Love, Pray, Eat… Or Something Like That: Thailand

Okay, so I was kind of going to claim Japan as my “Eat” category, but if I’m going to be honest, I ate so much EVERYWHERE. No shame, I couldn’t help it! I am going to classify Thailand as the “Love” because I 1) loved it here and 2) felt so much love from all of the locals.

So the day that my true solo travels began, I took the first train at 5 AM towards Tokyo. I did awesome with this, I was super proud of myself. BUT, I still only got to the train station about 90 minutes prior to my flight, so I had to book it around. Luckily, everything at Narita International Airport went pretty smoothly. I desperately wanted coffee because I had not made any that morning, but I had gotten to the gate with only a few people in line left to board..phew! No big deal, though. I am very blessed with the ability to sleep on airplanes, and everywhere, actually. Give me a concrete floor and I will gladly nap. I took AirAsia, which I was initially nervous about since it was a new airline name to me, but they ended up being awesome. You can read my snippet about them on my other post.

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My flight went straight from Tokyo to Bangkok, with a 3.5 hour layover until my flight to Phuket. I figured that would be great, I could get through customs, get some money out of the ATM, get some coffee, and relax.. Well, that was not exactly the case. I waited in line at immigration for 2.5 hours. I was so antsy the whole time, sweating and everything. Every other line seemed to be moving faster, but of course I didn’t want to jinx it and just stayed in my line. Finally I noticed I only had an hour and I politely asked these 3 men in front of me if I could go ahead of them (all while apologizing a million times). You see, I still didn’t have my boarding pass because of the way I booked my flight (the company does it that way so it’s cheaper, I believe). So once I got through, I literally ran from the international arrivals to the domestic terminal, up the stairs, asking questions frantically to 3 different people along the way. Everyone was so nice and helpful, I can’t thank them enough. I got my boarding pass with about 35 minutes until the flight left (they were already boarding). So I ran to get all my baggage checked again (only carry-ons, thank goodness!!) I once again made it to my gate while the last few people were getting on. I noticed there was an ATM nearby and decided to try to get money out here. I ended up ending the transaction, my card popped out with no money, and I was left confused thinking they took my money. It didn’t, I was just being frantic. I’m totally sure people were laughing at me. I ended up doing it again and got some money out for real this time (duh). If I remember correctly, the money pops out before your card – so be careful not to leave your card at an ATM in Thailand!!

Once I arrived in Phuket, I felt super relieved. I finally made it, yay!! So I decided to stay at Puding Guest Long in Chalong.  It had a little bit of a musky smell (I have a strang sense of smell), but otherwise, it was a cute little place and everyone was super friendly. There’s a coffee shop downstairs, also. I had no idea going into my Thailand trip where I wanted to stay or anything, but it seemed kind of central and it was only $15 USD a night. Chalong itself is about an hour taxi ride from the airport, which I paid around 800 baht to my hotel, 700 baht from my hotel to the airport when I left. Again, I didn’t do my research much, but Chalong is actually where all the Muay Thai trainers go! For me, I enjoyed this since I’m into fitness and all of that. It felt safe, there are bars and restaurants, but no clubs or anything quite as crazy as those in Patong. Almost all of the restaurants have healthy food – raw, vegan, gluten-free, organic, etc. Again, for me, I loved this. I was able to both try Thai food as well as mix it up with healthier options.

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The night I arrived in Phuket, I went straight to find food. I honestly don’t remember the name of the restaurant, I just know it was on the main street in Chalong. I decided I wanted Thai food, because duh, I’m in Thailand! I’m not a huge spicy food person, but I figured, hey, why not! So I ordered green curry. Well, I did not get any pictures, I’m sorry to say. But I did spend the entire dinner wondering if my food was still hot temperature-wise, or if my mouth was just constantly on fire. It was weird though, it seemed that every time I brought the spoon closer to my mouth, even without touching my lips, I could feel the heat radiating. I’m such a spicy food amateur, I’ll tell ya. So the whole dinner I basically did my best to finish my food while trying to casually drink my water and banana smoothie. Ya know, without people noticing I secretly wanted to dunk my entire head in ice. And cry. Classic first meal in Thailand.

In the morning, my first day of adventures included an Elephant Sanctuary Visit. I was so pumped about this and it turned out to be everything I dreamed of! I had heard of many different sanctuaries throughout Thailand, but not as many in the Phuket region. I booked my tour through Viator (a tour website that I actually booked all my trips through when I was in Thailand). The company itself is Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket. You can read more of their story on Facebook by searching for @ejsinphuket on Facebook or checking out their website at http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com.

Okay, but before I went to this tour, I needed to get coffee. I wanted it so bad the day before!!! The wait was so worth it. I checked out this place called “Latte Caffe” and it was amaaaaazing!! I got me a nice coconut milk latte and an oatmeal pancake topped with nutella and banana (seen below).

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My driver picked me up right at my hotel during the time frame they had said. It was cool because I got to ride in the back of a truck, true Thailand style. We picked up another solo traveler from France on the way, then got a little lost due to the driver going to the wrong hotel, but finally picked up our last couple from England before heading to the actual sanctuary. Unfortunately, since I was the first one picked up and furthest out of the way, I’d say I spent about 2-2.5 hours in the truck. Obviously, this is also because we got a little lost. We ended up being the last ones to the sanctuary, but they didn’t start without us! There were a bunch of different people that had been picked up from different trucks at different places on the island. They had already mashed up some bananas to feed the elephants and were prepping more food when we arrived.

