Chronic Pain and Our Brain

Have you ever wondered what happens to the brain when we are in pain? Maybe you threw out your back and are laid up on the couch in agony.  Your Central Nervous System is in overdrive as it sends pain signals to the brain, saying “Pain! Pain! Pain!” Automatically your bodies adjust to avoid the pain.  Then, perhaps, in a couple days the pain subsides and we begin to have relief OR, if you are not so lucky, it continues to last for months or years!

There are 2 types of pain: acute, which is a rapid onset of pain and chronic which could have been brought on acutely and then persists for up to 3 months.  It is within those 3 months the pain should be begin to subside. If it does not, you have either one of two issues:

  1. The source of the stress that caused the pain in the first place has not been addressed, OR
  2. Your body has healed but you brain is still firing pain signals.

Think of it this way: Have you ever gone roller or ice skating and when you took your skates off after an hour or so and began walking again, you still felt like you were skating?  Your brain adapted to what the physical body was experiencing therefore created new signals in the brain to adjust to it’s environment.  But when you took the skates off, the brain hadn’t caught up yet to what the body was actually doing, which was walking and not skating.  It’s kind of like an echo.

This is what happens when chronic pain lasts longer than 3 months without proof of re-injury.  When exposed to pain for long periods of time the brain adapts into pain-mode even after the source of the pain has been healed!  It’s almost like your brain has this echo or a loop in the brain pattern that hasn’t yet readjusted.

If you have been in chronic pain for longer than 3 months, ask yourself the following:

  • I think about my pain during most of my waking hours or even wake up several times in the night.
  • I identify as a person in pain.
  • I talk about my pain a lot to others.
  • I have experienced a lot of emotional stress in my life.
  • Others identify me as “that guy/girl in (back, etc.) pain.”
  • I am depressed.
  • The MD says I should no longer be having pain because the source of the pain has healed and I have taken all the steps necessary to heal physically, yet I am still in pain.
  • I am dependent on medications to remain pain-free OR are the medications not working as well as they used to.
  • I am experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder around the pain or the activity that caused the pain.
  • I have tried many modalities to relieve my pain, i.e.: medication, massage, exercise, chiropractic adjustments, decompression therapy, dry needling, acupuncture, physical therapy, meditation, Reiki, etc. to no avail.

If you have answered “yes” to one or all of these, it may be worth it to seek out a professional to address the brain portion of the pain.  This could be a counselor, a psychologist, or even a hypnotist!

Physical healing isn’t the only portion that is necessary to finding pain relief!  I implore you to seek other ways to help you to re-think your pain!

 

References: “Forever Painless” Miranda Esmonde-White

“The Pain-Free Program” Anthony B. Carey, M.A., C.S.C.S.

Injuries and Movement

Very recently I sprained my foot. I wish I could say it was doing something fun and exciting but alas…I misstepped coming off a stepstool while painting our bathroom.  Needless to say not only did I hurt my foot (and my ego) but the cup of paint flew everywhere, in my hair, my eye and even in my mouth.  This doesn’t count the door, the cabinet and the walls.  Okay, painting done. Check!

Unexpected injuries happen more than we like.  Fortunately, they don’t have to be the end of the world.  (Maybe just the end of some activities for a short time.)  In the past I may have just iced it, babied it, and let it go without a diagnosis.  But here is what I have learned about injuries:

