Sore neck? 2 quick fixes for forward head

If it’s your habit that your head juts forward and is ahead of your shoulders, you can learn how to fix this common musculoskeletal imbalance.


  • by CONNIE ARONSON

If you feel like you have the weight of the world on your head right now, it could be time to change that situation. If it’s your habit that your head juts forward and is ahead of your shoulders, muscular neck and head pain could be the culprit. It’s very possible that headaches, jaw pain or grinding noises in the jaw could be the result of your forward head. When you have a forward head position, your body’s center of gravity shifts forward and increases the weight of your head in relation to the body. Your head effectively weighs almost as much as two bowling bowls, if it is only 2 inches forward and out of alignment with your upper back.

Imagine the head as round as a ball perched on top of the spine. In real life, the head rests on the most mobile part of the spine, the neck. Because of the small base it sits on, the head becomes more like a large ball sitting precariously on a seal’s nose. The numerous neck muscles that hold your head up all work together to keep your head sitting correctly on top of your shoulders, whether you’re riding a bike, doing crunches, walking or running. However, if you are constantly looking down at your phone, or watching a lot of television, the front neck muscles become weak from being continually stretched forward. When you align the head in an optimal anatomical position, you align the entire upper back, shoulder girdle and ribcage.

There are two common muscle imbalances in the head and neck. One is your head being too far forward, (forward head) and the second one is excessive cervical lordosis, when the muscles in the back of the neck are chronically shortened. For example, suppose you are watching a great movie on a big screen, and you sit slouching, looking up. Sitting like this causes the position of your neck to arch backward to keep your eyes on the show. This position of holding your head up, with your eyes looking up, is a deviation. You’re slumped. When you later try to correct your posture by tucking your chin, those very muscles and fascia on the back of your neck can feel painful or irritated.

Quick fix: How to tell if your head is too far forward

Here is a quick and easy assessment to see if you have forward head. You can also do this alignment check at any time during the day to see if you are practicing good head carriage and posture.

  • Sit on the edge of a chair. With your index finger, find the part of your cheekbone that protrudes outward most, just below your eye. Gently place your index finger there.
  • With an imaginary line, place your other index finger directly below your top finger, on your collarbone. They should be vertically aligned.
  • If the end of the finger on your cheekbone is ahead, your head is too far forward

Tennis ball rejuvenation

A tennis ball is a great inexpensive tool to help you loosen up tight sore muscles. Lying down, place a tennis ball on one side of your neck, and move around a little to find a sore spot. Once there, try to breath and relax on that particular spot. Do for one minute, every day, on each side of the neck. Click on video to see the exercises: vimeo.com/manage/427520367/general.


Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_2a3367a6-ac2e-11ea-b3ee-d73273a6435f.html

Your feet-why they need extra care

When we walk, our feet and ankles absorb impact and force from above and the ground. Our feet need tender loving care because of this.

During this overwhelming pandemic, walking is like a lifeline. People are walking more than ever. You can use this time to improve your alignment and movement skills, starting with your feet.

When we walk, our feet and ankles absorb impact and force from above and the ground. Our feet need tender loving care because of this. Your feet have 52 bones and over 100 ligaments, with 40 muscles and tendons connecting the muscles to these bones. They all form the foundation of the human body. Having healthy feet and ankles means that they can keep your body balanced and can withstand the pressure of standing and moving. That pressure needs to be evenly distributed throughout the lower legs all the way up to the head.  

The average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day. When you walk, the pressure on your feet increases by 50 percent, and increases even more during an hour of strenuous exercise, cushioning up to one million pounds of pressure. If the feet and ankles are not functioning optimally, it could create some problems through the entire muscular system.

Other areas of the body will be affected as they shift further out of alignment to try to maintain balance.