The tour began with a little information about what they do at the elephant sanctuary. They basically rescue elephants from tourism and elephant rides because they can be very mistreated in these situations. From terrible weather conditions, inadequate nutrition due to long days of work, and disciplinary actions that may cause bleeding or other harm to the elephant, the tourism industry is a sad way for people to make money off the elephants. The elephants at the sanctuary were rescued and are now treated as family, which you can completely see during the interaction between the humans and the elephants now!

During the tour, we were able to first feed the elephants, then bathe them in the muddy water, and then help them rinse off. It was so much fun to see the different personalities that each elephant had! There was even one that was a few months old. He acted just like a child. They kept calling him “bad boy” because he would run away, or flop over in the mud, or just do other childish things. But hey, what else would you expect from a toddler?? It was adorable!

After all of the fun with the elephants, we enjoyed a home-cooked meal from the hosts. I, of course, made sure to try everything! It was all amazing, and not too spicy unless you added spices and sauces yourself (I didn’t). We then started packing up and heading home. I did the afternoon tour, which meant we hit Patong at rush hour. So if you are looking to get back without traffic, I may recommend taking the morning half-day tour! I did get to see a pretty sunset view on the way home, though!

The next morning, I was supposed to go on a sunrise snorkeling tour to Phi Phi island. Unfortunately, due to weather, the trip was canceled (boo!). I thought about going on an adventure by myself, but I decided that I am always on the go and maybe I should take a day to myself! So I did! I ended up getting an hour long foot massage, pedicure, and manicure for roughly 30 USD total! The ladies were so nice and accommodating. I ended up going right in Chalong just a short walk away from where I was staying, but there are a ton of places! I also decided to eat at a Vegan restaurant, “Pure Vegan Heaven” this day. Like the rest of the food, it was also amazing.

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My last full day in Thailand, I took a trip to Phang Nga Bay! I was really looking forward to getting out and doing something again after relaxing all day the day before. Again, I booked my tour through Viator; however, I was lucky enough to find John Gray’s Sea Canoe tour on there. From what I had heard (and according to locals), this was the best! It really was an amazing day. Everything went smoothly from pick-up to drop-off. My van ended up being filled with me and 3 other Americans from all parts of the country, but when we arrived, there were actually 3 boats they were taking out on the water! I’d say each boat had about 30+ people on it.

Once we were on the boat, the guides asked us if we had any allergies. This might not sound like something big to highlight, but I actually have a cashew allergy, so I had to be careful in Thailand. When they served our food later in the day, they actually made me a completely separate plate without cashews! It was amazing and so thoughtful! All of the food was so delicious! We had both lunch and dinner served to us, as well as coffee and a snack.

If I remember correctly, we ended up going out into the water 3 different times into 3 different areas. It’s all hard to explain, and the pictures don’t exactly do it justice, but it was all so beautiful. Seeing the stalactites and stalagmites (which I had to remember which was which at first), being able to drift through the caves in the dark, and just hearing the softness of the water rippling around you. It was like a dream. Since I was traveling alone, I ended up pairing up with one of the other Americans, who was also traveling alone. Our instructor “Nub” was great! He was so knowledgeable and was able to point out things that, honestly, I’m not even sure how he saw them, haha.

Once it got dark, we were able to release the Loy (or Loi) Krathong that we created with our guide into the water. There is a Loy Krathong festival that is held every year in Thailand and other surrounding countries. It consists of people releasing a Krathong (a floating lantern made out of the trunk of a banana tree) into the water to allow their misfortunes to float away in hopes of receiving good fortune in the upcoming year.

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The ride back on the boat was beautiful, the sky was mostly clear, and the moon was shining down as the warm air breezed past us. Of course, I would have loved to have spent this moment with my significant other, but alone with my thoughts and happiness is second best I guess 😉 I believe we ended up returning to our lodges/places of stay around 10 pm!

So my flight out the next day wasn’t until 10, so I had all day to explore. I ended up booking another tour (through Viator, of course) to see a few spots on the island for half a day. It was only about $9 USD for transport and all of the stops, and it actually lasted from about 8:30-2 pm. We stopped at two different overlooks, a cashew factory (they had more than just cashews!), Wat Chalong Temple, and the largest jewelry store in the world – Gems Gallery: Phuket! Of course, in the morning, I had to start off with some more amazing food..this time from a little place called “Greze” right in Chalong. I tried my first bulletproof coffee here and had it with a greek yogurt bowl with personally picked toppings! I loved it all!

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My tour guide was amazing, and the others in the group were from England (a couple) and Pakistan (a solo traveler). It was great to have this smaller group so we could interact a little more and get to know each other. For example, the man from Pakistan was going to travel with his wife to Thailand but she was just now pregnant with their second child, how sweet! We ended up being buddies throughout the trip, sharing dried mangos and other random dried fruits out of a can, taking pictures for each other, etc. It’s amazing what you learn about someone when you talk to them! 🙂 He was so happy to travel to Thailand, even got a tattoo in Bangkok. Such a nice guy.

