Tag Archives: stress relief

Party your way to good health this weekend

With the weekend just hours away, it’s time to let loose! Not like you need it, but here’s additional incentive to party tonight – dancing, alcohol, and flirting all fall under the umbrella of healthy living…within moderation, of course.  Howcast and GE’s Healthy Imagination project joined forces in this video with healthy ways to live it up this weekend. I’ll be seeing you on the dance floor…

Go with your gut

No Matter how smart and evolved as a society we think we are, we will always look back and recognize the mistakes of the past.

Media seems omnipresent, and advertising is lodged into every nook and cranny of the day, softly and incessantly suggesting how we might want to feel, act, and be. There are few moments in the day to stop and listen to our own thoughts. It’s easy to disconnect from our own inherent knowledge, which is lifetimes more intelligent than the advertising or media of the day.

Being election day, it seems an appropriate time to remind ourselves we each have a unique intellect, different from everyone else. Take time to be still. Turn off CNN. Step away from the computer. Take a walk through the autumn air and discover where your mind takes you. Go with your gut.

Integrating mind and body into medicine

It is exciting to see the medical community steadily moving towards a well-rounded, holistic approach to health care.

Dr. Herbert Benson is a great example. He heads the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Benson and his institute are working to integrate mind/body medicine into all areas of health care.

Benson sees health care as a “three-legged stool”:  one leg is drugs, another being surgical procedures, and the third as self-care or mind/body medicine which he classifies as the following:

The relaxation response (ways to de-stress, such as meditation)

Positive coping (cognitive behavioral therapy)

Physical activity

Nutrition

Social support

What’s great about the Benson Institute is not only are they promoting stress management for patients, but are educating doctors and health care professionals on how to integrate mind/body medicine into their practices, rather than just offering the text-book drugs and surgical procedures.

A quote from their own site states:

Primary care physicians often are taxed by patient complaints that do not seem to have a clear etiology, nor do the patients improve despite good medications and expensive procedures. Current studies show that stress or distress may have a significant effect on the onset, the course, and the management of many, if not all, diseases. Understanding a patient’s underlying stress physiology and coping mechanisms may enable physicians to better understand various clinical disorders and treat their manifested symptoms. -Benson-Henry Institute

Dr. Benson’s most recent book: Relaxation Revolution: Enhancing Your Personal Health Through the Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing is now available.

You can hear an interview with Dr. Benson on the Diane Rhames Show, broadcast earlier today.

You are really getting on my Sciatic Nerve.

Does your back make you feel like this?

Back pain universally blows. It destroys postures, mental states, and days all around the world without visible wounds displaying the immense internal pain…except for the furrowed brow. Pure torture.

Sciatica is a subset of back pain mostly felt in the legs. The sciatic nerve is a long cord of nervy fun that goes through the spine, separating down into the legs and ending in the feet.  Sciatica occurs when something close to the sciatic nerve impinges upon it. The muscles around the nerve, in an attempt to protect it, seize up causing sharp, shooting pain through the buttocks and the back of the leg. Muscle atrophy can result from the stress of seizing up. Big nervy fun, indeed.

The sciatic nerve

Sciatica and back pain can attack anyone at anytime. A young athletic person with muscular imbalances is as likely to feel back pain as an older person with a sedentary lifestyle.

If ignored, sciatica and back pain often gets worse. With a bulging disc at 25 and an acute onset of sciatica, I know. Without proper care, I was forced to lay on the floor for a week, unable to sit or stand for long. My leg would buckle underneath me, and even as the pain lessened, I could barely stand up for more than an hour or two at a time. It took a year of constant work to become pain free. The year was crucial for understanding proper care of my body, preventing further back problems for years to come.

Every body is different. Back problems are relative to the individual. Proper core strength, self-knowledge and self-care are golden tickets to recovery, from the first pang to post spine surgery.

Below are suggestions to help ease sciatica, but always consult your physician regarding any prolonged back pain.

#1. R-I-C-E - It’s the physical therapy stand-by for acute pain. Practiced everywhere from the school nurse’s office to NBA courts.

REST- After an acute back injury, rest is the best medicine. Allow the spine and muscles to relax and to heal on their own terms. Listen to your body.

