Monday, November 26, 2012

Myth of Aging ~ Week 3

In week 1 we learned to use and release our back body muscles. In week 2 we found our front body muscles and this week Jodi guided us in learning to use and release our side body muscles with the Somatic technique, Side Curl.

Why would you want to do this? Maybe you feel like one leg is shorter than the other, or maybe you slump more on one side, or maybe you feel weaker on one side. This practice will help release side body slumping, will strengthen the side bodies, and can lengthen the torso to relieve the experience of having one longer leg (one leg actually being longer is extremely rare - it is more likely that the torso muscles are contracted unequally).

 Here's what we learned. I'll break it down:

1. To start, lay on your L side, head resting on your extended L arm, hips and knees bent at 90 degrees (like you were siting in a straight-back chair and you tipped over sideways).
2. Place your R hand on your R hip and try to use your side body muscles to "hike" your hip up into your hand. Repeat 3-5 times, resting completely after each hip hike.
3. Lay your R arm on top of/along your R side body. Practice pulling your R armpit down toward your R hip using your side body muscles. Repeat 3-5 times, resting completely after each engagement.
4. With R arm still resting on your R side body, draw your R armpit and your R hip toward each other and then slowly release them away from each other, even lengthening at the end of the release. Repeat 3-5 times, again stopping and resting between each rep.
5. Adding load: Bring the R arm up and over head, holding the top of the L ear. Draw your R armpit and your R hip toward each other while at the same time letting your head float up (R hand supports the head) and your R foot float up (knees remain glued together). This should really concentrate the effort into the R side torso muscles. When you release from the contraction, release very slowly and even lengthen the R arm and R leg away from each other, extending them straight away from the body. Rest in this lengthened position.
6. Repeat these steps on the other side.

I'm not noticing any different body habits or patterns changing this week but I feel like this exercise is really good at strengthening my side bodies.

Read more:
Myth of Aging Week 1
Myth of Aging Week 2

Monday, November 19, 2012

Myth of Aging ~ Week 2

Last week I described Arch & Flatten and the Back Lift. These are the exercises needed to help release the "Go" pattern in your body. This is the pattern that looks like military posture: chest out, knees locked, a little bent at the hips and leaning forward, ready to go, go, go!

This week we learned the antidote to the "Stop" posture: chest slumped, chin jutting, tail tucked, slumping into our desks, slumping into defeat. To combat this slumping posture, we learned how to contract and release our front body muscles with Arch & Curl and Diagonal Arch & Curl.

We began with the basic movement, Arch & Curl. This is done by laying on your back, knees bent. On the inhale the belly rises, the lumbar arches, and the sacrum presses into the floor. On the exhale pull your belly toward your spine, releasing the back muscles and engaging your belly muscles. Draw your lower ribs down and in toward your hip bones, your lumbar flattens to the floor and your tail curls up a little. Relax back to neutral. Repeat 5-10 times.

You can add load by placing the hands behind the head and supporting the head as you take your curl, letting the muscles of the belly lift the head if they are able. Try Arch & Curl without co-contracting. Use only the front body muscles or only the back body muscles.

Next we practiced Diagonal Arch & Curl. Same set-up: lay on your back, knees bent. Hold your L knee in your L hand, R hand behind the head. Exhale and push the belly toward the floor, letting the muscular contraction lift your R shoulder and L hip toward each other. The hand supports the head but does not really lift it. The head will lift when the muscles in the belly are able to engaged in the right way. On the inhale relax the R shoulder and L hip back to the floor and even press the R shoulder and L hip into the floor creating a small diagonal arch. Relax to neutral in between each round. Do this about 3-5 times and then repeat on the 2nd side.

What I've noticed this week is that my sleeping pattern has changed. I don't want as much of a pillow, if any, and I keep waking up on my back with both arms over my head. Usually I am supporting my "stop" pattern by elevating my head (on a pillow) and keeping my arms by my body. Maybe something is changing?

Myth of Aging ~ Week 1

Monday, November 12, 2012

Myth of Aging ~ Week 1

Last Tuesday I started my 3rd Somatic series at Yoga North. I wrote about the first series, Delicate Backs, but got too busy to write about the second series, Soma Yoga for Hips & Legs. Now I'm on to a 7 week practice to learn the full "Cat-Stretch" or "Daily Somatic Essentials" taken from Thomas Hanna's book, Somatics.