After being dropped off back at my lodge, I packed up my things, grabbed a bite to eat (I can’t remember where to be honest), and then got a taxi. I was a little nervous because my guest lodge had organized my airport transfer before. I heard you could get ripped off potentially, so I was prepared. I went across the street to a restaurant called, “Tony’s,” which I had ate at one night (super cheap, huge selection, but not exactly the best quality). They organize tours here as well as taxis. My taxi driver who picked me up was the sweetest little old man I have ever seen!!! I was so happy. He spoke a little bit of English, so we talked a little bit of the way. At the end I made sure to tip him well, he smiled ear to ear and said, “See you later!” I had told him along the way how much I loved Thailand and wanted to come back! All in all, I definitely didn’t get ripped off and I felt safe the whole time.

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Thailand was such an adventure for me and I wholeheartedly mean it when I say I can’t wait to return. Next time I hope to stay in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and then head south for some island hopping! I also wanted to say I had no troubles at Phuket International Airport, which I had read elsewhere. It all went very smoothly! Until I left Thailand that is..but that can be for the next blog 😉

Up next…Bali!

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To Fly or Not to Fly?

Hi everyone!

**updated January 2018**

In an effort to assist with future flight recommendations for others as well as myself, I am working on creating an ongoing list of different airlines I have taken, when I flew with them, and how the flight went. I hope this helps in your travel endeavors!

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JetStar Japan-2018: Compared to my last time taking JetStar, this time we flew out of Terminal 3 in Narita (Tokyo). Terminal 3 is much smaller and looks a little rundown at first, but once you’re inside, it’s all good. I didn’t experience any issues during this flight. We actually had a row to ourselves so we could spread out. I would fly with them again. PS – probably had one of the best landings I’ve ever experienced.

AirAsia-2018: This was not my first time flying with AirAsia (see below) and I can’t say I ever really had any difficulties. Our first flight from MNL to PPS was fine, nothing out of the ordinary… but on the way back – yikes. Our flight was delayed from PPS about 12 hours until 7 AM. This meant that AirAsia had to provide a hotel room and such for everyone. After waiting in line for about 45 minutes to reach the front and get a letter for our next flight (that we would miss), we then stood in line for about an hour as everyone was taken in vans to a hotel nearby. Once we arrived at the hotel, there were people sitting and waiting everywhere, another very long line at a very small hotel. After looking at the line, we decided it wasn’t worth it to wait for the free room (if they had any, that is), so we took a trike (tricycle) to a local hotel (which we found using the mall’s wifi). We stayed there for the next 6 hours, hopped on the shuttle to the airport in the morning and went back through with our original boarding pass. Our flight was 4241 to MNL. We sat near the sign at the Gate (only one gate for AirAsia because it is a small airport) and waited. Right around our boarding time, the flight sign switched to 4247 to MNL. Scott mentioned to me that it changed – but of course I always think I’m right (ha) and I figured it was just changed because it was the morning now. We lined up, they checked our boarding passes and sent us out to board the plane. The next lady checked our passes and told us to head to the back door where we got on. The flight attendant then checked my boarding pass and sent me to my seat but stopped Scott. She then told us we were on the wrong flight and that our flight left the night before. While we tried to explain to her that the flight was delayed last night and moved to this morning, she told us she would call the grounds crew. We waited but noticed there was another AirAsia plane directly next to ours that began to board. Yep, there were 2 flights to MNL about 10 minutes apart from each other.. both boarding out of the same door.. We tried to tell the flight attendant that it was our flight but she kept refusing and stating that our flight leaves at night. Clearly, she has never experienced a delay before or even understood what happened during one. After anxiously waiting, the grounds crew came up and immediately pointed and told us to go to the plane next door because, as we thought, that was our flight instead. No, this was not one person’s fault. Yes, it was very hectic and stressful. I am now a bit concerned how we slipped through so many people reading our boarding passes AND how this flight attendant was uneducated on what happens if there is a flight delay. I may fly with AirAsia again pending, but I did lose a bit of confidence in them after this situation.

Cebu Pacific-2018: This was my first time flying with Cebu Pacific. They are a newer airline based out of the Philippines. I didn’t initially book through them (it was just because of a delayed flight and a missed connecting flight.. see above), but I am happy that I had the chance to fly with them! They had a trivia game during the flight for people to win some “Cebu pacific gear” and their menu was pretty awesome! They even had a “unicorn bagel” – which my husband and I had to try, duh. It seemed very modern, plus I loved their outfits. The only downfall, which was all through Manila, was the customer service. The lady at the counter wasn’t rude, but she wasn’t exactly fully paying attention to us during check in. Regardless, I think I would fly with them again.

Delta-2017: On my flight from Tokyo to Singapore in October of 2017, I had no issues with Delta. I even thought it was awesome that they started to allow free messaging from iMessage and Facebook Messenger on the flight! Without buying wifi and everything — it was awesome! I would definitely fly again.

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Delta-2017: The customer service with Delta, in my opinion, was better than my previous flights with American and United. Most of the flight attendants were also older, not that that makes much of a difference (I don’t think), just simple observation. The food was decent, nothing to complain about except on one flight we sat in the back and didn’t get a choice of food. That was just poor luck on our part, though. On one flight, there was an incident when a passenger passed out. All of the flight attendants were very calm and composed and handled the situation well. The one problem with Delta is that they don’t have as many alliances for frequent flier miles as compared to American and United. I would fly with Delta again, though.

United-2017 (round 2): The customer service seemed to be much better on this flight. I really had no complaints. There were no delays and everything seemed to run pretty smoothly!

All Nippon (ANA)- 2017: During my last flight back from Japan to the USA, I took this group. They are Japan-based, and overall, amazing. Everyone was so nice, great customer service. The best part about this was hands down..the FOOD! I had some sort of infused pancake with my breakfast. That alone sold me, but the rest of the food was great also. Everything was super organized and clean. I will definitely fly with them again!!

