Why pampering is important for your health!

In America, if someone gets a massage, or relaxes, or goes to a spa, it is called “treating yourself” This implies a treat, something extra, something unnecessary. But these things are essential to your health!

Why are relaxing activities so important? It’s all about the parasympathetic nervous system…getting our body out of the “fight or flight” mode, and it’s a state of function and healing. Getting your body to this state is not only important for your body, it’s important for your career, and the health of those around you! So no excuses, rejuvenating activities need to become part of your schedule.

I discuss these points in more detail below. So find your activity…walking, reading, a day without the cell phone, massage, stretching, yoga, or a sauna! Or, whatever activity you can think of that gets you out of panic mode and into repair mode.



Why You Should Own a Foam Roller

You’ve probably seen a foam roller at the gym or a chiropractor’s office, but did you know they’re one of the most versatile and practical tools for preventing and relieving injuries? While foam rollers are most commonly used in the realm of sports (such as strength, conditioning, and other athletics), they’re one of the most beneficial and affordable tools you can own for relieving vast array of bodily ailments.

High density foam rollerFoam rollers are overly simplistic in their design, and their names aren’t misleading. Foam rollers are typically 3 feet long cylinders made of — you guessed it! — foam. By utilizing your body weight, you can manipulate the roller and yourself into various positions to help stretch and massage your entire body. While this can be very important for athletes, it is also important for the average person. Think of how many people (maybe even yourself) that have chronic low-back pain, upper-back pain, neck or hip pain, or even sciatica. Many of these symptoms can be mitigated, if not completely relieved, by using a foam roller regularly. Foam rollers are unique because they help you manipulate fascia, the substance around your muscles that forms into knots. Fascia can be slightly manipulated through stretching, but other than receiving a massage, foam rollers and other similar devices are the only way to relieve fascial knots. It is these fascial knots that lead to the many pains we see so regularly; by working them out regularly, you’ll see a tremendous benefit in your body.

Preventing and relieving common injuries was one of the primary reasons foam rollers were invented and have become so widespread in the fitness world. For example, many athletes, especially runners, have injuries and pain in their IT band. By using a foam roller regularly, rolling on your side from your hip to your knee in this particular instance, you can help to relieve the fascial knots that develop. Sciatica is a common ailment that deals with compression in the sciatic nerve in the leg — performing similar motions on the foam roller can help to relieve this compression. Even if you don’t yet have injuries, frequently utilizing a foam roller will help stretch out fascial knots before they become and injury or painful.

Increasing your flexibility is a key benefit of using a foam roller, and is another component of why foam rollers will help to prevent many injuries and pain. Many of those common ailments (upper and lower back pain, neck and hip pain, etc.) are caused by lack of flexibility or tight muscles. For example, many cases of lower back pain are caused by having tight hamstrings or hip flexors — which can be caused from athletic training (such as running or strength training) or even from sitting or not moving for prolonged periods of time. Running your hamstrings along the roller and perching your hips on the roller so they are elevated will help relieve these common ailments. For upper back pain, you can lay on your back and place the roller behind your heart. Flexibility is a key component of overall health that is frequently overlooked — have a protocol that helps build and keep your flexibility is important for longevity.

Rolling helps you de-stress. Nearly all the benefits we know we get from receiving a massage we also receive from rolling frequently on a foam roller. When we get stressed, be it from a hard day at work, exercise, or from emotions, we tend to tense our muscles in key areas — the areas where we ‘hold our stress.’ Using a roller helps to relieve that tension before it becomes too painful or leads to an injury. Additionally, relieving any tension in your body feels wonderful! It’s a great way to get a natural high.

Nubbed foam rollerWe will have a series of future articles and videos regarding specific stretching and movements to utilize on the foam roller, especially regarding specific ailments. For now, I’d suggest investing in a foam roller and experimenting with it to find what works best for your body. Foam rollers typically cost around $25, and the benefits you’ll receive are tremendous for so little! If you have access to a roller at the gym, use it every time you go. Your body will thank you!