Our gait affects the whole body, from the moment your heel hits the ground and your weight is transferred through a system of arches that displace forces. The muscles of your feet and lower leg react as our arches drop and roll with gait. The feet and ankle also must know how to adapt to changes in surfaces, like steps or uneven terrain. If your ankles don’t bend, for example, or your knees roll inward, called pronation, not only is your walking gait off kilter, but the knees, hips, lower and upper back can be affected because of musculoskeletal imbalances.

  1. How do they look?

Take a moment to look at your feet. Notice if your big toes have bunions or calluses, or if that toe has moved towards the other toes, rather than pointing straight ahead. Are your lesser toes curled up and flexed?These conditions are called hammer, claw or mallet toes. Are your arches collapsed? Are your feet turned outward as you stand? All of these checkpoints affect the position of the knee, so you can begin to understand the importance of distributing your weight evenly through your feet.

2. Golf and tennis ball roll.

Give your feet a home massage by rolling a golf ball under your foot for a few minutes every day. This exercise helps rejuvenate the plantar fascia, a broad dense tissue on the underside of your foot, where the muscles of you lower leg attach.

Place a golf ball under your foot, and roll the ball back and forth, until you feel tender or sore spots. Pause on the sore spots, until you feel the sore spot release. If the golf ball is too painful, use a tennis ball. You can also add an active stretch by pulling your toes up while rolling.

Do this myofascia release exercise as you sit watching TV, or by your bed to do first thing in the morning.

3. Toe Stretch.

After you golf or tennis ball roll, stretch the underside of your foot to increase the flexibility of your toes and ankle. Stand barefoot, one foot forward, with your toes pushed up against the wall. Keep the ball of your foot and base of the toes in contact with the floor. Slowly lean in, moving the knee inward. Hold for 10-15 seconds, and repeat.

Take at look at the exercises at

https://vimeo.com/user77012133/review/415371796/a971589693

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_10c8774a-90b1-11ea-8d1c-3b262b6c1d24.html

Breath and awareness can help us cope

Featured

Now is the time to connect to our humanity, take a nice big breath and not be so hard on ourselves.

Fear and uncertainty are real right now, as each week brings even more uncertainty fighting COVID-19. Many of us are scared and lonely. But please don’t be so hard on yourself right now, because you already are doing something very brave and compassionate, staying home to flatten the curve. This extremely important measure is a global act of unity. By doing so, you are protecting others, especially our dedicated health workers, who are on the front lines, personifying service.

To feel anxious is natural. Right now, you don’t have to be a hero as you confront all the uncertainty of life. Like the earthquake we all just felt here in Idaho! Right now you want to put as little pressure on yourself as possible. Of course, volunteer to help those in need, get out for a long walk or start a new project. But there is one important thing that you can do to boost your spiritual immune system. Try to stop for a moment, and take a deep breath. This one new habit is one that is based in love, not fear. When you calm your mind down and pause, you connect to something bigger than yourself. Your breath and awareness become a tool to quiet the external fears and worries.

Peel an orange

In just over two weeks’ time, running to the store for one thing or another has come to seem like such a luxury. Today, if you are lucky enough to have fresh fruit in your house, peel an orange. As you peel it, think about how this piece of fruit grew on a tree, in an orchard, tended by a farmer. Think, for a moment of the sun needed for it to grow until it was ripe enough to pick. Take another few breaths to appreciate the trucks and drivers needed for this very orange to travel all the way to your supermarket. This small simple act of gratitude is meditation, connecting you to something much bigger than yourself.

Walk with purpose

Walking outdoors is good for you, and one of the healthiest things you can do for your fitness. You certainly have the time now. On your walks, think about how the arches of your feet absorb the impact of the ground for propulsion. The very act of walking, the human gait system, uses almost all of the 635 muscles in your body. Think, for a moment, of how lucky you are for your feet to be hitting solid ground, propelling you forward. Breathe out compassion for all the doctors, nurses and care givers who aren’t as lucky as you to be doing so. Breathe in love and compassion for all of those who have succumbed to the coronavirus, or who are struggling with the disease right now. As you continue to walk, envision your health and good fortune.