Here's the idea behind this movement based therapy:
In the revolutionary Somatics, Thomas Hanna demonstrates that so many problems we accept as inevitable over time-chronic stiffness, bad back, chronic pain, fatigue, and even high blood pressure -need never occur if we maintain conscious control of nerve and muscle, a state which Hanna calls sensory-motor awareness. This gentle, lifelong program can help almost anyone maintain the pleasures of a supple, healthy body indefinitely, with only a five-minute routine once a day.

The Cat Stretch is a short routine (8 exercises) which can be done in 15-30 minutes. We began with the very basic movement, Arch & Flatten. This is done by laying on your back, knees bent. Inhale and arch your spine (belly sticks up) exhale and relax back to neutral - no pushing. The idea is to reconnect your brain with your movement. You want to move very minimally: less is more.

The second exercise we learned is called the Back Lift. I've always avoided doing this one because it is so uncomfortable on my neck. Here's how it's done:

Lay on your belly with your L arm down by your side and your R arm bent and hand up by the head, palm flat down and cheek resting on the back of your hand. Now, this would be ok for me except now you turn your head to face your R elbow and rest your L cheek on the back of the R hand. This feels like a really big neck twist to me and caused a sensation of strain. But I did it anyway (carefully) and by the end of the exercise I was feeling better.

Here's how our teacher, Jodi, broke it down.
1. Laying as described above (L cheek on back of R hand), lift your head and look over your right shoulder for a breath or two. Come back to resting the cheek on the back of the hand and relax your neck completely (no bounce backs). Repeat three times.
2. With your L cheek resting on the back of your R hand lift your R elbow by drawing your R shoulder blade toward the spine. Return to neutral and completely relax. Repeat three times.
3. With your L cheek glued to the back of your R hand, lift your head and arm and look back (tiny twist) over your R shoulder. Return to neutral and rest completely. Repeat three times.
4. Rest your neck by turning it to center and taking Crocodile Pose.
5. Return to L cheek glued to back of R hand.
6. Lift your L leg toward the sky, leaving your head, arm and shoulder still. Repeat three times.
7. Integrate all movements together. Lift your head, R arm and shoulder, and L leg, keeping your L cheek glued to the back of the R hand. Try not to clench your jaw or use unnecessary force. Repeat three times and then relax in Crocodile.
8. Repeat all these steps on the L side.

By the time we were done my neck was ok to turn so far to the right. I was amazed. What is different about Somatics is the practice of actually moving into the contraction (in this case my chronically tight R side of neck), thereby resetting the muscle's spindle cells and allowing them to release.

Each time I have practiced the Back Lift this week it has gotten easier on my neck.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep

Ah, sleep: one of my favorite topics (as expressed here in a quote from The Princess Bride):

Get some rest. If you haven't got your health, then you haven't got anything.~ Count Rugan

So true.

For folks who fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow and for folks who stay asleep through the night, you might think it's silly to worry about getting enough rest. But for those of us who are or have ever been afflicted with insomnia you will appreciate this book.

The author, David K. Randall, takes us from mundane to murderous, exploring various sleep scenarios and the beliefs, ethics and treatments surrounding our multiple issues with sleep (or lack there of).

Although sleep walking (and sleep eating, sleep driving, etc.) are interesting to me, it's the everyday topic of lack of sleep which is close to my heart. Randall does a great job of covering sleep deprivation whether by parenting, disease/genetics (think snoring and sleep apnea and the partners of those people), or employment (think military, doctors, pilots, truckers, etc.) - and the resulting lack of coherency. This is truly frightening. The military is starting to realize that many cases of "friendly fire" are strongly correlated to their troops lacking sleep. Also, sleep deprivation studies show an increasing inability to make good decisions the more sleep deprived we are.

I think one of the scariest things I read in this book is about a genetic anomaly which thankfully does not affect very many people. The anomaly is this: at about age 40 there are certain people who slowly lose the ability to sleep - at all. They do not feel tired and they do not lose coherency. According to Randall, every one of these people die within a year. This is what lack of sleep does to us.

It makes me wonder, for every hour of sleep we missed, are we shortening our life span?

One topic not covered in as much depth as I would have liked is the effect of yoga, meditation, and in particular, Yoga Nidra (not mentioned at all). Regardless, this book is worth a read. I highly recommend it.

Book's website: Norton Books
Author's website: David K. Randall
Reviews: NPR Review, Salon Review, NY Times Review