesn’t address the needs of joints and many times makes things worse. Excessive loading of the joints (for example, pounding on a treadmill) damages cartilage and that can lead to osteoarthritis. Also, most exercise focuses on arms and legs and doesn’t address the spine or hands.
The Arthritis Foundation has created several programs designed specifically to increase mobility without undue strain. The Aquatics Program includes gentle exercises in warm water that are designed to increase flexibility and strength. Tai Chi from the Arthritis Foundationâ includes 12 movements, six basic and six advanced, which improve agility and relaxation. For more information, visit www.arthritis.org. The aquatics program is available at the Julius Boehm pool is Issaquah, http://www.ci.issaquah.wa.us/page.asp?navid=215.
Another option is therapeutic yoga, which gently brings movement to the body in a low-pressure, high-awareness environment. You can search for a therapeutic yoga instructor near you at The International Association of Yoga Therapists, www.iayt.org. In Issaquah, the Yoga Barn, www.yogabarn.com, has several classes.
Undulation can be used as a specific exercise, especially for those whose activity is limited by pain, or incorporated into every day activities, which is good for everyone. Undulations are small and mild and focus on one simple movement at a time. Believe it or not, you can lubricate your spine simply by swaying back in forth as you sit—as long as you move within your pain-free range. Octopus is an undulation that soothes the joints in the hands. You can learn more about Undulations at www.undulationexercise.com.
If you have specific questions about arthritis, The Arthritis Foundation has many resources, including a Local Helpful (available in the Pacific Northwest) at 800-542-0295, discussion boards available online at www.arthritis.org, or the Active Adult Network, which plans outings for people with arthritis to connect and stay mobile.
A bit of proactive exercise now will make it easier for you to move in the future. Just remember, gentle is better than harsh.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
This women’s-only day spa is one of the best bargains in self-care. For $30 in Tacoma or $35 in the newer Lynnwood location, you can stay all day and take advantage of the steam and dry saunas, whirlpools, mugwort well, and heated energy rooms. It’s lovely to go from bath to sauna to room, letting my body choose the desired temperature. And, because it’s so warm, the spa is particularly appealing to my chilly bones in the winter.
A Koren-style scrub is the signature service at the Olympus Spa, which costs an additional $60 and leaves your skin fresh and smooth. I had the pleasure of going last week with a dear friend. With my skin able to fully breathe and toxins sweat out my pores, I felt lighter and younger.
Having a day to chat and just be with someone you like is also restorative. Friendship is a special gift that feeds the spirit, too.
My friend told me about a spa in Seattle, the Banya, www.banya5.com. It’s different in that men and women are allowed, so swimsuits instead of birthday suits are the attire. The scrub uses salt and honey. I haven’t been there . . . yet, but will report when I do.
Your preferred regeneration strategy may be to take a walk in the woods or curl up with your cat. Whatever fuels your body and spirit, I encourage you to partake more of it this time of the year when the sun spends more time below the horizon.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I can attribute my suppleness to a new combination of activity, and the fact that yesterday I previewed the first draft of my unduation audiobook, Undulation Exercises. Happening upon the right combination of exercise, just the right things and not too much and not too little, is a happy time.
I started a new yoga class at The Yoga Barn (http://www.yogabarn.com/) four weeks ago. An instructor who develops a well-balanced, complete practice does wonders for the body, mind, and spirit. The Yoga Barn has exceptional instructors. Because of my crazy schedule, I had classes from Lulu, Catherine, and Taran. Each instructor created a practice for that day—nothing off the shelf at The Yoga Barn—and I left each class feeling very refreshed. Variety keeps the “routine” from getting stale. With yoga classes, I’ve been injecting my being with freshness instead.
After a two-month break from belly dancing, due to working on the haunted house and studio time for my audiobook, I’ve returned to weekly classes with Aleili (http://www.aleili.com/). Not only is it lovely to spend two hours a week with ladies having fun, but I’m also revitalizing the muscles in my usually tight hips and challenging my brain by learning to count music. (I swear this is fending off Alzheimers. Counting a 6/8 rhythm makes my brain work.)
I’ve also started traditional Pilates on the Reformer and Cadillac with Carmela Ramaglia (http://www.powerwithinpilates.com/) and Kristy Guadalupe. This fun exercise is challenging, because it’s asking my body to work outside its normal pattern as I learn to use my core more effectively. During the workout, it feels like I might be sore afterwards, but I’m not. Kristy says this is because I’m lengthening the muscles while I’m working them. In addition, Pilates is helping my find some muscles that will help with my belly dance “freeze,” which has been impossible for me so far. That’s good synergy.
I’m enjoying all three activities, individually and in combination. They add variety, which is the key to a youthful body and antidote to stiffness. However, I’ve been doing them for the past three weeks. Why do I feel so good today? I can’t help but credit undulation.
Yesterday, I reviewed disc two of Undulation Exercises. I was listening to how the music and words flowed, and the spacing of everything. Of course, I couldn’t help but do the exercises as I listened. They are so fun! I only had time for ten undulations, but those exercises worked out many kinks in my spine.
No wonder I’m so excited about my undulation books, written and audio. No one is more excited to have the audio version than me! If you want to view some undulations, go to www.undulationexercise.com/undulation-view-undulations.htm.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Adults have a tendency to lose muscle mass and replace it with fat. Yikes!!! The loss of muscle mass starts as early as the fourth decade of life and in the fifth decade, adults can lose 1-2% of muscle a year, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Physicians Assistants. http://jaapa.com/issues/j20061001/articles/sarcopenia1006.html There’s even a medical term for this sad state of affairs—sarcopenia—which has repercussions more serious than an extra wiggle in the walk.
Some people develop low back or hip pain out of the blue. With a sudden onset, you’d expect the cause to be a particualr injury. Instead, they simply lost muscle mass and gained weight to the point where the hip stabilizing muscles weren’t strong enough for certain normal activities like walking up or down stairs. The muscle(s) became strained, which exacerbated injury and weakness and created a downward cycle of pain.
There’s actually a simple solution: exercise more to build (or just maintain) muscles and stay limber. An hour of exercise at age 30, now equals an hour and half for me at age 43. That means I’ll need to plan more time for exercise into my life as I get older. I try to get 5 hours every week with a variety of strength-building, cardio, and flexibility.
The Canadian Women’s Health Network website, www.wowhealth.ca, has practical advice. Here’s an excerpt from their site:
“One who does not exercise regularly:
§ gradually depletes her physiological reserves in some or all systems (loss of muscle and bone mass, loss of flexibility, loss of connective tissues);
§ lets fat take over muscle = sarcopenia, which reduces the strength/weight ratio. Strength and velocity are needed for good posture and to help prevent falls (they help maintain balance).
There’s no need to join a gym. Using weights at home (wrist or hand weights, soup cans…) allows a variety of positions and gradually increases the levels of difficulty. Sitting down, standing up, standing on one leg, holding on to a chair with both hands, then with one, then with a finger, then with eyes closed…”
Of course, you may think of needing more exercise as a disadvantage, unless you enjoy your activity. Frankly, exercise bores me, so I have to change it up regularly. My current choices are yoga, Pilates, and bellydancing. My motivation is so bad that I’m paying for classes in all three. It’s nice to just show up and let someone else be the director. Without the classes, I know I’d go home and eat chocolate instead.
