Friday, August 14, 2015

How I got pain-free - part 2

Hello again,

If you've missed part 1 of this post, with the back story about how I ended up here, you can find it via this link:

The most recent update (one year later!) can be found here: How I got pain-free - part 3: A DVD

In this second part I would like to share my findings with you in my quest for better self (health) care. It is a longish post post of epic proportions, so go ahead and grab some tea. (or coffee - for the more coffeecally inclined)

We all have a body. We are housed in a living organism. Isn't it a weird and wonderful thing that our 'mobile home' is actually comprised of trillions (about 37.2 trillions is estimated) of living cells, whose main goal (in most cases) is simply to keep us alive, well, and safe?

It helps me to think of our bodies this way, as a rather odd bunch of microscopic pets we should feel responsible for and tend to as best we can.

A great book I read a few years ago for dancers, with tips on how to do just that:

Apt title, yes?

(The diet chapter is a bit dated, but still tons of value in there)

Our body is an instrument, but one that is actually ALIVE, and we only get one each. Unfortunately, in most cases, without a user manual included. So why not do our very best to learn what we can about it, even dance with it, and take good care of it to boot?

Below you will find a list of things I recommend.

Self-care Tip 1: Unsticking - Restoring and repairing

Option A: Massage - One of the best things you can do for self (body) care, especially if you are unsure where to begin. It will help you to un-stick stuck tissues, restore much-needed blood flow to seized-up muscles, improve proprioception (ever notice how it can be hard to 'feel' your muscles that are tight, until someone massages them?) plus it helps to generally relax, which so many of us could use every now and then.

Getting a massage every day is (at least for most of us) not really realistic alas, so here are some tips to get the most out of your session(s):

- Find a very good practitioner. Seems obvious, but it makes such a difference. It doesn't matter which massage 'type' you prefer (I've had pretty good results with shiatsu, thai massage and general sports massage, as they go beyond just relaxation and work to release tissues through pressure points and/or trigger points) but more so whether you feel at ease and how well the therapist is able to 'listen', in every sense of the word.

- Get there a bit early. Not early-early, but enough to give you some 'breathing space', for finding a parking space if you travel by car, and for have a moment to acclimate before the session starts.

- Communicate. If your practitioner knows what is going on with you it will help them help you more efficiëntly. Also: Don't be afraid to ask questions if need be - I have received some amazing tips for self-care and helpful information on the state of my body this way.

- Stay present. Try to breathe and notice what is happening in your body, in a non-judgmental way. Are you tensing up anywhere? Can you try and consciously relax that space? Are you holding your breath? If yes, can you try and let it go? How does your left and right side compare? Registering how you feel and allowing yourself to 'stay with the moment' during the session can make it so much more beneficial... Remember why you are there. Enjoy.

Option B: Self-massage - A lot cheaper, but you will have to do it yourself :)

1. Foam rolling
Ahh, Foam rolling. An excellent way to prepare your muscles for movement as well as to self-release any myofascial trigger points. It's used by athletes and dancers alike to improve personal performance and to promote better body recovery after intense training sessions. 

Check out this article on 'what it is':

How do I use it? I like to use a foam roller either to warmup pre-movement or if my muscles are sore after long dance days, as it helps to recover them faster.

You can even release you diaphragm using a foam roller (or big ball, see below), check out this video by the über-smart Monika Volkmar of the Dance Training Project (an excellent blog by the way)

Bonus tip: Try rolling out your legs before practising your shimmies! It really works to make them juicy and relaxed - magic :) I will be posting my own pre-shimmy rolling routine next week.

Also check out these awesome foam rolling tips from Dr Mark Cheng:

Which foam roller is best? I have both 'regular roller' and a travel-sized 'rumble roller' at home/in the studio. Most rollers are color coded from light to dark for their hardness/resistance, so you can start mellow at first and build your way up, then give/sell the softer one to a new-to-rolling dance friend if you want to move on to a darker one.

The Rumble Roller is a bit (ok, a lot) more intense than a regular roller, but also very effective. I recommend starting with the blue one if you are not used to rolling yet - it works wonders for releasing trigger points and increasing blood flow in larger muscle groups (eg. legs) because of the thumb-like 'knobs'.
A RumbleRoller(tm) in it's natural habitat

My biggest tip for 'rolling foam': Don't rush. It can take a bit of time before the tension reflexes give way. It can be tempting to skip over the parts that are most tender-ish, but a trigger point release is definitely worth the wait.

The goal is not to roll out all your muscles super fast, but to help your body relax into tense spots and breathe some air into tight tissue.

ETA: For those interested in foam rolling, check out this great resource by Ashley Borden: (scroll to the bottom of the page for a pdf version)

Thanks, Nargis for the tip! 

2. Ball Rolling - My favorite self-massage method at the moment

What is it? A softer and more precise method of self-myofascial release.