ICE- When in doubt, go with ice to help relieve inflammation and numb the pain. My favorite ice pack is a super large bag of corn or peas from the grocer, just don’t eat it later. ewww.

COMPRESSION- Wearing a back brace or wrapping an ace bandage in a corset-like fashion can temporarily aid in supporting the spine and muscle strain.

ELEVATION – Rest flat on the back, allowing the legs to be propped up at an ELEVATED angle. Either with a pillow below the knees or lying on the floor with calves draped on the couch or a chair.

#2. Stretch out the spasm.

Stretching out cramping muscles provides temporary relief. Proper stretching is crucial. Do not stretch the leg past a 90 degree angle, causing the low back to curl forward or twist. While this might feel good at the time, it can make the pain worse later by straining the low back.  Keep the spine neutral while stretching the legs. Again, when stretching the leg do not allow the low back to round or tuck under.

hamstring stretch. turn the leg in and out

Piriformis stretch: This stretch releases the muscle spasm temporarily around part of the sciatic nerve.  Lie on your back. Cross one foot over the opposite thigh. Pull the thigh in towards your chest, but keep your backside on the floor (do not allow it to curl up off the floor).

Piriformis stretch

#3. Build a better core

Begin to work on slow, controlled movements that allow you to find your core muscles. No crunches or sit ups. Without proper awareness these movement can create further muscular imbalance and continued back pain. I recommend trying the dead bug exercise, which is explained here.

dead bug exercise

#4. McKenzie Exercises

Physical therapists either approve or condemn this method. There is no in between. After 6 months of pain, the McKenzie extension exercises helped correct my spine and strengthen my back muscles.

 

Named after a physical therapist in New Zealand, McKenzie exercises are primarily extension (arching) exercises that could help reduce the symptoms of herniated disc by reducing pressure on a nerve root. For acute pain, the McKenzie exercises should be done frequently, at least once every two hours. For more information, you can buy the book, or check out their website. Although many back and sciatica problems could be helped by these exercises, it is not for everybody. Consult a therapist or a doctor to determine if this method is for you.

#5. Get moving with strength and balance

Once back pain is under control, it’s time to consider exercises to make sure the pain stays away. Understand your body’s muscular balance and how it works: Which muscles need to be strengthened? Which are overdeveloped or strained? A strong core includes the back and side muscles too, not just the abdominal wall we berate in the front. Strengthen the entire trunk to maintain a healthy neutral spine posture. Often, the back muscles need to be exercised in order to “teach” the spine how to stay in a neutral position. The guidance of a professional Pilates instructor, physical therapist, or movement therapist is highly recommended.  Ideas for low impact exercise can include:

walking

elliptical

swimming

pilates (with a certified instructor, preferably one with a rehabilitation background)

low impact aerobics

dance

…really, just get moving! Finding an enjoyable form of exercise is key to lasting strength. Regular activity, with balanced trunk strength, prevents back pain from recurring, allowing you to stay mobile and strong for many years to come.

Meditation. It’s not just for Sissies anymore.

(Watch out phone viewers…quite a few videos below)

Yeah that’s right. Meditation is being claimed by the resistance movement. Quiet strength and mind body centering is attacking the establishment…silently.

As the benefits of meditation become more widely known, its new age stigma is being shed for a reputation of focus, skill and all around quiet bad ass…ness.

Breathe deep, growl low.

Take the Dharma Punx movement.

Noah Levine, a former druggie and multiple-time convict, learned how to meditate in jail and carried it out to the disenchanted masses. Levine’s meditation movement is gaining momentum among the disillusioned seeking something more from life than drugs, sex, MSNBC, and garage bands.

Although the Dharma Punx are bringing Buddhist philosophy to the streets, it must be mentioned here:  The Wu Tang Clan was first.

While Wu Tang’s philosophical references began with martial arts films, their inspiration validly comes from yet another, older, bad ass group – the Shaolin Monks. There is nothing wimpy about this club. Meditation is their way of life, creating focus, discipline and a centeredness from which they move. I can safely say a 60 year old man able to meditate while balancing one finger…is hardcore.

