Have you ever thought about your emotional relationship to food or considered the idea that your brain is literally addicted to some of the compounds commonly found in our food? When you find yourself reaching for the chocolate bar at 3pm everyday, is it habit? Is your brain telling you that you need it? Or has your blood sugar dipped because the 4 meals prior didn’t provide ample nutrition?
I am currently on day 8 of my first Whole30, a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system. Prior to starting this, I thought I had pretty good self control to eat the things I wanted and avoid the things I didn’t, but after 9 days without sugar, grains, dairy and legumes, I realize I had no control whatsoever over what I was eating. I was using food for comfort to pacify stress at the end of the day with a bit of chocolate here or a drink here and there. I’m now curious why I was using food as a stress reliever when I have plentiful access to other tools I know work so well (cough YTU therapy balls, anyone?). Old habits are deeply ingrained and die hard, that’s why.
What I have also found is that my brain is relentless. I sometimes feel like an animal trapped in a cage and I’m trying to escape because I really want is to try TJ’s organic mustard that has sugar in it or that store bought mayonnaise that has sugar in it or drink the bubbly water that has sugar in it. Just anything with sugar in it! And when you start to read labels, you realize that everything has sugar in it.
I am looking forward to finishing this 30 day challenge to prove to myself that I can stick with it, because I pretty much want to quit everything in my life right now (damn you sugar addicted brain). But I also want to empower myself to make conscious decisions over my food choices and be able to decide that I want to have a treat or a beer, because I want to, not because my brain craves it or it is a habit. And if I do choose to have this yummy sugary treat, it will be worth it.
Through the work that I do with my students, at gyms, yoga studios, corporate wellness centers, CrossFit gyms and one-on-one sessions, I hope to empower them in their bodies to literally grab their pain, discomfort and mobility by the balls and be able to make conscious decisions about their movement and what they decide to do or not do. Of course, you can stay on the couch all day, but I want you to be able to do that, because you decide to, not because your pain keeps you there. I feel like I am in a similar experience in my own body with kicking my sugar addiction to the curb. Empowerment can take on many forms, and I want to be able to choose what I eat, when I eat it and why I want to, not because my brain says so!
I want to be able to say in 30 days that I’ve slayed the sugar dragon and lived to tell the tale, but in the mean time, I’ll continue to burst into spontaneous crying when my peach is too mealy and other disappointing food “crises”.
Update: I am on day 10 now (3/18/15) and it has been so much better! I owe it to caramelized onions and ground bison, two of the most delicious things in the world to me right now
Hydration goes beyond drinking the 48 oz a day. If all that water is only making you venture to the bathroom every hour, chances are it is only passing through and never making beyond your intestines. Our body is mostly water and all of your cells, tissues, and structures require hydration to do their normal cell functions. Without enough hydration into your soft tissues, your muscles and fascia become a desert wasteland – unable to effectively do their daily tasks at an optimal level. Water that you consume will continue to flush its way through your intestines unless you’re giving it a stimulus to go somewhere else, like your soft tissues.
While a formal study has yet to be conducted, dynamic ultrasound of the calf muscle before and after rolling with Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls showed an increase in the amount of space between the superficial and deep layers of fascia. Basically – rolling literally makes you fluffier on the inside. The body does not allow for empty space, so whenever space is created, it is filled with fluid. In this case, the hydration that would normally be rushing through your intestines is now called into action to rehydrate and fill the in between layers of your muscle! More fluid means the cells can then clear waste products, draw in nutrients, and may increase the slide and glide of the tissues over one another. Motion is literally lotion. (Read more about this in The Roll Model by Jill Miller).
This effect is not just limited to the calf, but can occur anywhere in your body. If you know that your muscles are peppered with trigger points, you seriously KNEAD this. Any deep tissue massage tool (or person) can create this fluffing effect, but a tool that creates a ton of shear is ideal. Shear is a massage technique that creates this fluffing of the layers by encouraging the sliding of layers over one another and is best done with a tool that has a ton of grip, like a YTU ball. This fluffing and rehydration does not stay contained to the specific area – if you are creating an environment of rehydration and healing in one area, it will spill into surrounding areas improving the global health of the tissues.
