Have a Seat

“It hurts to be beautiful.” I remember this saying when I was growing up. It referred to the idea that many fashion trends, particularly for women, are not made for comfort. Just think about high heels and panthose. Ah…the suffering we go through for the sake of fashion! Perhaps you’ve “evolved” beyond those harmful trends. But many of us still bow to fashion in our homes even if that means using furniture that contributes to bad posture or an achy spine.

Most people don’t know this, but my first degree is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design. Although I still think of myself as an artist, I only put my interior design background to work when someone asks my opinion of how something looks in their house. However, the worlds of physical therapy, yoga, and interior design often share paths when it comes to our living environment. Certainly the artist in all of us veers toward the beauty or emotional feeling of a piece of furniture. But maybe we should reconsider that big, squishy couch. As we sink into furniture to binge watch our favorite shows, the tissues of the body are slowly remodeling into an unnatural shape. That’s why when we get up after TV time our body may not want to recoil into its correct posture. This  can lead to achiness or, eventually, back problems.

I’m a big advocate of proper posture. In past posts, I’ve given tips on proper seated alignment. Good posture is important for desk workers. But what about during our “couch potato” time? Certainly good posture can be achieved in any environment, but when considering furniture why not think about how it can help us maintain good postural habits while still feeling comfy cozy? Perhaps these seem like opposite sides of the spectrum, but when working in concert, then comfort and good posture can help you relax and restore.

When looking at a piece of living room furniture, one must assess the height, firmness and depth of the item. A piece of furniture that is too low can stress the knees, hips and back as one sits or stands. If it is too soft it can be difficult to get up out of. Soft cushions also do not offer support for the spine and can cause us to round the spine while sitting or reclining. A chair that is too deep can also cause us to slump. Potentially as we lean back to the back of a chair, the body may be creating an uncomfortable shape. A lack of support and slumping in our seats also puts more stress and weight on our low back…ouch!

Don’t worry….I’m not advocating ugly living room furniture that only allows our body to sit in one perfect postural position for hours on end. However, I am suggesting to keep the following tips in mind the next time you’re looking to update your furnishings.

First, know your body, your sitting style, and that of those that will be using the furniture the most. Think about leg length, hip strength and whether back pain is an issue. Know how long your legs are from hip to knee crease. This will give you an idea of what depth of furniture would work well for you. You may find a couch you love, but your back doesn’t touch the backrest because you have short legs. This may be fine if you usually sit with legs elevated or you like to scooch back and sit cross-legged while you relax. If you prefer to have your feet on the floor, opt for a different couch or use a firm throw pillow behind your back to take away some of the seat depth.

If you, your family, or someone who visits frequently, has arthritis, knee problems, or back problems consider getting seating that has a set height of 16 inches or more. This height will help put less stress on the joints on the descent to sitting. It will also be easier to rise up out of. Using the arms of an arm chair is also helpful for those who have trouble rising. If sitting and rising from a seat is, or becomes, uncomfortable or feels unstable, try strengthening the hip and low back muscles. A healthy back definitely benefits from comfortable, supportive furniture. Strengthening leg, hip and back muscles will further support the body.

Maybe you already have the perfect sitting area. Now it’s time to work on those muscles! Try these exercises and yoga postures to keep your body in great shape to be able to really relax into that furniture!

  • Sit to Stands:
    • Sit into a chair really slowly, then rise up from a chair  slowly and repeat (you’d be surprised how 10 or so of these will strengthen those thigh muscles!)
  • Clamshells
    • Lay on left side with hips and knees bent (fetal position)
    • With ankles together slowly open legs, raising right knee up
    • Make sure the pelvis is stable (not rocking backwards). Only lift knee to a height that allows you to keep pelvis stable.
    • Slowly lower the knee back to the starting position.
    • For more resistance you can place your right hand on your right thigh and apply resistance as you lift the knee.
    • Repeat 10-20 times per side
  • Supine Leg Lifts
    • Lay on back with knees bent and feet flat
    • Engage your deep abdominals first
    • With right knee straight, lift right leg 12-18 inches off ground
    • Slowly lower heel towards floor, then back up again
    • Repeat 10 times per side
  • Heel Raises
    • Lift heels up and down slowly 10-20 times
  • Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
  • One-legged Bridge Pose
  • Standing Figure Four that slowly transitions to Virabhadrasa (Warrior) 1

For a personalized sequence for to strengthen hips or relieve back pain, contact me at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com Find more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy on my website at http://www.wellnesswithlorie.com or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Pain Bringing You to Your Knees?

The knee has an important job. It helps us walk, and is the midway point between the hips and the ankles. The knee has the distinction of being the largest joint of the human body. It’s easy to take this simple looking joint for granted, but it is also the most complex joint in the body. The kneecap (patella) is shaped to fit precisely against the bones beneath it, like interlocking puzzle pieces. Other parts of this puzzle are structures designed to cushion and support the bones. This includes muscles, cartilage, ligaments and the menisci (cushiony shock absorbers on the inside and outside of the knee). The location of the knee joint makes it either a goodwill ambassador or bad news reporter to the rest of the body. Problems with the knees can affect feet, ankles, hips and low back. Plus, knee pain itself is no fun!

