What Is Low Back Pain? (And How You Can Relieve It)

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), about 80% of people experience low back pain at some point. More than one-fourth of adults reported low back pain during a three-month period. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to days of missed work. As we move less, our core and postural muscles weaken creating scenarios that can lead to pain and dysfunction. As such, maintaining a healthy low back is an important focus as our postures become more sedentary.

What is low back pain more specifically?

Most low back pain is short-term or acute, lasting for a few days to a few weeks. Most general low back pain tends to resolve with self-care and rest, and without any major change in the mechanical function of the bones, muscles or nerves. Pain that lasts between 4 to 12 weeks is defined as subacute low back pain. Low back pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks is deemed chronic, regardless of the cause for onset of pain.

What are the major causes of low back pain?

Most low back pain is due to the mechanical malfunctions of the muscles and spine in the back. This can be due to the normal wear and tear of the joints, discs and bones as we age or be based on other factors. Common causes of pain include:

  • Sprain and Strain - overstretching or tearing of muscles, tendons or ligaments

  • Disc degeneration - the loss of the flexible, supportive quality of the cushion between the vertebrae

  • Herniated or bulged discs - the compression and bulge of the cushion between the vertebrae, sometimes pressing on nerves or other structures

  • Radiculopathy - compression, inflammation and/or injury to a spinal nerve root

  • Sciatica - compression of the large bundle of nerves that travel through the buttock and downtime back of the leg

  • Traumatic Injury - falls, car accidents, and sports related activities that injure muscles, tendons or ligaments, can in turn cause the spine to become overly compresses

  • Spinal Stenosis - narrowing of the spinal column, that puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves

  • Spondylolisthesis - condition in which a vertebrae of the lower spine slips out of place

  • Skeletal Irregularities - scoliosis, accentuated lordosis or other congenital anomalies of the spine

What are the common risk factors for developing low back pain?

Beyond underlying conditions or disease, other factors may increase one’s risk for developing low back pain.

  • Age
  • Fitness Level
  • Pregnancy
  • Poor Posture
  • Weight Gain
  • Genetics
  • Backpack Overload
  • Mental Health Factors
  • Occupational Risk Factors

What are common treatments for low back pain?

Hot/Cold Packs: These may help ease or reduce pain and/or inflammation for acute, subacute or chronic pain, but does not contribute to a quick resolve.

Activity: Beginning stretching exercises and normal daily activity as soon as possible, while avoiding movements that contribute to the pain, has been shown to be beneficial.

Strengthening and Stabilization Exercises: While generally not effective during acute flare-ups, strength and stability training is an effective way to recovery from chronic or subacute low back pain. Additionally, it is crucial for preventing further flare-ups.

Physical Therapy: These programs combined with manual therapies, designed to re-align, stabilize and strengthen muscle groups related to core strength and posture, help to improve mobility and promote proper posture.

Medications: A wide range of over-the-counter and prescription medications can be used to treat both inflammation and pain associated with acute and chronic low back pain.

Stay tuned for more blog posts continuing with our healthy low back topic, to learn various home exercises and desk postures that can help prevent and ease low back pain.

 

Two Exercises for Your Lower Leg

Many runners say fall is their favorite season -- cool weather, colorful leaves, and lots of race events. I’m here to show you two exercises for your calves that will help you run through this season. These exercises can be done after a run and on rest days. This blog post is part of a series of posts covering Pilates exercises for runners. If you missed the first post, be sure to check it out here: http://www.restore353therapies.com/blog/2016/9/8/pilates-for- the-runner- 4-exercises-for- your-feet

For the following exercises, you will need (1) a small ball (ideally a pinky ball, though a tennis ball or smaller ball with plasticity will also work) and (2) a resistance band.

1. Calf Stretch Variations

I’ll show you some variations on the classic. Remember that form is important here. All you need is a wall to press against. Start standing, facing into the wall. Place your hands on the wall. Step the right foot back into a lunge as the left knee bends. Adjust the position of your feet as needed, so your left knee can stay over the ankle (and not jutting out over the toes). Make sure both feet are parallel, especially the back foot (the right foot). Get your hips as even as you can. Keep your back heel grounded throughout this stretch. On the back foot, try to keep even pressure into the floor at these four points: (1) inner heel, (2) outer heel, (3) ball of the foot on the big toe side, and (4) ball of the foot on the pinky toe side. Hold this stretch for five deep breaths. Now, keeping the back heel down and without letting the hips move forward, put more downward pressure into the ball of the back foot. Hold this downward pressure for 5 seconds, then release, allowing the calf to stretch. On your next exhale, wrap the lower abdominals in, bend the front knee a little deeper and let the hip bones come a little closer towards the wall, still keeping the back heel down. Next, still in your stretch position, bend the back knee half an inch and then straighten the knee. Do eight repetitions, keeping the back heel down. Keep the hips still throughout the movement. Repeat the series on the other leg. If one calf feels tighter, do two sets on that leg.

VIDEO CREDIT: Restore353

2. Calf Release with Resistance Band and Ball

Start kneeling. Place the ball in the middle of the resistance band and fold the band in half, so the ball is now in the crease of the fold. Place the ball-end of the band on your upper right calf, just below the crease of your knee and slightly off-center towards the right. Grab the ends of the band with your left hand. Sit your seat back towards your heels, until you feel the pressure of the ball. The pressure should be fairly intense, but not unbearable. Hold the position and breathe three deep breaths. Move the ball a couple of inches down the calf, sit back towards your heels, and repeat the breathing. Continue, moving the ball down a few inches at a time, stopping just above your ankle.

VIDEO CREDIT: Restore353

Repeat on the other calf.

If you have any questions or want me to cover other running-related topics, please leave a comment below. Happy Running!

