Category Archives: Relaxation

Tension headache relief: Get to know your occipitofrontalis

Release tension around your eyes by massaging the occipitofrontalis muscle along your eyebrows

Are you suffering from frequent tension headaches, maybe accompanied by blurred vision? Or just a sense of tension around your eyes? Good news: There is a simple way to get relief for your tension headaches that you can do in just a few minutes by taming your occipitofrontalis.

The occipitofrontalis muscle runs across the head. It is constructed of three components, the frontalis muscle, the occipitalis muscle, and the galea aponeurotica. The latter is a large tendon that connects the occipitalis in the back of your skull with the frontalis, running from the top of the head and inserting in the superficial fascia of the fascial muscles and the area above our eyebrows.

It’s basically the muscle that raises your eyebrows and wrinkles up your forehead and creates fascial expressions in the upper part of the head. And it is often very tense, contributing to tension headaches, migraines and blurred vision.

Follow the mini massage in the video below to release any muscle tension around your eyes. If you don’t have massage balls, you can simply use your fingers.

  1. Close your eyes, and breathe into your belly to activate the relaxation response. Make sure your elbows are supported so you can relax your shoulders while you massage the frontalis muscle.
  2. Massage along the ridge of eyebrows either with your middle finger, index finger or with several fingers together by making small circles, applying gentle pressure. If you have massage balls, place one ball at the inner edge of your eyebrow and then wind it up a bit in a spinning motion. This will gather up your myofascial tissues, creating a deep massage action and increasing blood flow to your eyes.
  3. Move from the inner eyebrow toward the temples, by picking a new spot to massage.
  4. When you reach the temples, spin the ball or press your finger into your temporalis muscle with a circular motion. You can open and close the jaw to create a deeper massage action.
  5. Then spin the ball the other way, or circle your fingers in the other direction and move backwards along the ridge of the eyebrows.
  6. Do the same to the other eye.
  7. Finish with at least five minutes of palming.





Let your belly breathe for deep relaxation

Belly breathing triggers the relaxation response.

We paradoxically often have a hard time relaxing. Not just when sitting or lying down to palm our eyes, but in daily life as well. We get wound up about about another driver cutting us off in traffic and stress about the small and big stuff that gets thrown at us every day. This is were belly breath can help you to get to deep relaxation instantly.

Without going too much into anatomy, here some basics to help you understand why we get so easily stressed out and how to avoid that trap.

Our autonomous nervous system had two main components, the sympathetic system also known as “fight or flight” and the parasympathetic system often referred to as “rest and digest”, aka relaxation.

Flight or flight is important when we face real danger. It stops the digestive tract, widens the pupils, increases the heart rate and blood pressure, flows oxygen into the muscles and tenses them up to get ready to run or fight off an offender. We automatically start to breathe more into the chest.

Unfortunately we tend to get stuck in that sympathetic nervous system response even when danger is over or when there was no danger in the first place, just daily stressful situations. This causes digestive problems, blurry vision, tension in neck, shoulders and head, increased blood pressure, shallow chest breathing and so on.

So how can we keep calm and carry on? The key is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The main nerve responsible for this activation is the vagus nerve, which has been getting more attention from the scientific community in recent years. It communicates with the thyroid, adrenal glands, intestines, pancreas, gall bladder, heart, and brain. It’s a very long nerve, connecting the base of the brain stem with the viscera, our “gut”. In fact, some scientists refer to the gut as the “second brain” because of this connection. We say “gut feeling” for a reason! My younger daughter rightfully proclaimed as a five-year-old that her secret power source is in her belly.

The vagus nerve gets stimulated in a number of ways, one of which is the movement of the diaphragm down into the abdominal cavity on a deep abdominal inhale. When you do this deep belly breath, it will automatically expand outwards and contracts back on the exhale, when the diaphragm moves back up into the ribcage. You can imagine the diaphragm like a dome tent where there is no breath after the exhale. It’s attached to the lower six ribs. On a deep inhale, the diaphragm tent flips upside down, creating a bowl shape. And therefore creating a big space for the lungs to expand into the flexible rib cage.

If your stomach and belly are tight from holding stress and tension, or maybe from overexercising the abs, having them always sucked in (as we were taught as kids, especially girls), your diaphragm has no space to go and you will automatically breathe more shallowly into the chest. And with that activating the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system. It’s a devils circle.

