Back Pain, Pelvic Health, Pictures of Exercises, Sitting

Movement Breaks for the Office (part 1)


By now you’ve heard about the benefits of sitting less a time or two. Maybe you’ve created a standing desk or experimented with sitting on the floor in a variety of positions. Changing you position throughout the day (rather than sitting in one position ALL day) has improved your health in countless ways. Well done!

Here is series to help relieve the lower body tension caused by excessive sitting. These exercises can easily be done at the work– no need to change clothes, get all sweaty, or buy special equipment! The tension in the legs and hips can cause back/hip/leg pain, incontinence, prostate inflammation, pelvic pain, sciatica, poor circulation, muscle weakness and countless other ailments. For best results, do these at least 2-3 times during the day.  It is best to do these exercises barefoot or in socks, as wearing shoes will interfere and make the exercise less effective.  You can also combine these exercises with short walks around your office (or even outside of your building) every time you need to make a phone call. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes, moving instead of being stationary improves circulation and glucose regulation. Some say that sitting for too long increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 91% even if you exercise regularly! 

1) Double Calf Stretch: This is a great way to work on untucking the pelvis and stretch the calves and hamstrings. Roll up a towel or yoga mat. Place the balls of both feet on the towel with the heels on the floor. Place your hands on a chair and bend forward from the hips. Your feet should be pointing straight ahead. Let your hips back up so that there is more weight in your heels. Lift the tailbone up towards the ceiling without bending your knees.IMG_2484

2) #4 Stretch: This stretches the piriformis and is great for those suffering from sciatica. It can be done any time you are sitting or standing.

Seated: Sit on your “sitz bones” the edge of your seat. Cross your left ankle over your right knee without letting your pelvis tuck. Relax the left knee towards the floor without letting your pelvis shift to the side

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Standing: Stand on your right leg and cross the left ankle over the right knee. Bend the right knee like you are sitting in a chair (like a 1 leg squat). Lift the tailbone towards the ceiling as you back the hips up. Hold onto a chair or wall for balance.

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3) Wide Leg Wall Glide: To stretch the inner thighs, stand with your legs wide and feet about 6 inches from a wall. Hinge forward from the hips, tailbone to the ceiling. Then glide the pelvis right to leg along the wall. Keep your gluts against the wall and the knees straight (relax the quads if you can). The hands can rest on a chair for support. This can be done without a wall as well.

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4) Pelvic List: Stand with the right foot on a step, phone book or block. Line up the outside edge of your foot with the edge of the step to straighten the foot. Slowly lower the left foot towards the ground (without bending the knee) and bring it back up using the muscles of the standing leg (not the muscles of the low back or waist). This exercise strengthens the muscles on the outside of the hip.

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5) Door Knob Squats: These are a great way to simultaneously stretch and strengthen the gluts and hamstrings. The strength and mobility required to squat is essential for pelvic floor, hip and low back health. As you bend your knees, back up your hips as far as you can, untuck the pelvis and lift the tailbone. Keep the knees over the ankles (vertical shins) to both protect the knees and help you use your gluts and hamstrings. Holding onto a door knob will help you back your pelvis up.

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For more “at work” exercises to address computer claw hands and shoulder tension, see Part 2.

I recommend Katy Bowman’s book, Don’t Just Sit There. It’s a comprehensive guide to sitting less and moving more, without compromising your productivity.  Another good resource is this list of ways to create a more active workstation.

Back Pain, Breast Health, Lymph, Neck & Shoulders, Pictures of Exercises, Spinal Health

10 Minutes to Tension & Pain Free Shoulders

You are going to love this! These are some of my favorite exercises for relieving shoulder and upper back tension that accumulates during the day. We do so many things with our arms: computer work, driving, studying, carrying babies, breastfeeding, yard work…. add misalignment, old injuries, weak muscles and stress to the mix and you have a recipe for serious discomfort.  If you experience shoulder & upper back pain and/or tension, you will love this routine. It only takes 10 minutes and you’ll feel great! (See additional resources at the bottom of this post as well.)

