Tuesday, December 6, 2016

8 Key Elements to a Well Balanced Life: "D" is for...

I've been naughty this year. I've been teaching my clients to perform exercises specifically for their unique muscle imbalances, but I haven't done my exercises faithfully. I have all sorts of exercise equipment at home and at my office, but do you think I use them often? No. I haven't been practicing what I preach as much as I should have been this year. However, a good friend of mine once said, "Don't ever "should" on yourself" and I have always appreciated that comment. I have realized that it is important to focus on all of the good things I have done this year instead focusing on what I "should" have done.  

In August, I finally broke down and hired a personal trainer to help keep me accountable for taking care of myself, as I had been focusing on taking care of others and let myself go. I am also making great strides in overcoming leaky gut syndrome and the resultant autoimmune conditions that have created challenges with my health and energy levels by educating myself on  how to use food as medicine. I am helping my family to also improve their health and energy levels so we can keep up with our 5 year old! Prioritizing time with my family and friends has also brought a lot of joy into my life in 2016. I also just formed a "Meet Up" group called "Get Moving Mil-WALK-esha" to get people together for walks around Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties. These good things in 2016 have helped to move me closer to living a well balanced life. 

Over the past 8 months, you have discovered how to live a well-balanced life also through Breathing, being mindful of your body's Alignment, moving around or being "Locomotive", bringing Awareness to your body's sensations and movement limits, eating a Nutritious diet, Circulating your body's important life giving and cleansing fluids, and enhancing your Environment to maximize health and minimize toxins. Finally, as the year draws to a close, you will discover the final key element to a well balanced life. 

The journey toward health and wellness is not an easy one. Pain, tightness, limited movements and mental blocks can all get in the way of our ability to enjoy life. Many of us seem to be wearing many hats and burning the candle at both ends, as they say, and time seems to fly by before our eyes. The final key element in BALANCED is one of the most important elements but can also be one of the most difficult: Dedication to taking care of ourselves and living a healthy life. 

Dedication means taking the time out of your day to breathe. Dedication means taking a moment to look within and be aware of how you are feeling, and then take action to improve upon that feeling if necessary. Dedication means taking the time to plan out, prepare and enjoy nutritious meals, snacks and drinks. Dedication means doing the best you can on any given day, or at any given moment, to commit to your well-being and make the best decisions you possibly can to care for yourself.  

Dedication is NOT perfection. (I have to keep reminding myself of that one.) Dedication means cutting yourself some slack for missing a workout, and getting back on the horse as soon as possible. Dedication means having the right network of family, friends, coaches and helpers to keep you moving toward your goals and truly living a well balanced life. Dedication means taking care of yourself so you can continue to care for others. (I have to remind myself of that one, too!)

Congratulations on your dedication so far along the journey toward your well-balanced life. The journey keeps on going until our time is up on this planet. I'm dedicated to being here for you to support you on your journey as I continue along mine. 

Keep moving well!  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

8 Key Elements to a Well-Balanced Life: "E" is for


We have learned the importance of optimizing how our body works through breathing, being aware of our body's alignment, movement abilities and limits, and fueling our body with nutrient dense foods.  What we put inside our bodies determines how we feel and move throughout our lives. The communication between our nervous and digestive systems greatly impacts our musculo-skeletal health. To boost how our body works to keep us healthy, it is equally important to consider our environment, to maximize the benefits of our surroundings and minimize the stressors that may be impacting our health.

Our natural environment provides us with some of life's greatest necessities including the air we breathe, the food we eat, resources to create energy, and lumber to construct homes and buildings.  We can also turn to our environment for recreation, enjoyment, health and exercise. Our environment provides homes for wildlife, "is responsible for pollution dilution and detoxification, pollination, flood and climate regulation." 
(http://www.environment.scotland.gov.uk/get-informed/people-and-the-environment/benefits-from-the-environment/ )

The sun provides Vitamin D to help us absorb calcium and phosphorus, improve our bone and tooth health, boost our immune system, and prevent many diseases. It is important to find a nice balance with getting enough sunshine to meet your daily requirement of Vitamin D which involves getting outside. As the winter months are fast approaching, it gets more challenging to get outside (especially here in Wisconsin) to get adequate amounts of this important vitamin, so supplementation is necessary. I've been loving an Isotonic Vitamin D supplement that I have been taking lately. I'd be happy to share more details about this product with you if you are interested. 

Our environment also includes with whom we live and with whom we spend the most time. Family, friends and colleagues can fill us with joy but can also create stress in our lives. Maximizing the energy spent on relationships that bring happiness and joy and letting go of those no longer serving us can have a big impact on living a well-balanced life. 

Our environment includes the substances and products we use to keep our homes, belongings, and body clean. My friends use to tease me and call me a hippy for using natural products and not wanting to use chemicals on or around my body.  Luckily, there are more and more people who have also become aware of the dangers and have moved away from using synthetic chemicals and toxic ingredients in commercially available cleaning agents, and personal care products.  The chemicals we use to clean our homes should be made with natural ingredients especially if we have children or pet in our homes. Our skin is our largest organ, and it will absorb chemicals from personal care products that can be harmful to our body. If you haven't already, be sure to check the labels and avoid petroleum based ingredients and other harmful chemicals in your home cleaning and body care products. Click on the following link to find a list of which chemicals to avoid: 
http://www.womensvoices.org/avoid-toxic-chemicals/15-toxic-trespassers/ 
I have been using natural cleaning agents, essential oils, and personal care products for the last 15 years. Let me know if you want more information on which ones are my favorites.  

