Touching Well’s top tips

General tips for stretching

They should “feel good” and not hurt. Some may feel a little uncomfortable or stingy (that is the fascia unsticking).

Go slowly. Give your fascia time to lengthen. Breathe. Hold for 10-12 seconds. Then move gently for a slightly different stretch.

Stay safe, hold on if needed.

Be creative, playful. Notice how you are feeling. Go with your body. Be kind to yourself.

We are following government instructions on physical distancing so we can't see clients at the moment.

We are now offering on-line sessions. We can do everything apart from the actual treatment on-line, obviously virtual touch is not quite the same. We can cover self-help techniques, such as stretches and self-massage. Many issues are eased by a chat and a few stretches.

Check out Touching Well's top tips.

Keep in touch (metaphorically).

Stay safe. With warm regards, Regina


This week's Top Tip is brief: Move!

I have been on an on-line conference about fascia for the last few days, hence my late tip. The simple take home message is: MOVE. Fascia gets sticky when it is not gliding, and that is not good for us.

It was an exciting conference with lots of interesting information. Did you know that we are not really stretching when we are stretching? We are telescoping and thus changing the shape of our fascia. There is only one fascia, this net that holds and connects everything in us.

Wishing you dancing, walking, stretching, and fun with movement.

Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS)

Today I would like to post about a postural imbalance that I see a lot in my clients, in myself, in many of us. It is a postural pattern that involves having our head forward. Many of us spend to much time marvelling (or otherwise) over a screen. As time goes on our head moves further and further forward, your shoulders become rounded and our upper back's curve is not changing in the right direction. An Czech Medic and Physio called Vladimir Janda noticed this as a muscle imbalance pattern (well before screens as we know them) and called it the Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS). As an aside, isn't it amazing that he noticed that one can see from the position of the eyes when the pelvis is tilted.

The pectoralis muscles become tight when we are sitting forward for a long time. These tight chest muscles pull the shoulders into an internally rotated position and cause them to round forward. The muscles which run from your shoulder blade up to the back of your head become tight (upper trapezius and levator scapula) as your shoulders move up closer to the back of your head. This means that the chest muscles at the front and the neck muscles at the back become tight and over-active, forming the first cross of UCS.

When some muscles become tight, their partners (antagonists) become weak and lengthen. Therefore, the front of the neck weakens, so much so, that it is unable to push the head back so that it sits directly above the spine. Ideally, the middle of the ear should be lined up with the middle of the shoulder.   The upper back muscles that pull she shoulder blades down and towards the spine (rhomboids and lower traps) and stabilise it (serratus anterior)  become long and weak. 

Needless to say, that this can cause a myriad of issues, from jaw pain to neck strain, lower back pain, pins and needles in arms, hands and fingers, and much more.

In my opinion (and personal experience) it is very difficult to "fix" a postural pattern, even though I read and watched countless content claiming just that. I don't like the idea of "fixing" our ourselves anyway, but that discussion is for another time. We can help ourself by bringing a tad of awareness to our posture, strengthen weak muscles and ease tight ones. Obviously we can also prevent things getting out of hand by setting up our work station correctly, having breaks, moving about, and so on, you have heard it all before.   

Now here are a few exercises to address UCS. Generally, the tight muscles need to loosen and the weak muscles to strengthen. This is easier said than done; it can feel weird to have our head, neck and shoulders in the aligned position due to the force of habit. I am not there to check due to physical distancing (we can do Skype or Zoom though if you like). For all these exercises have your shoulders rolled out away from your ears, i.e. when you let your arms hang by your side, your palms are facing forward. In order to do this you need to lift your chest and engage your core.

Often with tight muscles it can help to relax them a bit before you stretch. An effective way to do this yourself is by finding trigger points and releasing them. Trigger points are these exquisitely tender and knotted spots in our muscles, sometimes the pain radiates out. When you find a trigger point in a muscle hold it for about 12 seconds with a pain level no more that 6 on a scale from 1 to 10. Trigger point work can be tiring for your hands, so tennis or spiky balls come in useful. An easy way of doing this is lying on two spiky (or tennis balls) against the ridge of your skull and relax. You can loosen your pecs using a tennis ball. Place it underneath your collar bone and roll it about. You can also try to put your weight on the ball.