Minute 1: Rhomboid Push Up

The rhomboids are muscles on your upper back that connect the spine Muscles_rhomboïdesand the scapula (shoulder blades). When you have the habit of retracting your scapula (retraction=pulling the shoulders back like you are squeezing something between the shoulder blades) these muscles get tight and weak. I know that this position is often taught as “good posture”, but it is not good alignment. (Read about posture vs. alignment.)  When you retract your scapula it looks good, but holding this position habitually is sabotaging your shoulder girdle and spinal health. These muscles help hold the spine upright, and when they are tight and weak, they can’t do their job, resulting in hyperkyphosis.

To restore the length of these muscles, try this. Start on your hands and knees. Roll the elbows in towards eachother so that the elbow points back towards your thighs and the elbow “pit” faces the same direction as your middle finger (see picture). Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep from hyper extending.

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Let the chest drop towards the floor and feel the scapula come together (retraction) WITHOUT BENDING YOUR ELBOWS ANYMORE THAN THEY ALREADY ARE. Then press the hands into the floor and push the shoulders blades wide (protraction). Keep the pelvis untucked.  This is a VERY difficult motion to learn, so it may take some time to master.  WATCH THIS VIDEO of my friend Susan demonstrating the rhomboid push up.

Minute 2: Floor Angels

First bolster you head and shoulders with some pillows or folded blankets. To stretch the chest and shoulders, move the arms slowly overhead like you are making a snow angel.  Rotate the arms so that your palms face up towards the ceiling and your thumbs are closer to the floor than the pinkies.  The hand will start out touching the floor, but will lift away from the floor as you move the arm overhead.

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Keep the ribs relaxed down. Try not to let them pop up towards the ceiling like this:

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Minutes 3-5: Tennis Ball “Reverse” Rhomboid Push Up

I got this AWESOME move from Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up. Take two tennis balls or balls of similar size & density (I’m using yoga tune up balls here) and put them in a sock. Tie a knot in the sock to keep the balls in place. Lay on your back with the balls underneath your upper back, one on either side of the spine. Start at the top of your scapula.

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Reach your arms up to the ceiling feeling the scapula spread wide, them relax and let them fall towards the floor. It’s the same motion as the rhomboid push up, just upside down. Do this for 1 minute, moving slowly. Then roll the balls down an inch or two, and repeat this motion for 1 minute. Repeat this process one more time. (We are doing 3 different positions here, but you can always do more.)

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If you want more pressure, you can experiment with pressing your feet into the floor to  lift your pelvis up into a small bridge.

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Minutes 6-8: Tennis Ball Floor Angels

Move the balls back up to the first spot they were in (on either side of the spine near the top of the scapula). Repeat the same “snow angel” motion with your arms that you did in the Floor Angels for 1 minute. Roll the balls down an inch or two and repeat 1 minute. Roll the balls down again and repeat.

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If you love this stuff as much as I do, you will want to check out Jill Miller’s new book The Roll Model. My husband gave it to me for Christmas this year, and I’m slowly working my way through it. She shows you how to roll away tension from head to toe. SO GOOD!

roll model

Minute 9: Rhomboid Push Up

Repeat slowly for 1 minute.

Minute 10: Floor Angels

 Repeat slowly for 1 minute.


 

Want more for your shoulders?

1.) Read 3 things you need to know about your shoulder tension.

2.) Drop in for Upper Body Stretch & Strengthen class at Blooma Nashville.

3.) Try an Alignment Snack (20 min online classes). For upper body I love these: Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck.

Habits, Neck & Shoulders, Pictures of Exercises, Spinal Health

3 Things You Need to Know About Your Shoulder Tension

1.) Constantly pulling your shoulders back (shoulder blades together) will make it worse. I know that this position is taught as “good posture”, but it is not good alignment.  (Read about the difference between posture and alignment.) The rhomboids are muscles on your upper back that connect the spine and the scapula (shoulder blades). When you have the habit of retracting your scapula (retracting=pulling the Muscles_rhomboïdesshoulders back like you are squeezing something between the shoulder blades) these muscles get tight and weak.  When you retract your scapula it LOOKS GOOD, but it is only masking your shoulder tension, NOT FIXING IT. Trying to keep this “good posture” all the time is causing these muscles to become tighter and weaker, sabotaging your long term shoulder and spinal health.