Before long, the New Year will be here with its usually injection of enthusiasm for activity. In the meantime, I’m fending off sarcopenia the best I can. Feel free to share what motivates you to stay active.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
This good fortune extends to our bodies, even though we tend to notice the wrinkles and aches more than the miraculous, coordinated functioning of multiple systems. Here’s a little meditation I try to incorporate into my life once a week. I try to connect with each part of my body as I offer it gratitude.
Breathe in. Thank-you, lungs for processing oxygen every minute, every day. I couldn’t live without you. And, heart, you beat consistently giving blood and oxygen to every cell. Arteries and veins, the highways of the body, you connect every cell to my life force. Kidneys, you purify my blood. Blood, colorful cells and plasma, giving and receiving continuously. Thank-you.
Organs. The liver, you keep me safe from toxins in a complicated process beyond my understanding. Pancreas and spleen, I don’t even know what you do, but I know it’s important and am thankful nonetheless. Stomach, intestines, gall bladder, I thank you for helping me digest nutrition from the world and eliminate what I don’t need. Skin, you protect me from the elements, keep me safe inside.
My glands: pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid, adrenal. You are beyond my comprehension, regulating systems without requiring my knowledge. My reproductive organs have given me my precious boys and remind me of my gender and need to slow down once a month.
My brain, a coordinator and multi-tasker. The spinal cord and nerves that run the relay to take in and disperse information. Thank-you.
Bones, strong bones, that keep me standing. I’m glad I’m not an amoeba. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue that give me the ability to move and do.
I’m in awe of everything that makes me ME. How effortlessly all the parts work in harmony to create life. I’ll try not to take you for granted, to give you what you need, and show my appreciation.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Some of Dr. Vine’s assignments involve recalling pleasant memories. Not only does this access neural pathways, it sparks contentment, which is a major factor in well-being. So here’s one of my favorite stories—just for the fun of telling it. Feel free to respond with one of your fond memories by using the comments button. We can all use some heart-warming tales.
My boys were about five the last time the Mariners made a real play off run (1995?). The night the Ms lost the final game, I was teaching a class. When I came home, the boys were still awake, agitated by the events and wanting to kiss me goodnight.
“Mama, did you know that the Mariners lost?
“Yes; I heard it on the radio. Isn’t it sad?”
“Oh yes! Very sad. Even one of the Mariners was crying!” This surprised my very young men.
“Who?” I asked, incredulous.
“The bald one.”
I couldn’t believe it! “Jay Buhner was crying?!?!?!”
“No, M-o-o-o-o-m,” said with the tone of voice that conveyed I, who had been intelligent just a moment before, could be so dumb. “Not the peach-colored guy. The one with light brown skin.”
Five years old and skin was still peach, beige, light brown, and darker brown, the colors of crayons, I suppose.
People get tired of politically correct. I don’t. I wish we could all keep the open mindedness of a five-year-old, where everything hasn’t been divided into black and white yet.
P.S. Aren’t my kids cute?
P.P.S. Joey Cora was crying.
P.P.S. Please share one of your good stories.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
These are all examples of the mind-body connection in action, but you can use the connection to ease your stress, not just add to it.
Let’s take the example of being stuck in bad traffic—and late, too—a situation that always winds me up tight. Why does the breath get shallow? In stressful situations, it’s common to tighten the pelvic floor.
Try this experiment. Notice your normal, resting breath. Now tighten your pelvic floor, also called the pelvic diaphragm, by doing a Kegel. (The previous article on breathing exercises, which is just below this one, gave some good examples of how to tighten your pelvic floor.) Keep it tight and notice how each breath gets smaller. That’s because your lower diaphragm and the diaphragm that powers your lungs are functionally linked.
You can give yourself some relief by relaxing your pelvic floor when stress strikes. For me, the easiest way to do that is to use the breathing exercise noted in my previous article, where I contract the lower diaphragm to start each exhale and then let each inhale soften my belly and pelvic floor.
Emotions don’t just affect the mind. Each feeling creates a pattern in the body. Try this exercise. Think of something mildly disappointing, perhaps when a friend couldn’t meet you for lunch. Re-live the experience in your mind and let yourself feel like you did.
Notice that your body changes. Your face, throat, chest, abdomen, and limbs all respond to your feelings. Notice what happens.
Now—without changing your breathing or moving at all—try to think yourself out of disappointment. You’ll notice that you really can’t change your emotional state without also allowing your body to move out of its associated pattern. So, get up and move around to release the disappointment and move into a neutral or, better yet, a happy state.
If you stay still after unpleasant experiences, those feelings can get stuck in the body. When those experiences are repeated without counterbalancing movement, the effect on the body is dramatic. Going to the gym or yoga class after work is effective, because you shake off the emotional baggage you accumulated during the day.
Think encouraging thoughts—that certainly has been shown to improve health—but also use movement to achieve a positive mind-body connection.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Inhale is energizing part of breath, so if you are feeling sluggish, draw in a bit more breath.
Conversely, the exhale promotes relaxation. When you're feeling stressed emphasize your out breath. Be careful not to extend the exhale too long as that can prompt anxiety, particularly if you are high strung like me.
The breath can create a wave inside the body that massages muscles from the inside out, and that's very effective. Without exaggerating, take a slightly bigger inhale and see if you can get all of your ribs to participate. First put your hands under your armpits. Can you feel the ribs move into your hands? Now feel your upper back and get your breath to move there. Take some time to work the breath between your shoulder blades and ribs, where most of us feel a lot of tension.
See if you can direct the wave to all parts of your chest, front, back, sides, top, and bottom. Then relax to let the wave travel further. Can you feel a subtle sensation inch into your pelvis and down your legs, or even down your arms and up your neck?
Here’s another valuable breathing lesson. As you inhale, let the breath gently fill your chest first then move down to soften your belly. Start each exhale with a slight contraction of your pelvic floor. (This is like a Kegel exercise. http://www.rnceus.com/ui/ukegel.html) Then continue the slight contraction from your pubic bone to the navel as you exhale. With the next inhale, let your belly soften again. Continue the cycle of small contraction from the bottom up on exhale and expanding and softening from the top down on inhale.
Just five minutes a day of conscious breathing exercises will improve the baseline for your wellbeing. Here are other exercises you can try:
This site has more information about the breath process and 10 exercises:
Sunday, November 11, 2007
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported September 12, 2007 that life expectancy rates in the US have reached an all-time high. According to the CDC, Americans are now living longer than ever, with those born in 2005 expected to live for nearly 78 years.
However, as Jonathan Swift observed 300 years ago, "every one desires to live long, but no one would be old." How is that possible? How do you live longer and not 'grow old'? The answer is to take control and age pro-actively. Mental fitness, coupled with a healthy lifestyle, gives you the power to shape the way you age and enjoy your retirement living.