Solutions to the 3 Most Common Causes of Back Pain

Complaints of chronic back pain are not uncommon. Whether it stems from an old injury Spineor you don’t know the cause, over 80% of Americans suffer from it. In some cases, it may be extreme and need medical attention. But most back pain can be prevented or alleviated by the following three techniques. (Remember, always get permission from your doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if you’ve had an injury or sharp pain).

Problem: Tightness
Solution: Stretching! If you suffer from back pain, odds are you have tension somewhere. The most common form of stretching today is yoga. But there are oMeditation on Lakether  options…there’s Somatic Stretching, (gentle stretch and small, isolated strengthening exercises), and simple gym stretches. There are also different types of yoga and different types of stretches: dynamic stretching, active stretching, passive stretching, etc. So how do you know where to start, especially when you have a specific types of tightness or pain? It’s best to see someone one-on-one, especially to start out with. A yoga or fitness expert can give you specific stretches to do, since every body is unique, and your tight area is probably different than the person next to you in yoga class. Then you can take a group class, and even do yoga videos from home.

Problem: Weakness in certain muscles
Solution: Personal Training and strengthening exercises. No one wants to admit they have a weaknpersonal traineress. But if you’re tight one place, it means your weak in another. For every yin there is a yang, so if one muscle is working over-time, another muscle is slacking off. The tight muscle pulls on other muscles, over lengthening them and causing weakness. Strenghtening these mucles is equally important to stretching-you have to work on both sides of an imbalance. Again, working one-on-one with someone can pinpoint weaknesses and give you a road-map to your strength training. If you can’t afford to continue working with a personal trainer, you can use their suggestions at the gym or in fitness classes.

Problem: Lifestyle
Solution: Awareness. This may sound cheesy, but you have to be aware of your daily activities. How’s your posture at the computer? While your driving? When you’re at work? You can’t slouch for 12 hours a day, then expect your 1 hour workout to fix it. You have to Healthy lifestylesbecome aware of your spine in everything you do. Use the things you learn from yoga and training, and apply it to everyday life. Even be aware of your posture as you lay down to sleep-8 hours can make a big difference in your spinal health.
So remember these three elements when you have back problems, whether it be: stiffness, lack of mobility, soreness or chronic pain. Just please see your doctor before starting any program, especially if you’ve had an injury or sharp pain.

What is Yoga? And is it for me?

Yoga. Everybody’s talking about it, studio’s are popping up everywhere, and yoga clothes are more trendy than celebrity designers. But exactly is yoga, anyway? Is it a bunch of people twisting themselves into pretzels, or some kind of religious sect? And how will it help me?

Well, there’s a few different answers. Below, we’ll review some of the basic yoga facts: The definition of yoga, the different types of yoga, and how to start.

Where did yoga come from? In short, it originated in India. The earliest evidence dates back to 3,000 B.C., over 5,000 years ago. There’s evidence of yogic meditation practice in the Vedas (the sacred text of modern-day Hinduism), and in Buddhist scripture. The word “yoga” was coined in Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras, written in the 2nd century B.C.. Yoga became a practice in many Eastern religions, including: Jainism, Sikhism, Hari Krisha, Buddhism and Hinduism. Even certain Christian communities have integrated yoga and meditation into prayer. It came to the West in the 1890’s, but really gained attention in the 1960’s and beyond. Nowadays, it’s usually a straight exercise and stretch class, and although the teachers may mention “spirituality,” it doesn’t usually contain any religious elements.

What is yoga? In the West, yoga is only known for it’s physical practice. (The yoga poses, or “asanas.”) However, these poses are only one of 8 branches of yoga. This has caused some confusion in modern day classes, as a teacher may start doing some breathwork or meditation practices. I’ve heard many students complain, “What is this, and when are we going to start doing yoga?” Technically, the purpose of the poses is to prepare your spine for long periods of meditation. So the poses themselves were not technically “spiritual” or “religious;” they were a means to meditate longer, and the meditation is supposed to create a stronger union with the “source.”
Here are the 8 Limbs of Yoga:

1. “5 Abstentions” or social values (Yama)
2. “5 Observances” which include purity and study (Niyama)
3. “Pranayama” or breathwork/breath control 
4. “Pratyahara,” withdrawal of sense organs in preparation for meditation
5. “Dharana,” or concentration. Fixing attention on a single object.
6. The physical yoga poses, or “Asanas.” Literally translated it means “seat,” the seated position used for meditation.
7. Meditation, or “Dhyana”
8. Liberation, or “Samadhi.” It’s a state of ecstasy, or union of consciousness.

