This is What We Do Here

3833334809_f3a260b97b_zThere have been a lot of changes afoot over the last few months- we went from Fascia Freedom Fighters to Liberated Body, we ran the first ever 30-Day Challenge (with the best group of people ever), and the podcast and guides are kicking in the womb! We've also had a lot of new wonderful people joining in the Liberated Body conversation.  That said, sometimes it's good to chat about some of the real basics. Stuff like: Who is "we"?

Hi! I'm Brooke! And while I've been a professional in the "help people to heal their hurting bodies" fields for going on 14 years, I am not a guru from another dimension who's got it all figured out. Instead, I am a passionate learner, dedicated body nerd, and former broken person. And I am at your service (see more about how below) .

There are also two very important people who make this all run, make it all beautiful, and keep me from breaking things (or at least bail me out when I do): Taryn my oatient developer, and Reese my gifted designer.

"We" also includes the brilliant thought leaders who have submitted guest posts, who I have been honored to interview back when we were doing video interviews on Fascia Freedom Fighters, and who I have been interviewing currently for the upcoming podcast (So. Many. Great. Interviewees! I can't wait to share it with you).

Most importantly, "we" is really about all of you out there. When I started this site as FFF I never would have dreamed that I could be lucky enough to attract such a smart, hilarious, thoughtful, and well-informed group of readers. Your emails and chats on Facebook and Twitter have meant the world to me, and have helped me to know how best to be of service. Keep 'em coming.

What we do here:

We support people by connecting them with the resources that can either help them to more happily inhabit their bodies, or simply help them to light up their love for learning about this amazing thing called a body that we get to live in. Or both!

We do that by:

1) Advocating for a return to more natural human movement and alignment. That means addressing the weird environments we spend all of our time in (plushy couches, sitting 12 hours per day, and incessantly staring at screens for starters), and addressing the weird habits that get born out of these environments.

Weird habits also are born out of lousy advice and misunderstandings about the human body that tend to proliferate over time when we lose our connection as a culture to natural human movement. (Ummmm, for example, I do kind of momentarily black out when a client tells me they were told to wear high heels in order to avoid their plantar fasciitis pain. Gah! How can this happen!?)

2) Pointing out the wide, rich array of amazing resources that exist within the spatial medicine fields- often referred to as the manual  and movement therapies. There are so many brilliant creators, practitioners, and teachers out there with work that will help you. So we do our best in the blog and podcast, on Facebook and Twitter, and within what will be the guides, to connect you with the most useful information out there.

We do that because:

1) We're a mess. Oof! We're in trouble as a species right now. I'll spare you the gnarly statistics for the moment, but suffice it to say that rates of chronic pain and physical degeneration are at an all time high. Not to mention that we are all just plain old compressed, depressed, schlumped out, and feeling lousy. We think enough is enough already. It's time to feel good again.

2) The solutions to the mess that we use the most often are just making bigger messes: Dangerous and highly addictive narcotic painkillers that numb your whole life along with your pain, cortisone shots that degrade your tissue health while only temporarily making your pain feel better, and invasive surgeries that have either big risks or poor outcomes (or both) have become our norm. They should not be our norm. There are so many better, less risky options.

What's coming up:

Goodies! So many goodies!

1) The Liberated Body Podcast greets the world on Tuesday, and from then on every Tuesday weekly. I have been working away to bring you some of the brightest minds who are talking about how we can get back to feeling good again. People like Tim and Geoff over at Original Strength, Esther Gokhale, Wendy Powell, Eric Goodman, and Erwan LeCorre with plenty more scheduled. These people have wisdom folks. And I can't wait to share it with you.

From here on I anticipate the weekly content to be pretty podcast/audio heavy. This means that you get more opportunity to learn from thought leaders and you get to do it without having to look at a screen! Hooray! Podcasts can be digested while walking running, swinging from trees- you name it. Score one point for less screen time.

2) The Liberated Body Guides are on their way to being born. Ultimately, they will be an ongoing series of concise multimedia (written, audio, and video) guides that will each address a specific physical concern.

In the spirit of LB being a place that connects you to a wide range of resources, each guide will be a collaborative process in that interviews with experts on each subject as well as video content from those experts will be included. This, again, should help you to get a feel for what manual and movement therapies will be most interesting and effective for you- or for your clients, patients, and students who might also be in need of help.

The first guide is in process and it is on the life-altering topic of short hamstrings. Ok, ok, short hamstrings might not be the kind of sexy topic that gets flashy headlines, but it is an issue that is affecting more and more of us and has wide reaching consequences. So if you're tired of feeling like the tin man in that department, we'll be talking all about it soon.

How can I make your dreams come true?

1) Let me know who you want to hear on the podcast! The Facebook group recently gave me some great names of people they would love to hear interviewed. If you have intellectual crushes on anyone in these fields, go ahead and let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to get them on the show.

2) Vote on what guide comes next! 

I have 3 options floating around for guide #2 (after short hamstrings)- so if there's one you would rather see sooner than later, let me know in the comments. Here they are and many thanks liberated people!!

  • Raising embodied kids
  • Temporal mandibular joint dysfunction (aka jaw dysfunction)
  • Low back pain

Awesome Transformers photo by Nur Hussein

 

 

 

Love for the Upper Trapezius

trapeziusI am lucky enough to know (and to live near enough to video!) an exceptional teacher, Lillee Chandra. Lillee has devised an ingenious solution for getting at that "spot" that you are always trying to squish at the end of the day. Enter Lillee:

In our tech-ready, chair-heavy modern world, the neck and upper back are a tension dumping ground for the majority of people. However, one of the most common areas of complaint lives directly under the swagging outline of the upper trapezius. Here, a convergence of many deep shoulder-to-head and neck-to-trunk musculature traverse, namely the: levator scapula, middle and posterior scalenes, and the supraspinatus.

Treating this pervasive trigger point epicenter on one’s own is compounded by the fact that to apply the most effective vertical pressure to it, one must push top-down into the shoulder. Even most thumbs (both trained and untrained), tire quickly when scrubbing along this supraspinous gutter that runs from neck’s bottom to the head of the humerus. These approaches are generally awkward for the giver but even more importantly, the source of pain tends to continually escape into hiding along the many folds of various muscular fiber directions exposed here.

Here is a way to finally treat yourself without having to exhaust yourself. This Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball solution allows you to get the most beneficial angle of approach while laying down in a relaxed position and using your feet to push instead of your thumbs.

                                                                                                                          

About the Author

Lillee headshotLillee Chandra, the founder of Chandra Bodyworks ,has a distinct approach to massage therapy and yoga that is fueled by more than 20 years of experience in competitive sports, movement arts, health education, and therapeutic bodywork. Her diverse clinical training, keen intuition, and exceptional hands-on skills have distinguished her as a leader among fitness and health communities. She is a known specialist in postural re-education, pain management, and injury and illness rehabilitation. Thai Yoga Massage, Craniosacral work, and Yoga Tune Up® strongly inform her hands-on therapies.

Her unique style of working with the body is significantly sculpted and nurtured from advanced trainings with Ana Forrest and Glenn Black, and now more recently, from her mentorship with Jill Miller.

In addition to her full-time private massage therapy practice in CT, Lillee continually extends her professional reach to students and teachers throughout the US by developing and leading anatomy and yoga teacher trainings, workshops and classes.

Lillee has taught at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, is a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), and is a certified Yoga Tune Up® (YTU) Integrated Teacher. She is a top assistant to Jill Miller, a contributing author and editor for YTU articles and training curriculum and leads YTU Anatomy modules and YTU Teacher trainings nationally. She is currently concluding her Clinical Orthopedic Massage Certificate with Dr. Joseph Muscolino.

trapezius image by Anatomy for Sculptors

 

Why Walking is the Best Postpartum Exercise

iStock_000016288424SmallWhen did walking get such a bad rap? I have clients tell me all the time that they need to "exercise" but can't due to whatever the issue is that brought them into my office. Then they sneer and say, "I can only manage to go on [deep depressed sigh] walks." We've been sold such a story that we need to only bow down to the holy grail of sweaty, heart-thumping, intense cardiovascular exercise in order to have any health benefits. When in truth, regular, non-sped up, walking is a primary ingredient of what our species needs to thrive. It's not that getting sweaty doesn't have it's place of course, but we can drop the sneer about walking being so sub-par... It's actually what should be prioritized for our best health, especially in a world where we walk less and less. All that said, this post could easily be titled Why Walking is the Best Exercise. Period. But Wendy Powell of MuTu Mamas happens to be an expert in postpartum health, so this is written through that (very needed) lens. MuTu System programs are clear about the walking part. It’s not negotiable. Right from Day 1, you go for a daily walk, and that remains a constant throughout the program and beyond. But whether you are a mama or not, this is a great read. Read it, and then go take a walk! Daily walks are for everyone!

Enter Wendy: 

Whether you are 1-week postpartum or 5 years, walking is an essential part of your recovery and healthy lifestyle.

Short bursts of sweaty, intensive exercise a few times a week are great for fat burning, raising the heart rate, improving endurance and making you feel great.

But a ‘workout’ isn’t a substitute for walking.

If a session of frantic exercise is the only movement you get in a day, it’s not going to get your body or your health where you want it. Walking should always come first – every day – wherever you can manage it. Just 20-30 minutes is enough… (but more is awesome).

Walking is a Health-Saver. Period.

Walking in optimal, whole-body alignment benefits your joints, muscles and connective tissues, encouraging them to do their job: muscles stretching, lengthening and contracting like well-oiled machinery.

Walking is a must for Moms.

For moms, there’s another USP of walking. Childbirth compromises your core and pelvic floor -- and standing, walking and squatting in correct alignment is super effective at restoring function to these muscles.

Your core muscles are responsible for stabilising your pelvis as you walk, so walking in good form conditions your mid-section with every step you take.

As well as helping you to work and tone your core muscles naturally, walking in proper alignment helps to reduce pressure in the abdominal cavity. This has four brilliant side effects for Moms:

1) It Helps Close The Gap in Your Core

Diastasis recti –abdominal separation –is characterised by a weakness of the midline of the rectus abdominis muscle. The muscle has a stretched weakened area of connective tissue at the centre (the line alba), causing instability, possibly back pain, and a pooched ‘mummy tummy’appearance.

Diastasis recti is caused by excessive intra-abdominal pressure exerting an outward force. Your core can begin to firm up only when intra abdominal pressure is reduced. Correcting your alignment and walking will help with this!

2) It Helps You Get a Flatter Tummy

No amount of abdominal exercise will help a tummy lie flat if you have significant diastasis recti. By helping mums to narrow their diastasis and firm up their midline, walking with proper alignment helps to build the foundations for a flatter tummy.

3) It Helps Restore Pelvic Floor ‘Bounce’

Intra abdominal pressure exerts outwards and downwards, also weakening the pelvic floor muscle.

Pelvic floor weakness is a problem for many moms and can result in incontinence, pelvic pain and even pelvic organ prolapse.

Walking and moving naturally reduces the pressure, enabling you to regain pelvic floor strength. Walking, twisting, squatting and lunging are also really important to get the pelvic floor muscle to do its job effectively –lengthening, contracting and relaxing with ease –supporting the internal organs, preventing leakage and enabling more sexual pleasure. Whats not to like?

4) It Helps You Kiss Goodbye to Aches + Pains

Core instability arises from any one part of the core not working properly. So, if you have diastasis recti, core weakness or pelvic floor dysfunction (leakage, pain or prolapse), you have an unstable core. The effect of the instability can ricochet throughout your body, causing backache and other muscular aches and pains.

Walking and moving in a natural way helps you to build a strong, well-functioning core –and so helps you to reduce pain and injury.

How To Walk!

It might sound crazy to think about how you walk, but bodies that spend too much time slumped in seats, cocooned in squishy beds, or tottering in high heels have long forgotten how to walk as we were built to do.