The double chin exercise. This is exactly what my name says: stand tall and do your "best" double/triple/quadruple chin. Hold for 12 seconds, repeat often.   

Alternatively, stand with your back against a wall. Roll out the shoulders so that your chest is open and the palms of your hands face to the front. Bring the back of your head against the wall while keeping your chin tucked in - so far the same as the previous exercise. Then take a small step away from the wall, pivoting on your head. Keep your neck and shoulders in the same position. Don't lean on the head, use the wall for a nice neck stretch, push your shoulders away from your ears. Hold for a long time, if you can manage for a few minutes.

For stretching the chest muscles you can use the door frame stretch.

You can strengthen you upper back and shoulder blade muscles with the W exercise. Make a W shape with your arms, palms facing forwards. Keep your chin tucked in, remember, ears aligned with shoulders. Pull your shoulder blades down and in. This is a small movement, if you move from the right place. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat often.

For the rounded back lying on the rolled up towel is good. This is a nice way of tuning in before continuing with the rest of your day.

Stretching the front and the side of our body

Sit or stand upright, lift your chest, tuck your chin in slightly, or alternatively, imagine being gently pulled up by a golden thread from the crown of your head. Now place the palm of one hand on the skin of the top of your breast bone and stretch it down towards your belly. Place the other hand on top. While you stretch down push your chin in until you feel a stretch between you collar bone and neck. If you want to have a bit of fun grimace with your mouth, push the corners of the mouth down a lot, feel this in your chest muscles.

Lie on your back on a firm surface, for example a yoga matt or a carpet. Bend your legs, put your lower back in "neutral", find a pillow for your head if required. Relax for a few moments, take a deep breath. Now slowly lift your straight arms over your head. Keep your lower back where it is. Feel the stretch at the front of the chest and belly. Rest your arms over your head and take a few breaths. Bring your arms back. Roll up a towel and place under your ribcage at the back. Again lift your arms over your head and you will feel a stronger stretch. Experiment with the thickness of the towel roll. Enjoy the opening of your chest and upper belly.

There are lots of ways of stretching your quads.

Here are a few. Stand tall with your lower back in "neutral". Throughout, don't arch your lower back, even though it might be tempting. Do both sides.

Stand on one foot, with your leg unlocked. Have something to hold onto for balance. Get hold of the ankle of the leg to be stretched. Pull your heel towards your bottom until you feel a strong stretch in the front of your thigh. Keep your pelvis straight. Hold. To increase the stretch, rotate your pelvis forward. You can do this stretch lying on your side, stretch the upper leg. You can use a rolled up towel or band if you can't reach.

Stand with your back towards a sofa of a chair with a pillow on the edge of it. Have something to hold onto in front. Place the top of one foot on the sofa/chair behind you. Don't move your pelvis, keep it straight throughout. Now bend your supporting leg until you feel a stretch, hold on if needed. Move in and out of the stretch. If your balance is excellent, you can raise your arms over your head. This is two for the time of of one, one leg stretches, the other is strengthened, and it engages your core - three benefits.

While you are standing place the top of your toes of one foot on a soft surface on the floor. You might want to move your foot slightly so that all toes get a stretch. To increase the stretch, bend your standing leg.

Kneel facing away from a sofa. Put your hands on the sofa and lean back. Now push out your hips and flatten your lower back. Hold. If that is easy for you, put your hands on the floor behind you and lift your hips (after moving away from the sofa). Make sure you don't arch your lower back. This is a good stretch for the quads, hip flexors, top of the feet and arms.

The next exercise is a MET - Muscle Energy Technique - you can do on yourself. Sit down with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place one hand in the middle of your thigh. With about twenty percent of your strength attempt to lift up your thigh towards your chest, but hold your leg down with your hand. Hold for about twelve seconds and repeat three times. Do the other leg.

For the side of the body you might want to start by visiting the neck exercises again.