While meditating on your head might not be in the cards, there is still much to learn from their way of life. For example, here in this video are the simplest elements needed to meditate.

Russell Simmons

Of course, meditation has its celebrity fans. Tiger, Russell Simmons, Sting. Hands down, my personal favorite is David Lynch. Here is a guy who goes fishing into the human psyche, catching all the dichotomies (good and evil, black and white, etc) and exploring them in wild nonlinear, multidimensional ways. Doing things like this:

…while meditating twice a day for the past 35 years. Lynch is one of the most prolific artists out there today. Disturbing, beautiful and compelling. Taking concepts and running with them in various directions. Lynch is a badazzzz.

In the end I defer to The Man, Clint Eastwood. Yup, Mr. Eastwood has been practicing meditation everyday since the 1970′s.

So I gotta ask, Do you feel lucky Punk? Well do ya?

If not, perhaps a little mediation would help….

(I know. Oh so cheesy cheese, but hard to resist.)

Here are a few links for more information:

2009 Scienceline Article

June 2010 – Diane Rehms Show on the power of meditation

The NIH overview on Meditation

Lindsey Lohan’s Health Is More Important Than Yours

Google you own name and chances are the paparrazi are not following your every misstep out of a nightclub.

Half of you stumble upon this blog by way of seeking out celeb gossip. One Pilates Studio I worked at in West Hollywood always had the latest spread of gossip mags, and most everyone, whether they themselves were celebrities or not, would sit down and read them. It’s fascinating and confounding.

Celebrity – love it or hate it – is inherently part of our human make-up. To aspire to, associate with, and to condemn. Stars summon our most human yearnings: to love, admire, copy and, of course, to gossip and to jeer.

Like Greek gods and goddesses with their individual powers and faults (Joseph Campbell would agree) celebrities are larger than life versions of us…reflections of ourselves in mythic proportions.

Leo Braudy, author of The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History, suggests that celebrities are more like Christian calendar saints “Celebrities have their aura—a debased version of charisma” that stems from their all-powerful captivating presence, Braudy says.

Lately the gossip spotlight falls often upon Lindsay Lohan – Patron saint of the rising star, burning out. A beautiful young starlet with the world at her feet only to be brought down by lack of boundaries, dysfunctional family, alcoholism, drugs, relationship problems, financial ups and downs…any of it sound familiar? Sure. It’s a little bit of all of us, just magnified.

Lindsay’s drama is a cautionary tale of the times, one parents can tell to their children, kind of like something from Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter of what happens when there are no limits and one slowly spirals out of control…a good girl gone bad.

I would never suggest to stop reading gossip mags. How could we? Celebrity fascination is part of what makes us human. It’s a mirror into our own humanity.

However, if you find that you’ve been searching the internet for well over an hour to find the latest news on Lindsay Lohan and you ended up here…Take this as your cue from the universe to get up, walk away from your computer, and do something for yourself.

Your health is more important.

The Gardener’s Workout

It’s officially Spring…The season of Golf and Gardening backs pains.

Warm rays from the sun bring the need to weed, rake and plant. The one thing my gardening clients have taught me is that pain will not hold them back. The gardening must go on.

When engrossed in an activity like gardening we often lose personal awareness, which is partly why it is so appealing. Nevertheless, by the end of the day we regain that awareness quickly when a stiff back or neck presents itself.

What to do?

Here are a few tips and exercises to keep you in peak gardening condition for as long as possible.

- Use a Timer!

Get the timer out of the kitchen and bring it with you. Every 20 – 30 minutes, stop. Do some stretches. Change position and/or activity. Is it annoying to have to stop and move around? Of course it is, but keep in mind this will save you some aches, pains, and several more years of gardening.

- Mix it up

As mentioned above, change position and activity regularly. Multi-task. Instead of focusing on getting the yard raked in one day, spread it out along with a few other “have tos” over several days. This way your body is not stuck in one position or a repetitive motion for hours on end.

- 7th Inning Stretch. The Mid Gardening Workout

When your timer goes off and your body is craving a stretch. Here are 4 great movement options:

#1. cat and cow/ #2. child’s pose

Cat and Cow / Child's Pose

#3. quad stretch

Quad Stretch. Press your hand into the fence or wall for stability.

