The unlikely marriage of the combat martial art and tranquil breath-focused activity can help you boost fitness while strengthening mind and body.
Day: February 19, 2021
Many of us suffer from back pain, and if you’re working from in a less-than-ergonomic setting, you may be dealing with it more often than you used to. But fret not, there are some gentle movements you can try to alleviate those aches and pains.
“Given the hours many of us are spending inside, often hunched over our computers, it’s probably not surprising that back pain is a common complaint,” says Rachel Land, a Yoga Medicine® therapeutic specialist and teacher for Yoga Medicine Online.
“While you might think that rest is the best remedy for your back pain, the muscles either side of the spine can become tight or tender from holding us in the same position hour after hour, and actually benefit from movement and activation,” she says.
Here are some of Land’s favorite moves to reintroduce circulation and hydration to the hardworking tissues around the spine.
Moves to Alleviate Those Back Aches
“[This] is the perfect place to start, creating gentle traction down the length of the spine without challenging its patterns too quickly,” Land says. “Start on hands and knees. Bring your big toes toward each other, then lean your hips back toward your heels and allow your forehead to sink toward the floor. Take four or five deep breaths here, using your breath to create subtle movement in your low back.”
Cat and Cow
This move is a great way to introduce gentle movement to the spine. “From child’s pose, rise back up to hands and knees. Lift your chin and tailbone as you breathe in, lengthening your front body from throat to pubic bone. Tuck your chin and tail as you exhale, scooping your belly to round your back and spread your shoulder blades. Repeat this flow a few times with the cadence of your breath, mobilizing the full length of your spine.”
This move “rekindles muscular support and stability for the spine,” Land says. “From cat and cow, come to a neutral spine tabletop position. Use the muscles that surround your waist to draw in, like you’ve put on a wide belt or corset. Keeping your hips and shoulders level, reach your right leg back behind you and your left arm out in front of you. Notice how your core muscles engage to keep you steady, and how your back muscles engage to help you lift the arm and leg higher. Take a breath or two here, keeping the sides of your neck long, then slowly return the hand and knee to the floor to swap sides. Do three to five rounds on each side before returning to all fours.”
Last, but not least, this move resets your posture. “From all fours, lower to the floor to lie prone with your hands by your side ribs. Squeeze your shoulder blades toward your spine so that your collarbones broaden. Point your feet and separate your legs to about hip-width. Press your pubic bone forward, as if drawing it closer to your low ribs. Maintain that lower core engagement as you activate the muscles either side of your spine to slowly lift your forehead, chest and shoulders off the floor. Keep the back of your neck long and keep your hands light on the floor. Take a slow breath here, then lower back down to prone to repeat three or four more times. When you are done, press back to child’s pose to finish where you started.”
Do’s and Don’ts
Although movement can help with back pain, it’s still important to be careful when exercising with it.
Don’t Overdo It
“While gentle movement and muscle activation can refresh tissues tired from holding the same position for hours, this is probably not the time for intense exercise,” Land says. “Avoid contact sports, activities that involve heavy lifting, fast movement or deep twists.”
Do Keep It Short and Sweet
She says it’s also important to prioritize frequency over duration: “Find a brief and accessible movement routine, like the one above, that feels good for you, and repeat it at least once a day (ideally more often) to give your hard-working back a break.”
Do Be Patient
“Your back pain probably developed over time, so it may take a little time to show marked improvement,” Land says.
Do Listen to Your Body
“Leave out any movements or positions that create irritation, and rest when you need to,” Land says.
And as for any signs that your back pain may be more serious than just some strained muscles, Land shares this advice:
“The pain of tired or tight muscles will usually feel dull or will improve after some movement or a good night’s sleep. Seek medical advice if your pain persists, or if the sensation you feel is sharp or electrical, if it radiates down your leg, or is accompanied by numbness, tingling, weakness, swelling, fever or difficulty walking. Seek urgent attention if you experience any loss of bladder or bowel control.”
Fascia often can get injured. Here’s how it’s treated and who treats it.
You know about your muscles and bones, but do you know about fascia? Fascia is connective tissue that covers everything in your body, including your muscles, bones and nerves. It’s made up primarily of collagen (a type of protein in skin and connective tissues), and it has multiple layers: superficial, deep and visceral.
“Fascia helps to hold everything together and provides a smooth pathway for tissue to slide and glide,” says Sara Mikulsky, a physical therapist, certified personal trainer and owner of Wellness Physical Therapy in New York.
Normal fascia is easily flexible and helps your body move properly. However, fascia also can get injured or torn. This can happen by:
- A sports-related injury.During an injury, you may damage a muscle and the surrounding fascia. Or, you may just damage the fascia itself. A 2019 meta-analysis of studies of athletic-related strains in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine found that only 12.7% were actual muscle injuries, while 32.1% were fascia-related injuries (the rest were tendon strains).
- Having scleroderma. This rare autoimmune disease can harden the skin and connective tissues, affecting mobility.
