Freeing the Skeleton with the Body Markers: Complete Series
Part 1: Starting from the Ground
We began the first week's post with an ankle stretch. This is a key stretch for improving your walking posture, your balance, and your ability to recover from foot pain. If you don't have the special foot rollers that I do, you can simply use the first step at the bottom of a set of stairs to do the stretch.
We moved on to the quad stretches, either the heron or the "seiza" sitting position. This stretch can release a lot of tension you might not know you have, especially those of us who stand all day for our job.
Lastly, we covered the hamstring stretches. Hamstrings are notoriously the tightest muscle in the modern body, not least of all because we spend much of our day sitting, and very few people do forward folds as much as they should. But not to worry! Now is your chance to start! Loosen up the soft tissue in your hamstrings!
Part 2: Abdomen and Back
In week two we were moving on up to the body with more stationary stretches for the abdomen and back. We did the groin stretch, both using a chair and using a machine. This stretch is key for athletes and "weekend warriors" to avoid injury during their athletic activities. How many times do you sports fans hear about a professional athlete being benched due to a groin injury? They are not fun to have, and they can take a while to heal because the area is where a lot of soft tissue and bone structure connect. Don't hurt your groin, do this stretch!
Next was freeing the hips with the classic hip extension posture against the wall, or free-standing if you want to work on your balance at the same time. Remember: your skeleton is designed for your knees to get right up beneath your collar bone in this position. If you can't get your leg that far up, you have soft tissue tension that needs to be worked on!
To close out week two, I showed you guys the chair twist (which you can easily do in the office), and the "five musketeers" for releasing the stress in your lower back. As the weather gets colder and more snow begins to fall (for my New England readers), keeping your lower back free and healthy is even more important. One wrong move with the snow shovel when your back is tight and you could be in bed for the next three days. Nobody wants that, so be sure to pay attention to your lower back and work toward that 10/10 flexibility.
Part 3: Arms and Shoulder Girdle
In week three, we reached the top of our body with static stretches, starting with the shoulders. The shoulders are a very complex joint, able to move in a huge number of different directions. To free all the tension that occurs because of that complexity, i showed you a set of four stretching postures, using a belt or rope if necessary, to release shoulder stress from every direction.
Next was a new technique I call "Three Postures for the Neck" that helps target one of the most tight areas in the upper body: the neck. With so many people looking down and computers and phones all day, it's no wonder our neck gets tight. Tight necks leads to headaches, walking issues, bad sleep, and a million other potential problems. Definitely do not forget to stretch the neck.
Finally, we did an oldy but a goody: the wrist stretch using the wall. This helps relieve tension in the firearms and hands, and is particularly good for relieving carpal tunnel symptoms, or avoiding them completely.
Part 4: Back to the Ground, in Motion
In week four, we returned to the lower body to learn several moving techniques that can be even better than static stretches at relieving certain tension. First up was leg rotations, which focuses on the knee and ankle joints. Use a chair for this exercise if there is any worry of losing your balance.
Then, we did another new exercise I call "kick backs" which help to release tension in the quads. First we start with small kick backs, bringing the heel up about halfway, and eventually we move on to kicking all the way back and touching the heel to the butt.
Lastly, we did a very advanced movement called the "windmill" to release hamstring stress. This one is not for the feint of heart! If you are not up to the task, don't worry! In the next installment, we showed a movement that can accomplish the same thing with much less effort.
Part 5: Moving the Core
We kicked this week of movements off with a new technique called "Swinging Leg." The side-to-side variation helps you get the best groin stretch, but the forward and backward technique can also release tension in the hamstrings (particularly the forward part of the swing). Don't forget to use a stick or wall to stabilize yourself while doing this. Being stable actually helps you get a better stretch while doing this movement.
Next was a fan-favorite: the Tai Chi Walk! This is a great whole-body movement, and even works the core and the back. But for our purposes in this series, the goal is to gently move the hips to release that soft tissue in the hips. Notice how you do a modified hip extension stretch at the top of every step!
To finish up week five, we did the Tai Chi move "grind." Grind looks like an arm movement, but experienced Tai Chi students will tell you it is all in the core, particularly the lower back. Make sure your belly button moves from side to side while you do the motion. If the naval stays in the same spot the whole time, you are doing an arm movement, not a back movement!
Part 6: Moving the Upper Body
Finally, we completed the series in week six with three upper body movements. We targeted the shoulders first, with my new "Swinging Arms" exercise, which you can do sitting or standing.
Then we moved our head like a pigeon does to gently massage the neck. Throw in some deep breathing here and relax the face too! A tight neck and face feed off of each other. If you can relax both at the same time, you will get the best results.
And to end our exercise routine, we revisited the "40% effort movements" I created for people suffering with arthritis in the arms and hands. These motions are a great way to release all kinds of tension in the elbows, forearms, hands, and even fingers.
And that is it! Talk about freeing the skeleton! I don't think there is a single bone we didn't touch by the end of our techniques.
It's been another great year, and I hope you all keep an eye out for the first blog post of 2018 next month. I'm excited to see what mind-body adventures the new year will bring!
Happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!