You don't know what you've got until it's gone.
This is so true when it comes to our own bodies as I have discovered during my life journey.
I was in my twenties and saw some of my work colleagues looking quite rosy cheeked and slightly breathless during a lunch break. Curious I asked what they had been up to. The reply came "Oh, we've been to a lunchtime exercise class". They explained a bit about the class and I decided to go along. (From what they said, it didn't sound that it was too strenuous, after all I did use my bicycle alot.)
Well, what a revelation that was!
The exercise moves were not difficult but the amount of aerobics was enough to make me feel slightly breathless or at least raised the pulse. I suddenly realised that I wasn't as "fit" as I thought I was. By that I mean that things that I could quite happily do in my teens (just because I was more active) were not as easy to do 10 years on. When did that happen?! The body doesn't send signals that it has changed - it had simply adapted to my lifestyle - which wasn't very active!
Surprised by this silent decrease in "fitness", I decided to join the exercise class. Gradually I saw an improvement - I could now carry on a conversation while exercising! Lunchtimes were actually fun!
Your body is your history. It is constantly adapting to what you are doing. It can become stiff and inflexible as you become less active or it can beome responsive and supple with increased activity. Research seems to be showing that a positive adaptation to increased activity continues even among the elderly!
Remember the body is designed for movement. If you've been a bit of a couch potatoe, you may be surprised at what you can't now do.
So maybe "you don't know you've got till it's gone". Get active, develope some body awareness. Give it time. It now seems that "it is never to late to start"!
We use our hands for most of the things that we do in our daily activities: from washing our faces, getting dressed, holding cups of coffee to texting, typing. Hmm, what activities don't involve using your hands?
With all that use, how do you look after them?
So maybe you moisturise them, wash them regularly...? Anything else?
Have you ever thought of stretching out your fingers and hands? Doing hand exercises?
Do your hands ever feel slightly stiff? Have you decided that this might be an early sign of arthritis?
Let's just do a few checks.
Stand up next to and facing a table. Extend both your arms straight in front of you keeping them shoulder width apart. Now lean forward and place both of your palms on the table. Keep your elbows straight. Spread your fingers apart. Are your fingers resting flat on the table? Now lean your weight into your palms and fingers. How does this feel? Does this help to flatten your fingers onto the table?
If you find it difficult to flatten your fingers, this indicates that your finger muscles are starting to shorten. In particular, this means that your finger and forearm flexors are getting short. You need to consider stretching hands out on the table on a daily basis to help lengthen your fingers flexors so your hands remain flexible.
Having checked your flexors, we need to check your extensors. As this can be a strong stretch, I suggest that you only do one arm at a time.
Stand up next to and facing a table. Extend your right arm straight out in front of you. Now lean forward and place your right palm on the table. Now lift the right hand up and bending at the wrist, put the back of your right hand onto the table. Now lean forward. You should be feeling a stretch in your forearm. Now do the other arm!
So how were your hands? Thinking about doing some hand exercise?
Today, I thought I would tell a short story about my experience with the Bowen Technique.
The Bowen Technique is a remedial therapy. It was developed by Tom Bowen who lived in the outback in Australia. It is not clear how he developed the technique but it gained a reputation of being very effective as people traveled miles to have a treatment.
Bowen is an unusual therapy in that there are "rest" periods in the treatment - the therapist leaves the treatment room and allows the body to have a rest. The rest periods are interspersed into the treatment session. Normally, a series of "four moves" are made on the body. Then the therapist moves away from the body, allowing the body to rest. The therapist then returns and continues with another series of moves.
The Bowen move is bascially a move (roll) across muscle tissue. To me, when Bowen moves are done across my back, it feels as if the back has become a stringed instrument and the therapist is "plucking" the strings. The moves are gentle but the treatment is surprisingly powerful.
So now you have the background, back to the short story.
A friend had broken their ankle and it had to put into a cast. It had seemed to heal OK. The cast was removed and she had had physiotherapy sessions and had worked on balance boards, etc. She had be signed off. Yet when you watched her walk, there was just a slight "limp" or something not quite right with her gait. The ankel itself was still occasionally painful. She was still relying on a walking stick.
Anyway, I suggested a Bowen treatment which consisted on the "basic" Bowen plus the addition of moves for the ankle. There was no obvious change after the session.
Later we went out to a garden centre and she was using the walking stick. Suddenly, she said "I feel I don't need to use the stick now." The stick was taken back to the car!
Bowen, a gentle, effective treatment. Have you booked a session?
I'm always looking for variety. I've purchased a book on using foam rollers for stretching and balance. (I have used rollers with clients as a way to passively open the chest muscles that are contributing to rounded shoulder.) I wanted to find out what else people do with rollers.
