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Smash Your Gut

Cultivating a daily mobility practice unlocks soft tissues, improves positional capacity and helps prevent and recover from injury. But an overlooked benefit is that it can also help you improve parasympathetic (aka “rest and digest” – the opposite of the high alert “fight or flight” sympathetic state) recovery. Applying palpation to soft tissues excites nerve bundles, causing the nerves to send a “relax” signal to the muscles, fascia, ligaments and tendons.

One of the best and yet most underused mobilizations that’s good to do at night is gut smashing. Yeah, we know it sounds unpleasant, but it’s really not that bad. Working out stiffness in the abdomen can release the tension on your hip flexors, improve your ability to breathe through your diaphragm and may even reduce the risk of sports hernias. Plus, it stimulates the vagus nerve, which plays a crucial role in parasympathetic response. To do it:

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—Lie face down on a yoga mat

—Place a medium size ball (kids soccer ball, one of those $3 squishy balls you buy your kids at Target, etc) under your abdomen

—Breathe deeply through your diaphragm (i.e. belly breathe)

—Spend 10 minutes, moving the ball around from just under the bottom of your rib cage, across to your obliques, and down to just above your pelvis

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—To dial it up a notch, you can get a harder more textured ball and slide your abdomen slowly across it.

Get Some Zinc and Magnesium

Athletes have long used Epsom salts in their bath to aid recovery. The secret? High levels of magnesium that help reduce muscle soreness. Bonus: magnesium also promotes restful sleep. If you’re going the hot Epsom bath route, jump in a cold shower for a couple of minutes immediately afterwards, as reducing core temperature is a sure fire way to fall asleep faster. You can also eat some magnesium rich foods during the evening – nut butter on toast, a salad with dark leafy greens, and bananas are all a good bet.

Nighttime magnesium intake is even more effective when paired with zinc. This mineral is believed to reduce the incidence and duration of colds, but also plays a role in rest and recovery. Zinc-rich foods include citrus fruits, pumpkin seeds (which are also high in magnesium), and, if you’re not drinking it too close to bedtime, hot chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa. If you’re in a pinch, you could also try taking ZMA. This formula also contains vitamin B6, which can trigger the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which in turn boosts sleep-inducing melatonin.

Shut Down Sensory Stimulation

When our senses of sight and sound are excited, it can be harder to fall asleep. That’s why it’s a good idea to shut down your tablet, TV and phone a couple of hours before bed. The blue light emitted by these devices interferes with melatonin production, making it harder to fall and stay asleep. If you have to finish a late night work project or are cramming for a school test, install the f.lux app on your device. It automatically alters the display to warmer tones that don’t disrupt sleep.

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Also keep your bedroom dark and consider replacing your LED bulbs – another source of blue light – with orange, non-LED ones. That way if you’re reading a book in bed, the lamp won’t slow your sleep cycle. If you’re flying or traveling, a sleep mask might come in handy.

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High tempo music can also over-stimulate you in the evening, so go with something downtempo like the appropriately titled “Sleep,” an 8-hour mix created by British composer Max Richter that you could start before bed and let run through the night. To avoid unwanted loud noises (traffic, the neighbor’s dog, etc.), consider getting earplugs with a DB rating above 30.

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