  • Get a diagnosis. Diagnosis is key, whether it is an examination or an x-ray.  It will determine the root cause of the problem and how to proceed with treatment. I have seen others who forewent a diagnosis only to end up in worse shape or in an otherwise preventable surgery.
  • Follow doctor’s orders. I am a big proponent of listening to your own body and doing what you feel you can, HOWEVER, it is important to bare in mind the advice of a body specialist. They have been trained in knowing exactly how to treat an injury.  If, on the other hand, your gut tells you the advice you are receiving is not aligning with your particular situation, get a second opinion.
  • Be mindful of imbalances. After an injury occurs our bodies are quick to make adjustments.  This is simultaneously good and bad.  After I hurt my foot, I naturally adjusted my gait to keep pressure off the injury.  This may have been good for my foot but a day later I noticed my opposing hip feeling tension and soreness.  I am sure you have seen someone with a lower body injury trying to walk?  Without asking you know right away something was injured. Their gait is disproportionate.  Other areas of their body are taking over causing tightness, soreness or even tears in tissues. This is why it is very common, post healing the injured area of the body, to have pain in another area from imbalances.  Depending on your injury this may or may not be avoided.  Body awareness, body work such as massage therapy or body rolling and/or physical therapy is necessary in maintaining good alignment not only for the injured areas but for the compensating areas as well.  This will make for a shorter healing time overall.
  • Don’t be afraid to move. It is very common to avoid moving when something hurts.  So we sit around and wait for the injured area to heal.  Have you noticed how much harder it is to move once immobilized for a time period?  Depending on the length of the immobilization, atrophy can occur making it harder to move.  This we are familiar. But, did you know sleeping eight hours can already begin the gluing process, let alone not moving several days or weeks after an injury?  Do you ever wonder why it feels so good to stretch?  It’s because it helps to recirculate blood and fluids around the tissues and melt the tightness in the body.  When we do not move for long periods we get “fuzz.”  This is actually tough connective tissue that forms between the muscle fibers.  When the muscles are not moved they get stiffer and glue us down.  This is why it is so much harder to move when we haven’t in a while.  And this is why a diagnosis is SO important.  If you are able (and allowed) to move, even if it hurts a little, DO IT!  This doesn’t mean crying while walking to the fridge and back, but make sure to do what you can.  Once I received my diagnosis I knew it would be okay to move my foot.  In fact, with a sprain movement is recommended for healing. Plus, I find the more I move, the less pain I have over time.  Now, that doesn’t mean I am running marathons or doing Cross-Fit but I alternate between icing, resting, moving and incorporating non-impact exercises such as Essentrics®.

If you are not at all squimish about the body I highly recommend Dr. Hedley’s “Fuzz Speech,” which will clarify my point.

And lastly,

  • Avoid injuries in the first place. Listen to your body, plan ahead and use common sense. When all else fails, refer to 1-4 😉

Here are some things to remember when dealing with an injury:

*Ice for Inflammation, Heat for Healing.  Once the inflammation is gone, you can use heat to bring healing blood flow to the area. Alternating between ice and heat is also a good option.

*Elevate the injury above the heart to reduce swelling.

* Put yourself first for a while if possible! Get others to help and wait on you!

Best wishes to remain injury free!

Reference:

https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=uf7009

Feature image by: Mitchell Griest on Unsplash

 

 

Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain Linked to Diminished Lung Capacity.

Did you know that most people who suffer from chronic neck and shoulder pain only use one-quarter of their lung capacity? Yamuna Zake and Stephanie Golden, authors of “Body Rolling: An Experiential Approach to Complete Muscle Release” state that “If the lungs are not expanded to at least 50%…there will be restriction throughout the torso. Many people who suffer from chronic neck and shoulder problems do not understand how much these problems are related to lack of mobility in the torso-you cannot get full length through the neck if your thoracic cage is restricted.”  Due to this restriction adequate breathe is achieved by lifting the shoulders which in turn creates neck and shoulder problems from overuse.

But what causes this restriction in the first place? It all stems from these or other related issues:

  • Underuse of the thoracic area
  • Muscle cell atrophy
  • “Gluing down” of conective tissue
  • Skeletal imbalances
  • Restriction from injuries

Thoracic cage restriction is usually brought on by habits, work-related musculoskeletal disorders, injuries and otherwise.  This “gluing” down doesn’t happen overnight.  We may not notice our restricted breathing but we will notice pain brought on by our compensating behaviors, such as raising the shoulders for larger breath.  This, over time, can lead to neck pain, shoulder pain and headaches.

As humans we are inherently lazy creatures. (At a subconcious level of course!) Our bodies will only put forth effort into keeping parts of the body used on a REGULAR basis viable.  If the rib cage, spine, chest, abdominals are not moved AWAY from the center of the body on a regular basis, they become compressed, limiting lung space. And we need all the lung space we can get!  Oxygen keeps our blood flowing for increased energy, better digestion and reduction of anxiety!

In an effort to decompress the lungs for more breath and pain relief, here are some things to keep in mind:

Work the spine in all directions.

Forwards, backwards, twisting, lateral bends.  Move as our bodies were intended to move, DAILY! Here are some examples to work into the spine, abdominals, chest and shoulders.

Front to Back: Alternate between tailbone tucked under and upper back rounded, shoulders rolling in (Figure 1.1) to tailbone pulled back, arms behind and chest open. (Figure 1.2).  Gently perform these movements several times alternating sides.

 

Figure 1.1                                      Figure 1.2

Side to Side Lateral side bend with chair.  Hold on to the back of a stable chair.  Opposite arm up in the air-keeping the shoulder relaxed.   Breathe in and as you exhale, shoulder square, lean over the back of the chair pushing the rib cage out and up to the ceiling. (Figure 2).

