To be more specific, by “shoulders” I mean your upper trapezius, and sometimes also your levator scapulae and rhomboids. We’ll talk more about the deltoids, supraspinatus, and teres minor another time. My gymnastics instructor said, “what most people don’t realize is that your ‘shoulders’ really extend all the way to the middle/lower part of your back!”
Why is this such a common area of pain and tension? Life. So much of what we do every day involved forward bending: driving, computer work, picking up kids, and cleaning things. When your body moves forward, it’s tempting, especially if you’re tired, to forget about your posture and slump. When your neck slumps forward, the shoulder muscles tense up. This is why so many people say it’s stress because, when we’re stressed we’re usually more tired and slump more. Times of stress also usually coincide with times of increased work, when we’re also doing more of these forward-motions.
What can we do then – just stop working? Our bodies are designed to work and do things, so doing nothing is not a good solution either. But we have to work smart.
SHOULDER BLADE CONTROL
Each muscle has an opposite muscle. When one contracts, the other relaxes. For the muscles on top of your shoulders to relax more, it makes sense that there are muscles that need more activation. Typically, if the tops of your shoulders have more tension, it’s the muscles that pull your shoulders down and open your chest that need more activation. There are exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles that keep the tops of your shoulders more relaxed.
This is one of my favorites. It’s easiest to do laying off the edge of a bed.
Repeat this exercise to fatigue – until you can’t do any more. After your shoulder tension is better, you can do this exercise once or twice a week to maintain healthy shoulders.
You can also strengthen your lower traps hanging from a high bar with shoulder engagement or doing pull-ups.
I’ll show you how to do it without doing a full pull-up (i.e. anyone can do this):
Tired yet? Ok – one more exericse. This one you can (and should) do at your desk or when you’re working at least every hour.
Shoulder rotation exercise:
One at a time, bring each shoulder a little forward, then a little bit up, and lastly, a lot of movement going down and back.
Feels nice, huh?
If you’d like to learn more about releasing tension through acupuncture, exercise, and myofacial release, join us for our next acupuncture happy hour hosted by Fixed by Fitness.
To live life at its fullest, at times we may have to try something new.
The downside to trying something new is that, at first, you suck at it.
For example, the first class I took in martial arts. I didn’t even know how to make a fist.
The teacher, several years after the fact, confided that he hoped I didn’t come back for a second class! I may not be the quickest learner, but I am persistent AF.
By the end of my first year in the class, I still wasn’t very good at it, but I knew how to make a fist. I knew what it felt like to punch someone! I also knew what it felt like to get punched! Which is a skill I highly recommend. When you get punched, you need to maintain your composure, and that’s like the most difficult thing to do in the moment. It’s easy to just fly off the handle and let your emotions take control.
I ended up in that martial arts class for 17 years. I won gold medals in tournaments. I was even in this commercial for Lily Lau’s Kung Fu Tournament from 2001. It’s literally one second that I’m in it. Second #52:
But, at first, I sucked at it.
Another thing I sucked at first at was Tango. This is a more recent endeavor, as I like a good challenge. The first class I was literally stepping on everyone’s toes. Each dance partner I had was, in the nicest way possible, telling me what to do. I HATE being told what to do; something about being told what to do really riles me up. But I listened as best as I could, and now, at my tenth or so class, I finally feel like I’m starting to get it.
I’ve also been starting to take gymnastics again. And guess what? I suck at it!
One lesson I would like to pass on is – don’t let sucking at something you’re new at stop you. You can call it persistence, will, curiosity, or humility. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those.
Do you remember something you did for the first time that you were a little unsure about? Perhaps learning a musical instrument, or a new language, or even going to school to learn a new trade. Rarely are people naturals right out of the gate.
What I’ve heard from various teachers is that the people who are naturals, for some reason, rarely stick with it. Maybe it’s because when the inevitable challenges or failures comes up, it’s too devastating to bear continuing. Whereas for someone who has been struggling the whole time, it’s just par for the course.
In healthcare, when we get sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, we think it’s time to branch out and try something totally different. Maybe acupuncture or herbs. Healing should just come quickly and naturally, right?