There are two types of rollers: full round and half round rollers. There are a range of stretches you can do in different positions from lying on them to standing. Using rollers challenges you to maintain core stability while doing various movements.
I recently tried one of the exercises. It seemed an easy exercise: lie on a half roller and raise your arms, one at a time over your head letting the arm should rest on the floor behind you. The challenge, lying on the roller, is to keep your balance while doing the movements. Sounds fairly simple.
The first time I did the move, I did it fairly quickly. Easy.
Then I repeated the movement this time but slower. Paying attention to what I was doing, I realised that there was a difference in how easy the move was between the right and left sides! Moving the right arm was easy and the arm easily rested on the floor. Moving the left arm was a different matter. I could easily move the arm over the head but there was then a feeling that it should be on the floor and it wasn't! (That was actually quite an odd feeling - almost as if the floor had shifted!)
To get the left arm onto the floor, I had to make more of an effort and I could feel a stretch coming up the left side of my body. Hmm, my left side could do with more stretching.
Depending on how quickly you do something, there is a difference in what you notice. Doing a move slower revealed subtle differences in my arm movements that were not obvious when doing the movement quickly.
Take time to feel what you are doing whether it is stretching or doing a massage!
Speed really does matter!
Yesterday, I talked about one of the limitations of getting fit. You might be working harder than you need to because you are focusing on the wrong thing!
Today, I want to look at another problem with an "un-balanced" body: you may be storing up problems for later on!
Do you know how you move?
For instance, stand up with your feet about hip width apart and your feet parallel. Now gently bend your knees. With your knees bent, look down at knees. Are they pointing out towards your 2nd and 3rd toes. If they aren't doing this, then over time you may be stressing your knee joint.
The fact that your knees aren't tracking "correctly" does not mean that there is anything necessarily wrong with your knees. It is an indicator that the joint isn't balanced. How can a joint be "unbalanced"? Joint balance is dependent on the muscles that control the joint. If one muscle is stronger than another it will alter the movement of a joint.
Returning to your knees, there are a number of muscles that affect tracking. There could be a lack of balance in your quadriceps (your quads comprise 4 muscles). One of these muscles maybe pulling more than the others so it disturbs how the knee moves. Your ITB band maybe tight, again affecting the tracking of the knee cap.
Of course, there could be tightness in the hip or even in the ankle that will affect how the knee moves. You probably won't feel this tightness. (We now veiw the body as a fascial network where "stress" is felt throughout the body!)
So part of your "check-up" before you start your get fit plan should include a bodywork session that re-balances your body. Start you get fit plan with a balanced body and you will be giving yourself a head start!
I just love the human body and am constantly amazed at what we do to it and how little we actually know about it!
Take the current mantra of getting fit.
We are admonished to get fit - go to the gym, do some running, take up a sport. Of course, before you take up a new activity, you are advised to have a check-up before you start - getting your blood pressure checked, etc. Yes, it is good advice but I feel that something is missing. I don't think the check-up actually checks on your body - its muscles and posture. Why does this matter?
For a start, if the body is not in balance, then you may be working hard for no reward.
For example, if you already have slightly rounded shoulders, being told to engage your muscles to pull your shoulders back will not change the position of your shoulders.
Why? A simplistic answer is that muscles work in pairs. To actually move a joint, one muscle contracts while the opposite muscle relaxes. This coordination occurs because the contracting muscle "turns off" the opposite muscle. A constantly tight muscle is continually "turning off" the opposite muscle which makes it seem a weak muscle. Until the tight muscle is released and its "turn off" signal stopped, the weak muscle can't respond very well to strength work.
Back to your rounded shoulders. Yes, your shoulders aren't in an ideal position but the problem is actually that muscles in the front of the shoulders are too tight (such as pectoralis major and minor). Until you release the tension in these muscles, you are unlikely to see any change in your shoulder position.
You can work on building up weak muscles but quicker results maybe obtained by stretching and releasing the tight muscles so that the weak muscles then have something to do! You may be surprised at how quickly you see results!
I would suggest that a massage session should be part of your check-up. Developing body awareness is part of getting fit!
The invisible body - what body "facts" have you grown up with?
Yesterday, I examined one of the body facts that we all accept: the body will heal itself. The problem with this is that sometimes I see clients who should have sought help much earlier than they did. The recovery time frame would have been much shorter and they would have been able to do the things they wanted much sooner!
Today, I want to look at another body fact: ageing.
