Have muscle tension that you need some help with? Try some of these tips:
1. Breathing. Whether you’ve just finished working out or are stuck in a traffic jam, a few deep breaths can go a long way. First, try to become aware of tense spots in your body, how you’re sitting/standing, and generally how you feel all over. Next, take a slow, long breath in through your nostrils, allowing your breath to oxygenate your whole body, down to your toes. Hold for 3 seconds, and then exhale. Repeat two more times, making sure that you send breath into those sore spots.
2. Stretching. One of the most neglected ways of relaxing muscles, stretching can help improve your circulation, decrease low-back pain, and lower your risk of injury. To get the most out of stretching, try holding your stretch for only 3-5 seconds, then release. Repeat this ten times.
3. Sleeping. You may think that a longer workout is better than getting a good night’s sleep, but that’s not really true. In fact, while you sleep your muscles get a much-needed chance to repair themselves, which goes a long way in helping you achieve your exercise goals. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night, and if time permits, even try taking a nap in the afternoon.
4. Meditation. You may think that a nap is just as helpful, but meditation can have great benefits too. In addition to helping quiet those negative thoughts, meditation can help release the tension from your muscles. Try to do meditation in a quiet, dark area, and don’t worry about whether you’re sitting or laying down. Just relax and breath into all the various parts of your body. Falling asleep is normal with untrained meditators, but practice can give you excellent results.
5. Massage. Getting a weekly massage can make all the difference in your muscle tension. Make sure that you visit a registered massage therapist (RMT) and tell him/her which spots on your body hurt the most. Finally, try to schedule a treatment that’s long enough – no massage therapist is capable of massaging your whole body in only 30 minutes. Aim for 60 or 90 minutes if you want something extensive and worthwhile.
6. Acupuncture. This ancient medicine works on relaxing your muscles in a deep and profound way. Acupuncture can improve your blood flow, nerve conduction and lymph drainage, all of which are essential in muscle repair. In addition, it can help you with other issues that may be contributing to your muscle tension, e.g. sleep issues, stress, low energy, and so on. Make sure that the acupuncturist you choose is trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine, to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your treatment.
7. Supplements. While natural approaches are usually the best, it sometimes doesn’t hurt to add a supplement or two. For example, fish oil can help reduce inflammation in your muscles. Magnesium aids in nerve signalling as well muscle contraction and relaxation. Vitamin C can aid in tissue repair. Above all, eat a healthy, balanced diet, and don’t over-do it on the supplements. And make sure that you cycle them: take the supplement for up to 3 months, then take at least 3 weeks off to give your liver and kidneys a rest.
8. Epsom salts bath. Speaking of magnesium, Epsom salt is very high in magnesium, and a bath using these wondrous salts can be very good for your muscles. Benefits include improved circulation, improved insulin uptake, flushing toxins from your cells, and more. If you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor before taking Epsom salts baths, just in case.
9. Drinking water. Staying hydrated is important for many reasons, but few people are aware of the benefits it has on muscles. In fact, water may be the most important nutrient you can think of taking in to help relax your muscles. Water helps with nerve conduction and muscle contraction, helping your muscles get the electrolytes they need to function properly. Water also helps lubricate your joints and prevents cramping. In addition to getting at least 8 glasses of water each day, be sure to eat a minimum of six servings of fruits and vegetables, as these wonder-foods also contain a lot of water.
10. Taking a day off. You may want to work seven days a week, or more likely, you may want to exercise seven days a week. Doing this might seem like a good idea, but not giving your muscles a rest is a sure way to minimize their health. Just like with sleep, time off gives your muscles a chance to recuperate and grow, so be sure to rest at least one day a week. If you’re really eager, just do some simple stretching and/or light cardio. And if you’re not such an eager exerciser but do experience a lot of stress in your life, take a day once a week to just do nothing. And I mean nothing. One of the healthiest people I ever met exercised 5 or 6 days a week, and worked six days a week as well, but always took one day to just rest. He wouldn’t sleep in, but would get up and have a healthy breakfast, then go back to bed. He’d get up again a little later and just do some light housework or have lunch with friends. But his main intention on that day was rest – and that should be something you should try as well. You muscles as well as your mind will thank you.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner