I was watching my favorite channel, PBS, one weekend and after the cooking shows, it flipped to yoga and wellness practitioner, Lee Albert, who was describing his research and insights on the causes of pain and how to remedy them using simple techniques and stretches. I immediately became intrigued because this is what I firmly believe myself since dealing with my own low back and sciatica issues since my 20's.
Lee Albert was such an unassuming, humble guy. This wasn't some fitness junky yelling at you or some doctor proclaiming that he had all the answers. It was simply someone who you could tell has helped many people relieve chronic pain using simple techniques that he thought were worth sharing so others could benefit. His demeanor and tone were also very calming. It's almost like you felt relief and hope just listening to him.
PBS had filled a special with Lee Albert that they were pitching as a fundraiser campaign. It is probably worth looking into, but being the thrifty guy that I am, I wanted to see if there were any ways for me to access this information for free. I started with an Amazon search and found that he has written two books, one on yoga called Yoga for Pain Relief and another one specifically on his pain relieving techniques called Live Pain Free.
I then checked my local library to see if they had either of the books and sure enough they had Live Pain Free which is the one I was most interested in. It is a quick read with only three key chapters (Chapter 1, Chapter 3, and Chapter 17). These chapters highlight his background, experiences, and insights. The rest of the chapters are focused on common pain issues. He recommends not jumping into any one of these right away. He instead recommends jumping to the last chapter (Chapter 17) to learn about caring for your body. Most pain ailments result from poor care of your body so before trying to treat any particular ailment, it makes sense to takes steps to treating your body better and see if that alleviates the pain. This along with the appendix that shows particular stretches is where the incredible insights are shared.
Here are the key insights for treating your body better:
Oxygen and Meditation
- This is the single most important ingredient for good health. You can live 30 days without good, five days without water, but at most only a couple minutes without oxygen.
- The amount of oxygen in our air has depleted over time. It used to be 40% thousands of years ago and now its in the mid 20% range. Indoors can be as low as 10%.
- A properly oxygenated muscle is far healthier than one that's not. This alone can be cause of fatigue, tightness, and pain.
- Most people don't get enough oxygen while breathing and it comes from poor breathing technique. Don't just chest breathe. This only uses 1/3 of the lung capacity which is not enough oxygen for optimal health. Instead learn to breathe deeper through the abdomen.
- It's important to develop a daily routine to breath deeply for 10-15 minutes twice a day. This involves sitting up straight or lying on your back and putting your hand on your stomach. Then breathe through your nose into your abdomen first. Then fill up your chest. Then slowly exhale and repeat.
- This practices of breathing leads to simple meditation where you focus on your breath by observing the air moving in and out of your lungs. When your mind wanders, become aware of it and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- Mediation will improve focus and reduce stress.
- Our bodies are 60-70% water. And we constantly lose water not only through exercise and sweat but even simply through breathing. That's why you can see your breath when it's cold out.
- If that water loss is not replenished, your body becomes dehydrated. Once this happens, your body starts prioritizing things. It robs water from less important places like joints to feed more important systems like the brain. So proper hydration is critical to minimizing joint pain.
- Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics which means they actually they take water out of your body. It is critical to minimize intake of caffeine and alcohol, and if you do, be sure to drink even more water.
- The target water consumption is half your body weight in ounces. So a 160 pound needs to consume 80 ounces of water (10 cups) per day.
- Start the day by drinking a glass of water right when you wake up.
- Room temperature water is best. Also consider natural electrolytes and vitamins like sea salt, coconut water, and herbal teas.
- Given the importance of oxygen and water, it's not surprising how important routine exercise is since that increases oxygen and water intake.
- Exercise also improves blood circulation to muscles and joints. Just 20 minutes of an increased heart rate can often lead to reduced pain.
- Exercise has numerous other heath benefits including reducing depression, helping with relaxation, improving digestion, increasing metabolism, and helping with sleep.
- Moderation is key. A little exercise goes a long way. Start with just twenty to thirty minutes of some gentle exercises one time a day.
- Each muscle in the body is paired with another muscle to create opposing movements. What can happen is one of the muscles can become shortened while the other becomes lengthened causing an imbalance on bones, joints, and nerves which then causes pain.
- Most of us through overuse, underuse, or bad posture and habits have these muscle imbalances where the muscle on one side of a bone or joint is too short and the other side is too long. The idea is to find stretches and positions to get them back in balance.
- Most of the time, when you feel tightness in a muscle, it is because it is overworked and never able to relax. Stretching it in the traditional sense actually creates more tension which can aggravate the muscle and cause more pain, not less.
- What we are truly after to feel relief is to create slack in a muscle. Like taking two ends of a string and bringing them close together to create slack, you want to do the same technique with your muscles that are tight. This allows them to relax and to reset into proper positioning.
- Massaging a muscle accomplishes slack. By pushing into a muscle you are helping bring those two ends close together.
- There are also simple techniques where you find ways to relax a muscle while it is in the compressed/shortened position. Then you can self massage the muscle in this position to create relief and allow the muscle to reset.
- Once the muscle is reset, stretching helps keep the muscle relaxed and balanced. Just be careful not to overstretch which can retighten the muscle. If it hurts, you are stretching too deeply.
- Most of the pain in the core, hips, and legs can be linked to an unaligned pelvis. Pelvic misalignment is caused by poor posture and being in certain static positions for too long (desk, car, couch, etc.).
- Maintaining proper posture throughout the day is key to keeping the pelvis in balance and to reduce pain.
- There are also simple stretches that can be done 2-3 times per day to bring the pelvis back into alignment.
- Lumbar stretch - stand up straight with your legs slightly apart and arms pointed to the sky with fingers crossed. Lean to one side until you feel a stretch along the side of your body. Hold for one minute and repeat on the other side.
- Quad stretch - bring your heel behind you to your glute and grab with your hand. Give a gentle stretch that you should feel in the front of the upper leg. Hold for one minute and repeat with the other leg.
- Psoas stretch - put one foot on a chair or elevate surface while the other foot remains on the ground. Stand tall and gently lean back to create a stretch in the upper thigh. Hold for one minute and repeat with the other leg.
- Hip abductor stretch - lie on your back and swing one leg over and bend the knee to bring it to the floor. Place your hand on your knee to feel the stretch in the upper leg and glute. Hold for 30 seconds then try to resist against your hand for 5 seconds then release and continue stretching slightly deeper for another 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
- Chest stretch - with your arms by your waist, move them behind you to pull your shoulder blades together gently. Totally relax and hold for one minute.
- Chest slacken - give yourself a hug by placing each hand on the opposite shoulder. Totally relax and hold for one minute.
- Hip extensors exercise - this is known as the pelvic raise. Lay on your back with arms at your side and knees bent with feet flat on the floor. Raise your hips off the floor while keeping your back straight. Clasp your hands together beneath your hips and hold for one minute.