Relax and restore on the cheap

Modern life takes an awful toll on the human body.  Stress, excessive sitting, repetitive motion, unbalanced workouts and a general disconnect from our bodies can lead to tightness, pain, moodiness and even more serious health problems. There are lots of ways to avoid this fate, unfortunately most of them (massage, acupuncture, private training) are too expensive for many of us to access on a regular basis. The following plan was designed for anyone who wants to stay healthy and balanced without breaking the bank. Done regularly and with intention these simple steps can empower you to heal and rejuvenate your own body.

What you will need: A full-size foam roller (available at most gyms or sporting goods stores). A sauna or hot tub, or a hot bath or shower. A change of clothes (preferably loose and comfortable)

Pre-step: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Start this process at least the night before with lots of water and less coffee, alcohol and fruit juice.

Step 1: Spend 5 to 15 minutes in the sauna, hot tub or bath, depending on your tolerance and enjoyment level. This is an effort-free way to warm up your muscles and connective tissues, which will get them ready for the stretching and rejuvenation that is to come. I recommend lying on your back, closing your eyes and focusing on breathing from your belly. If your gym doesn’t have a sauna or if being naked in front of strangers is not your idea of relaxation, try a hot shower instead. 

Step 2: While stretching usually gets the short-shrift in most workouts, today it’s the main event. Do stretches for all your major body parts (especially hips, hamstrings, calves and chest, all of which are usually tight for most people), holding each for 60 seconds and then repeating. I recommend timing your stretches at first, because most people have no idea what 60 seconds really feels like. Continue to work on deep, mindful breathing and focus on how your body feels as you hold each stretch. Imagine that you will have to write a report about your body's flexibility. What words would you use? What changes would you record? Can you learn anything new about helping your body lengthen and relax? If at any time you feel bored or restless, return to your body and the sensations you are experiencing.

Step 3: The foam roller is an amazing tool that allows you to massage yourself. While learning how to use it can be a bit clumsy, most people get the hang of it fairly easily. Your own body weight provides the pressure, which you can increase or decrease depending on the area you are working with and the desired intensity. You'll want to roll all your major muscle groups including your back, glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings and the IT bands on the outside of the leg between the knee and hip. Make sure the roller stays on the muscles and off the joints. Roll slowly and if you come to a painful spot, do your best to stay there for a bit and try to work it out a little. Some discomfort is okay, but you want to avoid serious pain. If you feel yourself tightening your neck or face muscles, ease up on the pressure. Keep in mind that you can’t work out a life’s worth of tension in one day and that today is supposed to be relaxing and not excruciating.

Step 4: Back to the sauna, hot tub or shower. Stay longer this time if you can, which will allow your muscles to really relax in their newly released and lengthened positions. I recommend bringing your shower towel with you this time, so that it will get nice and toasty.

Step 5: Change into your comfortable clothes. Continue to hydrate. Go eat something healthy, something with protein and whole-grain energy. Now’s your chance to enjoy the warm, glowing buzz of a body stretched, relaxed and well-cared for.

Recap: Hydrate, heat, stretch, roll, repeat the heat, continue to hydrate and then get ready to feel amazing. Just like the Wicked Witch hates water, moodiness despises deep breathing, self-care and a good stretch session. Try this routine to banish short tempers and short muscles, and feel so much better.