When people first get into acupuncture, or herbs, or some different type of medicine than what most of us grew up doing, we usually suck at it. A few people are “naturals,” but for most of us, our bodies don’t seem to cooperate; the herbs are hard to remember to take; and we just don’t “get it.”
Many people try a handful of acupuncture session, and feeling like they still have the problems they came in with, give up. Or they try to take supplements which cause a detoxifying reaction in the body, and freak out and give up. “I’ll never do that again!”
Or it’s not what you had in mind. “I have to go so often!” “It’s too expensive.” “I don’t have the time.”
Who does it work for? The people who are persistent AF. The people who are determined to make the natural way of getting healthy work for them. At first, expect slow progress. It’s something that progresses over time and with persistence, as all good things do.
We’re so conditioned to ignore the small progressions and successes. We want instant results. Surely there’s that one miracle surgery/pill/doctor that can instantly reverse years of damages to your body. If we’re not instantly cured, why bother?
That’s why I think prescription drugs are such a tempting idea for people. I can cure my depression/fatigue/allergies with one magical pill overnight? Sign me up!
If there was a prescription drug that gave your body the results of daily exercise without having to exercise, how many people would sign up for that? Millions, I’m sure. The problem with strong medications is that they always come with side-effects. The pharmaceutical companies find a single component, typically present in herbs or animals, that has medicinal properties. Then they isolate it away from the whole, synthesize it in a stronger concentration, and mass produce it under a copyright to make mega-$$$.
Having a healthy body, especially in those of us with a few (or many) grey hairs, is a lot of work!
The good news is, the more you do it – similar to working out regularly – the easier it gets. Over time, you start seeing more permanent results. The results, which coincide with feeling really good in your body, are momentum. You keep going. It’s a natural high. It’s like running down a hill! Only without the crash at the bottom.
Ok – I need to get this off my chest! A few months ago I posted something on our FB page that received some harsh comments:
The last thing I want to do is “fat shame;” I want to explain myself.
First of all, you are beautiful. No matter what your size is or what your skin looks like, you are beautiful. Big, small, and all shapes in between.
Our media has for too long glorified an unrealistic body image, especially for women, but men too. How many times have you been watching a movie and thought to yourself, “Hmmm. Everyone in this police department looks like they were recruited from a fashion magazine.” Soooo unrealistic! I actually appreciate some of the newer shows that show regular people – of all backgrounds and sizes and shapes. I love it. I love to see diversity. I really do think all people are beautiful.
BUT – yes, there is a “but” – being overweight is a health symptom. As a health practitioner, it’s something that indicates to me some type of imbalance in the body.
Can you tell if someone is overweight based on how they LOOK? Sometimes. But not always. Some people can hide excess fat very well because they are tall or have very little muscle tone.
In Chinese medicine, there are 5 elements: water, fire, earth, metal, and wood. People who have a more ROUND shape tend to be more weighted (no pun intended) in the water element. I can think of several examples of people who are water element folks who are in excellent shape!
Sammo Hung has been a Kung Fu master for years, doing his own fight scenes, as is expected in Kung Fu theater. He can move and is in great shape! Is he overweight or unhealthy? I have no idea – I’m not his doctor. But he’s certainly talented, flexible, and strong.
For another example of a water element body shape person in great shape and an amazing athlete, check out Amanda Lacount, a modern, young hip-hop dancer.
Weight loss – for the sake of changing the look of the body alone – is a sad path. If you’re not happy with your body, focusing on changing it is usually unsuccessful and stressful. The stress of not loving yourself actually causes more weight gain.
What I like to help people with is getting healthier. The side effect tends to be – your weight goes into a healthier range. It has nothing to do with changing the look of your body. It has to do with giving your body the nutrients it needs; the rest it needs to have healthier hormone balance; and movement to have great blood circulation.
So, here, Little Debbie snack cakes are shown with their logo altered. Debbie has a rounder face and a double chin. Maybe that’s really her natural shape and she’s totally healthy! In that case, I apologize.
If someone were to eat a lot of Little Debbie snack cakes, which are not only full of sugar but also processed grains and food chemicals, it would have an adverse effect on their health. Perhaps it would lead to type II diabetes or weight gain or many other health issues. The point of the cartoon is just to say “don’t eat this shit.” So here is my public apology for body shaming Debbie. I’m sorry. I meant to take aim at her shit-food, not her body.
