Friday, March 27, 2009

Everyday Exercise 4: Socks

How important is the ability to stand on one leg? You might think that it isn’t too important, unless you practice yoga or sleep like a flamingo.

There’s a moment when your entire weight is held by one leg every time you take a step. When people lose this strength they start to shuffle. Weight bearing on one leg is obviously necessary to go up or down stairs. Also, when you lose the strength to stand on one leg, you lose your overall ability to balance.

I practice my “single leg stance” skills when I put on my socks in the morning. The challenge is to stand on one leg, lift the other leg, keep my balance, and get the sock on. Sound easy? Actually, there are a few compensations to watch out for.

1) Try not to let the standing leg jut out to the side. By keeping the hip directly over the ankle, you will be strengthening your hip stabilizer muscles.
2) Try not to let the standing hip lift or fall. This will again strengthen the hip rather than relying on the low back.
(You can see that I do a little bit of both in the yoga Tree Pose photo. It’s easier to stay in line if you lift your bent knee straight ahead rather than out to the side.)

Important: stand right next to a wall or dresser so that if you lose your balance, you will not fall down. Also, on the days when your hip muscles are weak, you can let the wall have a little of your weight to make it easier.

Try it and let me know how it works for you. Also, what other ways do you have of strengthening one leg? Do you brush your teeth in Tree Pose?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Everyday Exercise 3: Bending Over

We bend over every day, to unload the dishwasher, pick something off the floor, or put on our shoes. Each forward bend gives you the opportunity to create tension in your neck -- or to let go of it.

Notice the tendency for your eyes to be the center of movement with the head craned forward to see what you're doing. This excess contraction creates tension in the back of your neck, right where many of us feel pain.

Instead, let your neck relax and your head hang down before you come back up.

Also, press into your feet and use the muscles through your entire legs, front and back, to start the movement. Be sure that your tush muscles contract before your low back and that your abdominal muscles are engaged.

It's a very different experience, one of relaxation and strength, rather than the typical one of contraction and tension.

How many times can you build this into your day?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Everyday Exercise 2: Stairs

As noted in my previous post, you can build exercise into your every day activities with some awareness around simple activities. Take the stairs for example. Do you thrust yourself up the steps, in other words is your head two steps forward of your feet? If so, you are missing an opportunity to build strength in your legs and core and release tension in your neck and shoulders.
  • Place one foot squarely on the step and keep your knee in line with the middle toe.
  • Lean forward at the hips so that your nose is in line or just behind your toes, not in front.
  • Press evenly through your entire foot, ball, heel, inside and outside arches, and use all the muscles in your leg and hip to lift you up.
With a little practice, you can go quickly up and down the stairs, but slowing it down really strengthens the hip stabilizer muscles.

You can apply these principles when you are on the stair stepper at the gym, too.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Everyday Exercise: Sit and Stand

There are ways to get stronger and more flexible in our everyday activities, and most of us miss these opportunities by being in too much of a hurry. For example, every time you plop into a seat or thrust yourself up from a chair, you lose the opportunity to strengthen your legs, hip stabilizers, pelvic floor, and core muscles. Add vitality to your body by sitting down and standing up correctly. It won’t take but an extra ten seconds.

To stand up, scoot to the front of your chair. Make sure that your knees are pointing directly ahead and that they are aligned directly over your ankles. (For added benefit and to protect your joints, don’t let your knees fall in or out as you stand.) Lean your torso forward from the hips so your belly folds toward your thighs. When you’ve leaned far enough that your nose is over your toes, press evenly through both feet to lift yourself to standing.

To sit down, simply reverse the process. As you bend your knees (aligned straight ahead, remember?), reach back evenly with your sit bones (your tush, in other words) so your nose comes over your toes. Gently lower down until the chair is supporting your entire weight.

The added benefit of standing and sitting this way is that it relieves tension in your neck, which usually tries to “help.” Of course, the neck can’t lift us up, but that doesn’t mean the muscles don’t usually tense there.

When I teach this to a group, there is usually at least one person who has lost the strength to support their entire body weight with just the legs. Don’t let that happen to you! Practice this at least once a day.