#4. elbow stretch circles ( from one minute movement)

- Gardening core strength.  The Pre/Post Gardening Workout

Your core is not your just your belly. It is the entire ring of muscles around the trunk and can even include muscles of the thighs and shoulders. 5 to 10 minutes of simple core strengthening exercises done both morning and night might help in preventing back aches.  Here are 6 exercises that will help:

#1. The Spine Extension and #2. The Forearm Plank (from the Easy TV workout)

#3. The Dead Bug Exercise (from Finding Your Fulcrum)

#4. “Clamshells” Side Lying leg movements

Lying on your side, bend the knees and make sure neck and shoulders are comfortable. Keeping feet together lift the top knee. Do not allow the pelvis to rotate backwards, torquing the back. The goals is to move only the leg, keep the pelvis and back stable. 10 to 20 times on each side.

Clamshells. Neck is long and relaxed. Pelvic bones push forward. Back is still. No twisting.

#5. “Chicken Wings” Side Lying External Shoulder rotations

Remain lying on the side. Using a light weight ( no more than 3 lbs.). Keep elbow glued to the side ribs as the forarm rises and falls. Shoulders stay down. Neck stays long. 20 on each side.

Chicken Wings. keep neck long and elbow in side.

Another view

#6. Wall Squats

Are a great way to build gardening strength while working proper knee and hip alignment. With or without a fit ball, Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Keep knees in line with toes as you bend downward. It is safest not to go past a 90 degree angle. Keep the tailbone reaching down to earth and the belly button scooped upwards towards the back of the ribs. Try 10 squats.

Wall Squat

- Consider a back brace or corset support while gardening

It might not cure your back problems, but a brace or core support will remind you to stay aware of proper back placement when leaning over or squatting outside. It will help you be aware of your back.

- If all else fails, ask for help!


Get some help already!  I know you love to do it yourself, but it’s not worth the pain and perhaps ultimately having to cut gardening out all together. Plan, design, organize and get some minions at your disposal.

- More Information

A great website with wonderful ergonomic tools and ideas is offered through the University of Missouri Columbia, called Gardens for Every Body.

Happy Gardening!

The Weight of the World off Your Shoulders

Shoulder fun fact: The shoulder blades are not connected to any other bone in the body, but fixed in the body with merely a few muscles.

The human shoulder is crazy complex. It’s built for movement and dexterity. Countless problems stem from imbalances within it’s fine inner-workings. The most prevalent shoulder problems stem from sitting all day. Go figure.

Whether standing or sitting, the human body is built to turn inward; naturally possessing more muscle mass that turns us inward than outward. Perfectly formed to slump back in a chair, or round forward over the desk. Sitting this way from kindergarten through now at your computer, it’s a safe bet you’ve experienced neck and shoulder tension.

When focusing on upper back strain, it is important to remember the body compensates as an entire unit. No muscle is an island unto itself. Pain manifesting in the neck and shoulders could be created, in part, by the tightness and tension in the hips and low back. This is why posture is so crucial.  Proper posture elongates and disperses the muscle work of holding up the body against gravity evenly.  See the below examples and its easy to get the gist:

We are so used to allowing our neck to tense and our shoulders to round forward, that they take over everything we do, down to our abdominal exercises.

TRY THIS TEST: Sit on the floor. Bend your knees together. Try curling half-way back, scoop the belly, and hold. See if you can completely relax your shoulders and hold the curled position.

If your fall backwards = Your abdominals are weak and the upper body pushes you through most core movements.

If your legs pop up = your hip flexors are tense

If you can hold the position = you should feel deeper core engagement by releasing the shoulders

Roll Down Test (notice how the front of the neck stays open and the knees do not move)

Our shoulders and hips can act like a barrier surrounding the core muscles. To strengthen the core of the body, we must learn to let go of tension. Pilates and muscle awareness helps correct this by building strength from the inside out.

Now back to the upper back! This post simplifies (perhaps overly so) the complexity of the shoulders in order to create achievable goals with a few easy exercises. Besides a tall overall posture, you need awareness of the following muscles to do the movements:

Muscle of interest #1 – The Rhomboids. They pull your shoulder blades together. Imagine cracking a walnut between your shoulder blades, those are your rhomboids.

