Saturday, July 28, 2007

Exercise Rollercoaster

The first 36 years of my life, I used (and abused) my body as I saw fit. I thought that exercise was only for losing weight. Since I didn’t need that (I know, but don’t dislike me just ‘cause I’m skinny.) and because exercise was troublesome, and I wasn’t any good at it, I happily spent my time on other pursuits.

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

Frozen Shoulder

The helplessness that comes with a frozen shoulder is frightening, but for a bodyworker it can incite panic. However, I was the same as anyone else when I woke up the day before my vacation and couldn't move my right arm at all without excruciating pain. I just wanted to know: how did this happen and how can I make it go away?

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.
2) St. Edwards Park Pool, 14445 Juanita Dr. NE, Kenmore, 425-823-6983, 84 degrees, discount given with prescription from physician,
3) Sammamish Club, 2115 NW Poplar Way, Issaquah, 425-313-3131, for members only, 83 degrees,

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

Healthy Joints and Muscles

If you want to keep moving through life, you need healthy joints and muscles, but few people know what’s actually required to keep the body’s connective tissue vibrant. (That’s not surprising, because most people aren’t aware of their connective tissue!) In this article, I’ll give you three basics for nourishing your muscles and everything that connects them to your skeleton.

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. (
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. (
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,

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


There is an exercise that keeps any woman fit, regardless of her age, regardless of her shape. This exercise has stood the test of time, trimmed figures, and built muscles for millennia. We have danced through the ages with swaying hips, bending knees, and flowing arms to keep bodies supple and strong.

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. (

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, 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

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something True
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.