2.)  The tension in your hands is directly related to the tension in your shoulders.  Before I started studying Restorative Exercise™, it never occurred to me to stretch my hands.  I didn’t even realize there was tension in my hands. If you can relate to this, try these tests.

Test #1: Start on your hands and knees. (If you can’t get on your hands and knees, try bending over and placing your hands on a coffee table.)  Place your hands on the floor so that the middle finger points straight ahead and the thumb and pointer finger make an “L” (a 90° angle).  Then roll the elbows in towards eachother so that the elbow points back towards your thighs and the elbow “pit” faces the same direction as your middle finger.  Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep from hyper extending. In the photos below, there is a red dot on my elbow pit to help you see it.

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Arms internally rotated, elbow pits facing each other. (Not good for your shoulder health)
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Arms externally rotated to neutral, elbow pits facing forward. (A neutral humerus=better shoulder alignment.)
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“Claw Hands” that are tight and cupping away from the floor reveal the relationship between shoulder and hand tension.

 

Did your hands cup up away from the floor? Is it impossible to get the hand position and arm position at the same time?  This shows you how the the shoulder, arm and hand tension is all related. We SHOULD be able to keep both the hands and the shoulders aligned at the same time, not one or the other.

Test #2: Reach your arm behind your back without letting your scapula “wing” (boney edges stick out). Keep the flat and wide across your back. If you can, reach your arm up towards your neck without winging the scapula.

 

photo 1-2
Scapula (shoulder blades) wide.

Then flip your palm over so that the palm touches your back.  You should be able to do this without the scapula winging. If you can’t, this shows you (again) how your shoulder and hand tension are related.

photo 2-2
Hand flipped over, winging scapula.

 

 3.)  Just because you don’t FEEL a stretch, doesn’t mean you don’t have tension.  It’s pretty common to have one or more hyper mobile joints.  When a joint is hyper mobile the ligaments are too lax, making it easy to move a joint without the muscular tension getting in the way.  In this case, you may be able to move through a normal (or often excessive) range of motion without ever feeling a stretch.  When you try to stretch, you don’t feel anything, so you assume your muscles aren’t tight.  The tension is still there creating pain, tendonitis, numbness, tingling, etc only you don’t realize it because you can’t feel it.  It is MUCH harder for someone with hyper lax ligaments in a certain area to access the muscular tension. It’s very complex to learn to stabilize your hyper mobile parts.  If you suspect this is an issue for you, see suggestions 3 & 4 below.

What You Can Do About It:

1.) Stop pulling your shoulders back/together all the time. Let them relax wide.

2.) Practice Test #2. It’s a test, but it will also help mobilize the shoulder.

3.) Join me at Blooma Nashville for Upper Boday class. Come stretch and strengthen the muscles of the shoulders, arms, chest, neck & upper back to create shoulders that are both strong AND mobile. This class will restore upper body alignment, relieve tension & pain, improve flow of blood, lymph & milk, and teach how to deal with hyper-mobility.

Every Thursday at 6:45pm

4.)  Try Katy’s online Super Supple Shoulders webinar for an in depth shoulder workout and education. This class will help you learn to deal with hyper mobility and relieve tension.

5.)  Try these Alignment Snacks (shorter 20 minute classes): Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck. Get Alignment Snacks HERE.

Health

Happy New Year!

Happy-New-Year

Happy New Year! I hope you find yourself healthier and more active than your were at the start of 2014. The beginning of a new year always lends itself to reflection and making resolutions. This year, I invite you to take inventory of your health in 2014.  Write down your triumphs, to-dos, proud moments, “I can do better” moments. . . be honest, but don’t get all “judgey” on yourself.  You can use Katy’s 2014 Health Recap questions to help you.

I’m off to go work on mine!

Feet, Hip/Leg Pain, Lymph, Pictures of Exercises, Sitting

Make Fists With Your Toes

We are flying back to California for Christmas today. If your trip is like ours, you drive about an hour to the airport, sit on the plane for another couple hours (in our case about 4 ½), then ride in a car another hour or (or 3 depending on Los Angeles traffic) to your destination. If you’re like me, that last hour in the car feels like an eternity.

