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The lower back is one of the most common areas of the body where stiffness and tension can creep in. If you’re like many who are seated for most of the day, then chances are you’ve experienced low back pain at some point in your life. Without proper support and good posture, the muscles surrounding the lumbar region can become easily fatigued from being in a constant state of contraction. To add to this, the hips flexors and abdominal muscles in the front of the body can weaken and adaptively shorten making matters worse. Here are five effective yoga poses that target the low back and help open up the area.

1. Seated Spinal Twist: Come to a seated position on the floor with your legs outstretched before you. While keeping your right leg straight, bend your left knee and place it on the floor on the outside part of your right thigh. Slowly twist your torso to the left placing your left hand behind you and your right hand wrapped around your left knee. Inhale while you lengthen your spine. If you’d like to deepen the stretch, bend your right arm so the hand is pointing up towards the ceiling and place your elbow on the outside part of your bent knee. Using your elbow as leverage, take a deep breath in, press into your bent knee and see if you can take the stretch further. Remember to lengthen your spine and turn your head as well. Hold for a few breaths and repeat on the other side.

 

 

2. Cat/Cow: Begin by coming down onto your hands and knees. The arms should be directly under you about shoulder width apart with your palms face down. The knees are slightly apart and directly under the hips. Next, take a slow inhalation and on the out breath, round your spine and drop your head. This is what’s known as the “cat” portion of the pose. On your next inhalation, lift your head and tailbone towards the ceiling while allowing the rest of your torso to drop towards the floor. This is the “cow” portion of the pose.Slowly alternate between these two stretches for one to three minutes.

 

 

3. Child’s Pose: Start by kneeling on the floor with your hips shoulder width apart. Slowly bend forward from the hips until your head is resting comfortably on the floor. Extend your arms out in front of you and place your palms faces down with your fingers splayed out. Strive to lengthen your head, neck and spine away from your tailbone while taking nice slow, deep breaths. Hold this pose for one to three minutes.

 

 

4. Downward Facing Dog: Come up onto your hands and knees, much like the beginning of cat/cow with your wrists underneath your shoulders and knees hip width apart. Next, curl your toes underneath you while pushing the body back through your arms to raise your hips towards the ceiling and straightening the legs. Allow your head to drop comfortably between your arms. Hold this pose for one to three minutes while focusing on the breath.

 

 

5. Sphinx: Start by lying on your stomach with your legs together. Bring your elbows in towards your body so they’re underneath your shoulders and rest your forearms and palms face down on the ground. Next, take a nice deep breath in and on the exhale, lift your head and chest up off the ground while pressing your hips and thighs into the floor. Make sure your shoulders are nice and relaxed and you don’t over-extend your back. This gives the front of the body a nice stretch while slackening the lower back muscles. Hold this pose for one to three minutes.

 

 


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, Certified Thai Yogi, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class or done some basic stretching before an activity and struggled to touch your toes, you’re not alone. Chronic muscle tension can creep in as we age, especially if we’re inactive and do very little stretching. Even for athletes who use their bodies on a regular basis, if you don’t have a stretching regimen eventually you’ll start to lose range of motion.

Among the most common areas for these restrictions are the back muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. But in order to know which area to target effectively, you need to know where your restrictions are. The Long Sitting Position muscle length test is a simple and easy way to determine this. It may help to do this in front of a mirror or have someone there to observe your position.

First, let’s start by sitting comfortably on the floor with your legs stretched out before you. The hips are flexed, the knees are extended, and the ankles are neutral. Even before we attempt to reach over and touch our toes, see if you can sit up straight at a 90-degree angle without your knees buckling. Believe it or not, this may be a challenge for some. Now reach forward and try to touch your toes. If you can only go as far as your knees, don’t worry. The important thing is to keep your knees straight in order to get an accurate assessment.

The first thing to take note of is the positioning of the hips. Are they at 90 degrees? More than 90 degrees? Less? In the first image, the angle of the hips is almost at 90 degrees but the person is able to touch their toes without their knees buckling. This shows a good amount of extensibility in the back muscles, glutes, hamstrings and calves. Some avid yoga practitioners or athletes may be able to close this angle past 90 degrees and lie completely flat, but for the vast majority of us this is what we should aim for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next image shows the hips at similar angle (close to 90 degrees), but the person has a slight buckle in the knees and cannot reach as far forward as in the first image. Here, the hamstrings & glutes are doing fine but the calves are tight, forcing the knees to buckle and the back muscles, namely the mid & upper back muscles, are restricting the forward movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on, we see the hips in this image are at more than 90 degrees. The person has pretty good extensibility in their mid to upper back muscles allowing them to almost touch their toes, but their hamstrings & glutes, and most likely their lower back muscles are the major areas of restriction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the final image we see the worst-case scenario. The hips are at more than 90 degrees and there’s a slight buckle in the knees allowing for a reach just above the knees. In this case, the back muscles, glutes, and calves are all restricted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The good news is that the Long Sitting Position is not only a diagnostic test but also the remedy for these chronically tight muscles. The first thing to aim for is to sit comfortably at a 90-degree angle. Forget about touching your toes for a moment. If you can sit in this position for a few minutes every day, you’ll start to notice that it’ll become less and less of a struggle. Once you’ve achieved this goal, start leaning your hips slightly forward in incremental steps. Don’t worry so much about touching the toes just yet and try not to be overly aggressive with it. The important thing is that your legs remain straight while your hips close the angle. The longer you stay in this position and move slowly into the stretch, the closer you’ll come to touching your toes.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, Certified Thai Yogi, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

If you’ve ever tried to soothe a crying baby or console a loved one, you know that one of the most helpful things you can do is to make physical contact and rock with them back and forth. This simple act has an incredibly powerful and calming effect on both the body and mind. It’s a comforting and reassuring gesture that’s practically embedded in our DNA. When you consider the fact that the average adult male is about 60% water, the adult female, 55% water, and a one year old infant is close to 75% water, it’s no wonder our bodies have adapted to this movement. Much like the tide, the inherent rhythms of our bodies have an ebb and flow.

