Ma Roller

I was introduced to the Ma roller years ago by a friend in the yoga community. It doesn’t look very exciting, just a wooden dowel with some knobs on it. It is the most effective tool for back pain I’ve found.

The Ma roller is a remarkably simply tool that most wouldn’t consider. It’s a piece of wood with two knobs that press into the strips of muscle along your spine. Massage therapists spend so much time getting these muscles to relax and this tool does the best job of anything I’ve encountered in my years working with bodies.

You lay down on the tool and it presses into the muscles on either side of your spine. The impact of the tool comes not only from a sustained, long term pressure on musculature that is tight but the fact that you receive a very gentle backbend as you continue to relax. This pushing of the spine allows a very pointed, precise backbend for specific vertebrae. You’re able to relax superficial muscles that are often overstretched and tissue that’s overly tight is given time to truly give way.

As with a yoga pose you use the tool within reason. It’s not supposed to cause pain but it is supposed to be intense if that is what your body needs. Intense gets your attention but it doesn’t tell you to stop.

When I first used the Ma roller I found that I needed the most help in my upper back or thoracic spine. It provides a stronger backbend here due to the way your spine’s natural curves press out against the roller. If I ever found the pressure to be too intense I could fold a towel over the roller and it softened the pressure the knobs place on my spine while in use.

Over the years my upper back and cervical spine have improved but as soon as I’d worked through this I began developing low back pain. I’ve worked with it for several years now, it comes and goes and the Ma hadn’t been used in awhile. I decided to use it again and placed it around my lumbar paraspinal musculature only to discover that I had some deep tension here that felt old. Right along my core I could feel shooting pains from this area to the heads of my femurs in my hips then about half way down my thighs.

My wife giggled as I groaned for ten minutes or so hanging out in what is some very intense sensation in my low back. After having these muscles release some and gently moving my vertebrae I stood up and felt much more free. My low back wasn’t as rock solid and upon twisting my spine it adjusted strongly and down into my sacroiliac joints. Later that day in yoga class I noticed that when I went into what’s commonly called superman I could feel those muscles tighten for the first time in awhile. Previously I was getting almost no additional contraction, the muscles were already squeezing so tightly I couldn’t feel them anymore.

Over time the area is letting go and I find forward bending to be easier and with less strain. I’m not always completely certain what’s tight and why but the Ma roller is only one of the two tools I recommend to clients.

Get one and use it, your back will thank you.

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Neti pot

A neti pot is a small teapot like tool you use to clean out your nose and lower sinuses. I was introduced to it years ago after reading about their use in yoga for breathing exercises. You fill the neti with a mix of water, sea salt and a little baking soda to soften the mixture. After turning your head to the side you pour the water through one nostril, it glides out the other and then you reverse.

The first time I did this then blew my nose I inhaled through nostrils that felt clean for the first time in years. I doubt I produce more mucus than the next person but mucus membrane, if left uncleaned, feels a bit like you’ve not brushed your teeth in a few days. When people tell me they’ve never used a neti it now feels like they’re telling me they’ve never brushed their teeth.

It’s difficult to explain a sensation if no one else has experienced it but lets just say I could really Breathe. All of the small nuances of air flowing through my nose could be felt all the way down into my lungs instead of having that light sensation muffled by dried, well..snot.

The neti is important for anyone who practices yoga and works with their breathing but in addition I recommend them to people with allergies. It won’t get rid of the allergies but it does give your body less to fight. It doesn’t counteract any medications and if used multiple times a day when you have a flare at least you’re able to clean part of your sinuses out.

Most don’t consider their breathing at all but there are other reasons to have a neti around. Anytime you’re feeling congested it can be used and lo and behold after a heavy night of nausea I found I could use the neti to rinse out, well, you get the picture.

I prefer using a plastic neti and I make my own mix of 50% uniodized sea salt and 50% baking soda. The plastic seems to last longer as most people I know eventually drop the ceramic ones and they break on the bathroom floor. I can even run it through the dishwaser to clean it semiregularly.

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If you practice yoga and pranayama or the breathing exercises associated with yoga I can’t recommend this highly enough. It helps fine tune the mouthpiece of your instrument so to speak and no one plays Coltrane on a unclean instrument.

There are more advanced uses of the neti which include taking water through the nose then spitting it out through the mouth and vice versa but the basic use is the first one to tackle. I recommend just letting the water pour through one nostril while breathing through the mouth then doing the same on the opposite side. Blow your nose as usual and this expels any excess water. Quick, simple and no matter how many times I say it an amazing difference in the feeling in your head.

The neti is a small addition to your overall life and health regimen that I can’t recommend highly enough. Here’s a link to the one I use and they can be purchased at Walgreens pharmacy.

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