United- 2017: Comparing US airlines, I think the customer service I had with United was not quite as good as American, but again, that’s not saying a ton. I had delays on all of my United flights, so that was a bit of a bummer, but of course, you can’t necessarily control that. The food was okay, nothing spectacular. I would fly with them again, but if you’re looking for great customer service, I wouldn’t say they are at the top. The food was basic airline food.

Air China- 2017: They seemed to have a lot more restrictions on their flights than any other I had been on. We had to take our coins out of our purse to go through security, which was something I had never had to do at any other airport (was at Beijing) or with any other airline. We also had to go through security again at our gate just before boarding.. So I bought a fancy Starbucks tea and a bottle of water before the flight, after I passed through initial security, and then had to throw it away 😦 I was also not sure with what electronics could be used on the flight, so I didn’t use any because I was too nervous to mess up >_< BUT! The one great thing about this flight (from PEK to IAD) – it was non-stop, and I had a full row to myself. I think there ended up being 3 of us in the back that had a full row. So I was able to sleep more on this flight than any other!! I don’t completely remember the food being amazing or horrible, so that’s also good news I’d say 🙂

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AirAsia – 2017: This is an economy line that really impressed me. To be honest, I loved this one more than most of the ones below. They don’t serve meals unless you pre-order or pick from what’s left once you get on the plane, but that’s part of what makes it cheaper. I felt completely safe the entire time and both of the planes I took were incredibly clean. Plus the safety routine completed by the flight attendants was perfectly synchronized (which might not be a big deal to you, but it looked really professional). Ultimately, I would hands down fly with them again.

JetStar Asia – 2017: Also an economy line. Although the planes seemed a little more outdated than AirAsia, everyone was extremely friendly and you can tell they are also very safe. I mean I think they told us to fasten our seatbelts 5 or 6 times before take-off. I would also definitely fly with them again.

Garuda Indonesia – 2017: This is Indonesia’s main line. I actually had no idea I would get a meal when I booked this flight, but I did for a 6 hour flight (pleasant surprise). Not to mention, this meal was pretty darn good (I had a Japanese breakfast). What I loved about this airline is that everyone was so nice and quiet almost. They left you alone unless you really needed something. They smiled, I felt safe, they talked quietly and respectfully. I
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American Airlines – 2016: Well, when I came back from Japan, not to my surprise, I encountered some flight attendants here that were a bit less than friendly. They were still friendly enough, but they are American (so am I, I get it). Everything definitely felt very safe and the plane was very modern and up to date, but again, just a little less friendly. Plus, the food looked like a microwaveable dinner compared to some of the other flights. I would fly with them again, but I would personally look into other companies first if possible.

Air Canada – 2016: Very clean and safe; however, very frantic. Once I got on the plane, I realized my seat was already taken by someone. I went back up and they very politely asked me to wait while they got me another seat. So they did. Then I went to that seat and someone was sitting there. So I went back. They, again, very politely, asked me to wait, which I did, also very politely. After about 10 minutes of standing and waiting, I watched the flight attendant move another man up to first class. He then escorted me to the economy class. Now, I’m young and I am totally capable of sitting in economy, and that is what I bought. But it just seemed a little silly to me that after waiting and walking around the plane like a deer in the headlights, maybe they should’ve just given me another seat? But it’s okay, I got a seat! Now from there, I liked it because they took individual orders for dinner before they brought it out, which was nice. Then, as dinner came around, they gave me the lady’s vegetarian meal next to me (totally fine, I’m not picky). Then they figured it out and switched them (luckily that lady spoke up!) Then they asked if I wanted chicken or beef. So I just responded chicken (now everyone else had gotten their meals). When they went back, they said they only had beef (again, totally fine because I’m not picky). It just all seemed a little unorganized and like communication was lacking a little bit. For me, it’s not a big deal, but for someone else, I think it might cause their anxiety to go up a little. After I got my meals, though, they were delicious! And they actually looked like meals instead of microwaveable dinners J I’m not sure I would fly with them again, just because I know I have other options. Again, totally safe and definitely polite, but the organization, teamwork, and communication was a little off for me.

Japan Airlines – 2016: Everyone on this airline was very polite, always smiling, and very helpful. The food was great also! Compared to Garuda Indonesia, they were equally as friendly, but I would say they were a little more “peppy” on this airline, which is definitely not a bad thing at all – just different! I felt very safe the entire time and the plane was very clean. I don’t have much else to say but I would definitely fly with them again!

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*I recognize I have only flown on these airlines once or twice and maybe this is not how each one is! But, this is just my experience. Take it with a grain of salt 😉

I hope this helps in planning your upcoming journey! I plan on adding to this as the years continue 🙂 Happy travels!! I’m so excited for you!!

-Jen

P.S. – If you are traveling to Asia and want some elephant pants, you can use my code “x3jennyfur10” for 10% off these (or anything else on the site). They’re super comfy 😀 –> Elephant Pants

The Safe Way to Improve Your Shoulder Flexibility: A Self-Study

As many people may know, I recently began participating more in yoga. One of my goals in 2016 was first to run a half-marathon, and then to get more flexible (and do a cool handstand with the sunset in the background like one of those super cool yogis). While we are taught in physical therapy school the different ways to lengthen and “stretch” a muscle, I have now started to actually experience it, because I want to. Nothing like putting your knowledge to work and getting a better perspective, right?

