Tag Archives: Life

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.

Working Overtime May Be Killing You

Nobody enjoys working overtime, and here is the new best excuse not to: Working overtime linked to higher risk of heart disease.

The European Heart Journal studied 6000 British civil servants and followed them for 11 years.  They found that working an extra 3-4 hours a day is associated with increased coronary heart disease.  The researchers controlled and adjusted for lifestyle, cardiac risk factors and other factors that would skew the results and still found that people who worked 3-4 extra hours a day had a 60% increase in risk for heart disease.

These results were for both women and men (ages 39-61). Other risk factors like smoking, elevated lipids, diabetes made no difference in the results.

(Found at http://everythinghealth.net/, posted by Dr. Toni Brayer)

The Science of Living a Healthy Life

In case you missed it, The Wellness issue of NY Times Magazine came out last week.

There is, of course, loads of fodder for healthy living; relationships, mental health, exercise, the food critics diet, and even a little interview on the many joint replacements of Jane Fonda.

The article Weighing the Evidence on Exercise promotes the long term metabolic and health affects of exercise, and shuns the assumption exercise will immediately aid weight loss.  Out of this entire wellness magazine, the last sentence in the above article proved most striking.  It is a quote from Associate Professor of Kinesiology at U Mass, Amherst, Barry Braun, and his words speak volumes:

One thing is going to become clear in the coming years, Braun says: if you want to lose weight, you don’t necessarily have to go for a long run. “Just get rid of your chair”.

What does that mean?

Let’s be clear. It doesn’t mean a treadmill desk is going to be the answer to life’s problems.

What it does means is all the little things we do throughout the day add up to make a big difference. It means, keep moving!

“Getting rid of the chair” means balancing our relatively recent technological advances with what the human body is built to do: move.   We have not yet evolved to large brain blobs being fed by tubes and hovering in glass jars, so might as well keep those limbs working.  If we open up to new concepts and ideas regarding balancing our lifestyle choices (changing dated habits in our work, family, home and school schedules) the world will follow suit. Afterall, the world is our playground, not our work station.

Perhaps the new motto for the next decade should be: “Sit Less. Live Longer.”

…Or for those with a darker sensibility in the aging spirit of post punk I like “Sit still and die.”

Your own genius suggestions are highly encouraged.

Everyone Has a Story. What’s Yours?

garycoleman

I could tell you about the time Gary Coleman saved me from a night of tears, or how at age 6 I used to hang out with an elderly woman named Francis who (I think) ran a flower shop out of her garage, or how I managed to sell a comedy show ticket to Dr. Stephen Hawkins….but it’s more fun sometimes to listen. So, what’s your story? I know you have one….

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Nothing is truer. Life is fascinating, if not plain weird sometimes. We can learn so much from each other and unlock many a creative mind, if we just stop and listen to those around us.

Bur where to begin? A good start is looking to someone who keeps company with the strangest of truths…in various realms of reality…

Say, David Lynch, perhaps…

Lynch has sent a team out across the hidden cobwebbed corners of America in search of “true” American stories…underwhelming tales of hard work and struggles, dirty finger nails and well earned sighs as the screen door to the local bar slams behind…these stories are nostalgic before their time…these times have yet to be awarded a place, which Lynch is now beginning to clear.

I recommend meeting Barry in Fort Davis, TX to understand a good story from the wunderkammen of David Lynch.

A more national and interactive interview program is presented by Story Corps and sponsored by NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  A brilliant interview project with a mission to honor and celebrate lives through listening. You can tell your own story, or interview someone else for the Story Corp Project. Truly every story is unique.  Here are 2 of my favorites, although there are so many great stories, just click on the pictures to hear their stories:

Ronald Ruiz at Story Corp

Ronald Ruiz at Story Corp

Don "Moses" Lerman

Don "Moses" Lerman

You don’t need a public project to start your storytelling adventures.Write your story down. Tell it to someone else. Or better yet, interview someone near you. Learn more about them just because you want to know. Listen. It is surprising what you can learn about others, and simultaneously, discover about yourself.

