Yoga Tune Up

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

 

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

 

 

DIY Friday: Healthy Pregnancy and Beyond

diyfriday (2)

*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.*

3377899104_08cbdd7f7d_zThere's been a whole lot of talk about what pregnant women are actually capable of lately in the media, as well as renewed attention on postpartum issues that don't get much discussion. There seems to be a theme going, and so I figured we could look more closely at it for this DIY Friday.

First, as someone who has been on bed rest during pregnancy (albeit for one of the very few issues for which it actually is useful- pre-eclampsia), this article has me seeing red. For those of you who have been there, you know it's no small thing. I was shocked at how quickly my body atrophied and it was a very grueling recovery to get myself back from that. And by "back" I don't mean looking cute in jeans again, I mean walking without pain and managing being upright for longer than 30 minutes. Sort of important stuff. So here is the offensive information that bed rest is almost never indicated in terms of improving outcomes, yet is regularly prescribed.  I also had the chance to chat about it with a friend of mine, an MD who specializes in Maternal Fetal Medicine, this weekend and she confirmed, to my astonishment, that this is all true. Yikes.

Next up, The Wall Street Journal put out a great piece this week on the true postpartum challenges women are facing (it's not about the damn skinny jeans!) and how they can be addressed. The only thing I wish this article had addressed is that we really aren't having more of these problems purely because of advanced maternal age or the increased incidence of twins. So much of this boils down to our poor movement patterning in all the years leading up to pregnancy. We live in a culture that makes it very challenging to have good movement patterning (hello chairs, laptops, cars, and smartphones), so few of us are immune.

Then came Lea Ann Ellison, the very pregnant Crossfit mom who got a whole lot of flack for posting some gorgeous pictures of herself power lifting while pregnant. People went nutso. It was all over the place. Over a woman (who had been an athlete for years) exercising while pregnant. Um... this was a bit of an overreaction. And I particularly liked this response to it.

Lastly, Tiffany Chambers-Goldberg had a great post this week in YOGANANYMOUS which addressed and dispelled many myths surrounding yoga and pregnancy.

So where's the DIY in this week's DIY? Well I'm catching you guys early because this event on November 4th is free on the two days that it will be happening live (though you can pay to watch it and have access to it long term after the event), so I wanted to give you some time to plan. Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up is hosting  a 2 day workshop on CreativeLIVE on addressing all of these pregnancy and postpartum issues. So whether you are pregnant, plan to be one day (it's always best to be informed in advance!), or have already had a child, this workshop promises to be enlightenment of the jaw dropping variety. It is rumored that Jill has also assembled some of my all time favorite body nerds to have guest appearances throughout the 2 day workshop. People like Katy Bowman, Kelly and Juliet Starrett, and more! You can check it out here.

Happy baby making!

photo by Bethany Brown

 

 

DIY Friday: Keeping Your Body Complaint Free At Work

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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.*

Most of us spend a hearty portion of our lives at work, which these days means we spend a large amount of time sitting (or standing) at computers, using our smartphones, and being pretty limited in the ranges of movement we're utilizing. We all know inactivity is a problem, but that's not what I'm talking about in today's post. Sadly, we've gotten so focused on the "inactivity problem", that we're just viewing it as a, "Is my heart rate getting up at some point this week?" question. I'm all for getting your cardiovascular health in order, but let's take a look instead at getting your myofascial and alignment health in order.

In English, what I'm asking is how do we deal with the amount of pain- primarily low back, neck, and shoulder pain- that our work days leave us with? Because heading to the gym after work will get your heart rate up, but it's doing nothing to address the pain,  the tissue dehydration and glueing, and the joint thinning that is happening by being static in poorly aligned positions all day long.

Funny businessmanLet's start with the sitting. In case you missed the memo, sitting is the new smoking. New research shows that it significantly increases mortality from all causes. In fact, every hour spent sitting shortens life span more significantly that every cigarette smoked. True story.

Ok, fine. Sitting = bad. Got it. I'll stand then. I'm off to buy a standing desk right now, so it's all good!

Prediction: Standing all day instead of sitting all day isn't going to solve our chronic pain problems. It will just give us a slight variation on the current problems. (Though is likely to be more beneficial for staving off cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancers, so that is a total bonus)

Here's the deal- doing any one thing all day long is not going to be good for you. And doing any one thing poorly all day long is definitely not going to be good for you. I'll get to each point one at a time:

First, doing anything all day long is not what we're built for. We are designed for constantly varied movement, so it is the sheer limitation of picking one thing and doing it for an entire day- in this case sitting or standing, looking at a screen, with your arms bent at the elbow out in front of you and your fingers working away furiously on a keyboard of some kind- that is causing us so much trouble.