Pilates for the Runner: 4 Exercises for Your Feet

Now that fall is here, you might be thinking that it’s time to get serious about training for your next race, whether it’s the Thanksgiving turkey trot or the New York City Marathon.  Maybe you just joined the Restore353 Running Club, or this running thing is new to you and you just want to be able to catch the bus without feeling out-of-breath.  I’m here to show you four exercises for your feet and ankles that can help you stay healthy during your training.  This will be the first of several blog posts on Pilates exercises for runners.  We’ll be working from the feet up, to show how your entire body works together for the run.  For the following exercises, you will need (1) a small ball (ideally a pinky ball, though a tennis ball or smaller ball with plasticity will also work) and (2) a resistance band.

1. Foot Release with Ball #1

Start standing, with the ball under the right foot.  Your left hand can rest on a wall or chair for balance.  Apply a gentle downward pressure on the ball and roll it in a clockwise circle around the sole of the foot.  Do 8 reps in this clockwise direction, then reverse directions.  Repeat the exercise with the ball under the left foot.  This is a gentle way to release the fascia of the sole of the foot.

VIDEO CREDIT: Restore353

2. Foot Release with Ball #2

Start standing, with the ball under the ball of the right foot, in between the big toe and second toe.  Your left hand can rest on a wall or chair for balance.  Apply a firm downward pressure on the ball and slowly drag the ball towards the heel, then drag the ball back to the start position.  Move the ball so that it is under the ball of the foot, in between the second toe and the third toe.  Drag the the ball in a diagonal line towards the heel, then drag back.  Try not to let the ball wobble away from the line.  If it does, reposition the ball on the trouble spot, carefully place downward pressure on the ball, and take a few deep breaths before continuing down the line.  Repeat the movement between the third and fourth toes, then the fourth and fifth toes.  Repeat the sequence with the ball under the left foot.  This is a more focused release of the plantar fascia.

VIDEO CREDIT: Restore353

3. Toes-Foot-Ankle Mobility with Resistance Band #1

Start sitting, with the resistance band looped over the ball of the right foot, and your hands holding the ends of the band.  You can sit on top of a pillow or cushion if your hips are tight or it feels uncomfortable sitting on the floor.  Begin with your toes reaching long towards the ceiling.  Point your toes against the resistance of the band, then flex your toes back, making sure the big toe moves with the other toes.  Limit the movement to the toes, trying to keep the ankle still.  Do 8 reps, then add in movement of the foot and ankle.  Point your toes, then the foot and ankle.  Flex your toes back, then the foot and ankle.  Focus on articulating first through the toes, then the entire foot, then the ankle, in both point and flex movements.  Keep the heel grounded.  Work to keep your foot in parallel and move evenly between the inner and outer lines of the foot and ankle (for example, not rolling the foot towards the outside ankles).  Do 8 reps.

Repeat the series on the left foot.

VIDEO CREDIT: Restore353

4. Toes-Foot-Ankle Mobility with Resistance Band #2

This exercise is the reverse of the one in #3 immediately above.  Start sitting, with the resistance band looped over the top of the right foot, and the ends of the band tied around a sturdy pole or chair, or with your running buddy holding the ends of the band.  Flex the toes against the band’s resistance, then gently point the toes.  Do 8 reps before adding in the movement of the foot and ankle (start by flexing the toes, then the foot, then the ankle, and return by pointing the toes, then the foot, then the ankle).  Do another 8 reps.  Keep the heel on the mat and the leg in parallel as you do the movements.  Focus on form, rather than how hard you can point or flex.

Repeat the series on the left foot.

VIDEO CREDIT: Restore353

If you have any questions or want me to cover other running-related topics, please leave a comment below.  Happy Running!

Healthy Shoulders Part Two

As a continuation of the first blog post Healthy Shoulders, here are 4 more easy exercises that work on both stability and strength of the shoulders. Remember the shoulders are the most mobile joint in the body. Proper mechanics, position and stability are key to keeping and maintaining strength and health in the shoulders. 
 

VIDEO CREDIT: Restore353

Serratus Push Up
The Serratus Pump or Serratus Push Up is an exercise that strengthens the scapular stabilizer: the serratus anterior. Begin by kneeling on the mat in quadruped on the hands and knees, or alternatively on the elbows and knees. The hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart and the shoulder slightly extended. Pushing into the hands, abduct the scapulae, and then adduct the scapulae. Feel the movement of the scapulae around the thoracic spine, or the rib cage, without allowing the upper trapezius to contract.

VIDEO CREDIT: Restore353

Side Lying Arm Series
The Side Lying Arm Series is a series of weighted shoulder exercises that work to strengthen and stabilize the rotator cuff of the shoulder: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor. These muscles work in concert with each other to help stabilize the shoulder and keep the humeral head (top of upper arm bone) into the glenoid fossa (shoulder socket of the scapula). Begin by lying on your side. The spine should be in a neutral position; shoulders and hips stacked and head in line with the spine. Using a foam block or blanket under the head for neck support as needed. Knees should be bent at 90 degrees, like you are sitting in a chair.

Side Lying Arm Press

Begin in the same position as stated above. As you exhale, extend the arm out in front of your body, parallel to the floor, keeping the palm of the hand facing the floor. Inhale, returning the arm back to the starting position. Avoid allowing the arm to drop towards the floor or rise higher than the body. To add a challenge, as you extend the arm, rotate the hand up towards the ceiling, as though you a presenting a “cup of soup.” As you return the arm back, rotate the palm to face back towards the floor.