SunsetStoryteller12

Just want to get away from it all

MABA in Augusta, MO

MABA in Augusta, MO

But can’t afford a spa?

Everyday we are logged on, synched up, plugged in, downloading, uploaded, online, tuned in, check out…deep inhale. News and information buzzes all around, lists of to dos pile up and become endlessly long…kids to camp, meetings to make, repair person to call,  doctor appointments to schedule…and throw in a couple loads of laundry while we’re at it.

Our lifestyles can easily become ridiculous. It’s all we can do sometimes to find those 15 minutes a day to give ourselves, let alone an hour for working out or yoga or whatever.

And let’s face it, a week away on a deserted island is a pipe dream. Even a weekend away at a spa somewhere for a little r & r is laughable.

What’s a stress case to do?

Consider the monastic getaway.

Hold up. Let’s stop and address all concerned – From those with a strong religious background, to the agnostic, and even aetheist friends – on a few important points here.

“Retreating” could offer the following:  1. Simple room and board to people of all backgrounds and denominations or lack there of. 2. complete solitude 3.peace and relaxation. 4. praying and/or meditation are optional and not required. 5. Schedules are not given. Your time is your own. 6. Usually costs are based on what you can donate or afford.

A monastic retreat offers perspective and balance…old school style.

Spirituality may or may not be something you aspire to, but there are few adverse to a little peace of mind and quiet away from the everyday rat race. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to run away for some solitude and self care. You may even learn something from those whose lives are lived simply and with such love for humanity.

There are monasteries, abbeys, and retreat houses throughout the US and the world. Here are a few samples:

Conception Abbey, Conception, MO

Mid America Buddhist Association, Augusta, MO

The Monastery of Christ in the Dessert in Abiqiu, NM

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Berkshire Hills of MA

Valermo Retreat, San Gabriel Mountains, Valyermo, CA

The Raj, Fairfield, IA ( This one is significantly more expensive, and yes it IS a spa, however it seemed important to showcase an ayurvedic option as well).

Christ in the Desert Monastery, Albiqu, NM

Christ in the Desert Monastery, Albiqu, NM

The Easy TV Workout

lect11_5

Missed your workout today, but not your favorite tv show?

So you’re at home watching The Housewives of New Jersey, or Mad Men, or Thirty Rock, or whatevers, and commercial break hits. Instead of hitting fast forward on your DVR, challenge yourself to my commercial break workout. Quick, easy, nothing is missed but some couch potato intermission drool.

The average commercial is approximately 30seconds. Most of these challenges require about 2 -4 commercials, although you could go the entire commercial break if you choose at some point. At this rate you could be getting in 5 minutes of exercise a day. Enough to make a difference in a week. You’d be surprised! Take the challenge!

BREAK #1. EXTENSION with Arm Push (Adapted from Somatic Patterning by Mary Ann Foster)

The arm push will strengthen rounded shoulders. Lying on your belly. Put both arms to the sides and bend your elbows. Palms are flat and all 5 fingers are touch floor! Widen and sink across the front of your chest. Reach your elbows out to the sides to widen across your shoulders. Keep your neck long by reaching out the top of your head. Slowly press your entire hands and forearms into the floor. Sense the force of the push traveling up your arms, into your back and down your spine Continue to push your arms down and out into the floor and raise your head and chest off the floor. Keep the back of your neck long. Let your chest feel broad, your neck free, and your spine feel long. The shoulder blades should be drawn together behind you. The arms stay straight. Hold for at least two commercials. If you feel pain in your back, walk your hands out in front of you further, or prop your belly with a pillow.  If you feel pain in your gluts or legs. Stop.

Extension with arm push

Extension with arm push

don't do this

don't do this

BREAK #2. FOREARM PLANK CHALLENGE

Nothing fancy about this one. Tried and true. Do not do it on your hands, thinking you are making it harder. On the hands is actually easier for your to avoid your core and to tense your shoulders. The forearm plank is good core stability work. Lengthen in the position. Keep stretching your chin and neck past your fists. Keep your armpits reaching for your hips. Hold at least 2 commercials.