Just as you exercise to strengthen your body's muscles to keep physically fit, you should exercise the muscles of your mind to stay mentally fit. Try this now. Look around you, and see how many red objects small enough to fit in your pocket and blue objects that are too large you can find in two minutes. There, you just strengthened your powers of observation, an important mental muscle.
Here's another fun, effective way to increase circulation to your brain. Name as many objects as you can for each of your initials, or for family members' initials, or for U.S. presidents' initials in two minutes. Next time, name countries. Do simple exercises like these whenever you have a few free minutes – waiting on a line, for the game to start or the light to change….
Your brain's job is to mind your body; your job, mind your brain. Evidence is growing that physical and mental fitness can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. That's worth a few minutes of your time.
You can age the way you want to if you put your mind to it.
Dr. Harriet Vines is the author of Age Smart – How to Age Well, Stay Fit and Be Happy, available at book stores, online and at http://www.agesmart.us/.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
“It’s good for you,” they say. “You don’t want to be rigid, which can cause you to break, collapse under pressure, or get injured.”
It is better to be flexible than stiff, but stretching comes with its own set of dangers. I’ve seen plenty of people hurt by stretching incorrectly, or too much, or at the expense of other activity.
Many people are flexible to the breaking point, stretched too thin. Even though we were all taught to “go for the burn” and “to stretch until you can’t stretch any more,” all health professionals now agree that pushing that hard creates injury. You want to feel a slight pull and, with just the right amount of tension, you will feel the muscle relax. Here’s a great article: http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/flexibility/a/aa022102a.htm.
By the way, I think the best book on this subject is Bob Anderson’s Stretching (http://www.amazon.com/Stretching-Bob-Anderson/dp/0936070013). I also learned a lot about stretching from Sharon Butler’s Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, (http://www.amazon.com/Conquering-Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-Repetitive/dp/1572240393).
Remember, at some point a pulled rubber band will break. You don’t want that to happen to your muscles or tendons, becuase not only will it hurt, but the tear will be repaired with inflexible scar tissue.
When flexibility is put first in fitness priority, it can be counterproductive. The old adage of stretching as warm up isn’t as effective as stretching after the tissues are warmed up. Not only is the possibility of a muscle pull lower, putting tension on the muscles after activity helps the muscle and connective fibers line up so the next time you exercise, you’ll be ready sooner and have less chance of a connective tissue micro-tear.
Strength and flexibility go hand and hand. Tissues need to be strong to lengthen and in order to add strength, they need to be elastic. I’ve always had difficulty stretching my hamstrings and deep hip flexors. I started making progress with my hamstrings when my quadriceps (the opposing mucles) became stronger, and realized that my deep hip flexors, that’s the psoas and iliacus, couldn’t stretch until the opposing deep hip extensors were strong enough to put my pelvis in the correct position.
While warming up with aerobics, lifting weights, and then stretching is a well-rounded workout, it’s also possible to include activities where all three components of fitness are combined. Martial arts, dancing, volleyball, yoga, Nia, and undulation all come to mind.
It’s good to be adaptable, equally strong and flexible; to be able to bend when necessary—and, at other times, stand firm so others have the chance to be flexible, too.
Friday, November 2, 2007
(Aside: that’s because I exercised heavily at the Nightmare at Beaver Lake http://www.nightmareatbeaverlake.com/ where I acted 7 nights to scare 10,686 people. It was a great show sponsored by the Rotary Club of Sammamish, http://www.sammamishrotary.org/! All net proceeds will go toward humanitarian projects in Sammamish and worldwide.)
Two weeks ago, I had a private yoga lesson with Robin Rothenberg of The Yoga Barn (http://www.yogabarn.com/). In addition to a great set of poses that she developed just for me, she reminded me that the beginning of a good practice starts with checking in. How do I feel: physically, energetically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
It’s clear that acting had taken its toll. Energetically I was drained. Mentally I was wired. Physically I felt good in places and was exhausted in others. As I sat and observed my state, I let my body undulate to soothe my sore spots, awaken my sleepy spots, and relax my agitated spots, which brought me even greater awareness.
I had been working in less than ideal circumstances—as had the other hundred volunteers who put on the haunted “house.” We do this a lot in life: run ourselves to the brink for a good cause. Now it’s time to regenerate.
Even though I felt I “should” do the practice that Robin created for me, I took the poses that warmed me up and added some restorative ones as well. (Check out these links on restorative poses: www.wikihealth.com/Restorative_yoga_poses and http://yoga.about.com/od/yogaphotogalleries/ig/Restorative-Poses-Gallery/)
Afterwards, I felt more even physically, mentally and energetically. I also felt more centered emotionally and spiritually. I made a commitment to myself to check in often and put myself in more ideal circumstances before the runaway holiday free-for-all that will start in a few weeks.
Stay tuned for a future article about my favorite place to rejuvenate, the Olympus Spa (http://www.olympusspa.com/). I hope I can get there before Thanksgiving.
Monday, October 29, 2007
To have the best health possible, you need to be proactive in seeking health information. What food will provide optimum nutrition? Do you need to take supplements? Will certain therapies be beneficial to you?
If you’re in Seattle, you have a wonderful opportunity to learn about natural health at the Alive! Expo (http://www.aliveexpo.com/) at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on Saturday, November 3rd and Sunday, November 4th. Hundreds of natural health companies will be represented including Aubrey Organics, North American Herb and Spice, and Super Supplements.
In addition, there will be cooking demonstrations and samples of everything from smoothies to natural health care products. And, both days will include speakers on topics from Detoxing your Home to What Sugar Cravings Mean. I’ll be speaking on the Main Stage on Sunday the 4th from 5:00 to 6:00 pm about a natural treatment for back pain and arthritis—Undulation.
I have about a dozen free tickets to this event, and you don’t have to come to hear me speak to use one. After all, I bet you know a lot about undulation already. Let me know right away if you’d like a free ticket and I’ll arrange to get it to you.
Your underlying health determines how well you can heal from a wild, flying drill—or whatever other unexpected injury or illness comes your way. Take some time to prepare yourself with good information.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Believe it or not, screaming has advantages for your neck and jaw muscles. So while you’re thinking of how to experience Halloween this year, consider going to a haunted house. I’m a member of the Rotary Club of Sammamish (www.sammamishrotary.org) and this is the fourth year we’ve presented the Nightmare at Beaver Lake (www.nightmareatbeaverlake.com), which opens tomorrow, October 25.
I’ll be acting at this event, which will give me plenty of exercise in new and unusual patterns. Perhaps I can make you scream—or run—giving you the chance to move in different ways. (See if you can recognize me in the 2006 Nightmare photos, www.nightmareatbeaverlake.com/photo_gallery/2006_Gallery/index.htm.)
Whether you like to scare or be scared, I encourage you to have fun this Halloween. Fun is certainly a component in creating vitality in your body.
Friday, October 19, 2007
A new combination of muscles was suddenly overloaded. The checkers had developed the strength for holding an item with the left hand and punching numbers into a machine with the right. Then, without gradual introduction, they were required to use a different movement—8 hours a day—of rotating the right forearm and using a different angle of movement in the torsos. The tendons that connect the forearm to the hand swelled in the wrist creating what is now a commonly known condition, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).