My favorite way to quickly create heat and rehydration is with the inflated Coregeous ball in the lower back. With the ball positioned directly under the thoracolumbar fascia (TLF), which is an anchor for almost every tissue above and below it, you can affect every fabric it is in contact with, from the abdominals as they wrap around the torso to the latissumus from the shoulders. Once you have the Coregeous ball underneath your lower back, spin yourself around the ball in on direction as much as possible. It will feel like you are giving your self a rug burn and that is correct! Gently move your hips from side to side while you are wound up to maximize the amount of shear. Rotate in the other direction and repeat. (See the image below for the set up)
Improving the pliability and hydration of this focal point can help improve tissue health from head to toe. Make your hydration more than just a million trips to the bathroom and give your body a reason to soak up all that water!
What does good posture look like? Yoga Tune Up has done the work for you with this 6 basic tenets of good posture. Try to incorporate these while you stand to tune up your standing alignment, which will seep into your alignment while moving, sitting and doing the things you love!
I’m a recovering snooze button addict. Each morning when my alarm would go off, I would press the snooze button, convinced that getting up was not better than cuddling with the dog in our warm and comfy bed. You’ve probably done it too – the Snooze Button Tango, the back and forth of falling asleep and waking up every 9 minutes for however long it takes you before you absolutely MUST get out of bed. The Snooze Button Tango didn’t leave me feeling more well rested in the morning, but was certainly getting in the way of getting things done. The best thing I ever did for myself was clean up my sleep hygiene.
We try to eat clean, work out right, but are you keeping your sleep habits as clean as possible? Good sleep hygiene means getting to bed early enough to get a full night’s rest, preparing yourself for restful sleep (like rolling on your YTU Balls, Coregeous ball, meditation, etc) and getting out of bed in the morning. Not just waking up, but actually getting out of bed without pressing the snooze button 50 million times and spending the next hour turning off the snooze alarm 9 minutes.
Fighting with the snooze alarm doesn’t just waste time, it actually forces your body to fall deeper asleep. Your body wants to stay asleep too, so when your alarm rips you out of your deepest sleep and you press the snooze and try to get back to sleep, your body actually tries to get back to where it was, but putting you into an even DEEPER sleep state. The next time your alarm goes off, its pulling you not just from 3 feet under, but now you’re 6 feet under, and it only goes deeper the longer you cycle. No wonder you’re so groggy after an hour of the Snooze Button Tango!
At the start of the New Year, I decided to challenge myself to get my butt out of bed the minute the alarm went off. I was literally tired of sleeping and losing precious time to do the things I wanted to do. I am not a morning person by nature, but the morning has always been when my best creative juices flow and I have time to workout.
I’m not going to lie and tell you that getting out of bed was easy (obviously not since it took me until February 16th to be successful!) but I can proudly say I haven’t pressed the snooze button in two weeks. The 50 million excuses for staying in bed haven’t gone away, but my desire to get stuff done helps to crawl out of bed.
Here’s how I did it: when my alarm goes off, I sit up. It may still be another minute or so before I actually stand up out of bed, but I’m up. Once you’re out of bed, try to do something that doesn’t require a lot of brain power – I’ve chosen dishwashing to give me more quality time with the family in the evenings. 15 minutes later, all the dishes are clean and I’m awake!
By the time I need to leave for work, I’ve been up for hours getting all the stuff I wanted to accomplish done, like writing a blog, rolling on my therapy balls, or working out. These are the things that I need to do to nourish my self and I was really feeling the negative effect when they were gone.
We nourish ourselves with good food, hydration, good workouts, but make sure you also nourish yourself with quality sleep, both at night and in the morning!
So tell me, are you addicted to the snooze? What’s your biggest challenge to getting out of bed in the morning?
Should you use the snooze button? Watch the video below for the science behind the snooze!
This past week I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Downtown Las Vegas to experience the revitalization of the neighborhood while exploring the topic “Get Some Mindspace”. This event was organized by a company called “CatalystCreativ, an experience studio and small business funded by Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project. They host a monthly Catalyst Week, which is a gathering of “creativ” minds for storytelling and idea sharing, that are available free to the community for learning and inspiration. Our week explored themes of mental health & wellness, mindfulness, and conscious living.
