Jonathan Fitzgordon

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!!

 

 

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

 

 

Jonathan FitzGordon Interview

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Jonathan FitzGordonI interview Jonathan FitzGordon, creator of the Core Walking Program and my first yoga teacher from way back in the day. Jonathan works with people who are dealing with chronic pain by teaching them how to walk properly, and has amazing results with impacting pain patterns by addressing walking. He is also the author of Psoas Release Party, and Sciatica/Piriformis Syndrome. We get into all kinds of good stuff about pain, alignment, movement, the mysterious psoas, the importance of being your own healer, and much more. Check out the transcript below if you want to either skim or to get a more thorough outline of our chat.

1:35 Jonathan and I talk about how I was one of the very first people to go through the Core Walking program back in the day when we were both in Brooklyn and he was first developing it. Jonathan discusses his learning curve on how he needed to approach everyone completely differently.

3:18 I ask Jonathan about some of the hallmarks of his teaching like, “stick your butt out” and “go ape”. I talk about how he is talking to people in a very different way than most of us approach our bodies these days, which frequently looks like battling our bodies into submission and taking on a military or ballet dancer style posture (or aiming for that as the ideal).

4:00 [Jonathan’s voice from here on except where noted] I find a lot of body and movement work to be very smart but very subtle. So when I started the walking program I wondered how do I make this as simple as possible? Stick your butt out is a very basic instruction, and I get a lot of grief for that. In truth I don’t give very specific instructions. But I do think everyone tucks their pelvis.

5:12 Sometimes a bodyworker will come in for a session. Last week a Rolfer came in, and I thought, “Oh this person is going to show up and have perfect posture” and yet they come in and are tucked under like everyone else.

5:50 One of my favorite phrases is “go ape”. Very often I don’t tell people to go ape. I make them stand in a certain way and I wait for them to say, “I feel like an ape” and when they say that I know they’ve found it.

6:17 My main take is we’re all tucked under in the pelvis, hyperextended in the knees, leaning back in the upper body which crunches the quadratus and psoas and everything. Let’s say I’m teaching yoga and I put everyone in tadasana and I say “stand up straight” and I go around to everyone and stop them from leaning backwards with a tucked under pelvis. In truth you have to figure out what the perception issue is. You are perceiving standing up straight when you are actually leaning backwards. You have to change your perception of yourself in order to change your physical self.

7:42 Essentially I feel like I can’t fix anybody. I don’t think anyone can fix anybody. You know I’m a big fan of Rolfing, and I don’t think Rolfers can fix anybody. I think Rolfers facilitate people fixing themselves.

8:03 I love my chiropractor. And yet I tell people, when you go to the chiropractor and then you leave, you have to figure out how to keep the adjustment. If not, you’re addicted to your chiropractor if you have to go back each week.

8:17 Not to complain about practitioners, but I actually don’t think that’s in the dialogue enough. “I am someone to help you fix yourself” needs to be more of a dialogue. And that’s the [Core] Walking Program.

10:22 I ask Jonathan what he thinks the tucked pelvis is about. How did we even get this idea that it’s a good thing for a body? [Jonathan] I have lots of theories. I really believe something happened in the aerobics practice, Buns of Steel. The whole concept shifted in the public’s idea of what working out was. Also in medical practice if you hurt your back MD’s tell you to make your butt stronger and make your abs stronger. And I don’t think that has served people’s back pain. If someone goes to a doctor a doctor can say if you tuck your pelvis under you’re going to elongate your spine and make more space, and there's a certain logic to that. And it takes hold and so it becomes a part of the fabric of treatment of low back pain.

12:15 Another one of my main theories is that we do it because we can. We’re the first upright beings and I think we lean backwards simply because we can.

12:50 [Me: Tell people some of the benefits they would get from sticking their butt out] The main thing they would get is to relax it. We are a tight-assed people and we need to learn how to let go. I want to teach people anatomy so that they know how their body works, but I also want to teach them to feel their body.

13:40 The next time you are in a store and you are on line [this is New Yorker speak for waiting in line...] if things are moving too slow in that line my butt starts gripping. That tension goes right there. I now know when I get into a place of that tension, I relax it, and that brings nervous system ease.

15:07 Taking Root to Fly, the book by Irene Dowd, I think the first line of her book is the pelvis is a hub of a wheel. So to me it’s the pelvis. If you pelvis isn't’ in the right place, nothing can be in the right place. so a lot of this adds up to what happens when I stick my butt out.

15:55 I think kegel exercises are in controversy these days. I’m all for their anti-kegel-ness, except I just think people do them wrong. If their pelvis was in the right place, they could do them correctly.

17:40 [Me] Do you come up against a cultural bias of hiding the butt? [Jonathan] I find that all the time but for endlessly different reasons.

18:15 I’m not a psychologist, but I really do believe a lot of this body stuff is purely about the psychology of who I am, and what I am. And that gets into a lot of weird stuff. So I think it’s a very interesting process telling people to change. And there’s this amazing psychology of why our bodies turned out the way they did.

19:58 The 83 year old client who attributes never having had a day of back pain to eating hot dogs off the street [at NYC vendor carts] every day. True story.

20:45 That’s what’s fun about my work. Every body is so individual.

21:58 To me it is all fear of change. There is nothing driving our show more than fear. A lack of permanence in an impermanent world. And without getting too spiritual I really think our walking and movement patterns are really wrapped up in that. Our bodies are where we come from, but as an adult you get to choose if you want to change that. Or not.

23:46 [Me] A lot of people don’t put that together: If I change my walk, my pain will get better. So can you address that a little bit and what you teach in the walking program?