IMG_9723
Figure 2  Lateral Side Bend with Chair
  • Work the rib cage in all directions.

We tend to think the lungs are just in the front. It’s important to remember to expand to the front, sides and back of the rib cage.

  • Increase length in the abdominals and spine.

Our trademarked Neutral Elongation and Ceiling Reaches are great for liberating the abdominals, which in turn liberate the spine and rib cage. (Figure 3)

Neutral Elongation: Take 2 arms up in the air taking care not to push forward into your thighs.  Pull upwards using the ribcage and the abdominals.  It is important not to use the shoulders when reaching upwards but rather keeping them relaxed and away from your ears. (Figure 3)

Ceiling Reaches use the same stance as the neutral elongation but alternate one arm to the ceiling, pushing the rib cage out to the side wall when reaching, then alternate arms. (Figure 4)

 

(Figure 3)                                         (Figure 4)

Relieve stress in shoulders and neck.  If you do not have trouble with orthostatic hypotension (extreme dizziness going from bending over to standing position) try:

Zombies: Roll down one vertebra at at time, bending your knees and tucking under your tailbone.  Sway from side to side, relaxing shoulders, neck and jaw. Take in a deep breath to expand your “back” lungs then alternate droping fists to the floor (Figure 4). You should feel a pull alternating from the left to the right side of the lower back. Keep your

IMG_9727
Figure 5 Zombie

shoulders relaxed as much as possible then draw circles with your fists above the floor, going both directions then switch arms.  This will liberate the shoulder joints.

Finally, bend your knees, tuck under the tailbone and roll up one vertebra at a time until your head is upright.  You may get a head rush so take your time to let the blood settle.  When upright, take a deep breath and roll your head down your chest from side to side, very slowly as you exhale.  You may roll your head back but DO NOT tilt so far back that you compress the cervical vertebra in the neck.

 

These simple exercises, along with a keen body awarness about your every day postures, can really help increase lung capacity to reduce neck and shoulder pain!  Keep me posted on your progress!

All exercises described here are property of Essentrics®.  For more information, please go to Essentrics.com.

 

 

 

Fitting Fitness Into Your Life When You’re a Single Parent

If you’re a single parent, you know it takes real strength to raise a child on your own. You do everything you can to take care your kid, but how do you make time to take care of yourself? Physical fitness can be challenging for single parents, but you have to stay healthy to stay strong.  Finding the time, money, and energy to keep yourself in shape can be tough. Thankfully, it’s easier than you think to stick to a fitness plan with these tips.

 Buy Basic Fitness Gear on a Budget 

 Raising a child is expensive. As a single parent, you know the value of sticking to a financial plan, and an expensive gym membership can throw you off track. Luckily, there are inexpensive ways to get the exercise you need. You can build a small home gym and bring workouts home with a few pieces of basic equipment. Pick up some weights, like a kettlebell and resistance bands, to start. To save even more money, scour online or local classifieds to find used equipment that won’t sabotage your budget.

 Workout in the A.M.

 For most parents, mornings are the perfect time for doing things on your own, including exercise. Try making workouts part of your wake-up routine. Aside from being more convenient, studies show that morning exercise can have a whole host of benefits. Getting your heart pumping in the morning will leave you with more energy, a sense of calm, and a positive outlook on your day. So try to carve out a few minutes in the morning to take a walk, lift some weights, or complete a quick yoga routine. Your mind and body will thank you later.

Exercise with Your Kids

 As a single parent, sometimes even mornings can’t offer time away from your kids. However, you can find ways to stay in shape even when your kids are always around. Kids can benefit from physical activity as much as adults. There are plenty of fitness moves you can do with your kids at home, so try a few out together. Or, take advantage of time outside to help both of you stay in shape. Work out on the playground, or go for a hike together. By working out with your kids, you’ll build your health and the bond you have with your children.

Remember: Exercise Produces Energy

 If you’re feeling exhausted all of the time, exercise can seem impossible. The stress and strain of parenting can wear you out, but exercise could actually be the perfect remedy. Not only does exercise reduce stress, but it also boosts your positive, motivating emotions. Part of this is biology — the body is regulating itself during exercise, but it also has to do with seeing and feeling the results of your efforts. Stick to your fitness plans for a few weeks, no matter how hard it may seem, and you’ll start to see and feel these positive results soon enough.

Prep Healthy Meals

 A key element in any fitness plan is sticking to a healthy diet. With a tight budget and busy schedule, eating healthy can be tricky when you’re a single parent. If you can find a little time on the weekend, however, cleaning up your diet can be frugal and easy. Planning easy meals gives you a chance to plan out your food for the week and make sure you have wholesome, healthy options for yourself, as well as your kids. By planning meals out ahead of time, you can avoid food waste that can waste your money and find better deals at the grocery store. Healthy food can help you stay in shape and lead to better health for your kids as well.

