Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gracefully Aging Skin

I usually focus on my expertise, the body’s muscles and connective tissue, but today’s article will address the organ that tells the world the most about how we are aging: the skin. I’ve consulted with Carla Orellana, an independent consultant with Arbonne International, who has studied herbs and health her entire adult life. Here’s what she has to tell us about our skin and how to take care of it.

The skin is the body’s largest organ and weighs about 8 pounds. Each square inch has 650 sweat glands, 95 sebaceous glands, and 1,200 nerve endings. Our skin protects the inside body from environmental factors such as bacteria, fungus, viruses, allergens, and chemicals. It regulates body temperature by sweating and adjusting blood flow. It synthesizes vitamin D and provides some protection against the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

It goes without saying that a person's skin conveys a lot about his or her health. The effects of sun exposure, poor diet, dehydration, stress, fatigue, smoking, allergies, and illness all can show up in the skin so it makes sense to pay close attention to it.

Our skin needs to breathe in order to function properly. Clogging pores with mineral oil and cheap products made from animal parts, loaded with harmful levels of artificial dyes and fragrances, irritate and dry out the skin.

Artificial perfumes and colors get absorbed into the blood stream (within 30 seconds!), which burdens the kidneys and liver that filter and cleanse over 50 gallons of blood a day. Clean blood equals clean skin. Dirty blood, well you can finish the sentence. Did you know that chemical fragrances and dyes are the number one and two irritants for skin sensitivities?

Protecting our skin from too much UV exposure is important for skin health obviously. P-H is another really important part of health, because correct pH balance protects against bacteria, and the skin more readily accepts moisture so it feels softer and looks younger.

There are many things one can eat to keep the skin healthy. The skin is more than just the outside layer. Using supplements (without dyes, etc.) to boost our nutritional intake, immune system and protect us from stress are essential as our soil is depleted and we lose certain minerals and other elements. CoQ10 and flaxseed oil are good examples of useful additions for inside and outside skin health. Good water, fruits, vegetables, exercise and fresh air are a given.

You can learn more about skin health and Carla at Thanks, Carla, for sharing such useful information.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Undulation Audiobook Soon to be Released

Hurray for the UPS guy! Today he brought four boxes of my new audiobook, Undulation Exercises That means 40 boxes were delivered to the distributor, and Amazon will soon have copies to ship, perhaps even as early as next week.

The four CD set looks beautiful and sounds even better. This is what I’ve been waiting for: to be led through undulation exercises that unwind my spine with relaxing background music. I can even get over the fact that it’s my own voice (you know how your voice grates on your own ears), because the studio ( did such a nice job with the music and mixing.

You can hear two sample exercises by going to and clicking The Audio Book link on the left side, then scrolling down to Personal Wave and Mermaid. Personal Wave is relaxing, especially for the low back and neck, and Mermaid is extremely fun and a great exercise for the hips.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

DIY Back Pain Relief

When back pain strikes, what’s your typical first reaction? Do you reach for ibuprofen? Apply ice or heat? Call your chiropractor, doctor, or massage therapist? Stretch?

Some pains require more than one resource, but Do It Yourself (DIY) strategies help in every case and sometimes are enough to resolve the issue completely. Self care includes ice and/or heat, self-massage, exercises including undulations and stretches, and rest. In addition to making treatment more convenient, DIY approaches put you—the person who is most knowledgeable about your body—in charge.

Of course, if your pain is intense or lasts for several days, see a doctor who knows about back injuries! But even if you need professional help to recover, intelligent self care will help you heal faster.

Ice or Heat?
Ice reduces inflammation and is part of the standard RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) treatment for sports injuries ( Heat aids in circulation and helps to relieve trigger points. Heat is generally recommended for long-term injuries and to warm up muscles before exercise (

When to use ice or heat can be tricky. Inflammation is part of the body’s healing mechanism ( and too much ice can damage nerves, so it’s best to apply ice in increments, no longer than 20 minutes at a time ( Your pain is individual to you, so follow the general guidelines for heat and ice, but also see what works best for your body.

Another advantage of applying ice or heat is that it gives you time to rest. Rest is a vital part of healing, from anything.

Exercise is best used to prevent back pain, but when you’re in the midst of an episode, staying still can cause more stiffness as much as moving too much can cause further damage ( The key is to move as much as you can without discomfort, which will distribute nutrients into and remove waste products from the spine’s discs and joints. Try gentle exercises like these, but stop at any point if your pain increases.
Undulation ( Note that the videos may take a minute to load.
Stretching (
Yoga (
If you have any questions about whether an exercise is good for you, check with your doctor or physical therapist.

Mindful exercise is like a self-created massage. It can help you learn what movements aggravate your condition, so you can avoid them, and what movements help you feel better. Empowerment—for present relief and future prevention—is the greatest benefit of DIY techniques.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Trigger Point Treatment

My last three blog articles have focused on preventing trigger points, but what if it’s too late for that? Obviously life isn’t perfect, and we all get injured at some point. Here's what I recommend to my clients to treat their own trigger points.

First a review: 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 the muscle(s) in that area with a cascade effect of soreness.

Start by finding the taut bands within the muscles. These are “exquisitely tender” points as described by Travell. Search around the surrounding area, because there will be more than you think. Often pain in the neck starts with trigger points in the shoulders.