- Improper body positioning.Say that you worked for a long time in an office with an ergonomically correct chair and with a laptop positioned at the right height and eye level. Then, you had to start working from home for a long time period, where you were cramped in the kitchen, using a laptop mouse that doesn’t quite fit right and sitting in a kitchen chair instead of an office chair. “Your fascia can get sticky and tight, and you may feel some kind of pain,” says Denise Smith, a certified manual physical therapist, certified running technique specialist and owner of Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
- Misuse or overuse.This can happen from improper movement or form, leading to a fascia injury. One common misuse injury is called plantar fasciitis, which affects the plantar fascia on the bottom of the foot.
- A sedentary lifestyle.Fascia works best with regular movement. If you’re sitting most of the time without stretching or physical activity, you’re more likely to have tight fascia.
Once an ignored area, there’s an increased interest now in the role of fascia among bodywork providers, says acupuncturist and yoga teacher Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of the educational training system Yoga Medicine and a teacher with Yoga Medicine Online in Kirkland, Washington.
What Is Fascia Manipulation?
When you have pain or tightness in the body, you may seek help to treat it from a doctor, physical therapist or other bodywork professional. A trained professional can help pinpoint the cause of your pain.
As part of that work, you may have fascia manipulation, which refers to hands-on techniques that aim to improve the movement and the flexibility of the fascia, says physical therapist Diana Garrett, an outpatient rehabilitation supervisor at Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s Performance Therapy Center in Santa Monica, California.
There are different approaches to fascia manipulation, but they generally all have the same goal of improving movement and reducing pain. Some of those approaches include:
- Cupping. This is an ancient Chinese approach that creates suction on the skin with the use of cups. The practice is said to increase blood flow and stretch fascia. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was famously photographed with cupping marks on his back and arms at the 2016 Olympics.
- Myofascial release. This technique applies pressure on the fascia to help get rid of pain.
- Rolfing. This is a form of deep-tissue massage that aims to reorganize the fascia.
There is also a fascia treatment approach from Italy called Fascial Manipulation, researched by the Fascial Manipulation Association.
Practitioners who treat fascia may include:
- Acupuncture doctors: these are specialists in an ancient Chinese approach that reworks the body’s qi, or energy. Acupuncture doctors don’t specialize in fascia manipulation but usually are aware of how fascia works.
- Massage therapists
- Physical therapists
Before having fascia work done, your bodywork provider should ask first about your other health conditions. Fascia work is not recommended if you’re using blood-thinning medications because the fascia manipulation can potentially release dangerous blood clots in your body, Mikulsky says. You also should avoid fascia work if you have an open wound in the treatment area or you have weak bones or fractures.
During a treatment, the provider will assess any possible movement limitations associated with the fascia, Garrett says. Then, they will use their hands or special instruments to apply pressure to the fascia. This may take place for a few seconds or a few minutes depending on the extent of the injury and the type of injury. The provider also may use other approaches to treat the body, such as massage.
Sometimes, fascia manipulation can be uncomfortable or painful, especially if the fascia tension is deep and requires a lot of pressure, Mikulsky says. You may notice a decrease in pain and an increase in mobility after just one treatment. Other times, it takes several treatments depending on the injury itself.
Some side effects of fascia manipulation can include:
These side effects may last a few days, but they don’t happen in everyone. During that time, you also should start to notice a difference in mobility and pain in the area that was treated.
Is Fascia Manipulation Effective?
It’s hard to make a blanket statement about the effectiveness of fascial treatment because there are many approaches to it. A 2015 review of myofascial release clinical trials in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies reported that results were mixed but that there was encouraging evidence for its effectiveness. A 2017 trial published in the journal Spine that focused on nonspecific low back pain found that myofascial release helped reduce pain and disability.
Some people find fascia manipulation helps their pain and mobility. To be most effective, fascia manipulation should be supplemented with education on properly moving the body, muscle strengthening, flexibility exercises and better education on improving the posture, Garrett says.
Fascia Therapy at Home
It’s also possible to do some fascia work on your own, provided there’s not an injury that needs professional treatment. Some ways to take better care of fascia include:
- Using foam rollers.These rollers are commonly used now in sports, fitness and for self-myofascial release. There are videos online to explain how to use foam rollers, but it’s always best to ask a trained provider, such as a physical therapist, for more guidance, Smith says. That way, you find out how to use a foam roller for your specific body concerns. You also can use a tennis ball for fascia release.
- Yoga.The stretches held in yoga help keep the fascia flexible, Cruikshank says.
- Gentle massage.Massage performed by a partner can keep fascia healthy. “It helps keep the tissues moving,” Smith says.
If you have a specific injury or significant pain, see a health care provider experienced with fascia therapy instead of going the do-it-yourself route, Cruikshank cautions. You don’t want to end up self-treating something and making it worse.
Finding a Provider Who Offers Fascia Work
There are a few tips to keep in mind if you want to find a provider who treats fascia:
- Read their bios and qualifications.See if they mention fascia experience and training, Cruikshank advises. If they don’t, ask them about their background treating fascia and their approach.
