From the category archives:


Exercise for travelers

by Ed

Exercise for travelers (and anyone short on space or money)

The benefits of exercise, for both mind and body are numerous. It fights cancer, it fights dementia, it fights osteoporosis, and it fights insomnia. Just to name a few. We should not be letting a day go by without it. Yet, there are a million and one reasons not to exercise. One is lack of space, another is lack of money. There are a several ways to get a good workout without space or money.

There are plenty of bodyweight exercises that are strenuous enough to provide a good work out. One of my favorites is burpees. Burpees are a full body workout and aerobic exercise in one. They can get boring after a while though.

To do a burpee, stand in a place where yo have room behind you. First squat all the way down, then put your hands flat on the floor and jump your legs straight behind you so you are in a push up position with your arms straight. Do a push up, and jump your feet back to the original position. Finally, quickly stand up and jump with your hands in the air above your head. That’s one round.

Suryanamaskar, or sun salutation, from hatha yoga is a bit like a burpee, but more complex, and usually not quite as vigorous. I like to do variations on suryanamaskar, to avoid boredom. Sometimes I speed them up for a more intense workout.

I don’t understand why people are always buying ab equipment. There are several great ab exercises that do not require any equipment. In fact you probably get a better workout without the equipment. If the equipment is designed to make it easier, it’s not better, just easier. Generally easier exercise is less effective exercise.

Tai chi and yoga are both excellent forms of exercise. Learning one or both of them is well worth the effort and expense. Both of them can be managed in fairly small spaces.

A chinning bar is a good cheap addition to round out your exercises, but not so easy to take on a trip. Especially if, like me you like to only take carry-on luggage. These days, they probably wouldn’t let you on with a big metal bar like that!

The best way to get a good all round workout on the road (or at home) is probably with exercise bands. Not just any bands, though. You need a system that will give you a full body workout, at your ideal resistance. The only one I have found that really does the job is the bodylastics system.

You may have noticed that I don’t do much advertising on this site. My main purpose is not to make money, but to share information. However, when I find something worth promoting I will do that. Bodylastics is worth promoting. I suggest you check them out.

Get Your Bodylastics NOW!

Your Back Pain: Crucial Facts Your Doc Forgot To Tell You

by Ed

Some of these facts most doctors don’t even know!

One fact every surgeon should tell you is that research shows that surgery does not have a better success rate on back pain than other treatment modalities, such as physical therapy or acupuncture.

Here is another juicy one. Usually they don’t even know what is wrong with you. Let me quote an important text book:

“The causes of many painful conditions of the low back remain obscure. Low back pain, which is one of the most common types of pain, continues to puzzle experts…Even when these signs and symptoms are objective, variation is often found between examiners as to the proper interpretation of their clinical significance.”

Muscles: Testing and Function With Posture and Pain, Kendell et al.

Posture has a great deal to do with back pain. Most Doctors won’t even mention that unless you have obviously bad posture. Correcting subtle structural misalignments can go a long way toward getting free from back pain. There are two good self help books for assessing and improving your postural imbalances.

Back Care Basics: A Doctor’s Gentle Yoga Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief

The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion: Revolutionary Program That Lets You Rediscover the Body’s Power to Rejuvenate It

Here’s a biggy: Pain medication tends to have a rebound effect. Did your doctor tell you that when prescribing them? You will tend to feel worse when the drugs wear off. I wonder if the drug companies do that on purpose, to sell more drugs.

Increased self awareness combined with appropriate exercise are probably the best things you can do for your back. And acupuncture works wonders, of course.

Functional Fitness

by Ed

Well, it’s been a while since my last post, and I have been thinking about this post for a few weeks. Today I have a good story related to the topic, so that is motivating me to finally start writing again. We had a big storm and the power went out for about three hours this morning. We almost had a disaster in our house, but I’ll get back to that later.

So, what is functional fitness? Functional exercise has gotten quite popular in the past few years, but what do we mean by the term? Most people probably think it has to do with exercise balls and using free weights instead of machines, but they may not really grasp the full concept behind what they are doing.

I first heard the term, “functional exercise” over twenty years ago, long before it became popular. My tai chi teacher would talk about doing the form functionally. He told us that unless we are functional, we will lack power and we will be prone to injury. Mainly he was talking about proper alignment. For instance, if the knee is not pointed in the same direction as the toe you will eventually injure your knee. You also won’t have as much strength pushing off of that leg. When the skeleton is properly aligned the muscles require minimum force to generate maximum power, while ensuring the safety of the joints, tendons, and ligaments. Proper alignment not only increases power for martial arts, it also increases the body’s ability to generate healing energy, or chi.

It was at least fifteen years before I heard any one else talk about exercise being functional, and that’s when I started hearing about using exercise balls and free weights. The basic idea is that the old school of isolating muscles left the body out of balance. Some muscles never got enough exercise. Also isolation exercises do not mimic the way we use our bodies in the real world, so we are not training to be more effective at using our whole body at once. Using exercise balls forces you to engage all the postural muscles in order to maintain your balance. Free weights engage groups of muscles, rather than just one muscle at a time. When you lift your kid up you use your whole body, not just your biceps.