The following Yoga Tune Up® ball sequence will massage your belly, the internal organs, activate the vagus nerve and teach you belly breath. It will also remove any tension you might carry in your abdomen. You will need either a Yoga Tune Up® Coregeous ball, or a soft and grippy exercise ball that is not inflated too much.

1. Lie down on your mat or floor. Place the ball underneath your navel and gently lower yourself down. Check how the pressure of the ball feels. If it hurts or feels very uncomfortable, do this sequence at the wall. If on the floor, either support yourself on your forearms in a sphinx like yoga position, or come all the way down and let your forehead rest on the floor.

2. After a few initial breaths, do five contract and relax breaths. To do so, inhale deeply into your belly only, so that your lower body lifts off the ball. Hold this for a few seconds, then exhale sharply, letting the ball sink deeper in to your abdomen. If possible, create a small break between the bottom of your exhale and the next deep abdominal inhale. You might notice, that each exhale relaxes your abdomen more, letting you sink deeper into the ball after each breath.

3. Move the ball to another spot on your abdomen and repeat the five contract & relax breaths there. You might notice more tension in the stomach area or more in the lower abdomen, the digestive tract. Spend time where you feel the most tension.

3. Then start rolling on the ball from top to bottom using a push/pull motion in your hands and feet, stripping along the rectus abdominus (“six pack”) while continuing the deep abdominal breath. This big muscle runs parallel to the spine. Do some contract & relax breaths on any tight spot you can still find.

4. Change the direction now, going side to side, cross fibering (going against the grain) of the rectus abdominus. The transverse abdominals go the other way, they run deep below the six pack muscles in a 90 degree angle. And the obliques are oriented in a 45 degree angle for our full range of motion. Do about 5-10 rounds in each plane of the belly, giving any tense areas more attention.

5. The last technique is the most intense, yet it feels amazing. It’s a pin, spin & mobilize movement. Move your ball back into the center of your abdomen or the area where you felt the most tension. Press your body weight on to the ball, then walk your hands and feet to the right side to a roughly 45 degree angle to the mat. This spinning action will wind up your skin, fascia and muscles, creating heat and deep massage of the internal organs. If you want more, press yourself up on your forearms or hands, then lift one arm up toward the ceiling for a breath or two. Lower and and switch arms. Spin back to center and go the other way. Repeat on any other areas of your belly if needed.

Roll off the ball and come to a seated or standing position and notice the difference in your breath and your relaxation level. If time permits, sit down and palm your eyes for ten minutes or more. Use your (mental) foundation object or any positive thoughts, a mantra, a memory, word or image that gets you into a deep mental relaxation. You might notice more visual clarity and a calmer state of mind after this self massage sequence. Even when you have no time to palm your eyes afterwards.

Remember this feeling to bring you back into this state of calm quickly when stressed. Find a mental foundation object (memory, word, image, mantra, smell, sound etc) for a faster way to calm yourself down. Being able to easily move back into relaxation after the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) was triggered is called vagal flexibility. But that is a whole new post!


Stop “trying” and start “seeing”

Dewy drops on spider web

This post could have also been tilted “Why you should ditch the word try from your vocabulary”.

There are two issues with this pervasive and dangerous word. First, when we say we “try” to do something, we leave the backdoor open to not do it. After all, we said that we would only try, not actually do it. The only exception here is when you try something for the very first time, be it a new food or a new exercise. It’s ok to say I will try this but after you did, decide not to continue eating it or doing it, because you do not like it or it doesn’t work for you. We are talking about the other “try”. The one that is about the things you really want to do, but seem to have trouble sticking with.

When it comes to vision improvement (and pretty much everything else in life), trying is not getting you anywhere. Start making decisions instead. Maybe that decision is to stop doing something that hasn’t been good for you such eating too much processed food. Maybe it is a small goal such as “I will palm for five minutes every morning”, instead of “I will try to palm for 20 minutes every morning” and then never doing it.

Start with baby steps, it is much easier. According to research, it takes about 40 days to establish a new habit. Once you have the habit of palming every morning for five minutes, you might then say “I will palm for ten minutes every morning”.