You grow up with the fact of ageing: you won't be able to do what you used to do: you find you can't run as fast as before, you can't touch your toes like you used to. When you mention these problems to others, you are told: "What do you expect? It's your age."
If you accept that ageing as a process of decline, you accept the fact that you won't be able to do what you used to do. Life seems to become ever decreasing circles of being able to do less and less. But wait a moment.
Your body adapts to what you do and for most of us that means slumping over our computers, reclining on the sofa to watch TV, sitting in our cars and driving for miles. Our posture is just a variation around of theme of sitting down in various slumped positions. The tissues in your body adjust to this posture so that when you stand up you start to look like you are sitting down! This short, tight tissue limits your movement so can't do what you used to do.
But what if you changed what you normally do?
What massage therapists and other people who do bodywork know is that your body tissues retain some elasticity and plasticity . Become more aware of what you are doing. Get guidance on stretching and posture, you can do more of what you used to do!
Massage/bodywork is a great way to increase your body awareness and to improve your body's flexibility. Put a spring in your step with massage!
What do you know about your body? I have already posted a short discussion on body awareness. There are so many aspects to this subject that I thought I would return to it.
One aspect that I find interesting is how your "body knowledge" translates into how you treat your body.
You grow up with the self-evidence that the body can heal itself: If you cut your finger, you know that although it is now bleeding, the bleeding will stop, a scab will form, and give it some time and the cut will be completely "gone".
Does this fact of self-healing, explain the delay in seeking help when you have a knock? You are forever thinking "yes, it does hurt, but give it a couple of days and it will get better". The problem is that the couple of days turns into weeks or months - but you still think it will heal.
As a massage therapist, I see this problem frequently. The thought goes through my mind "Why did you wait so long before seeking help?"
Yes, the body can heal itself. Sometimes, however, a helping hand is needed. The adage "the sooner tended, the sooner mended" is definitely one to bear in mind!
Tomorrow I will consider another body "fact" - ageing.
_ So, did you try the stretching moves that I described yesterday?
Here are questions for you:
when you tilted your head to one side, did the sense of a stretch change?
when you straightened your wrist, did the stretch decrease?
did you notice a difference between your left and right sides?
So what do you think is going on?
Well what you were exploring yesterday was stretching your nerves!
Have you ever complained of sciatica? If you have gone to a physiotherapist and they have raised one of your legs and you have said "ouch" then you have had a nerve stretched. (This move is used to assess whether there is any restriction in the sciatic nerve.)
A little bit of information about your nerves. I like to think of nerves as being like lengths of string - one end of a nerve is "attached" to your central nervous system. The other end of the nerve is "attached" somewhere in the body. There has to be a bit "excess length" (give) in the nerve to allow movement to occur. Without this "give", movements would be painful as the nerve would be being pulled/stretched to its limits. This could lead to nerve damage (and frequently pain). The fact that nerves are "attached" at both ends helps to explain why changing the position of your head/wrist affected the feel of the stretch - the move either increased/decreased the amount of stretch on the nerve. Wow!
Hopefully what you have learnt is that not all stretches are the same! When doing stretches, it is possible to feel a nerve stretch - it depends on how you position your body/limbs. There are specific positions when tend to stretch nerves more than muscles!
These types of moves can help to keep nerves free of restrictions. These stretches need to be combined with other stretches to keep all the body tissue open and flexible. Tense, tight tissue: muscles, fascia can limit the ability of nerves to move and glide through the body as you move about.
Yet another reason to have regular massage/bodywork!
I would guess that most of you think that when you stretch that you are stretching your muscles and tendons.
The last few entries of this blog were relating to the "tennis ball trick". The tennis ball trick works by releasing the tension in your connective tissue, your fascia. There is, however, another type of stretch which we will explore today.
Stand up. Stretch your arms out from your sides so that your arms are shoulder height. Your palms should be facing the floor. (Your body should be forming a "T" shape.)
Now bend the wrist of your hand so that the fingers are pointing up towards the ceiling. Don't move anything else.
Do you feel a stretch through your arm? It may feel strong through the fore arm and wrist.
Keep this position and now tilt (side-bend) your head towards your left shoulder. Does this increase the stretch?
Keeping your head tilted towards your left shoulder, straighten your right wrist so your right palm is once again facing the floor.
Keep this position and now tilt (side-bend) your head towards your left shoulder. Does this increase the stretch?
Keeping your head tilted towards your left shoulder, straighten your right wrist so your right palm is once again facing the floor. How does the stretch feel now? Has the feeling of a stretch disappeared?
Repeat the whole exercise on the left side. Is there any difference between your left and right sides?
What has been stretched in this exercise?
Come back tomorrow to find out!