Thursday, July 19, 2012

Relieving Upper Back Tension

I spend the large majority of my day hunched. At a computer, over papers, reading a book... whatever it is, I'm probably hunching.  It's not that I wasn't taught good posture - I was, and I tend to have it when I'm standing - it's that I'm tall and my desk is inevitably too low.  Or it's that when I'm deeply focused, I tend to lean into what I'm doing. 

Weight lifting on already tight shoulders and upper back only exacerbates it.  Now, I have two kinds of pain: the good, muscle-building kind and the obnoxious, headache-causing hunching kind.  As a result, I've spent a lot of time investigating good stretches for the upper back, since I tend to do my stress-relief on a budget. Massages are expensive, you know.

The one stretch I have found works consistently and immediately is a sort of yoga/desk-stretch hybrid.  It's essentially the upper half of eagle pose.  Here's how to do it.

First, as always, consult a doctor before self-medicating - even with stretches!

Sit up straight in your chair, planting your feet firmly on the floor, or kneel on the floor with your weight evenly distributed.  Stretch both arms out on front of you, at shoulder height, then cross your arms - right over left. Bend your elbows to a ninety degree angle and touch your hands together, palm-to-palm, with your arms wrapped around each other. 

Feel like a pretzel yet?  Good.  Now stretch your arms straight up, still in eagle pose, and follow your hands with your eyes so your neck is elongated.  Breathe deeply.

Now bring your elbows straight down (following your hands with your eyes still) until they touch your navel, rounding your shoulders.  You should feel a nice, loosening stretch in your upper back.  Breathe deeply here for a moment. Now repeat, with the left arm crossed over the right.

Enjoy your newly-tension-free shoulders!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rest Days for Your Mind

I recently had an experience that reminded me of the importance of a little self-pampering.  You can find the story here, but here’s the relevant part: a few days house-sitting that were supposed to be days of solitude turned into chat-fests and non-stop mental stimulation.  Now, I am both extremely introverted and highly sensitive.  My brain gets overloaded really quickly with stimuli – from conversation to noise to even smells.  For four straight days, I was interrupted constantly both by the dog at this house and by their cleaning lady, and by the end of it, I felt so incredibly haggard.

My brain ceased to function normally.  The connections it normally makes between thoughts were flickering out before they were even fully-formed.  I had a headache for a solid day afterwards.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Spicy Southwest Black Bean Soup

I don't know about you, but I love black beans.  Especially when combined with spices for a hot and hearty soup.  Here's one of my favorite soup recipes: wholesome, filling vegetables and black beans with enough spice to ensure you'll never get bored with this recipe.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Having the Courage to Start

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."
-John Bingham 

I remember what running was like before I became a runner.  We used to do “the mile” once a year in school, and every year I dreaded that day.  I wasn’t even able to run the whole mile, and in the short stretches where I did manage to run, my throat burned and my legs felt heavy and sluggish.  I didn’t understand how some people in my grade could finish in six minutes.  I especially didn’t understand the few people who seemed not just unfazed by this relatively short ordeal, but actually seemed to enjoy it.   

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Microwave Chocolate Protein Cake

Sometimes, you just need something sweet, but it's hard to justify the empty calories and the sugar rush and inevitable crash.  I've seen lots of recipes out there for protein brownies, cookies, you name it... but nothing has quite satisfied.   So I concocted my own recipe, and it turned out quite nicely.  I enjoyed it with a homemade latte.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fartleks: or, Sprinting for Non-Sprinters

fartlek |ˈfärtlik|
a system of training for distance runners in which the terrain and pace are continually varied to eliminate boredom and enhance psychological aspects of conditioning.
alternately: a system of training in which you will simultaneously curse and praise the day the Swedes introduced this brilliant torture to the rest of the world.
ORIGIN 1940s: from Swedish, from fart ‘speed’ + lek ‘play.’

Today I want to talk about my simultaneously most and least favorite exercise: the fartlek. Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play,” and it’s a more flexible version of interval training. It’s most often used in reference to running, but the principles can be adapted for essentially any cardio workout: running, walking, cycling, or swimming.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Healthy Shrimp in Garlic White Wine Sauce

This is a re-post from my original blog. A lightened up version of a classic Italian recipe, this recipe has 2/3 the calories and half the fat and saturated fat of the original dish, but it lacks nothing in flavor:

Serves 4.