How you walk directly affects the benefits you experience from it – walk right and you will tone your butt, leg and pelvic floor muscles, get it wrong and you will do little for your body except knackering your joints!

Your whole body participates in walking, from head to toe, in perfect mechanical alignment, so it’s important to give some thought to how you hold yourself and how your feet interact with the ground.

7 golden rules of ‘natural’ walking:

  1. Your feet should point straight ahead as you walk
  2. Your torso should be straight, don’t lean forward, look straight ahead
  3. Ditch heeled shoes which disrupt your alignment - choose minimalist or barefoot shoes where possible
  4. Don’t thrust your chest out or tuck your butt under
  5. Keep your legs straight. Rather than bending your knee out in front to gain ground, push away from the ground with the toes and ball of your back foot with straight legs to move your body forward.
  6. Stretch your hamstrings and calves daily. These muscles are very often tight, causing your butt to tuck underneath and preventing correct walking alignment
  7. Check your feet: Correct walking gait moves your foot through four phases: heel strike, foot flat, heel off, toes off.

If that’s all too much to think about at first (I mean, how hard should walking be?), just get out and take a walk. Hold your head up, stride purposefully and swing your arms. Try to relax and enjoy walking as a sanctuary of calm in your hectic world.

Little by little, one change at a time, begin to check the way you’re walking and establish better alignment habits. Your shoes are the best place to start. Walking regularly will have a bigger impact on your postpartum recovery and whole body health than any workout - so make a daily walk your daily activity priority!

                                                                                                                                          

About the Author

Wendy Powell

Mom of 2 Wendy Powell is founder of the internationally recognized and sought after MuTu® System program. She has over 12 years experience, proven record and study in the pre and postpartum fitness industry.

MuTu System includes online coaching, DVD’s, online support and community, fully endorsed by Specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapists and Industry Experts worldwide. It is fresh, personal, progressive and motivational, and it gives Moms the answers, guidance and support they need to restore body confidence inside and out. Wendy has an established international social media following and industry reputation.

MuTu System covers fitness, fat loss, nutrition, hormone balancing and motivational strategies for busy Mums.

Wendy’s specialist area of expertise is pelvic and abdominal reconnection and restoration after childbirth: functional core strength, diastasis recti, pelvic floor and related alignment issues.

Wendy writes for the Huffington Post and has appeared in numerous magazine features, including Red magazine, Health and Fitness and Zest. Health and Fitness magazine UK also commissioned Wendy to write their Get Your Body Back book, published September 2013.

 

The Truth About Juice Cleanses

4150880849_14a9060e32_zMy brilliant colleague Sarah Court submitted this video just in time for spring juice cleansing season. And thank goodness! There is so much buzz about juice cleanses as a panacea, but what's the real story on drinking just juice for a number of days? Is this a help or a hindrance to your system? Here's some enlightening information on what your body actually needs to cleanse. * P.S. I know we normally talk about the "nutrition" of movement and structural integrity here, but everything is intertwined in the human body, so sometimes it's important to address the food piece as well.

Enter Sarah:

                                                                                                                                    

About the Author

sarah_court_headshotSarah Court is an Integrated Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Trainer, IAYT Yoga Therapist, and Vinyasa Yoga Teacher. She teaches weekly Yoga Tune Up® and Vinyasa classes in Los Angeles, teaches anatomy for yoga teacher trainings, and trains Yoga Tune Up® teachers across the country.

Sarah is working towards a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and in this process has spent several years in both inpatient and outpatient clinical settings. She brings this significant experience to her teaching, attracting clients and students with a desire to move intelligently, regain mobility after injury, surgery or joint replacements, or manage chronic conditions such as dyskinesia, fibromyalgia and Parkinson’s disease.

Sarah is an award-winning graduate of Princeton University, and puts her liberal arts bachelor’s degree to good use by writing for and editing the Yoga Tune Up® blog. She has been featured on exercise.com and the New York Times.

photo by Food Thinkers

It's Not About Effort

3682269259_316ef32678_bWe just kicked off the first Liberated Body 30-Day Challenge today- which is like a "cleanse" that is more about your movement nutrition than your dietary nutrition-  with a fantastic group from all over the world (don't worry, there will be more in the future!), and we're starting our first week by focusing on letting go of efforting in our bodies. Why? Because feeling good in our bodies is not about effort! It's about connecting with our innate support- the glorious architecture of you from the inside out, from the cellular level on up. We are all born with support built right in.

Yet more often than not, in my practice my clients always want to know if I hold the magic answer to the age-old question, "How can I effort in my body the right way." Only the question is never phrased that way. It usually sounds like some variety of these, "What should I do with my shoulders?", "What should I do during the day to fix my lousy posture?", "How should I hold my neck?" You know the questions, because if you're like me you've asked them of your body and yourself plenty of times.

There's nothing wrong with these questions. All of the people who ask them are asking because they are suffering in some way- whether it's from their perception of their posture as failing, or chronic pain, or movement restrictions- it all boils down to physical suffering.

So to seek answers isn't problematic (it's downright heroic when you think about how easy it is to hide from our "stuff"), it's the presumption behind the questions that is problematic. The presumption is: "I have no support, how do I get some?" When a more useful, and more anatomically correct (heh heh) question would be, "I have lost my ability to feel supported in my body, how do I find my way back to my natural effortless state?"

First, a word on the word effortless: I kind of hate it. It's been corrupted by people trying to sell us things like "effortless hair" and "effortless weight loss" and "effortless investing" and they use that word because they want to associate it with people thinking that effortless = checking out, not having to work for anything, and generally drooling on the couch while magic happens.

So let's clarify: effortless = strain-free connection with innate support.

And oftentimes to find it we have to go on a journey- in this case one that is about awareness of our own physical selves. We have to get inquisitive, dial in, explore, tinker, and perhaps most of all know that we are looking for something that has been obscured, rather than trying to build something from scratch.  We have to trust-fall into ourselves rather than bullying ourselves.

Much of this can be explained by tensegrity which, to be fair, is something that it took me a decade to start getting a handle on. (But then again I can be a slow learner.) Whether it instantly makes sense to you or not, it's a beautiful framework for understanding what I'm talking about and it also happens to be anatomically and physiologically true! How handy!

I wrote in Why Fascia Matters (which P.S. is free), "In tensegrity- in this case in regards to the human body- structures are stable and functional not because of the strength of individual pieces, but because of the way the entire structure balances and distributes mechanical stresses. Tension is continuously transmitted through the whole structure simultaneously. Which means that an increase in tension to one piece of the structure will result in an increase in tension to other parts of the structure- even parts that are seemingly “far” away."

I love that our bodies are built this way because it's like this delicious reminder that balance is strength. Not strain, not effort, not achieving, not strife; balance. Which, not to get too woo-woo on you, can extend to our worldviews as well. Are we dragging ourselves by our fingernails to our goals or are we getting into flow? Can we allow ourselves to believe that we have what we need, and we just need to find our way to inner resources that already exist? Sorry I just can't help digressing in that direction! I think it's so interesting.

Back to tensegrity: whenever the Olympics are on I have this fun game I play with friends or family who I'm watching it with: I like to pick who is going to win the event at the beginning, before they have begun moving, based on how balanced their structure is. This is especially easy with runners, swimmers, and power lifters. Not always, but more often than not, the people who triumph are the people who are the most balanced, because they have this whole structure to draw on for strength, speed, and agility, rather than blowing out one region of their body. Go take a look at high level power lifters on YouTube and you can see that these people are tensegrity in motion- every part is doing its right job to lift that weight. If not, ouch. It doesn't go particularly well.

And so it goes for us, in our regular non-Olympic competitor lives, if we can't rely on the whole by finding our way back to our inherent balance... ouch.

Of course this a dance we're engaged in forever. I think we assume that we have two options: perfectly balanced, or a mess. Really we're always tinkering, so ideally we make that a compassionate dance. Finding balance can be a delightful exploration or self-flagellation but I think it's clear which one I'm voting for.

photo by Erik Meldrum

 

 

Teaching Kids to Sit Properly on Their Pelvises

4782496500_273a4c7d29_zI have a son in first grade in public school, and while he has a great teacher who lets them roam around and work on the floor for parts of their working day, there is always the inevitable chair time, and as he gets older, the amount of time with butt in chair will only increase in a public school setting*. And oh the chairs! I volunteer in his classroom once a month and so I get a chance to size up and glare at those chairs on a regular basis. They are plastic, and molded into a C-curve, exactly the shape that puts pressure on the discs and internal organs while also making it nearly impossible to feel supported in your spine. The result? Growing into a schlump and likely into back and neck pain.

Because of what I do for work, naturally my son knows the words "ischial tuberosities" and can locate them on his body. But there's just something not quite inviting about simply saying these two long words, pointing to them, and reminding him to sit on them that doesn't quite capture his attention.

So I came up with a simple way to teach him about sitting on a properly supported pelvis which involves low tech happy and sad face stickers strategically placed. We have done this at home together a couple of times and it's goofy and silly and therefore seems to have imprinted a sense memory on his mind of what it means to sit on his ischial tuberosities vs. his sacrum.

I still hate the chairs, and I hope to have a larger impact in his classroom's alignment and movement options, but hey, for now the simple interventions work.

Make a family "sit on your pelvis" date, or slap on some stickers before dinner one night and see if they start to locate their bodies better in space and get more supported in their spines.

* I, like many, currently only have public school available as an option (I can't afford a more movement friendly private school, and as a single mom with a career home schooling isn't workable). I'm not alone here, and while my son's particular public school is fortunately filled with passionate educators and administration, there is always the bureaucracy- especially when it comes to trying to convince them of the importance of movement on top of their already overfull plates (public school educators are taking a beating out there with these new standards- it's crazy!). All that said, if you're with me and have any ideas or interest in talking about how to get more nourishing movement into this setting, email me! I'd love to talk options. brooke [at] fasciafreedomfighters [dot] com

photo sourced from Yvonne Thompson

Exercise = Moving Less? Part 2

4746815579_c5bb26afaa_zLast week in part 1 of this post we took a look at The Licensing Effect- research which has demonstrated that people who take a multivitamin then behave in less healthy ways throughout the day because they believe, subconsciously, that their dietary supplementation gives them license to do so- and applied it to exercise and movement. As in, if one works out regularly via some fitness regimen, do they then subconsciously move less throughout their day? (We did  a whole lot of looking at the difference between exercise and movement in the last post, so if you're stumped you can give that a read.) But I believe we left off somewhere around here: “Well my life depends on sitting most of the day, so I guess I’m hopeless. I will have terrible chronic pain, joint dysfunction, and die from this ‘lethal activity’ [sitting] that is required by my job.” In other words, destination: Bummersville.

To avoid abandoning all hope let's dive in and take a look at my low impact, not hard, fairly movement-rich day looked like yesterday:

Yesterday I had set aside a blissful 12 hours to work on current and upcoming projects. Which means I wasn't seeing clients. Which means it was me and the screen, mano-a-mano, all day.  

