Monday, March 31, 2008

Personal Wave, Undulation of the Week

This one of the first exercises I recommend for people with low back pain. The Personal Wave undulation develops and reinforces a fundamental coordination between the pelvis, sacrum, low back, and entire spine. It looks easy, and it is. However, the layers of coordination can also be quite complex.

Last week’s post includes a link to an excerpt from the audiobook, Undulation Exercises, for Personal Wave.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Start Small

My family is fortunate to have great health insurance through my husband’s employer. A few years ago they instituted a wellness plan through Harris Health Trends. In order to receive the highest level of benefits, we’re required to choose a wellness activity and follow through for 42 days. My husband chose Colorful Choices; he’s counting how many serving of fruits and vegetables he eats every day. I’m on Route 66, tracking my daily exercise with the goal to do something every day.

I like keeping track. It motivates me to walk around our property or do three simple yoga poses, anything so I can write down 10 minutes minimum every day. (I always undulate for five minutes every morning. That’s how I wake up, but don’t write it on the wellness form since I consider my wake-up undulations to be like brushing my teeth: hygiene for the muscles.)

Even on the days when I don’t want to exercise, if I do just a little bit of walking, a couple of yoga poses, or an intermediate or advanced undulation, I become invigorated and then I want to be more active. Getting started creates an upward spiral of movement to replace the familiar downward spiral of stillness.

That’s why I recommend the goal of 10 minutes of exercise a day for inactive people. Ten minutes of easy exercise is manageable and will manifest into more. Starting with the goal of 30 minutes a day can be overwhelming, especially for someone who is in pain.

Follow this link to a soothing undulation exercise you can try: Personal Wave.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Undulation of the Week: Coffee Grinder

This advanced undulation, #45 from the book, is a variation of a belly dance move. Back and abdominal muscles get stronger and more flexible as the movement of the torso separates from the hips.

Even though the photo demonstrates this undulation in a standing position, it's also effective seated--even for people in wheelchairs. It requires strength of core back muscles, so I advise developing that strength with the beginning and intermediate exercises before trying the Coffee Grinder.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

3 Exercise Myths Debunked

According to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, sport and exercise related injuries are on the rise for all age groups, and especially for older persons. Despite the tremendous sympathy and TLC you could receive from family and co-workers, you don’t want to be one of the millions of Americans who gets hurt. It’s not worth the short-term pain, mid-term reduction to your fitness, or long-term damage to your body.

Unfortunately, many people get injured, because they’re following the bad advice of old exercise myths. Read on to reduce your chances of being an injury statistic.

Myth #1 – Bigger is Better
Do you agree with any of the following statements?
§ If bench pressing 40 pounds is good, 60 pounds must be better for you.
§ It’s better to run fast or with longer strides than to jog slowly.
§ The best stretch for your hamstrings requires touching your toes.
Hate to tell you, but it ain’t necessarily so. When you pick a goal that’s more suitable for Lance Armstrong, Jackie Joyner Kersey, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, you ignore your body’s fitness needs and extend too far.

In addition, large movements often bypass small core muscles. Many of the muscles around the spine are less than one inch long. Small, slow movements will wake and strengthen them. Bigger may be a goal, but for the here and now, try to focus on the weight, time, and stretch that is “just right” for you right now.

Myth #2 – No Pain, No Gain
Even though your middle school coach told you that pain was good for you, he was misinformed, and you don’t need his approval anymore anyway. If activity hurts, you are probably hurting yourself. Period. Thousands of health professionals agree.

You get the most benefit when you work at your personal edge. The edge is the place right before it hurts. Most of us (me, too, most days) don’t want to pay that much attention; it’s easier to go full tilt and justify it with the “No Pain, No Gain” baloney. But if we want to stay fit for a lifetime, we must ditch this macho myth.

Myth #3 – Fun Exercise Doesn’t Help
When you’re happy, your body is more flexible, the muscles better able to contract and relax. When you force yourself to do something, you have to move through tension and shallow breath, which makes strain more likely. Plus, you’re more likely to stay active when you’re having fun.

The hard part can be figuring out what you like to do. I really don’t like breathing hard, so I’ll find any excuse to avoid the treadmill or elliptical. I do like riding a bike (in the sun) and dancing, so I get my cardio that way.

Your body knows what it needs and it will choose to challenge itself without the brain brandishing a whip. Try some of your favorite childhood activities, and, like a child, do them for fun. Enjoy jumping rope? Don’t force yourself for 10 minutes, just hop as long as it feels good. Again, work your edge. If 10 laps in the pool are pleasurable, try 11, not 15.