Plank

Forearm Plank

BREAK #3. JUMPING JACK CHALLENGE

You know how to do them. So go for it. How many can you do in a commercial break?

Little tips: Try to keep your neck tension free by reaching through the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Pull your belly button to the spine to help from placing too much tension on the knees.

JUMPING JACKS

JUMPING JACKS

BREAK #4 BALANCE CHALLENGE: Balancing on one leg and toes

Practice you balance by standing on one foot for one commercial break. Shift to the other foot for the next commercial. And then balance on your toes for the third  commercial. You can always extend the time. Keep the thought of lift the spine and your posture in mind as you practice your balance. Let your eyes look up to where the wall and ceiling meet to help keep your neck long.

balance on one leg

balance on one leg

Balance on your toes

Balance on your toes

There you are. Not only did you get your tv time in, but your work out as well. Who knows? Maybe it will catch on and become the party game of every tv show watching party across America. Okay. So I’m dreaming big. You could also challenge your kids or grandchildren as well. No matter what, just have fun with it, perhaps making up your own commercial break workouts. Good Luck!

The physics of you – A postural perspective

newton3Used for various poetic and theoretical metaphors, it’s the common simplified version of Sir Issac Newton’s third law of Motion:

for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In other words: forces come in pairs.

In some ways, not too dissimilar, metaphysically speaking, Athanasius Kircher, the Jesuit Polymath and  a 17th Century contemporary to Newton, was on the same track. Kircher argued that magnetism was the principal force organizing and controlling nature. Propelling and repelling. Pushing and pulling. Lengthening and Contracting.

The human body can fall under both Newton’s 3rd law and Kircher’s theories as well…at least in my metaphorical analogy. Our muscles stretch and contract. Whether we recognize it or not, we are constantly doing both. And as linear as these principles sound, they are constantly acting upon us in various levels and dimensions. Ohhh. deep. But true.

Look at this guy.

slouch

He’s slumping. The Back muscles are stretching. The back top of the neck is contracting. The front of the shoulders are contracting. The front of the neck is stretching.

Reverse all that. Contract the mid back. Stretch the back of the neck. Stretch the front of the shoulders. Contract the front of the neck. You might get something like this:

uprightIf upright posture were that easy, why don’t we just do that all the time? Lots of reasons. One is that our eyeballs are in the front of heads. If they were on top, it would be a different story. Not to mention most of our senses are geared forward.

Secondly, gravity gets us down. Our center of gravity gives into force exerted on our bodies and senses over time.

Collapsing into gravity from the center of the body, causes the shoulder to go up, the spine to compress, the hip flexors to contract, and the neck to strain. It’s like you have two opposing magnets, one on your head and one at your feet, smushing you in the center.

Human Corkscrew 1b

Try lengthening from the inside out. Stretching your center of gravity outward in all directions. Imagine you have 2 attracting magnets, one on your head and one at your feet, pulling you long in both directions, and stretching your vertebral discs apart. As your spine stretches long, you will find you shoulders will drop down and you hips will release.

Human Corkscrew Shoulders Downaimages-1

It’s your personal orientation to gravity. Why not use “the force” to your advantage. Playing the laws of gravity and motion to your advantage can create a more an upright posture, which is not only physically beneficial, but mentally as well. “Huh?” You say… Standing tall exudes confidence and creates an overall sense of well being. You also breathe deeper, creating a more relaxed and calm mind.  It’s very hard to slump and be in a good mood at the same time. Cheer yourself up and use the pull of the earth for good posture and new muscular strength.

Remember, it’s all in your perspective…or your relative perspective to the gravity of your situation.

The World is Bound in Secret Knots

The World is Bound in Secret Knots

(For more information on Athanasius Kircher, check out the most wonder-filled museum in the United States: The Museum of Jurassic Technology)