Side Lying Arm Circles

Begin in the same position as stated above. As you exhale, extend the arm out in front of your body, parallel to the floor, keeping the palm of the hand facing the floor. Maintaining your arm extended in parallel, draw small circle with the arm in one direction, without hiking your shoulders towards the ears. Repeat the circles in the other direction.


Side Lying Internal/External Rotation

For external rotation, using a light weighted ball or dumbbell in the hand of the top arm, flex the elbow, placing the forearm parallel to the floor. As you exhale, rotate the head of your humerus, and bring the ball up towards the ceiling, while keeping your arm connected to your side. Inhale return back to the starting position. For internal rotation, begin in the same starting position with the arm. Exhale, rotating the arm internally, allowing the arm to move closer towards the abdomen. Inhale to return to the parallel position. Focus on the rotation of the arm in the socket without hiking the shoulder towards the ears or leaning forward or backward with the body.


Remember to repeat all exercises on both sides!!

 

Three High-Energy Recipes for Runners

If you are a runner, you know that what you put into your body plays a large part in the success of your workout. The following recipes are easy to make snacks that will provide you with clean, usable energy to sustain you before or after your run. (And they are delicious!)

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

1. Paleo Banana Bread

Ingredients:

4 ripe bananas

4 eggs

1/2 c. nut butter of your choice (I used creamy almond butter)

4 tbsp. coconut oil

1/2 c. Almond meal

1 tbsp. cinnamon

1 tbsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. pink salt

Directions:

1.      Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.      Combine all wet ingredients.

3.      Combine all dry ingredients and add to the wet. Mix well. 

4.      Pour batter into a greased (preferably with coconut oil) loaf pan.

5.      Bake for one hour or until a toothpick stuck into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

6.      Let cool for 30-60 minutes, remove from pan, and slice to serve. 

(I love spreading a little almond butter on top and sprinkling with flax seeds!)

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

2. Almond Coconut Granola

Ingredients:

1 c. gluten free oats

1/2 c. shredded coconut

½ c. slivered almonds

1/4 c. flax seeds

1/4 c raw sunflower seeds

½ c. chopped pitted dates

3/4 c. natural peanut butter

1/2 c. honey/agave

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

1.      Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a baking pan with coconut oil. 

2.      Combine all ingredients except peanut butter, vanilla, and honey into a bowl. 

3.      Heat peanut butter and honey until runny. Add the vanilla extract, and then pour into mixture. Mix. 

4.      Transfer the mixture onto the baking sheet. If you'd rather make granola bars, press down on mixture; otherwise let it remain in a granola-y texture. 

5.      Bake for 15 minutes, and then allow to cool completely. 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

3. Raw Carrot Cake Balls

Ingredients:

1 c. Gluten free oats, blend in food processor

3/4 c. Shredded carrots (I shredded baby carrots by hand)

1/2 c. Dates, pitted and soaked in warm water for 10 min. 

1/4 c. Water

1 tsp. vanilla

Cinnamon and ground ginger to taste

Directions:

1.      Add all ingredients to food processor and blend into a doughy consistency. 

2.      Form into balls and roll in shredded coconut or chia seeds for extra energy. 

3.      Refrigerate until solid, and keep in fridge until served. 

Enjoy!

Namaste!

Three Wellness Tips for Travel

PHOTO CREDIT: The Yoga Blog

Tips to stay healthy and vibrant on the plane, in the car, and in between. 

This is the season for travel! In fact, as I write this, I am at LaGuardia airport, awaiting a flight. Many of us will take to the roads, rails, or skies this summer to visit loved ones or vacation destinations, but will self-care take backseat in the process? Travel can put your body through the wringer, but it doesn't have to. I wanted to share a few of my personal favorite travel-sized health and wellness practices with you, so that you can be your most vibrant, and more fully enjoy whichever destination you are heading to!

1. Drink Water!

This is my biggest wellness tip in general, but especially when it comes to travel! Most people are unknowingly dehydrated as it is, and become much more so when they travel. You may have heard that airplanes in particular are incredibly dehydrating, due to the high altitude and lack of humidity in the recycled air, but to contextualize it for you: the standard "comfortable" indoor environment has a humidity of 40-65%, while airplanes have a humidity of 10-20%. When there is less humidity in the air, our body lets off water at a higher rate, just as we retain more water if the air contains a high level of humidity. So, drink water before, during, and after your flight to ensure that your body has enough water to complete the processes it needs to complete. I always bring a reusable water bottle (I have a Vapur foldable water bottle which is amazing for travel, as it rolls up and I have it in my pocket right now) that I fill up at the airport before and after I land. 

The only drawback of drinking lots of water is that, yes, you'll have to use the restroom more. But compare that with the alternative (dehydration headaches, constipation, dry and itchy skin, fatigue, and more compromised immune system) and it's an easy choice to make. The same goes for cars. They are less dehydrating than planes, but it is still important to stay hydrated and be willing to take those rest stops. 

As for the skin which is affected by the dry air in planes, I travel with a small jar of coconut oil, my favorite moisturizer, which I apply to my face, hands, and neck while I travel, or just before traveling. 

2. Boost Your Immune System

Any space that contains many people has a heightened risk of sicknesses floating around, not to mention that drier air makes you more susceptible to infection. Take care to stock up on vitamin C before traveling, and even after. I like a nice orange or grapefruit, or I carry packets of Emergen-C. After flying, the body has been exposed to radiation, bacteria, and dry air and will feel out of sorts, no doubt. Personally, I try to spend the rest of the day (after traveling) to detoxify. I make a big smoothie containing orange juice for vitamin C and coconut water for electrolytes, and eat as many nutrient rich fruits and veggies as I can. 

The more you help your body, the more it will help you transition more seamlessly from transit into your destination!

3. Yoga!

Stiffness and poor circulation become issues on long flights and drives, and what better way to address them than yoga?! Check back through any of my former posts regarding yoga for the desk, and any of these poses are doable in a car, bus, train, or plane. Doing simple spinal twists and seated cat/cow can keep the back loose. Seated figure four stretch opens the hips and back. Simple neck stretches and prevents spasm and irritation. Ankle and/or hip circles improve circulation. 

After you land and arrive at your destination, take 15 minutes to practice a few sun salutations and hip openers like low lunges or lizard pose to increase your comfort and circulation. I always travel with my mini massage ball that I can use in my feet or neck in my seat to increase circulation. 

Happy travels, and remember that any moment you spend taking care of yourself is time well spent. 

Namaste!

Yoga for Runners: Three Ways It Can Enhance Training & Performance

Developing a consistent yoga practice is one of the best things you can do for your running practice! Cross training with yoga is a very effective way to tone and lengthen your muscles, help to protect you from injury, and develop a sense of bodily awareness. Running coaches often tell runners to, "listen to your body," to prevent injury or keep an injury from worsening, and practicing yoga will help you to do just that. 

Yoga provides a full package of tools to round out your wellness routine as a runner. Here are three key ways that it can do so, if practiced regularly!

1. Developing Physical/Mental Awareness

As I mentioned above, the practice of yoga is one that engages the body, mind, and spirit, just like running. In practicing yoga, you teach yourself discipline, the ability to follow fine alignment, and to breathe through things that may be uncomfortable or challenging, all of which are necessary skills for a runner. 

In learning what the body feels like when it is all sorts of different poses, your body will be more equipped to alert you when something feels "off" when you are running, allowing you to address it in the moment, reducing the risk of developing an injury over time. 

Furthermore, the more you practice mindfulness on your yoga mat, the more you will practice it in your life off of the mat, which will affect (for the better) decisions you make about self-care, workouts, and your diet. I have never been more aware of what I was putting on or in my body that after I started practicing yoga. Now, I only eat, wear, or do things that I know will make me feel good. When your body is not over/under-worked, well-rested, and filled with nutritious foods, you will no doubt be performing and training at your best level. 

2. Foot Care

The feet are what makes a runner run, so they must be taken care of. You have probably put a lot of thought and care into which shoes to buy, so be sure you’re out that same amount of care into your actual feet! 

Yoga offers incredible benefits for foot care, not the least of which is balance. Yoga practitioners know how important groundedness and supple feet are in balancing postures, because without, you are sure to fall. Balancing on one leg strengthens the stabilizing muscles of the feet, legs, ankles, and joints. (Tree pose, eagle pose, extended hand to foot pose, warrior three, etc.)

Warriors 1 & 2 engage the entire foot and outer leg, stretching the elusive outer ankle and calf, and Achilles. Downward Facing Dog and Thai Goddess pose open the soles of the feet and prevent plantar fascistic. Performing self-massage (abeyanga) on the feet is another way to keep the feet open and supple. 

3. Keeping Open Hips & Hamstrings

The most common area of complaint in my experience with runners is the hip flexors (fronts of hips) and hamstrings (backs of thighs). It is so important to keep these areas open through a balance of both active and passive (sustained) stretching. In a typical yoga class, you will move through transitional poses which are held for a very short time (ex: a half lift on your way from forward fold to down dog in a sun salutation, or even standing postures like a high lunge or warrior) which is a way of actively stretching as you engage the surrounding muscle groups. Then, as you settle into deeper, longer stretches at the end of class like half pigeon or a seated forward fold, the muscles have a chance to reaaaaaally let go thanks to prior active stretching. 

For runners, half split and low or high lunge should be part of your daily stretch routine even in addition to in class, to keep these areas nourished and healthy. 

Namaste and happy running!

Three Yoga Poses For Better Sleep

Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years because of its innumerable health benefits, but the one that perhaps is most responsible for yoga's widespread popularity in Western culture is... stress relief. Stress is among the factors of a bevy of health concerns, potentially including insomnia. (And when you aren't receiving proper sleep, your productivity, focus, and happiness decrease, which creates more stress, and on and on into a vicious, hazy, sleep-deprived cycle. I'd recommend checking out Arianna Huffington's new book, 'The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time' for lots more information on the topic of sleep deprivation, and what will happen when you emerge from it.) 

If at night you have reached your bed and still feel ridden by the events, stresses, and responsibilities of the day, it's not too late to practice a few yoga poses which can ease your transition from a busy day into a good night's sleep. These poses help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (which regulates the body's systems and de-activates stress responses), soothe areas of habitual physical tension, and let the so-called "monkey-mind" surrender. 

Here are three poses which are part of my personal practice that I actually do while in my bed before sleeping. (Best if done in this particular sequence.)

PHOTO CREDIT: Yoga Outlet

1. Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)

Sit up tall so that you feel balanced atop your sitting bones. Extend your legs out in front of you.  Bend your knees generously - especially since you are preparing to sleep, you don't want to overstretch or push too hard.  Lengthen your spine by drawing in and up with your abdominals, and lean forward over your bent legs. Let your arms relax, as well as your head and neck, and focus on breathing slowly into your back ribs. This pose slows the mind and opens the hamstrings and back. Slowly roll up after 1-2 minutes. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Yoga Outlet

2. Spinal Twist (Sputa Matsyendrasana) 

Lie down on your back and extend your right leg onto the bed. Hug your left knee into your chest, then cross it over your body and onto your right side. Your left knee will be reaching toward the bed, and your right shoulder will be reaching toward the bed, and your spine is suspended in a twist. Breathe deep, detoxifying breaths here for 1 minute (or about 10 breaths) then switch legs. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Yoga Outlet

3. Reclined Cobbler's Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)

From your twist, you are now ready to ease into sleep-mode, and this is one final easy hip opener before you do. Bend your knees so that you can place the soles of your feet together, knees open to the sides. Option to place pillows beneath your knees for more hip support. Allow your knees to give into gravity, and this takes time, so stay in this restorative pose for at least 2-3 minutes. I find it is very easy to sleep right from this pose. As you breathe, notice any thoughts that linger, and make a point to set them aside. 

