My absolute favorite stretch!
Many clients who come into my office for a massage complain about low back pain. This is the season for gardening, sports, and long vacation car rides. All of these, in addition to the simple act of sitting at a desk all day, can aggravate the low back. The low back (lumbar/sacral) area is complicated, because there are a lot of muscles that lie over each other, and which are difficult to stretch due to the proximity of the pelvis bone.
However, I do this stretch every day, a few times a day; before and after exercising, and before and after giving massages. It works to stretch not only the hamstrings, but most of the low back structures. It takes some time to master, but know that the intention of the stretch is what leads to increased flexibility. Don't be discouraged if you can't do this perfectly the first time, just keep trying!
First, and most simply, the six muscles included in the hamstring muscle group attach from about the pelvis to head of the knee. We know they flex the thigh at the knee toward our backs. Second, and a little more involved, are a few of the muscles of the low back, attaching to or near the pelvis. For our purposes here, we'll mention the Quadratus Lumborum, Erector spinae group and Multifidus. The latter two run the length of the spine, from the very top of our skull to the sacrum. The first, “QL”, attaches from the lowest rib to the top of the pelvis. It's quite a deep muscle, which makes it involved in more active endeavors, such as running and cycling.
Involving both the hamstring and low back structures at the same time effectively immobilizes the pelvis on the active side, which allows both sides of it to be stretched very well. In other words, the stretch will pin the pelvis and move the muscles away from it on both sides. It feels great!
Start by putting your left leg up on a fixed surface that is about the level of your pelvis, such as up on a stair or desk. Angle your right foot, flat on the ground, about 45 degrees out. Reach your right (opposite) arm up over your head, then slowly pivot at your pelvis, reaching your hand and arm down toward the toes of the elevated foot. Ideally, you could reach your hand past the elevated toes easily, and lower your torso down on to your elevated leg. Take a deep breath and lean into the stretch for about 10 seconds. Release gently, and repeat on the other side. If you can't reach your toes the first time (or maybe you aren't even close!) don't be discouraged. Flexibility in the spine takes a long time to develop, but is completely worth it!
Keep working on your low back stretching – you'll also find that after a massage therapy session, this stretch will come much easier. I'd be happy to demonstrate this stretch for you the next time you're in my Westport office. Enjoy!
A perfect weeknight meal
Millet is one of my absolute favorite grains – it's healthy, hearty, and low in calories. Since it has a very mild, nutty flavor, the citrus and spice really play together with the millet nicely. Feel free to use any type of root vegetable you like; parsnips, celery root, or yams would all work well.
4 whole oranges
5 big sprigs rosemary
3 sweet potatoes (about 1 lbs total)
6 carrots (about 1 lbs total)
1 bulbs fennel
1 small red onion
4 cloves garlic, whole and peeled
1 chile pepper, minced, sliced or whole (depending on your heat preference)
2 cups millet
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Roast the vegetables: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Slice 3 of the oranges thinly. Lay the slices on the bottom of a roasting pan or casserole dish. Lay 3 rosemary sprigs over the orange slices.
Cut the sweet potatoes, carrots, fennel and onion: You can wedge, dice or cube the veg, depending on how fast you want it to cook (the smaller the cut, the quicker the cooking time.) I find that a mixture of a 2” cubes and wedges cooks evenly and looks pretty. Lay the cut veg on top of the orange slices and rosemary. Add the peeled whole garlic cloves. Drizzle the veg with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Slice one more orange thinly and lay orange slices and remaining rosemary sprigs on top of the veg. Roast in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender. You may need to toss them once or twice to cook them evenly and to brown them slightly.
Cook the millet: While the vegetables are roasting, heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chile pepper, minced or sliced as you prefer. Cook for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the millet, tossing to coat with olive oil (you don't want to color the millet at all). Add 4 cups of water and raise the heat to high, bringing to a boil, covered. Add the zest of the remaining orange and the lemon, and their juices. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once the millet and water boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until tender. NOTE: Cooking the millet with a 1 to 2 part (millet to water) ratio, as here, will yield a firm yet tender, rice-like consistency. If you increase the ratio to 1 to 3, the millet will be softer and creamier. You can also add a little extra water after the millet is finished cooking, with the heat on, to achieve a softer texture as desired. The millet can rest, covered, with the heat off, until the vegetables are finished roasting.
Finish the dish: You can remove the rosemary and roasted oranges, or eat the oranges, if you prefer. When the vegetables and millet are cooked to your liking, simply top the millet with the veg on a plate and serve!
DOUBLE REFERRAL REWARDS!
Usually, when you refer a friend and they come into my office for a massage therapy session, they get $10 off, and you get $10 off your next session as well. But this month, when you refer a friend, they still get $10 off, but you get $20 off your next session! Everyone wins! Refer a friend (or a few!) any time this month to take advantage of this amazing offer. I'll see you in my Westport office!