About three years ago I encountered Pete Egoscue and the Egoscue Method. The Egoscue approach is more like my old tai chi teacher’s approach. If you do not have structural alignment, you will be prone to injury and you will lack power. One of the main principles of the Egoscue method is “first straighten, then strengthen.” Most people have significant postural misalignments, that need to be corrected before seriously strengthening the body. Otherwise you are only strengthening the dysfunctions. For instance, if you are walking around with one thigh bone turned slightly inward, you are putting extra stress on that knee, and the knee probably won’t be pointing the same direction as the foot, a problem mentioned above. That may be due to a weak gluteus maximus muscle. Now if you are doing squats to increase your leg strength, it doesn’t matter if you use free weights or a machine, you will compensate for that weak gluteus muscle, and strengthen the dysfunction. You need to first re-educate the muscles to work together, functionally, then strengthen them together. And you can’t just strengthen that gluteus muscle, because it is never that simple. When there is a dysfunction, and resulting compensations, there are many muscles involved; some too weak, some too strong; some too short, some too long.

A few months ago I encountered the Crossfit folks, who have another definition of functional fitness. But let me tell my story now. Our house drainage system is not ideal, we have a sump pump. Luckily it only runs when we get a lot of rain. Unfortunately, big storms, like the one we had this morning, not only bring lots of rain, but also lots of wind. Wind tends to knock out power. So when the power went out at 5:45, this morning, I started to get the generator ready. Just last week I ran it for an hour to make sure it was good for the season. This morning however, it would not start. After about twenty minutes of messing with it, I gave up, and my wife and I started bailing. The water in the sump was about an inch below the floor level, at that point. We have a bowl that just fits in the whole where the sump pump is. The bowl holds about three quarters of a gallon. So we would fill a five gallon bucket with the bowl, then take it outside and dump it. At first it was pretty easy. After about an hour my legs and arms were getting tired, and the water was about an inch below the floor level, exactly where it was when we started. My wife suggested I ask the neighbor to help with the generator. My fragile male ego hates it when she makes suggestions like that. So I told her I don’t need any help with the generator, I know how engines work. Then in my mind I continued to explain to her how they work, when a light went on in my head. I had a relieving and embarrassing realization. I went outside, opened the valve in the fuel line and started the generator. My arms are aching from all that work as I type this.

Back to Crossfit. These guys are training top athletes, police, firefighters, and the military. People who depend on fitness for their careers and lives. Crossfit’s definition of functional fitness includes everything I’ve talked about so far, but they go further. When they talk about being functionally fit they mean having the strength and stamina to deal with whatever life brings you. You may be thinking that the demands on your life are not the same as those on a firefighter or a navy seal, but you never know when you might have to pull your family out of a burning house or an overturned car. Or you might have to waste an hour bailing water because your husband forgot how to operate a generator.

Exercise Tips For Weight Loss

by Ed

I read yesterday that researchers believe that 75% of Americans will be overweight by 2015. So I thought I should add some of my thoughts on the weight loss topic.

The first exercise tip for weight loss is, of course, do it. The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. Exercise not only burns calories directly, but it also raises your metabolism so that you are burning more calories all the time. Most people should be getting about an hour of exercise most days of the week.

The second tip is to get some gentle exercise after meals. An easy walk after eating is a good idea. That tells the body that you want to turn the calories you consumed into energy instead of fat. Don’t exercise too vigorously though, most of your blood is in the digestive tract after eating, and not available for your muscles.

The third tip is to take a rest in the middle of your workout. Apparently we burn more fat if wee exercise for 30 minutes, rest for 20 minutes then exercise for 30 minutes, than we would if we just exercised for an hour at a stretch.

The last tip is to find ways to stay active, throughout your day. If you work in a multistory building climb the stairs. Always use the bathroom on a different floor, at home and at work. When you go shopping, park at the far end of the parking lot. Get involved in a sport. Have fun exercising.

Pain in the Lower Rib Cage

by Ed

Many people get aches and pains or a feeling of fullness in the lower rib cage. Often they have no obvious organic cause and Western Medicine does not treat them. Even more often the symptoms are so vague that people don’t bother to tell their doctors about it.

Traditional Chinese Medicine recognises several conditions that could produce those symptoms. In fact they are often early warning signs which, if treated, can save a person from developing a more severe condition. If you have an intense pain that is localized on one side of the rib cage, you should see a doctor about it. If you have more vague pain on both sides of the rib cage, then try the tips at the end of this post or see your acupuncturist.

In Chinese Medicine, when we talk about the internal organs we are talking about more than the anatomical/ physiological organs as Western Medicine understands them. We are talking about their energetic functions along the entire course of the meridian they are associated with. Each organ is also associated with an emotion or complex of emotions, a body tissue, and a sense organ. The liver is associated with the lower rib cage. It is also associated with anger, frustration, stress, and suppression of emotions. It has to do with the free flowing quality in everything in our lives. Vague pain in the lower rib cage usually is a result of the liver energy becoming stagnant. This frequently leads to indigestion and gassiness as well.

I have three favorite ways of returning the liver to its natural free flowing state:

  • The Inner Smile I have described this one in an earlier post, here.

  • The Seven Shakes This is a good one to do in groups. If you are in a meeting or teaching a class and everyone is losing focus and looking sleepy get them up and do the seven shakes. Stand up and shake your right arm seven times, counting out loud. Then shake your left arm, right leg, and left leg seven times each. Then shake them 6 times, 5 times, etc., down to one time. Finish by jumping into a karate stance, or any stance you like and shout Ha!

  • Qi Gong: Liver Healing Sound Stand with your feet about shoulder width and parallel. As you inhale raise your hands into the air as if you were embracing th sky. Holding your breath, bring your arms down until the elbows are pressing your ribs cage and your palms are facing your face. Close your hands into fists and lean over as if you were skiing and exhale with the sound shhh. Repeat three to seven times.

Doing each of these exercises every day will certainly lower your stress and increase your energy. If your rib cage pain is due to simple liver energy congestion, it should relieve that as well. Have fun and keep moving.

Update: I am no longer accepting comments on this post. It is not reasonable for me to try to guess what your particular problem might be.