The sternocleidomastoid muscle. It's a mouthful, but it's a favourite of mine just because of the name and the lovely stretch that you can do to help release any tension in this muscle.
The name of this muscle always made the most sense in my anatomy class as the name itself tells us where it originates (sternum and clavicle) and where it attaches (mastoid process behind your ear). This is always an anatomy test question, by the way :-)
The sternocleidomastoid functions to help rotate the head to the side that is contracting, flexes the neck laterally, and when both sides are working together it will flex the neck forward. Tightness can occur in this muscle by spending long periods looking down at our keyboards or our phones. Over time this muscle can shorten causing poor posture with the alignment of our head, neck and shoulders.
This is when the lovely 'stargazer' stretch comes in handy. Just anchor one hand on the sternum and clavicle, turn your head to the diagonal and look up to the stars. Play with the angle of your head and you will feel a pull in the neck that might refer around the eye. Hold the stretch for approximately 30 seconds and don't forget to stretch the other side.
According to Eastern Medical Theory the Stomach meridian is a very long channel that flows down the front of the body. The Stomach and Spleen meridians are paired and they are primarily responsible for our digestion. These meridians are associated with the element of earth and with the fall season. I often think of linking these meridians to the wonderful harvests that we partake of in the fall, nourishing our bodies.
Stomach 36 is a wonderful shiatsu/acupuncture point that therapists use for a variety of reasons. It is found below the knee, on the lateral side of the tibia in the depression between the bone and muscle. It is often called the 'three-mile point'. People on pilgrimages would take rest stops every 3 miles. During these rests the travellers would hydrate and also apply pressure to this point on both legs. This would help alleviate fatigue so they could walk the next three miles with ease.
Apart from helping leg fatigue this is also a good point to treat when you are experiencing nausea. The energy of the Stomach meridian runs downwards, so if the meridian flow changes direction you may experience nausea or heartburn. Treating this point can help reverse the direction of the energy and alleviate that nauseous feeling to good effect.
So try pressing this point if you're feeling leg fatigue or if feeling a bit nauseous. Make sure you self-treat both legs. It has helped me in the past!
The World Health Organization defines self-care as: "the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider."
According to this definition, self-care consists of anything related to staying physically, emotionally and mentally healthy. It can include any step an individual can take to manage stressors in his, her or their life and take care of his, her or their own health and well-being.
Self-care can be a difficult concept to actually implement. Often there are voices telling us that we don't have time in our busy days; that it can only be a reward once we have pushed through the various tasks we have set ourselves; that we're not worthy or somehow we just don't deserve it.
Those are powerful and difficult thoughts to acknowledge and sort through. We often put ourselves last, at our own peril. I know many caregivers who ignore their own aches and pains because they are needed by others.
But how can we take care of others if we don't take care of ourselves first? Intellectually we can all nod in agreement with this idea, but again,allowing ourselves to put it into practice can be very challenging.
Self-care is not about being self-indulgent or being selfish. It is an important part of our ability to maintain our health in order to live as fully as we are able to.
One of my favourite stories is about a mother who told a Buddhist monk that she actually had no time to meditate in her busy life, even though she really wanted to. The monk asked if he could come and watch her on a typical day and she consented. At day's end he agreed that her busy life as a homemaker and mother left her with no time for a formal meditation practice. So his suggestion was that every time she went through a doorway she could pause for a moment just to feel her own breath or close her eyes for a moment.
Often it is just implementing simple habits in our life that can have positive outcomes over time. It can be as simple as pausing to observe your breath, or resting your eyes for a moment, or just looking out the window at clouds passing by to give ourselves a bit of a break. Our nervous systems absolutely require it.
Self-care can also involve scheduling longer breaks, getting out into nature, or booking an appointment with a complimentary health care professional. Self-care should not be anxiety provoking and it should fit in with your needs at the present moment.
This all starts with self compassion. We need to start treating ourselves like we would treat a good friend.