The advertising for junk food is out of control. Watching TV you see one ad for an unnaturally huge ice cream sundae, and the next ad is for a pharmaceutical drug. The creators behind these ingenious ads are geniuses. They know how to make both seem like very attractive options.
We unfortunately live in a time where over 71.6%(!!!) of Americans are overweight and 30.3 million(!!!) Americans are diabetic. Excess weight is hard on your joints and your heart. I’m all for body positivity. Even if you’re diabetic or overweight, you are still gorgeous. The goal is not to change what your body looks like but to feel good in your body.
The word “salary” is derived from salt, as salt was used to pay wages in ancient Rome. Have you heard of the phrase “salt of the earth?” That’s what Jesus called his homies. Salt has been used in many of the world’s religions in purification rituals. The words “salad,” “sauce,” and “sausage” are all rooted in the word “salt,” their inherent deliciousness depending on it. The early American pioneers used salt to preserve their food and probably ate about twice as much salt as we do today. When the colonists were denied salt by the British as a Revolutionary war tactic, they figured out how to make it on their own. The human quest for salt, throughout history, has led to the creation of the main trade routes and therefore, human civilizations have sprung up along these lines.
And now salt is bad?
Salt, you may remember from chemistry class, is made of sodium and chloride, held together by a ionic bond that breaks down upon digestion. Sodium is found in many other food sources, good and bad, but chloride is not found in many food sources, save salt.
Chloride helps regulate water pressure in our cells and it also produces hydrochloric acid, a necessary ingredient for digestion. Do you have acid reflux? Most people who suffer from this problem are actually lacking in hydrochloric acid.
DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN “LOW-SODIUM” AND “LOW-SALT”
The war on salt began around 1972 when the National High Blood Pressure Education Program began to warn people of the danger of eating too much sodium. Many of the studies that “prove” salt is dangerous lack other dietary information: are the participants eating a lot of veggies or just processed foods? Are the studies providing unnaturally high amounts of sodium to “test?” What about just using natural salt in your regular healthy diet? Most of the studies that correlate higher blood pressures with higher salt intake are not accounting for the whole picture.
And exactly how high was the blood pressure of the test participants? Too high or just higher than it was before?
Plus, most people eating a “low-salt diet” are eating too many processed foods, many of which are contaminated with artificial ingredients like MSG and other sodium-based ingredients that do not have a proven history of supporting humankind and are probably the actual reason for hypertension in most Americans. Paradoxically, these low-salt diets are very high in sodium! They are encouraging the very thing they claim to treat.
In Chinese medicine, salt is one of the five main flavors. Some foods, like seaweed, celery, duck, and pork, contain salt naturally as part of their chemical makeup. The 5 flavors balance each other out in a healthy diet. Salt is moistening (part of the water element) and softening. It balances the flavors of foods and aids digestion. It’s cooling as well. If you have dry conditions (dry skin, dry nose, dry anything), hot skin eruptions, or swelling of your lymph nodes, you can use more salt. If you have fluid retention (too much water element), use less salt.
There’s a reason why food tastes better with salt: it’s good for you! Just make sure you’re eating real food and using real salt. Use a good quality pink or grey salt or a good sea salt. Stay away from bleached and processed (like “iodized”) salt. And always, always, always READ LABELS when you buy food. People (including yours truly) are surprised to learn their favorite (even from the health food store, people) packaged foods contain food chemicals like
- Disodium guanylate (GMP)
- Disodium inosinate (IMP)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Sodium nitrate
- Sodium citrate
- Sodium chloride
- Sodium diacetate
- Sodium erythorbate
- Sodium glutamate
- Sodium lactate
- Sodium lauryl Sulfate
- Sodium metabisulfite
- Sodium phosphate
- Trisodium phosphate
Food chemicals are non-foods. They’re made in a lab and designed to trick the consumer by enhancing the taste of the foods. This list is only a partial list; there are thousands of food chemicals. They make foods addictive and extremely unhealthy. Real food is rarely the culprit in health concerns. It’s the processed s***t. So read your labels, or even better, just make your own food!