Aim High…in all things

I can still remember the driver’s ed teacher yelling at me during my parallel parking lesson. I’m not sure what logic led him to believe that yelling at me would somehow assist me in overcoming my quite sufficient anxiety about parallel parking. Perhaps yelling had aided other students in being able to squeeze a car into a parking spot…but not me. To this day, parallel parking is not my favorite. I’d rather walk a block from a nice wide-open spot than stress over getting into a tighter one.

But some advice I learned in driver’s ed still rings in my head in a positive way and has useful applications behind the wheel and outside the car. One of my favorite slogans was “aim high in driving.” If you haven’t heard of this one, it’s encouragement refers to keeping your vision far ahead of your car so you can be aware of what is going on, especially on the freeway. Spotting an accident or even a dangerous driver 1/2 mile ahead can give you time to adjust, change lanes or take other precautions.

Aim High has come to mind recently in relation to other modern activities, like texting. Often I see someone texting with the phone in the lap. Texting is often done on the sly. We may not want to draw a lot of attention to the fact that we are texting. But this often necessitates a severe flexion of the neck.  I have been experimenting with texting up in the air, where my neck can be comfortable. Of course, this isn’t for those times when you probably shouldn’t be texting anyway. But when you can, try texting at a more comfortable angle.

Aim High came to mind on my walk this morning too. How often do we walk, examining the ground as if it held some secret of great magnitude? Experiment with a walk where you look to the end of the block, end of the trail or end of the meadow. You’ll have to look down on occasion to make sure you don’t step into anything unpleasant or miss a tripping hazard. But get your chin up and feel the ease in your neck. Add some arm swinging and really give your spine a treat. The weight of your arms swinging, even gently, can activate some of your deeper back muscles responsible for rotation and vertebral articulation. Movement is great for spine health and what could be easier than swinging one’s arms on an enjoyable walk?

Aim High leads me to daydreaming. I feel new things stirring and hope summer will afford me some time to dream big. Any big dreams on your mind these days?

P.S. The last bit of memorable advice from driver’s ed: Never try to merge onto the freeway while lighting a cigarette and changing the radio station because inevitably a bee will fly in your window at just that moment causing you to lose control of the car and crash. I can safely say I never do this.

@ Ease

I am not a military person. My understanding of military protocols is extremely limited. However, I was pondering the phrase “At Ease” and thinking how we could all use this military command in everyday life.

My awesome brother-in-law, Kevin, is a chaplain in the Air Force. He clued me in to the various commands and what they mean (haven’t we all seen these in movies?): Attention! Parade Rest, At Ease, and Rest.

A-Ten-Shun!! We can all imagine a soldier snapping to full attention with chest out, shoulders back, head up, eyes forward, feet together at 45 degree angle. Not a posture you’d want to stand in for very long, but very impressive.

Parade Rest: A transitional posture, where feet are shoulder width, hands clasped behind the back.

At Ease: Another degree of relaxation from parade rest. Now the upper body can relax.

Rest: Freedom of movement.

Although these might be formal commands used in parade formation, inspections and other military exercises, we operate in life like this. Different levels of muscle tension accompany different activities. Moments of challenge and stress will naturally cause us to contract muscles a little harder, for longer, unless we are tuned into our bodies and regulate how much tension we actually need. Tasks requiring a lot of concentration also usually translate to more muscle tension. The other day I found myself squeezing a glass bottle to get a drop of essential oil to come out. How ridiculous is it to squeeze a glass bottle? When I became aware, I realized every muscle from the fingertips to the hand up the arm and into the shoulder were recruited in the effort. All that was needed was patience in that particular case.

Our level of muscle tension is held in our brains. The central nervous system is in charge of muscle contractions. So, we can master our muscle tension with consciousness and awareness. We can decide to lower our muscle tension when we think it’s too high. Have you ever been driving and noticed your shoulders are up by your ears? You were concentrating so hard on traffic and all the other lovely drivers around you that you accidentally tensed up. Arriving at your destination, you might possibly feel stiff and exhausted, partly because of that excess muscle tension.

In massage I can feel a huge difference when someone can consciously relax a part of their body that is otherwise holding a lot of tension, for whatever reason. And when the tension is consciously let go, a lot more work can be accomplished. Sometimes it’s comical, like people who “talk” with their hands. If they are in the middle of telling me a story while I’m massaging their arms, I can feel their arm muscles are anything but “at ease.” The arms are engaged and “helping” tell the story by being tensed, flexed and stiff.

Experiment with muscle tension and bringing your awareness to what level of muscle tension you are carrying at different times during the day. You might be surprised when you find yourself at “attention” when you could be at “rest.”

Lastly, please click over to my Specials & Promotions page where you’ll find my Keep the Chocolates, I’ll Take a Massage Valentines Special. I am now able to sell gift certificates through a site called TheGiftCardCafe.com. You can now shop for a gift certificate at midnight in your pajamas.

one little change – choosing sides

You’ve mastered making multiple, lighter trips when you need to carry things. Now here’s another trick for outsmarting your task and living more comfortably in your body.