Our body works best when our environment is full of sunshine, fresh air, natural, healthy food and clean water, and people who fill our hearts with good feelings. Let go of those relationships with people and products who are not benefitting your health and you will feel so much better on many levels. 

Keep Moving Well! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

8 Key Elements to a Well Balanced Life: "C" is for...

To live a well-balanced life, it is important for all of the cells throughout our body receive efficient oxygen, hormones and nutrients to successfully carry out our daily activities, properly digest food, eliminate toxins, and maintain homeostasis. Since October is Breast Health Awareness Month, it is fitting to highlight the importance of circulation throughout our breast tissue and also throughout our body. Breast Cancer CAN affect both males and females, so it is equally important for both sexes to stay proactive, maximize your circulatory health, and reduce your risk of disease. 

The Circulatory System is divided into 2 separate systems, the Cardiovascular System which distributes blood, and the Lymphatic System which distributes lymph. According to Wikipedia, "Blood is a fluid consisting of plasmared blood cellswhite blood cells, and platelets that is circulated by the heart through the vertebrate vascular system, carrying oxygen and nutrients to and waste materials away from all body tissues. Lymph is essentially recycled excess blood plasma after it has been filtered from the interstitial fluid (between cells) and returned to the lymphatic system. The cardiovascular (from Latin words meaning "heart" and "vessel") system comprises the blood, heart, and blood vessels.[3] The lymph, lymph nodes, and lymph vessels form the lymphatic system, which returns filtered blood plasma from the interstitial fluid (between cells) as lymph."

As our culture has gotten more sedentary, the incidence of many diseases has increased. Our homes and workplaces have become very convenient in terms of how we have things placed around us for easy access and long durations of reduced mobility. Our upper body, including our head, neck, shoulders, elbows, hands and ribcage can function within a limited range of motion directly in front of our body throughout an entire day unless we make an effort to extend these limits with intentional mobility activities. Our body has a "use it or lose it" mentality, and when our end ranges of motion are not frequently challenged and practiced each day, we get tight, stiff, and sore, and our fluid systems of the body become stagnant. I've quoted it before and I'll quote it again: "Sitting is the new smoking." This position can wreak havoc on the circulatory system especially throughout the legs and lower body. The hips are compressed as they support the weight of the trunk and upper body, which challenges the ability of the circulatory system to flow efficiently. When the legs hang down, the blood vessels have to work against gravity to return the flow of blood and lymph back up to the center of our body which can lead to swelling, numbness and tingling, and leg muscle weakness. 

Luckily, there is a solution to maximizing your circulation every day. MOVEMENT!! Movement of the body is the most efficient way for our Cardiovascular and Lymph systems to circulate blood and lymph. Our muscle contractions serve as a pump around our blood and lymph vessels to help keep the fluids traveling where they need to go for proper function of the organs and cells. Daily movement practices such as walking and exercise can improve and maintain your circulatory health. Be sure to move your body through as much of your maximal range of motion throughout your head, neck, arms, torso, spine, pelvis, hips and legs to maximize your circulation. 

It doesn't have to take long to move as many different ways as you can to mobilize your blood and lymph fluids. Here are my favorite 12 whole body movement activities for you to try. (# 1-6 are especially helpful for healthy breast and chest tissue)  I recommend 5-10 repetitions of the following movements: 

1. Look up, down, side to side, and turn your head and neck each way. 
2. Reach your arms all the way up, reach out to the sides, and behind your back. 
3. Spread your hands and fingers then squeeze them into fists. 
4. Draw circles with your arms at your shoulder joints, forward, backward, make figure 8's across your chest. 
5. Turn your torso each way and bend it sideways. 
6. Flex your spine all the way forward then extend all the way back. 
7. Move your hips in circles, forward, back and sideways. 
8. Rotate your hips in and out. 
9. Bend and extend your knees. 
10. Point and flex your feet and ankles.
11. Draw circles with your ankle, foot and toes.  
12. Spread and squeeze your toes. 

See, that didn't take so long. Imagine if you committed to doing this at least once per day. How do you think it would make you feel? 

The Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) system utilizes whole body movement activities to determine the location of potential muscular weakness. Each time you receive an MAT treatment, you maximize the circulation throughout all of your muscles as you move through full range of motion of all of your joints. One of my clients recently commented that she loves coming for treatments because she feels warm and tingly all over as circulation flows to more areas of her body than she notices during her daily activities and exercises. I told her that MAT is like a "Fluid Flush" as well as a "Re-Boot" for the whole body. By maximizing neurological communication signals throughout the muscular system, we improve muscle contractile efficiency and the ability to pump fluids to optimize circulation. Muscle Activation Techniques is an important part of a pro-active health plan to keep us moving and grooving from head to toe. 

Looking forward to seeing you for your next "Fluid Flush and Re-Boot!" 

Keep Moving Well! 


Saturday, September 24, 2016

8 Key Elements to a Well-Balanced Life: "N" is for...

"We are what we eat"

How many times have you heard this phrase before? Have you ever considered this when you take a bite of an apple? Do you want to be or feel fresh, alive, vibrant, and healthy? How about when you take a bite of a doughnut? Do you want to be or feel soft, squishy, sugary sweet, or sticky? 