As our work has become more specialized, it’s also lost the variety that better supported well-rounded strength and flexibility. Of course, certain occupations have inherent challenges. As a bodyworker, I spend hours a day with my arms in front of my body, making me susceptible to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), a condition that cuts off the blood and nerve supply to the arms.
The increased use of computers—and video games—increases the incidence of many types of repetitive strain injuries. This is more a matter of compromising the body over time. This article from WebMD gives excellent insight: http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20030711/awareness-cuts-repetitive-strain-injury.
I counteract this tendency with strengthening and stretching programs that are designed to restore balance, not just to my arms and shoulders, but to the entire posture that contributes to the shortening in front. I use small weights for my rotator cuff, yoga postures, and a specialized stretching program developed by Sharon Butler: http://www.selfcare4rsi.com/. I do these stretches every morning.
Sharon has created dozens of customized programs, for different injuries like CTS, TOS, golfer’s and tennis elbow, and also by occupation, such as dental hygienists, chemists, accountants, even pastry chefs!
They are so effective, because they restore the tissues gradually over a 6 week period, with stretches that progress as the muscles are able to accommodate increased range. That’s vitally important with injuries, because other ways of working often create more damage. The programs also give invaluable information on how to stretch in general and how to care for your connective tissue.
Fortunately, we have many resources for repetitive strain, including programs you can load on the computer to remind you to stretch, like http://www.prevent-rsi.com/, and knowledgeable physical therapists. We’re now used to the scanners at the grocery store—and many other types of technology—and are learning how to cope with our specialized world.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Here’s how you can get a copy:
1) Amazon has the lowest price, just $16.47 plus tax and shipping.
2) Barnes & Noble web carries it, too.
Barnes and Noble stores will carry it soon. You can go into a B&N store and order, but they may ask you to pay up front.
3) Independent bookstores can order it, too. As a matter of fact many of them have already. Relieve Stiffness is carried by all of the major book wholesalers, so it’s easy for bookstores to order.
4) Or you could get it from my distributor, at full price, $24.95 plus tax and shipping.
In any event, I hope you enjoy the book:
learn something new about your body and how to stay healthy and supple,
find a new favorite exercise to start the day (mine is waking spider),
remember to have fun.
I’m happy to sign your book. My first official book signing will be held on Monday, November 12th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at Vino Bella (http://www.vinobella.com/), 99 Front St. N., Issaquah.
Friday, October 12, 2007
The rib cage can be a fluid, flexible support for the lungs and heart. Unfortunately, most bodies personify its function of protection with a rigid, unmoving structure. That restricts breath capacity, which limits a person’s ability to function fully. I teach my clients to let each rib move independently, like piano keys playing the scales, during each inhale and exhale. I also teach people to direct their breath to specific places in the ribs, for example in the armpits, under the collar bones, and in the back, to open any blockages. Your breath is a massage from the inside—the most effective bodywork.
Mary’s analogy of a breath basket, instead of a rib cage, is a tangible image for freeing the chest and still allowing for the role of protection. Let go of the idea of a cage and replace it with a basket.
Secondly, Mary surmised that we hold our breath in an effort to make time stand still. This concept struck me as a truth. It seems that everyone has so much to do! Wouldn’t it help to have a little extra time? The problem is that restricting breath only creates an illusion of extra time, when in fact lack of oxygen reduces every function: physical, mental, and energetic.
Next time you find yourself in a hurry, take a deep breath in your flexible rib basket and notice how this rejuvenates your system and outlook.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Needless to say, my head is swimming with many ideas, and I’ve been inspired for the possibilities of manipulating connective tissue to improve the body’s function and health. I also have a multitude of topics for future blog articles, so stay tuned.
For today, I’ll leave you with a big picture idea. Mechanical stresses on the body affect the function of cells, individually and collectively. Cells are built to stick to each other—in places, temporarily—to be most effective. Movement facilitates the interchange of chemicals and information.
But too much movement can create injury. (I have much to tell you about ligaments in a later article.) So the best approach is to move frequently, but not too much—in terms of load bearing, repetitive motion, or speed—at any one time. This is what I call “Goldilocks movement,” not too much and not too little.
Give yourself a plan for staying active. Every day. Every hour.
Give yourself permission to stop when it’s too much. Every minute.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
This Wednesday, I’ll be giving an undulation workshop at Cambridge Naturals. The owners, Elizabeth and Michael Stagl, are very friendly, health-oriented, and take on the formidable task of running a community-oriented small business. Check out their website at www.cambridgenaturals.com.
This website is an example of dedication to health. It has an impressive reference library, which includes a list of herbs and their uses, supplements, and even healthy conditions by signs and symptoms, and also conditions by related organs and body systems. If you want to investigate natural treatments, this is a good source.
You can even access health calculators from their site to check out body mass index, target heart rate, and nutritional needs. In addition, you can even take a general health assessment. All this is a wealth of free, beneficial information. But my favorite part of the website is the tab for healthy recipes.
Even if you don’t live in Massachusetts, you can add to your knowledge about health by taking advantage of the information provided by Cambridge Naturals. I can’t wait to see the store and meet Elizabeth and Michael in person. After that, I’m going to the Fascia Research Congress (at Harvard, no less) and then the International Association of Structural Integrators Symposium. I’ll give you an update when I return next week.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I recently read an article by Cyndi Schoenhals, a personal trainer and fitness writer. She outlined the many benefits of staying consistent (healthier habits, more energy, mental alertness) and gave excellent suggestions for how to stick with it. You can read her article at http://www.womensappeal.com/site/1386188/page/917978.
I circumvented the gym and was tempted to miss a day of exercise. After all, doesn’t watching Monday Night Football count for something? No, it doesn’t. I remembered Cyndi’s article, especially the part about having fitness goals, which helped me to remember mine. So I plugged in a new belly dance DVD and before long was breathing heavily (“thank-you,” said my heart) and enjoying myself at the same time.
The world presents us with many demands and choices, so it’s easy to get distracted from healthy behaviors. Consistency is the key to staying in shape, whether that’s staying true to a good diet or regular exercise. However, consistency doesn’t mean everything must be repetitive. After all, we don’t eat the same meal every day. Plus, we can injure ourselves when we engage in the same activity for too long. Variety is needed for the body as well as the spirit.
I’m glad I tried something new, but didn’t forfeit activity.
Next week, I’ll get on the elliptical and after a while will probably even find it pleasant. Afterwards, when I watch the Patriots and Bengals, I’ll feel that I’ve earned it by being staying true to healthy behaviors.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
In summary, my article offers three pieces of advice for exercising:
1) Add warm-up and cool-down periods to each session of exercise. In addition, stretch at the end of a workout, when your muscles are warm. If you stretch when cold, you increase the risk of tearing your connective tissue.
2) Lower the intensity of exercise so you don’t push yourself too far.
3) Pay attention to your body and let your symptoms determine how much you do at a time.
It’s important to exercise regularly, even when you’re not feeling your best. These guidelines can help you whenever you feel less than 100% so you can stay active and avoid injury.
Many people with fibromyalgia go undiagnosed for years, so they live with muscle pain (particularly in multiple trigger points), ongoing fatigue, and sleep problems. However, more doctors are getting educated about this disease, making a quick diagnosis more likely. Also, there are specialty clinics, including the Fibromyalgia & Fatigue Center (www.fibroandfatigue.com), which offers a unique treatment methodology.
If you know someone who has the symptoms of fibromyalgia, let her know that there is help available. The National Fibromyalgia Association (www.fmaware.org) and The Arthritis Foundation (www.arthritis.org) both offer a range of services.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Sept. 26, Wednesday, noon to 1:00 pm Sammamish Family YMCA, (www.seattleymca.org/page.cfm?id=sm) Free! “Fun Exercise to Nurture Your Back” A workshop in support of Active Aging Week sponsored by the International Council on Active Aging (www.icaa.cc/aaw.htm). To register call 425-391-4840.
Oct. 3, Wednesday, 7:00 to 8:00 pm Cambridge Naturals, Free! “Relieve Stress and Ease Back Pain with Undulation” To sign up call 617-492-4452. Whether you live in Cambridge, Massachusetts or not, I encourage you to look at this community health store’s website, http://www.cambridgenaturals.com/. They have a great selection of recipes and health information.
Oct. 7, Sunday, 7:30 to 8:30 am International Association of Structural Integrators Symposium Boston, (www.theiasi.org) Open class for all registrants.
Oct. 15 - Nov. 1, Mondays, 1:00 to 2:00 pm Issaquah Senior Center, “Fountain of Youth with Fun Movement” Just $39 for four classes. Sign up through Bellevue Community College Explore program at (http://at-campus.net/bcc2/ems/course/course.aspx?C=9255&pc=857&mc=1267&sc=)
Oct. 27, Saturday, 10:00 to 11:00 am I’ll be presenting at the Emerald City Writers Conference with New York Times bestselling author Stella Cameron (www.stellacameron.com) at the Bellevue Hilton, “Creating Sensual Scenes with Undulation.” If you’re a writer, this conference offers a variety of good workshops and networking. The cost for the weekend is $249. Sign up at (http://gsrwa.org/emerald_city_con/ECWC_Main.htm)
Nov. 3 or 4 Alive! Expo, Seattle Center. “Relieve Muscle Soreness with Undulation.” This two-day health and wellness fair features local and national natural product companies, alternative practitioners, chiropractors, health food retailers and community non-profit organizations showcasing information about their products and services. Tickets, which give you access to all booths and many speakers, are $10 on line or only $5 at Super Supplement locations. Get more information at http://www.aliveexpo.com/.
Nov. 10, Saturday, 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. If you’re a massage therapist who often works on muscles around the spine, you can benefit from this Continuing Education Workshop at Advanced Training Connections in Kent. “Undulation: A Tool to Improve Bodywork for the Spine.” 8 hours of continuing education credit. Sign up at http://www.advancedtrainingconnections.com/.
Monday, September 17, 2007
The last time my husband, Michael, and I visited a park with playground equipment, he encouraged me to climb on the monkey bars. While I’ve never had much arm strength, I used to be able to “monkey around” for about five minutes. Now I loose my grip after ten seconds. I wouldn’t be able to save myself from falling off of a building or cliff like the heroines in the movies do.
And then there are the things that I can do, but I go out of my way not to. I would rather walk than run and ride than walk. I would rather clean the floor with a mop rather than a scrub brush. I like to skip, but limit how much I do to avoid odd glances.
In the park, Michael and I played on the swings. Now there’s an activity that I love to do, but I don’t swing often. I feel silly, as though swings are only for children. That’s too bad, because swinging is a great activity to build fluidity. It’s easy. It involves the entire body in a coordinated movement. It evokes emotion. All are components of fluid movement.
I remember when I stopped swinging. In the sixth grade, I considered it too childish, just like recess. I thought that women did not play. That was my first step into disowning my body. The second was in adolescence when I became acutely aware of how my body did not measure up to my standards.
After more than 25 years of dis-owning my body, I have spent the last seven years reclaiming it. Hellerwork was the first step for me. It helped me to reconnect and rediscover parts of myself that I had forgotten. I carry on with Hellerwork, yoga, bellydance, and other types of bodywork that peel away the layers that I hide under.
I always wanted to be able to do a handstand from a back bend and to do the splits. I’ve given myself five years to accomplish these goals, hopefully enough time to work into it without injuring myself. I expect to use more of that missing 90% by the time I’m 50 and even more when I’m 60.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The core consists of four muscle groups: 1) the diaphragm, 2) pelvic floor, 3) transverse abdominus, and 4) multifidi. They act like a cylinder to stabilize the low back and abdominal cavity. The diaphragm is the top of the cylinder, the pelvic floor the bottom, and the transverse abdominus and multifidi make the circle part.
Unlike muscles that get worked at the gym, the core is designed to work slowly and for an extended period of time. That’s why many people fail to find or develop their cores when using the exercises like the ones from the Mayo Clinic—and the first 25 Google entries I found.
After much searching, I found an article by Susie Hately-Aldous that describes the incongruity between what people think a core exercise should do and what the core actually is. You can read it at: http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Ultimate-Core-Exercise&id=716075.
I gave up my search before I could find a good core exercise for you from the internet. Here’s one that I teach my clients:
Engage Your Core by Using Your Feet, Part 1
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet comfortably close to your buttocks.
2. Push down through your feet to push yourself “up,” as if you were getting “taller.”
3. Push with your heels only and notice how the line of force travels through your back.
4. Push with the balls of your feet and notice how the line of force travels through your front.
5. Push equally with the balls of your feet and your heels. Notice how much is on the inside and how much is on the outside arches.
6. Push evenly with your heels and balls with 60% weight on the inside arch, 40% outside.
7. Also try experimenting to find the push that travels up through your spine the most.
This is much easier than what most expect from a core exercise. But since so many of us are disconnected from our cores, we have to start by tuning into it.
Feel free to share your favorite core exercise.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
The answer is fun. If something is enjoyable, you will want to do it often. What did you love to do as a kid? Hopscotch? The Hokey-Pokey? Baseball? Imagine the feeling of looking forward to exercise, of wanting to do it more than anything else on your list.
Here’s a fun undulation to try. This is really good for your low back and hips.
§ Get on your hands and knees.
§ Pretend your tailbone is a laser pointer that sends a beam of red light to the floor between your ankles.
§ Draw a cursive letter “a” with your laser pointer. Take your time and smooth out the curves.
§ Coordinate the movement of your spine so it responds to your gyrations.
§ Go through the alphabet from “a” to “z.” (Stop at any time if your back hurts.) Try to initiate most of the movement from your pelvis, rather than your legs, so your hips swivel on your thigh bones and nudge your spine from side to side.
§ Stop when it’s not fun anymore or if your back gets sore.
§ Then lie on your back with your knees bent and give your spine a minute to rest.