It might work, or it might not. Failing is part of the process. When you fail, ask yourself “Why did I fail when I increased my palming time from five to ten minutes”? Write down all the reasons you failed and start with a new plan. Maybe you just need to set the alarm earlier or find a more comfortable position, or palm in the evening for ten minutes and stick with five in the morning. Whatever it is, analyze and experiment. But don’t try.

The second big issue i have with the word try is that it implies straining or making an effort. When it comes to eyesight, it’s the worst thing you can do. And the main reason your vision is not good (I am assuming you are reading this because your eyesight is not perfect).

Natural, healthy vision is effortless. Practicing the Bates Method to improve your vision is practicing relaxation with the help of specific techniques. In the beginning you will have to give your eyes rest (e.g. palming) to get a sense of what relaxation feels like in your eyes. After all, you are so used to strain that you might not even recognize relaxation. Once you experience how easy and effortless relaxed vision is, you will practice it all day long until it becomes a habit. Your vision will get better over time. This might go fast or very slow. There might be resistance and times when it gets worse again. Analyze why it’s getting worse and take action to change that.

Vision improvement is a process of practice to learn seeing, the natural and easy way. It’s the exact opposite of trying.

Last but not least, we also associate trying with hard, as in “I am trying really hard to get this done”. As if trying alone is not bad enough!

Stop trying. Especially trying hard. And put yourself up for success by making decisions. If you fail, analyze why, modify and start over. Never try. Ever. Again.

Tight trapezius? Add shoulders to your self massage regimen

Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls are a fantastic and inexpensive tool to release tension in your body

In part 1 of this post I demonstrated a neck and head self massage to improve posture and eyesight. In addition to directly working on these areas, it’s important to massage the upper back muscles as well, namely the upper trapezius, levator scapulae and the rhomboids. The first two are contributing to the movement of the neck, and the rhomboids and the levator scapulae are responsible for lifting the shoulders up. We do this all the time when sitting hunched over at the computer, holding a phone between shoulders and ear, and even when doing yoga.

This constant state of elevation in the shoulders combined with stiffness in the neck mover muscles due to bad posture, stress, shallow chest breathing, sitting at the computer with a fixed gaze, creates major tension in the upper back, neck and head. All of which effects our eyesight.

While you can roll the neck and head muscles at your desk, you will need a wall or floor space (more intense) to do the following upper back release sequence. Do this short sequence after work or in the morning after waking. Best to roll directly on the skin for maximum shear in the myofascial tissues (and clothes tend to get rolled into the balls).

The video shows the sequence at the wall. For more intensity, do it on the floor.

1. Place the balls right above your shoulder blades in the center of the shoulders (not to close to neck). Step away from the wall and use your body weight to let the balls sink into your upper trapezius and levator scapulae. When on the floor, lift your pelvis up (you can put a yoga block under your hips for a more restorative version). Breathe deeply into belly and chest

2. Start crossfibering the muscles by bending and straightening your knees (wall) or by chugging your hips forward and back (floor). The balls will move up and down the shoulders, about 2 inches.

3. Then change the direction of the movement by moving side to side. The balls will glide along the edge of the shoulder blades from left to right, covering the whole width of the shoulder blades. When doing this on the floor, it helps to move the arms side the side, bending one at the time to create that sideways motion of the upper body.

4. Move the balls together and down to just under C7, the last cervical vertebrae. They will be right and left of the spine, touching each other. Repeat the chugging motion, moving the balls up and down a few inches, crossfibering the upper trapezius and rhomboid minor. When doing this on the floor, cradle your head in your hands.

5. While chugging, put more weight onto the left side for a few strides, then to the right. Wherever you feel more tightness, do it a bit longer.

6. Add a pin & stretch by moving the arms up in circle shape on an inhale and lower them down on the inhale. The movement should resemble the snow angel arms we did as kids.

7. Last stop is at T5/T6, roughly in the middle of the shoulder blades. Do a bit of moving up and down, then hug yourself and twist the upper body from side to side, putting weight onto one side at the time. This massages the rhomboid major and the trapezius.

Notice the difference after you have rolled these upper back muscles. You will feel relaxed, refreshed and be able to breathe more deeply. Your body and eyes will thank you!