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Gluteus Medius Strengthening Exercise
The gluteus medius, which is one of the abductors and also a stabiliser of the hip, is one of the muscles that can weaken easily, especially with people doing a lot of forward motion, like cycling, running or walking. It is often a tender area in massage and harbouring trigger points. After it has been released along with its antagonists, the adductors, it will want strengthening.
This strengtheing exercise for the gluteus medius is simple and no faff.
Progressive relaxation routine
Sit on a chair or on whatever you can sit upright with both feet flat on the ground, or lie down on the floor. Now do the exercises on the PDF. First, repeat the exercises once in quick succession so maybe you can do them by heart next time.
If you combine the tensing action with an in-breath an the release with an out-breath, it might be easier for you to focus and to turn the whole exercise into a form of meditation.
Preferably you should do the exercises with eyes closed. But you can also take the printout of this PDF and lay it somewhere near you, so that you can glimpse at it from time to time.
Before you now actually start, close your eyes and enjoy the rest for a minute or so. Accept any perceptions or emerging thoughts but let them pass by like leaves floating on a creek. Try not to ponder or brood, try not to start daydreaming. If some important idea comes up you can come back to it later. You will get better with this the more you do it.
Tighten each group of muscles and hold the tension for about 5 seconds, then relax for about 30 seconds (unless you use your inbreath and outbreath as described above, i.e. breathing in while tensing a muscle group and breathing out while releasing it). While focussing your inner perception on the muscles just exercised you will sense that the process of relaxation progresses a little after releasing the muscles. Let it happen that way and enjoy it. Repeat each exercise once.
At the end keep your eyes closed for a short while and enjoy the rest a little longer. Breathe in deeply and move your fingers and toes playfully. Breathe in deeply again and stretch yourself. Breathe in deeply and open your eyes. Do this at the end of each session. This breathing and stretching shall make sure that your circulation is reactivated. Usually you will feel quite refreshed afterwards.
Shoulder Clock Exercise
Taken from Donna Farhi's book as referenced below. The shoulder clock is a great "chest opener" and pectoralis stretch.
An often overlooked but crucial area that lends itself to self-massage is the calf muscles. In many people, the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles (whose tendons converge to form the achilles tendon) are chronically short. This can be due to cycling, walking uphill (something you cannot avoid living in Sheffield!), climbing, swimming with pointed toes, wearing high heeled shoes, or the like. Other reasons may be poor conditioning, sitting in chairs that restrict circulation by putting pressure on the backs of the thighs or viral diseases. Tightness in the calf muscles or specific segments of muscle fibres in the calves (trigger points) can not only cause calf cramps, pain in the ankle, knee and calves themselves, but also pain in the bottoms of the feet and around the Achilles tendon.
To massage your calf muscles, simply run the lower leg over the opposite knee, starting at the back of the ankle and going all the way to the back of the knee. When you encounter a particularly tender spot (trigger point), go over it repeatedly with short strokes. Be sure to cover the full width of the back of the lower leg using three to four parallel vertical strokes. If you encounter particularly tender areas, go over them with repeated short strokes (6 to 10 times), imagining yourself to "milk out" the tension.
You can do this either lying down or sitting. Best are bare legs, but it also works through soft trouser material. Make sure to support the leg you are working on with interlaced fingers, also pay attention to your back and try not to slouch, and let gravity do the work. You can add stretch to the calf muscles by pointing your heel to the floor, but start with a relaxed leg and foot.
Your calf muscles may feel very tender to start with, but don't give up easily. Please note that self-massage of the calf muscles is contraindicated for people who are suffering from varicose veins, are at risk of having deep vein thrombosis or in pregnancy.
It may be interesting to know that the deeper calf muscle, the soleus, is also called the "second heart", because its importance for lymph flow and venous return. That's one of the reasons why walking is so good for you: by working the calf muscles, blood and lymph are squeezed up towards the heart. Walking just 30 min every day will do you tremendous good. Or better still, get in a nice long walk (make sure to build up slowly if you are not used to it though!).
"Agenda for today: breathe out, breathe in, breathe out." The Buddha (c.563-c.483 BCE)
Most people breathe in reverse. We don't start out that way, but the older we get, the more we restrict, tighten, and shorten our body movements. Breathing in reverse is just one of the ways we do that. What is breathing in reverse? If asked to stand or sit up straight and breathe deeply, what would you do? Most people expand the chest first and draw in the abdomen. As they exhale, they let their chests fall and the muscles in the abdomen relax and drop. They have a forward slouch on the exhale rather than a lifting and opening up of the chest.
Belly breathing, the miracle worker
This is how healthy breathing works: On inhalation, the abdomen expands, the rib cage lifts and expands, and the diaphragm contracts, drawing the air in and filling our lungs. The oxygen, which is 21 percent of the air we breathe, enters little chambers in the lungs and then passes through the membranes of the lungs directly into the red blood cells in our bloodstream. The haemoglobin within the cell carries the oxygen to all the cells in our body, which is what keeps us alive. Now gravity pulls most of the blood supply into the lower portion of the lungs, so the air needs to be drawn all the way down into the lungs to oxygenate the blood.