So any one of these practices, including non-violence or mediation, is technically practicing yoga.

What should I expect from a modern-day yoga class? If you take class in your hometown yoga studio, it’s very likely it will be an exercise class. The West has embraced the physical form of yoga, so that is the most common practice. Many people have formed their own “types” of yoga practice which may be therapeutic, stretchy, or calorie burning. Expect it to be a physically challenging workout. But, there are some teachers that embrace the other aspects of yoga. There are classes that include chanting, breathing techniques, meditation, or even dancing. It varies from teacher to teacher and from studio to studio, so my best advice is: ask! Find your local studios, and ask questions. They should be able to explain the different classes and teachers, and find a great fit.

Yoga in Big Sur

Photo by devonbrowningart.com

Who should do yoga? Is yoga right for me? If you have any kind of injury or medical condition, always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. There have been many studies and testimonies showing the benefits of yoga, but certain injuries and conditions can be worsened. Studies have shown the benefits of yoga can include: alleviation of back pain, reduced blood-pressure, reductions of anxiety and depression, weight-loss, and stress relief.

What are the different types of yoga? There are endless types of yoga, but I will explain the most popular. Some types of yoga are derived from ancient Hindu practices, some are branded practices by different teachers.

Hatha: One of the more ancient forms of yoga, the popular “Vinyasa Flow Yoga” comes from this, although Hatha is usually a slower pace. Every class will probably vary, and it could include many poses, cleanings practices and breathing techniques.

Vinyasa Flow/ Ashtanga/ Power Yoga: Also called “Flow Yoga,” it’s a more physically demanding, fast-paced style of yoga. The poses are timed by the speed of your breath, and it usually includes many Sun Salutations (a specific series of poses). Power Yoga is a branded form of Vinyasa Yoga. It’s the most popular form of yoga in America, but be careful if you suffer from many injuries, the fast pace may not be a good fit for you. Good for: weight-loss, calorie-burning, and static muscle strength.

Therapeutic Yoga: Usually a more slow-paced class, the teacher usually uses a knowledge of muscles and joints to bring people into “therapeutic” poses. It’s often geared to help injuries, back-pain, or older clientele. Good for: relaxation, people with pain, and senior citizens.

Yin Yoga: Power Yoga is often considered “Yang Yoga,” so Yin is it’s opposite. Most poses are down lying down, and the poses are held for an extended period of time. Muscles are allowed to stretch and open slowly, instead of being “forced” to stretch with a more vigorous class. Good for: relaxation, people with pain, senior citizens, and lowering blood-pressure.

Bikram Yoga: Bikram is a guy, who branded his own type of yoga. The class is done in a heated room, usually 105 degrees. You do the same series of poses, and teachers memorize a script. Some people enjoy the repetition, as it allows them to master the poses. The body supposedly “detoxes” while you sweat, and the heat loosens the muscles and can deepen a stretch. There is also many forms of Hot Yoga, which can be any yoga class taught in a heated room. Good for: weight-loss, calorie-burning, and flexibility.

Iyengar Yoga: Iyengar is also a guy. His type of yoga focuses heavily on alignment, and uses props to assist the limitations of the body and assure proper alignment in every pose. He revolutionized the use of these yoga props (straps, blocks, cushions, bridges, etc.) An Iyengar teacher often talks a lot about anatomy and the technical aspects of each pose. This can be  great way to learn the basics of yoga, so that you take the anatomical knowledge to other classes. Good for: flexibility, injuries, and knowledge.

Forrest Yoga: This type of yoga was started by a women named Ana Forrest. Instead of warming up with Sun Salutations (as you would in a “flow” class), you warm up with breathing techniques and abdominal exercises. The rest of the class includes deep stretches and poses focused on alignment. Good for: Core strength, flexibility, learning anatomy.