To address our need for constantly varied movement:

  • This September I transitioned into a work schedule that is now about 50% Rolfing® and Tune Up Fitness®, and 50% writing. So half of the time I physically work with bodies to help them to heal themselves, and half the time I write about how bodies can heal themselves. As you may have guessed, that latter half requires a big increase in the amount of screen time in my life. Since the irony of writing about bodies feeling better while glued to a computer was too rich, I decided I needed a new system. I've been tinkering with different options, but at the moment I'm very happy with dividing my time in a routine of 40 minutes/10 minutes of writing to moving.

This is my particular adaptation of the Pomodoro Technique. I set a timer on my phone for 40 minutes, and during that time I single task on whatever project I'm working on. Single tasking as in no social media and no other distractions. I am just working on what I have as my top priority in that moment. So, for example, right now my timer is ticking away while I write this post. I will only write this post during this time. When the timer goes off, I will switch it to a 10 minute interval, during which I will move in whatever form feels good. I work from home so I will often be doing Yoga Tune Up corrective exercise or therapy ball self-massage here in my office. But I've also been known to sprint down to my neighborhood beach (a block away, lucky me, I know), sprint around my house, and generally jump around, climb over things, and make a nuisance of myself in the neighborhood. Fortunately many of my neighbors know what I do for work. Others have decided I'm crazy. It's all good.

But you don't work from home and your boss already thinks you're crazy? I admit that being in a conventional work environment makes this more challenging because not only do you need to move, but you also need to take on your work culture's phobia of movement. I understand it can be a tall order depending on where you work, but I think it's a really valuable thing to take on for the sake of your own health and the sake of everyone's health around you. I recommend slowly getting them used to the idea (no hurdling over the cubicle dividers!), with simple stretching at the wall, or briskly walking to the break room and back, or holding walking meetings (fab 3 minute TED talk on that here). If you are going to be trying to shift your workplace's movement phobia please email me. I would love to help out and follow along as best I can.

  • Even without 10 minute movement breaks (which you should totally take btw), you should at least switch up your positioning so that you're not sitting in one configuration all day. Here is Katy Bowman's How Much Do I Sit  quiz which you are likely to find very enlightening. It also has a list of options for increasing your movement throughout the day. 
  • I also adore Katy's Think Outside the Chair poster, with the myriad options for how one can sit when a chair is removed from the equation, but unfortunately after much searching I can no longer find it except for in this expired Facebook post about it. Please tell us you'll bring back the poster Katy!? Pleeeeeeaaaaase!?

Next up, whether we choose to sit or we choose to stand, or some combination of those, we are, for the most part, doing it poorly. When we sit we typically sit on our sacrums, this creates a C-curved spine, which we then remedy by working like hell in our spinal muscles to pull ourselves upright, and I think you've already discovered that that lasts approximately 2 minutes before you collapse back into a slump from muscle fatigue. With standing, we are generally standing with our pelvises out in front of us (past our ankles) which tweaks our low back, not to mention everything else, just the same.

To address our poor alignment (and the havoc is wreaks) in sitting and standing: 

  • Esther Gokhale and her Gokhale Method are recent discoveries of mine, but thus far I'm into it. Here is a great article on her in the New York Times where they call her The Posture Guru of Silicon Valley. And if you're wanting to see her method in action, and how it can help you to sit better at work, this is a video of her demonstrating it at the Ancestral Health Symposium.  

Now go move in varied ways and be happy at work!

DIY Friday: Make Your Jaw Happy

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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.*

5504152401_e1df6a4387_bI do the work that I do because of TMJD, otherwise known as Temporal Mandibular Joint Disorder. You may know it better as jaw clicking, popping, locking, and pain. I had a birth injury which injured my upper cervicals (neck), and so I grew up with an out of whack jaw which, by the time I was in my early 20’s, was barely functional. I could occasionally open my mouth all the way (it sounded like a rifle going off and would attract confused stares), and for a period of a few months in a row I actually wasn’t able to open it more than a quarter of an inch; Just enough to squeeze a straw through my teeth to get some liquid nourishment in. I actually had a physical therapist tell me I would be on soft foods or even a liquid diet for the rest of my life. I was twenty-two.