I found the kindle version of Jill Miller's book 'The Roll Model' on Amazon) and ever since reading it and trying out the exercises using Jill Millers 'Yoga tune-up balls' I am hooked.

Note: If you have taken my Tuesday Training sessions this July you might recognize the balls from our pre-warmup exercises :)

Dude. Check my balls.
What are they? YTU balls are similar in size to, but much more pliable and grippy than tennis balls (so a definite upgrade - except if you want to use them for tennis :)) and just as light and portable.

YTU balls are are perfect for releasing those harder-to-reach places like upper back, ribcage area, arms, neck, jaw (I'm a right-side jaw tenser, so this is a really great thing..) and they work wonders for bony areas like ankles, knees, hips and feet.

They are a bit more expensive than tennis balls (for some reason though the YTU balls are cheaper via than - so it's good to research a bit!) but definitely worth the price.

Even my husband uses them to roll out his feet while desk-working and after long bike rides.

Check out the YTU video channel for some excellent follow-along exercises:

Which type of ball is best? Yoga tuneup-balls come in 4 different sizes (normal, plus, alpha and coregeous) - with each their own advantages. I use the normals for general trigger point release and the coregeous ball for breathing work.

What they did for me: Working with the balls and the exercises from Jills book has helped me get faster results in undoing the results of iffy movement habits and it did wonders to dissolve tissue adhesions.

I use them on 'rest days', in between workouts or after long dance-intense classes. They are my go-to body maintenance tools at the moment and very versatile. I bring them with me to shows for a quick backstage pre-performance roll-up and/or post-performance roll-down :)

I highly recommend.

Self-care Tip 2: Imagery and gentle movement - Staying 'loose' in daily life
 1. Franklin Method - I've been a fan of the FM books for quite a while. I am currently reading Dance imagery for technique and performance and love 'Dynamic alignment through imagery' as well.

The Franklin method focuses on improving movement efficiency and alginment through imagery and touch, and is ideal for those who want to lean more about the body/mind mechanics and how much the right imagery can influence movement positively.

I use their imagery exercises to improve my alignment 'mentally' as well as physically, and to work on increasing mobility in a gentle way.

I've recently discovered their youtube channel, which has some excellent exercises and tips that translate well for practical use in warmups and cooldowns for dance classes.

Side note: I've had the 'Conditioning for dance' book by Franklin for ages - but in hindsight I think I might have read it too early. I had to fix my basic movement patterns first (more on that at the end of this post! This might be the case for you too if you are reading this for the same reasons I wrote it) before the more dance-specific conditioning and fine-tuning of movements made sense.

2. Yoga/Gentle stretching
I have taken yoga classes early on in my 'quest for pain-free-ness', and even though it felt nice, and despite learning a lot about my body in the process, I think it might have been too early for me as well, as my alignment was too 'off' for some of the poses we covered in class.

Still, learning how to do some gentle yoga exercises myself for unwinding and releasing has been mucho beneficial.

I stumbled upon the website a few years ago, it has a wealth of free yoga videos with clear instruction at a nice, easy pace. The following are my 2 favorite videos of the bunch:

Lower body (back, hips and legs) - perfect after a long dance day - 45 minutes:

Upper body 'office yoga' - ideal after a long drive or computer work time - 15 minutes:

Duckman. With ducks.
I've come to call this 'The Duckman Stretches' in my mind, because of all the ducks running around in the leg stretches video (and my brain apparently being a fan of superhero comics) Sorry, David! 

Self-care Tip 3: Habit busting - Daily recoveries & Knowledge is power
The following are 2 of my favorite resources on helping to improve movements - an essential part in getting pain-free has been to un-program some less-than-optimal movement and alignment habits that I had developed over the years.

Without working on these, all of the good things mentioned above would only have temporary effects at best. We are the sum of what we habitually do.

1. For daily movement habits: Katy Bowmans Alignment Snacks and Blog
Knowledge is power, yes? Katy Bowman is full of knowledge. She is a biomechanist, blogger, author, and founder of the Restorative Exercise Institute.

What did it do for me? I've been using the Alignment Snacks (30-minute movement class videos) to undo a couple of pretty stubborn movement habits lately. Looks easy, yet is anything but! Following these videos has helped me to recognize a bunch of 'cheats' that had snuck their way into my movement patterns.

Figuring this out has helped me get more out of the exercises in the last part of this (by now epically long) blog post and makes me more aware of how I carry myself in general.

I recommend starting with a video on upper body and one on lower body if you're not sure where to begin, as there is a bit of overlap in the contents here and there, but I really do like them all - inlcuding the slightly longer movement webinars

Check out a free sample video here:

For the readers: Katy's book Move your DNA is an excellent read as well, and I highly recommend browsing through her blog. 

