Body Self-Maintenance 3

9) The Medicine Ball: Medicine Balls are great! They are heavy, soft balls, usually leather-covered and weighing up to 15 lbs. I recommend using a medicine ball game of toss and catch instead of only using weights or machines.

Find a partner and stand as far apart as you can throw the ball. It is a terrific, holistic workout for your legs, arms, trunk, abdomen, shoulders, hands, and truly, the whole body. Everything is brought into play with every throw and catch. By throwing and catching differently each exchange, your whole body gets a workout in an integrated way, as opposed to using a few muscles over and over again repetitively. Reread the essay on EXERCISE AND PHYSIOLOGY (#18) for clarification. Ten to fifteen minutes of throw and catch will leave you gasping and tired throughout your body. As you begin getting tired, move closer to each other but all the while trying to throw the ball as far as you can. When you get too tired to stand and throw anymore, sit down on the ground, and with legs crossed or spread, begin throwing and catching again until once again you are exhausted, which doesn't take long.

Day by day you will notice you can throw the ball farther and for a longer duration, getting stronger without the (extreme) detriment of distortion following repetitive exercise. The most important thing to remember when using the medicine ball is to keep your legs slightly bent and your back flat (like sitting on a horse) so you can be grounded and have a sense of your whole body being involved safely with each throw and catch.

Medicine balls were always present in gyms before gyms became so high-tech. Now, you are lucky if you can find one outside of a boxing club or perhaps a Physical Therapy clinic. They come in weights from 2 to 15 lbs. The original style was to have them made with the weight distributed off-center so that the catch would be more challenging from the unbalanced, elliptical nature of its trajectory. Again, someone tried to modify an already perfect tool and they now are also available perfectly balanced. If becoming strong in a well-balanced way is something you want, get one of these and I guarantee you will love the workout and the results.

10) Inversion Equipment: There are many types of inversion equipment which allow you many ways to reap the many benefits of inversion. First, I will give a brief overview as to why inversion is a valuable practice to employ in your effort to turn back the clock.

Gravity and stress are always pulling and pushing you down, compressing and distorting your body. By inverting you can use gravity to your favor, allowing a decompression of your joints and tissue to occur and as well as a loosening and reorientation of your internal organs and the colon. Circulation is improved to the scalp, brain, eyes, ears, gums, glands, and face. Pressure is temporarily relieved from spinal disks, the lungs, and the heart. Bernard Jensen, D.C., PhD says: The daily use of a slanting board will help any condition that is wrong in the body. The brain is the center of our living; all movements emanate from the brain first and if it is blood starved, we naturally have slow reactions in other parts of the body.

A simple slant board is an excellent way to begin to experiment with the positive effects of inversion. Relaxing with your feet higher than your head even for a few minutes is a great energizer and you will notice immediately the sensations of reversing the powerful effects of gravity.

The Body Lift
is an ingenious tool allowing you all of the positive effects of standing on your head without any of the negative effects such as pressure on the cervical spine and skull and the strain of trying to balance. With this tool it is also possible while inverting to release tension in the neck and shoulders. I love this tool and highly recommend it.

The Inversion Swing
adds opening up the hips and lower back to the list of benefits of inversion. Also possible with this tool is a stretch for the front of the body and the anterior spine and psoas muscle. The downside of the Inversion Swing is that it is necessary to have hooks in the ceiling or wall to suspend it from. I use an open stairway in my home to hang mine from. It is possible to hang one of these on a shut door but it is rather difficult to use in this way unless you are acrobatically inclined.

Gravity Boots
were the first on the scene many years ago. Using them is quite an experience, though I do not recommend them for most people. You need an overhead bar to hang from and it is difficult for most people to get themselves safely up into the position needed to use them. They put quite a lot of strain on the knees, ankles, and lower back and for this reason I put them in the category of Advanced Tools and should be used only by people who are very loose, strong, and body conscious.

Please though, do try to practice some form of inversion regularly. It's powerful and it works.

11) ISOMETRIC BANDS: Many types of elastic tubes or bands are available at sporting goods stores or therapy clinics. Use as many at a time as you need to create the amount of resistance you desire. Create your own isometric exercises including stretching the bands apart in front of you, over your head, behind you, pushing one hand to the front while the other pulls back, etc. The possibilities are endless with these to tone and strengthen your body without the detrimental effects of weight training. This is again because of the 360 degrees of movement possible as you use the bands. It is a more holistic, user-friendly, strength training exercise. An added benefit is that you can easily take them with you whenever you travel.

12) Pull-Up Bar: Put a pull-up bar (sporting goods store) in a doorway in your home which you often pass through. Take a few moments, not so much to do pull-ups, although that is certainly possible, but to simply hang as you take a relaxing breath or two. You may want to begin a pull-up of only an inch or two, and then fully relaxing on the exhale. You will hear and feel stuff popping and pulling apart. This helps to decompress your joints: your vertebrae (which are joints, too), your ribs, and your shoulders and arms. Try pulling your knees up to your chest or twisting from side to side as you hang. Experiment with different hand positions and use them all from time to time.

Every moment you take out of your day to focus on your body, focus on your breath, focus on releasing any accumulating tension--will speed you along on your path towards flexibility and a pain-free body, as well as making your day seem more enjoyable and feel less hectic. You will feel more in control of your physical (and emotional) experience and less like a victim of stress and tension.

13) The Ultimate Stretch Apparatus (or rope from ceiling): Using this tool for a few minutes is easily worth an hour of static, linear, yoga-type stretching. You can access and release vast amounts of tension and holdings in your body quickly, easily, and safely. If you do not obtain one of these ingenious kits, it is possible to improvise by hanging a thick rope from a hook or an eye fastened on a ceiling beam or at the top of a wall. It should hang to within a few feet of the floor. Tie a few knots along the lower half of your rope and a loop or a ring or best yet, a trapeze-type bar at the bottom. Hold the rope over your head, in one or both hands, and lean away from its origin. Lean into the stretch only until you find the first level of resistance. (Where have you heard that before?) Breathe slowly and deeply, relaxing into the stretch on the full exhale. Notice how by this technique you are allowing shift after shift to take place throughout your whole body as you use the rope to create dynamic, multi-directional tensions and with your breath release them.

Try using only one arm for a few minutes and then look at your body in a mirror. Can you see the difference between your two sides? Because of the drastic structural release work possible with this tool, be sure to balance the work on both sides of your body so you are not left lopsided.

Face away from the origin of the rope, and with the trapeze bar over your head and your legs spread apart, twist to one side and allow your pelvis to drop toward the floor. Keep your arms straight and breathe as you find resistance. Using a rope in this way will allow you to effect release in your arms, shoulders, ribcage, neck, spine, and even pelvis. For one reason or another, many people just cannot figure out how to use a rope in this way. If you can learn how though, the release work you can accomplish with this technique is unlimited.