Food is often at the center of our family and social gatherings and has become a source of entertainment for people. We are fortunate to live in a time in history and a society where most people have access to a myriad of food choices, from corner stores to big box bulk grocery stores, farmers markets and food trucks, fast food and gourmet restaurants, and we are able to enjoy an array of flavors and foods many different ethnicities. It is up to each one of us to make a choice with each and every bite that we take throughout our lifetime to determine how we feel and how we "are." 

Food is meant to serve as the "fuel" our bodies use to provide energy for our daily activities, to grow new cells, heal, and keep us alive and thriving.  Unfortunately, many humans make food choices based on taste or convenience rather than on nutrition. If we are eating the appropriate amount and type of real, live, whole food, our body will receive the necessary nutrients and minerals to go on moving, working and healing for decades. On the other hand, if we choose to eat processed, unnatural or chemical filled foods, we don't receive the adequate nutrients for our internal organs to properly perform their functions, and eventually the rest of our body (including our muscular system) suffers, creating unpleasant sensations, diseases, and even premature death. 

As a Physical Therapist and Muscle Specialist, I have worked with hundreds of clients who suffer from unpleasant sensations including pain and inflammation, and who have diagnoses, diseases or injuries for which they have needed surgery. For the past 5 years especially, I have been educating myself on the effect of certain foods on the human body, the conditions that can result from poor dietary choices and nutritional deficiencies, and how this can impact the overall healing process.  On a personal note, I have been "challenged" myself with some food sensitivities since childhood and am now on my own healing journey to overcome some auto-immune conditions. Although I am not a dietician or nutritionist, I am very passionate about nutrition and learning as much as I can to help my clients, my family, and myself feel better. I have read A LOT of books and articles over the years about nutrition, various diets and detoxes, and the common denominator for supporting health and wellness is to minimize "inflammation."  

Inflammation is a natural process in our bodies that occurs when we are injured or the presence of a "foreign invader" is sensed by the intricate sensory and immune systems. Acute inflammation is a normal part of the body's healing process. If the injury or invader continues to be present, chronic inflammation can result. Chronic inflammation is at the root of many ailments, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, auto-immune conditions, cancer, and more. If our gut lining is irritated from trying to digest inflammatory foods, the absorption of nutrients is compromised, and instead we absorb toxicity and other invaders that the body is usually able to fight off when the immune system is strong and not over-working.  

Many foods have been shown to have an inflammatory affect on the body. According to Organic Authority, the top 10 most inflammatory foods are gluten, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, hydrogenated oils, fried foods,  refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed or packaged foods, and refined salt. Click here for the full article: Inflammatory Foods. Minimizing or eliminating the above mentioned offenders and eating an anti-inflammatory diet will help to optimize your health and well-being. 

I originally wanted to list the most important nutrients for your joints and muscles, but the list of nutrients was overwhelming and I didn't want to bore you with all the details. Instead, I found a great article on Dr. Mercola's website about the most common nutrient deficiencies and how to be sure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs. For those of you who are interested in optimizing your body's nutrient load, click here for the full article: Nutrient Deficiencies 

Educating yourself on nutrition and making the best possible choices for you and your family will go a long way in helping you to live a well-balanced life. After all, we truly ARE what we eat. 

Keep Moving Well! 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

8 Key Elements to a Well-Balanced Life: "A" is for...


"What you don't know can't hurt you"

Have you ever heard this phrase before? Well, when it comes to the human body, I beg to differ. 
The human body is equipped with a multitude of sensory signals that can help us understand where we are in space (called "proprioception"), whether something we touch is hot or cold, sharp or smooth, whether a muscle feels tight or loose, or a movement or position feels comfortable or uncomfortable, and the list goes on. These signals all boil down to the same basic message to our body, which is whether something is safe or unsafe. It is important to "listen" to the signals that our body gives us on a daily basis and adjust our activities to accommodate the messages we are receiving so we can keep moving well and prevent injury. 

It blows me away the number of times over the past 2 decades I have met clients who have not listened, or "heard" but completely ignored the signals their body was trying to tell them for a long period of time. However, it struck me that some people are just not aware that their body is trying to communicate with them. They may not know that something they feel may be abnormal and injury may result, and that someone like me is specifically trained to help them move and feel better to prevent or overcome injury.  It turns out, what they don't know CAN hurt them! Awareness is the 4th key for a well-balanced life. 

Luckily, some people are aware of their body and notice differences between how things look or feel on one side or the other.  Recently, I have worked with some clients who are feeling pretty good overall, however, they are aware of muscles firing on one side of their body, but not as well on the other side. They sought out my help to bring their body back into a balanced state and prevent injuries from occurring. Keeping tabs on how your body is functioning is important so that you have a baseline established and can gauge whether one of your body parts may be in need of some assistance to feel better. 