You don’t have much of a choice when it comes to sitting in the car or on the plane. The time you spend in the airport? You have a choice how you spend that time. When your plane is delayed, and you have 4 hours to kill at the airport, you have lots of time to move around before you are confined to your seat. I try to move around as much as possible (and sit as little as possible) while waiting for my flight. This is how we did it today:

1.   I like to check my bag, so that I have more freedom to walk around. (I love that you don’t have to pay to check bags on Southwest, so I try to fly them when possible.) When I’m not schlepping a bag around, I am more inclined to take the stairs instead of the escalator and move more in general while at the airport.

2.   I recommend a bag or backpack that stays on securely without needing to use your hands or scrunch your shoulder up to your ear to keep it on. This also allows you to swing your arms freely while walking and keep your upper body less tense. Letting the arms swing while walking is great for moving lymph (as is walking itself) which helps your immune system. (More on this here.) 

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3.   These are some stretches I like to do at the airport that don’t involve getting down on the floor. Your hips, legs, and spine will thank you!

Yes, the airport is strangely empty 2 days before Christmas.

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Standing Hamstring Stretch: Prop your foot up on something, flexing the toes towards the shin. Try to straighten the standing leg and back up your pelvis.
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Thoracic Stretch: Place your hands on a wall, roll the elbows in towards each other so the elbow “pits” point up towards the ceiling and elbows point towards the floor. Drop the chest towards the floor as you hinge forward from the hips.
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Lunge: Keep the front knee over the shin as you drop the hips towards the ground. Keep the torso over the hips. This stretches the hip flexors (front of the back leg) and is quiet a bit of work for the other leg muscles at the same time.
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Wide Leg Wall Glide: Stand with your legs wide and feet about 6 inches from a wall. Hinge forward from the hips, untucking the pelvis.
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Then glide the pelvis back and forth. You will feel your backside sliding along the wall. Keep the knees straight ( and quads relaxed if you can). This stretches lots of nooks and crannies in the hips.

 

4.   When you have A TON of time, you can sample local craft beers with Lucy, the bartender from Croatia, see pictures of her hometown, and dream about going there. One thing I love about bar counters (or bar height tables) is that you can stand while other people sit, and it’s not awkward at all. After learning about Croatia, you can take your beer to go, walk around the airport, and browse the bookstore. Apparently there are no “open container” rules at Nashville International Airport.

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5.   Once you are on the plane and captive to your seat, you can still get in a little movement. Debbie at Positively Aligned demonstrates some options here. And of course, there’s always John McClane’s seat mate’s advice, “make fists with your toes”. (A reference to Die Hard, one of my husband’s favorite Christmas movies; although, I would argue it has very little to do with Christmas. It doesn’t have the same “get in the Christmas spirit” affect as It’s a Wonderful Life or Christmas Vacation.) Nevertheless, try it, it really does feel amazing. Swelling of the feet and lower legs is a huge problem for a lot of people when they fly, and any movement helps the circulation to the area. Getting up mid flight to walk up and down the aisles is helpful as well. I try to get an aisle seat, so I can take as many “bathroom” (aka walking) breaks as I want.

Whether you are traveling or not, I wish you a very merry, healthy and movement filled Christmas!

(For My Husband: “Ho Ho Ho, now I have a machine gun!”)

Culture, Health, Whole Body

Book Reviews

Today I’m going to review Katy Bowman’s three books to help you sort out which one you might like to read or give as a gift. They all deal with the same basic principles (alignment) but in different ways.  This should help point you to the one you want based on what type of read you are looking for. (If you want the super brief summary, skip to the end.)

Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief, The New Science of Healthy Feet  foot book

This one has the longest title (by far), but is the shortest. Despite it’s name, it’s just as much for men as it is for women. Think of it as a “manual” for foot health, based on science yet easy to understand. Katy describes the root causes of foot pain and gives simple exercises and lifestyle changes to fix your feet. The exercises are laid out with pictures to give you an easy-to-follow plan.  You’ll find exercises for the legs and hips too, as the tension in the feet, legs and hips is all connected.  Although this is a book on healthy feet, you will find that your whole body benefits from the recommendations in this book.  Katy also includes information on what factors to consider when choosing footwear.  (You have to wear shoes anyway, so you might as well wear ones that work for you health, not against it!)