  • I woke up and worked out at the place that I train 1 or 2 times a week, Tuff Girl Fitness, which is a high intensity interval training (HIIT) gym for, you guessed it, badass ladies. Here I spent maybe 30 to 40 minutes jumping around on one leg in staggered patterns, doing pullups, pushing heavy sleds, climbing ropes, and getting up and down while holding heavy weights- to name but a few of the movements that the trainers devise for us. My heart rate was up, I was a sweaty mess, and I do this because it is fun for me. Not because I believe it gives me permission to sit still for the rest of the day.
  • Then I came home, giddy with excitement to have a whole day of writing and creating ahead of me. Hooray! Oh, but wait, there is the screen...
  • So I grabbed my yoga block and my laptop and set up at my coffee table, sitting on the block on the floor. This is one of my favorite configurations lately, as sitting on the block on the floor causes me to shift and move around a lot naturally. I got a lot of writing done (as I am now) sitting on bent knees, sitting with one knee up and one on the floor, and sitting with both legs extended out in a wide angle in front of me.
  • Then I had a lot of videos I needed to catch up on watching/listening to, which I did in a squat for a while, then standing working with a therapy ball under one foot (and alternating), then listening while rolling around on the floor with the therapy balls.
  • I did some more writing standing (now the laptop goes on the low bookshelf that divides my living room from my dining room), and even did a tad of sitting with a rolled up towel under my ischial tuberosities to avoid the C-curve schlump. I timed it for you guys: I sat in an actual chair during my 12 hour writing/creating project day for 23 minutes.
  • I also took 2 breaks (I should have taken more, yes) to walk around my chilly but beautiful winter wonderland of a neighborhood for about 15 minutes each time. (Often on project days I will set a timer on my phone for either 30 or 40 minute intervals during which I will then go outside and move for 15 minutes before resuming work, but on this day, well, I didn't, so I wanted to give you a realistic picture of what this particular screen day looked like.)

It made for a diverse day of movement, and I have gotten here gradually from someone who used to segregate her work days into "standing/moving client days" and "sitting writing/project days". What I've noticed as I've gradually transitioned to more movement on my screen-heavy days is that the more I do this, I am now very uncomfortable in a chair. You'd think the 23 minutes I spent sitting in a chair was me virtuously prying myself out of the chair and back to standing, but really I got up because it felt icky for my spine.

You can get creative with your work set up- I like to call the myriad of places my laptop winds up through a day my roaming work station- and you can also set a timer or just plain take breaks for movement.

And this is all well and good for those of us who work from home or who have an awesome employer who gets it. But what about those of you who are working for The Man? You know, the one whose capacity for understanding productivity is reduced to quantifying how many hours you work statically in your cubicle. That one. The one who gets a capital T and a capital M.

You're going to have to fight the power. Gradually and incrementally. Here are a few helpers to nudge your work environment into being more movement friendly:

  • Get yourself a better desk set-up. Standing desks are trendy enough that even if your employer is the crustiest of capitalists he or she should have heard about them and understand that they are a part of many conventional workplaces. And there are standing desk options that adjust so that you can stand for part of the day and sit for part of the day (which you will likely want to do as you adapt, and getting up and down counts as at least some movement). If you have a laptop, your "standing desk" can be any old box you have lying around that will prop it to the right height for you. Toss it on the desk, put your laptop on top of it, and voila: standing desk. If you have a desktop, you will need a little more equipment, but I like this easy version which means an employer wouldn't have to suddenly invest in a brand new desk for you. 
  • Walking is your friend. Come up with reasons why you need to be on the move. Lie and say you have a bladder infection and make a million trips to the bathroom. Or something less humiliating. But figure out the walking routes of your office building and find some reason why you need to be the one putting them to use regularly. Walking is powerful medicine.
  • Pitch the idea of holding walking meetings. Hey, there's even a TED talk you can show your boss about it. It's about 4 minutes long and she's a big Silicon Valley hotshot who has launched 18 billion dollars in products! So how could they argue with that...
  • Knowledge is power. If you want to start a movement (pun intended?) at work towards more, well, movement, it might be best to get your fellow employees on board first. Start from the ground up and send around posts like this one/two part-er (hey now!). Or the great one Katy Bowman did on Breaking Muscle. Or, wait, look! Even Outside Magazine is talking movement not exercise! Show them the research on inactivity, and then watch the break room grumbles turn into a bottom up revolution.
  • Get help. There are actually organizations that can help your employer to see with a broader vision. As one example, Partnership for Prevention is working to make evidence based disease prevention and health promotion a national priority. At this link they have some resources you can download. I'm sure there are other great organizations out there who are helping businesses to implement more wellness initiatives, so if you know of one local to you, get in touch with them! Just be sure to vet them that they are not pushing the same old status quo idea that people need to get more exercise. They do, but they also need to work in an environment where they aren't considered a weirdo for sitting on the floor and frequently walking around. 

If you're taking this on in your workplace, whether that's a larger corporate environment or your very own living room, let me know how it goes! I'm going to sprint around my house now. Bye!

Is Exercise Causing You to Move Less? Part 1

4341141005_78a2ff8524_zWen-Bin Chou, a psychologist and researcher at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan has demonstrated that taking multivitamins causes people to be less healthy due to an ironic effect of dietary supplementation. It turns out that people who believe they are taking a multivitamin subconsciously believe that it gives them some degree of invulnerability, which leads them to make less healthy choices throughout the day. So if they took a multivitamin in the morning, and at lunch are faced with the choice between two trips to the all-you-can-eat burrito buffet vs. a salad and some wild salmon, they'll go for the buffet due to an unconscious belief that they've covered their bases with the multivitamin. Of course we all know a multivitamin is not the same as eating real, whole food- and a recent article in Outside Magazine questions whether they are at all helpful or even harmful- yet the subconscious belief in being bulletproof seems to clearly exist anyway.

Here's how it went down: In two experiments all the participants were given a placebo pill, some were told it was a multivitamin. Those who believed they had taken the multivitamin engaged in less healthful and more hedonistic activities on a regular basis like eating larger quantities of less nutritional food. It's called The Licensing Effect. As in, they believe that their positive choice or behavior (taking the multivitamin) gives them license to then engage in less healthy behaviors ongoing.

So why am I writing about this when I've never written about dietary supplementation in my life? Because I believe it applies to movement as well. So let's substitute "multivitamin" with "trip to the gym" and "eating less nutritional food" with "moving less".

Re-written the licensing effect applied to movement would then read something like: "Those who had gone to the gym engaged in less healthful and more sedentary activities on a regular basis."

We spend our days sitting our butts in chairs, staring at screens and moving in extremely small ranges of motion. I believe this happens for three reasons:

  1. We don't distinguish between movement and exercise.
  2. We don't understand the benefit of movement (not exercise).
  3. We believe that exercise absolves us of not moving for most of our lives.

So let's talk about it:

We don't distinguish between movement and exercise:

  • In a culture that so values stasis (my son goes to public school and even though I adore his teacher, school in this country is basically one big "sit still" training ground) we have handily earmarked "exercise" as "the time we have allotted to move".
  • This stems from what I think is a subconscious belief that there is an "on" and "off" switch to our bodies receiving input from movement. For example: "I'm out for a run! You can pay attention now body..." and then, "I'm sitting in my office chair for 8 hours, you are in the off position now body, no need to pay attention to this..."
  • As I alluded to in that last point, while exercise is one kind of movement, movement is a much broader category which includes standing, walking, breathing, chewing, reaching, shifting, etc. All the movements- large and micro- that you make moment to moment. I thought Katy Bowman (goddess of educating what movement actually is...) did a great job differentiating between movement and exercise in the interview I did with her when she pointed out a baby breastfeeding as movement- and how we would never describe that as a baby "getting his exercise".

We don't understand the benefit of movement (not exercise)

  • I wrote "not exercise" in parentheses because I think we have all been thoroughly indoctrinated into the benefits of exercise. So we'll just leave that as is.
  • Then the question is, if one is exercising, why does movement throughout the day matter too? And the answer is: because we are alive. This means that everything you are doing (or not doing) movement-wise is being registered by your body as input. It doesn't discriminate via the magical on/off switch of paying attention. And that input is what is being put to use on a cellular level to build you up or tear you down.
  • An example: if you, like most, sit for somewhere in the range of 10 hours a day (that's conservative), your body registers a number of things from that and then does its best to help you make that shape more. So your body is thinking, "Okey doke, hamstrings always contracted, check, we'll keep those short. Sitting on sacrum, check, let's smoosh out those vertebral discs to make that shape, compress the respiratory diaphragm, slacken the pelvic floor, and basically create thickenings throughout the spine and thorax which holds you in a C-curve..." This is an extremely tiny slice of what is going on when you hold one shape for a long time.
  • The example above is of what happens structurally; As in, you become the shapes you make most of the time. However, there are also other significant health risks to stasis. Recent data shows that it contributes to mortality from all causes. Yep, heart disease, stroke, cancer, etc. One study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that every hour spent sitting shortens lifespan more significantly than every cigarette smoked. And Dr. Levine, an inactivity researcher at the Mayo Clinic, describes sitting as "a lethal activity".

We believe that exercising absolves us of not moving for most of our lives:

  • Unfortunately, even if you workout almost daily and are therefore considered "fit", a workout amounts to a grand total, usually, of somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes of exercising in any given 24 hour period, best case scenario.
  • And since we have discussed that our bodies don't have an off switch which causes them to not pay attention while we are inactive, hopefully it is clear that this is a game of frequency. Not of intensity. I don't care how hard you rock it at the gym at the end of the day. Work out til you puke and blackout (no, really, don't) but it won't erase all the static activity of the day. In fact, going from long periods of stasis to incredibly demanding workouts is a risk for a multitude of injuries, but that's fodder for another post.
  • Our bodies want us to still be hunter gatherers. Oh our physiology longs for the days when a wide variety of movements were required of our bodies all day long as we hunted and gathered for our food! But today we put food on the table- for the most part- by typing away at these computers all day long. And our bodies are confused. Where are the missing movement ranges? Where did the frequency go? While you don't need to abandon contemporary culture and go live in a tree, it helps to acknowledge that you are still wired to thrive with the demands that a hunter gatherer would have had.

Depressed? Oof when I mention this stuff in my classes or in my practice I kind of see the light go out of people's eyes. Which sucks. I believe the thought cycle goes something like, "Well my life depends on sitting most of the day, so I guess I'm hopeless. I will have terrible chronic pain, joint dysfunction, and die from this 'lethal activity' that is required by my job."

Ready? Deeeeeeep breath. There is hope.

The movement part is easy, albeit with a small adaptation period, and you may have to occasionally fight (or even just nudge) The Man. That's it. And we'll get into how to do both in part 2 of this post. Stay tuned!

photo by skittledog

Where is the Top of Your Spine?

11964621245_b2965f0d49_zI have a longstanding pattern of forward head positioning. And I have a job where I lean over people much of the time. And I participate in a culture that uses these pesky smartphones and laptops that have us leaning down all the time. Grrr! Fortunately my Alexander Technique teacher, Rachel Bernsen, has given me a great cue that helps me to feel my head supported on top of my body. Well she's given me many fantastic cues, but this is one I come back to many times throughout my workday. Thanks Rachel! This is for any of you out there who are starting to feel a kinship with vultures...

*Update 3/3/14: My fantastic Alexander teacher, Rachel (linked above) and I had a great conversation come out of this post, and I realized it was important to add that information here. So- the actual location of the A/O joint is back between the ears. When she cues me, she is touching my ears here, so that I can get a sense for where the joint actually moves from. When I put this video up of me touching under my cheekbones (zygomatic arches in the hiz-ouse!), what I am referencing is the level of the A/O, not the actual location. So I am talking about where on your cranium you can feel to reference the height of the top of your spine, and she is cuing where the joint actually sits and moves from. Hope that specificity helps!

Photo by Jaci XIII

Kate Hanley Interview

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Kate_Hanley_headshotWe continue our micro-series on looking at the foundational pieces that contribute to living more happily in our bodies. In this case, I speak with Kate Hanley about how mindfulness- specifically small, consistent acts of mindfulness- can help us to stay healthier both physically and mentally. Kate is the founder of Ms. Mindbody, a wellness journalist, yoga teacher, coach, and the author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide and The 28 Days Lighter Diet (which she co-authored with Ellen Barrett).