- Don’t be afraid to try a different modality. One approach to fascia manipulation may work well for you while another approach may not. If you have the flexibility through your insurance or can afford it, try different approaches to find the one that fits best. “It can be like trying on shoes,” Cruikshank says.
- Ask friends and family for recommendations. Find out about physical therapists or other bodywork providers who most effectively helped their patients’ injury or pain, Smith advises.
Learn to befriend sensation.
The uncertainty and instability over the past year has created a lot of fear, anxiety and worry around the world.
These emotions are all part of the Sympathetic Nervous System: the flight or fight response. Sympathetic is from the Greek words sym & pathos meaning “with emotion.” (Sympathy, 2021)
Emotions are geared towards mobilizing us into action. This part of the nervous system is all about doing, acting and thinking.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System, on the other hand, is about bringing us back to homeostasis. It is the rest, digest and healing functions of the body and is about sensing our body from the inside out. This inner sense of our body is called interoception (Interoception, 2021). Better interoception equates to better self-regulation. This is the part of the nervous system that is more about being and presence.
The amygdala, an almond sized structure in our limbic brain, is responsible for our fear response. It, along with the hippocampus, stores our emotions, and fears. It is constantly taking in and storing information from what we see on TV, hear from our friends and witness on social media. So we can become more fearful based on what we are witnessing not just from what we experience first-hand.
The more time spent in the Sympathetic Nervous System response, the more the amygdala grows in size. This can result in us becoming more fearful and anxious. The prefrontal cortex which helps us contextualize and rationalize the situation is no longer able to maintain control. We panic, overreact and catastrophize. Dan Siegal describes it as flipping our lid (Siegel, n.d.).
To master our fear and anxiety, we need to become more in touch with the sensations in our body which then allows us to self-regulate. The insula is the structure in the brain responsible for sensing our body from the inside. It sits beside the amygdala. Practices that help us develop our interoception increase the size of the insula and decrease the amygdala and our fear response.
There are over 100 million receptors within the fascial network sending more information to the brain than our other 5 senses. (Lesondak, 2017). We need to become better at listening to these messages to master fear and anxiety.
Here are three simple techniques that help to bring more sensory awareness to your body, and assist with self-regulation.
1. Face Massage
Use your fingertips to massage up your forehead to the hairline. Move nice and slowly with firm pressure. Next, trace the contours of your eye sockets with your fingertips. Then trace around your cheekbones and the contours of your jawline. Repeat each of these 5 times slowly and then finish with tracing lightly around your lips with your fingertip.
Spend a few moments observing the sensations in your face.
This simple face massage helps to stimulate ruffini receptors in your fascia that help to calm you down as well as bringing more sensory awareness to your face enhancing interoception.
2. Bounce and Shake
Animals and children are very good at self-regulation. You will often see them bouncing and shaking especially after they experience a fright or something that stimulates their sympathetic nervous system response.
You can start by simply pulsing at the knees creating a sense of bounce almost as if you are on a trampoline. If you feel like adding more bounce you can allow the heels to lift or even the whole foot to lift. Let your arms swing naturally or if you like you can shake them above your head as you bounce to shake off more energy.
Do it for a few minutes or until it feels like enough.
Then pause to check in. You might feel a tingling sensation, vibration, the beating of your heart and your breath. Spend a few moments noticing sensation throughout the entire body until you feel your heartbeat and breath return to normal.
3. Feeling Line Meditation with the Breath
Sit comfortably with your spine tall. Notice the sensation of your breath as it moves in through the nostrils all the way down into the chest and back out again. Notice the rise and the fall of the chest and the belly with the breath. Spend a few moments just noticing the breath in this way.
Bring your awareness to the feeling line of the body. This is where we often sense emotions first. It runs from the back of the throat all the way down to the pit of the belly (Gawler & Bedson, 2010).
As you watch your breath notice any sensations along that line. Notice what your breath is like.
Then mentally ask yourself, “how am I feeling today?” and notice if anything changes along that line. Do you feel a restriction, or butterflies, tightening, compression or expansion? Whatever is present, stay with it whilst you stay connected to your breath. Observing sensation without judgement. Observing your breath.
The key to mastering fear and anxiety is being able to be present with the sensation and with our breath. This gives us the opportunity and tools to self-regulate and come back into balance.
- Gawler, I., & Bedson, P. (2010). Meditation, An In Depth Guide (1st ed.). Penguin.
- Interoception. (2021, Jan 29). Wikipedia. Retrieved Feb 15, 2021, from
- Lesondak, D. (2017). Fascia. What it is and Why It Matters. (1st ed.). Handspring Publishing.
- Siegel, D. (n.d.). Minding the Brain. PsycheAlive. Retrieved Feb 15, 2021, from /
- Sympathy. (2021, Feb 12). Wikipedia. Retrieved Feb 15, 2021, from .