Sweet dreams, and Namaste. 

Three Healthy Dinner Inspiration

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

1. Stuffed Grape Leaves

Sure, you can buy them in tins or at the deli, but they are DELECTABLE homemade. I first tried this recipe three years ago to bring them to a themed dinner party, and I have been making them ever since. They are a fun dish to prepare-- very hands-on, and it almost feels like you're making a craft! I like the recipe from Food Network (included below). I normally eat mine with a dollop of Greek Yogurt and paprika. Mmmm. 

Ingredients:

Two large onions, finely chopped

1/2 c. olive oil

1 bulb garlic

1 large, ripe tomato, chopped

1 c. lemon juice

1 tbsp. tomato paste

Sea salt

Black pepper

1 c. Rice (I like using wild rice, but suit yourself)

1/4 c. chopped dill

1 16 oz. jar prepared grape leaves (this saves time)

Directions:

Put the onions and oil in a skillet and cook over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. While the onions cook, peel the garlic cloves and mash them to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Add this to the pan along with the tomato, lemon juice, tomato paste, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the rice. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the dill. Set aside to cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate.

While this is cooling, drain the grape leaves and carefully pull them apart. Put them into a bowl and cover them with cold water. Let them soak until you are ready to roll.


Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a grape leaf on your work surface, shiny side down. Add 1 tablespoon of the rice mixture to the middle of the grape leaf. Fold the sides over the rice and roll the leaf into a small log shape, about the size of George's thumb. Repeat with the remaining rice, placing the stuffed leaves into a 9 by 9-inch baking dish. When the dish is full, cover the stuffed leaves with several layers of flat grape leaves and pour in 1 cup of water. Cover and bake for 1 hour. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate. Serve cool.

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

2. Summer Spinach & Apple Salad

I am a big fan of salads in the summer, because they are easy to make, transportable, refreshing, and you can combine many of your favorite disparate things into one yummy dish. This salad is a good balance of sweet, salty, fruity, and savory. 

Ingredients:

Fresh spinach, rinsed (always rinse your greens! You don't know what happened to them before you bought them!)

1 Granny Smith apple or tangy apple of your choice

Black olives

Quinoa or other protein (optional)

Dried cranberries

Tahini dill dressing or dressing of your choice

Directions:

DRESSING:

Blend the following in a blender or food processor:

1/2 c. fresh tahini

1/2 c. water (and more at your discretion, if too pasty)

1-2 cloves garlic

1/4 c. lemon juice

1/2 T. apple cider vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste (I use pink salt and a few cranks of fresh pepper)

1 c. fresh dill

SALAD:

Place spinach on a plate or in a bowl. Place the rest of the ingredients in the bowl, and douse with dressing. (This dressing is healthy so use as much as you'd like!) If you are not a vegan, this salad is also delicious with a little crumble of blue cheese and an extra sprinkle of sea salt. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Restore353

3. Summer Veggie & Chickpea Bowl

As you can see, there is more than one way to use that delicious tahini dill dressing!! I love it on a nice hearty bowl of veggies and beans, for a filling dinner that is also detox friendly (minus the cheese). Make two servings. For lunch tomorrow, double the recipe and pack a bowl for lunch! Give yourself something healthy to look forward to. 

Ingredients:

1 can chickpeas, or 1.5 c. boiled chickpeas

Two steamed sweet potatoes

1 c. steamed broccoli (I steam both simultaneously)

1 c. quinoa, prepared

Tahini dill dressing (recipe above)

Feta cheese

Nutritional yeast

Directions:

Place the quinoa as the bottom layer on your plate/bowl, and then layer chickpeas on top. Place steamed veggies alongside, and then sprinkle with cheese and nutritional yeast. Pour dressing on top, and let it soak in all the way to the bottom layer. You can mix it all up or eat each part separately. You can eat it hot or refrigerate it for a refreshing cold dish. Any way you do it, it is delicious. 

Namaste!

Healthy Shoulders Part One

There are four joints that make up the shoulder joint: the glenohumeral, the sternoclavicular, the scapulothoracic and the acromioclavicular. It is a ball and socket joint, that involves coordinated movement and stabilization of the scapula and the humerus. It is one of the most mobile joints in the body. Because of this mobility chronic shoulder conditions and injuries such as: tendonitis, rotator cuff or biceps tendon tears, bursitis, impingement and instability, are common. Proper arm and shoulder blade position, stability and mechanics are key to maintaining strong and healthy shoulders.

Here are 5 easy exercises to promote healthy range of motion and mechanics with the shoulders. These exercises are cued lying supine on the floor, but can also be done in a standing or seated position. 

VIDEO CREDIT: Restore353

1. Snow Angels

Begin lying on your back. Place the arms down by the sides of the body with the palms faced upward toward the ceiling. As you exhale, keeping the arms heavy and connected to the floor, start to drag the arms out to the sides of the body, into a “T” position. Avoid allowing the shoulders to roll forward and keep them relaxed away from the ears as the arms move. Inhale to pause. With control, exhale slowing returning the arms back down by the sides of the body. Focus on keeping the chest open, collar bones wide and the palms faced up towards the ceiling.