Many ideas of how to get healthy are unrealistic myths that try to mold you into a make-believe action-figure. Your body’s not disposable like a toy, nor infinitely reparable. If you set your sights on reasonable goals, avoid pain, and have fun, you’ll get injured less and soon exceed your current limits.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Organic Movement

Unless driving is justified, we usually walk to get from point A to point B. Not saunter, strut, or stroll. Certainly never to skip or hop as an adult. In a way that defies our organic nature, we move like machines with repetitive regularity that’s hard on the joints and muscles. Interestingly, industry is trying to make robots appear more human at the same time our own movements are becoming more robotic.

Humans are alive, organic, so our movement should emulate living things, not machines. Organic movement is non-repetitive, non-structured, circular. It can be done on a treadmill, but other exercise, like undulation or swimming, is more likely to enhance our fluid nature. In this YouTube video, Emilie Conrad, the founder of Continuum Movement (, explains how eliminating organic movement starves the body, which puts it on an aging fast track.

Emilie is amazing and one of my inspirations to write the book about undulation. At age 70, when I first met her, I was staggered by her grace and strength and fluidity. What does she do to stay vital? She uses organic movement, including undulations, every day.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Run For Your Life

On April 16, 2007 in the Boston morning rain, 98 people age 70 and older waited in a crowd ready to start the country’s most famous marathon. Five and a half hours later, 90 of the septuagenarians crossed the finish line. (And 25 people in wheelchairs completed the race, too.)

That’s inspiring! People who test their person limits encourage those of us who aren’t as fit or ambitious to take a step in the same direction. Even if you don’t want to undertake the lengthy training required for a marathon, you can participate in one of many local events that start where you are and take you further.

The St. Patrick’s Day Fun Run is right around the corner in many cities. (Register soon if you’re interested.) The no-pressure, party atmosphere might carry you the entire way, but you can stop anytime. And it’s fun to walk or jog down the middle of city streets. If that sounds like too much to begin, many YMCA locations and Community Centers sponsor a Silver Sneakers program.

Before making changes in your fitness level, you’ll want your doctor to check your heart. If you’re concerned about your feet, knees, or hips, do yourself a favor and get assessed by a physical therapist, athletic trainer, or structural integrator to decrease wear and tear on your joints. And, a well-fitted pair of running/walking shoes is a must.

Most of us won't run, walk, or crawl even a half marathon. However, getting involved in a local 5K community event is a kick and inspiration to keep moving. I slogged and wheezed through the Issaquah Salmon Days Fun Run two years ago. The course was filled with toddlers and septuagenarians, friends who chatted as they walked, and families pushing strollers. It doesn’t have to be about big challenges or competitions, just small personal victories and some fun.

The skinny on community, not-necessarily-competitive, walk/run events:
Seattle, Sun., March 16 – St. Patrick’s Day Dash, 3 ½ mile run, walk, or crawl,
St. Louis, Sat., March. 15 – St. Patrick’s Day Parade Run, 5 mile,
San Diego, Fri., March 14 – Marine Corp. St. Patrick’s Day 3 mile Fun Run (open to civilians, too),
Nationwide, Year round – Silver Sneakers,

Saturday, March 1, 2008

DeTox Your Body with Movement

Thoughts of detox usually relate to the liver or colon or old industrial plants, but muscles accumulate nasty chemicals, too. Do some of your muscles, maybe around your shoulders, sound crunchy when they move? A pattern of underuse or overuse—like holding tension—will cause waste products including calcium to accumulate in the surrounding connective tissue and sometimes even in the joint spaces.

What’s needed is a flow of fluid to bring in nutrients and carry away toxins. If you think that a dip in hot tub or massage would help, you’re right. You can also get this benefit with gentle movement: a do-it-yourself rinse.

When a muscle contracts, it squeezes fluid out. That’s why a chronically contracted muscle can get dehydrated like beef jerky. When a muscle relaxes, fresh fluid and nutrients can flow in. Muscles that don’t get used also miss out on this vital exchange.

Here’s an exercise to revitalize the tissues in your upper back. Wiggle a shoulder blade and feel it slide over your ribs. First make several shoulder cirlces in the traditional manner: forward and back so you feel your shoulder blades move up and down on the back of your ribs.

Don’t do anything that hurts. You may feel some crunching or popping, which is OK as long as it’s pain free. Rest for a bit before you continue to allow muscles to rest and fluid to flow.

Now do it differently. With one shoulder at a time, draw tiny circles clockwise across your back. Try to create freedom between the shoulder blade and ribs; make it slippery with your movement. Rest briefly before going counter clockwise and then repeat with the other shoulder.

Make different shapes and movements to work all around the edges of the hard spots so they eventually dissolve. It may take months of consistent practice, but you can soften the knots in your muscles. (This is a variation of Undulation #9, Snake Arms, from Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again with Undulation.)

This simple, but perhaps not easy, exercise activates the muscles' internal cleansing mechanism. The key is to alternate movement with rest, creating a regular contract and relax cycle that flushes waste and toxins out of the muscles, joints, and connective tissue to the blood stream where it can be eliminated.