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

Good Shoes and Yoga

There’s no body part that works harder than the feet. They are tasked with propelling us from place to place, transporting the load of the body, traversing uneven surfaces, and sometimes completing a “look” with stylish footwear. They are an integral part of the overall function of the body. This is why injuries to the  feet have such an impact on our overall health. There are so many structures in our wonderful, and wonderous, feet that there are many things that can go wrong. Rather than go into each malady in detail we will focus on how to keep the feet happy and healthy, and how yoga fits into this.

    • 3 way heel raises
    • Virabhadrasana 1 Lunge
    • Parsvottanasana
    • Prasarita Podottanasana
    • Lift toes and balance on heels
    • Tree Pose
    • Squat
    • utkatasana
    • Eagle Pose
    • calf stretch
    • Ankle rotation
    • cycling

And last but certainly not least, you should wear good, supportive shoes. Also consider getting inserts for your shoes if they don’t offer good support. This is particularly true when you need to walk, run or hike a distance, or if you spend a lot of time on your feet for your occupation.

Are Your Muscles Plastic or Elastic?

Fun fact…..muscles and other soft tissue have different ranges of stretch. There is an elastic stretch or a plastic stretch. An elastic stretch is when the tissue stretches, but then returns to its original length. This is similar to a rubber band stretching and contracting. In a plastic stretch the muscle, or other tissue, remodels and takes on new shape or length. This is important because to make a real difference for tight muscles you need to hold a stretch long enough to help that muscle find permanent lengthening.

This is also true of connective tissue, such as fascia. Fascia is a weblike tissue that surrounds each muscle fiber and the muscle as a whole. Sometimes when we feel stiff and tight it helps to bring pliability to the fascia. This is where stretching can really help. Since fascia surrounds muscle, stretching the muscles also stretches fascia. Unfortunately, many people stretch briefly before or after a workout and some rarely stretch at all. If you’re wondering why your muscles are tight even though you’re stretching, perhaps it’s time to slow down and hold your stretches longer. It is also important to stretch regularly. A weekly yoga class is great, but in between you should still stretch daily to provide the suppleness you may be seeking.

In order to reach the plastic phase of  a stretch, you should stretch for ninety seconds or more. This can happen in one long stretch or can be broken up into two or three stretches, i.e. repeating a thirty second stretch three times. To get even more benefit, try incorporating breath. First, slow your breath. Then come into a stretch and set a thirty second timer. While you’re in the stretch count your breath cycles (a breath cycle includes an inhale and exhale). Then you’ll know how many of your breath cycles are in a thirty second time block. Now you can count breaths, instead of using a timer, when you stretch. In addition to getting a good stretch, this practice is very relaxing and can lower blood pressure and heart rate.

In answer to the title question, “Are your muscles plastic or elastic?” The simple and technical answer is that they are neither. Your muscles are of course made up of muscle fibers and fascia, which have the ability to stretch into a plastic or elastic range. A more philosophical answer may be that your muscles may now be elastic, but  aspire to be plastic. Thus, remodeling into a more efficient or desirable length and shape.

For a personalized sequence for 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