Reverse breathing, which is chest breathing, doesn't allow the abdominal muscles to expand or allow complete ventilation of the lungs. The oxygen-rich air we breathe only fills the upper portion of the lungs. It never reaches the lower lungs or the bloodstream. The result is a 25 percent decrease in oxygen in our bloodstream as we get older. This affects the heart, the skeletal muscles, and all the organs, including the brain. It affects all the tissues in the body. Over time, the muscles lose their elasticity and can no longer expand fully.
When you're belly breathing, you allow your abdomen (as well as your chest) to fully expand outward when you inhale and to move in as you exhale. Belly breathing actively involves all the muscles of respiration and brings life-sustaining oxygen to all the other muscles in the body.
By combining belly breathing with forced expiration of breath, you turn a normal function into a strengthening move - exercise that does not feel like exercise!
Exercise 1 - Belly Breathing
Change into something comfortable, then lie on our back on the floor, or another hard surface, and put a rolled towel or pillow under your knees.
Extend your arms out from your shoulders and relax the back of your hands on the floor. Close your eyes and envision your diaphragm and the deep abdominal muscles. Inhale deeply through your nose and pull the air down into your midsection. When you exhale through your nose, feel your midsection pull in.
If your chest is expanding and you're pulling in your belly on the inhale, then you are reverse breathing. Keep practicing until you feel the difference. While you are practicing, you will be giving your body a healthy dose of oxygen, so you'll feel more and more relaxed. The more relaxed you become the easier these exercises will be.
Exercise 2 - Active Belly Breathing
Lying in the same position, start to lengthen and slow down both your inhalation and your exhalation. Breathe comfortably through your nose and keep your chest and shoulders relaxed. Slowly begin to pull in your abdomen actively as you exhale. Don't force the length of your breath; allow yourself to become more relaxed and breathing more easily, intensify the pulling in on the exhale. Continue this for a few minutes, feeling the elasticity in the muscle fibres and focusing on the active pulling in with each exhale.
Imagine you have a string attached to the inside of your belly button. Pull it all the way back to your spine as you exhale. Completely relax your abdomen on the inhale. Make sure you are breathing through your nose, not your mouth.
Nose breathing has been linked to the parasympathetic nervous system and the relaxation response. Although exhaling slowly through your mouth is a good way to release tension (and can be used throughout the stretches in a later stage of the exercise programme designed by Nancy Swayzee), continuous mouth breathing tends to stimulate the fight or flight response. This creates tension in the muscles. When you begin to feel fatigue from the effort, return to non-active belly breathing and completely relax.
If you have trouble feeling which muscles you're trying to work, get up slowly (you might be little light-headed from all the deep breathing) and practice in front of a mirror. Keep your eyes on your midsection, which should fill up like a balloon when you breathe in. (Be careful not to do it more than three or four times in a row - you might hyperventilate).
The above exercises and explanations on breathing were taken from Nancy Swayzee's "Breathworks for Your Back: Strengthening your Back for the Inside Out", available on Amazon for about £9.
Another highly recommendable, beautiful book on breathing is Donna Farhi's "Breathing Book, Vitality and Good Health through essential Breath Work", available on Amazon for about £20 - money that's well invested! It contains a lot of useful information and illustrated exercises, amongst which are breathing recommendations for asthma sufferers. Click here to open a PDF with the "Shoulder Clock" exercise, taken from Donna Farhi's book.
"Buddha is reported to have said, that if you can be aware of your breath even for a single hour,
you are already enlightened. But not a single breath should be missed. One hour is enough.
It looks so small - a fragment of time; it is not...
When you try awareness, one hour will look like milennia, because one cannot ordinarily be aware more than five or six seconds, and that too for a very alert person. Otherwise you will miss every second.
You will start, breath going in; but no sooner has breath gone in, and you will be somewhere else. Suddenly you remember again, the breath is going out. The breath has gone out, and you have moved somewhere else. To move with the breath no thoughts should be allowed, because thoughts will take your attention, thoughts will distract you. So Buddha never says, stop thinking. He says, just breathe consciously. Automatically, thinking will stop. You cannot do both - think and breathe consciously. When a thought comes into your mind, your attention is withdrawn. A single thought, and you become unconscious of your breathing process.
So Buddha used a very simple technique and a very vital one. He will say to his bhikkhus (monks), "Do whatsoever you are doing, but do not forget a simple thing: remember the incoming, the outgoing breath; move with it, flow with it."
The more you try,
the more you endeavour,
the more you will be conscious.
It is arduous and difficult too,
but once you can do it,
you are a different person,
a different being in a different world.
This works in a double way: when you constantly breath in and out, you come to your center by and by, because your breath touches the centre of your being. Every moment that the breath goes in, it touches your central being."