It was very cool to see the rebuilding of a community that now has a very small-town feel. For the locals and our group leaders, it was not uncommon to greet a familiar face while walking down the street, which is not a regular occurrence in Los Angeles.
The week provided me an outlet to break the cycle of the regular day to day and experience something totally new and different. I would not have traveled to Downtown Vegas for any other reason, but I definitely want to go back now. Seriously, go check out the amazing restaurants, delicious vegan and vegetarian food, and the super cool shopping experience called the Container Park. Do it!
Getting some mindspace was precisely what I didn’t know I was lacking, but I have refined and created new habits since returning home. Kelly Bennett of The Reset Project, introduced me to manifest journaling, which is an excellent tool for getting unstuck, clear, grounded, and recharged for whatever lies ahead. Since I have been planning a wedding, reframing my brand, and leading trainings and workshop, I needed a way to reframe my tasks and to do list in a way that would not only help me get things done, but also inspire me to dream bigger. I began a keeping a daily to do list/reminders, which helped to boil down my tasks to the most important each day. A manifest journal takes it the next step, and asks that you not only write down your tasks for the day, but also what you want to RECEIVE from the universe. What energy do you want to attract? This daily practice also helps you to take time each day to reflect on your wins. What worked? What didn’t’ worked? What are you going to kick ass at tomorrow? Instead of just slogging through and marking things off the to-do list, I’m excited to manifest the things I want from the universe as well. I think it is already working – my first trip to the grocery store since returning home, I walked all through the grocery store wanting avocados, but didn’t want to go pick any out for fear they’d go to waste. Long story short, I got home, unpacked my groceries, and guess what was there? 4 of the most delicious avocados J
The manifest journal I have been using recently to help me keep clear on my goals is called the Passion Planner. Kelly uses a plain notebook, which is much more free form and budget friendly. She also does a monthly manifest email – I signed up to keep the inspirations rolling! You can sign up here.
How do you clear your to do list and Get Some Mindspace?
Lucky for us, our body has many built in mechanisms that will lull your senses into deep relaxation. One way is to mechanically stimulate a specialized nerve ending called Ruffini endings, which are peppered throughout your fluffy superficial fascia layer (the layer directly beneath the skin). It’s really not as complicated as it sounds, I promise! Ruffini endings respond to stretching of the skin, which can easily be accomplished with a grippy, rubber ball that has a ton of grip – aka, a Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball. Rolling anywhere on your body will stimulate the Ruffini endings, which in turn, inhibit sympathetic activity. They literally flip the switch from fight or flight to rest and digest, preparing you for a deeply relaxing sleep.
For me, the closer the YTU ball placement is to my head, the more relaxing it is. My favorite places to roll before sleep are the neck, jaw, or temple. You will roll into bed with a clear mind and fluffy jaw. This is especially great for anyone who is a clenches, grinds their teeth or suffers from TMJ. Check out the video below to see how to do it! (Email subscribers – click this link to watch)
Another great way to coax your nervous system into more parasympathetic tone (versus sympathetic/flight or flight) is meditation. Before you run off because you’re adverse to woo woo – meditation can be as complicated as alternate nostril breathing or as simple as breathing, which you’re already doing now. Learn more about super simple meditation in my previous blog, Resolutions, schmesolutions.
What do you do to help wind down for sleep? Let me know in the comments, on twitter, or Facebook!
I’ve read a few things this year that inspire, rather than discourage me from creating new habits in 2015. One of my favorites was about living in the now. We spend so much time focusing on the future or feeling bad about the past that we forget to pay attention to this exact moment. Instead of worrying about what new resolution or workout you have to do later, tomorrow or next week – focus on what awesome things you are doing in this instant. I, for one, am feeling pretty badass about finally crafting the time to write a blog! #winning
Another new resolution that is uplifting is the #OtterMyMind meditation challenge with Jill Miller. It’s so simple and easy to do that it can be done anywhere. I have found that it is also incredibly helpful to focus and calm yourself for sleep. Where I used to think of a million different things and all the blogs I could be writing, I now focus on my breath and heart beat. It truly is that simple. Check out the video below (email subscribers will have to click THIS LINK to keep watching) to get the info on the challenge!
