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Beyond The Five Tibetans: Alexa’s Alternative

March 23, 2011

Tags: movement, Alexa’s Alternative, back - upper, back pain - lower, backward roll, ball - heavy, bar, ball - six-pound, bending, Beyond The Five Tibetans: Alexa’s Alternative, dance, exhilaration, exercise, Five Tibetans, forward bend, hanging out, grounding, knee bends, lifting arms, Namibia, posture, reaching, re-alignment of spine, spine, strain, strength, stress, stretching, swinging, twisting, water bottle, waist – slim, yoga ball

A while ago, I stopped doing the Five Tibetans. I really liked the short routine that got me fit. But it also got me lower back pain. I tried some adjustments, but the pain wouldn’t leave. So, I started a new routine.

My new routine doesn’t have a fancy name, nor can it serve you a wonderful story of its presumed discovery – old Tibetan wisdom unearthed by a stiff British officer desperate to regain his youth – but it works for me.

And it needs about ten minutes of your daily time; nobody can claim they don’t have those ten minutes! If the Five Tibetans work for you – by all means, stay with them! Because I believe in wisdom handed down by generations.

If the Five Tibetans don’t work for you, here is Alexa’s Alternative:

• Bending: This exercise works on your upper back and your posture without putting undue strain on your lower back. You roll your upper back backward over a big yoga ball twenty-one times, each time lifting your arms over your head, then lowering them. Lacking a yoga ball (which I don’t have here in my Namibia hotel room), you can do this exercise also by hanging backward over the edge of a bed. Make sure that your lower back stays securely on the bed, and that you don’t slip from the bed and hit your head.

• Grounding: These are really knee bends but I call this exercise grounding because it strengthens your legs, and really grounds you. Do twenty-one knee bends. If initially that seems too hard, do less. Try five. Or try one. If that is impossible, try a half one. Daily try will soon make you stronger, and able to do more.

• Hanging: Hanging your spine out, that is. This exercise can be done from a bar. Pull yourself up twenty-one times. I really can’t pull myself up, and I can only count to ten, but even this small effort lengthens my spine, re-aligns it and strengthen my arms. When I travel, I bend forward and touch a table with my hands, pulling slightly down and back (without bending my knees). You feel that this also lengthens your spine, taking the kinks out; unfortunately it doesn’t do much for your arms strength.

• Reaching: This is the exercise that I find most fun. Take a heavy ball (I use a six-pound ball at home, and a book or a filled water bottle on the road), and stem it up twenty-one times as high as you can reach . You’ll feel your whole side lengthening. This slims your waist, strengthens your arms and let the arm flab vanish. Then do the other arm twenty-one times. Don’t do this exercise with two balls, lifting them simultaneously – you wouldn’t get the effect on your sides (but would still exercise your arms). But stretching your sides gives the exhilarating effect.

• Swinging: Take the heavy ball and move it from one hand to the other in a smooth swing twenty-one times. Don’t twist sharply in your waist, machine-like – let it be a graceful dance.

You notice, I kept the number twenty-one from the Five Tibetans. Twenty-five repetitions seem to give enough of a workout without putting undue stress on the muscles and joints.

Don’t do more than twenty-one in a single session. You are allowed one repetition during the day, not more. You will see that even with one cycle per day your legs plant you stronger on this Earth, your back is straighter, your bingo wings melt away.

For better memorizing, I put the exercises alphabetically: bending, grounding, hanging, reaching, swinging.

Upper Back Pain

July 10, 2010

Tags: movement, back pain, bones, bridge, buttocks, ecercises, Indian yoga statues, lower back pain, micro-movements, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, muscles, Oceanic Art, nape, neck, one leg standing pose, posture, shoulder, shoulder blade, snake in your spine, spine, stance, stretching, upper back pain, walking, yoga

In the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston I recently saw a figure from Oceania (here a similar picture from Africa - sorry, I have no clue how to make it larger and still sharp). The figure, barely a foot high, is carved from black wood and on first look seems rather crude. On second look, it reveals the perfect posture in a way I have otherwise seen only in Indian statues depicting ideal yoga stances.

The figure stands with soft knees slightly bent which struck me at first as a sort of ridiculous stance. Then one sees its graceful straight neck, with chin tugged in ever so delicately – and one gasps: This crude figure exhibits deep knowledge of musculo-skeletal workings.

If we could stand in this aware stance all the time, we would never suffer from upper back pain. Hunched as we are over computer screens, slouched onto chairs and sofas, unaware of our posture for hours and days on end, we do suffer. Here are a few exercises that should work against upper back pain:

• Micro-movements: Lie on your back – in bed, on the floor – and pull back one shoulder. Release, and pull back the other shoulder. Done repeatedly, it feels as if you wake up the snake in your spine, which starts undulating, writing. The movements are tiny. But they release muscle contractions from wrong posture. 21 times. Find new subtle ways of moving your spine.
• Stretching backward: Stand with knees soft and your buttocks tightened to protect your lower back (no use to swap upper back pain against lower back pain!). Bend backward and upward at the same time. Don’t collapse in your lower back area – it should feel like a puppet on a string, gently pulled back and up. At the same time, let go of your shoulders and let your shoulder blades glide down. The movement is a perfect up for the crown of your head, and a down for your shoulder blades. Once – whenever you think about it or feel the need to release your poor back.
• Lie on your back on the floor (this should not be done in bed, one needs a hard surface). Stand up your feet slightly apart. Raise your middle like a bridge. You now rest only on the nape of your neck and your feet. Slowly arch higher – without putting strain on your neck. Three times – but gently!
• Stand on one leg. I do this while I brush my teeth – so there is no extra waste of time. Lift one leg. Move it around – from side to side, upward, backward. Then the other leg. For a minute each. This strengthens pelvic and lower back muscles – without those your upper back has nothing to rely on.
• Walk as much as you can, preferably in hilly terrain. A strong upper back can only develop on the basis of strong legs and lower back muscles.

Do we get more stooped with aging? Or is the stooping aging us?
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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