Stand with your back against a wall, legs about shoulder width apart. Bring your sacrum, ribcage, shoulders and heels towards the wall. Tuck your chin in, and if possible have the back of your head touch the wall. Bend gently from one side to another while staying in contact with the wall. Stroke the side of your thigh and reach as far down your leg as you can with each bend. Now hold a stretch on one side. Feel the space between your hip and ribs expand. To increase the stretch, lift up the arm and hold for about twelve seconds.

Stand in a doorway, put one arm up the door frame so that your palm reaches as high as you can. Now gently let your hipbone move towards the side with the arm raised, you can let your hand slide on the frame. Don't twist your hips. You should feel a stretch on that side. To increase the stretch stand further away from the side you are leaning towards. If your shoulder is not allowing you to lift your arm up, you can rest the side of your chest against the door frame instead. The pictures shows me without slippers, for more control I would recommend wearing footwear that does not slip.  

To finish, imagine you are a cat that has just woken up. Give yourself a good wriggle and stretch the way only a cat can do. Then find a comfortable position, take a couple of deep breaths and enjoy the rest of your day.

Shoulder and arm stretches

These stretches should be comfortable at all times. The swinging of the arms is great for easing movement restrictions - as long as you stay comfortable.

Stand tall, lift up your chest, unlock your knees. Let your arms hang loose by your side. Move your shoulders in deliberate slow circles, start with bringing your shoulder blades down. Make the shoulder circles as big as possible. You may hear clicking noises - I do after a session at the computer. Keep your arms relaxed.

Make sure you have enough space around you. Keep your arms and hands relaxed and heavy. Swing your arms backwards and forwards, small movements first, then you can make them bigger. You can bend your knees with each move and get a bit of a rhythm going, even combing this with a squat.

Now stand with your legs shoulder width apart, knees still unlocked and with plenty of space around you. First keep your hips still and swing your arms around you by moving your upper back. First one way, then the other, and so on. Small movements first, then increase the speed of the swinging. You will notice that your circles become bigger. You can tap your body where your hands land, giving yourself an invigorating massage. At a next stage you can move your hips, too, and pivot on one foot. Go with the flow, stay relaxed, feel how your arms move.

Now make a big circle with one arm, stretching your fingers to make it as large as possible. Go both ways on both sides. The advanced version of this exercise is to do both arms at the same time but in opposite directions. Have fun. I find it helps if you start with both arms stretched out at the top. Go both directions with each arm.

Find a door frame and stand in front of it facing the room. Bring your arms up so that they are level with your shoulders. Bend your elbows ninety degrees with your palms facing forward. Place your elbows, lower arms and hands on the door frame. Keep your shoulders away from your ears. Now shift your weight until you feel a stretch across your chest, obviously while staying steady on your feet. Hold. You can vary this stretch by moving your upper arms higher or lower.

Tall people can even use the top of the door frame for a stretch, but I can't reach.

Most of us get tight arms and hands, sometimes without us noticing it. When massaging your hands and arms you have to watch that you don't damage the massaging hand or thumb. Here are a couple of ideas. 

Sit tall and let one arm hang on the side so that the back of your hand faces forwards. With the other hand grab the muscle at the back of the upper arm (the triceps). Slowly rotate the arm so that the palm of the hand faces forward while keeping hold of the muscle. You can also let your fingers slide over the muscle, this works better on bare skin. Do this in a relaxed fashion, keep your hand loose.

You can use your lower arm to massage the other lower arm. For this you need to sit so that your feet are flat on the floor. Place one arm across your thighs, the other arm across it. Now lean on your top arm, move - either with the top arm while keeping hold of the tissues of the bottom arm, or the bottom arm - wrist rotations, big movements of hand, etc. You can do this with the bottom arm palm up or down, depending on which side of the lower arm you would like to loosen. Now place the back of your hand on one thigh and place your forearm across it. Lean on your forearm.

Press into the webbing between your thumb and your forefinger until you find an exquisitely tender point. Hold and breathe. In my experience there is no way of doing this gently or saving your fingers. This acupressure point "brings the energy down", so is good for anxiety and headaches. Avoid in pregnancy unless you want to help the birth along.