I can tell you from my heart that had I been introduced to a mindfulness practice when I was younger I would have headed off a whole lot of physical pain and dysfunction at the pass... here's Kate to talk about how to create your practice. (And you can also skim via the transcript below)

 

 

 

 

:58 On FFF we talk a lot about healing from and avoiding chronic pain through the “how does this thing we live in actually work?” lens, but there's a foundational piece about how do we notice this thing we live in? What role does mindfulness play in avoiding and healing from injury and aging well, etc?

2:17 I ask her to talk about what she means by “accessing the inner Yoda”.

2:36 [Kate from here forward unless noted] That’s how I like to talk about our intuition or wisdom. It’s easy to go straight into pan flute woo woo land from there- but talking about it as your inner Yoda keeps it light. We all have a wisdom that lives deep in our body. The problem with it is that it speaks in whispers and cryptically, kind of like Yoda, so if you’re running around all the time and doing 3 things at once you’re never going to hear it.

3:39 That’s why I’m an advocate of any kind of mind body practice, which I define as anything that gets your body and mind working on the same task. So it could be something like yoga or meditation, but Einstein said he did his best thinking when he was shaving and I would argue that that was his mind body practice.

4:13 Any time you are doing something physical that requires your mind’s concentration, it’s like giving a puppy a chew toy if your mind is a puppy in this scenario. The puppy is running around everywhere, and then you give it something to concentrate on and everything gets quieter. Then Yoda gets a megaphone.

4:56 [me] I ask about the theme of one of her recent Kate’s Yoga Playhouse events- “Space: The Final Frontier.” About making space in our lives.

5:23 I talk to busy people about simple yet profound ways to slow down and get quieter and one of the things I hear all the time is, “I just don’t have time”. When you do the thing that quiets you first, it makes space. It makes time. You make space before you do your 20 item to do list. But if you’ve done the most important thing first you get energized and it’s like, “What else is possible! Let’s go!”

6:43 But it does relate to the body as well. Our body is such a reflection of our mind. If we’re weighted down and closed off that’s how we feel in our mind too. That’s why I’m a fan of yoga- it does make space in the body. It does make you more flexible. Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough space and time.

7:32 [me] I talk about my birth injury and growing up with chronic pain and when you grow up that way you develop a practice of not noticing yourself because it’s too uncomfortable to tune into that. But had I been introduced to mindfulness practice back then, well it really does head a lot of things off at the pass. My path was rock bottom- not being able to open my mouth or eat solid food or turn my head, etc. So I offer this to people who are trying to live best in their own bodies- it’s better to avoid rock bottom. It’s easier to get out of holes if you don’t dig them for 20 years. and mindfulness creates the space to make changes earlier.

9:02 [Kate] It’s really about becoming more aware right now this moment. It’s literally what do I notice right now? And awareness is always the first step to changing a habit. You can’t know you have a habit if you don’t notice it. There’s a scientific principle that the simple act of observing a reaction changes the outcome. Allowing yourself to see automatically begins the process of change.

10:13 [me] I mention Grace Bell’s interview and how if you change the direction of your ship by a couple of degrees it winds up at a totally different place.

10:37 [Kate] And a big piece of it too is trusting that something as simple could have a massive benefit. And that’s why I incorporated coaching into my work. You can tell yourself that 2 minutes of mindfulness counts, but on a subconscious level you feel like you can’t really see how it is going to get you where you’re going.

12:35 One of my favorite quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh is: “When we take good care of the present moment, we take good care of the future.” All you need to do is take care of yourself right now. You don’t even need to think about the future, it takes care of itself.

13:32 [me] Tell us a little more about how you got into mindfulness, yoga, and coaching.

13:35 I was working at a stock broker firm in San Francisco through a temp agency and I was miserable. I felt like I was in jail everyday. I was watching TV and I ran across the movie Midnight Express which is about the young American man who smuggled drugs and got put into Turkish prison. Subconsciously I could identify with the feeling of being in prison. And there is one scene where they are doing yoga and I had never seen anyone move like that before. And the look on their faces was that they were totally free. So I had this moment where I thought if that can help them, it can probably help me.

15:12 I was in this limited mentality where I didn’t think I could go to the one yoga time slot at my gym. And so, oh, poor me, I can’t go to yoga class.

15:49 One day I loaned my car to a friend and it got rear-ended. Nobody got hurt but the car was totaled and got a check for $11,000 for my car and I quit my job! And the first thing I did was go to yoga. It was a huge awakening for me and that was in 1995.

16:20 I used to use yoga as an antidote to work for years- work with a little bit of yoga. But gradually the scale shifted so I was doing more and more yoga and I ended up doing my teacher training and quit my job because I thought I wanted to be a yoga teacher, but the training gave me the courage to do what I always wanted to do which was write, so I created Ms. Mind Body and became a journalist.

16:50 And then I had 2 kids in 2 years. After my first child I pretty much kept it up, and then I had my second and I was completely overwhelmed and was like, “I can’t do anything that isn’t related to keeping these kids alive!” and I quit everything I did- yoga, mindfulness- cold turkey and then the shit really hit the fan. Things got so much worse.

17:45 It showed up in every part of my life- my weight, my work, my relationship, everything. And the way I found my way back in was to meditate while I was nursing my son. And it was simple. I would count my breath to 10 and then start again at 1. It was maybe 10 minutes a night and I couldn’t believe how much it started to change things. I’ve always been an advocate for simple practices, I wrote my first book The Anywhere Anytime Chill Guide when I was pregnant with my daughter. Oh my how we teach what we need to learn!

18:36 I really believe it doesn’t matter what your practice looks like as long as it’s consistent. Do not discount the power of tiny things.

19:31 [me] I have clients ask me when I give them self-care stuff to do, “what do I have to do? 40 minutes a day?” and I tell them if they can do this for 90 seconds a day, most days, you are going to notice a radical difference. And we have trouble building in new habits which is why I love what you did- you combined it with something you already do. You knew you were going to put your son to bed, and so you combined it with that. And we live in a culture that loves rapid, radical results, which is the whole reason the show The Biggest Loser exists which is my nemesis- let’s just watch extreme, inhuman measures get people to this extreme, really fast change. When tiny, kind, gradual, but consistent measures can make radical differences. It’s not going to happen overnight, but also, it’s kind of going to happen overnight!

20:47 [Kate] Yes. It’s going to feel like that at some point. One day you’re going to wake up and be like, “Wow! When did that happen!” And it’s really hard to grasp how ingrained that “gotta go for it big time!” Thing is in our culture. It’s just going to set you up to not do it. Who is going to spend 40 minutes a day? And it comes back to- do you really believe you can do something simple consistently for yourself and have it pay off? That’s what’s behind the whole “totally revamp yourself, go workout til you puke!” stuff comes from. We think we need to do that to have change.

22:30 So when you do start to do that stuff not only do you benefit, but you model it for other people in a really subtle energetic day. You awaken the possibility in their mind.

23:00 [me] Maybe I don’t need to add more suffering to the suffering equation!

23:04 So it becomes important to do for yourself, because we’re not intended to be walking around feeling like crap all the time. But it is also important for the people you come into contact with. I work with a lot of moms and they ask is it selfish that they start doing the things they want to do and I ask them, “Is it selfish to teach by example to your kids that they can do things to take care of themselves?”

23:30 [me] Yeah I have a friend who is having her first baby in spring and so she’s asking me for advice and I had to remember back 7 years... but what I ultimately said is that her self-care is the most important thing. Our kids learn from watching how we live and experience our lives and so we can model self-care.

24:00 I talk about Kate’s projects: her wonderful blog Ms. Mindbody, her one day Kate’s Yoga Playhouse events which combine yoga and coaching work, and her newest book which has just been released, the 28 Days Lighter Diet with Ellen Barrett.

27:32 [Kate] It’s about syncing your activities- your fitness, your eating, lifestyle, wellness pursuits, etc to your cycle. As women we are not the same from week to week, we have different requirements. So it’s good to know when to go for it and when to rest. And we weave in a lot of mindfulness and yoga and wisdom from Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. We also advocate for tracking your cycle so I’ve been doing that and it’s really fascinating how predictable it can be. I know when I tell my kids it’s time to brush their teeth and go to bed and they scream and run away and I start shooting white hot rage daggers at them that I’m within hours of starting my next cycle.

29:42 Kate says some nice things about her Rolfing series that she did with me many years ago : )

Plantar Fasciitis From Leg Length Discrepancy

167794107_e8a7b59b0d_zI admit it, I've spent a long time being overconfident about my ability to easily and quickly resolve plantar fasciitis (a painful condition of the foot caused by the plantarfascia pulling away from the heel bone). Because I work in a fascial field as a Rolfer® I've had a lot of people contact me for help with plantar fasciitis over the years and most of the time I have been able to easily help them. I've written about that approach here, and, in fact, when plantar fasciitis results from a short or gluey posterior chain of tissue (i.e. the calves, hamstrings, gluteals, and low back and spinal muscles), it does in fact respond very readily to to this approach. Tight fascia = loosen that fascia. Easy, right?

Fortunately there seems to be some divine order that says when a person (in this case, me) gets too assured of something (in this case via a formulaic way of thinking about the body), some wonderful opportunity to see the body freshly as the complex unified organism that it is presents itself.

The first time I had a plantar fasciitis client fail to respond was, as these things go, with a dear friend. And while I would love to pretend that I'm an enlightened being, when a friend in pain comes to me I now have my normal desire to help out layered with an egoic desire to be the one who "fixes" them. Ha ha ha! Silly mortal! You cannot fix people! Yes, this whole "be the one who fixes people" drive is usually a set up for a fall.

This was also the first time I had encountered plantar fasciitis as a result of a leg length discrepancy. Or at least it was the first time I became aware of that courtesy of the conversations that she and I, and the wonderful physical therapist who I had referred her to, had as things resolved. Since that time I have met with a handful of other people who were dealing with the same thing and so I wanted to write about it here to save some people the months and years of trying to get better to no avail.

Here's the important detail: if someone is struggling with plantar fasciitis chronically and they are not responding to normal treatment (i.e. smart manual therapy and movement that addresses the fascial and functional movement problems), there is a good chance that they are dealing with a leg length problem, and until that gets resolved the pain is going exactly no where. 

So first let's talk leg length discrepancies. They vary quite a lot from incredibly subtle to quite obvious. I write this because most people assume that if they have one longer leg that it would be glaringly obvious and they would be aware of it. However if it is the subtle variety (which also happens to be the most common variety) it usually goes unnoticed. Even teeny discrepancies can cause people a lot of grief.

Leg length discrepancies come in two flavors- either a bone length (structural) difference or an alignment and soft tissue (functional) difference. Because everything in our bodies works in sync with one another, sometimes differentiating between the two types can feel like splitting hairs. In fact, the bone length version is traditionally called a "structural" difference, and the soft tissue version is traditionally called the "functional" difference, but I can't really bring myself to continue differentiating them that way here since, well, whether it is bone or soft tissue ultimately you are dealing with a structural and a functional issue no matter what. Everything has its structural and functional components and I don't know why "structural" should refer to just the hardest bits, i.e. the bones. Then again I'm biased. I write a blog with the word fascia in the title. I digress...

Semanitcs aside, here is why it is important to know if you are dealing with primarily a bone length difference or primarily an alignment/soft tissue issue* because depending on which flavor you have, your treatment will be quite different.

A bone length difference happens when either your femur or your tibia is literally shorter on one side than another. This is the more rare scenario and will happen most commonly if you've had a break in one of those bones (particularly if that break happened when you were still growing), or if you've had a joint replacement since that requires actually removing and replacing part of both of those bones in the case of a knee replacement, and just the femur in the case of a hip replacement.

This is important to know because you cannot make your bones longer now. So while I'm not typically an orthotics kind of girl, if you have one leg that is longer than another due to a bone length discrepancy you are going to have to work with someone who can make a very thoughtful lift for you to wear. This will even out your leg length problem and start you on the road to healing.

