Dry Brushing, Acupuncture Mats, and Skin Exercise

Why Our Skin Needs Exercise and Other Weird Childhood Stories

Today’s blog post is about skin exercise.  Weird, right?

In actuality, that’s not as strange of an idea as it initially sounds.  I’ll explain.

I’ve been listening a lot lately to Katy Bowman’s podcast, Katy Says, and one of my best things I’ve picked up is a broader understanding of the word “exercise”.  It turns out, this is a pretty complicated topic and one worth digging it to through her blog and podcast.

Today, however, I wanted to focus specifically on the concept of thinking about exercise as novel ways to apply forces to your body’s structures.

Dry Brushing, Acupuncture Mats, and Skin Exercise

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A Force Example

Let me use an example to make this idea a little more clear.  Let’s say you’re standing perfectly uprights so that you’re legs, hips, vertebral column, shoulders, and head are neatly stacked right on top of each other. Now let’s switch this up rotating you 90 degrees so that you’re lying flat on your back with your legs straight.

It looks pretty much exactly the same from a bone structure position, right? But I think you’d agree that the forces on your skin, your joints, your bones, and your heart are very, very different.  And for the cells that are involved in all these functions, it’s a completely different type of “exercise”.

Why Our Skin Needs Exercise

With this in mind, it’s not such an outlandish idea to consider that our skin–our largest organ–can maybe use exercise the same way that we know the rest of our body needs it. After all, our skin is responsible to protecting us from physical damage, responding to temperature changes, and transmitting signals to the rest of the body.

However, ur modern climates have become pretty much universally clean, safe, uniform, and temperature regulated.  While these are all awesome things in many ways (obviously), it’s taken away those impulses that keep our skin stimulated and properly functioning.  Like with any body part, it’s a use-it-or-lose-it type of thing…and that can set us up for modern day ailments.

With all this in mind, here are 3 ways I like to “exercise” my skin:

#1. Dry Brushing

Many of you have heard of this one and for good reason.  Dry brushing exfoliates dead skin cells, stimulates the structures on and directly underneath the skin, and encourages good lymphatic flow (the lymphatics are the “clean up vessels” of the body and travel closely to the surface of the skin).

I dry brush everything morning.  I use to forget to do it all the time until I recently hung my skin brush on a little hook directly next to my shower.  It reminds me to use it while the hot water is heating up. This means that I don’t even need to devote any extra time in my day to dry brushing…I’d be standing there waiting for the water to heat up anyways!

I have this kind of brush right here.

#2. Acupuncture Mat

I grew up watching my mom and grandma use acupuncture mats and I always thought they were crazy for lying down on these bizarre pokey looking things! Turns out, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree and I’m totally into my acupuncture mat now.  They also stimulate the skin, blood flow to the surface of the body, and nerve endings…which make them awesome for things like neck, back, and hip pain.

I like to use mine before bed because it totally decompresses my back after a long day.  I can always feel the increased blood flow to all the tired structures in my trunk and it’s so, so, so relaxing. I also put the mat under my bare feet while I’m working at home to revive the barking dogs a bit and get some action to the typically-shoe-encased tissues there.

I have this acupuncture mat.

#3. Contrast Showers

This is another crazy grandma memory for me: when I was growing up on a farm, my grandma used to make my brother and I strip down, dump a bucket of ice cold water on us (this was in Russia), and make us run around the farm as fast as we could before going in to warm up. She was convinced it kept our skin and immune systems healthy…and while these daily mini-shocks weren’t my favorite part of the day, I reluctantly agree that we were hardly ever sick as kids!

Clearly, I no longer dump ice cold water on my self in my Chicago lawn. But I do contrast showers pretty much every time I’m getting clean. The idea behind contrast showing is to stimulate blood flow in the body by alternatingly vasoconstricting and vasodilating.  It also allows the structures in your skin to react to the environment…here, I’m talking about the tiny in the muscles in your skin that allow you to get goosebumps and the nerve receptors that communicate with the rest of the nervous system.

Contrast showering is easy: at the end of my shower, I alternate turning the water all the way to cold for 30 seconds and then to hot for 30 seconds and back to cold for 30 second…until I’ve done each round a few times.  In the beginning, you might not be able to stand the cold water for a whole 30 seconds and that’s totally ok.  Just do what you can stand and work your way up as you see fit.

Your Turn

Are you willing to try one of these skin exercises?? Or maybe you already do one of these! Let me know in the comment section below 🙂

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9 replies

  1. I remember reading about dry brushing in Alicia Silverstone’s book…really interesting! I know a lot of people who do it. What I find even more interesting is that we recommend brushing for proprioception and input to calm and regulate children. I bet it has some of those effects on adults too. I have to go see that mat! I heard you talking about it on the blog but can’t picture it.

    • That’s so fascinating about the proprioception and calming in kids with dry brushing!! How cool! We’ll have to add that to our list of topics to cover when we have you on the podcast 🙂 I do love my acupuncture mat and it’s another one of those purchases that’s totally worth the $20 I spent on it! I put the link to mine in the article but I think pretty much all of the ones I’ve been on sale are pretty good.

  2. The acupuncture mat may be the thing I have been looking for to ease tension headaches. Going to a physio therapist can become a drain on the pocket pretty quickly. I’ve experimented with dry brushing on and off, but maybe I am a wimp because I find it uncomfortable. How long do you need to brush to get benefits?

    • The lymphatic vessels are near the surface of the skin so you don’t have to push very hard with the brush to get the benefits. But I also only do it for about a minute each day usually right before the shower because that’s about all the time I have for it! Those acupuncture mats are great though, they definitely help my headaches 🙂

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