There are several important points to consider when becoming aware of your body's baseline. Bring your awareness to your posture and alignment (the blog post from June highlights all the key alignment points to consider). How are you lining up from head to toe when you are sitting or standing? Does one shoulder feel higher or lower? Do you feel any areas of muscle tension or tightness from right to left? Do you feel that you are bearing more weight on one side of the body than the other? Is it difficult to breathe and relax into these positions or do you have to exert effort to breathe, keep yourself upright or relaxed?  Now consider your body's baseline while you are lying down on your back. Do you need a pillow under your head for extra support? Does one leg rotate out more than the other? Does one shoulder feel higher or lower now? Are you aware of any tension or tightness in your body in this position? Is it challenging for you to breathe into all parts of your lungs in this position? Bring your awareness to how you feel when you are walking. Does one arm swing across your body more than the other? Are your thumbs pointed toward your body? Is it easier to push off from one foot than the other? Do you have pain in any of your joints as you take your steps?  

If you answered yes to these questions, you would likely benefit from a Muscle Activation Techniques assessment and treatment to identify and correct your unique muscle imbalances contributing to these sensations. If you are feeling good and not having any of these issues, you must be well aware of your body. Keep up your good work!

Awareness is a crucial element to know your body's baseline and manage it so you can move and feel your best for years to come.  Move well, my friends! 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

8 Key Elements to a Well-BALANCED Life: "L" is for....

When I first hear the word Locomotion, I think of a train, or the hit song by Grand Funk Railroad, with the ultra-cheesy 1987 version by Kylie Minogue. When I asked my husband Bryan the first word that came to his mind he said, "engine". According to dictionary.com, locomotion means "movement, or the ability to move from one place to another."  It is interesting to think about how far locomotion has come, especially since before we invented all sorts of means for locomotion (boats, horse and buggy, hot air balloons, trains, bikes, automobiles, planes, etc) all we had were our bodies to get us around from place to place. As technology continues to advance exponentially over the years, our body's biomechanics have pretty much stayed the same. Unfortunately, along with the reliance on these efficient machines for locomotion, we are relying less on our own body's ability to get us around. We don't think twice about staying up to date with our car's regular oil changes, tire rotations, transmission or radiator flushes, and air filter replacements so we can prevent inconvenient break-downs and extend the life of our vehicle (which is usually only about 10-12 years). Why is it then, that we as humans usually wait until we have a "breakdown" to do something about our human "vehicle?" Our body is our ONLY vehicle for locomotion for our lifetime (which is usually about 80-90 years, if we are lucky these days). We may have the medical advancements to receive new body parts, such as new joints and new valves for instance, but our body is so much happier to simply maintain the body we were given at birth.  

The very first way we as humans learn to move around from place to place is through rolling. This very important developmental milestone prepares our core muscles for other more advanced locomotion activities. We roll from our back to our stomach, and from our stomach to our back. Remember putting your baby on their stomach for "Tummy Time?" How much did your baby like that? Mine did not! As a new mom, it broke my heart to hear Liam fuss and cry when he was on his belly, so I didn't usually keep him there too long initially (even though I'm a PT and know better...). That is hard work for a baby to maintain that position and hold up their huge head. But with practice and repetition, they get it, and then they roll over. The spinal extensor muscles, that run along both sides of the back of the spine, are so important for ultimately keeping us upright against gravity. Our abdominal and core muscles get a great workout rolling us over from our back onto our tummy. Rolling is a great way for babies and adults to train all the muscles in the spine, trunk and limbs. 

Try it now for yourself. See how it feels to roll from your back to your stomach, then from your stomach to your back. Roll to your right, then roll to your left. How different, easy, or difficult do each of these feel?  Tummy time and rolling are activities that I recommend for grown adults, as the spinal extensor and core muscles are some of the weakest muscles I find with many of my clients. 

Crawling integrates even more of our body's core muscles with the reciprocal movement of our arms and legs to get us around from place to place. This is a much more complicated activity for our brain to orchestrate.  Our hands, wrists, feet and ankles move into new ranges of motion and provide information about the surfaces underneath us as we move about. The muscles and joints throughout our core, hip, and shoulder get stronger as we carry more of our body's weight around from place to place. Our neck gets stronger as we hold our head up to look where we are going. 

Ready to give it a try? Crawl forward, backward, and side to side. How far and fast can you go? Can you feel your shoulder blade muscles and core engage? How do your wrists and knees feel? Thank goodness we learned to walk! 

Walking is the most complicated activity that our brains have to manage. This is why humans are the only species who can walk around upright on 2 feet for as long as we can. We need strength, control, balance, proprioception (sensing where you are in space) and endurance to walk from place to place. The arches in our feet are meant to be able to absorb shock as well as push off the ground to move us forward. Our arm swings back as the opposite leg is behind the body to maintain our balance and keep our head neutral, so our eyes remain level with the horizon as we move about. Our spine stacks on top of itself and supports the trunk rotation from right to left. Walking allows us to move efficiently from place to place. 

As a Physical Therapist, Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) Specialist, and Healthy Foot Practitioner, I often work with clients who have pain while walking. Whether the pain is in their foot, knee, hip, shoulder, back or neck, they are amazed that when they have their unique muscle imbalances identified and corrected, then practice rolling and crawling, the pain is reduced when they walk. 

How are you feeling about your body's locomotion?  Being able to move around comfortably and efficiently while rolling, crawling and walking will help you extend the life of your vehicle. It may be time to take your vehicle in for a tune-up.  

Move Well!

Monday, June 27, 2016

8 Key Elements to a Well-BALANCED Life: "A" is for...

How many times has a parent, teacher, or someone else in your life told you to sit or stand up straight? Most people know that ideal posture is important, but don't always consider why. Leave it to me, the muscle nerd, to fill you in on why having proper posture is important to your health and how learning to monitor and adjust your body's ALIGNMENT can save years of pain and dysfunction.