While there are many viewpoints in regards to muscle extensibility, I feel the article by Weppler and Magnusson describes it well. A muscle’s length tends to be measured one-dimensionally; however, there are many factors that come into play when increasing a muscle’s length and extensibility. We are not one-dimensional humans, we have joint capsules, various tissues and fascia pulling in different directions, muscles overlapping one another, ligaments holding our joints together. We are by no means one-dimensional, and neither is our ability to move. According to the science of biomechanics, we already know and understand that muscle length is multi-dimensional, so why do we keep attempting to stretch and measure it in only one way? (This is a segway to another future write-up…) There are many different theories and reasons behind why our muscles appear to lengthen after a short-term stretch including an alteration in pain and sensation, a short-term relaxation due to neuromuscular reflexes, etc. Anyway, knowing that there are many factors that come into play with stretching allows us to take a step back, breathe, and realize this is going to take time (if you want to do it effectively and appropriately). Without patience, you risk greatly injuring yourself, and maybe not even at the site of the stretch due to all of the overlapping tissues in your body. Let this be a reminder to you that our bodies are pretty amazing (and also insane, but still amazing).

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While I have not yet reached my perfect handstand (with the sunset in the background), I have come to find and critique each one of my movements so that I may focus on different aspects of stretching, strengthening, and balancing in order to achieve that “perfectly aligned” handstand. As a physical therapist, this opportunity and goal setting has been an amazing learning experience. As a beginner yogi, this has also been a wonderful learning experience. Let me break it down for you a little in some pictures.

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From a Beginner Yogi: This was my first documented (on Instagram) “wheel pose” back in May 2016. I used to do this known as a “bridge” when I was younger. I didn’t fully understand the concept of how to improve my form yet, nor did I have the flexibility for it. But the water was cool and it was a sunny day, so why not yoga?

From a Physical Therapist: Lacking full shoulder flexion – do we need to test that in standing just against gravity first before we do things like this? There’s a little thoracic extension here, but that could use some work. I can see tight hip flexors and a compensation of a heel raise to allow for more flexibility and space to open up. Just need to be careful not to overcompensate and start using the lumbar spine to make up for the lack of shoulder and thoracic flexibility.

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Second documented wheel pose in August 2016, while I was participating in a “yoga challenge” ..also at a Goo Goo Dolls concert (lol, what).

From a Beginner Yogi: Cool lighting, cool background, at a concert, cool. Plus I need to do my yoga for the day, right!? I didn’t have time for a warm up at all here, just kind of whipped this one out. Thanks for the pic, Mom! Hope you aren’t too embarrassed!

From a Physical Therapist: Am I starting to compensate using my lumbar spine? Is that safe? And wait, no warm up? I hope I don’t injure something, even holding these prolonged stretches can damage you. Wow, those hips flexors are still tight, definitely a (+) Thomas test, if you know what I mean. And still compensating with the heel raise? Hm. And yeah, we definitely need to work on that full shoulder flexion and elbow extension… what exercises can we do? (And by we, I mean me, myself, and I).

(Minimal disclaimer: My elbows don’t actually extend fully due to being born with a rare genetic disease that causes bone abnormalities. In my case, it is a large radial head which limits my ability to fully supinate as well as fully extend my elbow. BUT I think the yoga has actually slowly been helping, a little. Long story short, I am not going to target them, because it’s more of a bone on bone end range and is just silly to try to realistically change that.)

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So from this point on, I am looking at myself in these pictures and thinking… Wow, I really need to be careful, I could really injure myself. Luckily, I see this. Not every patient will. Many will continue to push through the pain to get that “perfect picture.” Or work harder to be able to get back on the playing field, or back to work to support his/her family, or back to just being able to play with his/her friends. This is key. Education is key.

Overuse, improper stretching, and pushing through pain make up a great deal of the injuries out there. It is our jobs, as physical therapists, yogis, athletes, humans, to educate ourselves and others on these risks. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and trying to achieve them, we just need to make sure we do it safely.

So where did I start? Well, I’d say back in September 2016 is when I really started focusing more on stretching my shoulders and my thoracic (upper back) region. It is still very much a work in progress, and will certainly continue to be. These are the main exercises I perform below:

  1. Foam roller for improved thoracic extension or “Fish Pose” on a foam roller: To perform this, I initially start with my hands behind my neck to support my head, elbows in for additional support. I roll myself a few times over the foam roller along my upper back from the base of my neck to the end of my ribcage or so. After a few reps, I begin breathing and arching my back a little more and holding the pose to allow for an additional static stretch. I also will perform this without a foam roller as I feel comfortable.
  2. “Puppy pose” for improved shoulder flexion and thoracic extension on the floor and on the foam roller. I perform this a few different ways and hold it for a few breaths (anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes pending how I’m feeling). Make sure not to compensate with your lower back here – really focus on breathing and pressing your shoulders and chest forward and down.
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    2. img_20170113_070842196 Not exactly puppy pose here, but still working on pressing the shoulders into the ground.
    3. img_20170113_074717866 More of an “extended” puppy pose, really trying to push the chest forward and down.
  3. Doorway stretch: 2 different ways
    1. Pec Stretch: Arms up, parallel to the floor. Gently lean in with a lunge. You should feel a stretch on the front of your arm/chest area. (Sorry for the hair – thanks 1 Mission Fitness for the cool shirt, though).
      1. Shoulder Flexion: Similar set up to the pec stretch, but I would extend my arm up higher. Allow your shoulder to sink into the wall while you lunge.
  4. Hanging shoulder flexion stretch (Not sure what else to call this): I would generally hold onto something above me, whether it be at the gym (a pole or something), a doorway, etc. Again, gently lean in without compensating using your upper or lower back. By performing such a compensation, you are only cheating yourself! And no, this isn’t me, but during the pictures, I couldn’t reach 😀 so I had to use my model substitute 😉

Additionally, I would do these a few times with a hold of 30-60 seconds, then perform some sort of yoga pose that utilized the new “space” I achieved from my short-term stretching. After all, mobility before stability, right?