Once you find the spots, you want to press them—but not with a vengeance. Bonnie Pruden in Pain Erasure ( recommends a firm touch for 10 to 15 seconds. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook ( proposes circular motions. (By the way, this book by Clair Davies is receiving absolutely rave reviews. One of my clients told me how much it helped her relieve the chronic pain in her shoulder. More information at

It’s important to get all of the contributing points, not just the one or two that hurt most. Trigger points travel in packs. If you don’t address them all, the ones you relieve are more likely to come back. As soon as you feel your pain returning, gently press on all of the related points to stop the progression.

Use your thumbs and fingers a little as possible. You don’t want to create a new set of trigger points that start with sore fingers. Many people like using a TheraCane (, because it reaches around the back and provides leverage. There’s also the low tech solution of tennis or racquet balls, but the surface area will be too large for some points. The handle of a wooden spoon was suggested, too. This site has several products,

If all else fails, a visit to a bodywork practitioner who is experienced in trigger points can help. And, for the most persistent, stubborn cases, a physiatrist (not a psychiatrist) has more medical options.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Trigger Point Prevention, Tip #3—“Goldilocks” Movement

Once the body has developed trigger points (automobile accidents or chronic overuse are common causes), those muscles remain vulnerable to pain for many years. Over or under-exerting can prompt muscle strain and reactivate the old pain pattern. Therefore, it’s important to stay consistent with moderate exercise—not too much and not too little, what I call “Goldilocks” movement. Just right.

Lifting too much for a muscle’s strength, say when moving a heavy dresser for example, can start the chain of trigger points. However, “too much” comes in more common activities, too. As we approach the gym with New Year’s gusto, the temptation to do too much is strong. Just five more pounds or an extra rep or two is enough to push over the edge of healthy movement. We don’t have to do Papa Bear weight lifting.

The elliptical and treadmills can be triggers, too. Increasing the resistance, going for too long, or giving yourself a big incline can all overload muscles in the hips and low back. Any repetitive motion makes muscles more susceptible. Stay conscious of your body, listen to when it says “Enough” and stop. Avoid Mama Bear-style overcommitment.

Too little movement, like not exercising for a week or sitting at a desk for eight hours in a day, is an important factor, too. Whenever the body is still, muscles, connective tissue, cartilage, and the discs between the vertebrae lose their healthy consistency and increase the exposure to trigger points when they are used.

When a muscle is strained in any way you’ll have to back off exercise for some time to let it heal. If that happens, stay active with gentle movements like undulation. Do your best to stay on the middle course and do what’s “Just Right!” for you.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Trigger Point Prevention, Tip #2—Body Mechanics

The authority on trigger points is the Trigger Point Manual. ( This two-volume text, essential for any bodywork practitioner, details each trigger point, its symptoms, common causes, corrective action, and prevention. In each case, the prevention recommendations almost always pertain to biomechanics, in other words using the body in or out of alignment.

I’ll outline the three biomechanical causes of trigger points that I see most often in my practice. They are common to most people, and the good news is we can make slight adjustments in our body usage and get big gains in terms of reduced soreness. Of course, I also recommend corrections for each.

Dropped Chest
This posture, which most people call a slouch, causes the muscles across the upper back and shoulders to be overstretched. People feel this as tightness, but it’s not shortness that needs to be stretched. It’s the type of tight that comes from pulling a rubber band to the breaking point. And that’s exactly what happens to these muscles. They get tiny tears from prolonged overstretch or strain from being activated in a compromised position. And that can cause trigger points.

I’ll give you two solutions to this problem. First, sit upright without pulling yourself up by your shoulders. Pulling up just creates strain in already weak muscles. Instead sit from the ground up, as I outlined in a previous article that you can read here: Secondly, if you find yourself in a slump, gently move to a different position and arch your back slowly to counteract the slouch and strengthen the muscles that have been overstretched. Hold for a few seconds and return to good sitting alignment noted above.

Lifting with the Shoulders
So many of us have developed the habit of picking up an object by raising our shoulders towards our ears. If you’ve ever been sent to “back class,” you’ve been taught to use your legs to lift. Here’s an added tip, anchor your shoulder blades down and then lift with the rest of your body: legs, abdomen, spine, and arms. Suddenly that 25 pound bag of dog food feels light.

Whenever you are going to lift something heavy, bags of groceries, children, furniture, spend a split second anchoring your shoulders down. Not only will you take pressure off your neck, you’ll also increase strength in the rest of your body.

Standing on One Leg
Unless you are in a yoga pose, with your balance centered on one foot, one-legged standing creates weakness, not strength. It’s typical to jut a hip to the side and rest with the body’s weight leaning on the knee and hip joints. That doesn’t build any muscle, and it puts excess pressure on joints. Bad news on both accounts. And over time, this leads to weakness in the hip stabilizers and trigger points that can mimic sciatica and low back pain.

The solution is to stand with your weight on both feet, with your weight centered through the arches. To build even more strength, try squats, yoga-style one-legged poses such as Tree Pose (, and balance exercises (

If you feel you need even more help on alignment, look into the services of a Structural Integrator ( or or a Physical Therapist. The investment of better alignment pays off with fewer pains and more functional movement.