Your muscular system is responsible for 3 main functions: 1. Align your skeleton, 2. Create movement, 3. Control movement. Weak or tight muscles cause imbalances which pull your body out of correct alignment,  resulting in less efficient movements and more stress on your entire system. If your muscles are not working properly due to stress, trauma or overuse, your everyday postures could be doing more harm than you realize! Improper alignment can lead to difficulty taking a full breath, pinched nerves, headaches, neck and back pain, knee and shoulder injuries, foot dysfunctions, and the list goes on!!  

"What is ideal alignment," you might be wondering, "and how can I prevent myself from having some these problems?" The answer is dependent on whether you are standing, sitting, lying down, etc. This post will focus on your standing posture. Let's start from the ground and work up, as this sets up a solid foundation. 

Foot Alignment:
Your feet should be positioned about hip width apart with the toes pointed straight ahead, not in or out to the side. Your weight should be evenly distributed between both of your feet, and over the 4 corners of each foot: at the ball of your foot near the base of the big toe and the pinky toe, and at the inside and outside edges of your heel. Your arch should come up and away from the floor and your toes should be relaxed. 

Knee Alignment:
Your knee caps should be relaxed and facing straight ahead and your knee creases on the back side of the knee should be facing behind your body evenly. 

Hip and Pelvis Alignment:
Your hips should be positioned over your ankles with the pelvis neutral (not tipped forward or tucked backward) and both sides of the pelvis should be level (not elevated or dropped down on either side). 

Spine Alignment:
You have a naturally occurring S-shaped curve (almost like a snake) that runs throughout your spinal column and alternates toward the front and back of your body to help absorb shock. The lower back (lumbar region) curve is known as lordosis, which means that the spine curves slightly forward forming a slight arch. The mid back (thoracic region) curve is known as Kyphosis, which curves toward the back of your body. The neck (cervical vertebra) curve has the lordotic curve like the lumbar spine which curves slightly forward. The spine should stack straight on itself, rather than sway sideways, as in scoliosis. 

Ribcage Alignment:
Your ribs and chest should stay aligned between your shoulders and pelvis with the front, lower ribs dropped down, not flared forward. 

Shoulder Alignment:
Your shoulders should be lined up over your hips with arms relaxed and hanging straight down at your sides. Your shoulder blades should be located on the back of your ribcage, not rounded forward. 

Head Alignment:
Your head should be positioned with your ear aligned above your shoulder with your eyes looking straight ahead. Your ears should be even with each other, not tilted up or down on one side. Your chin should remain slightly tucked inward, with the top of your head reaching straight up toward the sky. 

If there was a plumb line drawn down the side of your body, it would line up through the middle of your ear, down through the middle of your shoulder joint, down through your outer hip, down through the back of your knee cap, and to the front of your ankle bones.  You can have a friend or family member take a picture of you from the side, back and front so you can observe all of the above areas and note your alignment. 

How do you line up? 

Working as a Physical Therapist for 17 years, I have had the privilege of helping many people, just like you, resolve their pain issues and movement dysfunctions through identifying and correcting muscle imbalances to improve their alignment naturally.  Early in my career, I would teach general exercises to retrain my clients' bodies. This would alleviate some of the tightness and create more strength in the muscles, which was helpful. However, I knew that something was missing, as people were still having to really work to hold their correct alignment.  

For the past 6 years, I have had access to over 270 muscle tests through the Muscle Activation Techniques system. Using these precise tools, I can now even MORE specifically isolate the weak muscles leading to the impaired alignment and movement dysfunctions that I may have missed earlier on in my career. This has made a huge difference in my client's outcomes! Their ideal alignment and posture now holds better than ever, without them having to try so hard to maintain these positions. 

If you are in line, good for you. If you need help to analyze your posture and resolve your imbalances, I'm happy to help you become aligned and well!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

8 Key Elements to a Well-Balanced Life: "B" is for...

Take a deep Breath. Fill your lungs with oxygen, the most important element our bodies need to survive and to achieve full healing. Is it easy for you to do this? Are you feeling any tension, tightness or discomfort anywhere? Where do you draw your breath in...your chest, your shoulders and neck, your belly? Are both of your lungs equally balanced as they bring in air? 

From our first moment of life to the present, our breath has always been with us. Inspiration, or taking in breath, fills us with the oxygen needed for our body to survive and produce energy, and expiration allow us to get rid of carbon dioxide and waste products no longer needed by our bodies.  Although breathing is natural, spontaneous, and automatic, we often take this process for granted until we have difficulty breathing.  Our fast-paced lifestyle, habitual forward-flexed postures, and exposure to environmental toxins contribute to impaired respiration and build up of toxins in our system. A lack of oxygen has been linked to decreased mental states, and increased heart disease, stroke, and cancer. This element is vital to life of most ALL species! 

Learning to breathe properly and efficiently is a valuable tool for everyday rejuvenation and vitality.  The muscle we were designed to use most efficiently for breathing is called the Diaphragm muscle. It is a large, thin, dome or parachute-shaped muscle that sits underneath our lungs. When it contracts, this dome pulls downward and helps our lower ribs to expand, creating space for the lungs to fill with oxygen molecules to be absorbed by the lung walls. 