This lovely condition meant that I also had severe chronic pain in my head, neck, spine, and sacroiliac joints. I was a mess. I was also very lucky to find a TMJD (sometimes also called TMD) specialist who didn’t believe in the surgery, and after building some splints to re-align my jaw is the person who ordered me to get some good bodywork (I had no idea what that meant at the time, but after researching I found my way to Rolfing®) and to learn how to meditate. To keep this DIY Friday from spiraling into a memoir, I’ll end the story there but suffice it to say, I got better, I discovered a career I love, and if you are suffering with this condition I feel your pain. For reals.

That said, I have wanted to write this DIY Friday for ages but since I am oh so passionate about TMJD I tend to go on and on and on. I’m going to try and keep it short and will save the meaty version for a book series I am kicking off this year on resolving common chronic pain and mobility issues (stay tuned!).

Ok, I’m reigning myself in, TMJD, as I mentioned, is a disorder of the jaw. It is ridiculously common, and varies from mild to severe. My case is an example of the severe range. Other people may just have occasional clicking or locking and headaches or neck pain. It also often manifests with sacroiliac pain (the dimples at your low back where it meets your pelvis), as the jaw and SI joints commonly mirror one another.

Things get out of whack in a jaw for a myriad of reasons, but injury, poorly done orthodontia or other dental work, and stress are top of the heap. Regardless of the cause, what happens is that your bite winds up not meeting properly, and the cartilaginous disc that is between your mandible (jaw bone) and your temporal bone gets out of place (the clicking you hear is when it slips back into place, when the disc does not go back into place, or if it gets folded over on itself, the jaw will lock). This also loads your musculature and fascia improperly and you wind up with pain and a gnarly full body compensatory pattern.

Because the root issue is a poorly aligned bite, in the past people in the medical world have gone bonkers and jumped right in to whittle down people’s teeth, surgically alter their TMJ in horrific ways, or even break and reset the jaw. Do not go this route! Your jaw is misaligned because your soft tissue- fascia, muscles, tendons, and ligaments- are out of alignment. This can be resolved. So before you go altering what your maker gave you, get some smart soft tissue work. You may have a severe case in which case extremely well informed orthodontia may be needed to move your teeth into the position of your new bite (I had to do this), but cases that require this are in the minority. And the surgeries for TMJD have all had very poor outcomes, and often leave people with more pain than they started with and a lifetime of repair surgeries. In short, keep it mellow and be suspicious of highly invasive tactics. Less is more when it comes to realigning the jaw.

To get your jaw aligned without invasive and unsuccessful interventions, I highly recommend you seek out one or a few of the following:

A Rolfing practitioner or other Structural Integrator: Rolfers like me graduated from the school Dr. Rolf founded, The Rolf Institute, other SI people go to different schools like The Guild or KMI. • A craniosacral therapist: People who practice craniosacral have widely varying degrees of education. Make sure your practitioner is well trained and hasn’t just dipped their toes into this form of manual therapy with a few hours or a weekend of training. • A cranial osteopath: This is brilliant and highly sophisticated work. • An acupuncturist: Not someone who has studied “dry needling” in one weekend to tack it on to their medical or PT practice. A real deal acupuncturist. If they have also studied Chinese herbs that’s a good sign of a highly educated Chinese medicine doctor.

But wait! This is DIY Friday!? Well good news, I adore this video of my teacher, Jill Miller, with Kelly Starrett of Mobility WOD working with TMJD. This sequence is profound and I would have given my right arm to have had it 16 years ago. So use it well.

A few caveats: Jill’s tissue is like silk from all the smart input she gives it, so if you are flared up with a jaw disorder, or simply if this is your first work with the therapy balls, do what she is doing but in slow motion. The therapy balls can be found here, and if you’re looking for one to buy instead of all of them the alpha (the single large therapy ball) will be your best option in this sensitive tissue as it is a broader stroke. Do not use lacrosse balls, golf balls, baseballs, or any other ridiculous hard balls in this area. This is a sensitive place!

Without further ado, I give you Jill and Kelly:

photo by Theen

Jill Miller Interview

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JM_Headshot_Seated_Crop1_largerI am thoroughly delighted and honored to introduce you all to one of my teachers, Jill Miller. Jill is the creator of Yoga Tune Up® and the co-founder (with her husband) of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide®. In our interview we talk about the origins of her work, her brilliant case study for The Fascia Research Congress, why she retires yoga poses, and much more.