Alignment Matters

alingment mattersThis book is an edited and organized version of the first five years of the Katy Says blog.  If you’ve read her blog, you know that Katy combines humor, science, and real life events to teach about alignment. You can read her blog online for free, but if you are like me, you will find that it’s totally worth the $20. I get tired of reading off a computer screen and much prefer holding a book that I can highlight, underline and book mark. This is one of those books that you DON’T have to read cover to cover (although you will want to). Chapters are organized by topic or body part, so you can easily flip to a section and read all about Shoulders, for example, or Pregnancy & Childbirth.  This is the book for you if you want one you can pick up for 1o minutes at a time and read quick tidbits.  (Or if you have a short attention span.) This is a great book for anyone wanting to understand the science behind their aches, pains, and diseases and how to start healing them.

  Move Your DNA

Move Your DNA is Katy’s newest book and most comprehensive book. It provides a look at the “big picture”, the fact that most of our diseases come from living outside of nature.  At the same time, Katy explains more of the complex scientific principles, such as what happens at the cellular level when we move.  I knowMYDNA book this sounds contradictory, but this book looks natural movement through both a very broad lens and a microscope.  This book reads like a novel; it tells the story of humans moving away from nature, becoming modernized, and suffering diseases of “captivity” as a result. This book also reads like a textbook; it breaks down complex biomechanical principles, teaches lessons in anatomy and physiology, and includes definitions in the side bars.  The second half of the book is full of exercises to get you aligned and moving more naturally from head to toe.

 

To sum it up:

Foot Book: Quick read. Straight forward program. Science. For the feet, but will improve the health of the legs, hips and spine as well.

Alignment Matters: Blog in book form. For the whole body. Heavier on the science. Chapters organized by topic/body part for quick reference.

Move Your DNA: A text book for restoring your health. Big picture and tiny details. Heaviest on the science. Will change the way you look at movement and exercise.

 

Hope you find this helpful! These titles can all be purchased on the Restorative Exercise Institute’s website or Amazon.

Breast Health, Health, Lymph, Neck & Shoulders, Pelvic Health, Pictures of Exercises

Stay Healthy This Cold & Flu Season, Move Your Lymph.

It’s that time of year when everyone is getting colds, flus, chest infections…. You know all the regular recommendations: wash your hands, take Vitamin C, get plenty of rest, take On Guard (I think I’m a little behind the trend on this one– I JUST discovered how amazing this essential oil blend is. Seriously, it changed my life.) or immune boosting herbs.

I’m going to give you a new one today: Move Your Lymph

If you are thinking, “move my what?”, keep reading. How do we move our lymph? Before we get to that, we need to talk about what lymph is and what it does…but before we get to that, let’s start with the blood.  Everyone knows that the heart pumps the blood, circulating it around the body.  What many people don’t realize, is that the muscles are designed to help move the blood along as they contract and relax. While the heart is the main pump, muscle activity helps draw the blood to the smaller capillaries that feed the cells and pickup the cellular waste.  The large veins and arteries are like the main lines in an irrigation system that would water a large garden, and the capillaries are much smaller lines watering specific areas on the outskirts. When muscles are tight, they are not very active, and the blood flow to that part of the body is relatively low.  When this happens, the blood flow may be lower than optimal (or not reaching ALL the cells adequately), but at least it’s still flowing because the heart it pumping.

Now we are ready to talk about lymph.  (Keep in mind this is a simplified explanation of a very complex physiological process.)  The lymphatic system is your body’s garbage clean up system, and it circulates a fluid called lymph. All the cellular waste, toxins, and other “garbage” gets picked up in the lymph, which travels through vessels (similar to blood vessels), passing through lymph nodes to get filtered. Lymph doesn’t have a pump, so it relies on outside forces to move it…muscles, gravity, massage, etc.