Being a single parent is hard, but staying fit doesn’t have to be. With a few tweaks to your weekly routine, you can stay on track to reaching your fitness goals. So do yourself — and your children — a favor and start making the time to take care of yourself so you can enjoy more healthy, happy years with your kids!

Photo Credit: Pexels

Article written by guest writer Sheila Olson of http://www.fitsheila.com.  Please visit her website for more great articles and information!

Relaxation: A “New” Concept in Strength Training.

I am no stranger to the old adage “no pain, no gain.”  As a former body builder, I pushed myself to the limit training 3 hours a day on a limited diet. I don’t know about you but I’m not a big fan of pain, as I learned through that process.  I wondered, is there an easier, more effective way to achieve the same goal? This lead me into thinking not about how hard but simply how to train body.

Our bodies are AMAZING.  It’s glorious to imagine everything working the way it should, at least most of the time. When I train my clients I tell them, care for your body as if you were an infant.  Do not push or force your way through your workout, let alone your life!

But how can we strengthen through relaxation?  In the Essentrics® program we teach our clients about the neuromuscular system, namely our muscle reflexes. Our bodies are equip with a really smart nervous system.  This is a system that works automatically to protect us from causing injury-especially when we use force.  Our muscle reflexes automatically relax the muscles and tendons to avoid tearing in most situations. When we extend our body away from the midline eccentrically, in a relaxed state, the muscle fibers safely work with the reflexes to “go to the end of a stretch” recruiting maximum muscle cells for strengthening purposes.  This extension also creates a longer, heavier lever, which in physics is much more strengthening!

The big question here: how do we relax while working out?   Relaxation comes when you can feel areas of your body through an awareness we call kinesthetic or body awareness.  This awareness first comes from a consciousness of what you are feeling (i.e. pressure, tingling, pain) and where you are feeling it (neck, lower back, shoulder).  Just like coordination, body awareness improves over time when practiced.  This awareness allows you to sense how to relax by connecting the mind to the body, giving you an opportunity to get the most out of your workout!

Pointers to help you to relax in your next workout:

  • Create a relaxing environment using music. Hard, fast, heavy downbeats in your playlist is fun, but not conducive to relaxing the muscles, especially when working with large, flowing movements. When I want to create relaxation in my Essentrics® class, I speak softly and use quiet, flowing music.  Download Bach, Yo-Yo Ma, or Brian Crain onto your playlist and use it in your next session.
  •  You are what you think.  If you imagine you are under the weight of a heavy barbell, your body moves heavier.  If you imagine you are a light balloon floating on a warm breeze, your body becomes lighter. Many cues I use to create relaxation in Essentrics® include “lift a light feather,” “gently pull on a silk sheet,” or “run your fingers through warm water.”  Put your mind in the right frame of mind and the rest will follow.
  • Deep Breathing. Breathing during any physical activity is critical to move blood and revitalize all systems.  This can be done automatically or consciously.  Deep breathing is a conscious breath utilizing more muscles to open up space in the lungs.  This type of breathing is said to bring the body out of sympathetic (fight or flight) and into parasympathetic (relaxation). The key is to inhale down through the belly, hold for a few seconds, then, making a round hole with your lips, blow out the air, taking twice as much time to exhale as you took to inhale.  Breathing in this way will tap into a nice state of relaxation.  Do this breath several times during the workout.
  • Leave your stress at the door. I begin my classes with a 2 minute mental “break” from the day.  This includes beginning with soft, slow music in conjunction with deep breathing down through the belly.  I then begin a process of shaking the hands, arms and shoulders with slow neck rolls and shoulder rolls. This mindless movement allows the thoughts you brought in with you to fall away, creating a relaxed state. This in turns improves body awareness and deeper relaxation during class.  Try these techniques before and during your next workout!
  • Practice, practice, practice! When we repeat patterns over and over such as relaxing the muscles in your workout, the brain creates new neuro-pathways in the brain.  When new pathways are created, so are new patterns of doing things.  This creates automation of our actions and happy healthy habits!

As creator of Essentrics® program, Miranda Esmonde-White states, “Relaxation is the NEW strengthening…the NEW power!”  The combination of relaxation and eccentric training, eliminating force, allows us to tap into much deeper, stabilizing muscles for ultimate strength and power!  Try relaxation techniques in your next workout and see if you notice a difference!