* * *

Use this tool in as many ways as possible during the day. You might not realize it, but your courage comes from generations of people who survived wars, plagues and crisis, yet humanity finds a way to move forward. What is here and is coming is difficult, but now is the time to connect to our humanity, take a nice big breath and not be so hard on ourselves.


Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_ef34fdda-752e-11ea-839f-834530597363.html

Stretch to stay on top of your summer game

We all want to enjoy summer to the max, and that means more time outside, doing the activities and sports that warm sunshine offers. But each sport has specific demands on your body. A stretch routine after a ride, golf game or hike can make a difference in staying up to the task, especially as you age. Flexibility can decrease as much as 50 percent in some joint areas. The good news is that this loss of motion can be minimized with a regular stretching and range-of-motion routine.

For decades, coaches have thought that pre-exercise stretching was important for their athletes, and would prevent injury or muscle soreness. However, copious research on the topic of flexibility challenges that old belief. It is thought that due to an alteration in joint connective-tissue compliance, stretching before workouts may lead to greater joint instability.

What the research shows is that stretching will help you achieve positive long-term performance outcomes when done at times other than before performance. A warmup that increases blood flow, like arm circles, or leg swings, to get a mild sweat beforehand, is a better injury prevention component.

Your post-game stretches have to be specific to target the muscles that have been stressed or overused or have a reduced range of motion. Here are some tips to ensure that you end a great day outside energized, happy and loose.

Cycling: Stretch after you get off the bike

The quads and hips are big players in cycling, used powerfully and repetitively, and stretching afterward helps combat tightness. Cycling is different from other sports in that force is primarily produced as the muscles are shortening. In cycling, the pedal stroke doesn’t use the full range of motion of the hip, knee or ankle. Running, on the other hand, bends your knees as you raise your thigh, but straightens and extends your leg to push off the ground.

Cyclists also spend a lot of time bent over in the riding position, which puts the hip flexors in a shortened position. Short, tight hip flexors add to achy hips and backs. Tight hip flexors, particularly the deep-seated psoas, can pull forward and down on the lumbar spine. When that happens, you lose an important lower back curve. No wonder your back can hurt after a long ride. Aim for post-ride hip, low-back and chest stretches. You can view those at vimeo.com/343122017.

Golfing: Get loose

Flexibility is imperative to improving your golf swing. Without flexibility, you won’t have the range of motion to unlock any of the power you already have, or are working on. Picture a golfer, at the final moment of follow-through from a fairway shot. That person is, for the most part, opened and stretched in a fluid spiral line of energy. That takes optimal range of motion in joints or groups of joints.

In just one round of golf, you end up swinging a golf club up to 300 times, including practice swings, and at speeds upward of 90 mph. That’s a lot of stress on your muscles, tendons and joints! A pre-game 5- to 10-minute warmup provides essential preparation for your game. Walking around a practice tee, leg swings or arm circles are ways to loosen up for your game. A good warm-up increases blood flow to working tissue as well as velocity of nerve impulses to muscles. It should be relatively easy, inducing a mild sweat. Stretching is recommended after your game. Click on this link for a golf-specific flexibility routine: vimeo.com/343122336.


Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_6eacb7c8-9377-11e9-9a99-5301d856d0cc.html

Learning to sit still. How meditation works.

 

Learning to sit still-how meditation works

If you think you can’t sit still for five minutes and have absolutely no time, you aren’t alone. You might think you can’t add another “to do “list to your day, as modern life is fast- paced and stressful enough already. Sometimes you’re just pissed. So many diversions, like Facebook, or shopping online, steal our precious time. But sitting still, in meditation, can have tremendous benefits for your health and happiness. Stress levels in the US are steadily rising, with over 53% burnout across industries, (even non-profits), now more than ever, according to a Regus Group study. Antidepressants use alone has increased by 400 per cent this last decade. Meditation was once thought of as an esoteric practice, but scientists are showing that it makes you smarter, less anxious, less depressed, and increases resilience and social connection. Better yet, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate. What’s important is the support and empowerment it gives to your day.