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October 2016. (Saulita Skull Leggings from AltarEgo Apparel – they have a Gandhi quote on the front inside of them!)

As I analyze myself these next few pictures, I definitely notice a difference in my overall flexibility. Some of it may be from the warm up I did before the picture, some of it may not, I’m not totally sure how to differentiate. What I do know is that stretching the proper way and progressing the safe way is saving me from an increased risk of injury (specifically lower back here).

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January 2017

The above 2 pictures are from the same day, very recently, in the beginning of January. This was the first time I felt I could safely go into the wheel pose on my forearms. As you can see, my shoulder flexion is improving, slowly but surely. Again, still a work in progress and I still need to do my own home exercise program, maybe even add on a few other different stretches to challenge the multiple dimensions of my joints, but I am getting there. My point here again is that this takes time, it is not going to happen overnight, or even in a few weeks. Whether you are trying to improve your general flexibility (like me) or your patient is recovering from a torn ACL, the emphasis is the same. The most important thing is patience so that you are not placing yourself or your patient at an increased risk of injury.

Anyways, I hope my journey thus far has taught you something, inspired you to teach something to someone else, or just been fun to read/laugh at my experience. 😀

Until next time,

Jen Strack

P.S. Because I’m a “beginner yogi” and obsessed with cool pants.. Here are the links and codes for discounts to some of the pants I was wearing in the pictures above. Because they’re awesome and I like to reward myself sometimes and I think you should too 😉

1 – The Saulita Skull Leggings from October 2016 are from Altar Ego Apparel -> http://www.altaregoapparel.com/ – An all female run company. Code “JNS” gets you 15% off.

2 – Red Bohemian pants are from Bohemian Pants.com -> Bohemian Pants. Code: “x3jennyfur10” gets you 10% off AND they donate 10% of your purchase to help save the environment !

Citations:

Cynthia Holzman Weppler, S. Peter Magnusson; Increasing Muscle Extensibility: A Matter of Increasing Length or Modifying Sensation?. 2016; 90 (3): 438-449. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20090012

Dynamic Stretching: Part 1… “The Basics”

If you’re like me, you’ve been doing dynamic stretches practically forever. I grew up always performing “high-knees,” “butt kicks,” and “toy soldiers” before every practice and game. Of course, in college I actually had an idea of what I was doing, compared to when I was younger, but nobody ever told me why I was doing these. My coaches would just tell me to stretch and that it was good for me and I, as well as my teammates, accepted that. Lucky for me, I got into a profession where I can finally figure out why I am doing these sometimes-crazy-looking-stretches and how they are going to affect my performance. Let’s start off with the basics… but, beware, this is part of an in-service presentation I am giving, so it can get a little science-y.. (I left a “bottom line” portion at the end of each paragraph or so, if that helps)

What is dynamic stretching?

Dynamic stretching is a form of stretching that incorporates whole body movements in an active manner. Dynamic stretching does not involve bouncing movements that exceed comfortable ranges of motion. This type of stretching would be known as ballistic stretching and is not to be confused with dynamic stretching.1

What is the difference between dynamic and static stretching?

Static stretching is a prolonged, passive stretch that is generally held for a few seconds up to about 90 seconds. Static stretching is said to acutely depress the reflex activity of a muscle and increase muscle compliance. The increase in muscle compliance then increases the time to and decreases the force of a myofibril contraction during muscle performance. 1 In a comparison, dynamic stretching is said to help preserve this muscle-tendon unit stiffness in order to enhance muscle performance instead of stunt it. In a systematic review, static stretching of the upper body was shown to have neutral effects on power, whereas it was shown to negatively affect physiological outcomes (Ex: heart rate, vO2). 2 It is important to include static stretching in sports that require static flexibility; however, 90 seconds of static stretching has been shown to produce impairments on dynamic movements. 3

Bottom Line: Static stretching is okay to improve passive motion; however, it can impair activities that involve strength and power.

Why does it work? (#science)

One theory behind dynamic stretching is known as postactivation potentiation (PAP). PAP increases cross bridge cycling via an increase in myosin phosphorylation of the regulatory light chains. 3 In more basic terms, by performing similar muscle contractions, you are conditioning the muscle and its contractility so that it is more, in a sense, “ready” to perform more contractions. Essentially, you are progressively warming up the muscle so that it may contract more efficiently in the exercise that follows. 4 PAP is said to increase the rate and ability of a muscle to develop force; therefore, it influences and increases a muscle’s mechanical power. 4

Some other thoughts behind dynamic stretching include its ability to increase heart rate and increase core and muscle temperature. By doing so, the blood flow is increased throughout the body so that the body may move more efficiently during activity. 4 In addition, dynamic stretching is said to improve kinesthetic awareness and enhance motor unit excitability. 1

 Bottom Line: Dynamic stretching can enhance your performance in activities that follow by improving a muscle’s effectiveness and efficiency during muscle contractions. It helps get your muscles ready for the important stuff!!