Rhomboids

Muscle of interest #2. – The Latissimus Dorsi. They connect the upper body to the hips. Imaging drawing you armpits towards the hips, those are your latissimus dorsi. Strengthening these muscles will help allow for a stretch in the upper back and neck.

Latissimus Dorsi

Engaging the rhomboids and the latissimus dorsi (lats) allow neck and shoulder tension to release and that energy to be channeled into shiny new postural alignment.

Try this: Imagine drawing the shoulder blades down and together creating the point of a V at the mid back. Feel the chest stretch open, while constantly allowing your head to drift up towards the sky. This simultaneous contraction and stretch allows for deeper breathing and over all better well being. One note: Don’t force or hold for too long. Gently contract, hold for a moment, then release. Keep at it.

I recommend investing in an elastic band.

Here are 3 elastic band exercises balancing upper body strength, using that tall, core-engaged posture, the above muscles, and while stretching the neck and shoulders:

Shoulder Shrugs: Stand on the band, arms by your side. Shrug shoulders up and down, allowing band to gently stretch the shoulders downward. Head is constantly drifting up towards the ceiling.

Rowing: Wrapping the band securely around a door knob or fixed point. Lead elbows back towards each other. Head is lifted. Shoulders squeeze back.Crack the walnut between shoulder blades.

Chest Expansion: Wrapping the band securely around a door knob or fixed point. Draw straight arms down and back. Aiming fists towards your heels. Squeeze shoulder blades together. Head drifts upward. Neck is long.

Another small view of chest expansion

More details on these and other exercise can be found at here and here.

A few simple, quality moves with moderate weight (or resistance) and a focus on breath is far better than a massage or a static stretch for releasing neck and shoulder tension. Building proper muscle strength gives the tension a place to live, rather than allowing it to set up camp in your neck a few hours later. Quality of movement is more important than quantity.

Find little movements all day long that create length, strength, and stretch.


I’m Serious. Get out there and PLAY, damn it.

encouraging-adults-to-play-in-the-rain1When was the last time you hula hooped? juggled oranges? Played in a warm summer rain? Jumped rope or on a trampoline? Hung by your knees from the jungle gym?

Now hold up. Before the eye rolling begins, I want you to give it a serious minute. I want you to picture yourself hula hooping, in the backyard, with your children, grandchildren, or, niece and nephew. I can almost guarantee you want to smile just a little bit right now…in between the desire to eyeroll. Come on now. Embrace the cheese and let go.

Physical play is important as a child. It helps in motor skill development, exploration and curiosity inquiring into how things work. It is no different now. In a way it’s like riding a bike, you never forget, you just get rusty. You have to give yourself permission to let go, live a little, and just play.

We all know the benefits of exercise throughout our lifetimes. I’m just not convinced, however, that getting on the treadmill, or going to the gym really does it though. Let’s be honest. For most of us, it is not fun. You might feel better, or at least physically exhausted to match the mental work of sitting at a computer or in meetings all day, BUT, the thought of going to the gym does not make you smile. How can that truly be good for stress levels? Exercise soon becomes another “have to” or “should”, like bills and taxes. So now exercise get a bum rap.

Usually play and exercise are not thought of in the same category, especially for adults. The usual connection is play equals  embarrassment, or play only happens on Wii. Why should fun and “letting go” be so difficult? It is exercise too! Hula Hoops are great for coordination and the abdominals, back, and hips. The jungle gym is all about arm strength and balance, and jump roping, is pure aerobic activity. Coordination and balance tend to go as we age, but not so much if you continue to explore and challenge those skills in ways that are fun and relatively safe for the body.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get outside on one of these fine blooming spring days, go get yourself a hula hoop (and perhaps a child relative to make you feel less self conscious) or a jump rope.  Go to the park, find the playground, and play. And if you can’t? Most of us have one of those balance balls deflated in the house somewhere. Blow it up and jump around on it for 10 minutes or so, alternating legs, shifting your hips, going in circles…play with it.  If your mission is completed, I think you might be feeling a little better, smiling a little more, and acknowledging the kid inside never has to really go away.

knerr_hula_hoop