I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all the good that her work has brought to my body and my life, and so naturally I highly recommend that you check it out for yourself. That said, no one talks about it better than Jill, so you can check out her interview below (with the transcript for skimming below that). And if you're curious what my favorite Yoga Tune Up goodies are, I covered that in last week's DIY Friday Ode to Yoga Tune Up. 

 

1:14 In her own words Jill describes Yoga Tune Up. It works to address the 3 P’s: pain, posture, and performance. No matter what your “thing” is it helps you to live better in your body.

2:12 A combination of conscious corrective exercise and self care tools (the therapy balls) help people to find and heal their body blind spots, which are the catalysts for injuries.

4:38 You have to disassemble your movement to see where you’re broken. It’s amazing to find out where you’ve gone blind, deaf, or dumb to yourself. It’s a wonderful journey. I [Jill] work with a lot of people who are in deep pain conditions.

5:45 Thank God for Western medicine, I [Jill] don’t hate doctors, but movement medicine is very potent and it works. More often than not people get the runaround and are not given the opportunity to first fix how they’re moving before they are putting bandaids on it with medications or with surgery.

6:10 Jill tells the story of her mother who spent 5 months being given the runaround. When she had nerve pain down her arm, she was first put on a cancer medication for a skin condition, and it took that long (5 months) for them to give her an MRI to find stenosis in her neck. In her first session of physical therapy she felt better

8:18 We can interrupt the movement patterns that lead to that kind of pain by making a better choice now in how we’re moving.

8:54 Jill tells the story of how and why she began practicing yoga at age 11 to cope with a very stressful childhood

9:58 How the Jane Fonda workout and the Raquel Welch yoga video were her way in to falling in love with movement, since she began as a very sedentary kid who was really out of touch with her body.

10:46 Fast forward to college where Jill was studying dance and movement and studying shiatsu on the side. She found her way to the Omega Institute and her teacher and mentor, Glenn Black at age 19.

11:31 Glenn Black specializes in human movement and does a hands on therapeutic modality called Body Tuning, which is a physical therapy approach created by Shmuel Tatz who is based in NYC.

12:08 Her early yoga training with Glenn Black involved a lot of hands on bodywork from him, to manipulate the tissues manually so that people’s movement could change.

13:00 Seeing how soft tissue work was intertwined with your physical practice from this early age influenced her development of Yoga Tune Up therapy balls and their various derivatives

14:11 Equinox fitness clubs is now rolling out her therapy ball program (heh heh pun intended) which she has created for them

14:40 I mention that I don’t know if I would be able to continue practicing at the volume that I do as a Rolfing practitioner without YTU and the therapy balls in my life.

16:03 There are techniques that change you neurologically. There are techniques that decohere soft tissues. This doesn’t have to be the domain just behind a clinicians door. These are things anyone can do for themselves to help themselves heal.

16:53 You are not off limits to yourself. It’s not their [the clinicians] right to touch you exclusively. This is true empowerment

17:44 Jill was the only yoga teacher ever to present at the http://www.fasciacongress.org/ Fascia Research Congress, which she did in 2012.

18:17 Jill tells the story of her amazing case study for the Fascia Research Congress. It detailed her work with a client who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease which is a nerve wasting disease in which one loses function in the hands, forearms, lower legs, feet, etc. Many people with this disease have multiple surgeries.

19:12 When he began working with Jill he came to her in deep emotional duress, and was on the highest doses of narcotic painkillers, sleep medication, anti-anxiety medication, and urinary control medication, and was in absolute agony at age 40. Over the course of the next 4 years he decided to stop wearing his leg braces. He can now lace up his own shoes. He was told he would never be able to use his opposable thumb, but he can pick up pennies now, he can button up his shirt. And perhaps most astonishingly, he is off the narcotic painkillers.

22:08 This gentleman, the subject of her case study, now knows that he can help himself instead of having to take more medication. He knows how to quell his nervous system and to help his physical state so that he is no longer dependant on medication.

22:53 Movement medicine is free socialized medicine. It’s so easy to make change in your body! Jill gives her universal cues for everyone, in 4 seconds, no equipment required, to have a “quick fix” for themselves.

23:36 If my [Jill’s] clients, who are “crippled” for lack of a better word can get better, than Joe Schmoe and Jane Schmoe can do it. It’s never too late to regenerate your body, it’s built for change. You just have to give it some discipline and apply our best conscious will.