The Perfection Myth

“There’s no need to be perfect to inspire others.  Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.”  ~Unknown Author

This bridge featured in this photo by Delano Balten was most likely created hundreds of years ago.  It seems it would function the way a bridge should and needless to say it is esthetically pleasing, however do you think the architect was perfect in it’s design?  How many plans do you think he scrapped before deciding on this design? Do you think the architect was hard on himself for not getting it right the first time? Maybe. And do you think the stone layers were perfect in the way each stone was layed?  The answer is most likely not. And yet, the bridge works!

Nobody expects perfection, except us. I am no exception.  In fact, I have struggled with my need to have perfection, keep control and win every time. After all, doesn’t perfection correlate with success?

What is perfection really?  It probably means something different to all of us, I suppose.  “If I’m perfect so and so will love me more.”  “If I’m perfect life will go so much more smoothly.”  “If I’m perfect the boss will hold me in high regard and give me a raise.” “If I’m perfect I will make more money, raise perfect kids and never disappoint.”

Sometimes we have missed opportunities in life because we just didn’t consider ourselves “good enough.”  Or we procrastinate because we’re afraid to fail. Look, I’ve been there and I’m here to tell you that I’m not perfect, nor will I ever be.  I disappoint, I don’t do as well as I would like to, I am not the perfect parent or daughter or wife but I strive, every day, to do my best, based on the information available to me.  And to me that speaks volumes.

Did you know that the word fail doubles as an acronym?  First Attempt In Learning.  Pretty cool, right?  This is something I remind myself and my children on a regular basis.  And sometimes “failure” is the right step to actually get you to your goal!

How often have you seen others speaking of their imperfections and often felt better about it?  It’s not because we want bad things to happen to them, it’s because we can relate.  We are human and we are here on earth to learn and then make better.

Almost a year ago I quit my “day job” to be home with my children and start a business. Let me tell you that it’s not all been a cake walk, but I have learned so much about myself, and who I want to be as a parent, wife, daughter, friend and business owner.  It has been a struggle in learning that I’m not perfect and fully come to grips that I won’t be.  And if you ask me, this is where our friends and family come in to fill the gaps. To allow us that space to do as well as we possibly can then let it go and let others take over where our “weaknesses” prevail.

So when you eat something you shouldn’t have or you don’t get to the gym like you planned.  Just know that it’s okay and the past is already behind you, giving you new, fresh moments to move forward. Do not look back, do not regret what you have done or live with the shoulda’s and coulda’s but instead grasp that very moment in which you live and be grateful for it. Give yourself some grace-you totally deserve it!

So, what is the perfection myth? That perfection as we define it exists!  Embrace your perfect self in the midst of mediocrity!  I wish to inspire you, through my imperfections, to do the very best you can knowing full well things may not turn out perfectly or as as you expected.  Our personal journey is placed before us not to perfect it, but to live it!  So, go forth and live!  It’s time to embrace your own personal perfection, whatever that may be!

Best to all,

Jill

Stretching and Sports Training

My 7-year-old son recently began taking ice skating lessons at one of our local rinks.  He had been asking to take lessons ever since our outing to an outdoor set-up in Carmel, Indiana over Thanksgiving break.  Since he mentioned taking lessons more than once I thought we would try it. Not only does he love it, but he excels at it and I am really, very proud of him!

During the 40-minute lesson all skill levels are grouped off on the ice from Basic 1 to advanced.  I usually watch above in a closed off mezzanine to stay a little warmer and to get an overall view of all the adorable young skaters. I find it so interesting to watch different levels practice their skills and am amazed that, especially with the more advanced levels, what is required of their bodies to perform the required stunts. Any skater (or anyone involved in sports, for that matter!) will tell you its all about balance, flexibility, strength and coordination.  This requires not only good body awareness but proprioceptive awareness as well.

Kinesthetic (or Body) Awareness is how your body judges and adjusts to perform seamlessly in the world around you.  Have you ever held a full laundry basket as you walked up or down the stairs?  You aren’t looking yet you know at what level to raise or lower your leg to safely hit the next step.  This is kinesthetic awareness.

Proprioceptive Awareness, on the other hand, is internal messaging from the nervous system that drives our movements or how we move our bodies in relationship to joint position sense, temperature/pain, texture/pressure, stretch/tension/compression and lastly, vibration.  These are continuously utilized as we practice with our bare feet in Essentrics®.  Each motion we make with our feet sends a vibration or signal throughout the body to hold it upright to avoid falling or ultimately, injury.

