Body Self-Maintenance 2

5) The Acu-Masseur: Another of my all-time favorite tools! This one gets a 10 for addressing the neck and shoulders where we all have pain from accumulated tension. One of those: "how did I live without this?" things. I have a few around my house and always take one with me whenever and wherever I travel.

This device unscrews into 3 pieces, each about a foot long, for easy transport. I have one in my van, the living room, the bedroom, and one already packed and stashed in my suitcase. I use it while watching videos, talking to friends, or as a prelude to meditation.

As a therapist I know how hard it is to try to accomplish with your own hands what this tool allows you to accomplish with very little effort or energy expended. It will never wear out. You need this tool in your arsenal.

6)Calf-Stretch Block (w/ medial arch aligning strip): This wooden wedge-shaped tool is wonderful for stretching the calves while aligning the ankles and knees. This is better than simply letting the heels drop off of a curb or stair, because with it, it is possible to keep the feet perfectly parallel with each other. You should know by now how important alignment is during stretching and movement.

7) The 7 Ft. Pole: I use a 7'x1 1/4" diameter wooden pole with rubber end caps. Any stick or pole at least as long as you are tall will work. There are a number of wonderful maintenance uses for this pole.

First, stand with your feet parallel and hip width with your knees flexed and your back flat. Stand so that you can see your side plane in a mirror, full length if possible. Hold the pole in front of you against your legs with your palms facing backwards and your arms straight, hands about 3' apart. The front and back of your chest should be perpendicular to the floor and should stay immobile in this position throughout the exercise. Begin lifting the pole up and out to the front and over your head, taking it all the way around until it touches your lower back.

If at any point your feel or see your ribcage lifting up or straining, stop immediately and take a conscious breath, dropping your ribcage into the vertical again on the exhale. Begin the movement again, repeating this procedure as many times as possible until you have cleared the path from front to back. The goal of this exercise is to separate your shoulder girdle from your ribcage so that it can float on top like shoulder pads on a football player.

The second part of this exercise is done by starting with the pole behind you, holding it with your palms facing forward. Repeat the above instructions as you push the pole way out behind you and up over your head (as though pulling a shirt off over your head) and down in front keeping your arms straight at all times. Keep your head up and your chest dropped. A few times in each direction is sufficient. Explore, experiment, and play with these moves as you stay aware and intuitive about what your intention is and what is going on with your body. Do not force anything or make any quick, abrupt movements and you will not cause any injury to yourself.

Next, stand the pole upright on the ground in front of you at arms length; with both of your hands on the pole at shoulder height. Lean forward until you feel the first resistance in your shoulders or back. Take a deep breath, and relax down on the exhale. Notice that you have sunk into a deeper stretch, not by exerting but by relaxing. Continue experimenting with the procedure as you change hand positions, feet positions and with how far in front of you the pole is places. Now begin stretching first up one side to the front and then the other. This is the Spine Stretch Front movement (from the Flextasy!® routine) with a support.

A pole at least 6 or 7 long is needed for this next part. Sitting on the floor with your legs spread wide in a V, hold the pole off the ground so that it fits in the medial (inner) arches of both feet. Use the pole as a support to work against as you begin stretching to the front and sides. Keep your back as straight as possible and your legs straight, too.

A variation of this is with your legs straight out to the front, holding the pole across the bottoms of your feet. Roll the pole up and down the bottoms of your feet as you try allowing your chest to drop towards your legs, again, keeping your legs and back straight and your feet flat to the pole. Try pushing one foot at a time away from you into the pole as you stretch and release. As you work with the pole you will find many different ways to access and release your pain, stiffness, soreness, and tightness throughout your whole body.

8) Chinese Therapy Balls: Famed as one of the three treasures of China: an ancient (from 1368) and powerful tool from the East, now emerging again at just the right time in response to need. These balls have been used extensively for centuries in the East to treat, heal, and prevent many maladies by stimulating the energy meridians of the body present in the hands.

Traditionally, by rolling and manipulating the balls with the palm of the hand and the fingers and thumb, the balls are believed to work their magic by stimulating the meridians, positively affecting many areas of the body including: the heart, cranial nerve, liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys, gallbladder, stomach, and intestine. Increases circulation of vital energy and blood, decreases hypertension, stimulates the brain, relieves fatigue, and in general, prolong your life.

All of those possibly true claims aside, I use these balls for a less esoteric, more physical purpose. I find great relief and re-energizing effects on my hands, wrists, and forearms through use of the balls. As a bodyworker my hands and forearms take a beating day in and day out. This is true for musicians, computer pilots, carpenters, and anyone else who uses their hands or arms to make their living.

Even this, though, is only a part of the reason why you want to have these balls around to take advantage of. There is a calming, soothing, and centering effect on the mind and emotions within a few minutes of using the balls. A perfect anecdote to stress when you consider the alternatives: eating, drinking, smoking, drugs, TV, or whatever.

Sounds strange, I know, but I have used these balls for years to great advantage and highly recommend them to my students whom I teach bodywork to, as well as to all of my personal clients.

You can find metal balls with little chimes inside for sale (usually cheaper), but I warn you, if you really intend to use these balls as therapy, in time the sound will drive you, or whoever you live with, crazy, and that's what you are trying to remedy! Find solid stone balls that are lovely to hold, pretty to look at, and make a minimal sound.