My challenge for you in 2015 is to stop worrying about the SHOULDS, COULDs, or MAYBEs and join me as we get #OtterMyMind and into a more focused place.
Think about it – what position do your hands spend most of the day in? Most likely it’s draped over your steering wheel, spread out over your keyboard or holding on to groceries, kids, purses and devices. We hardly ever take our wrists into any amount of extension – no wonder our wrists get so fatigued during downdog, handstands and overhead presses! In addition to our lack of grip strength (see Monkeying Around), the lack of extension has left us with overly strong and stiff flexors and extensors that are locked long.
So, what to do? Try my wrist strengthening exercise, shown in the video below. If you suffer from any myriad of wrist, elbow, or shoulder pain – this is something you seriously need to do. Just as you brush your teeth each day (I hope!), you need to take your joints through their various ranges of possible motion to ensure to maintain health and flexibility throughout your body. Motion is lotion!
But there isn’t and won’t ever be, whether you choose poses and exercises over pills. Even pharmaceuticals hardly ever come as single fixes. You take a pill for your pain, but then have to take a pill to help your digestive system that is stopped up from the pain pills. I am always surprised at the myriad of warnings that accompany every drug advertisement, many of which include the warning that you may lose the ability to do whatever the pill is supposed to help you do!
There is no one stretch or therapy ball technique to cure every specific ailment because no two bodies are alike. The goal of our self-care and corrective exercise is to create an environment for change and adaptation to occur.
You can’t foster healing if you’re too focused on finding the quick fix.
When we are in pain, we’re convinced that the injury is precisely where we feel it. While many times it is initially related to tissue injury, sometimes the pain persists even after the tissue has healed. But when your nerves continue to send signals to that your brain repetitively translates into pain, it doesn’t matter. Pain is pain is pain, regardless of the cause.
But what do you do when the imaging shows no injury and the doctor or physical therapist has no solution for your seemingly independent pain?
You need a better solution. This was reinforced for me on a recent visit to Kinesis in Culver City, home base for Dr. Dawn McCrory. Dr. Dawn is not only a Physical Therapist and Yoga Tune Up® instructor, but she is also a magician, detective, and ninja badass. I have had experiences in the past where a PT insisted they could not help a patient who was not in pain. What I’ve learned from Dr. Dawn is that is simply not the case.
I had been dealing with recurrent left ankle pain that was no longer responding to rolling and stretching. It was time to call in the big guns. The day I went to visit Dr. Dawn, my ankle felt fine, of course. In the same way that whenever you finally get a customer service person on the phone, your issue is miraculously solved. Even though I was pain free, Dr. Dawn determined that I had no eversion in my ankle (think opposite of how you sprain your ankle), which was probably causing some compensation/overuse pattern to develop. Part of her assessment also included a single leg squat, which was super embarrassing, as I couldn’t do it on one side! (can you tell I’ve been systematically avoiding pistol days?) It revealed some other issues upstream that I am still working on, but we’ll save that for later blog 😉
I came to Kinesis pain free, left pain free, and remain pain free – although I’m now paying much closer attention to how I move and carry myself, even more than before.
Part of my homework from Dr. Dawn included releasing tension in the front of my shin. If you do any movement with your feet (walking, driving, standing, skipping… you get the point) or wear shoes, then stiffness may be lurking in the anterior muscle of the shin, the anterior tibialis. If you’ve ever suffered from shin splints – you KNEAD this. Try this terribly wonderful shin release with the ALPHA ball in the video below!
Yep, that’s right – you are a self-healing organism and already have the tools needed to HEAL your body fully and completely. Regardless of how long you have been in your current state, with some understanding of how the breath and body intermingle, you can improve the overall state of your body. From the way you stand, to how you move, to how you sleep, you will learn everything you need to know to rebuild your body in these pages. Jill has boiled down what you need to know about fascia, soft tissues, breath mechanics, and my personal favorite – self-massage with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls.
My life was changed forever when I met Jill and began to learn about self-care and soothing my tissues and nervous system with my breath and therapy balls. I have since spent years learning all I can about the body, fascia, and pain physiology in trainings, books, and hands on studies. I have become a student of my body, but the process was not quick and easy. Man, how I wish this book was out 3 years ago!
Instead of learning it my way – grab a copy of The Roll Model, read it for yourself, and begin your own process of discovery and healing. The book sums up what I have spent years studying with descriptions that are so clear, anyone can understand them. From reading The Roll Model, I am able to finally grasp complicated biomechanical concepts that my university professors could never make sense of. The Roll Model goes above and beyond any book or DVD out there – instead of following choreography, you will learn how to take the next steps to rehabilitate your body – without doctors, surgery, or pain pills.
Don’t’ believe me? You simply need to read the Roll Model Success stories within these pages of people who have used the method to recover from botched surgeries, soothe debilitating anxiety, and recover from intense physical and emotional abuse to know that this stuff WORKS.
For those who are experienced at movement mechanics and myofascial self-care, The Roll Model does not disappoint. I have learned new techniques with the therapy balls that are so creative and out of the box, I don’t think I would have ever come up with them on my own! I have also learned additional ways to describe the body to my clients that will be easier for them to digest.
Pain is an epidemic – we all know someone who is currently suffering from chronic pain or perhaps you are the one currently battling chronic pain. But I promise you; there is something you can do to change the outcome and trajectory of your life. All it takes is 5 minutes a day and a pair of balls…
Get your own copy of The Roll Model at Amazon.
I have previously written about the importance of grip strength on the blog, but if there is a ton of tension in the hands, your strength work will not be as effective and there should always be a routine to keep the hygiene of the inner soft tissues of your hands are forearms up to par. So how do you deal with this tech induced tension? Easy.
Grab your Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls (any size will do, but I find the PLUS or Classics work best) and attempt to smush one with the palm of your hand. Use as much pressure as you can tolerate, focusing the ball into the meaty muscles of your thumb (they take a beating from your smartphone). One of my favorite moves here is to rotate your palm around the ball, as if you were juicing a yummy orange. This helps to grab onto the multiple layers of soft tissues, wringing them out to encourage fresh hydration and nutrition to the cells. Allow the ball to navigate around the entire surface of your palm, switching sides after you stop feeling change (or if you’re out of time). I recommend a minimum of 2 minutes per side.
Before you switch sides, take a moment to notice the difference between the hands: does one feel warmer? Fluffier? Easier to move?
Best part of the hand sequence? It’s tame enough to do at your desk in the middle of a workday. Give your hands a break; they need it after winning all of those games of Candy Crush Saga 😉
This always reminds me of a joke – a blonde is wearing headphones while getting her hair cut. The stylist does her best job to work around them, but finally can’t continue. She asks the blonde to remove her headphones, after which, the blonde turns blue and passes out. Confused, the stylist picks up the headphones to hear what she was listening to: “Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.”
Thankfully, your diaphragm moves up and down within the barrel of your rib cage without you having to dedicate any brain waves to it. In fact, our ability to breathe well is intricately linked to our ability to soothe ourselves and relax. Focusing on diaphragmatic breathing is akin to “hacking” your nervous system. It is the closest you can get to flipping the switch from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and digest) in a matter of moments.
This is not new technology by any means as the yogis have been doing this for centuries with a practice called pranayama. The practice of pranayama encompasses many different breathing techniques, from holding the breath for specific periods of time, alternate nostril breathing, focusing on inhales/exhales, passive inhales/exhales, to forced inhales/exhales. Basically, if you’re breathing, you could consider it pranayama.
How do you know if you’re breathing diaphragmatically (into your belly)? Pay attention to the way your body breathes just before you slip off into dreamland. This is when you tend to be most relaxed and will breathe into your belly without thinking about it. Another way to learn how diaphragmatic breathing feels is to use something heavy, a yoga sandbag or even book will do, over your belly and attempt to move the item as you breathe. The item doesn’t move because you are bearing down and poofing out your belly, but because the movement of the diaphragm is pressing your abdominal contents outwards as it plunges down into the belly. If you don’t have any props, you can simply place a hand over your belly to get some sensory feedback of the movement of the abdomen.