Just like a skater, the foot, ankle and calf in the skate (and on the blade in their skate) sends a signal through the body to balance, hold and contract or relax the muscles for mobility and stability.  This is very important, especially when you have to rely on others when skating in group or in a pair!

As I was sat watching the lessons, I overheard a young lady tell her grandmother she was instructed to stretch on the barre on the other side of the room until her time on the ice. As an Essentrics® instructor versed in barre, I was curious to see what exercises she would perform or if she were taught specific stretches.  Not wanting to stare I turned back around to the ice when I heard a “thud”.   Looking around I found the girl slowly getting off the floor, holding her elbow and crying.  Come to find out she had her leg up on the barre, lost her balance and fell! I felt terrible for her!

Her grandmother went over to comfort her and bring her back over to sit.  Since I was right next to her (and just couldn’t resist;) I leaned over and said,

“I teach barre if you would like me to show you some moves.”

“Yes!” she said enthusiastically.

“First things, first,” I told her. “You need a much lower barre.”

Even though she was using the lower of the two barres on the wall to begin with, her hamstring was far to tight to allow her to get her leg up properly, causing her lose her balance and fall. I grabbed the chairs we were sitting on, we placed one leg up on our chairs and I proceeded to show her first how to relax her hips to allow proper movement.  I showed her how to tuck her hips under and how to extend them gently back.  Warming up the hips gently in this manner not only relaxes the reflexes and lubricates the joints with wonderful synovial fluid, but allows the participant to become proprioceptively aware.

I then instructed her to extend her leg on the chair straight out, toes pointed  (or as straight as she could get it…Darn tight hamstrings!) and made her round her back first, then straighten her back so she could feel the difference in the tension on the hamstring. Rounding the back causes a loss in the tension on the stretch as opposed to straightening your back with your posterior pushing to the back wall, which creates a more intense stretch and it all comes down to opening up the body as we pull the joints away from each other.  Imagine holding a Theraband or a rubber band at each end pulling it in different directions.  This is exactly what the muscle does when stretched in two different directions.  Not only is it relieving on the joints but it is extremely beneficial to gain not only the maximum flexibility but strength as well!

Training your body for any physical activity or sports requires a specific set of muscles that are usually utilized over and over.  In ice skating, specifically, there are a lot of concentric, or muscle contractions that shorten the muscles, used for mobility and stability.  Flexibility needs to be a large component for not only ice Ballet but every other sport as well!  But it seems that flexibility is a second thought.  We know it’s important, but why?  And most importantly, how can it be done properly so we can achieve the maximum benefit all while preventing injuries in the long run?

For all you sports lovers, here is some advice:

  • Relax when you move. Relaxation taps into the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing our body to remove itself from a too often used sympathetic system or what we commonly know it as “fight or flight.”  Relaxation, allows the body to safely override the muscle reflexes to extend maximally, which in turn strenghthens the muscles! Our motto in Essentrics® “Relaxation is the NEW strengthening!”
  • Use dynamic movements to stretch as opposed to static stretching.  There is a time and place for static stretching, however holding a stretch too long has been proven  to contract the muscle by way of muscle reflexes going into protective mode; not allowing the muscle to stretch to it’s full capacity.  If you really want to really tap into much more muscle, connective tissue and bones, it is important to move “with” the muscle reflexes by moving gently and dynamically through a stretch (a gentle movement or pulsation in a legthened position). Not only will this allow the muscles to relax but they will stay in the “opened” position longer after beginning your regular activities;  decreasing your chance of injury.
  • Breathe. Similar to relaxation, deep, focused full belly breathing taps into your parasympathetic nervous system, lowering your blood pressure, increasing healing circulation, relaxing muscles and connective tissue and aiding in better digestion and elimination to keep your body well-regulated. Deep breathing also reduces anxiety, which is good when in competition!
  • Use all the muscles, connective tissue and joints the way they were intented to be used every time you stretch. I know it’s common to think: “I’m an ice skater, I only use my legs and abs most of the time.  I’m just going to stretch those and be fine.”  Actually, we are not a group of separate muscles but rather connected chains! When one muscle is worked it affects another up or down the chain to either stabilize or mobilize our body.  In order to remain balanced, every joint, muscle, bone and surrounding connective tissue should be included, every single time, no matter what sport you perform.
  • Learn to become aware.  Become more aware of how your body moves whether in your sport or in everyday activities. This body awareness allows a deeper understanding and connection to not only how you body moves and holds itself in certain postures but you may begin to understand why it does so.  This is important  to make the necessary corrections to avoid injury or pain in the body.
  • Lastly, be kind to your body. I tell my clients, treat your body as it were an infant.  Care for it, carry it gently as you move and be grateful for all its wonderful capabilities!

