Journey Tip: physically invest in yourself

Going back to working out after two weeks of not doing so, feels good. Especially since the second week was the worst, where my knees hurt even worse than they had last year. Turns out it feels just as good to alleviate all that soreness, even if it is a psychic journey. Really though, there was no choice. My back started bending out, and theres a place in my spine that is newly strained and can’t stop locking up. Time to revisit the self maintenance routines! Every time I get started on work, I feel my body and everything becomes a distraction, because I cannot escape even when I shut my eyes and put in earplugs. So I just deal with it first.

Sitting at a desk, table, or step is difficult, and if it is done enough, can indeed constitute work. Many people work for 8 hours a day sitting down. Why wouldn’t it be a workout in its own way? If those muscles and tendons and ligaments get swoll, I gotta get the rest of me swoll. That’s how I’m looking at it. Some parts of me are too swoll, because I’ve been over-reliant on them: my adductors, neck muscles, armpit pecs, jaw/tongue, eyes, ears, sacral muscles, and the tensor fasciae latae (TFL, which sounds like a great drink name). Let’s have a morning engagement with the body.

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Here, a primer on the TFL. Studied it a bit in my dance class. Very useful for anyone who puts their body in a 90° L-shape while working (everyone sitting down, most people driving, most operating machinery, and even those who crouch and squat to lift and navigate terrain.

The Tensor fasciae latae Wikipedia page, with all its glory.

Courtesy of Wikipedia commons

This bad boy over there, the TFL, has the nasty habit of trying to do the work for the other parts of the lower leg. If you sit down and wear pants with a thick waistband over your hips (anything below your pelvic bone), you are cutting off nerve and blood flow to all of your legs. Not my knowledge, just passing down what I’ve learned and experienced. My feet are cold, I can’t feel my legs all the way, and my sacrum clicks. I need to remedy all of that even if I am “so spry” and “have little trouble moving around.” That psoas major and illacus, talked about in tandem as the illio-psoas grouping are some of the tightest and hardest to stretch. They are your core. Your abs are… I’m sorry…. superficial. The lats really do a lot of work (also atrophied on my poor fleshmachine) in unison with the psoas to twist, turn, balance, and hold the body steady so the limbs can extend. If you sit down and reach your arms forward, the leverage offset by your arm and shoulder weight is not being balanced by your full leg and pelvis muscles, it is being balanced by your lats and this muscle; it must stretch afterwords, or it will continue to tighten and cramp. No joke. “My back hurts, I’ve been sitting down too much,” comes from this muscle tightening up and pulling the spine away from back support. Using the legs feels like using the ass, and when sitting down the ass is immobilized and difficult to engage. And then… my adductors are just too tight. Too tight! Not enough stretching! Believe it or not, my back will not loosen up until my legs loosen up. Go figure! Full figure.

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Here’s a primer on the Neck Zone, a place where things can actually get dangerous pretty quickly. I did not study it in my dance class, but have been using the same resources and explorative techniques, as well as researching on my own.

The Neck Wikipedia page, in all its glory and more specifically the Scalene muscles’ Wikipedia page, in all its glory.

This SCM is right in front of everything, hogging the show...
Courtesy of Wikipedia commons
Courtesy of Wikipedia commons

That Hyoid bone is a good landmark for self-massaging out jaw tension. A neck bone just floating under your chin and above your throat box. Under the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) is where the real complexity and troubles happen in the neck. There are two obvious boys here, the SCM muscles that cross from your ear to your collarbone, but these are simply the attention hogs of the neck. While they are important and help mobility, they can cover up or impede on the other muscle’s fluidity. Stretch them, then get underneath them to the Scalene muscles. If you look in one direction for your job, sitting down OR standing up, you are using these muscles. The most surprising thing about these muscles is the ability to breathe that I did not know I had before massaging them. They lift your first rib at least, and while are not responsible for passive breathing, they can get in the way of full flow breath, and tighten up. Even by myself I can trigger point them and eventually when they stretch I can hear fascia and tendon creaking and opening up, and I feel air in a place I did not know it could go!

One of the things about necks that can get dangerous are all the tubes. They go in between muscles, and around them, and through bone loops. These tubes are nerves, lymphatic vessels, blood vessels, the esophagus, the windpipe, and all the tubes related to your ears and sinuses. The upper hyoid muscles are closer to the ear tubes, but the lower hyoid muscles and SCM and scalenes can restrict the area around your thyroid gland, making every tube work harder than it needs to, putting stress on a vital part of your body. The thyroid regulates metabolism. If your neck is tight, it might be impacting more than you think. All those nerves get desensitized when they are strained and under prolonged engagement. Over-engaging the neck with craning and holding still for hours at a time becomes normalized, accustomed, resulting in a lack of sensation. Massage the front of the neck gently, many light strokes over a longer period of time. Trigger pointing the scalenes down by the collarbone can be done, but I would not recommend trigger pointing anything else besides those SCM, and only then I would do so right underneath the ear. Safety first, kids!

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So I’m trying to disengage some overly-tense muscles. The best way to do this is actually the opposite of what one might instinctively think. You gotta engage that same muscle. Yes, more work for the same spot! Tiring! Of course! The issue with why the muscle is sore now even when it hasn’t worked out is complicated as well. It is ridiculously difficult to track how each muscle of your body engages, and how long throughout the entire day. Minutes add up. A one-hour workout can alleviate stress built up over hours during the week or previous day, because the muscles being used are now working 75-99% output for bursts of 5 minutes, rather than at say, 50-70% for oh I dunno… 5 hours. Slow accumulated stress pulls the body apart the same way that working out does, but it is far more sinister. The body gets used to that stuff. Uncommon is the individual who has gotten used to going to the gym, but maybe that’s my experience. Those who go to the gym regularly seem to be aware of how much it is necessary and still go through the physical stress and anxieties and discomforts the same as irregulars. The difference seems to be mental. I think I’m getting there. I hope this was a helpful personal experience jam for y’all!