If you try it, please post a comment to let others know how it affected your body.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Can the body move without the brain telling it what to do?
Conventional wisdom tells us that our brains control all functions of the body. We lift our finger because a nerve impulse from our brain tells the finger to lift. As a result, it may be difficult for you to believe that your body can initiate its own movements.
I remember when we did the first “let your body move like it wants to” exercise in my Hellerwork training. We lied on the floor and listened to music with the instruction to let our bodies move on their own. I thought that they were nuts, since I knew that my body could only work how my brain told it to.
After 20 minutes of telling my brain to disengage, my left shoulder started to twitch a tiny bit. “That’s interesting,” I thought and continued to tell my brain to let my body do its own thing for a while. My shoulder twitched off and on until the end of the exercise 10 minutes later. When I got up, my shoulder felt wonderful.
I have not been able to duplicate that twitch with conscious movement. My shoulder knew it needed to let go of some tension, but my brain didn’t know how to make that happen. Consider this: your body knows exactly where it’s stuck and what is in its best interests.
The benefits of letting the body direct movement are:
§ Takes pressure off the body to perform, which takes pressure off of injured tissues.
§ Allows the body’s wisdom to heal itself.
§ Adds variety—and therefore youthfulness—to movements.
§ It’s a form of relaxing meditation (after you learn to do it).
Find ways to let your body ask for what it needs. You can try dancing, floating in water, and especially undulation. The slower you go, the more likely you can hear your body’s requests.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
What is fascia and how does it benefit your body?
1. Fascia (also known as connective tissue) is the matrix that maintains the body’s shape.
2. It provides the basis for movement, giving muscles the ability to glide along each other.
3. Serving as a protective barrier, it envelopes each muscle, bone, organ, and blood vessel. (Did you know that varicose veins are caused by weakening of the connective tissue around veins?)
4. Cells, such as macrophages, live in fascia and these cells clean out foreign elements and assist in healing.
5. Fascia is also the conduit for cellular interchange, making it possible for nutrients and wastes to get to the correct destination.
Fascia and connective tissue are the realm of structural integrators such as myself. Manipulating fascia is what makes our work so profoundly effective. Healthy fascia is moist and slippery—like fresh gelatin. Unhealthy fascia is sticky and dense. Here are tips for you to take care of your own fascia:
§ Pay attention to your alignment. This helps in regular activities, like walking and sitting, but it’s even more effective during more strenuous activity. For example, when you stretch your hamstrings, keep your knees and toes straight to stretch the entire muscle group.
§ And when you stretch, don’t go too far. Overstretching creates tears within the tissue that gets repaired with less flexible scar tissue.
§ Stop exercise when you get fatigued so your tissues don’t get clogged with waste products.
§ Stretch after exercising when your muscles are warm and when the effect of lining up connective tissue fibers is more productive.
§ Nutrition and water are also vital to connective tissue health. A good diet with plenty of liquids is vital to all parts of your body.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Good alignment (also known as good posture) is so important to graceful aging, that I’m continuing the advice from my last post. Posture contributes to youthful movement in three ways.
1) Good alignment reduces the wear and tear on joints, tissues, and organs so the body lasts longer.
2) Core muscles are used to maintain good posture. Active core muscles promote suppleness and put feebleness on hold.
3) Good posture looks better! A slump is the signature posture of being beaten by time (and, ironically, teenagers).
An easy way to work on your posture is to practice sitting in alignment. There are many ways to get into “correct” alignment, but here is one of my tried and true methods.
1. Sit with both feet on the floor to support the entire weight of your legs; feet and knees in line with your hips.
2. Put your hands under your behind to find your “sit bones.” (Be careful not to squish your fingers.)
3. Rock back and forth and notice how your sit bones point forward when you lean back on your tail and how they point to the back when you roll your hips forward.
4. Experiment to find the spot where your sit bones point straight down into the Earth.
5. Remove your hands.
6. When your sit bones are straight, your pelvis is level and your spine is aligned without any further effort from you.
7. Gently press your feet into the ground. If your pelvis is level, you will feel a slight lift through your spine.
8. Relax your arms and your neck.
You may feel more effort from the insides of your legs and your lower abdominals to keep this posture. That’s good! But it should also be easier on your shoulders and neck.
If you practice just once every day, your body will develop the strength to stay in alignment for longer and longer—and you will reap the benefits of a more aligned body.
Friday, August 24, 2007
The old rules say that good posture is a matter of placement. The new rules “approach posture as the expression of both mind and body.” Mary guides her readers into good alignment that they can feel.
The book is a collection of stories that we all can relate to, beautiful drawings, and exercises that integrate emotional and physical experience. The exercises are actually explorations into the components of posture: breath, pelvic floor, the core, shoulders, and more. The shoulder exercises are brilliant—a must for anyone with long-term shoulder issues.
We rarely stand still for long, so a posture system that pertains only to sitting or standing has limited application. The New Rules of Posture is about life, working, driving, washing the dishes, so it’s sure to make a difference in how you use your body, and therefore how long you’ll enjoy your mobility.
Monday, August 20, 2007
The rest were still, other than the occasional glance at a watch or mouths moving to chew or talk on the cell phone.
When time came to board the plane, you could see the results of stillness transformed into stiffness as most people hobbled, inched, and slogged to the gate. You could tell who moved while they were waiting, they easily transitioned from one position to the next.
Of course, I was undulating—wiggling as unnoticeably as possible—while making my observations. Undulation is mandatory to survive long distance travel without aches and pains. Try my Unnoticeable Undulation next time you have to sit still for any length of time.
1. Sit with your feet and sit bones well grounded.
2. Press the heel and ball of one foot into the ground. Feel the force travel up your leg, hips, and low back.
3. Carry the minuscule wave up your spine and through your neck.
4. Release the pressure from your foot and control the gradual movement back to neutral.
5. Repeat the press, wave, and release with your other foot.
6. Alternate side-to-side, like a cat kneading its paws. Use 10 second or more for each side. Focus on the continuity through all parts of your back and try to keep the shift at your shoulders to less than half an inch
Please share your tips for coping with long period of sitting, either in a plane, the car, or at a long meeting. Just click the comments link so others can learn from your ideas, too
Thursday, August 16, 2007
“All of the chemicals and materials of normal spinal discs are present even in pathological and aged spinal discs. But spinal discs don't have their own blood supply so there has to be another way to pump the nutritious fluids into discs and then squeeze out wastes. While physical activity can create a pumping force, Vert Mooney, M.D., a world-renown researcher and orthopedic surgeon cites loading and unloading the lumbar discs as the best way to create a pumping force that produces fluid exchange. And that's exactly what the Wobble Chair does. For a strong, healthy, pain-free back at any age, we prescribe performing loading and unloading exercises with the Wobble Chair twice daily."
“A daily regimen of 5-7 minutes full-range-of-motion exercises are absolutely essential for daily metabolic interchange, nutrition intake, and elimination of waste products in order to maintain healthy, well-hydrated spinal discs, ligaments, and tendons. (The Aging Lumbar Spine, Bernini P.M.D. et al. Saunders, 1982)”
You can learn more about the Wobble Chair with the following link. Go to page 9 for the Wobble Chair.