23:58 It’s called the Core Walking Program. So the idea is you have to walk correctly, but you also need muscles to support that walking. Kids don’t get taught how to walk. We teach them how to tie their shoes, how to zip their coats, but not how to walk. And I thought why not? Why should anyone walk well when no one taught them how?

24:41 Most of the people I work with have joint pain, low back pain, knee pain, hip pain, shoulder pain. They’re really only coming to me as a place of last resort, because they think of walking as this weird thing. So they’ve seen many doctors and other specialists by the time they see me, and I’m giving them very simple things to do.

26:32 In a lot of ways it’s about getting them into the front of the body. Everyone has a tight back body: their achilles, calves, hamstrings, their butt, erector spinae, suboccipitals, it’s all tight! So we’re walking that way.

27:00 So everything I teach is how to get people into the front of their body. Which gets into really unbelievable stuff because there are no rules for this stuff. I just had somebody who came in with back pain. They obviously had very tight psoas, and this person did a lot of crunches as well. He thought he was fat, but his belly was rigid and hard. His tight psoas was shoving his abdominal contents forward. So if he’s told to do sit ups, he’s going to create more congestion in his middle to do it. So that’s where it has to become very specific with people.

28:51 [Me] What are some of the ways you get people into their front body? We talk about the mystery of the psoas, and how it can be really tough to understand and access.

29:40 I am mystified by the mystery of the psoas. Because I have people who I have literally trained and they still come up and ask me, “where is the psoas?”. After listening to me talk about it for days, they still can’t understand where it is. My main exercise is not a core strengthener, it’s a psoas release: constructive rest position. 10 years later I cannot believe how profoundly useful it is for people.

31:07 I meet very few people who have enough core strength. But the other piece of that is you need to have a happy, released psoas which makes things complicated. There’s nothing wrong with stretching the psoas. What’s weird is that you don’t ever want to feel the psoas stretch. And when you feel it on one side but not the other you know you’re in trouble because you’re imbalanced.

32:13 It endlessly gets back into people getting to know themselves. People learning how the body works.

32:26 Everybody usually wears their shoes out on the outside of their shoes, and that’s living in the outside and living in the back body. I can either say, “walk this way”, or I can say, “How would you walk on the inside of your shoe?” If you know your foot is supposed to place down on the inside it’s going to place down that way.

33:38 Learn how to take apart yourself. Become an expert on you, and it will serve you for the rest of your life.

35:33 Patient, heal thyself. Our game is to facilitate how people can heal themselves. On a certain level a practitioner might get all wrapped up and feel like they need these people to come back, but the world is big.

36:19 Jonathan talks about his sister who has severe scoliosis, and his niece, a hip hop dancer, who was recently diagnosed with mild scoliosis. [Jonathan] And they start talking right away about things they can do, and she’s 16. When she came home from the doctor I told her I didn’t think she needed to do any of these strangely invasive processes. She’s so strong, she can do amazing things.

37:22 I ask Jonathan what his favorite thing is for self care at home for people to play with. I have to go back to constructive rest. It’s oddly benign. But on a different level, everyone learns differently. So I think it’s about learning about your body. If you like reading, buy an anatomy book. If you like watching, get NOVA on the body DVD’s or something. What’s amazing to me is how much money people spend on medical that they don’t need to.

39:33 Be your own healer.

DIY Friday: Psoas Love

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*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

psoasFor the last several months I have been handing out psoas advice all over the place for two reasons; First, I've been working with a lot of athletes, particularly Crossfitters, and they trend towards chronically contracted psoas muscles, and second, because many people are just randomly asking me for advice on releasing their psoas muscles. Whaaaa?! Yep, it seems people are getting hip to this obscure and crucial muscle these days, and it's no wonder! The psoas is the information super highway of sorts between your spine and legs, attaching on the bodies (front part) of all of your lumbar vertebrae, crossing the pelvis, and attaching finally on your very upper inner thigh. Because of that it plays a huge role in, well everything. Being upright and walking for example. And in pain patterns it often gets involved in hip flexor or groin pain (very common in athletes), low back pain, mid back pain, and sacroiliac pain just to name a few. Want a visual of this muscle? When you order a filet mignon or a pork tenderloin, you're ordering a cow psoas or a pig psoas. Yep, it's the tenderloin muscle! Yummy.

 

  • Want to work on it yourself? I've long said that the psoas is not a DIY kind of place, and I really mean that except that Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up®, of course, has found a way to safely access and release tension here. And so with that I give you  the video I most frequently share with clients, which is one of Jill's mini-workshops on Mobility WOD.

 

  • If you want loads more of that goodness, and the program that I consider the smartest core work on the planet, you can check out Jill's DVD, Coregeous. Oh and that fab squishy ball that she's using in the Mobility WOD video and in the Coregeous DVD can be purchased here. Please do not use harder balls in the abdomen. The only safe way to do with is with a squishy, medium sized, air-filled ball like this one.

 

  • Lastly, an important piece of getting the psoas to release is constructive rest, which is mentioned in my interview with Jonathan. The psoas is our "fight or flight" muscle extraordinaire, so constructive rest can get it to let go of any strangle hold it may have going and that can make a huge impact in any pain patterns you have anywhere in your body. It may seem boring, but its' impacts can be profound. So get over it's boring-ness and try it already. I recently gave this to a client of mine who is a high level athlete who also has struggled with anxiety most of her life. After sending her this video she wrote to me saying (yes she gave permission for me to quote her), "In all my research on anxiety I can't believe I've never come across this!!!! I started to giggle because I felt like my body was saying 'it's about f*cking time, b*tch!!!!!!!' " Well I couldn't say it better myself, so on to the video! (yep it's from back when I was putting videos on Soma Happy, my private practice website)