I say "very thoughtful" because you can't just go to the pharmacy and pick up something Dr. Scholl's produced for the masses. It needs to remedy the situation with precision and not be the cause of new trouble. Think of when you get dental work; If your dentist filled a cavity and left one tooth significantly longer than the other teeth- youch! It will hurt a lot when you try to bite down. And if one tooth is left shorter than the other teeth, your jaw strains to make your bite meet causing a different kind of discomfort that is more joint-centric (TMJ) and less tooth-centric. Your feet become how you "bite down" on the ground as you walk and stand, and a mismatched pair of legs will have repercussions into your ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, spine, and head. Not to mention that persnickety plantar fasciitis.

Even if it is determined that you have a bone length difference, you have still spent a lot of years (usually) walking around on an uneven foundation, so you'll still need some thoughtful bodywork, but sadly thoughtful bodywork in the absence of a lift is not going to stick with you and the pain will return. So in the case of a bone length difference: lift first, bodywork next. And you may need to tweak the lift as your soft tissue compensations resolve.

An alignment issue happens when you have movement patterns, accidents, injuries, or surgeries that cause your soft tissue to become misaligned. This can take many forms and so is less easy to give a bullet point list. It is also more common however, so here are a few examples to give you an idea of what I mean (note the bullet points even though I said I couldn't do that. Maddening, right?):

  • You spent years competing in high jump and so always jumped off one leg, causing one psoas and quadratus lumborum to hike up. 
  • You spent years carrying everything (kids, groceries, big purse, etc) on one side, causing one psoas and quadratus lumborum to hike up.
  • You had an abdominal surgery which caused some scar tissue internally causing one psoas and quadratus lumborum to hike up.
  • You have scoliosis which causes one psoas and quadratus lumborum to hike up.

Ok now I'm just being annoying. I have a rally cry here and in my practice which is, "It's never just one thing!" and that is true. And it is also never just two things like I oh so tidily made it in the bullet points above. It is always the synergy of how everything comes together and what compensatory patterns  emerge to try and help you out. However, if you are dealing with a leg length discrepancy you can be sure that the psoas and quadratus lumborum are a big part of that dance. When they shorten on one side they have the effect not only of creating pelvic rotations and imbalances, but also of making the leg seem to tuck itself up into the pelvis more.

So if you have plantar fasciitis that has not resolved with manual therapy and you also have sacroiliac pain, low back pain, tight IT bands, piriformis syndrome, lateral knee pain, or gait problems (i.e. limping, or a strongly externally rotated leg), you may very well be dealing with an underlying leg length discrepancy which needs to be addressed in order for the pain to resolve. However, if the main "buddies" that come with your plantar fasciitis are tight hamstrings, calves, and gluteals, and you just plain have a tendency to overexert the hell out of yourself (hellooooo ultra marathoners!) you will likely do quite well with and get some long term resolution with manual and movement therapy alone.

And if you think you might fit this description and are wondering which side you are longer on- the pain usually starts on the longer leg.

* Yes, I got all uppity and italicized with the "primarily" because if you have a bone length difference you can be sure that you will also have an alignment issue. Also "Soft Tissue Issue" is a great name for a band and someone should steal that. 

Research references: http://www.japmaonline.org/content/100/6/452.abstract

photo by Iacovos Constantino

 

Why Fascia Matters

why-fascia-matters-cover-300A few months ago I put a post up on Breaking Muscle, The Top 5 Ways Fascia Matters to Athletesand I was delighted to hear from so many wonderful teachers, practitioners, and trainers who wanted to use the article with the clients/patients/students. So I decided to edit and very much expand on that article- and to of course address the reality that fascia matters to everyone who is living in a body, not just athletes...-and I created a free resource for people so they could do just that.

Why Fascia Matters is a free ebook which you can download, print out, share, use as a micro textbook in classes, turn into a festive hat, scatter into the wind and pretend you are a hosting a ticker tape parade- whatever floats your boat. You can download it here. 

Here are the chapters so you can get a feel for what is covered. It is intended as a short and informal guide to how fascia impacts our ability to live well in our bodies and how we can best recover from and avoid pain, injury, and erosion. Much of the current research is covered and cited throughout.

Chapters:

1) Meet Fascia: A definition of this tissue system and why it is getting so much attention these days. 2) It’s All Connected: Changing our viewpoint from seeing ourselves as assembled parts to a unified organism. 3) How We Actually Move: Just as there are no local problems, there are also no local movements. 4) A Masterpiece of Tensegrity Architecture: The way the entire structure balances and distributes stresses. 5) The Domino Effect: Understanding the dreaded compensatory pattern. 6) A Fluid Tensegrity System: How fascia is both a support structure and a fluid structure. 7) Its Springiness Wants to Help You Out: How and why to nourish the elastic quality of fascia. 8) Variation Matters: We become the shapes and movements we make most of the time. 9) The Original Information Superhighway: Fascia as our most important perceptual organ 10) Loving Your Fascia: Now that you better understand it, here’s how to best take care of it!

Again, you can grab it for free here. 

You may notice this is also the much anticipated (heh heh, to me anyway) launch of Liberated Body Guides! Hooray! It exists! Stay tuned for upcoming books which will not be in ebook format as Why Fascia Matters is, but will instead be available in print and on Kindle and iBooks. Stay tuned!

Grace Bell Interview

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GraceBellLOOK9-2013Here on Fascia Freedom Fighters we are always talking about how to live most happily in our bodies. That means we talk a lot about how these body things of ours work, and strategies for rehabilitating or preventing injury, erosion, pain, and other unpleasantness. What we haven't talked about all that much is how to deal with what the mind has to say about all that unpleasantness.

Many of you in the FFF tribe are either working with clients and students who are dealing with a good bit of pain and restriction, or you are dealing with it (or have dealt with it) yourself, or some combo of those things. So how do we deal with how much it sucks to be dealing with physical problems?

Well for me personally one prong of my spiritual practice is The Work which was discovered by Byron Katie, and I work with a wonderful facilitator of The Work, Grace Bell who also happens to also run a group on looking at issues around pain, sickness, and death. She is also currently rehabilitating from a very significant injury of her own where she tore her hamstrings off the ischial tuberosity, requiring surgery to reattach them. Ouch. So she's pretty dialed in on looking physical discomfort squarely in the face. In this interview we get to learn a few things from her about how to inquire into one's thoughts about pain and suffering.

:50 Usually on the FFF we’re talking about how to live happily in a human body. So we’re also talking a lot about the frustration of when it’s not going the way you want. I explain that I am a student of Grace’s and Byron Katie’s and this is my spiritual practice, and it’s basically a way of inquiring about one’s stressful/suffering thoughts.

3:05 I ask Grace to describe what The Work is

3:18 [Grace] Byron Katie is a woman in her 70’s and she goes by Katie. She had a massive shift in consciousness in her early 40’s. She was severely depressed, a shut in, addicted to drugs, and all of that shifted and she came to perceive the world in a different way. It just sort of happened to her. She talked about discovering The Work and it’s basically 4 questions:  asking whether or not something is true, how do you react when you think that thought, who would you be without the thought, and then you do a turnaround. So it’s an inquiry of the mind.

5:40 [me] I discuss my skepticism in initially finding The Work. I say it's a way of just slowing yourself down and it can get very profound when you work with a group or a facilitator and when you turnaround what you believed is true.

6:24 [me] Speaking to our work here on FFF, just in time for running your own group on dealing with pain and sickness, etc. you are dealing with your own pretty major injury.

6:55 I have pulled my hamstring on the right side right off the bone- the ischial tuberosity- a hamstring avulsion. When I hurt it I hurt it very badly and I couldn’t sit down but I could walk, so I didn’t go to the ER I rested and it never stopped hurting so finally I went to the doctor and he gave me pain medication and that’s all, and he told me to see a PT. The whole time I was watching my own mind, “Oh here’s this piece of information...” “Oh this person is now saying this thing...” I am so fascinated in watching what’s in the back of my mind as comments: “I don’t know if they know what they’re talking about.” “Oh I have to get surgery!”

9:05 I love looking at when I have a fear response. So now I have upcoming surgery which has to happen and that’s going to come in a couple of weeks. And it’s great to have the work in stressful times.

10:09 [me] For those who are living with chronic pain who are listening right now, I’m sure they’re thinking this is about putting a positive, fresh spin on something that they hate, and it’s really not about wallpapering over the bad feeling. I read one of her Grace notes:

10:48 I read her work related to dealing with her feelings about the chronic pain.

12:51[Grace] It’s never been about stopping thinking your negative thoughts. Instead be open to these negative thoughts. They’re passionate! they are calling to be really seen and looked at and heard. The way the mind works is that it wants to pass over things very quickly, “Let’s just get back to the good part where I’m feeling ok.” But instead if you slow down- “Let’s say my leg will never be the same, that might be true, what happens if I look at that?” can you find the possibility in that?

14:40 [me] I talk about how my chronic pain led me to a mission led career- and my turnaround was finding that possibility out of my pain

15:47 We live in a world of duality. You can see the opposite in everything. You can see the good reasons a thing is happening and a bad reason thing is happening. Just ask is there anything- and it’s sort of a counterintuitive way- that you can see in the turnaround. And it’s just as true. It’s not making up something airy fairy.

17:00 [me] I talk about Byron Katie talking about the moment of when you’re in the storm and it does just really suck can you find that part of you that is apart. that is just watching unattached.

17:20 [Grace] It’s quite incredible. I have found that whenever I look at the most stressful, shocking or intense moment of something I’ve been through that there is a place that is watching that is untouched. It’s like you get to see this eye that is watching. And it really was ok, because you did make it through. Here you are looking back. It’s not saying I love everything that happens or I condone it. It’s simple, it’s like now I’m here, and I made it through, and so I can investigate. And you can see even in the moment if now when you have pain it’s interesting to look deeply and see how you feel that pain. See if there’s anything esle going on besides just the pain.

20:05 [me] I talk about how the work gets people into this granular microsecond to microsecond present tense and that if you are looking at pain you find that much of it is past tense or future tense. “that was awful” or “this will never get better”

20:30 Grace mentions Byron Katie quote: “Pain is on its way out”. the only way I can anticipate this surgery coming up is to match it with past experience. It’s based on the past.

22:33 [Grace] There’s so much freedom in finding a tiny awareness. You don’t need to have a huge shift in how you see the world or your pain. Just a little bit of a shift. I like thinking about it as a little boat traveling around the planet in a giant ocean, and if it only makes a tiny degree change, it will be in a completely different country by the time it sails the ocean. So tiny inquiries can change things.

23:53 I ask about themes she sees in her group on pain, sickness, and death.

24:11 I ask people to think about times when they were hurt physically in their lives and I have them pick one memory and see what do they want in that moment, what should be happening in the moment, what shouldn’t be happening and you get these really simple concepts like “this shouldn’t be happening”.

25:52 So we can do the questions right now with “this shouldn’t be happening”. The first question is, “Is it true?” and sometimes the answer will be, “Well of course it is! I really don’t like this!”. So the second question is, “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” just to help you spend a little more time there and slow you down. Sometimes that first yes will be so fast. I love how only you get to answer. You’re the authority, so if you have another yes, no problem, that’s the answer. So the third question, “How do you react when you believe the thought this really shouldn’t be happening?” It’s very interesting because if you really believe the thought, then you are arguing with reality. You are against reality. And that’s a very hard place to be. You see what happens in the body- very tight, worried, fear. And we spend time in there exploring that. And then the 4th question, “Who would you be without the thought?” What a strange thing! How could I not have the thought? I like imagining that I came from another planet, or I’m a little child, and I can’t have the thought, “this shouldn’t be happening”. It’s very different. It’s like being on a roller coaster ride, you might relax on the way down. It’s very settled.