Your ability to breathe is your ability to calm your nervous system. A nervous system that is perpetually in a state of “fight or flight” does not take time to repair, recover or regenerate. Do yourself a favor and let your frazzled nerves BREATHE.
*I challenge you to focus on your breath for 5 minutes every day this week. Make yourself comfortable, whether that is a seated position or laying down, and focus on ballooning the belly, followed by the ribs, followed by an exhale. No worries if you fall asleep – that means you’re relaxed! (and probably a bit sleep deprived). Take note of how you feel on day 1 versus day 7.
Try this super simple pose to help breathe better and fall asleep! See the video below
I have been reading Katy Bowman’s latest book, Move Your DNA and am in love with her writing style, wit, and downright simple exercises that you can do to improve the health of your body on a daily basis. If you are interested in understanding more about your body and how it moves, she explains biomechanics in the most digestible way ever (far better than at the university!). In the book, she also explains the science behind our biological need for movement and has a whole chapter dedicated to movement and exercise (PS, they’re not the same thing).
How you do one thing is how you do everything. Gravity is constantly acting on your cells, muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons regardless of what position you are in. Osteoporosis, while many believe to be hereditary, has a lot to do with how you load (put force) your bones throughout your life. Bone strength and calcification is similar to saving for retirement. You must start early so that the compounding leaves you with enough to comfortably live on in your older age. Women who suffer from osteoporosis tend to have weakness and breaks in the neck of the femur. How could a bone that bears the weight of your body be so weak?
Your bones adapt and grow based on the loads you place on them, known as Wolff’s Law. Just as a callus grows on your skin where extra friction happens, your bones will begin to “grow” more bone where they are being loaded. This happens at places where it should (like the neck of the femur if your alignment is on point) and places where it is not ideal, like the side of the joint of the big toe, also known as a bunion. A bunion grows because the joint has been loaded off axis for many years, not because grandma had one and you were destined to. Think about it, if the wheels on your car were slightly turned out, the wear on the tires would be uneven and require more frequent replacement of the tires. Fortunately (and unfortunately), our body parts are not as disposable as tires, so those with bunions are left with painful feet and stiff joints, unless they are willing to endure surgery, which will leave them with stiff feet, painful joints, and scar tissue. The best thing you can do for your bunions and feet is to have your feet aligned in parallel, just like the wheels of your car. This will help prevent the formation or growth of any bunion.
All of the cells in your body respond to the loads put upon them by gravity in relation to your position, in a process called mechanotransduction (read all about it in Move Your DNA). Wolff’s Law and bone growth are just one example of this process. So the big question is – are you loading your body in every way that you can on a regular basis? Are your daily movements and positions ones that you wouldn’t mind having immortalized in a sculpture of your body? If we walked around with the posture we’d like our life-sized statue to have, I imagine it would be more upright and aligned than your current sitting posture. The slouchy shapes we hold for each day have an affect on your tissues. The muscles and fascias that are squished on the front of your body shorten to accommodate the shortening of their length, while the tissues on the back of your body are overstretched and tighten up to protect themselves.
I am always boggled how we can live with pain and weird joint noises for decades without skipping a beat, but the minute our car makes an odd noise, it’s in the shop for repairs. Why does the car get more TLC then your own body?
The moral of the story is that every little bit counts. Every movement and every moment has an affect on your entire body. Are you moving enough? And is that movement in a biomechanically efficient way? Move Your DNA. Now!*
*The first movement of your DNA can be to walk to a bookstore and buy Katy’s book. It truly is that good J
A recent study compared the hormonal response to squatting with a barbell versus a decline leg press (Shaner et al., 2013). Following blood testing, researchers concluded that squatting elicited the greatest change in levels of circulating growth hormone and testosterone (both are required for the growth of muscle and skeletal mass). This study was not perfect, as the squats and leg press were not full range and, if the subject could not finish their set, a spotter aided them. However, it does bring up interesting points to consider as a personal trainer or group fitness instructor.