How will this benefit me?

If you are performing any sort of active motion, you will want to initiate dynamic stretching instead of static stretching. While static stretching has been shown to improve static flexibility, most required functional tasks and/or exercises involve active movement, which requires dynamic stretching to improve.

Types of dynamic stretching are important to consider based on the tasks/activities performed after the warm up. 2, 4 The velocity and intensity of lower body dynamic stretching has been shown to impact and improve both vertical jump and long jump performance. 4 In a study by Chatzopoulos et al, dynamic stretching was shown to improve balance on a stability board whereas static stretching was shown to harm balance. This is attributed to the quick movements needed to maintain one’s balance.

It should be noted that if a person already has a way they like to warm up or some sort of stretching routine involving static stretching that they are not willing to change, static stretching deficits should not exceed 5% in comparison to no stretching. 6

 Bottom Line: When you move, you use your muscles differently than when you stand still. So why warm up by standing still? Get out there and MOVE to warm up! Also, just remember that some people are stubborn and won’t change their ways – they shouldn’t be negatively affected greatly by static stretching before exercise, but they will be affected (and YOU will be better than them, duh).

Does it affect the upper and lower body differently?

Currently in the literature, there are no articles to investigate the effects of dynamic stretching of the upper body and its impact on injury prevention. High-load dynamic stretching in the upper body (anything greater than 20% of maximum effort, ex: plyometrics) has been shown to improve strength and power with good evidence, flexibility, and delayed onset muscle soreness with moderate evidence . 2 In the upper body, there was also no benefit in performing low-load dynamic stretching (Ex: repetitively gripping a sponge) prior to exercise. Specifically for those who play baseball, dynamic task-specific warm-ups (swinging a bat) at the standard weight has been shown to improve swing speed more than using a heavier or lighter weighted bat. 2

One study of the upper body also demonstrated that a low-volume dynamic stretch of the pectoralis and triceps brachii muscles showed a decrease in the maximal isometic peak force during the bench press exercise. There was also no short-term effect on the time to maximal isometric force or the rate of force production following dynamic stretching. In the same study, there was a negative effect induced by static stretching when performing upper body tasks after. This must be taken with caution, again, as we do not know the proper load and duration to perform dynamic stretching. We must also consider that there are articles out there that say otherwise (that dynamic stretching improves performance). Additionally, the 2 dynamic stretches performed in this study may not have been appropriate in fully stretching or warming up the muscles in a dynamic, task-specific manner. 7

In regards to the lower body, a study by Curry et al. compared static vs. dynamic stretching in females in their mid-20s and its effect on lower body balance, force production, reaction time, and power output. In these females, who were recreational athletes, time to peak performance improved with both 10 minutes of dynamic stretching and a 5 minute bout of light cycling. These improvements were seen 5 minutes after stretching had occurred. 30 minutes after stretching had occurred, time to peak force began to increase with the basic cycling; however, it remained fairly steady in those who performed the dynamic stretching routine.

 Bottom Line: There is little to no research out there to show any evidence in dynamic stretching decreasing a risk of injury in the upper or lower body. While there is more research on the lower body, both the upper and lower body generally seem to have impairments of power and strength following static stretching while there are enhancements following dynamic stretching. Wade cautiously, though, some studies don’t have many subjects.. There definitely needs to be more research.

How long should I stretch?

For upper body dynamic stretching, there has been no research to determine proper load and duration that provides maximal effectiveness to improve strength and power. 2

In regards to lower body dynamic stretching, a study by Ryan et al. compared 3 groups who performed different warm-up activities: A-5 minute jog and 6 minutes of dynamic stretching, B-5 minute jog and 12 minutes of dynamic stretching, C-5 minute jog only. Those in group B who performed a longer duration of dynamic stretching showed a decrease in muscular endurance, attributed to a decrease in high-energy phosphates and a repeated high-intensity contraction to failure. Both groups A and B showed an increase in vertical jump height and velocity. Group C, who did not perform any dynamic stretching, had no effect on the vertical jump; however, did show an increase in flexibility. Overall, the most appropriate volume, as concluded by this study, indicates that 6 minutes of dynamic stretching after a 5 minute jog is adequate in stretching the hip and thigh musculature, improving vertical jump performance, and not affecting muscular endurance. To be noted, this study was performed with recreationally active men in their mid-20s.

 Bottom Line: Don’t stretch too little because you won’t see a great effect. Don’t stretch too long because then you’re going to have tired muscles. Simple as that. 6-10 minutes is most likely adequate; however, it will depend on how “in shape” or well-trained you are. The higher training you have, the more it will take before you fatigue.

But I’m not a young, 20 year old, competitive athlete?

This will still help you!! While most of the literature focuses on high-school aged to mid-20s recreational and competitive athletes, a study by Behm et al. recognizes the similarities and differences in dynamic stretching effects in regards to young and middle-aged men. The study mentions that dynamic stretching provides similar improvements to static flexibility as static stretching does. It also notes that static stretch-induced impairments and dynamic stretch-induced enhancements of the countermovement jump are not affected by the difference in age, meaning they respond similarly as the younger counterparts. The article also mentions previous literature that discusses that older, untrained women experienced a deficit in strength training following static stretching, similar to younger female athletes studied. While these demonstrate similar effects on middle-aged people, we must keep in mind the elderly and frail have not yet been studied in regards to effects of dynamic stretching.