29:00 Those are the 4 questions and then there’s always a turnaround. So flipping the whole thing. What’s the opposite of your original concept “this shouldn’t be happening”?  Is there anything that comes out of this that is of benefit or an advantage? I will be spending a lot of time on the couch and I have a book proposal I need to finish. So I’ll finish it probably! It could be the tiniest little examples, just a glimpse that it’s not all bad.

30:38 I mention the extra wind at your back that people get when they work in a group. When you get stumped on your own stuff and you hear other people answer with their thoughts and it kicks in and you have the support of other people all interested in questioning their beliefs.

32:00 I mention that chronic pain (and all pain) can be so lonely, so group work is helpful that way.

34:00 Grace mentions her groups/teleclasses. A one year group, it’s very powerful to have a small group working together all year. There’s one on food and eating, relationships- sometimes people bring intimate relationships but sometimes a parent, child, someone who is driving them crazy. Then I do parenting. And sexuality is the last one- attraction and repulsion and all the little thoughts that come out of that. But behind all of it is stressful beliefs. Not having a good time with all that’s going on in your head.

Keep Your Eyes Off the Prize

iStock_000021883238SmallWe are in high season for the "before" and "after" pictures, and we live in a culture that loves, loves, loves a good before and after photo shoot. So before you pick out an imaginary "after" picture for yourself (whether our own personal "after" imaginings involve finally resolving some pain or mobility issue, or fitting back into your pre-holiday-treats-pants) just take a moment to ponder the nuttiness. When we exist in a culture that spends so much time sending us the messages that: A) Your present self is somehow faulty and B) The imagined future is what matters the most,  we, er, sort of lose touch with the present tense. It reminds me a bit of one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Reggie Ray's article Busyness is Laziness" By being busy you are basically giving away your human existence.". Yikes. How about this: by living in the after photo, you are basically giving away your human existence. Because you're not around for it. You're waiting to be in the after photo.

Put another way, Pema Chodron has said (I'm paraphrasing), "self-improvement is a subtle aggression against who we actually are." Oof. That's a profound one. All of this "be better, do better, reach higher" stuff is, I think, a pretty profound cultural veil that we live under which gives us the constant, subtle message that we suck.

So, hey, let's all just give up on dreams and goals and go eat cookies on the couch!

Before you think that I am either preaching from on high or that I don't ever have goals or ambitions, that's not what I'm saying. I am happier since I paid off all my debt, lost the extra 20 pounds I was carrying around from my son (until he was 3, mind you), rehabilitated my body out of pain, built my private practice, etc, etc. Those were all goals that I met and I am grateful every day to have done those things.

But the thing about goals is that they happen in the present tense. Each little action is what creates your future, and if you are asleep to it, you miss out. I've written before about the fact that there is no such thing as being "done" or "finished" with anything, and I guess that's my real beef with the magical idea of the after shot. Getting attached to the after shot allows us to believe that somehow, someday, we will be done and frozen into our "after" selves and we don't have to show up for anything anymore.

I remember the first time I had a private yoga lesson with my first teacher Jonathan Fitzgordon and knowing my history he asked me, as he was evaluating my movement and alignment, how long I had been working to rehabilitate my body. I did a little quick math and (that being probably 2004) I said that it had been 7 years.

When I said it I felt a little bit deflated because here I was, 7 years later, as a Rolfing practitioner no less, and I still couldn't forward fold much at all and I had a good handful of pain and alignment issues. Sure it was significantly better than it had ever been, but it was still, blech, so unsatisfactory.

Then Jonathan did the most amazing thing. Instead of giving me a, "Wow we've still really got a lot of work to do", or even a, "Huh. Ok then." Jonathan gave me a huge gift. He said, "Wow that is so amazing that you are on this journey with your body. Most people are just looking for a way to stop working on their stuff and you've dedicated all these years to it and you keep going. That's so sweet." If you met Jonathan you would know he wasn't blowing sunshine where the sun don't shine. He has this very unflappable, grounded way about him. I really felt him reflecting back to me a kind of awe about the work I was doing to feel good in my body.

I'll never forget that because it was the moment I regained the present tense. I had been devoted to this idea of "Brooke the perfectly aligned, pain free, effortlessly mobile goddess" when instead I was "Brooke the person who has dedicated her life to living in her body the best she can moment to moment", which, quite frankly, is the kind of person I want to be.

Because then I get to have those moments where I find some new space in my body, or solve some new movement puzzle. Before Jonathan gifted me the present tense I would have seen those moments as still somehow falling short, because absolute perfection had not yet been obtained. And it would have been really unfortunate to keep missing all those little micro wins or explorations and judging them as inferior.

We endlessly sex up the appeal of instant gratification even though it's a myth. I wish I had a banner I could fly that says, "Glacial progress is super sexy!" It may not be sexy per se, but if we can lean into it it does create a nourishing life and real, incremental, built-in-the-present-tense satisfaction.

This year, instead of yearning towards an after shot why not try instead to, as my teacher Jill Miller says, "Be a student of your body." Be a  student of your body, of this life, of this moment, of all of it. That's the whole point!

Happy 2014 Fascia Freedom Fighters!!

 

 

Born Again Mama Bodies

4556551742_4e30fb0355_z Hi all! Lately I've had a bundle of diastasis recti questions coming my way from new and veteran mama friends, and also from mama FFF readers. Many of those conversations have ended with this statement, "Well if you don't recommend splinting what do you recommend?" Which would lead into a conversation about alignment and breath, and well, a whole lot of other stuff. It's kind of a long conversation, so I was hoping to find someone whose postpartum conversation was right on the money. As the fates would have it, this coincided with discovering Wendy Powell and her Mutu System, and she was gracious enough to donate a guest post to the blog here. So here is what you've been craving straight from the expert's mouth! Thanks for all your great questions and keep them coming. You all know who you are- and this post is dedicated to you!

Enter Wendy: 

Many mums have had a light-bulb moment when they realize that postpartum recovery hasn’t got an awful lot to do with the race to fit into skinny jeans. It has a lot more to do with being whole again:

  • Walking without pain
  • Exercising without leaking
  • Lifting your child without hurting
  • Being able to keep your innards IN

MuTu System programs have been created to offer a body and mind re-boot. I’ve learned that this is desperately needed, from my own personal and professional experience, and from conversations with hundreds of mums.

What Matters to Mums?

That light-bulb moment I mentioned? It usually hits us around about the time we put our back out lifting our child, or we wet ourselves a bit when we sneeze, or we try to do abdominal crunches and notice our tummy doming (yes, that’ll be your vital organs poking through your weak abdominal wall).

Our bodies tell us in no uncertain terms that our jellified tummy is the least of our worries. Right about then, we stop Googling ‘baby bulge diets’ and start searching for ‘how to fix a pelvic floor’.

And that’s a really good change in priorities!

InfographicV4Back to Basics

So how can we get our body back to its best, inside and out?

On the surface, there are two problems to overcome: pelvic floor weakness and diastasis recti (abdominal separation).

Linked to this unstable core, mums may be suffering from back pain or pelvic floor dysfunction (which could mean urine leakage, faecal incontinence, pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse and hernia). And they may be stuck with ‘mummy tummy’, unable to firm up and strengthen their mid-section.

While initially caused by making room for and supporting a growing baby in the uterus, these issues are exacerbated after childbirth by excessive intra-abdominal pressure. The healing process can’t start until the pressure lowers in the abdominal cavity – and to do that, we need to check our alignment.

Misalignment is a brick wall in the face of post-natal wellness – it’s what prevents intra-abdominal pressure from returning to normal after giving birth.

If your body was not aligned properly before having babies, it sure as hell isn’t afterwards. Any glitches in our alignment and musculature that have crept up on us over the years are aggravated by that monumentally physically demanding process.

To reduce pressure, many of us need to start from square one: learning how to walk and breathe right. That is the first step to full post-partum recovery.

New Foundations

Breathing right, standing right, walking right, learning how to connect our minds to the muscles of our core and pelvic floor, so that we use them with every move we make: none of this can be skipped.

Focused core exercises have their place – and intensive workouts too when your body is ready – but it’s the day to day stuff that is crucial.

Alignment, breathing, moving a lot and in the right way: That’s your pelvic floor pension plan right there.

Getting Bodies to ‘Just Do It’

There is a lot of gadgetry in this industry – pelvic floor toning devices and belly binding splints remain popular ‘solutions’ to diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction.

I’m not here to pour water on other techniques, I can only tell you what I believe – which is that bodies are capable of being strong, mobile and fit for life. They can do it on their own, with a little bit of commitment on our part.

The mental connection is important. Lots of mums understandably ‘switch off’ from ‘down below’ after giving birth: It doesn’t feel right and (if they dare to look) it sure as hell doesn’t look right. It’s a lost cause.

The brain needs to talk to the muscles to activate them. It needs to open up the dialogue again. Simply sucking in your stomach, or using a splint, is not the same as activating your core. It does nothing to strengthen or tighten the muscles to help them work properly on their own.

In fact, sucking in, or binding, displaces mass upwards and downwards like a tube of toothpaste squeezed in the middle, placing more pressure on the diaphragm and pelvic floor – doing the opposite of what we want to achieve.

Fighting Fit

Weirdly, having babies is a chance to get fully fit: our post-natal‘ re-boot’ is often the thing that helps us re-focus our energies on wellness. Not just looking good, but feeling energetic and having a body that works.

So many mums tell me that their post-natal fight back was the start of a better lifestyle for them. They come to know and love and respect their bodies in a way they never did before. The skinny jeans are just a bonus.

                                                                                                                                                                 

About the Author

Wendy_Avatar_Sep13-02Mom of 2 Wendy Powell is founder of the internationally recognized and sought after MuTu® System program. She has over 12 years experience, proven record and study in the pre and postpartum fitness industry.

MuTu System includes online coaching, DVD’s, online support and community, fully endorsed by Specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapists and Industry Experts worldwide. It is fresh, personal, progressive and motivational, and it gives Moms the answers, guidance and support they need to restore body confidence inside and out. Wendy has an established international social media following and industry reputation.

MuTu System covers fitness, fat loss, nutrition, hormone balancing and motivational strategies for busy Mums.

Wendy’s specialist area of expertise is pelvic and abdominal reconnection and restoration after childbirth: functional core strength, diastasis recti, pelvic floor and related alignment issues.

Wendy writes for the Huffington Post and has appeared in numerous magazine features, including Red magazine, Health and Fitness and Zest. Health and Fitness magazine UK also commissioned Wendy to write their Get Your Body Back book, published September 2013.

mom and baby photo by Adam DeClercq

Shoulders Tug of War

Woman with upper back and neck painWhen I keep seeing a theme in my practice I know it’s time to write about it here on FFF. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of people who are suffering from pain in their neck and upper shoulders/back, and they are trying to relieve or resolve the pain by pulling their shoulders down and away from their head, only to find that this makes the pain worse. While “pull your shoulders down” doesn’t exactly make my movement cue hall of shame (like, say, “tuck your pelvis” or “lift your chest” do), it does make my movement hall of lack-of-nuance. Since that just rolls of the tongue so easily, we’ll go with that.

“Pull your shoulders down” is one of those things that many people are mistakenly under the impression they need to be constantly vigilant about. In reality, most people’s shoulders are a totally fine distance from their head, and so when they are tugging their shoulders down, in what is a chronically overtaxed and tight area for most in our culture, they wind up agitating their soft tissue instead of relieving it. It’s kind of like the tension put on the rope in tug of war. If both teams are pulling the rope is taught. Tugging harder on the rope isn’t going to make it longer, it’s just going to pull the team on the other end around while creating more force and strain on the rope. When what we’re talking about is your tissue instead of a rope: Ouch.  In short, you can’t force yourself past an end range and expect to find more space. Instead you will find more strain.