Read the rest of the article at MyGroupFit here!: http://www.mygroupfit.com/blog/do-you-squat-748
My body blind spot that I chose to steer clear of for many years was my jaw. It wasn’t an issue until I was in pain and could ignore it any longer (familiar story for anyone?). I had braces as a kid, which meant many of my teeth were pulled and rearranged. I was a tongue thruster, so part of my orthodontia included retraining my tongue to thrust on the roof of my mouth instead of behind my front teeth. Fast forward 10+ years and I found myself waking up with neck pain, lingering soreness in my shoulder that won’t go away, and a click in my jaw. My jaw didn’t hurt daily, so I continued to roll my shoulder and neck, which would provide temporary relief.
It wasn’t until an appointment with my esthetician, Cybil Solyn, that I realized that I could no longer ignore the dust bunnies under the couch. Side note, if you are near Burbank, you MUST check her out – she is the best (www.csolyn.com)! Cybil is as fascinated with the skin and body as I am, so we always have nerd sessions when working together. On this particular day, she was massaging my neck and face (as she regularly does during her facials), and I was wincing in pain from the lightest touch anywhere on my head. Pressure anywhere on my neck or jaw caused me to jump off the table. Pain had reared its ugly head and I could ignore my neck dysfunction no longer.
While I regularly roll all over my body, I rarely roll my jaw for a few reasons, the main one being that it always hurt too much. After a good lecture from my mom, who by the way is a fascia nerd now too (so proud!), I began to roll my jaw with the YTU ALPHA and Classics each night. I committed myself to 10 minutes of facial rolling a day, which also doubled as a great relaxation routine before bed. Initially, I had to start with the larger ALPHA because the tissues were so wound up that anything smaller was too painful. After two nights, my jaw no longer felt like a block of concrete and I had less pain.
All of this happened before I left for the Yoga Tune Up® Leadership Summit, where I was blessed to spend 5 days with some of the brightest minds in the YTU sphere. I diligently did my jaw rolling homework at the summit and gleaned many tips from my colleagues about how to best alleviate jaw tension. My friend Elizabeth suggested a tongue exercise that she learned from a vocal teacher. It is so simple, and yields great results. To do it, trace around all sides of your teeth with your tongue and then stick it out and hold in various directions. You may try to touch your nose, your left ear, your right ear, and eyebrows – just try to take your tongue in every possible direction. The first time I tried this, the stretch sensation went all the way down the back of my throat. In addition to my jaw, I had found another blind spot!
This all ties back into the tension patterns I learned as a child with braces. My tongue thrusting habit had never been unlearned, just redirected. So in addition to my jaw rolling and tongue stretching, I consciously focused on allowing my tongue to relax from the roof of my mouth. Just as realign my feet to parallel whenever I catch myself standing like a duck, I relaxed my tongue whenever I noticed thrusting.
Fast forward one month and I’m back on Cybil’s table. The pain and tension that wrapped all around my neck and jaw? GONE. And the lingering shoulder pain? Also gone! Just because you’ve had body blind spot aversion for 10+ years does not mean it’s too late to make a change. The most fascinating thing about this process for me was the responsiveness of my tissues to change when they were massaged and relaxed. My tongue was not enjoying being uptight all day, but it needed the signal from my brain to let go. This solidified my understanding that the body is interconnected – my tongue thrusting was contributing to clenching, which created a tensional cascade down the neck and into my shoulders.
Body nerds are also part pirate – we have to use the body as a treasure map to find the cause of the issue and not be distracted by the location of the pain. More often than not, the location of the pain is not the problem, so tinker and play with your own habits to see if you can make changes in your body for the better.
Most people’s first reaction when they get a Charley Horse* is to attempt to stretch the cramp, which in my opinion only makes matters worse. Think about it – a muscle cramp is an area of muscle that has suddenly contracted at full force. When you “stretch” it, or attempt to lengthen the muscle, it does not address the fact that the muscle fibers are already fully contracted. So, instead of lengthening or relaxing the cramp, the fully freaked out/contracted muscle fibers are now being tugged on, which can potentially increase the tissue injury, resulting in soreness.
The lingering soreness that can last a few days is a lovely reminder of the horrendous discomfort of the night before. But what if there was a way to alleviate the stiffness and soreness quickly?Well, of course there is!