Bonus tip: Try KB's 30-day movement challenge! and the restorative excercise youtube channel

2. For dance habits and primal movement patterns: Every damn blog post on
Because seriously. This blog (by Monika Volkmar of the Dance Training Project) has been a life/mind saver for me.

Discovering has been the catalyst for a. Getting started on educating myself about movement, mobility and stability and b. Taking those final (but really crucial) steps towards lasting movement recovery.

Badass. Much badass.
Monika is crazy smart, really on the ball (ha), and has a wicked sense of humor. Her posts on dance and dance recovery are insightful, informative and thought provoking. Furthermore, she understands (dance) injury recovery from her own experience, and has made it her mission to help others as well. Gush gush. Here are some of her recent posts that I like:

On a sustainable movement routine:

On optimizing turnouts:

On taking care of your ankles:

3. Extra movement/habit restoration tips
Try these (and let me know if they work for you - please share your own tips in the comments as well!)

- Restorative resting pose. It rocks. (See Combine it with some gentle breathing drills, or a mindfulness meditation, or just lie around listening to your favorite piece of music.

- Ditch the heels. And shoes where possible. Walk on different kinds of things.

- Do the bag carry switcharoo. I know it's an uncomfortable habit to change, but it makes a difference. Tip: A hand bag with a long strap is handy for this, you can wear it either 'normal', or diagonally, left, and right, and switch it up as often as you can. Even better: Get a rucksack. Keep it light.

- Read in different positions (if you're reading this - go change it up right now!) More is more.

- Try a social media *cough* FB *cough*-free day every now and then. 24 hours. If it is hard you're doing a good thing.

- Same with email.

- Hydrate. It's good for everything. (I use drinking water during dance practice as a cue to lenghten my neck, focusing on feeling the water run down my throat while my head floats up - instant healthy alignment boost!)

- Do little bits of movement and exercise/practice during the day instead of everything in one big glob.

Self-care Tip 4: Re-programming faulty movement patterns - aka Sealing the deal, for real.
My congratulations if you have made it all the way here. It's worth it, promise.

Being a follower of Monika's awesome blog (see above) - I received a call (by email) this April for people to apply for testing out her then-new Dance Stronger program as it was being developed this June/July.

A test engineer at heart (well, partially) and at that point STILL struggling with lingering (and ever returning) pain in my right hip and right shoulder I jumped(ha) at the chance.

And boy, am I glad I did.

What it is (was): A self-help book/guide and 4-week home (or gym) training program aimed at improving fundamental movement patterns and strengthening for dance. The program we tested is the 'Self-Study' version of the program.

From the site: Dance Stronger is a book and training program for dancers who want to get stronger, dance better, and prevent injuries.It’s a complete(ly awesome) multimedia guide to developing dance-specific strength.

What it did for me: It. Worked. It freaking worked. I had high hopes that this program would at least help me find out where my body's main imbalances were, so I could figure out how to help myself. It did so much more.

After day 3 of the 'prep week' (which is worth it's virtual weight in gold alone) I figured out my right obliques were not firing correctly, and have not been for quite a while. Alrighty.

After week 1 of the program I noticed I was habitually tensing my right jaw (which was throwing off my balance, and had been limiting the range of motion in my neck AND hips for years).

By week 2 my obliques were 'on' more consistently and I started noticing the difference in ballet class (feeling more grounded, with a clearer sense of where my arms/legs were in space with regards to my center)

By the end of week 3 I felt stronger than ever, and the pain in both my shoulder and hip began to disappear. Week 4 was just plain fun, and feeling badass. I was actually looking forward to doing the (simple, but not always easy) exercises.

Sounds good, right?

Monika agrees.

It turns out that the Dance Stronger program was just what I had been missing all along. Starting from the BASICS, building up body awareness and getting stronger from there, with excellent form to strengthen and awaken the inhibited areas.

This really was the missing link for me between the many things I had learned up to that point and translating them into actual movement, and ultimately, dance. If I had known about the DS program (or if it had existed earlier) I would have started there and work my way around the other direction, but well.

At least I found it, and I now appreciate it even more.

I told Monika about my experiences during the program test run evaluations - I was/am ecstatic. I promised her I would be doing everything I could to get the word out to as many dancers I know as possible after the 'keep it secret phase' of the trial was over. Which is now, and which is what I am doing right here :)

If you'd like to be notified when Monika's new program opens (21st September!) go here.

In short (hahahaha) - Thank you for reading all of this and for taking the trip down self-care-memory lane with me.

I hope you've found some of the information useful, and if you have a body, if you'd like to make it strong and functional for dance while preventing injuries, please do yourself a HUGE favor and try Monika's Liberated Body online program.

You will be happy you did. Don't wait.

x K.

PS: you can find the most recent update in this blog post series here: How I got pain-free - part 3: A DVD 

1 comment:

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