Prenatal/ Mommy and Me Yoga: A prenatal class is specifically designed for pregnant women. The room is often cooler, and the teacher often leads you poses that are safe for pregnancy. Sometimes it’s combined with Postnatal Yoga, or Mommy and Me. Women bring their babies to class and practice with the baby on the mat. This can be a great community builder for parents! Good for: Keeping in shape while pregnant, stretching and feeling good while pregnant, meeting other parents and pregnant moms.

There are many other types of yoga, (Jivamukti, Anusara, Yoga Tune Up, etc.) and more are being developed every day. Classes also vary greatly from teacher to teacher, as each person creates their own sequence. You may have to experiment to find the right class for you. As a bodyworker, I love anatomy, so Iyengar and Forrest work for me. Some people love the fast pace of a Vinyasa class. And everyone needs some relaxation, so an evening Yin class can feel just right. If you don’t like yoga the first time around, try different teachers and different types until you find the right fit.

How do I start?  There are a few different options for starting your practice. I would suggest starting out with the beginner’s workshop or private lesson, so you get a basic understanding of the main names and postures. Here are the most common places you can find yoga:

  • Find a studio near you! Google the closest one and pay them a visit.
  • Check out classes at your local gym or fitness center.
  • Find an outdoor class, on the beach or in a park. You can often find them at www.meetup.com
  • Yoga DVD’s
  • Take private, one-on-one lessons from a yoga teacher.
  • Take a “yoga beginner” workshop.

What tools do I need? Usually, you just need yourself. You can often rent equipment at your local studio, but it’s good to have your own mat. (People sweat a lot in yoga, and I don’t want to think about that while I’m using a rental mat. The yuckiness interups the relaxation.) You can find mats almost anywhere (athletic stores, sports stores, target, etc.) but there are some brands that work a looooot better. I like to save money, but if you buy a cheap yoga mat, you may spend the class slipping all over the place. Here are my suggested items and brands that will get you started:

Yoga Mats: Not all mats are created equal. For high-end (non-slip, biodegradable, made from natural rubber) I recommend the Jade Harmony Natural Yoga Mat, or the Manduka PROlite Yoga Mat.
The top-of-the-line, heavy-duty swanky mat is definitely the Manduka BlackMatPRO 71-Inch Yoga Mat.
For the, er, non-natural ones…Hugger Mugger and Gaiam makes decent, economically priced mats that are also very beautiful.

Blocks: Blocks are used for proper alignment and helping you if you’re a bit tight in certain muscles. I like the Hugger Mugger 4-Inch Foam Yoga Block, but any of these cheaper blocks will do as well: YogaAccessories (TM) 4” Foam Yoga Block

Yoga Straps: Straps can be used to aid in proper alignment, hamstring stretches, restorative poses and the like. most straps are very affordable, although my favorite is the Manduka Cotton Yoga Strap.

Yoga Non-Slip Towel: For those yogis that sweat a lot, slipping and sliding on your mat can be a consistent problem (even with a great mat). You can just use any old towel and lay it on your mat, but some companies do make a towel for just this purpose. It has small rubber nubs on one side to prevent the towel from moving, and the other side is absorbent synthetic material. You can throw it in the wash, and keep your mat from getting, you know…icky. The standard is the Yogitoes Skidless Mat-Size Yoga Towel.

So now that you have a little more information, hopefully you will give yoga a try. If you don’t like it, try a different class! Stretching is so good for so many reasons…it can decrease pain, increase flexibility, help keep joints healthy, and lower your blood pressure. So go cleanse some toxins and open up those hips!

Low Back Pain Relief, Causes and Symptoms: Part 1

After years doing massage therapy the most common complaint from customers is lower back pain. I hear it from athletes, young people, older people, sedentary people, swimmers, climbers, and almost everyone else. Although the solution may seem simple (just get your low back worked on, or take some pain killers, right?) there can actually be several causes and solutions that will have lasting effects.

The pain could caused by any of three main muscle groups:

  • The “QL” (square muscle on your low back called the quadratus lumborum)
  • The Psoas (hip flexor)
  • The Hamstrings.

This video deals with the hamstrings: How to tell if their tight, how to stretch them in passivee and active ways, and how to stretch each of the three muscles that make up the hamstrings. Keep watching for the next video, but in the meantime, relax those muscles and stretch!