Here’s where the lack of nuance issue comes in; Yes, most of us in our culture are suffering from overworked and tight muscles in this area. Namely the upper trapezius, levator scapula, and scalenes. Plenty of other things come into play because there are no local problems, but these places are for sure gummed up and tight. And when these places are tight, they can contribute to an upwards creep of the shoulders. But things aren’t always short and tight. We can have plenty of places that are pulled long and tight, and that happens a lot in the upper shoulders and neck.

Regardless of whether you are a “long and tight” or “short and tight” person in this area, because of the sensitivity of the tissue here, tugging the shoulders down often just lights up the pain pattern. It can also be useful to know how nerve rich an area this is. In particular, the ulnar and median nerves exit your cervical spine (neck vertebrae) here to weave their way through your shoulder and down the arm. And nerves just don’t like getting yanked on.

So what to do for your cranky shoulders, neck, and upper back? First, the ultimate goal should be for the shoulders to rest, not for them to be chronically pulled downward with muscular effort. Second, giving the tissue some slack in your stretches for it often helps to unglue the area more effectively. And lastly, external rotation is your friend. Let’s talk about each one at a time.

Nuance! We like it in our movement cues! Here goes:

  • Shoulders are designed to rest. The beautiful design of our interior architecture is made precisely so that we can be supported from the inside out, not so that we need to be constantly efforting. I think sometimes we forget that the goal is to feel supported and fluid rather than to be striving in the direction of perfection (Wow I could go on a long tangent here about what that means about our cultural conditioning! Another time…). In other words, your tissue has got your back. That’s what it is designed to do. In the case of our shoulder girdle (which just means the entirety of what we define as shoulder structures), the clavicle, scapula, and humerus, and all the soft tissue that emerges from and weaves into those bones, make up this lovely structure that just rests on top of your ribcage. So before you do anything else, first ask if you really need to be pulling your shoulders down. Take a good look in the mirror. Are your shoulders really masquerading as ear muffs? Really?  In my experience, that is not the case for many people. If your shoulders seem to be a just fine distance from your head, why not give up yanking them down and see if this act of not doing actually resolves or relieves your pain. I have seen in many of my clients that when they stop forcing this corrective on themselves that they get better.
  • Give your tissue some slack. My brilliant Yoga Tune Up® colleague Lillee Chandra has a great way of describing this. She says that it’s kind of like when you have a drawer that’s stuck, and you keep yanking on it in the hopes that you’ll free the drawer to glide again, but it won’t budge. Ultimately what really frees the drawer is to stop yanking on it, and to actually push it back in until it gets back on its track, and then it slides open without the slightest glitch! A simple way to do this is by rolling your shoulders instead of pulling them down. You go through a full rotation of bringing them up to your ears, down towards your back, and then to rest in neutral. Another way to play with this is with the extreme trapezius shrug, which is in the video below and is from the Yoga Tune Up lexicon.
  • External rotation is your friend. Much of what we perceive as shoulders that are “too high” are actually shoulders that are internally rotated. Because we primarily use our arms in one configuration in our culture (out in front of us and internally rotated at the humerus while typing, texting, holding the steering wheel, carrying groceries, lifting weights, etc, etc) we tend to get stuck in internal rotation. Go back to your mirror and internally rotate your humerus (upper arm bone) as much as you can on one side. Does that shoulder now appear higher than the other side? And if you now externally rotate the humerus (the pit of the elbow will begin to face out) does that shoulder now appear lower? Magic! This doesn’t mean you need to be walking around in forced external rotation, but it can be a much more useful direction to stretch in than simply pulling the shoulders down. I also demonstrate this and talk about it in the video below.

Enjoy! And be kind to your shoulders. Give those guys a break this holiday season, ok?

And now on to the video:

   

Self-Care Shopping Guide

4226651008_514325a786_zFirst, I missed you guys! I've spent a month on a social media fast, and have managed to accomplish a lot while learning a few things about the inner workings of my Facebook addiction... but I'll save that for another time. The fruits of my time off are in the hands of my brilliant designer and developer, so get ready for some new goodness. First up will be my (free!) ebook Why Fascia Matters. Rest assured I'll let you all know when it's available.

In the meantime, I'm back with what is clearly a deep and important topic: shopping. Ok forgive me but 'tis the season. And why not celebrate the holidays by spreading around more self-care? Self-care is healthcare! Here are my top picks for the gifts that give back this year*:

  • Yoga Tune Up® Massage Therapy Full Body Kit: I obsess about them all the time here on FFF, so you may be familiar with the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls. Did you know they have a full body self-massage kit with DVD's for working the whole body which comes with a set of therapy balls in a tote? They do, and it's fab. 
  • MELT Method Roller and book: Want another method of working your own glorious tissue? Grab a MELT roller and the MELT Method book which takes you step-by-step through how to work on your own body at home. (please note that a MELT Method roller is profoundly different from a foam roller, so a foam roller cannot be substituted).
  • Coregous DVD and Coregeous ball: I get it that Jill Miller looks a little bit like a Kardashian on the cover of this DVD, and so that might deceive you that this is a fluff product about looking cuter in a bikini. But don't be fooled! I give this to my clients all the time (including plenty of men) as the wisest core work that I have found. Which, in a world where the word "core" is vastly overused and abused, is pretty great. This is particularly useful for people with back pain, hip flexor pain, or groin pulls. And the Coregeous ball itself is a miracle worker of brilliant self care work for the abdomen and spine.
  • Happy Feet Socks: For the people you love who are dealing with foot pain, bunions, hammer toes, and/or plantar fasciitis these things are gold. So yummy at the end of the day!
  • Katy Bowman's books: Biomechanist extraordinaire, Katy Bowman, has two fantastic books that will help anyone to learn how to be happier in their own bodies. In keeping with the theme of foot pain, first there is Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief (which by the way is a great book for men too, they can just skip the bits about stilettos...). The second is Alignment Matters, a complete book of the first 5 years of Katy's blog. Not only are there many jaw dropping insights to be had by reading the book, but it is also wildy funny and entertaining to read.
  • Core Walking Method: I'm a big believer that we can heal much of what ails us by resolving some of the wacky ways we walk. The reason why I don't write a lot about "how to walk" on the blog is that walking is a complex full body movement, and one that we have many blind spots on. I have found that when people hear information about how to walk "properly" that they often wind up rehabilitating themselves into a new problem. That's where Jonathan Fitzgordon's program comes in handy. This gives you videos and a whole lotta information about how to safely and gradually make positive changes in your gait pattern.
  • 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back: This is Esther Gokhale's definitive book which takes an anthropological view as to why we have so much pain in our culture (which you may have noticed is my favorite conversation to have), and also gives very straightforward movement advice that can make enormous differences in how you feel. She is especially helpful for those who have a job that keeps them in a chair. Speaking of which:
  • The Stretchsit cushion: Is also from Esther Gokhale and can be a very helpful aid to happier, healthier sitting. We're stuck doing at least a certain amount of it (for example, in the car), so why not make it as therapeutic as possible?

Happy self-care shopping!

*Needless to say, I have not mentioned any of these because I get a kick back of any sort. None of these are affiliate links. I just like this stuff!

photo by SBC9

 

 

Why Astronauts Get Osteoporosis (And What it Means to Us On Earth)

4611583232_0484ea0d52_zSometimes there are things that are such assumed constants that we totally forget about them and the fact that they have an impact on us.

Did you hear the joke that started off David Foster Wallace’s brilliant commencement speech at Kenyon College- This is Water? It goes like this, “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming by. He nods at them as he swims past and says, ‘Morning boys! How’s the water?’. And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, ‘What the hell is water?’” David Foster Wallace goes on to say, “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious and important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and to talk about.” He then gives a gorgeous talk on living a compassionate life. But I am going to hijack the beginning of his talk to point out one crucial form of of “water”,  or “obvious and important reality", related to our bodies:

Gravity is always present.

Unless we leave this planet, or go to some awesome space camp where we get to play with NASA’s equipment or something, gravity is constantly exerting its force on us.

The way that I will usually illustrate (or rather exaggerate) this with my clients is to have them stand in whatever way feels normal to them, and then gently press down on their shoulders. With this exaggerated form of gravity, they will often notice things like all the force being transmitted to their low back or their knees. I will then help them to find proper alignment, and again mimic exaggerated gravity by gently pressing on their shoulders. Once they have found proper alignment, they now feel the force of gravity transmitted evenly through their joints and traveling directly down into the ground through their feet.

But let’s imagine you do opt out of this whole gravity thing. You’ve just decided to pay Richard Branson a whole lot of money to go into outer space. What might that look like? Oh wait, plenty of people have already gone there, we call them astronauts. Let’s take a look at what astronauts have taught us about gravity. Did you know there is something called The Bone Research in Space Symposium? Am I the only one that thinks that sounds like an awesome conference to attend!? It’s brought to you by the good people at The International Space Life Sciences Working Group who go by the charming and impossible to pronounce acronym ISPLSWG! I digress...

Research like this, on astronauts and what happens to their bones, exists because when you take a human out of the gravitational field they rapidly develop osteoporosis. I’m talking a pretty lightening fast bone to cotton candy switcheroo. Ok that is a tad of an exaggeration, but it is pretty shocking how rapidly density is lost.

From speaker Rene Rizzoli at the symposium: “"Bone is a living tissue, and must be 'stressed' [via gravity] to maintain strength. If bones are immobile for long periods, as occurs in space but also in bedridden patients, the individual will lose a substantial amount of muscle and bone mass, which may have serious repercussions,"

I would like to amend this a bit to read, “As occurs in space, bedridden patients, and also in a more subtle and gradual way to misaligned and undermoved tissues in normal healthy populations.”

So we can clearly see it’s not so sunny when we opt out of gravitational forces because we are designed to thrive here on Earth, where there is gravity. Which means we have to find the most optimal way to live in gravity (i.e participate for most of the day in natural human movements like walking, lifting, and not sitting still) so that the signals to our cells create a nourishing effect, instead of a degrading effect. In the words of my favorite biomechanist Katy Bowman, “Alignment matters!” It matters kind of a lot actually!

And because I couldn’t have said it better myself, here is Erik Dalton:

I often scratch my head in wonder when reading research that dismisses the effects of gravitational exposure on human viscoelastic tissues. It’s even more frustrating when scientists and clinicians discount the role distorted postural faults such as pronated feet, crooked SI joints, and forward heads play in commonly seen pain syndromes. Each-and-every day, the weight of gravity (14.7 pounds per square inch) pushes straight down on our bodies. These compressive forces should be equally distributed throughout the neuro-myo-skeletal system…but are they? Prolonged one legged standing (excessive weight bearing on one limb) is an oft-overlooked culprit creating ligamentous creep that may be a precursor to more serious conditions like joint laxity, lumbopelvic instability, sprains, and osteoarthritis.”

But hey, if you want to find out what it feels like for yourself to be totally out of gravity, NASA will pay you for the opportunity! However, as a woman who spent a a portion of her pregnancy on bed rest, I'm here to tell you no amount of money is worth it. So you may prefer to get upright and delight in the gravitational field that we all take for granted.

*P.S. This is an excerpt from a short book that I'm currently working on, which is why the blog is about to go silent for a few weeks. I'm behind on my deadline! But I'll be back soon.

photo by Scorpions and Centaurs

 

Katy Bowman Interview

interviews-small

Katy_BowmanIt never fails. Every time I interact with Katy Bowman and her work there is always a moment where my jaw hits the floor. This interview is no exception (it happens around minute 31...)! I think Katy Bowman is one of the single most important voices not just on alignment and on movement, but on being human. Which naturally meant I had to interview her for FFF! Katy Bowman is a biomechanist who is the founder of the Restorative Exercise Institute, the author of Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief and Alignment Matters and an avid, and hilarious, blogger at www.katysays.com. In this interview we cover so many poorly understood yet crucial issues relate to the health of our species. Prepare to be gobsmacked. You can view it in its entirety below or scroll down to skim via the transcript.