Bottom Line: It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, dynamic stretching still works the same! Age is not an excuse!!

Is there anything I should be cautious about?

Caution should be taken when performing dynamic stretching prior to any activity that may have a higher risk of knee injury in regards to an improper hamstring:quadriceps ratio. 8 In a study by Costa et al, an overall decrease in hamstring:quadriceps ratio was seen, suggesting that the hamstrings may respond to this type of stretch differently than the quadriceps. The hamstrings provide a great deal of eccentric control in the last 3rd of the swing phase during running as well as assist the anterior cruciate ligament (that darn ACL everybody hears about..) in decreasing anterior tibial translation. As this study shows a decrease in peak torque of the hamstrings, caution must be taken in order to maintain a proper balance between muscles. While this is not a true contraindication and more of a precautionary measure, clinical judgment should be made before introducing dynamic stretching. As this is only one study, there should be further research to determine if there is a higher risk of injury in certain regions after performing dynamic stretches of particular muscles or if this study is merely an outlier.

Bottom Line: There is one study that says to be cautious performing dynamic stretching before activities that cause a higher risk of knee injury (basketball, soccer, etc.) HOWEVER, this is ONE study and to be conclusive to the larger population, there needs to be more standardization, subjects, and further research in general. Proceed with the same caution you would proceed with when performing any activity.. just use your noggin!!

So… now you know the basics. Stay tuned for some upcoming posts with different examples and what they are targeting, etc.

Have a great day! 🙂

-Jen

References

1Curry B, Chengkalath D, Crouch G, Romance M, Manns P. Acute effects of dynamic stretching, static stretching, and light aerobic activity on muscular performance in women.Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association [serial online]. September 2009;23(6):1811-1819. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

2McCrary J, Ackermann B, Halaki M. A systematic review of the effects of upper body warm-up on performance and injury. British Journal Of Sports Medicine [serial online]. February 18, 2015;Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

3Samson M, Button D, Chaouachi A, Behm D. Effects of dynamic and static stretching within general and activity specific warm-up protocols. Journal Of Sports Science & Medicine [serial online]. June 1, 2012;11(2):279-285. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

4Ryan E, Everett K, Fiddler R, et al. Acute effects of different volumes of dynamic stretching on vertical jump performance, flexibility and muscular endurance. Clinical Physiology And Functional Imaging [serial online]. November 2014;34(6):485-492. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

5Chatzopoulos D, Galazoulas C, Patikas D, Kotzamanidis C. Acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on balance, agility, reaction time and movement time. Journal Of Sports Science & Medicine [serial online]. May 1, 2014;13(2):403-409. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

6Behm D, Plewe S, Button D, et al. Relative static stretch-induced impairments and dynamic stretch-induced enhancements are similar in young and middle-aged men. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, And Metabolism = Physiologie Appliquée, Nutrition Et Métabolisme [serial online]. December 2011;36(6):790-797. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

7Leone D, Pezarat P, Valamatos M, Fernandes O, Freitas S, Moraes A. Upper body force production after a low-volume static and dynamic stretching. European Journal Of Sport Science [serial online]. 2014;14(1):69-75. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

8Costa P, Herda T, Herda A, Cramer J. Effects of dynamic stretching on strength, muscle imbalance, and muscle activation. Medicine And Science In Sports And Exercise [serial online]. March 2014;46(3):586-593. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

Let me see you 1, 2 step

Hey everyone!! So.. I have been doing workouts on my steps for years (just ask my sister who I always woke up on Saturday mornings). There are TONS of things you can do on steps, but for this post, I will just focus on a few, specifically targeting the legs and hips. These are just easy things you can do without leaving home that still change up your workout a little bit 🙂 Also, sorry for the cat if you can see him… he is my shadow..

1) Heel Taps. These help to focus on the eccentric control of your quadriceps specifically, while also helping to encourage more ankle range of motion and gluteal stability to realign your pelvis to level as you come back up.

2) Single Leg Heel Raises. This will help to encourage more balance on your stance leg while focusing on your gastroc-soleus complex to assist with push-off during running, walking, etc. Try to not hold on if possible! Allow your heel to sink down past the height of the step and make sure to go slow and controlled as you sink down to focus on the eccentric contraction!!

3) Lunges. These are fairly simple and can be done forward, backwards, or to the side (as seen below). Go up and back down to focus on concentric and eccentric contractions of your quads, inner and outer thighs, and gluteal region. As you get better, feel free to go faster and change this to a more plyometric-style workout!

4) Stair squats. I’m not sure what these are actually called, but they are fun. Please disregard my form, I kind of hurt my ankle a little a few weeks ago so my ankle movement is super poor right now. Try to keep your heels down when you squat (not like me) and make sure you push your glutes back, trying to break at least 90 degrees to really emphasize better form. Try these slow at first so you don’t trip or fall (I have before.. not shown here, haha).

5) Monster Lunges. Again, not sure what to call these, but they look similar to monster walks so I think this is a good name. This will help to work on more of that side to side motion while still emphasizing all of the benefits and functional components of a lunge.

Not shown here: Running  up and down the steps forwards/backwards/sideways – try them all for a little cardio boost that is more entertaining than a plain old run at the gym. Plus, if you have pets that you are dodging, it’s an added bonus 😉

Have a great day everyone! I hope these are helpful and you can try them out soon! 🙂
-Jen

“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”