Sunday, July 26, 2009

Stand Tall for Good Posture

Good posture is key to avoiding, or eliminating, many common sources of muscular pain. Good posture also enhances our appearance, breathing, and effectiveness at sports. Unfortunately what feels "right" is what we're accustomed to, not necessarily what's healthful.

In a very simple sense, good posture is keeping the body tall and in a vertical line. Of course the spine does have a natural curve and the body isn't made of square blocks, but the overall effect is straight up and down, with everything balanced in a column. The more deviation there is from vertical, the more strain there will be on the spine and spinal muscles.

Here are two simple things to do to check your posture, and to help with improving it.

The first involves using a wall to check the positioning, forward and backward, of your hips, spine, shoulders, and head. Stand about 12 inches away from a wall, facing away. Try to be in your typical posture. Now, without changing how you stand, slowly shuffle back towards the wall. Ideally your heels, hips, mid-back, shoulders and head will touch simultaneously(some sources suggest the feet can be several inches away when the rest of the body touches.) Keep the eyes level.

There should be a gap above the hips between the lumbar spine and the wall about the thickness of one or two hands, with the palm flat to the wall. At the neck the gap should be a bit larger.

A common problem is there will be a larger space behind the neck, the head not touching, and the shoulders not touching. This often caused by too much sitting at a desk and reaching forward.

Now try to align your body so that it does touch the wall in the places mentioned above. Raise your chest up, shoulders and head back, everything taller. If the gap at the low spine was too large, tighten your abs to tilt the pelvis back a bit.

The second is done either as a visualization technique, or with a partner. Your partner's real hand, or an imaginary one, touches the top of your head. Now push the hand higher by straightening your self out. This makes you taller, and removes some sags and kinks in the process.

Keep in mind that good posture looks poised, not rigid. Don't let the idea of standing against a wall make you think otherwise. And as your posture improves, you will find a greater ease of movement that will be far from wall-like.

Practicing these techniques daily will both teach you how to stand and make it more effortless to do so. See the self care page of my main website Positive Massage Therapy for some stretches that will also help.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Burn More Calories- Don't Sit Down part 2

Someone pointed out to me another great reason to not sit down while exercising. Don't Sit Down is a simple exercise rule I explained previously. Briefly, if you're not sitting down, then you're involving much more of your body in each exercise, and training all the different muscles to work together. This is the key to "functional fitness," fitness useful in real life and sports.

The extra reason is that less sitting means burning more calories. Exercising sitting down means most of the body gets a rest, but if you stand or use an unstable surface for support the whole body is working and using energy- aka calories.

Weight loss techniques are not part of my expertise, but I know that it is important to many people. So, really, Don't Sit Down!

More Palo Alto Balcony Garden News
The Morning Glory on my balcony has finally started to bloom. I grow it across the rafters in the northeastern corner where it won't cast any shadows(I've lots of them already.)

I gave up on one of basil plants, which I don't think grew a bit since I put it in except for trying to flower. Strangely, its disappearance seems to be motivating the remaining basil. Just in case, I threw out the dirt in the pot as well.

In nice new clean dirt I planted a variety of pole beans. This particular pot hangs from the aforementioned rafters, in the opposite corner from the Morning Glory. It will get the most sun I've got, and I will try to trellis it above the roof level to get even more. A few bean seeds went other places, since there were more seeds in the package than I'll use for years. More news to come.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Massage Table, Sheets, plus Tomatoes in Palo Alto

What you lie on and under isn't really the most important part of a massage, but it makes a difference. That's why I want to mention a few things about the new table I'm using and what I put on top of it.

Sheets and Things
Last week I bought another set of sheets for massage. They are made from bamboo, which is soft and comfy. Some of my sheets are bamboo, some are cotton. Since most sheets are designed for beds, and beds are larger than massage tables, I go to the effort of trimming and re-hemming flat sheets for the top. I always use a fitted bottom sheet.

I have seen spas where the bottom sheet is not fitted, which just doesn't cover the table as securely. The worst problem is that it is too easy, and common, for the sheet to not cover the front of the table where your face is and the arms may hang over. Do you really want your body touching the same bare table where everyone else's armpits have been?

Another technique I have is not using a blanket, but instead putting two sheets on top of the body. The reason is that blankets are too hard to wash, yet for every massage the client's oily hands, arms, and possibly legs touch the top cover, plus the therapist's hands. You're clean of course, but what about the people before you? All the covers get changed after every massage in my practice.

Incidentally, here's an inside scoop on how some high speed spas operate: Putting multiple sets of sheets on the table at once. There may be 4, 6, or more sheets at the start, and after each massage the therapist just peels off the top two. Needless to say, I never do that.

One more tidbit. Every notice an odd smell when you get on a massage table? It's rancid massage oil that doesn't wash out of the sheets, not aromatherapy. I use jojoba instead of a vegetable oil, and since jojoba doesn't go rancid, you won't notice that problem in my treatment room.

Deluxe New Table
Thanks to the generous and wonderful Stephanie, owner of Restore Body and Mind, where my business is based, I now have an electric lift table to use. This makes it possible for me to precisely position the table height for each client, and even to change the height during the session. The extra bonus is that the table is heated, with a neat digital thermostat.

Balcony Garden News
from Palo Alto
The tumbling toms tiny tomatoes are ripe, and they taste terrific!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day Fitness

Happy Independence Day! On this day I always remember that the USA was once a distant group of frontier colonies of the most powerful nation on the planet, and we fought a war to win our independence and found a new nation.

This inspires a workout tip(of course.) A simple way to increase the functional aspect(useful in life, not just the gym) of an exercise is to do it with just one arm or leg at a time instead of both. In technical terms, unilateral instead of bilateral. For instance, instead of doing a barbell curl using both arms, do dumbell curls, one side at a time. Try doing a cable row with just one hand. Suddenly all sorts of muscles get involved keeping you balanced and the weight aligned. It is the same idea as my recommendation Don't Sit Down. Particularly the obliques and other twisting/anti-twisting core muscles will get engaged.

One more benefit is that it is harder to "cheat," or at least more obvious, by having the stronger side do more work than the weaker. Symmetry and balance are important exercise and bodywork goals.

It's OK to do some bilateral exercises, but I suggest predominantly unilateral exercise for increasing functional fitness.

So start enjoying your independence, one arm and leg at a time.