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June 2019 (Vol. 4 Issue 4)

Exercising without tears

About the author: 
Charlotte Watts

Exercising without  tears image

If you find that your exercise program causes you constant aches and pains, Charlotte Watts offers a few key moves as a solution

Regular exercise is an important factor in life for all aspects of health, including how you cope with stress, regulate appetite and stay mobile. Yet many people find themselves in a constant cycle of injury from exercise, preventing the very movement they need to stay fit.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to lay the groundwork for ease and mobility within body tissues, which prevent the stresses, strains and pulls that express themselves as pain and loss of function.


In a world where simply regularly moving in natural ways has become limited, we often need advice on what suits our bodies. If you find yourself struggling to move efficiently or regularly get injured, seek guidance from a personal trainer or fitness professional.


When working with a trainer, check that they understand your level of fitness and what feels comfortable to you. Before following their advice, make sure you trust that they have the knowledge to respond to your individual needs and are not simply focused on achieving goals.


The first thing any good professional will tell you is to always warm up fully before more rigorous exercise. This does not need to be stretching, which is most needed after a session to open up contracted muscle, but is rather an activity to generate the heat and gently repetitive movement that brings lubrication and 'glide' to the connective tissue or fascia, such as gently jogging, walking up and down stairs or the exercises on the following pages.


Without this warm-up, you are putting force on less hydrated and more brittle tissue, which is then more prone to damage.Your fascia is continually responsive and needs to move in all directions and in different ways, so when you do the same old movements day in, day out, you simply program your body to think that these are the only ones you can do.


To avoid injury, it's important to continually vary your movement patterns, changing the range of motion, pace and type, such as weight training, aerobic exercise and free movement like dance and skating. Your body (and mind) would love mixing up a country walk with a swim, yoga and the gym within the week—find what you enjoy.


When exercising, it's vital to listen to your body, and not simply push through or ignore signals of pain or continual discomfort—these are all ways to let you know there is potential danger of injury. If cycling is causing twinges in your knee, check your movement form, then either do less or switch activity.


Cultivating body awareness means knowing when to build up, when to slow down and when to rest for the recovery that all muscles need in order to build back up.

Preparation for exercise without injury
This sequence can be done as a warm-up that moves through all the parts of the body you stack up from the ground and then move from. You can also use different elements to address specific areas where you tend to hold tension and consequently can be pulled, strained or tightened when they are asked to bear weight or transmit force. You can get a feel for these as you listen to your body's responses and what feels helpful on different days.

Easing out hunched posture
Much injury in exercise comes from using body patterns set by the sedentary and seated positions that have become how we spend much of our time.
The common hunch we adopt from looking down at phones and slumped at desks needs unraveling, so that we can lift the chest and breathe fully through the diaphragm when exercising.


Otherwise, injury can occur from the tightness in tissues brought about by the nervous system tension (including tight jaw and shoulders) that shallow breathing patterns create.


Roll up a towel or blanket (you can play with the right height for you) and place it beneath you to roll down so that it is under the ribs, at the height of the shoulder blades, below the breastbone.


Support your head if your neck feels tense here, and keep your knees bent for space in the lower back. Place your arms where your shoulders can most easily drop.


Feel your breath moving your diaphragm; it's fine to feel strong sensations in the upper back where you can get quite immobile from sitting habits. Breathe with them, focusing on release during the exhale. Walk the feet wider if the lower back pinches.


Roll onto your side and rest there for awhile before coming out of the position.

Opening the back body

Preparing the legs for movement from lying down allows the tissues to respond without having to hold up the weight of the body. It also offers an inversion, where the fluids get to move up against their usual direction with gravity, which helps if you tend to get fluid retention or lack of circulation in the lower legs.

Take one leg at a time through this sequence whenever the backs of your legs feel tight from sitting, or before any exercise that involves continual shortening there, such as running or cycling.

Lying comfortably with head supported if needed, lift one leg with knee bent to start exploring all motion that feels natural through that hip, knee and leg. Avoid more stretching or muscular movements, and keep it formless to create softness that will support strength without tension in any exercise to come.

Taking your fingers into the crook of your knee, massage the soft tissue where the hamstrings insert and meet the fascia up from the calf muscles. Easing out this junction of the knee joint can help free up motion down to the ankle and up to the rest of the body.

Next, raise the leg and encourage fluidity and full range of motion in the ankle by rotating it around in both directions for a minute or so. Then, point to open the top of the foot where you may be holding much tension (plantar flexion) and flex to open the sole, instep and between the toes, where tissues can get bunched up and hardened (dorsiflexion).