There are indeed many conditions and injuries of the knee. Today we explore  arthritis in the knee, and propose some solutions to keep our knees happy. Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes stiffness, pain, swelling and lack of motion in the joints. The knee supports the upper body and withstands a lifetime of motion. Because of this, wear and tear takes its toll. The cartilage, which protects adjacent bones from rubbing against each other, starts to wear down. This process can also be accelerated from injury to the knees.

There are several things we can do to keep the knees healthy. First, alignment is essential. The knee should track over the center of the foot. (Keep this in mind in your next yoga class), When the knee goes inward toward midline it’s been found to contribute to arthritis pain and inflammation….ouch!

To help with alignment, start by making sure you have good shoes. Sometimes all it takes is good shoes with arch support to help align the knees and alleviate pressure on the joints. Also, keep in mind that the ankles, hips, SI joint, and low back all have a role to play in keeping the knees strong. Ankles and hips can get tight, so practice stretches to keep them supple. Strengthen the core abdominal muscles. This will support the low back, which will help support the knees.

Here are some yoga postures that can help your knees:

    • Utkatanasana (Chair Pose)
    • Utkatanasana hugging a yoga block between the knees
    • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
    • Adho Mukha Svanasna (Downward Dog) Look back to see it your knees are aligned
    • Setu Bandha Sarvangasna (Bridge Pose)
    • Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
    • Uttitta Parsvokonasana (Lateral Angle Pose)
    • Plank
    • Supine Figure 4 Stretch
    • Supta Padangustasana (Supine Hamstring Stretch)

Working on the knees involves a lot of exercises or yoga postures because so many parts of the body support the knees. Regular yoga classes can help with creating suppleness in the tight areas of the body, and also strengthening hip and core muscles. If you’d like to join me for one of my classes, check out my schedule page here. I would also be happy to work with you individually. If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Give Me A Hand

Recently I was diagnosed with mild osteoarthritis in my hands. Even though this is only a mild form of arthritis, my hands bother me on and off  throughout the day. I sympathize with those that have more severe forms of this disease. If you read my previous post “Wrist Watch”, you know that this is not the first time my hands have bothered me. I had carpal tunnel surgery two years ago which led me to modify my yoga practice. At that time I modified to reduce pressure on my wrists in postures such as downward dog and plank. Now, I must consider how yoga and lifestyle changes can benefit this condition and bring relief to joint stiffness and inflammation.

For me, it’s just about my hands (at least for now). For many people arthritis affects other joints, commonly the knees, hips or spine. Research has shown that yoga has benefits for many forms of arthritis. Stretches and motion can increase flexibility,  strengthening the muscles helps them to support the joints, and balance postures help reduce the risk of falls. Another benefit is stress relief. Often, the pain and reduced function that comes with arthritis causes emotional stress. Stress has been shown to exacerbate symptoms of many diseases. This becomes a vicious circle. The mind-body practice of yoga and breathwork helps reduce stress, which in turn can help manage pain.

As I look at postures and practices that help with arthritis, I’m very encouraged. There are many postures that help, and most postures can be modified to be accessible for those with arthritis. Sometimes just a slight variation or correction in alignment is all that is needed to make a pose more comfortable. In fact, yoga can help with so many  of the symptoms of arthritis that I cannot cover them all in one article. Arthritis of the fingers, hands and wrists is one of the most common areas that arthritis appears. So today I focus on yoga and movement to help with arthritis of the hands and wrists. See below for some ideas for movements and yoga asana to help improve some of these symptoms.

Standing Prayer Sequence

  • Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and bring hands to prayer position with palms together at heart. Bring shoulder blades down the back. Press hands together while elbows come out to the sides
  • Next, separate the palms, but keep the fingertips pressed together as the fingers curve
  • Bring the palms back together in prayer position and while pressing palms together raise hands overhead
  • Open arms to cactus position, then bring arms down to the sides.
  • Repeat 5-10 Times.

Wall Stretch

  • Stand about 18 inches away from a wall, with the wall on your right side
  • Bring your right hand to the wall at shoulder height, your index finger should point straight up and the whole palm should be against the wall.
  • Take a few slow breaths here
  • Now bring shoulder blades down the back
  • Keeping hand against wall with gentle pressure, slowly walk feet so that the body faces away from the wall
  • Once you feel a good stretch in the shoulder and upper chest, stop and pause
  • Hold and breath for 5-6 breaths
  • Take the hand off the wall, but keep it in the same position for a count of 5-10
  • Rep[eat with other arm

Finger Spread

  • Seated in a chair, place your palm face down on a table or desk
  • Start with the fingers together
  • Keeping the palm on the table spread the fingers wide
  • Hold for a count of 5, then bring the fingers back together
  • Repeat 5-10 times

Finger Curls

  • Start with your palm open and fingers together
  • Slowly curl the top part of the fingers
  • Continue to curl the fingers down until you make a fist
  • Slowly open the fingers and extend the fingers until you feel a stretch
  • Repeat 5-10 times

Stay tuned for more on this topic in the future! If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie