Alternating knee hugs

This exercise is a rhythmic stretch designed to help you gently stretch your lower back and hamstrings while loosening the hip joint. It's an easy way to slowly get your lower back to release and let go.

To do this exercise, follow these steps:

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.

2. Inhale deeply and as you exhale, bring your right knee up toward your c hest, placing your hands behind the knee for guidance and assistance (see Figure 6-7).

Don't hold your kneecap — this can cause pressure on and pain in your knee joint.

3. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.

4. Lower your leg back to the beginning position and repeat the stretch with your left leg.

5. Alternate right and left leg stretches for eight to ten repetitions keeping the movement slow and controlled.

Try this exercise while lying in bed. If your back is so sore that you can't get up and down from the floor, the bed makes a nice substitute for the floor.

A few do's and don'ts for this exercise:

^ Do exhale as you bring your knee forward.

^ Do keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.

^ Don't bring your knee so far toward your chest that the movement causes your hips to lift off the floor.

Figure 6-7:

A stretch for your back that involves lying on your back and alternating your knees to your chest.

The tennis ball massage

Sometimes muscles that have been very tight for a long period of time can actually lose the ability to relax on their own, resulting in persistent muscle and skeletal imbalance, nerve impingement, and most likely, chronic pain. When that happens, the only thing that can really help the muscle let go is focused massage. Unfortunately, for most people a good massage is a luxury of both time and money. But don't despair — one of the most effective methods I've found to apply pinpoint massage on chronically tight and painful muscles is both quick and inexpensive. All you need is a tennis ball and an open space on the floor.

Two techniques are useful and both are simple. Here's the first one:

1. Place a tennis ball on a clean, flat place on the floor, and lie down with the ball directly beneath your tight muscle.

2. Lie there and breathe deeply, using your own body weight to apply pressure to the muscle while the increased amount of oxygen in your blood helps to initiate the relaxation response and to wash through the tight muscle and remove toxins.

The second goes like this:

1. Place a tennis ball on a clean, flat place on the floor, and lie down with the ball directly beneath your tight muscle.

2. Move slowly back and forth, gently rolling the tennis ball all around the affected area to mimic the motion of a firm, steady massage.

Do this for approximately 30 seconds, and then roll off the tight area to give it a rest.

3. Repeat until you feel the muscle relax.

I do want to give you two precautions with this massage technique:

^ Don't overdo it. Let the muscle relax slowly and gradually. It may take repeated attempts over several days to get severely tight muscles to stop clenching and let go. Aggressive massage can actually bruise the muscle, which just makes things worse and keeps you from addressing your fundamental muscle tension for several days until you heal.

^ Never place the ball directly beneath your spine. Your spine is made of bones, and bones won't stretch. They can bruise, though, and be pushed out of alignment, which again will only make things worse.

As a program of preventive treatment, keep a tennis ball handy, and stretch out on the floor whenever you feel tightness building up. These measures will keep you out of the doctor's office and make your next massage all about indulgence, not pain management.

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