Take a yoga belt or similar strap around the ball of the lifted foot. Have arms straight with shoulders released to the ground, creating a cradle to be able to hold, and breathe into opening of the back of the leg. Then move to the other side and repeat these steps from the beginning with the other leg.

Wringing out lower back tension

Much of your natural movement involves rotation through the body, even when it seems simply forward and back. Twists support the opposite arm and leg motion that you employ as a natural drive forward.

From lying in the previous starting position, simply move the knees in one direction as the head moves in the opposite direction as you exhale, and then bring both back to center on an inhale before alternating. Lie and hold each side to feel length opening across the diagonals of the body for ease of movement.

Wringing out lower back tension

Much of your natural movement involves rotation through the body, even when it seems simply forward and back. Twists support the opposite arm and leg motion that you employ as a natural drive forward.

From lying in the previous starting position, simply move the knees in one direction as the head moves in the opposite direction as you exhale, and then bring both back to center on an inhale before alternating. Lie and hold each side to feel length opening across the diagonals of the body for ease of movement.

Movement through the ankles, feet and hips

The foot is the starting point for the health, movement and responsiveness of each subsequent point in the body.

When you free tissues in the foot, you can feel the resulting fascial hydration and pliability, allowing you to move more freely above. In lunges, you not only open the hips and lengthen the front body, but also explore what it is to place your weight onto all parts of the foot.

From all fours (or downward-facing dog if you carry out a regular yoga practice), step one foot forward between the hands, feet hip-width apart with the front foot facing directly forward. Walk that forward if you need to ensure that the front knee isn't strained. Come up onto fingertips (or hands onto blocks if you need more height) for a sense of lift as you rock the hips forward and back to explore this 'walking' motion on the front foot. You can even lift the ball of the foot as you come back and the heel as you come forward to explore pliability through all parts of the ankle and foot.

After performing this on the other side, step the foot to the outside of the hand for more opening in the hip. Hold this position with free and spacious breath to create awareness of strong body sensations. Make sure that the jaw and eyes remain soft, so you are not registering this in your nervous system as a 'stressful event.'

All-fours primal movements

We grew up from the ground as babies via all fours, and movement from there is a primal position for the major shoulder and hip joints.

Move around feeling the space while grounded through the hands, knees and front feet. Try any movement possible, rotating the pelvis, rocking backward and forward, wriggling through the shoulders, bouncing side-to-side—whatever feels that it is helping to release all the areas of your body.

Try crawling around the room—either with knees up (as shown) or knees down for a different type of action. Try going forward, backward, sideways and moving in any way from there that simply feels good; your body will let you know what it needs.

Fascial release from the feet

When you come to standing, you rise up through a series of platforms suspended over each other from the ground up. This starts with the hammock of the instep in the foot, then the knees, pelvic floor, diaphragm and up through the ribs, neck and head.

Standing on one leg (or sitting), roll one foot at a time over either a soft, rubber spiky ball (prickle stimulating ball) or a solid foam ball the size of a golf ball. Spend a good few minutes on each foot, going in whatever direction feels right. Include the heel and outside edge, spending time on the instep, which needs to be springy for movement that doesn't jar or shock the joints.

Work on each foot separately, standing and then walking in between to feel the difference through each leg up from the ground. When both sides are done, you may feel both lighter and more grounded, and as you walk you will likely feel the legs move more from the diaphragm than from the thighs.

Loosen around the center

Small and repetitive twists help open the intercostal muscles between the ribs for the full breathing motion that is intrinsic to integrated movement without injury. Tissues deep in your torso and abdomen get easily tightened and less fluid from hours sitting on chairs.

This lack of continual, natural movement means that when you reach out from the center to the arms, legs and neck, you can easily pull and strain along the way. Having soft knees and rotating around the midline (with hands like weights on the end of arms like ropes) can be a great warm up to vertical movement or to free tight tissues after sleep.

Simple squats

Although squats are most often discussed around hip movement, it is healthy ankle range of motion that actually allows the end part of dropping down onto a bent leg. As this action is a large part of many exercise patterns, exploring how we can free tissues to complete that action without strain can prevent many injuries rippling up from the ankle, to the knee and beyond.

With feet hip-width apart and parallel, stand with arms by your side. On an exhale, bend your knees as if sitting back onto a chair, allowing your upper body to hinge forward without hunching over. As you drop down, raise your arms forward to shoulder-height to encourage your chest to lift. On an inhale, draw back up to standing, letting the arms drop down. Continue this movement around 20 times to also help strengthen the legs, back and belly without tension.


The strange tale of GcMAF image

The strange tale of GcMAF

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