Learning to breathe with your Diaphragm is most easily done lying down on your back, in a comfortably supported position. You can also do this while sitting. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and feel which hand moves first and which hand moves more. If you said, "belly hand," then you are on the right track!! Imagine filling your belly like there is a balloon inside of it. Feel it expand downward, forward and to both sides. Go ahead, let your belly muscles relax, stop "sucking in" your gut, and enjoy the expansion and natural energy boost of breathing with your Diaphragm muscle! Doesn't that feel good? 

If you said "chest hand," then you, like many people are primarily using your smaller, less-efficient-in-the-long-run "accessory" breathing muscles. These helpers in the neck and shoulders help you to take in air during stressful situations, like being chased by a bear. Unfortunately, our fast-paced, overpacked, under-mobile lifestyles often result in people overusing these little guys and feeling like their shoulders are tight, sore, and that they sit up by their ears!! Sound familiar??

Just like any other muscle, you can train the Diaphragm to get stronger and work better for you. I love isometric exercises, as these are a gentle way to contract, increase our body's awareness of, and re-educate muscles, so let's try some isometrics for this super important muscle:

Draw your breath into your belly for about 4 seconds, hold your breath for 5-6 seconds, slowly release your breath again for 4 seconds, and hold with the lungs empty for 5-6 seconds. As with other strengthening exercises, begin with one set of 10-12 reps, and add more reps and sets as the initial set gets easier to do. You can also do several sets throughout the day as you go about your daily routine. 

If you are lying on your back and you are ready for more resistance, place a small weight on top of your belly and feel the added resistance as you "pump iron" with your Diaphragm! Who knew your breathing muscles could get such a great, easy, isolated workout? 

Once you have practiced this efficient form of breathing, your neck and shoulder muscles can relax, you will feel a sense of calm come over your entire being, and you will have increased confidence that you are on your way to a well-balanced life! 

Move well, my friends! 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016..The Year of a Well-Balanced LIFE!

Over the past year or so, I have been so frustrated!!! I feel like a broken record as I work with my clients. Having been a practicing Physical Therapist for the past 17 years (holy cow, time has flown!!!), I have discovered certain key aspects of the healing process that I believe are the most valuable in undergoing a full healing and recovery from injury and muscular imbalances, and I am glad to share this valuable information with my clients. I have had hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations over the years and shared ideas about how to best manage musculoskeletal concerns including pain, inflammation, tightness, weakness, posture, and body mechanics. My frustration has come as I can't keep track of whether or not I have already had a conversation about a certain topic or technique with one client, as so many of my clients face similar issues along their healing journey. Sure, I can usually remember how many kids you have, their names, your dog's name, or your birthday, but I can't always remember if I have shared specific wellness-related information with you yet.  This drives me crazy!! 

In focusing my efforts on helping others heal over the years, I have been "conveniently" distracted from recognizing and then working through some of my own personal struggles, mental, physical and emotional, which are similar to what many of my clients are facing. Maybe it is because I am over 40 now, have more life experience to draw from, and am much more confident in who I am, but I have finally decided to take the time to get to the root of some of my own issues and try to find a way to move forward in a healthy way.  I believe I have found a solution to my frustration that will also help me grow, both personally and professionally!

As you may know, I have a "thing" for numbers. I like to make sense of the world in mathematical, systematic, and logical ways. I have always been intrigued by Numerology, the study of numbers and their divine, energetic connections. Everything is energy, everything has a vibration, including letters and numbers, and all of the cells of our bodies. This may sound like I am getting "new age-y" but hear me out.  I am not the type of person to make huge life decisions based on what I learn from reading my horoscope or studying numerology connections, I just find the information fun! Each number resonates with a certain vibrational frequency, and we can ALL learn to tap into this energy to heal or move forward in our lives. 

In decoding my own personal numerology, I have learned that this year is a 6-Year for me. (To get your Year Number, add the number of your birth month, plus the day, to 2016, then keep adding the numbers together until you get a one digit number). Check out this website for more information on how to learn about your own personal numerology: http://karisamuels.com. A 6-Year is all about Balance! I have always struggled with this concept. Yes, I know all sorts of great exercises and techniques to improve physical balance in the body.  Heck, my specialty is all about bringing muscles back into a state of balance in a very unique and customized way.  But, when it comes to juggling my own life's responsibilities, daily duties, family time, friend connections, career endeavors, leisure time, desires, and dreams, I have been very challenged at striking a good balance. I now realize that there is no such thing as a "perfectly balanced" life.  No one and no-thing is perfectly balanced EVER! But, "well-balanced" is a much more attainable goal. I'd like to be more "well-balanced," wouldn't you??

Over the past 20 years, through thousands of client sessions, my own reading, research, and life experience, I have discovered 8 key elements of a well-balanced life. This year, I put all the pieces together and realized that the first letter of each these 8 elements makes up the acronym: BALANCED.  I have found the solution for my frustration in this WORD, as I NOW have an organized, systematized way to present this valuable, healing information with my clients!!  

For the next 8 months of 2016, I am going to share with you what I believe to be the 8 elements of a "well-balanced" life, one month at a time. Next month in May, we will begin with the letter "B" and we will end with "D" in December.  By the end of 2016, I believe you will be well on your way to discovering what YOUR well-balanced life looks and feels like. My hope is that the rest of 2016 moves us ALL forward toward living out our unique, divine life purpose! 

