Friday, September 25, 2009

Nourish Your Muscles with a Salt Bath

When clients leave my office, they usually carry a snack-sized zip lock® bag of salt, with a request from me to take a bath with them. I give the salts away to relieve muscle and connective tissues soreness and to support the body’s chemical balance.

My first introduction to salt baths was when I was in karate. After an intense workout our sensei would suggest (in that commanding way that Senseis make any suggestion) a bath with one to two cups of Epsom salts dissolved in the water. He didn’t know why, but would recommend it for every ache and pain. I sometimes wondered if I should just dunk my head in the bathtub when I had a migraine.

Then I became a Hellerwork practitioner and after a few years in practice (and no more migraines, by the way) I referred a client to another Structural Integrator, who gave her a bag of Epsom salts after the session. My client told me that every place that was in the bath didn’t hurt and every place above the water line was sore. So then I started giving my clients Epsom salts, too.

Clients asked me why they should use the salt baths. It didn’t seem professional to say “I don’t know” or “It’s a good luck charm,” so I did a little research. At first, my queries led me to believe the salts helped flush toxins like lactic acid from the muscles. While that is one small part of what Epsom salts do, they are more important for what they add to the body rather than what they take away.

A friend who is an acupuncturist extolls the virtues of Epsom salts and recommends it to her clients. Doing a little research via the internet, we found the Epsom Salt Industry Council’s website. Epsom Salts are made of magnesium sulfate, MgSO4 and according to the Council, magnesium aids in chemical reactions, especially those of muscles and enzymes, and sulfates flush toxins and improve the absorption of nutrients. The U.S. National Library of Medicine credits magnesium with:

* Contraction and relaxation of muscles
* Function of certain enzymes in the body
* Production and transport of energy
* Production of protein

One day I was very sore after an intense session of yoga and went searching in the bathroom cupboard for Epsom salts. There were none. Oh no. Would sea salt work? After all, swimming in the warm ocean is therapeutic; perhaps because of the salt. However, the main component of sea salt is sodium chloride, not the minerals muscles need. A bit more searching under the sink produced a small bag of hand-mixed bath salts given to me by a client. This ½ cup of salts was better than nothing so I tried it and was amazed. Amazed!

This small bag of salts was much more effective than two cups of Epsom Salts. They were Dead Sea salts. The chemical composition of Dead Sea Salts is more complex than Epsom Salts. According to the Saltworks website, Dead Sea salts, Bokek® brand are comprised of:

Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2) 33.3 %
Potassium Chloride (KCl) 24.3 %
Sodium Chloride (NaCl) 5.5 %
Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) 0.2 %
Bromide (Br-) 0.5 %
Sulphates (SO4) 0.15 %
Insolubles 0.03 %
Water of Crystallization 36.4 %

Perhaps magnesium chloride is more easily absorbed than magnesium sulfate or the addition of potassium and trace of calcium make the difference.

Recently I have new client with fibromyalgia who has been using Epsom salts mixed with fresh ginger. She finds that more effective than plain Dead Sea salts. So now my give-away baggies include a mixture of Dead Sea salts and Epsom salts, for the mineral formula from the Dead Sea and the boost of needed magnesium from Epsom salts.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Body: An Engineering Marvel

While my sons were home from college this summer, the TV was often tuned to the History channel especially to watch Modern Marvels and Engineering Disasters. They are equally fascinated with how buildings, bridges, planes, and cars are built and the flaws that destroy them.

Structure determines how well an object can fulfill its function. For example, a building must have certain design features to survive an earthquake. The same is true for our bodies, but our bodies go one step further. The way we move either strengthens or deteriorates our structure, making function and form more related.

Let’s look at some of the anatomical marvels we take for granted and how aligned use enhances, maintains and strengthens structure.

Marvel — The Feet, Legs and Pelvis
The 26 bones of each foot are arranged in three arches, an elegant design that makes it possible for an area less than one square foot to hold up and move hundreds of pounds.

The foot doesn’t just bear weight, it’s movement (or lack thereof) determines functionality throughout the body. A foot that rolls along the ground with each step translates freedom to the hip and massages the sacro-iliac (SI) joints

Good range of motion in the ankle takes pressure off the knees and facilitates hip flexion and extension. Feet and ankles that rest on the ground in alignment transfer a ground reaction force (think of it like an anti-gravity reflex) through the arch of the pelvis to lift the spine and take pressure off the neck and shoulders.

It’s clear that the body is designed to MOVE and move freely. Many of the disasters that damage us come from inhibiting our full movement, such as the following examples.

Shoes — Heels and stiff soles thwart the foot’s ability to roll and limit foot and ankle range of motion so the next joint up, the knee, is overworked. Flip flops and shoes without backs require tension in the plantar fascia to hold them on and create a flat footed walk, which compresses the hip joint.

Flat ground —The foot’s many joints are designed to walk on rocks, sticks, and bumps. Instead, we almost always walk on flat, paved ground. Many of us have even lost the strength to walk barefoot on sand for any length of time.

Take off your shoes and admire the engineering marvel of your structure. Walk in the grass or on a beach to feel the connection between your toes, feet, ankles, knees, hips, and spine.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Exercise of the Month: Strengthen Your Neck Core Muscles

Head Turns
Stand at a wall with your knees bent. Feel your buttocks, upper back, shoulders, and back of your head on the wall. There should be a small space between the wall and your low back and also the back of your neck.
  1. Lengthen the back of your neck and slightly tuck your chin so your face is not turned up nor down. This position alone may tax your neck core. If you feel the muscles in your neck working, stay in this position and breathe deeply for several breaths.
  2. Once you feel comfortable in the position, add head turns. Turn only as far as you can without any twinges or pain in your neck.
  3. Swivel your face to the right as the back of your head turns to the left. You will hear your hair sliding on the wall if the center of the movement comes from the center of your neck, which is what you want.
  4. Turn both directions up to three times.

You can print this exercise and tape a copy to your bathroom mirror as a reminder. Notice how much better your neck feels and how your range of motion improves with just one minute of daily exercise. (It's pretty good for your thighs, too.)

This next exercise strengthens the neck core even more.

Neck Flexion
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the floor.

  1. Put a finger at the base of your skull and lift your skull, but not the rest of your neck, off the floor about an eighth of an inch and rest back down gently. This movement is too tiny to show up on a photograph.
  2. Remember that core movements are slow and small.
  3. Feel down your neck for a bony bump, which is the back of a vertebra. Now lift this bump and the base of your skull, but not the rest of your neck, up just a tiny bit. Lift and release gently, slowly, just a fraction of an inch using each vertebra in your neck as the pivot point.
  4. Don’t Do Any Movement That Hurts! You want to feel the muscles in the front of your neck doing the lifting, not the muscles in your chest or abdomen.