For more information on static and dynamic stretching and how to properly stretch for your sport, contact me for a session in Essentrics®.  I can teach you some amazing ways to relieve tension, create more range of motion around the joints (flexibility) and increase your strength and power all with no equipment!

References: Dr. Emily Splichal, Podiatrist and founder of Evidence Based Fitness Academy

Miranda Esmonde-White, Founder of Essentrics®

 

 

5 Self-Care Strategies to Implement into Your Workout Routine For a Healthier Lifestyle

This week’s blog is guest written by Sheila Olson, a.k.a. FitSheila.  You may visit her website at fitsheila.com.  Enjoy!

Achieving a healthy lifestyle is not an easy feat. While it’s tempting to simply push yourself in a high-intensity workout, this too often means neglecting your basic self-care needs. Being self-aware and having the ability to check in with yourself allows you to address any physical and mental needs and create a balanced lifestyle.

Check out some tips below on how you can incorporate self-care into your fitness routine.

  1. Don’t Skip the Warm-Up or Cool-Down

Resist the urge to dive right into your workout. A proper warm-up and cool-down will ease you in and out of your workout on both a mental and physical level. The American Heart Association recommends spending just five to 10 minutes to warm up your muscles. This will not only make them more flexible and less injury-prone, but will increase your physical performance. Likewise, time spent stretching at the end of your workout will help prevent cramping and stiffness.

2.  Train Smart, Not Hard

If you are looking to lose weight or gain muscle mass, pushing yourself harder is generally not the best route. Going to the gym every day or over-increasing your intensity is not the way to get the results you want. In fact, overdoing it like this can lead to a burnout.

Instead, it is better to train smarter. Your muscles need time to rest and recover to grow. Overtraining can also lead to problems sleeping, cause exhaustion, and create mood swings. You should aim to work out three to six times a week and vary your routine by concentrating on different muscle groups each day for the best results.

3. Catch Those ZZZs

Sleep is incredibly important. In order to fully accomplish your health goals, you need to prioritize getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night.

If you have trouble falling asleep, try putting away your phone and turning off that TV. CNN warns of blue light emitted from screens that tricks the brain into thinking it is still daytime. Instead, swap your phone for a book, or try meditating before going to bed. Turning your phone off or putting it on silent mode for the night is another good way to keep from getting distracted when it goes off.

4.  You Are What You Eat

It’s no secret that what you eat is important in maintaining a healthy diet. While it’s easy to remember to pay attention to all the carbs, protein, and fats you consume, most people forget about their vitamins and minerals. These micronutrients are just as important. They are what keep your body running as it should.

Don’t forget to hydrate throughout the day, either. Staying properly hydrated ensures all the nutrients you eat get to all the right places in your body. Watch out for signs of dehydration like increased thirst, dry mouth, decreased urine, exhaustion, headaches and dizziness. Be sure to drink up if you experience any of these signs.

5. Have a Self Check-In

Both while exercising and throughout the day, listen to your body. If your arms are sore, work another muscle group. If you have a headache, drink some water. If you are stressed, take time to do a hobby that you enjoy.

It is also a good idea to keep in mind why you are doing what you do. This skill is especially important in those recovering from substance abuse. Many going through rehab find exercise a great outlet and motivator for getting healthy and staying sober. It can increase confidence and provide a sense of accomplishment.

However, many are also susceptible to replacing one addiction with another and may start obsessing over weights and calories. Successfully keeping an eye on the why and regularly checking in with yourself can prevent this from happening by knowing when it’s time to seek help.

Slowing It Down

In many ways, self-care is about slowing things down. It is about taking much-needed time to take care of yourself and putting your needs first. By doing so, you can achieve a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

What does it REALLY mean to have a Balanced Body?

This is a very loaded question if you ask me! In referring to Essentrics®, a balanced body means that all 650 muscles, 360 joints, 205 bones and all the surrounding connective tissue are functioning evenly so that not one area of the body is working harder.  If one area of the body is working harder that means the muscles may be tighter (agonist) and the opposing may be looser or weaker (antagonist).  This can create imbalance, which can lead to pain.

In order to know how to be balanced its important to understand how imbalances occur. Our bodies are meant to function seamlessly through life-even as we age!  So how is it we seem to get more aches and pains as we get older?  It is not necessarily linked to our chronological age but rather attributed to how long our bodies have been exposed to environments that cause those imbalances. So, how hard have you been on your body throughout the years?  Remember that 21 year old daredevil you once were?  Never thought that would eventually creap up on you, huh? 😉skateboarding_picture_1_168189

Imbalances, throughout life, are caused by many different things: habits, work environment, recreational activities, injuries, surgeries, scar tissue, muscle cell atrophy including a sedentary lifestyle! When our bodies are imbalanced compensations natually occur (because our bodies are just so smart!)

