Tag Archives: Alignment Snacks

How I Made it Through a Move Without Back Pain

We recently moved to Nashville, and although this move was considerably easier than our last one, it still takes a toll. For most people moving and back pain go together. We’ve all been there: I think I can move that couch by myself….this box isn’t THAT heavy….I don’t need help…. Usually what follows next is a back spasm (and maybe some cursing) followed by days/weeks of pain.  Even if you get off lucky and only have some mild soreness, it’s both uncomfortable and avoidable. Here’s how I got through the move without the typical back pain:

1) I used my HIPS.  You’ve heard “lift with your legs, not with your back”, right?  I’d like to revise that saying to “lift with your hips, not with your back”.  I think a lot of people get into trouble when they THINK they are using their legs because their knees are bent.  It’s true, some of the leg muscles are working when the knees are bent, but the position of the pelvis determines whether the big muscles on the back of the leg (gluts & hamstrings) can work here. The position of the pelvis also effects what is happening in our back (because they are attached).  When our hips are tight, we tend to over use and abuse our spine and/or knees when bending over to pick something up.  The pelvis will tuck, the low back will go into flexion (round) and the knees will move forward. In addition to being a vulnerable position for the spine and hard on the knees, it prevents a person from being able to effectively use the gluts and hamstrings to do the heavy lifting.  A person who lifts like this might use some leg muscle but will also use their back:

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Try this instead: Bend down like you are going to pick somethings up. Now, do it again, and pretend like you are squatting. Untuck your pelvis and back your butt WAY up until shins are vertical. This allows you to use the gluts and hamstrings (hips!) as well as save your back when you lift:

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Now, you might be thinking “I don’t think I can get into that position, much less lift a box in that position.”  Can you see how my knees are coming forward in the picture on the left? I can’t quite make it all the way to the ground with vertical shins, so I allow them to come forward, then on the way up, back my pelvis up as soon as possible, so I can use my hips to do the work. You might also notice that my pelvis is a little bit tucked.  It’s not perfect, but it’s still enough to keep me from the full on back spasms of my past.  I’ve been working on building the strength and mobility to be able to do this for years, and I still have a ways to go.  It takes time. You’ll find some hip opening and squatting homework at the bottom of the page to help you get there.

2) I paid attention to my body’s warning signs and asked for help.  What are the warning signs? I’m so glad you asked. All of these are signals that you are not strong enough to do what you are attempting to do.  Stop and ask for help if you:

  • Have to hold your breath, bear down, valsalva
  • Leak urine (Yes, it’s common. No, it’s not ok.)
  • Feel any downward pressure, straining or bulging in your pelivc floor or abdomen
  • Experience back or pelvic pain (during or after)

By the way, if you experience these signs during a workout, the same guidelines apply.  It’s your body’s way of telling you that you are not ready to do that particular activity. Continuing to do an activity that causes theses things to happen can make back, pelvic floor and core issues worse.  There are steps you can take to gradually build strength without compromising spinal health or core/pelvic floor function. (See the suggestions below.)

3) I relaxed & released my psoas. If you try your best, but still have some pain at the end of the day, try these psoas releases. The psoas is a muscle that attaches on the spine (T12 & all lumbar vertebrae), goes through the abdomen, and attaches on the femur (thigh bone). It is often a culprit in low back and pelvic pain. During this move, some days I had mild soreness/stiffness in my back, but when I did these two releases, it was gone the next day instead of lingering or becoming worse.  Notice I’m calling them RELEASES not EXERCISES. This is because all you have to do here is relax and let the tension release. There is nothing to do or force. If you want more, my colleague Susan demonstrates more psoas exercises on her blog.

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Bolster up the head and shoulders and let the ribs and spine relax towards the floor. Make sure the bolster isn’t under the ribs, pushing them up towards the ceiling. Breathe here for 5 min.

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Place a block under the pelvis (not the low back) and let the pelvis and spine relax towards the floor. Breathe here for 5 min.

 

Here are some ways to start gaining the strength and mobility you need to prevent injury:

  • Get started at home with this easy series.
  • Try an Alignment Snack (20-30 min online class). I like “All Around the Thighs” and “Frankie Says, Relax the Posas” for stretching all the muscles around the hips and addressing the psoas.
  • Join me for Aligned & Fit on Mondays at 8:30 (starting 9/14) at Blooma Nashville Yoga. This class focuses on building functional strength– the kind of strength you need to do daily life.  Play with your kids, lift heavy boxes, climb stairs, chase your dog, carry babies…. without peeing your pants or ending up in pain!

PS- This isn’t just for moving! Apply these principles to any heavy lifting or repetitive bending down you might do– lifting your kids, cleaning the house, lifting weights, loading the dishwasher, etc. to use your hips and save your back.

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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).

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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

Got 20 min? Improve Your Health Right Now!

Katy Bowman, creator of Restorative Exercise™ and director of the Restorative Exercise Institute, recently put out a series of short online classes called “Alignment Snacks”.

Here are my top 5 reasons why you should give them a try!

  1. You get an exercise class and alignment lesson directly from Katy.
  2. They are only $5.00 each!
  3. 20-30 minutes is doable. It doesn’t take a huge time commitment to see positive results.
  4. They are body part specific, so you can pick the ones that apply to your “trouble spots”.
  5. You can download them directly to your iTunes and watch them over and over.

Currently, two of my favorites are “A Real Pain in the Neck” (a relaxing series to decrease tension in the neck, jaw and shoulders) and “Let’s do the Twist” (great for anyone with tension/pain in their low back and/or hips).  You can look at the full list of titles and purchase them by clicking on the image below. You can also get there by clicking the Alignment Snacks image on the right side of my home page.

Alignment Snacks