1:28 I bring up Katy’s quote “We don’t have an inactivity problem, we have a geometry problem” and ask her to expound...

1:50 [Katy from here forward unless specified] It’s not that it’s not an inactivity problem. We are absolutely suffering from that. We have 3 groups- exercisers, professional laborers, and then you have a sedentary population. The interesting thing about all of those populations is that they are all getting different amounts and kinds of movements, but they all have the same problems. We are sold that if we exercise we will be outside certain health issues.

3:49 When you look at it from a geometrical perspective- just because someone is moving doesn't mean all of them is moving. Someone can be exercising, but not moving that much. When we quantify movement on a more thorough scale than just “is your movement on or off?” and look at it on a more cellular level, we see we are suffering from a geometrical problem. Because when we look at those 3 groups, the difference between their geometry is very little.

5:05 You can be moving a lot but in such a small or narrow range of motion at the joint axes  that movement is not doing what it is supposed to be doing for you- which is delivering nutrients ,moving waste products out, etc... But more on a cellular level it is the mechanical stimulation that gives the cell context on how to rearrange its DNA within the nucleus that creates the body that we have.

5:32 So even if the frequency of the movements is there- someone who moves 75 minutes a day without fail, or moving all day long- if you're in that small range of movement your body adapts to that shape. You basically become that position or small range of motion. And that’s what all the Fascia Freedom Fighters are really talking about- we’re all trying to help mobilize areas and everyone has a different piece of that puzzle.

7:03 [me] People think they can repent their [workday] sins of sitting all day by going to the gym. Can you talk a little bit more about how you mean this with people who exercise? Because I think there’s a disrupt with people who exercise- they think if they are exercising that they are in the clear.

7:26 [Katy] What was so important about that sitting research was that the risk held true whether you were an exerciser or not. Meaning you can’t undo sitting all day by doing something else more vigorously for an hour. You get quarters in your cellular bucket for frequency, but not for intensity. Adaptation simply means that you have altered your structure, not necessarily made it "better".

8:30 If you have your knee in one position for 10 hours, that's a lot of “quarters” for that joint to become morphed. Adaptation does not mean improvement. Adaptation means you have altered your structure to make what you do easier on you.

9:20 If you sit 10 hours a day, or 15 hours a day, which most people do- even your super duper exercisers. The frequency of movement is very small. You’re not undoing what you think you’re doing. It’s like the mentality of, “if I smoke, I’ll just run. Because smoking is bad for my lungs, but running is good for my lungs.” But the opposite of smoking is not running, it’s not smoking.

10:35 We’re confusing what we call things with what the actual thing is. But it’s not really how it works, when you apply math to biology.

10:59 [Me- I admire the monkey bars in Katy’s living room, and mention the fact that there is very little furniture. She lives in a mostly furniture free home. I also ask about what it means to raise children in a mostly furniture free home vs. molding their butts to chairs.]

11:39 [Katy] This next population coming up, the generation underneath our generation, is in worse health. It is in decline. But yet no one wants to address the huge elephant in the room which is that we are training our children to be still. Because we don’t delineate the difference between exercise and movement. We have decided that if we exercise for that one hour a day then that is enough.

12:35 And then we just decide that there are all these diseases are genetic. We don’t look at the fact that we're being sedentary. Even more than being sedentary- our periods of being sedentary in the exact same geometrical configuration to the point that you have now created thickening in your arteries at the bends of your joints, and they don’t go away when you stand up. We’ve lost our mobility in our muscles and joints, but it trickles down to mobility on a cellular level. It’s the turbulent flow that wounds the arteries. When you have supple walls, it’s a lot easier for the arteries to change their diameter which can mitigate or reduce the effect of those surges in heart rate. That’s the natural mechanism we have for our heart to be moving at different rates. But we have these hardenings in our arteries, and then we take this body with this problem out to exercise and we increase surges, but there’s nothing we can do about the suppleness.

14:34. Going back to with kids- we are so culturally trained. [In our culture we wonder] "Don't we need a playpen and a stroller and a crib, etc.?" These things are the beginnings of making a child still. We’ve ingrained immobility into our culture so much that our culture kind of depends on it.

15:30 That all being said, I live in this culture too. I like to present the whole thing because we are moving away from talking about the actual problem because we don't see it as something that can change. So we keep talking about childhood obesity and juvenile osteoporosis and the fact that kids are already having back and knee pain and wearing orthotics and we kind of act like, “What’s happening?” Because we're not talking about the fact that this is our choice. But I’m a parent and a realist. I don’t like to tell people what to do, I like to tell people the truth and let them decide what to do for themselves because this [gesturing to the monkey bars behind her] is not for everyone. But it’s the mind part- every single minute of every single day your thoughts are shaped by the culture you are in.

17:11 [me] For those who are dealing with the issue of kids sitting all day long at school, what are your thoughts on options there. [Katy] I would like to see more parents getting involved in changing that. It’s about breaking down inactivity via geometry. It’s not about “we get recess!” and I totally get that it does not work in a classroom with the number of students that teachers have without butts in chairs. So as a parent I would say to offer an environment the rest of the time that is conducive to movement.

18:38 The reason I don't have much furniture or make my home more comfortable is because we will use it. It’s the same reason I don’t keep junk food on hand or ice cream in the freezer. it’s inconvenient for the people coming over at first. When iIm at my mom’s house I’m on her couch the whole time! So I just don’t have it, it’s not an option. And it took a lot of years. We slowly transitioned. If parents could see movement in the same context that they see food. They get more nutritious food vs. less nutritious food.

20:53 It’s such a long period of time [sitting in the classroom] so you can offer non sitting time, but also more movement time. And specifically more natural movement time. Parents have their kids in all these movement classes like tumbling, etc., and those are good and necessary, but what kids are not doing anymore is walking. And that is a huge critical piece of development in every type of tissue.

22:13 I used to go to the park early in the morning and I would see this mom every morning at like 6:15 in the morning and she had her 5 or 6 year old and they were walking and running and playing and moving. I asked her about it and she said she did it for him before he goes to school because without it he couldn’t concentrate and couldn't’ sit still. Imagine taking a wild animal and getting it to sit still. There are some kids who have a harder time sitting still and they get labeled problematic- but if they’ve been sitting for 8 hours every proprioceptive and neurological impulse is shouting at them “MOVE!”. Sorry your biology works perfectly! So just doing that [movement time] is so helpful. And it’s more time out of your schedule, but you need that movement too.

23:57 Also we don’t have a TV. Screen time is a new risk factor for bone density as adults. Screen time as kids. Your bone density is less optimal as an adult even if they exercise. We are so missing that quantity and frequency of loads that is needed to build bones.

25:06 [me] You presented at the Ancestral Health Symposium and I know you presented on something related to children and parenting. [Katy] My talk was called Paleo Parenting [her talk is not up yet on the site, but the abstracts for all 2013 talks are here]. It was not a parenting how-to. I don’t like to give how-to advice. For AHS I gave a presentation on a process that we are not familiar with called mechanotransduction. When we look at disease we are looking at what are the chemical precursors within a cellular  environment that lead to a certain biological outcome- i.e. the shape of a body or a disease the body would experience. There is the gene, but there is a whole set of equipment that every cell has. The mechanical under-workings of that cell. There is actual movement within the cell. We think of movement as something happening with these levers, but our cells are sensing loads and location and constantly collecting data about how to respond to that situation. You can look at femurs of people who have done different things in their lives and it’s a different mass and shape- bone robusticity. We all have bones that are not shaped just by our genes,but also by the loads you experience. A load is about frequency, duration, magnitude, all of those things affect what you get.

28:59 So at AHS I talked specifically about breastfeeding. Movement creates forces. This is another reason I like to separate movement and exercise. We don’t think of an infant breastfeeding as getting exercise. We can see a decrease in the shape of the formation of the palette. The teeth don’t fit and are coming out of a bone that should have been shaped by 4 or 5 years of breast feeding. And not just breast feeding, but the frequency of breastfeeding.

30:00 The cool thing about mechanosensors is that they need to be refreshed. It’s like a sponge, if I smoosh it that’s one load, but then it sits there and gets stale. The repetitious load and unload is what refreshes the cell. So frequency is a huge variable.

31:11 In the AHS talk I talked about breastfeeding, also babywearing vs. baby holding vs. strollering. What are the differences mechanically between the 3.

31:31 And as modern humans we talk about why is a baby crying with “it’s tired, it’s hungry, it has a dirty diaper, etc” Modern hunter gatherer populations see a baby as under-moved. That’s the first thing they go to. They need to move for circulation, to keep mobile. They have a whole routine of movement that they put their newborns through and it’s done by the grandmothers and passed down that way. And it can be kind of scary! But it just shows the wide difference in human beliefs about what movement is.

33:45 I ended AHS with - I would like people to recognize that a lack of movement is part of what  child is giving off at all times. I am under-moved and my crying is my way of telling you that my body is missing something crucial. And it’s not exercise. It’s movement. Natural human movement that is at a frequency that optimizes the development that is in progress.

34:50 You can find the majority of Katy’s work at www.katysays.com and her recent book is Alignment Matters [which I will be reviewing soon!]

 

A Fascia Primer for Athletes

  Loose Connective Tissue

Since fascia is such a hot topic right now, and, er, I have a site with this tissue system in its title, I wrote a "Fascia 101" of sorts for athletes in my monthly column on Breaking MuscleBut since it is also just plain old a fascia primer for anyone, you might want to check it out. If you're curious about why fascia is getting so much attention these days, and how it relates to living well (pain free!) in your body, you can give it a read. Here is the beginning of the article:

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You may be noticing the word “fascia” (aka connective tissue) is a hot topic right now in all body related fields. But before we get to why fascia matters to athletes, here is a brief primer about why it’s getting so much attention these days.

First, many think of fascia as a glorified body stocking - a seamless piece of tissue that Saran wraps you just underneath the skin. While this is true of the superficial fascia, it’s important to understand it is a richly multi-dimensional tissue that forms your internal soft tissue architecture.

From the superficial (“body stocking”) fascia, it dives deep and forms the pods (called fascicles) that actually create your musculature like a honeycomb from the inside out. Imagine what it looks like when you bite into a wedge of orange and then look at those individually wrapped pods of juice. We’re like that too! Fascia also connects muscle to bone (tendons are considered a part of the fascial system), and bone to bone (ligaments are also considered a part of the fascial system), slings your organ structures, cushions your vertebrae (yep, your discs are considered a part of this system, too), and wraps your bones.

So imagine for a moment you could remove every part of you that is not fascia. You would have a perfect 3D model of exactly what you look like. Not just in recognizable ways like your posture or facial features, but also the position of your liver, and the zig-zig your clavicle takes from that break you had as a kid, and how your colon wraps. To say it’s everywhere is far from over-stating things.

In fact, it turns out fascia’s everywhere-ness is one of the reasons it was overlooked for so long. Until recently it was viewed as the packing peanuts of soft tissue. Therefore, in dissections for study and for research, most of it was cleanly scraped away and thrown in a bucket so the cadavers could be tidily made to resemble the anatomical texts from which people were studying. Poor, misunderstood, and underrated fascia. Sigh.

Fortunately research is catching up to what turns out to be a remarkably communicative sensory and proprioceptive tissue. What fascia researchers are discovering is pretty amazing not just for fascia nerds like me, but for anyone who wants to put their body to good, healthy use. (Like, for example, all of us at Breaking Muscle!) So without further ado, here is some of the newly emerging information about fascia and how you can use it to maximize not just your athletic performance, but also just your plain old ability to feel good in your body.

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And you can read the rest of the juicy (pun intended) information if you head on over to Breaking Muscle!