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2. Arm Circles

Begin lying on your back. With an exhale, raise the arms towards the ceiling with palms facing one another. The arms should begin shoulder distance apart, and slightly lower than the top of the shoulder to allow the head of the humerus to drop in the socket. Start to draw small circles with the arms individually, allowing the arms to remain heavy in the socket and without hiking them towards the ears. Repeat the circles 8 to 10 times in one direction and then repeat the circles in the opposite direction.  

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3. Shoulder Protraction/Retraction

Begin lying on your back with the same position as the arm circles. As you inhale, reach the fingertips of both hands up towards the ceiling, allowing the arms to move forward in the socket. This should be done without widening the arms or raising the shoulders towards the ears. As you exhale, draw the shoulder blades back towards the spine, deepening the arms back into the socket, while keeping the collar bones wide. Repeat the exercise 8 to 10 times, focusing on a nice glide of the arms and protracting and retracting and shoulder blades.

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4. Lat Stretch

Begin lying on your back with the same position as the arm circles. As you exhale, reach the arms back towards your head, without hiking the shoulders towards the ears. Focus on knitting the rib cage together and down towards the floor in the opposite direction. As you inhale, return the arms back to the starting position, while continuing to focus on widening the collar bones and avoiding the shoulders lifting towards the ears. Repeat the exercises 8 to 10 times.

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5. Thread the Needle

Begin on hands and knees in quadruped position, wrists under the shoulders and knees under the hips. The neck should be nice and long, shoulders drawing away from the ears and collar bones wide. Inhale raising the right arm out to the side, into a T position. Exhale rotates the rib cage to allow the right hand to “thread” through the space between left arm and leg. Come down to the right shoulder, placing the head/right cheek and arm onto the floor (this can be modified to place the head on a pillow or bolster to decrease range of motion). Inhale to hold the stretch. Straighten the left arm onto the floor overhead, palm faced down. Continue to hold the stretch as it feels comfortable. Bring the left hand back in front of the face. As you exhale, straighten the left arm, untwisting the rib cage, shoulder and arm. Place the right hand back on the floor, returning to the starting quadruped position. Repeat this to the other side.

 

Quick Shoulder and Neck Release

As we increase our sitting time at desks and round forward to use our devices, neck and shoulder muscles often become overused and fatigued. This can often lead to general stiffness, upper back, shoulder and neck tension, pain and even headaches. Here are three easy releases using a small therapy ball that target some of these overactive muscles.

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1. Levator Scapulae

This muscle originates at the transverse processes of C1 to C4 and inserts at the medial border of the scapula. It is responsible for elevation and downward rotation of the scapula and the extension of the neck and head. Stand with your back against the wall. Place the ball at the superior medial border of the shoulder blade. Roll the ball in circles around that point, vertically and horizontally between that point and the cervical spine and even up and down the border of the shoulder blade to release tension and trigger points. Repeat to the other side.

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2. Rotator Cuff Muscles

There are 4 rotator cuff muscles: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor. These muscle help to stabilize the shoulder joint and allow the shoulder to rotate. Stand at an angle to the wall. Place the ball just below the shoulder, to the lateral side of the armpit. Begin by rolling the ball in circles, then continue with vertical, horizontal and diagonal movements to target the rotator cuff in addition to the serrates anterior and latissimus dorsi muscles. Repeat to the other side.

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3. Pectoralis Minor

This muscle originates at ribs 3 to 5 and inserts at the coracoid process of the scapula. It is responsible for scapular abduction and downward rotation, and elevation of the ribs during forced inhalation. Stand against the wall, facing forward on an angle. Place the ball about 3 inches below the collar bone, medial to the armpit area. Roll the ball in small circles and in vertical, horizontal and diagonal directions about 3-4 inches in length.

Three Healthy Lunch Ideas

Sunday is an important day, because Sunday is the day when I buckle down and lock myself in my kitchen until I have lunches for the week. I normally go in seasonal waves of dishes. The summer is full of fruits and salads, winter is hearty roasted root veggies, and spring is a bit of both! 

Recently, I have been prepping a big batch of quinoa/brown rice mixture at the beginning of the week, and I use it as my dish base. I portion some out into my lunch containers, and then all I need are the toppings. 

The following is an insight into what I will be having for lunch during the coming week! Hopefully you can find some healthy lunch inspiration. All dishes are gluten free and vegan. 

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1. Thai Spicy Peanut Tofu & Veggies

Ingredients: 

- 12 oz. tofu

- Veggies to sauté (I used about 2 c. Broccoli and 2 peppers)

- 2 tbsp. Sesame oil

- Sliced almonds for topping

Peanut Sauce:

- 1/4 c. Agave

- 2 tbsp. Peanut butter (or other nut butter if allergic)

- 1 tsp. Sriracha sauce (or to taste... I use more)

- 1/4 c. Soy sauce / tamari

- 1 tbsp. Apple cider vinegar

- 1 tbsp. Sesame oil

Directions:

Remove tofu from package. Drain liquid out. Wrap tofu in a few paper towels; place it on a plate and set a full tea kettle or glass dish on top to press the tofu. Leave it for around 15 minutes to drain fully. 

Then, cube the tofu, place it on a wax paper-lined baking sheet, and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. (I usually flip the tofu halfway.) While tofu is baking, prep your veggies and make your sauce. 

Once finished, remove tofu from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes, and once cooled, marinate it in the sauce for 15 minutes. 

While tofu is marinating, heat a skillet at medium heat and sauté the veggies in sesame oil. (Sometimes it's nice to add a little fresh garlic here as well) Cook veggies to desired tenderness. Remove veggies from skillet. 

Toss marinated tofu into skillet, and cook until it crisps slightly and the sauce gets thick. 

Heap veggies and tofu on top of quinoa-rice, sprinkle with peanuts, sliced almonds, or sunflower seeds, and serve. 

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2. Mediterranean Beet Salad

Ingredients:

- 2 packages cooked beets

- 1 tbsp. Apple cider, white wine vinegar, or red wine vinegar (I usually use apple cider)

- 2 tbsp. Olive oil

- 1 large clove chopped garlic

- 1 tsp. Dill

- Pinch sea salt

- Feta cheese

Directions:

Remove beets from package and place on a plate, as they will stain a wooden cutting board, or other stainable surface. Slice into small pieces or cubes. Place beets into a medium mixing bowl. Normally, I add back whatever beet juice I can salvage from the package. Add remaining ingredients, mix. 

Place beets atop quinoa-rice, sprinkle with feta, and serve. 

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3. Beans N' Quinoa-Rice & Veggie Sausage

Ingredients:

- 2 vegetarian sausages (I use tofurkey Italian sausages)

- 1 can black beans (including liquid)

- 1 tbsp. Apple cider vinegar

- 1 red or green pepper

- 1 small onion

- 1 clove garlic

- Dash of your favorite hot sauce or 1 tsp chili powder

- Pinch sea salt (to taste) 

- 1 diced tomato

Directions:

Heat olive or coconut oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Sauté onion and garlic until fragrant, then add pepper. Cool about 2 minutes, and then add all other ingredients except sausage. Cover, and simmer for 20 minutes over low heat until mixture has thickened. 

In a separate skillet, cook sausages (you can slice them first) until slightly browned. 

Place beans atop quinoa-rice, and then add sausages on top of beans. 

 

Enjoy!

Namaste!

 

 

 

Alternating Knee Fold

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The alternating knee fold is an exercise that strengthens the pelvis in a neutral position and promotes femoral drop and glide and hip differentiation. This is the ability to allow the head of the femur to move efficiently in and out of the socket without having to move the pelvis. Exhale; draw the abdominals towards the spine as you flex one hip to 90 degrees, into a table top position. Inhale to hold the leg in that top position. Exhale, extend the hip, lowering the leg back to the starting position. Repeat the movement pattern with the other leg. Alternate the movement with each leg, while trying to maintain a neutral pelvis.

The Serratus Pump or Serratus Push Up

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The Serratus Pump or Serratus Push Up is an exercise that strengthens the scapular stabilizer: the serratus anterior.

Begin by kneeling on the mat in quadruped on the hands and knees, or alternatively on the elbows and knees. The hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart and the shoulder slightly extended. Pushing into the hands, abduct the scapulae, then adduct the scapulae. Feel the movement of the scapulae around the thoracic spine, or the ribcage, without allowing the upper trapezius to contract.

Three Simple, Healthful Breakfast Recipes

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I'd have to agree! It kick starts your metabolism, provides you with necessary calories (energy) to get through the morning and afternoon, and... Breakfast is delicious. I'm passing along three of my favorite healthy breakfast recipes that are so easy there is no excuse for grabbing a donut or bagel on your way to work. 

If you start your day with lots of sugar and/or carbs, you will be craving it for the rest of the day, and you'll be fighting an uphill battle to regain your focus after your mid-morning sugar crash. So, do your prep work ahead of time and make sure you have the healthy ingredients in the following recipes, and see if maybe you can create some healthy breakfasts of your own!

Note: you'll notice that there are two liquid breakfasts on this list. The reason for this is that, from a yogic/Ayurvedic standpoint, spring is the time to cleanse and lighten up, paring away the dense comfort food that we eat in winter. By consuming more liquid meals (ex: juice cleanses, etc.) we are assisting in re-setting the body's metabolism and digestive system. You will be receiving the nutrients in a more direct manner, rather than your body having to sort through/digest solid food. There is no pressure by any means to start a juice cleanse, but you may find that you feel more energized if you start your day with something light and nutritious!

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1. Turmeric & Ginger Latte

This delicious pick-me-up is great for any time of day, but I enjoy mine on my subway ride and it helps keep me calm and centered. 

Directions:

- 1 cup almond milk (unsweetened)

- 1 teaspoon fresh turmeric, chopped

- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped

- pinch sea salt

- pinch cinnamon

- 2 teaspoons coconut/turbinado sugar

- 2 tablespoons coconut oil

Heat the coconut milk on the stove on low heat until it almost begins to bubble. Remove from heat. Blend all other ingredients in a blender or food processor. Place milk and blended mixture into your blender, and pulse until frothy. 

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2. Elvis (Revamped)

This is a healthier take on Elvis's favorite sandwich, with pumped up nutritional value and a few extra layers of flavor!

Directions:

- Sprouted grain bread or other seedy bread (I use Ezekiel bread) 

- 1 small banana

- Chia seeds

- Unsweetened flake coconut

- Honey or agave

- Almond butter

Toast your bread to make it crunchy. Spread the bread with almond butter, and sprinkle with desired amounts of chia seeds and coconut. Chop your banana and add to toast, then drizzle generously with honey to keep toast from being too dry. Serve open faced. 

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3. Green Smoothie

Don't spend $10 on your morning green juice. Make this simple, delicious one at home-- no juicer required! This smoothie is great for detoxing the skin and internal organs, and boosts hydration! (Organic produce preferred) 

Directions:

- 1 handful spinach

- 1/2 frozen banana

- 2 tablespoons coconut oil

- 1/2 cup frozen pineapple

- 2 tablespoons hemp seeds

- 1/2 - 1 cup coconut water

- Water, as needed

Blend all ingredients. If your smoothie is too thick, add water or coconut water as desired. 

Never skip breakfast again! 

Namaste!

Spring Is Here ... Time For Core Work!