Often a few simple steps towards self-care will impact other aspects of your life. Eating a nutritious meal can impact your energy levels, which can then positively affect you psychologically. We are an integrated system and like a spider on a web, any small change will be felt throughout and can influence both various aspects of ourselves and possible future choices.
According to Eastern theory, yin and yang are two complementary forces that make up all aspects and phenomena of life.
The symbol of yin and yang represents perfect balance. But that's all it is — a symbol. Perfect balance is pretty well unattainable or fleeting at best. What many don't know is that this symbol of balance actually represents a continual flow of movement. Yin and yang form a transformational dance of polarities. One gives rise to the other and they are in relationship to each other. For example day becomes night, up becomes down, and without weakness we can't have strength.
This symbol is a wonderful reminder that everything is in motion. Every breath we take creates motion in our bodies: from muscles of the chest and abdomen moving, to circulation of blood and energy coursing through our bodies. Even when we are in rest we are in motion! We also have constant movement of thoughts and emotions that flow through us daily.
When we are feeling spacious and fluid we are able to accomodate all of this with ease. Often issues arise when we try to hold on, either physically, emotionally or mentally. In fact, in Eastern Medical Theory we all experience a wash of different emotions, and none of them have been labelled as 'bad'. It is only when we get stuck in one emotion for a long period that we need to address the imbalance in our system.
There are various ways to medically help our different imbalances whether they be physical, emotional, mental or a combination thereof. Additionally there are many self-care options that can help us on the road to better health.
For myself, meditation and/or spending time in nature is what I rely on day to day to help find a semblance of balance in my life. These activities instantly remind me to not get caught up in the stresses of the day. They also help me recognize that truth of life — a sense of harmony comes from allowing myself to slow down and appreciate the abundant ebb and flow of life.
I love this image that shows the weight of the human head in different postures. It's a great reminder not to get stuck in one position for too long. Oddly it also gives me fond memories of my dance days. I loved the mondern dance Limón technique; based on breath and using the dynamics of the weight of the body to initiate movement. Often the weight of the head was used to start movement, and it was breathtaking to see and feel just how much movement one drop of the head could initiate. Fascinating but I digress...
Do you ever adjust your rear view mirror when driving for a long period? I did as well until one day I had an epiphany about why we do this. I was stopped at a red light and happened to look over at the building next to me. The exterior walls were reflective and my first thought was, 'who is that poor, old woman with the horrible posture?' With a start I realized I was looking at my own reflection. The mirror did not need adjusting. It hadn't moved while I was driving, but I certainly did. I would start off with pretty good posture and then slouch down, caving in my chest and jutting my chin out. Now when I think of adjusting the mirror, I try to adjust my abysmal posture instead!
Here's an absurdly simple exercise you could try that stumped me at first: Cross you arms in front of your chest; now cross your arms the opposite way. Surprisingly difficult isn't it? I know it took me a few minutes to figure out how to do it. This is difficult for many of us because a lifetime of accumulated physical habits.
For example, do you cross your legs when you sit? Over time this can stress the hip and knee joints. Do you lean into one side of a chair or couch when reading or watching TV? Do you always carry a purse or bag on the same side? Or if you are a parent with a small child do you always carry them on the same hip? Try switching it up.
Our habits are comfortable, but over time these habits can shift our posture and eventually end up in a chronic pain situation. Knowing this, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to become aware of our daily habits. It can be startling to discover what our comforts are and what types of problems these complacent postures can create over long periods (years). These lifetime habits are difficult to notice, but when we take the time to recognize habitual postures that can cause stress and strain, applying small changes can make a difference.
Don't strain to correct your posture. In my clinic I have had to treat clients who were trying to adjust their posture and in so doing ended up in more pain. When we try to force change on our bodies there will often be a defensive reaction involving muscles becoming tight and spasmed. Becoming aware of our habits and slowly changing them over time gives the body an opportunity to accept and integrate the changes you are asking for.