Relax a little more

In studies of happiness, says Emma Seppälä, Science Director at Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, Americans are all about high intensity. Happiness is more of the “thrill’ and “excitement “ variety, with little value on calmness-that is, low-intensity positive emotions. For example, if you ask Americans to describe “happiness” they won’t say “inner peace”, says Seppälä.

When we’re stressed or angry, called unpleasant high-intensity negative emotions, we’re more likely to counter with even higher intensity doings-like running, to “ blow off some steam”. We’re more likely to turn to a myriad of distractions. Anything than sitting still. That’s where meditation comes in, as practicing sitting still helps you develop perspective and relax.

We need to take time for ourselves. We all want a purposeful, rich, and diverse world. When you take time for yourself, engage in a purposeful or idle pastime, you become more imaginative and grounded. Giving yourself space for quiet and stillness boosts happiness and encourages a healthy lifestyle. That stillness is why you need to meditate.

How to sit

There are so many ways to meditate, but one of the most profound yet simple ways is to sit tall. Sitting tall though, is really hard for most people. A bad back, inflexibility, or other physical barriers make sitting awfully uncomfortable. Aligning the spine straight and tall has an inherent subtle dynamic. Try these tips to work with posture limitations. Now you’re ready to slide into meditating:

1 .Use a pillow, or folded blankets under your sitting bones, to help tip your pelvis forward. If you don’t know what that feels like, it means your bum is a little higher than your pubis. You can also kneel with one or two yoga blocks underneath your rear, which can feel very comfortable. If you are sitting, your legs can be crossed, or more extended.

Shift your hips back a few times, to make sure you are grounded into the floor beneath you. Wiggle around a bit. Shifting or snuggling your hips back helps your spine be tall. If that isn’t comfortable, you can lean against a wall to support your back. Once you feel more grounded, feel yourself settle down. If you feel you need to just lie down to be comfortable, do it!

 

  1. Start to focus on your inhales and exhales. Let your breathing be soft and leisurely, not forced. Be leisurely about it, so you are not rushing.

Imagine your body feeling like Jell-O. When you tap Jell-O gently, it wobbles slightly, teaches yoga master Erich Schiffmann, author of Yoga-The Sprit and Practice of Moving into Stillness. That movement is your breath moving through you. Notice that you are starting to sit quietly, yet the body does have movement going on, and that movement is your breath rippling through you.

4. Stay as relaxed as you can be.

With a little time, patience, and practice, meditation gives back more than you thought possible.

 

 

 

 

 

The mystery and myths of muscle cramps

Many myths surround the how and why we get sudden cramps.

You’re not alone in jumping in the night because of one. Muscle cramps happen suddenly and often excruciatingly, leaving a palpable knotting of the muscle. They can happen to anyone, with or without a history of nervous or metabolic disorders. Cramps can occur during sleep, strenuous activity, or pregnancy. It’s not clearly understood why we get these sudden cramps, but research shows that the likely causes of these types of cramps are multifactorial and caused by changes in the neuromuscular system. One hypothesis is that nerves malfunction. Overly excited muscle neurons go a little haywire in a feedback loop either from the receptors in the muscle, or spinal nerve pathways.

Other causes of cramping are straining or overusing a muscle, or not enough blood getting to the muscle. Sometimes this malfunction is related to metabolic disorders, or a health problem such as a spinal cord injury, medications, or a pinched nerve in the neck or back.

But still, many myths surround the how or why. Regarding exercise- associated muscle cramping, 92% of athletic trainers and most people believe that dehydration or electrolyte imbalance is the cause. Or, perhaps eating more bananas is the answer? If you have a family history of cramping, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for any possible calcium or potassium supplement recommendations. If you are healthy, there are few well-designed experimental studies supporting dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. First, the best immediate response for cramps is gently stretching the taut muscle. It’s been argued that since static stretching quickly relieves cramping, then how could it be that dehydration is the problem, as no liquids or electrolytes are added to the body with simple stretching. Second, cramp- prone athletes often drink more fluid than athletes without a history of exercise- associated muscle- cramping, ( EAMC ) and it’s found that even when sport drink consumption matched sweat loss, EAMC still happened 70 % of the time. The most interesting argument against dehydration being the culprit is that dehydration affects the whole body, not just the calves, quads or hamstrings, the muscles that are more prone to cramping.