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Summer is just around the corner, and the weather is not the only thing that is heating up! Yes, we all want to look our best at the beach, but this is also the prime time to practice heat-building core-centric yoga poses in order to harness spring's powerful transformative powers. 

When we practice core work, we are stimulating the Vagus Nerve. The Vagus Nerve (housed partially in the solar plexus) regulates the body's parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for healthfully operating all of your body's systems. We are also cultivating Agni (heat) in your third chakra (Manipura Chakra), also housed in your solar plexus, which promotes healthy digestive function, and stimulates transition in your life. 

So, grab your mat, set an intention, and practice this Agni mini-sequence to tone up your core and get out of that rut. 

POSES (L to R):

Top Row: Cat Pose, Cow Pose, Downward Facing Dog (Adho mukha svanasana)

Middle Row: Downward Dog Split (Eka pada Adho mukha svanasana), Boat Pose (navasana), Revolved Boat Pose

Bottom Row: Rolling Like A Ball, Crow Pose (bakasana), Child's Pose (balasana)

Namaste!

Two Reasons Why Expecting Mothers Should Be Drinking More Water than Ever

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It makes me happy that most of the prenatal clients I work with answer "yes" to my question "Are you drinking enough water?" But when I ask how much water, the answers vary greatly, and some of you expecting mothers out there are probably mildly dehydrated without realizing it! (Just like the rest of the population) Pregnant women need to be drinking more water than the rest of us; in fact, the Mayo Clinic reports that pregnant women should drink at least 10 cups of water per day, and that nursing mothers should drink at least 13 cups. This is the minimum! If you exercise, even light exercise like walking, you should be consuming more water than that. 

Why does proper water intake matter so much when you're pregnant? Here are two reasons to consider:

1. It Can Help Prevent Constipation and Urinary Tract Infections

Constipation is very common among pregnant women, because you are now housing a small person who must receive nutrients and liquids via your body, and also get rid of waste via your body. There is more waste being created, and so you require more water in order to break it down. Often, simply drinking more water can greatly alleviate constipation and help move the waste through your system more regularly. 

Similarly with UTIs, the greater amount of waste to process can cause waste to gather in the kidneys or urine to dwell in the bladder. This becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, which is the cause of UTI's. Water keeps it moving and flushes the bladder and kidneys clear. 

2. It Can Help Prevent Overheating and Headaches

Did you know that your internal body temperature rises when you are pregnant? (This is another reason to move away from your intense spinning classes and running and toward toning, breath oriented exercise like yoga... And NO hot yoga!) 

If you don't have enough fluids in your body, your body cannot regulate its temperature through the form of sweat. In turn, you will develop dehydration headaches, which are no fun to deal with, and are totally preventable. Just consistently drink water throughout the day, and opt for small drinks here and there rather than huge gulps, which can cause bloating and discomfort. 

Think of this as the most productive time to start a new habit: proper hydration! Your baby and you will thrive because of it. And, as I mentioned earlier, this is a habit you'll need to sustain if you are nursing. Get a fun reusable water bottle to bring into your day, and start drinking that H2O!

Namaste!

 

Four Simple Exercises for Healthy Ankles and Feet

Strong ankles and feet can lead to better balance and performance, and can also reduce the likelihood of injuries. By maintaining proper ankle kinetics, a healthy foundation is set for the entire body, from the ground up, aiding in the proper mechanics of the knees, hips and the back. Here are 4 simple exercises and stretches to help promote healthy ankles and feet.

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1. Heel - Toe

Lying supine or in a seated position, begin by placing the legs, knees and ankles together. Lift the heels and roll them up and out to the ground, followed by walking the toes up and out. Continue to alternate rotating the heels and the toes, allowing the knees and hips to move simultaneously. Return using the same movement pattern bringing the legs, knees and ankles all the way back together again. Repeat leading with the toes first. This allows for a nice easy range of motion through the ankles, knees and hips.

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2. Point -  Flex

Lying supine or in a seated position, begin by lifting the heels off the floor. Keep the inner ankles connected, not allowing the ankle to lift so high that the feet roll to the outer edge. Focus on keeping even weight between the big and pinky toes. Bring the heels back to the floor. Rocks back onto the heels, lifting the toes off the floor, while still keeping the feet connected. Repeat the movement back and forth. This works the ankle joint through both dorsi and plantar flexion. It promotes healthy mobility through the talus, which facilitates both movement in the ankle and foot, and transfer of weight between the foot and the leg, enabling us to walk while maintaining balance.

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3.  Ankle Circles

Lying supine or in a seated position, slowly rotate the ankle in a complete circle, trying to fully rotate through the joint. Try to isolate the movement through the ankle only and not rotate through the knee or the hip. Repeat this 8-10 times in the same direction and then reverse the direction. Repeat then in both directions with the other foot. While encouraging blood flow to the joint, this also promotes both a nice easy range of motion through the ankle and a release of tight muscles through the ankle and the foot. 

4. Calf Stretches

Tight calf muscles (the gastrocnemius and the soleus) can contribute to improper mechanics of the ankle and the foot. This can inhibit proper motion in the ankle joint due to a lack of flexibility. 

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Gastrocnemius

With hands pressing into a wall or flat surface, stand in a lunge with one leg forward, knee bent, and the opposite leg straight behind, keeping the heel on the floor. Try to keep the front knee tracking over the big toe and activate both legs to feel both feet press into the ground evenly. Keep the hips squared forward. The lunge distance should be such that a stretch can be felt in the calf while maintaining an engaged heel on the floor. Aim to hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds. Repeat to the other side.

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Soleus

Repeat the same starting position as with the gastrocnemius stretch. However, allow the opposite leg straight behind to move closer inward with knee slightly bent, but while still keeping the heel on the floor. Aim to hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds. Repeat to the other side.