Finish this set of stretches with a few more shoulder rotations. Or for a more vigorous option, lift your shoulders to your ears and drop them suddenly.    

Lower back, hamstring and buttock stretches

This is a series of stretches with your legs up a wall. Having your legs up a wall is a great way to spend some time, it is easy to stretch and gives you energy as the fluid pooled in the legs has an opportunity to join the rest of your circulation. Even when we are fit and well, we tend to have a little bit more fluid in our legs as the day goes on. These stretches can really help with lower back pain.

You can lean your legs against a wall either on the floor (if you can get down and back up), on your bed if it is against a wall, or any soft piece of furniture that is against a wall. If you are doing it on the floor, you need a carpet or yoga matt and a pillow.

Move your bottom really close to the wall, almost up it, while on your side with your legs bent. Find a way of turning unto your back while staying with your bottom close to the wall - a bit of a challenge as you will slide away. Keep your legs bent. Get your head comfortable with a pillow, keep you chin slightly tucked in.

Straighten your legs until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Rest, breathe, let your shoulders ease towards the floor/bed. Allow the back of your body to lengthen, don't let your lower back arch. After a little while you may be comfortable to straighten your legs a little more. Again, rest and breathe. Repeat. The next stage is moving your feet and ankles, for best effect nice and slow. You can start with big movements of your toes, get them moving. Then involve your whole foot, scrunch it up and stretch your toes towards your nose. You may feel all this in the back of your legs, do these movements until they feel easy(ish). Now involve your ankles - big circles both directions. Last in this section, pull your feet and toes towards you, in other words,  flex your ankle. You will really feel this in the back of your legs, but it will ease. You can use a towel or an exercise band to make the stretch more intensive.

For the lower back stretch bring your thighs towards your chest, bending your legs. You can use your feet to push off the wall for an extra stretch. Hold. You can hug your knees and move slightly from side to side, enjoy the opening of your lower back. You can use a towel or an exercise band.

To stretch buttock, to be precise your piriformis muscle, straighten your legs again and bring the outside of one ankle over your other thigh, so that the leg is bent and out to the side. Bend the leg that is up against a wall more and more until you feel a stretch. Your lower back may lift off the floor. Hold. I find this particular stretch horrible but necessary. Do the other side.

Finally, hug your legs again. Roll to your side. Uncurl yourself and get up and enjoy the rest of the day.

Neck stretches

Sit or stand upright, lift up from your chest, tuck your chin in slightly.

Slowly turn your head to one side, hold when you can’t turn any further, attempt to look behind you. Hold. For extra interest move your jaw, open and close, screw up your face, big slow movements. Turn your head to the other side, and do the same. Notice the difference.

Now bring one ear to the near shoulder, let the other shoulder drop. Wait. Next bend your arm at the wrist and stretch your arm out, imagining that it is elongating like a telescope. Hold. Place your hand just above your ear and let the weight of your arm deepen the stretch. Don’t yank or pull. Fine-tune the stretch with small movements until you find the point that feels really good.

Stretch of the back of the neck

Slowly nod. Make sure to tuck in your chin. Interlace your fingers and place them at the highest point of your head. Feel the weight of your arms. Try small movements from side to side. Uncurl, look up, open your chest.

To finish, roll your shoulders, shake out, put some music on, move about. Or go back to what you need to do.

List of treatments
Myofascial Release (MFR) - Saving Hands massage -
Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy® - ATMAT -
- Seated Acupressure - Indian Head Massage - Pulsing - Reiki -
- Reflexology - Tsuboki Foot Massage - Hopi Ear Candles -
Hot and Cold Stone Massage - Myofascial dry cupping -
Aromatherapy Massage - Aromatherapy Lymphatic Massage (ALM) -
- Fertility Massage - Pregnancy Massage - Post-natal Massage -
- Dorn Method - Breuss Massage -
- Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) - Deep Oscillation -
- Holistic Facial - Face Vitality - Total Detox -

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