MOVE WELL my friends! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Spring Prep 101: The 3 Key Steps to Ease Into the Outdoors


This time of year always brings a new energy as we make a transition from Winter to Spring. The cleaning and yard work activities of the Spring, including bending, lifting, squatting, kneeling, and more, involve a lot of muscles that may not be quite ready to roll after the long winter with less activity. Follow these 3 Key Steps to prepare your body for Spring, ensure well-balanced muscles, and optimize your healthy immune system:

1. Alignment CheckBefore you head outdoors to work in the yard, you want to be sure your skeletal alignment is efficient and optimal so you can prevent stresses, strains or injuries. Your muscles will work the most efficiently from a symmetrical and well-aligned skeleton, as our bones are the stable base from which our muscles anchor and create movement when they contract.  To perform your own "alignment check" when you are standing, be sure your feet are pointed forward (not out like a duck), and that your knee caps are aligned in the front of your leg (not rotated out or in), and pelvis is neutral (not tucked or tipped). Be sure your ribs are aligned over your pelvis and that your lower ribs are not "thrusted" forward. Shoulders should line up over the ribcage, on the same line as the hips, if drawing a line from head to toe from the side of your body. Finally, your head should line up over the torso with your ears on the same line as shoulders and hips. Easy enough? If you can achieve this alignment, chances are your mechanics will be more ideal too. If you are having trouble achieving any of the above positions, let me know. 

2. Breathe Easy: The Diaphragm muscle is our largest breathing muscle, located underneath our lungs. For efficient breathing mechanics, this guy should be leading the way or else the "assistants" in our upper chest, shoulders and neck get overworked, leading to more stress and tension. Lie on your back with knees bent. Take a deep breath in through your nose and notice where your breath goes. If you're using the diaphragm correctly, the air should come into your torso and push your abdominal contents up and out, as if there is a balloon in your belly. Your shoulders and upper chest should only move minimally at the end of the full breath. Exhale and release the air as your belly flattens.  If you can easily breathe in this manner, your lungs and diaphragm will be more efficient for all of your daily activities, inside and out of your house. If you are prone to seasonal allergies, this efficient breathing technique can be especially helpful in allowing the tiny hairs in the nose to trap allergens and prevent them from getting into your system. I have really enjoyed diffusing my doTERRA "Breathe" Essential Oil in my home and office, as it really helps to open up my airways and cleanse my breaths. I even apply it to my chest before bed, like Vick's Vapo-rub (except without all the nasty petroleum-based chemicals and carcinogenic properties of Vicks). Breathing easy sets the tone for a healthy immune system, a deep and sound sleep, and even more efficient daily activities the next day!

3. Movement Scan: Another great way to prepare your body for the movements necessary for Spring cleaning and yard work is to perform a whole body range of motion scan to see if you notice any asymmetries, which can be a sign of sleepy, or inhibited, muscles or a problem waiting to happen!  To perform your own self-assessment, notice the sensations on both sides of your body when you: Rotate your head both ways, bend side to side, forward and back. Roll your shoulder blades up, back, down and around. How do those feel? Any popping or clicking noises?? Bend your elbows, then straighten. Bring your arms straight up over head all the way as high as you can. Do both arms reach as high? Now, bring your chin to your chest, lean forward and try to reach your hands down the front of your legs all the way to the floor. How far did you get? Any discomfort along the way? Now roll yourself back upright one vertebrae at a time. You may need something to support yourself and balance for these next few movement scans. Bring one knee to your chest, then the other. How do those compare? With one knee bent, rotate your thigh bone internally and externally to see how far in and out your lower leg goes as you rotate the hip. Bend one knee all the way and straighten it. Flex your toes toward your shin and point all the way down. Roll your foot and ankle in circles, clockwise, then counter clockwise. Any stiffness or popping noted here? Now, squat down to the ground and stand back up. How did that feel for you? These are all great ways to assess and warm up your body for all sorts of activities, especially this time of the year. If any of these activities feel difficult or limited, it is a great idea to get it checked out before it becomes a greater issue or prevents you from doing the things you love to do! 

I'd love to help you be sure your body is prepped and ready to go for Spring. 

For the rest of March and through April 2016, I am offering a 
FREE Breath, Alignment, and Movement Screen 
to help you work though these 3 Key Steps.

To take advantage of this valuable offer, call/text (414-405-3956) or email (1212bodyworks@gmail.com) me today and let's schedule your free session! 

Move Well, my friends!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Taking Care of your "LOVE Muscles"

Imagine...You and your Valentine are snuggled up together, enjoying the holiday, and you start to notice a sensation rising up inside your body.  When you look deeply into your Valentine's eyes, butterflies flutter in your stomach. You feel a shiver go up your spine. You feel the intensity build, all the way to... your LOVE muscle...You feel a gentle pulsing, a rhythm, beating in your... HEART! 

The heart is a symbol that has been long associated with Valentine's Day. The heart was once thought to be the center of all emotions, as it is located in the center of the chest. Although we know that the heart muscle is not responsible for emotions, it is one of the most important muscles in our whole body. The contraction of our heart muscle, heard or felt as the heart beat, pushes healthy, oxygenated blood out through the arteries to all parts of the body, and pushes the used, de-oxygenated blood back to the lungs for more oxygen. Blood pressure is the the amount of pressure the blood creates against the artery walls as the heart beats. The growing statistics regarding the number of people being diagnosed with and medicated for high blood pressure are astounding! 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, "if you have high blood pressure, you are more likely to develop coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis). Coronary artery disease is the build-up of plaque or fatty matter in the walls of the coronary (heart) arteries. Over time, the build-up causes the arteries to become narrow. As the artery narrows, less blood can flow through to the heart, and the flow may become completely blocked. The hardened surface of the artery can also cause small blood clots to form.  Damaged arteries cannot deliver enough oxygen to other parts of the body. For this reason, high blood pressure can also lead to brain and kidney damage. High blood pressure also increases your risk of stroke, congestive heart failure, and blindness."  Since the number one rated cause for mortality is Heart Disease, it is obviously important that we take good care of our LOVE muscles!!

It has long been widely accepted that exercise is good for our heart and blood pressure. Finding the type of exercise that is right for your body is an important part of keeping your hearth healthy.  According to the "Journal for American Heart Association" Isometric Resistance training studies suggest this form of training has the potential for the largest reduction in Systolic Blood Pressure." (The Systolic Blood Pressure is the top number in the blood pressure reading, and the Diastolic Blood Pressure is the bottom number, with a normal blood pressure reading of: 120/80mm.) Isometrics exercises are widely used to re-train the communication between the brain and body as our muscle contracts in a fixed, non-moving joint position. 

If you have, or someone else you LOVE has high blood pressure, or you want to prevent it, you will benefit from a customized, guided exercise plan using Wisconsin's only ISOPHIT machine at 1212 Bodyworks. The ISOPHIT machine offers a way to gently and safely use isometric exercise to work your LOVE muscle and your skeletal muscles, as they are trained to contract efficiently, throughout their entire range of motion.  In addition to its cardiovascular benefits, isometrics based exercise programs offer many other health benefits for the musculoskeletal, nervous, lymph, endocrine, and immune systems.  What's not to LOVE about this type of exercise! 

Do yourself or your Valentine a favor: take care of your LOVE muscle 
and schedule your customized ISOPHIT session today!

Much LOVE to you! 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Uh Oh...The Therapist Needs Therapy!!

Uh Oh...The Therapist Needs Therapy!! 

"OUCH!"

"What? This can't be happening."

"OUCH!!"

"Seriously? But I have to get Liam to school and go to work."

"OUCH!!!"

"Not now!! I really want to go to that exercise class tonight!"

"OUCH!!!!"

"But I have dinner plans with my friend tonight!"

"OUCH!!!!!'

"OK, I hear you. I will rest."

This was the conversation going on between my lower back and my brain. I wish I were joking. Isn't a Physical Therapist and Movement Expert supposed to be able to prevent this from happening??? I wish!!  I'm supposed to be the one to GIVE therapy, not the one who NEEDS it!!  Argh!!!

You may think that I am lucky since I know how to treat myself when I get injured. In theory, I do know how, but as soon as my body starts to give me signals that something is wrong, my educated, experienced, body-working self completely checks out. I'm utterly clueless as to how to even begin helping myself feel better. Even I go through the stages of acute pain that may be all too familiar to you.

Denial
“This can't possibly be happening to me right now. I'm just going to keep moving slowly through it. I'm sure it will go away soon.”

Frustration
“What about my "to-do" list? How can I help others move better when I can't even move myself!?! How did I let this happen to me?” 

Anger
“Why does this always happen to me??? What kind of example am I being to my clients? I had a full day scheduled!!! Now I'm going to have to contact everyone and cancel my day!! Argh!!!!”

Desperation
“What if this doesn't go away in a few days and I become a chronic pain sufferer? Is this a herniated disk? What if I need surgery? Do I have a tumor? It stinks getting older!! Oh, whoa is me!!!”

Reality Check
“Take a deep breath. Rest is not for the weak.  You've felt this before and it eventually went away and likely will again this time. You are going to get through this. What would I tell my client to do right now? Time to take your own advice.”

Moving forward
“What can I do now that makes me feel a little bit better? Lie down. Epsom Salt soak, hot shower, essential oil massage, gentle movements, get up and walk, lie down again. Ice pack. Hot pack. Drink water. Repeat.”

Life Lesson
“What does this experience teach me?  What message is my body trying to convey? How can I respond differently next time?”


It is times like these that I tell myself, "I'm going to take better care of myself so that this doesn't happen to me again” or "It's time I learn to accept help from others and let them help take care of me." I know there is always a positive message to be learned from every challenging experience. Having more empathy for my clients as they experience similar experiences as the stages above helps me to be a better practitioner. 

(Fast forward one month...)  Once I got over my initial pity party last month, I bucked up and re-prioritized my self care. I took more walks and rest breaks, avoided sitting, really started to think about my nutrition choices, became more mindful of my emotions and feelings, received some bodywork treatments, utilized some powerful healing essential oils, explored new aquatic exercises and isometric activation techniques, and began thinking and feeling better. 

As I finish this blog post, I am now back to being pain-free in my lower back (Thank Goodness!!). I still have to work at keeping my self-care a priority among the other responsibilities I juggle, but am going to do whatever I can to avoid this from happening again as I move forward. 

All the best to you as you also keep moving forward, my friends!