When muscles are tight and bodies are inactive, lymph gets stagnant. The lymphatic system is directly related to the immune system, and when it’s not functioning as it should, immune function is compromised.  We often forget that there are mechanical components to disease & illness, and this is one of them.

Here’s a picture of the lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and organs associated with the system.  The areas with more green clusters are the areas with higher concentration of lymph nodes (pelvis, groin, armpit, & neck).

Blausen_0623_LymphaticSystem_Female

 

Back to the original question: How do we move our lymph?

1) Stretch tight muscles in regions of high lymph node concentration– chest/shoulders, groin/hips & neck. If you’re like me, these areas with a lot of lymph nodes also happen to have a lot of tension.  When muscles are tight, they are relatively inactive and don’t circulate lymph (or blood) very well. Here are a couple of my favorite stretches for theses regions.

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1/2 WINDMILL: Lay on your right side, bolster the head as needed. Drop your left arm toward the wall behind you. Rotate the arm so the thumb points towards the ground (pinky towards the ceiling). Keep a slight bend in the elbow. Slowly move the arm down towards the hip, then back up over head, pausing when you feel tight spots in the chest & shoulder.  Perform at least 1 min. Repeat on the other side.

 

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NECK STRETCH: Sit on your sitz bones, relax your ribs down. Reach your left arm away from you keeping a slight bend in the elbow. Rotate the arm externally (like you have a bowl of soup in your hand and are pouring it out behind you). Tuck the chin to lengthen the back of the neck & let the right ear drop toward the left shoulder. Hold at least 1 min. Repeat on the other side.
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LEGS UP THE WALL: Lay down with your hips a few inches away from the wall and legs straight up the wall. You should have a small space under your low back. If your low back presses into the floor, scoot away from the wall, and use a rolled up towel or your mat (pictured) to help your pelvis untuck. Use a prop under your head to help the ribs relax down. Let the legs drop open to stretch the adductors (inner thighs). Work up to 1 min.
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NOTE: Another benefit of this position is that gravity will pull any lymph that may have accumulated in the feet & lower legs (read: swelling) back “up” to be circulated. It is also a position that encourages dogs and small children to climb on you.

2) Move more, starting with a daily walk. Regular, full body movement is necessary for moving blood & lymph (and for health in general). Walking is the preferred full body movement for many reasons, but that is another post for another day. (I do NOT recommend walking on a treadmill. It’s not the same.)  The rhythmic movement of arms and legs helps pump both blood and lymph around the body, feeding cells & removing waste.

You also may have noticed that the areas of high lymph node concentration happen to be near major joints. These are joints that would get a lot of movement IF we were moving naturally instead of sitting all day.  When I say “moving naturally” I am referring to the way humans moved before we had modern conveniences like cars, grocery stores, high heels, chairs, strollers, toilets….not bad things, but things that require us to move WAY less than before. Walking, hunting/gathering food, kneeling, climbing, carrying kids, squatting….can you see how just “doing life” would facilitate the movement of lymph (and blood) throughout the day? If this concept resonates with you, I’d recommend Katy Bowman’s new book Move Your DNA.

(SIDE NOTE: High intensity exercise is not necessary to move lymph, and it can actually weaken your immune system.)

3) When you walk, swing your arms. You have a built in reflex for arm swing. Without thinking about it, your opposite arm and leg will move together. It’s called reciprocal arm swing. When you are carrying a baby or a purse, that arm tends to not swing, so try alternating sides (or finding an alternative that allows arm swing, like a sling or messenger bag). For optimal muscle use and lymph movement, keep your elbow pointing back behind you and the elbow “pit” pointing straight ahead as your arms swing. Then keep the arms straight (not bent like a race walker), and push them back behind you. More on this here. Yes, you’ll get more toned arms (say good-bye to that flap on the back of your arm), but more importantly, it is essential for breast health!

Now, take a computer break, and go move that lymph!

 

PS- If you want more, here a few 20-30 minute classes that target these areas. Click HERE, then choose one of the following titles:

A Real Pain in the Neck, Rhomboid Madness, Adductor Madness, Take a Load off Your Chest & Hips, Frankie Says: Relax the Psoas