Myths 2 and 3 : Sports drinks and bananas for electrolytes.

If you’re active, you need to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. But you don’t want to overdo it, whether you are simply gardening, or playing two and a half hours of tennis. If you did play tennis, or any other sport for that amount of time, you would need the equivalent of approximately six and half teaspoons of salt replaced. Keep in mind that a typical sports drink contains only 0.44g/L of sodium. That would mean you’d be drinking gallons of fluids, which can be deadly. It’s not uncommon, sadly, that sports enthusiasts and athletes can die from water intoxication, called hyponatraemia. Rather than relying on sports drinks, it’s important to replace electrolytes at meals. Drink enough water throughout the day. As we age, we sometimes forget to drink enough because the thirst impulse becomes weaker.

Another myth about cramping is to reach for a banana, as the potassium in bananas can relieve cramping. Bananas are a healthy snack, but it takes at least 30 minutes to see an increase in new potassium ions in the blood after eating one. So far, there isn’t any evidence that eating bananas effectively prevent or treats EAMCs.

Because immediately stretching a cramp helps it subside, another factor may be in play. Tiny fibers, myofilaments, in muscle may overlap each other when muscles are already tight, and can bunch up even more, resulting in a sudden cramp. I’ve often experienced hamstring cramps going into an advanced yoga lunge if I haven’t previously stretched them enough beforehand. Though the cause of muscle cramps is still a bit elusive, recent evidence suggests that muscle overload is a factor. Stretching still appears to the the best treatment for those sudden cramps.

Click on the link for an effective calf stretch . https://vimeo.com/230657677

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express August 25, 2017.

Deep sleep for glowing health

    Starting as early as 30, improving the quality and quantity of sleep can eliminate future risk of memory loss and a wide range of mental and physical disorders. UC Berkeley researchers think that nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep.

    If you have trouble sleeping more now than when you were younger, don’t worry that this is how your nights will be from here out. Generally, you will be able to fall back asleep as fast as you used to with a strategy. Researchers find that the aging brain has trouble generating the kind of slow brain waves that promote deep restorative sleep, called deep non-rapid eye movement. This time-out for the brain helps sort the unimportant to important information from the hippocampus, to the prefrontal cortex, which consolidates information into long-term storage.

Here are some suggestions to how you can get the sleep you need:

Daytime routine

 Caffeine: Generally, caffeine lasts for five to six hours in the body. Try to not have caffeine later than mid-afternoon.

  Naps: Naps are great, but no later than mid-afternoon.

  Late-night eating: Try to avoid eating less than three hours before bedtime or overeating at dinner.

Evening routine

 Minimize screen time: Turn off your iPhone, iPad and TV to minimize screen time.

Bedroom: Have your bedroom quiet and dark, and a cool temperature. Core body temperature drops with the onset of sleep, but then increases because of a greater blood flow to the skin, so have comfortable bedding. Around 9 p.m., your body produces melatonin, which helps control your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is a natural hormone made by the pineal gland, located just above the middle of the brain. When the sun goes down, the pineal turn on signals in the brain that controls hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us sleepy or very awake. Its transmission is better promoted in a dark environment. Melatonin level stays elevated typically throughout the night, and drops before the light of a new day. When traveling, pack an eye mask and earplugs.

    Meditate in bed: Promote relaxation by relaxing as much as you can once you get into bed. It takes practice, but focus on slow, quiet breathing. A simple breathing practice can consist of only a few minutes to reconnect to mind, body and spirit. Keep focusing on your breath, and let any thoughts go. If you start to think about things, give yourself credit for noticing that your mind has wandered, and return to gentle breathing.


 Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express May 5, 2017

Breathe out to lose fat?

Breathe out to lose fat?When you stand tall and lift your chest, don’t you feel much better? You look better also, as your posture improves. Breathing capacity improves, as your diaphragm lifts to help expand your lungs. We need to breathe to live. Breathing sustains us and can also teach us about our current physical and psychological state. You get some great news, hold your breath in anticipation, or exhale out to relax more. Our wavelike breathing is our life force, but did you know that breathing out makes you lose fat?

    The rate and depth of breathing is influenced by changing levels of carbon dioxide, oxygen and hydrogen ions in our blood. When it comes to losing weight, why is breathing so important? And where does the fat go? Does it turn to energy or convert to muscle, as commonly thought? The process is all about biology, as fat mostly converts to carbon dioxide and leaves the body through breathing. Scientists, in a report published in the British Medical Journal, explain how our lungs unlock the carbon stored in fat cells. Replacing one hour of sitting with jogging, for example, raises the metabolic rate to seven times that of resting and removes an additional 39 grams of carbon stored in fat cells. Our lungs are responsible for weight loss, via our inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm, like a big parachute, contracts and relaxes nonstop, drives respiration and is the central breathing muscle.

Get good at breathing

  Running up a flight of stairs is one of the best ways to improve cardiovascular fitness. It’s a practical, quick and easy way to breathe hard, and gain some fitness in a busy day. But for the rest of the time, what if you became really good at breathing?

     It helps to understand just how much space the diaphragm needs to expand and fall with inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm sits beneath the lungs and is above the organs of the abdomen. It is the major muscle that drives respiration. Respiration consists of moving gases in and out of the lungs, and circulation is the transport of these gases to the tissues.

    Like a lopsided mushroom, the diaphragm is attached to the sternum and the lower six ribs, and to the first three lumbar vertebrae, via two tendon-like structures called crura. The crura, like strings, extend down to the psoas and lower back muscles. The joints of the lumbar spine and upper back also play a part in how well the diaphragm expands and contracts, and therefore the quality and depth of breathing.

    At the top of the diaphragm, a central tendon attaches in front of the pericardium, the covering of the heart. Equally, the muscles of the abdomen and the external and internal intercostal muscles assist in drawing the ribs in and out. Normal breathing is rhythmic, driven by neuronal networks within the brain. Breathing also depends on the elasticity of the lungs; they have to lift and fall back. Breathing needs a lot of space, from the heart riding up and down on the lungs, to the spine stretching to accommodate inhalation, as well as the stomach muscles and pelvic floor. So it comes as no surprise that posture, standing or sitting tall, with the chest lifted, stomach in, can help you breathe and move better. Worth a big exhale.

Parachute breathing exercise

  Imagine the diaphragm to be a parachute. As you breathe in, the center of the parachute drops downward, the sides billow and the cords loosen. As you breathe out, the canopy expands upward as the cords become taut and anchor down toward the pelvic floor. (Adapted from the Franklin Method )

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express March 10, 2017

3 Top Hip and Back Stretches- You don’t have to be sore after a workout

These 3 moves will help you recover and realign after a big day on a bike, 1/2 marathon, or strenuous hikeAll target the hips, to help extend the body upwards and undo much of the tightness of not only the hips, as well as the back, shoulders and calf muscles.

Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release can help with athletic recovery

Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release can help with athletic recovery

1.Foam Roll Quads
 
Foam Rolling is a self-myofascial release stretching technique that regenerates and rejuvenates muscles and other soft tissue affected by an overzealous day on a bike, or on the trails.There are 4 quad muscles in the upper leg, and the outer most one, the rectus femoris, when tight, pulls the spine towards the top of the leg, causing hip or back pain, or  hyper-extention of the spine in an effort to stand up straight.Place the roller perpendicular to your thigh and lie over it. Find any sore spot and hold your body weight there for a few seconds until the tissue releases. Roll each leg for one minute. ( If rolling hurts your shoulder, lie on the floor with a tennis ball )
 
A "do-anywhere" great hip, upper back and calf stretch
2. Step Back with Arm Reach
 
This integrated exercise helps realign the entire body by combining a calf and hip flexor stretch, while strengthening the muscles of the upper back and shoulders. Stand with you feet hip-width apart and take a big step back with your right leg. Simultaneously reach the right arm upward.Keep the back leg straight, heel down. Push your hip forward without arching the lower back. Instead, extend from the upper back. Hold for 2-3 seconds. 6-10 reps on both sides.
 
3. Spine Extension The majority of the muscles in the hips originate at the lumbar spine, cross the pelvis, and attach to the top of the femur. This exercise stretches the whole front body,, and spine extensors, undoing much of the forward bending of many activities, plus feels great. Place your hands, fingers pointed down, firmly on your lower back. Inhale, and extend the spine as you lift your chest. Exhale, as you return to neutral posture. Repeat 6-8 times. 
 

Stretch your low back with this standing stretch.

Stretch your low back with this standing stretch.

 
Photos by Hallie MacPherson
 

Why Yoga Works – The Top Reasons to Try It

malasana

Yoga is good for the mind, body and soul.

Yoga might be the only time in your busy day that is truly yours; a time when all of your attention is directed to exactly what you are doing. Today over 15 million people in the US know the value of doing just that-relaxing with yoga. The yoga that we practice today rises out of an ancient meditation heritage dating back at least 4,000 years. Fast forward to today’s crazy hectic pace, especially with the approach of the holiday season, the benefits to your physical, mental and emotional health are top reasons why yoga still works.

1. Stress relief. Yoga reduces stress by encouraging relaxation and lowering the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Yoga teaches you how to breathe more fully by taking slower, deeper breaths. Known as  pranayama, breathing more fully helps improve lung function and trigger the body’s relaxation response. By changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body’s experience and response to stress. Other benefits include reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and heart rate,  improved immune system as well as reduced anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and easier pregnancies.
2. Pain relief. Next time you have a headache, neck, back, or other chronic painful conditions, yoga can help. In the largest US study to date, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, yoga or stretching classes were linked to diminished symptoms from chronic low back pain, more so than a self-care book. Both the yoga and stretching class emphasized the torso and legs. Researchers found that the type of yoga, called viniyoga, which adapts and modifies poses for each student, along with breathing exercises, works because the stretching and strengthening of muscles benefit back function and symptoms. Many people with chronic pain shy away from yoga’s misleading reputation for requiring supple joints for fear of getting hurt. But the same goes for approaching any new activity with too much gusto, writes Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., in Yoga For Pain Relief . Instead of pushing yourself to your limit, think of staying in a 50-60% effort zone.

3. Better Posture & Better Bones. Yoga helps to maintain your muscularity and that helps with maintaining your posture. It also helps with stretching all the muscle groups that support better body alignment. For women, increasing research is showing that exercise is a means of preventing the risk of various cancers, particularly breast cancer. The reasons are twofold, in that both the physical effects and indirect effect of adding yoga as a form of exercise prevents weight gain.

4. Befriending Your Body. For anyone who feels ashamed or self-conscious about their body, yoga can help you become an alley with yourself instead of an adversary. Our obsession with thinness equates the physical practice as a good way to sweat/ get /thin/quick; all about the outer body. Yet yoga primarily evolved for a subtle and more powerful connection of the inner world: the mind, senses and emotions. Today 90% of all women and junior and senior high school girls, respectively, dislike their bodies and are on a diet. ( 15% of these girls are actually overweight.) It doesn’t help that classes might be packed with thin fit people. While yoga does teach you to use and discipline your body to be strong and flexible, the emphasis is on your body as a whole entity: living, changing, accepting and alive in the moment.

This article was originally published in the Idaho Mountain Express. November 16, 2012.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Specialist. Visit her at: www.conniearonson.com