And, click here for an article that compares the Wobble Chair to other chairs and machines that promise the same results: http://undulationexercise.blogspot.com/2008/05/passive-undulation-machines-back2life.html.
Undulations also create a pumping action through the spine, as do other exercises like yoga and dancing. The more of these types of activities that you can build into your life, the healthier your spine will become.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Muscular activity regulates much of the flow of fluids throughout your body. When it contracts, a muscle forces fluid from the surrounding connective tissue. As it relaxes, fresh, available fluid flows back in. A muscle can become dehydrated and dried out like beef jerky if it’s chronically contracted. It may also start grabbing nearby tissue for some temporary additional strength, causing adhesions that can later constrict movement.
Without fresh fluid from regular use, a muscle can become stagnant. A brace-like structure may develop when the connective tissue lays down extra fibers to support the immobility, for example sitting over a keyboard for hours. Asking a muscle to contract with all that extra fortification is like asking a piece of plywood to bend. A “tight” muscle may actually need to be shortened instead of stretched like you may think. For example, in the habitual rolled-forward posture the upper back, neck, and shoulders are elongated, but stretching these tissues actually creates more stiffness, not less.
Obviously, movement is vital to keeping your whole body healthy, but it has to be the right type of movement to avoid injury. I divide injuries into two categories: 1) overstretch and 2) overuse.
If you stretch too far, you can actually create tears within muscle and connective tissue. These tiny lacerations get repaired with scar tissue, which, by nature’s design, is inflexible and stiff. Going for the “burn” is too much and counterproductive.
Stretching is most effective done only to the point of first sensation, which requires an awareness of subtle changes.
Unless you were a prodigy, you probably didn’t learn math all at once. But for some reason, we all want our bodies to do the physical equivalent of calculus right out of the starting gate. It just isn’t possible. And when we try, try again, an injury from overuse is usually the result. A much more effective long-term strategy is to build up your strength gradually and let muscles rest after intense activity.
Another common cause is using one part of the body more than it is designed for, such as bending at one vertebra, rather than spreading the movement over several, or over-rotating the neck, because the torso does not. The tissues around these overworked areas soon become worn out and exhausted. By learning to use your whole body, these types of injuries are preventable.
In summary, we need to move, but it can’t be too much or too little. That’s why I’m a big believer in undulation. It encourages activity with the focus on paying attention to your body’s messages and getting more movement from still places so those inactive tissues become hydrated and healthy.
This article was excerpted from Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again with Undulation (ISBN #978-0-9796179-0-4) Chapter 3: Characteristics of a Youthful Body.
Monday, August 6, 2007
Don’t be discouraged if you are feeling more old than young. You can regain youthful movement by adding variety.
Another difference is that children stop a movement when it becomes uncomfortable. When playing tag, jumping rope, or sitting still isn’t fun anymore, they stop. Unlike adults, a child won’t naturally force herself beyond her limits. It would seem silly to a child to stay on the treadmill for a full hour if her body had enough at 47 minutes. That’s another lesson, pay attention to what’s enough—and stop.
Undulation is an exercise that will help you add variety to your movement and listen to your body. It’s fun and easy and improves the health of your muscles and joints. Try this:
1. Sit in a chair evenly on your sit bones.
2. Move your upper body; sway to the left and the right.
3. Sway for one minute, and notice which parts of your spine move easily and which are stiff.
4. Stop, breathe, and start again. Initiate a new movement from one of the inflexible places, perhaps from your neck, hips, or between your shoulder blades.
5. As you continue, cast your attention inward to the many different places in your spine. Keep your movements soft and easy.
6. Stop about every minute and begin again from a new place. The quality and quantity of movement will vary depending on what part of your body leads.
However you do this exercise, it is correct. The only exception is if you feel pain.
And here’s a variation that will add even more variety.
§ As you sway from side to side, notice the shape of your spine as it curves.
§ First imagine a C-curve with your head and hip on the same side moving toward each other.
§ Move so that the bow or apex of the curve travels up and down your spine. As you do this, the C-curve will temporarily change shape to an S-curve.
§ Let the curve morph from a C-curve to an S-curve and back again over and over.
Even though undulation is simple, it’s super effective at lubricating the joints of your spine so you’ll feel better and create even more movement in your body. You can read more about undulation and get additional exercises in a book I wrote called Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again with Undulation. Learn more at http://www.atlasbooks.com/marktplc/01913.htm. And, you can view five, short undulation videos at www.undulationexercise.com/viewundulationspage.htm.
Just remember to move on to something new when your body is tired of the exercise. Stay active with variety to regain the mobility of your youth.
Friday, August 3, 2007
Staying in shape isn’t as carefree either. Consistent aerobic exercise (ugh!) is required to maintain a healthy weight and prevent heavy breathing after a single flight of stairs. I can’t just stop at aerobic exercise either. I have to stretch and undulate and lift weights and do yoga at least weekly. Of course, my body deserves it. Physically, I’ve been able to do anything I’ve wanted. Well . . . except for being a high school cheerleader. But with all this consistent exercise, I’m in better shape than at any time in my life. I’m sure I could do the cheers and kicks to make the squad now!
While some things take more work, it’s only fair to recognize the many others that come more easily. I used to fret over almost every decision. How will it affect others? What’s the future impact? Is it the best choice? What will other people think? The self-assuredness that comes with age frees me to focus on more important things.
And, that’s worth a little extra time—and work—to take care of myself. So, while I’m griping about exercising, I just do it, because without it I won’t be strong, flexible, and able to do the things in life I want.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
I’ve sure learned some things since my body gave me the “exercise or fall apart” ultimatum seven years ago. It can be a rollercoaster. Strength comes and goes; flexibility comes and goes, even with regular exercise. I can exercise for two weeks straight and, while I certainly feel better than if I didn’t, it’s still possible that the activities won’t be any easier on day 14 than they were on day one.
Then there are the quantum leaps, when I can suddenly stretch farther, lift more, and run faster. It goes to show that the body is not a machine, so I might as well stop expecting it to act like one. It’s healthier to recognize the body as the multidimensional, multifunctional organism that it is: something too complex to respond to simplistic formulas and prescriptions; something that requires constant—and varied—care for optimal health.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Although a frozen shoulder seems to come on suddenly, it’s usually the accumulation of many small injuries and a deprivation of healing. I could trace my initial injury to a day of weed whacking months before. I knew that I was doing too much, but I kept going to accomplish my goal. I remember telling my shoulder, "I know it hurts, but we need to get this done, and you'll recover." It did, but not completely. Then, about a week before my vacation, I strained it again dancing, worked for hours and hours using the computer mouse to finish editing the photographs for my book, and worked a heavier than usual schedule.
I learned how much I depend on my right arm. Even though I write with my left hand, I brush my hair, open doors, especially heavy ones, take things out of cupboards, and do all serious lifting with my right. It's entirely possible that my right shoulder was simply overworked and decided to unequivocally take a break.