The first thing to try and remember when it’s the middle of the night and you can’t move, is to NOT stretch the area. If it’s in your calf, instead of trying to flex your foot, try to point your toes. Think of going in the direction of the cramp and shortening the muscle length, as opposed to trying to pry it apart.
Afterwards, another way to address the lingering soreness is with your Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls. All you need is two Therapy Balls of any size (they don’t even need to match) to create a ball stack called the Calf Kebob.
1. Place one ball on the underside of the calf and one on top of the muscle, just behind the shin bone.
2. Use your hands to apply pressure to the top ball, attempting to meet the balls through the MEAT of your calf.
3. Depending on your sensitivity, you may be able to apply a considerable amount of pressure. If your calves are stiff you may need only to gently press the top ball (or not at all!).
4. Once the YTU Therapy Balls are pinned in place, point and flex your ankle to allow the calf muscle to slide between the kebob sandwich you’ve created.
5. For extra BONUS NINJA POINTS, add spin to the top ball as you apply your downward pressure. (This technique is called Pin/Spin/Mobilize)
The YTU Therapy Balls are perfect for this as their grippiness allows them to grab on to the deepest layers of calf muscle to restore sliding surfaces between layers. Ideally, we want our muscles and connective tissues to slide over one another like silk, but after a cramp, injury, or lack of movement, the silk morphs into Velcro, with sticky connective tissue adhesions between the layers. The Calf Kebob and the addition of the Pin/Spin/Mobilize allow you to efficiently restore the slipperiness and hydration you need to be silky on your insides.
Even if you haven’t had a Charley Horse, the Calf Kebob is an excellent way to alleviate stiffness in sore calves after a long day on your feet, hard workout, or if you’re a high heel wearer.
Give it a try! Did this help with your calf stiffness?
* FUN FACT: ‘Charley horse’ (sometimes misspelled ‘Charlie horse’) is an American phrase and originated in the sport of baseball. All the early citations of the phrase relate to baseball in some way or another. The earliest I can find is from The Fort Wayne Gazette, July 1887:
“Whatever ails a player this year they call it ‘Charley horse’. ‘Tom and Jerry horse’ would fit many cases.”
There are reports, which seem reliable but which I haven’t yet been able to confirm, that the phrase appears in ‘Sporting Life’ in 1886. The text of the item above would seem to indicate the phrase was coined around that time.
The hamstrings are the common name for a group of three muscles: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus, and are responsible for hip extension and knee flexion. When seated, the knees remain slightly bent, which contributes to shortening of the hamstrings. Many of us also tend to sit on our sacrum, rather than our ischial tuberosities (“sit bones”), which further contributes to shortening of the hamstring group. Our tissues adapt to whatever positions we put them in most often, so if a group of muscle and its related connective tissue spends a majority of it’s time in a shortened position, it will adapt that shape as the “new normal”.
Undoing tightness in the hamstrings has less to do with stretching them, which may only take 15 minutes out of your day, but should be more focused on putting them in better positions throughout your day, you know, the other 23.75 hours a day. Basically, stop sitting and slouching so much.
The moral of the story for any movement dilemma seems to be move more and tight hamstrings are no different.
Here are my favorite self-care tools and moves to help alleviate tension in the hamstrings:
First, check out this great video by my friend and fellow YTU teacher, Brooke Thomas – the Insta Hamstring Lengthener. In the video, Brooke uses a Classic YTU Ball in the tote to roll through the hamstrings.
Thirdly, there are people who do not need to stretch any more. These are the people who can touch their toes without any problems and take their feet behind their head without missing a beat. For you my friends, stop stretching your hamstrings. There comes a point where you are no longer stretching the muscle itself (because it is completely overstretched) and are instead tugging on ligaments and tendons, which do not have the same pliability and resiliency that muscle tissue does (Read more about the science of stretching and what are you actually stretching here). If you fall into this category and still have grouchy hamstrings, check out this great blog by Jill Miller about becoming stable in an unstable body.
Flexibility and strength exist on a spectrum. It is no better to be on the far right or the far left when it comes to the flexibility of our tissues. If you are overstretched, a little bit of strength training to give your muscle some tone will be helpful. If you are a stiff as a board, because of either strength or no-movement, then some stretching and movement will be the ticket. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, move more!
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