The therapeutic benefits of rocking can be clearly seen in what Thai yogis refer to as the rhythmic, rocking dance. In Thai yoga massage, the practitioner moves their body in rhythmic and swaying fashion to help create an even distribution of pressure during the massage. And herein lies the key to getting a great massage that’s both therapeutic and extremely relaxing.

The principles behind rocking are rooted in Thai Chi. A Thai Chi master uses very little of his or her own energy to create their movement. Their bodies are never rigid or stiff but instead fluid and graceful. This is because their center of gravity is rooted in what Eastern body workers refer to as the Hara, which in Japanese loosely translates to “soft belly.” The area three finger widths below the naval is anatomically referred to as the solar plexus. It’s the location of the your 2nd chakra or sacral chakra. It’s also referred to as the Tanden or Dantien.           

When movement is initiated from this area, the practitioner is using their body weight instead of the force of their muscles to deliver the pressure. As a result, energy can move freely up and down the spine, through the practitioner’s limbs, and out their hands. When pressure is applied in this way, it feels great. The pressure is even and deep, never jerky or awkward. If the body is stiff and the practitioner is using their own strength to deliver pressure, the kink in the flow of energy will quickly tire them out and eventually affect the recipient. In other words, it’s not going to feel good.

There are three basic forms of rocking employed in Thai massage, the bamboo rock, the forward rock, and the whirlpool rock. The bamboo rock or side rock is used frequently during meridian work in Thai massage. The movement is a fluid side-to-side motion much like a bamboo reed being blown in the wind. The bamboo rock is a great way to gently stimulate the energy meridians throughout the body without causing pain in stagnant areas. The forward rock is often used during certain stretches and tractioning movements as an effective way of opening up the body. A traditional stretch can be painful if done too aggressively. The forward rock allows the body to relax during the entire stretch. The whirlpool rock can be looked at as combination of both the bamboo and forward rock. The circular motion of the whirlpool rock has a very meditative quality which can be employed anywhere from Hara work to range of motion movements of the limbs.

So far all the rocking techniques discussed have been movements the Thai yogi employs in administering a natural and even distribution of pressure. Another form of rocking, which is commonly used in Shiatsu but can be translated into Thai or even table massage is called kembiki. In this form of rocking, the recipient is lying in a prone position while the therapist is applies an oscillating motion to the torso and limbs. In kembiki the recipient’s body is in constant motion. Doing this creates an almost trance like quality which is deeply meditative and very relaxing.

Regardless of the form it takes, rocking is an effective tool in reducing tension and stress in the body. Unfortunately, it tends to be under employed in traditional massage. For those people that find a static table massage uncomfortable or painful for whatever reason, a little bit of rocking can be a transform a regular massage into a truly amazing experience.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, Certified Thai Yogi, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

Thai yoga massage has been around for millennia. This very ancient form of bodywork uses elements of compression, rocking, stretching, and various yoga poses to create a therapeutic response. But there are a few key distinctions which set it apart from a traditional Swedish or deep tissue massage. If you’re new to massage or if you’re trying to decide which is best for you, knowing what to expect may make that decision a little easier to make. Let’s take a look at some of the main differences between a Thai massage and a table massage.

  1. No table: One of the main differences between Thai massage and a table massage is that Thai massage is done on a mat on the floor. A traditional Swedish/deep tissue massage is done on a massage table.
  2. No need to undress: Thai massage is done fully clothed wearing loose, comfortable clothing. A full body table massage is usually done with the client partially or fully undressed, underneath a sheet and cover.
  3. No lotions or oils: A Thai massage does not use any crèmes, lotions, oils, or gels. Whereas a table massage can use any of the latter in its application.
  4. Techniques: A Thai massage will often use elements or compression, rocking, stretching, breath work and range of motion to create its therapeutic effect. A table massage may also use elements such as these but mainly focuses on techniques such as kneading, stroking, effleurage/petrissage, and friction for breaking up of adhesions and knots.
  5. Energetic component: A Thai massage incorporates energy line work through the use of palming and thumbing of the Sen lines in the body. A traditional Swedish/deep tissue massage does not work these energy lines specifically.
  6. Stretching: As mentioned already, Thai massage uses a great deal of stretching to address areas of tension and to relieve energy blockages. A table massage may also incorporate stretching but not to the extent that a Thai massage does.
  7. Positions used: In traditional table massage, most will lie face down (prone position) or face up (supine position) for a majority of their session. On occasion a side-lying position is used for targeted work. In Thai massage however, in addition to both the prone and supine positions, the side-lying, semi-prone, and seated positions are used as well.

Given these differences, one form of massage may be better suited for you than the other. Although both have their therapeutic qualities, personal preferences and expectations may have a significant impact on how the work is received. Also, each practitioner may have his or her own unique style, which will influence the work as well. No matter which form of massage you choose, make sure to seek out a knowledgeable, well-trained, and licensed professional to ensure you’re getting the best possible work available.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, Certified Thai Yogi, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

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