I was fortunate to be able to give it true rest. It laid at my side for days and didn't lift anything including itself. My hair wasn't brushed well, because my left arm and hand are still developing the coordination to do so. I didn't lift a single bag on vacation. I didn’t open a door. My husband even dressed and undressed me. (While it may sound pleasant to be waited on hand and foot, my independent nature was often indignant.)
Rest was the first step in my healing process. Not the cheesy kind of rest that scales back 20 or 50%. Complete and total rest for four days. Also, I took ibuprofen twice a day for a week, even though I normally forgo medication, because it isn't “natural.”
I credit the warm, Mexican ocean with melting my rotator cuff. I stood in the water, up to my neck, and let the waves massage and mobilize my shoulder. I realize that most people won’t use the excuse of a sore shoulder to fly off to southern California, Mexico, or Hawaii (although it’s very good therapy), so I’ve researched some of our local, warm-water swimming pools. You can passively mobilize adhesions by walking in chest-deep water with limp arms. Check out these pools:
1) Bellevue Aquatic Center, 601 – 143rd St., Bellevue, 425-452-4444, therapy pool is 91 degrees. www.cityofbellevue.org/pdf/Parks/warm_springs_schedule.pdf
2) St. Edwards Park Pool, 14445 Juanita Dr. NE, Kenmore, 425-823-6983, 84 degrees, discount given with prescription from physician, www.nwcenter.org/Ent-PoolsLocs.asp
3) Sammamish Club, 2115 NW Poplar Way, Issaquah, 425-313-3131, for members only, 83 degrees, www.sammamishclub.com
Rest and the warm, ocean waves were just what my shoulder needed to start healing. I’m not going to stop there. This time I’ll continue with physical therapy and Hellerwork until my range and strength is back to 100%. More importantly, this has given me the opportunity to create better balance in my body. I’m making a sincere effort to use my left arm to open doors and lift heavy objects, while being careful not to create the conditions for it to seize. Awareness and balance are resources that make injuries less frightening.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
A healthy muscle is fluid and pliable like gelatin. Unhealthy muscles are dried out and stiff like beef jerky. So what does it take to get your tissues juicy?
Liquid. When you’re not fully hydrated, your blood will become thick and fluid will seep from your muscles to supply your organs. Also, did you know that 60 to 75 of your cartilage, the tissue that facilitates smooth and pain free joint movement, is made of water? The general rule for “enough water” is two quarts a day. According to Dr. Weil you can also get needed fluids from herbal tea and diluted fruit juice or sports drinks. (www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA57092)
Drinking the water is the first step. Getting it into your tissues is the second, which is done through muscular activity. When a muscle contracts, it forces fluid from the surrounding connective tissue. When it relaxes, fresh fluid flows back in. Moving is the second step to hydrating your tissues.
Nutrients. All cells in your body, including your muscles and nerves, benefit from nutrition. A diet full of vitamins and minerals is essential to staying supple. It’s been found that lack of B Vitamins, especially B-6, play a role in the activation of trigger points. (www.naturalhealers.com/qa/trigger-point.shtml)
Also, muscle cramps can sometimes be caused by deficiencies of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, or iron. Movement is also necessary to nourish your tissues, especially your cartilage and intervertebral discs. They have no direct blood flow and depend on the movement of fluid produced by physical activity for nutrients and removal of waste products.
Moderate Activity. Overworking and overstretching creates injury to your tissues and leaves you with scar tissue, which is stiff and inflexible by nature’s design, or with calcium deposits and crunchy gunk surrounding your muscles. Going for the “burn” is too much and counterproductive. It’s better to exercise a bit each day than to do a marathon of activity once or twice a week. One way to avoid soft-tissue damage is to stay fully conscious of where your body is and what you’re doing with it and then stopping when you’ve done enough. (Sorry to say, that isn’t possible when you are watching TV and running on the treadmill.)
Healthy muscles and joints are created by fluidity, adequate nutrition, and appropriate movement. We are fortunate to have access to all three, so anyone can begin to move more gracefully through life.
(Parts of this article were excerpted from Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again, www.atlasbooks.com/marktplc/01913.htm)
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
I hear women say, “I’m not graceful, I can’t dance,” or “I really don’t have the figure for dancing.” Nonsense! By dancing, we become graceful. Through dance, we shape our figures. What’s more—every woman has charms to share through dance. You’ll find proof at the Mediterranean Fantasy Festival this weekend, July 21 and 22, at Hiawatha Community Center in West Seattle. (http://www.babylonianensemble.com)
This Free festival includes non-stop dancing from (mostly) women who have learned to use dance to improve their physical, mental, and spiritual health. All the dancers are beauties—although you won’t find most pictured in modern magazines. This is the classical beauty of learning to feature your best attributes and focus on the dance rather than some silly, super-imposed idea of what’s attractive—or not.
My belly dance teacher, Aleili http://www.aleili.com/, is performing on Sunday the 22nd at approximately 6:00 pm. Her troupe, The Veils of the Nile, will perform on Saturday the 21st at approximately 6:00 pm. Aleili’s classes will perform (and I’ll participate if my sore shoulder is up to it) on Sunday the 22nd at approximately 5:30 pm. In addition, the festival includes a bazaar of gorgeous clothing and merchandise.
Belly dancing is fun to watch and MedFest makes this art form readily available. But you can improve your fitness with any type of dance. Put on your favorite music and let it move your body and soul. Dancing every day is fitness made easy.
Monday, July 16, 2007
It’s easy to fall into an exercise rut. My gym routine—every Monday—starts on the elliptical, next to weights, then jogging on the treadmill, and finishes with stretches. Tuesday is 20+ minutes of undulation. Wednesday is belly dance class. Thursday and Friday are yoga, and I try to go for a bike ride on the weekend. A routine is comforting, but the body gets limited by repetitive motion. That’s why any routine eventually becomes stale.
So I was delighted when a colleague, Michaela Kapilla, gave me a DVD of her YogaFlow class. (She teaches at Pine Lake Community Center, Providence Point, and for Boeing employees.) Even though I’ve had a regular home yoga practice for several years, Michaela’s style was new to me, like a combination of Kundalini and Viniyoga. From the beginning (“Let your breath wash through your mind.”)—through the simultaneous ease and accomplishment of the practice—to the relaxing end (“there’s nothing left to do.”), I enjoyed the fresh approach. The injection of something new into my routine worked as a catalyst to bring new life into my body.
Borrowing from others can help you expand your horizons and therefore your range of motion. I’ve added a couple of exercise by watching and copying others at the gym. Working out—or better yet—playing with a friend will add variety.
Of course, it’s important to stay within your personal limits. My sister-in-law lent me a Rodney Yee yoga tape. The first eight minutes were a welcome change of pace to my regular yoga practice, but my shoulders weren’t strong enough for the 20 minutes of plank and handstands that followed. Fortunately, I stopped before I hurt myself too badly. (Taking a class with an experienced teacher also greatly reduces the chance of injury.)
When you borrow new moves from others, be very aware to learn about your body and avoid injury.
You can build new strength and improve your overall health by changing your pace and staying within your abilities.