Say, for example, your left shoulder has been giving you pain and you cannot raise it past your ear.  In order to reach something from a tall cabinet you lean your body to the right to reach higher since your shoulder will not go any further.  In the long run this causes tightness in the muscles on your right side: your opposing spinal muscles, latissumus dorsi and obliques, for example, which are now causing pain in your lower back, all from compensation. We are not a body made up of separate muscles but rather muscle and connective tissue chains that communicate with one another to function.  If one area is weak, another area will compensate so we do not completely become disabled from the first sign of imbalance. (An imbalance we may be unaware of!)  And unfortunately those imbalances, if left untreated, can lead to pain.

So what can be done?

  • Be mindful of postures throughout the day. For example: sleeping, standing, sitting, working, carrying groceries, kids, etc.
  • Understand how you feel in these positions. Does your lower back hurt because you stand with one foot propped up on the other, causing your hips to deviate? Do you hold the phone hands-free between your ear and your shoulder stressing your neck muscles and cervical vertebra? What areas of the body do you feel pain and in what positions do you feel the pain the most?
  • Make a log. Write down the areas of the body you feel strain or pain when involved in repetitive motions, standing or sitting.  Or better yet, have someone take pictures of you (secretly) so you can understand what you look like in different postures throughout the day.
  • Find a therapeutic fitness class. By “therapeutic”  I mean a class, such as Essentrics®, that focuses on all working parts of the body in balanced way.  It should be easy on the body, work from toes and feet to hands and head. The program you select should not only improve flexibility and strength but help you gain more awareness of how your body functions and should function.
  • Find an acupuncturist to do dry needling into deeper tissue, a massage therapist who specializes in Myofascial Release techniques and/ or learn how to use a foam roller to release tight or toxin filled fascia (connective tissue). Most of the time pain stems from the connective tissue rather than the muscles because of the higher percentage of nerves in the tissue.
  • Relax. To make a positive difference in how your body works it is important to relax-both mentally and physically. Breathe deeply and slowly and allow time to feel what your body feels, good and bad.
  • Find a specialist. When needed, find a specialist in body mechanics such as a physical therapist, sports trainer or therapeutic exercise specialist.

It is important to know that imbalances can be a detriment to the body and it’s daily functions.  Know that you are not alone in this!  There are many, like myself, who have made it their life’s work to help! Stay tuned for my next post!

Suggested reads:

“The Pain-Free Program.”  By: Anthony B. Carey, Founder of Function First®

 “Forever Painless.”  By: Miranda Esmonde-White, Founder of Essentrics®

 

 

Techniques To Balance Our Muscles

As I stated in my last post Essentrics® primarily focuses on eccentric training of the muscles. Essentrics®, however, is built upon a collection of techniques designed to keep the body balanced throughout the routine.  For instance, if we point the toes down toward the floor in plantar flexion it is important to point the toes up into dorsiflexion.  This prevents one side of the body from working in an unbalanced manner. For this reason it is important to not only train eccentrically but concentrically: to balance the body.

In my previous post, I touched on two techniques that help to balance the body between concentric and eccentric movements.  One is a positional technique: a technique used to position the body to ensure correct load path and the other is a neuromuscular technique: a technique used to trigger a response in the nerves and muscles.

One positional technique in particular that utilizes concentric and eccentric movements is called short lever/long lever.  A short lever is essentially a muscle that is shortened and a long lever is a muscle that is elongated.  In other words, a short lever is an arm that is bent at the elbow or a leg that is bent at the knee.  A long lever is when the limb is in extension.  Often in Essentrics®, one sequence of movement can combine various short and long levers.

When we discuss the neuromuscular technique, agonist/antagonist, it is explaining what happens to the muscles when shortened or elongated as well, however, unlike short/long levers, agonist/antagonist are reliant upon each other to occur.  In essence, when someone bends their elbow and concentrically contracts (shortens) the bicep (agonist), the tricep elongates or relaxes (antagonist). Amazing, right?

 

 In “Pull the Donkey” technique arms begin in long lever and end in short lever.  Notice the right leg in long lever and left leg into long lever.

It is important to have concentric training balance out our eccentric training.  Balance in training is of utmost importance in not only keeping our bodies in alignment but pain-free as well!

Resource:  Essentrics® program and Miranda Esmonde-White