I've talked before about how helpful exercise can be in advancing the healing process. Recently I learned a sequence of small, gentle movements that could be very helpful after surgery and during chemotherapy (with doctor's approval, of course). These movements open the chest after breast surgery, realign the spine, improve posture, and help to restore the mind and body.
This method is taught by Sara Meeks, a physical therapist with 50 years of clinical experience (www.sarameekspt.com), in her seminar for health and exercise professionals. It was primarily designed to help improve alignment and reverse the postural problems that osteoporosis can have on the spine, but I've also found the exercises to be very restorative and effective for overall well-being for anyone, and particularly for someone recovering from surgery or undergoing treatment for cancer.
For the purpose of this blog, I've taken some liberty with the sequence of the exercises, and will describe the first five here, which all improve posture.
"Decompression Exercise": Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. If your chin tilts upward, place a folded towel under the back of your head. Rest your arms by your sides, palms up. This position relieves compression in the spine and helps reduce back pain. Hold the position for a few minutes, breathing naturally.
Remain in this position for each of the following exercises. Perform the movement, pause for a moment in the end position, then release and repeat 8 times.
"Shoulder Press": Press your shoulders down toward the floor. Think of sliding the shoulder blades down and together, spreading the "wings of collarbones", stretching the front of the chest.
"Head Press": With head and neck in neutral position, press the back of the head into the floor (or towel) to strengthen the muscles in the back of the neck and help re-align the head over the shoulders.
"Thoracic Lift": Do the Shoulder Press as above, only this time continue to press your shoulders down and lift the spine by arching your upper back off the floor. This strengthens the muscles between the shoulder blades and stretches the muscles of the chest and front of the shoulders.
"Elbow Press": Place your hands underneath your head, elbows wide. Press elbows down toward the floor. If your elbows don't touch the floor, place folded towels or pillows under the elbows so you have something to push against. If you can't get your hands under your head, start the exercise with your hands on your forehead and rest with them in this position. Don't press elbows back until you can get your hands behind your head.
In the next post, I'll continue the Sara Meeks method with the lengthening exercises.
Joan is author of the best-selling book Strength Training for Women and owner of Joan Pagano Fitness in New York City.