If you have a heavy bag you need next to you in the car, please place it in the car and take it from the car on the side it will sit on. Have you ever heard that its not good to bend and lift a heavy load at the same time? or twist and lift? Well, this is essentially what we’re doing when we have a heavy purse or bag and get into the car with it to set it next to ourselves. You can barely get in and out of a car without twisting at some point. Adding a heavy bag in one hand, your body is forced to engage a whole host of muscles to stabilize the trunk while you twist yourself into the car and set down that bag. Or the reverse when leaving the vehicle.

Walk to the other side of the car to put in and take out that heavy bag. That way you avoid twisting and bending and risking an injury to a back muscle or intervertebral disc. Making this one little change can really help you feel more comfortable. Try it for a week and then try it the old way and you’ll realize what a great idea it is.

Related to this, avoid putting a bag in the back seat behind the passenger seat unless you are putting it in from that side of the car. Many rotator-cuff injuries occur or are exacerbated by this seemingly benign action. Pulling a heavy gym bag or brief case from behind the passenger’s seat from the driver’s seat can really strain the shoulder and all it’s supporting musculature, ligaments and tendons. Be smarter – just walk around to the other side.

A final example of this principle is getting grocery bags in and out of a shopping cart. Get as close to the bag you’re going to lift as you can. Don’t stand on one side of the cart and lift a heavy bag that’s on the other side. Your back will thank you if you purposefully choose the side you’re on. A secondary trick is to consciously contract your core muscles just before you begin to lift a heavy load. Think of pulling your abdomen in at the bikini line. Even a small contraction of this key muscle (transversus abdominis) will make you a smarter lifter.

I realize I’m revealing my car-culture bias again here folks. Please forgive me! I did without a car for 9 years in rainy Seattle. I’m still riding on good graces from that era.

Do you have any brilliant little changes you want to share? Please let everyone know in the comments below.

4 fabulous driving tips

I recently wrote about my (mis-)adventures driving home from a massage training in Arizona. (See Slow down, you move too fast.) Little did you know, dear reader, that I made a concerted effort on my way TO Arizona to drive in an exemplary fashion so that I could share with you some driving tips here. How rude of my car to break down, casting a shadow over such a great topic! Well, here’s what you didn’t know you were waiting for!

Break up the drive – I know we all like to get there as soon as possible, but my best advice for not feeling terrible physically and mood-ily, is to break up a long drive. I suggest taking at least a quick break every 2 hours or so. Our bodies are amazing AND they are built to move, not be stationary. So, especially if you have kids, stop and stretch. Plan it into your travel time. As someone with twitchy legs, I really appreciate the breaks when I can stretch, hop around and find some chocolate or coffee. Breaking up the drive, generally, can keep you more alert too, which translates into safety.

Modify your seat – Mary Bond’s book The New Rules of Posture (Healing Arts Press 2007) has a great treatment on car seat comfort. She purports that car seats are designed for the average person, not for you in all your uniqueness. They have certainly become quite fancy over the years. Ironically the designers’ attempt at comfort can translate into poor posture with a tilt-back angle which makes you jut your head forward, straining your neck and upper back muscles.

As far as comfort for your spine, try some of Ms. Bond’s suggestions:

  • keep the seat back as upright as you can tolerate;
  • press your tailbone as far back into the seat as possible (where the seat bottom meets the back rest);
  • experiment with placing a small bolster behind your back – some people feel supported with the bolster just below the shoulder blades, others like it in the lumbar area (low back). Play around and see what works well for you. You can use a small, flat pillow for a bolster or a rolled-up hand towel. Or you can buy a fancy, expensive one at a store – wink.

Turn off the phonePlease do not call or text while driving. I know in the years to come there will be some very sad stories of completely preventable deaths due to calling and texting while driving. When you have a long drive ahead of you, gather some books on CD and music to enjoy, but leave the cell phone for the fabulous breaks you’ll be taking. Revive the art of conversation, 20 questions and the travel alphabet hunt. There are times to multitask; driving is not one of those times.

Daily commuting: I have to admit that I have never had an arduous daily commute (and I hope to avoid this all my life!). So, take my advice with a grain of salt. But, here goes:

  • Arm yourself with de-stress strategies – daily commutes are stressful, so outsmart the stress with a variety of strategies to keep your stress level low. For some that might be relaxing music, deep breathing or liberally blessing all the other drivers on the road (not with your finger – I mean actually blessing them).
  • Listen to NPR: my favorite non-family companions in the car.
  • Vary your route if possible so that, on occasion, you have a more pleasant looking commute. This might be an interesting side street route that takes more time, but reminds you that there is a world in between work and home that’s worth appreciating.
  • End your commute with a de-stress ritual. Pause 10 seconds for gratitude that you made it safely and your car worked well. Take a deep breath and collect your thoughts for what’s ahead whether that’s work, home life, or your next activity. Pull the rear view mirror into view and give yourself a big smile. You deserve a smile.

Here’s my plug for Mary Bond’s book, The New Rules of Posture. It’s an excellent resource for all sorts of posture-related topics. She weaves together common sense, detailed anatomy and medical research with short exercises you can do to gain awareness of your posture and it’s positive or negative effect on your body. I highly recommend her book to anyone nerdy enough (or in pain enough) to read a book about posture!

Share some of your favorite driving tips. Or funny stories…I know you have some!