Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Care

 In Blog

During this holiday season and New Year, give yourself the gift of self-care.

self-care

/ˌselfˈker/
noun
  1. the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.
  2. the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
Self-care isn't selfish
We all know that exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep are important for taking care of ourselves. What we may neglect, however, is taking intentional steps for recovery after exercise. Recovery is important for all athletes, and in particular, as we age.
We can continue to build strength as we age; however, the repair and recovery process may take longer. You can administer your own doses of self-care to prevent illness and injury and reset your body’s ability to function.
Here are five approaches to help with muscle recovery.

1. Breathing and Relaxation

A self-care regimen must include concentrated doses of relaxation. This actually requires some skill and practice! The ability to relax allows the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, which is responsible for rest, digestion, regeneration, building and repair.

breatheAbdominal breathing is the mechanism for this type of relaxation. It is also known as deep breathing or belly breathing. When you inhale, imagine your diaphragm pulling down to suck air into the lungs. You should feel your ribs expand forwards, backwards and sideways. Your belly will rise as your diaphragm pushes down. Your diaphragm and your pelvic floor both move down when you inhale, and both return upwards when you exhale. Pause for two seconds between each inhale and exhale.

Practice doing this slowly. Concentrate on the movement of your diaphragm, pelvic floor, filling your lungs, and movement of your belly. Do this for a few minutes every day. Also practice this in various positions: sitting, lying, and standing. Belly breathing and relaxation can become a good habit!

2. Massage Ball and Rolling

foam rolling

Massage also helps to induce relaxation and is effective for stimulating blood flow to tissues, releasing adhesions, and mobilizing deep layers of fascia. Fascia is connective tissue that separates, encloses, and attaches muscles and organs. Our body is a functionally integrated body unified by fascia.

You can use a massage ball or a roller to do self-massage. Place the ball (or balls) under the muscle you wish to target. You can do this on the floor, on a chair or against a wall. Use your body weight to allow the ball to sink into your tissue. I use four main massage techniques:

  1. Sustained Compression: Hold the compression for 90 to 120 seconds while practicing deep breathing. This will tell the muscle spindles to stop contracting and will lengthen the fascia.
  2. Skin Rolling / Shear: Use the ball to pull, twist, and wring the skin and its underlying tissues away from your body.
  3. Stripping: Roll with the “grain” of the muscle to lengthen it
  4. Cross-fiber: Roll across the “grain” to relax tight but stretched (“locked-long”) muscles.

Be mindful about your breathing while you roll. This will magnify your relaxation.

3. Stretching

Stretching helps to improve range of motion, release adhesions, mobilize fascia and improve posture.

stretchingDo your stretching at the end of a workout when the muscles are warm. In addition, since exercise inherently contracts and shortens muscles, stretching after the workout will help return the muscles to normal resting length.

Passive versus Active Stretching

In passive stretching, a force is applied by a partner or using a person’s own body weight or device. The force is applied in the direction of desired improved range of motion. The goal in passive stretching is to relax and allow the force to lengthen the target muscle. However, there are concerns that this can result in overstretching (and pain, weakness or injury).

In active stretching, an outside force is not applied. The stretcher uses his/her muscular contraction to move to the end range of motion. We use a form of Hold-Relax-Agonist-Contract stretching called Facilitated Stretching. In this method, the stretcher actively moves the limb to its pain-free end range of motion, then, in the opposite direction, contracts the target muscle for 6 seconds as the partner provides resistance. The stretcher then relaxes the target muscle and actively moves the limb farther in the desired range of motion. Clients immediately see an improvement in the range of motion due to a principle called reciprocal inhibition. It is an absolutely safe and pain-free method of stretching! Try a session with us! Contact

4. Red Light Therapy

Near-infrared (NIR) and red light are part of the light spectrum given off by the sun. It is not a surprise that we need the sun to be healthy. We know that we need some UV light to stimulate the production of vitamin D. Blue light feeds into our circadian rhythms which regulate our biological clock. So too is there benefit from near-infrared and red light on the spectrum. These 630-880 nm wavelengths penetrate deep into the skin. This causes a thermal effect and improves blood flow, and even more importantly, charges the mitochondria, the powerhouses of every cell. Our cells are literally charged by the light of the sun!

The benefit of the cell having more energy may include:

  • lowering inflammation
  • enhancing performance and recovery
  • speeding healing
  • liberating fat cells to be burned

Since people now typically stay out of the sun, most of us could benefit from more NIR and red light exposure. There does not seem to be a down side to it. Unlike too much UV exposure, red/NIR light is safe and has little risk of negative side effects. However, while it may be harmless, some devices on the market may also be ineffective. Therefore, it is worthwhile to do your research before spending money!

Many gyms offer red/NIR therapy beds or booths. There are also panels or wraps you can buy for your home. I have a wrap with a 13″x 8″ therapy area, that has a combination of 52 red lights (660 nm) and 65 near-infrared (880 nm) lights.

The therapy is very simple: Turn the device on and put the chosen bare-skinned body part in front of it (or wrap it around) for the appropriate time. This is a good time to practice your relaxation breathing!

5. Epsom Salt Baths

Epsom salts for self-careEpsom salt is a crystallized form of magnesium sulfate. It is believed that taking a hot bath in dissolved Epsom salt will ease sore muscles after working out and help remove “toxins” after a massage. While there is no actual scientific evidence for the benefits of Epsom salt baths, there is no downside to taking a hot, relaxing bath. The main benefit of an Epsom salt bath may be, in fact, the warmth of the hot water, and the relaxation for the body. A key aspect of self-care is to relax to allow the parasympathetic system to do its job of rest, digest and repair. A soak in a jacuzzi or hot tub combined with the massage jets can also be effective.

What about CBD oil?

The jury is still out on Cannabidiol (CBD), an oil derived from hemp plants.

Some athletes promote CBD as the answer to speed up post-workout recovery. Advocates claim that CBD acts as an anti-inflammatory, is a pain suppressant, has calming properties, alleviates anxiety and stress, and improves sleep quality.

CBD oilWhile this may be true, CBD has gone to market preceding the science to go with it. CBD products do not have to undergo approval before they go on the market. Regarding the efficacy of any particular product, claims for everything from lotions to sprays to capsules may be unsubstantiated. Regarding its safety, there is still a lack of data with respect to side effects and long-term effects.

“There are many intriguing findings in pre-clinical studies that suggest CBD and hemp oil have anti-inflammatory effects and may be helpful with improving sleep and anxiety,” says Brent Bauer, M.D., an internist and director of research for the Mayo Clinic Integrative Medicine program. “But trials in humans are still limited, so it is too early to be definitive about efficacy and safety. Physicians need to become better informed about these products, and it’s important that human trials examine issues of efficacy and safety.”

So at least for now, I will sit this one out, until we have more information.

In the meantime, I can breathe, massage, stretch, try out my red light device and then relax in a hot tub. Self-care isn’t selfish. Self-care enables me to stay strong, stay well, and work hard, serving my family and my clients!

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