25:15 Jill discusses her practice of retiring yoga poses

25:42 I [Jill] used to think I was hypermobile. I was always the demo girl in classes showing how people could get their foot all the way up to their forehead. I am a fanatic and I am obsessive, and that is a deadly combo when you focus on improving joint range of motion, because I had blown past my sense mechanism, and that’s one of the reasons why I focus so much on proprioception. Because I had blown myself so wide open to the degree that I couldn’t sense myself. I couldn’t straighten my knees, I couldn’t get out of bed without extreme amounts of pain, and I had done it to myself. I didn’t realize the practice was hurting me.

27:51 There are many yoga poses I [Jill] simply don’t do anymore because I feel that they are full of jeopardy for the body. I also want to be an example to my students. There are a lot of poses that are creating massive structural damage, and I think that there is a cover up going on, because there are many teachers of a certain age, over age 50 or 60 or so, who are having many surgeries, hip replacements, spinal surgeries, and neck surgeries.

28:29 The myth is that if you are watching yourself breathe, you can’t possibly get hurt. Which is not true. Your ability to breathe in and out is not the only measurement of if you are doing damage to yourself. It’s a great concentration tool, but we need to help our students understand how they’re holding themselves all the time, to be able to better assess what is healthy for them.

29:13 Many poses blow past the safety zone without people realizing it. And whether you can take deep ujjayi breaths there is not going to tell you if that pose is precipitating thinning of the tissue in your joints which  5 years or 10 years down the road is going to cause trouble.

30:06 Doing these extreme poses doesn’t give me pleasure anymore. What gives me pleasure is to have my head over my rib cage and my rib cage over my pelvis and to be able to respect my body and how I respond. Give that a chance, to be as impeccable as possible, and see how that follows you into the rest of your movement.

 

DIY Friday: Ode to Yoga Tune Up

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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.*

logo YTUNext week my interview with Jill Miller, creator of Yoga Tune Up® and co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide® will be up on the site. Since I happen to be one of her students- and am therefore a teacher of Yoga Tune Up-  I am clearly a big advocate for her brilliant self care work. That said, I thought I'd dedicate this DIY Friday to reviewing my personal favorite* Yoga Tune Up products that help you to heal yourself and to live better in your body. Yoga Tune Up is a treasure trove for magnifying your ability to repair and restore your body, so what better topic when we're talking do-it-yourself!?

First off, no conversation about Yoga Tune Up (YTU) would be complete without talking balls. So let's start there, shall we? You've seen several of my posts here that utilize the YTU therapy balls (like this one on the upper back and shoulders, and this one on lengthening the hamstrings), and that's because they can be pretty magical. I personally favor the original therapy balls, and the alpha ball, and Jill has recently come out with a 2 disc DVD set, the Massage Therapy Full Body Kit that will take you through working out all the issues in your tissues. For a long time only audio CD's of this work were available, so this is pretty exciting. Trust me, it's like hiring a live-in massage therapist, but without the billionaire salary. It's powerful stuff.

As for the DVD's, my absolute favorite is Coregeous. "Core" must be one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in the fitness world right now. Most often it translates to "look hot in a bikini". Sigh. These programs are often not only boring but are also poorly informed movement that can lead to more trouble than the promise of a hot bikini bod is worth. Coregeous is multiple bite sized programs for deeply and intricately working on restoring your core (which means all the layers of your abdomen and also your spine). My secret admission here (sorry Jill) is that I call the cover image of the DVD "Jill Kardashian" due to her bare midriff and tousled hair... in a nutshell the cover of the DVD looks exactly like "look hot" marketing. But the contents are so exquisitely useful for everything from back pain, sacral issues, sciatica, groin pain, posture, and more that I send clients home with it frequently telling them to ignore the Jill Kardashian image and just watch it to see how brilliant it is. In fact I very commonly give this to my male athlete clients as so many of them hold a ton of tension in their hip flexors and/or suffer from low back pain. They have all fallen in love with the DVD and proclaim that it's saved their bodies and made a dramatic impact on their training. You will feel the same. Oh and the Coregeous ball that goes with it is a must.

Lastly, you can scope out all the free resources that live at the Yoga Tune Up You Tube channel. Or find a teacher in your area!

*Footnote: Yep, as stated these just happen to be my personal favorite things, which means that I have found them applicable to my own body. So if you happen to have knee stuff, for example, you'll probably adore the Knee Hab DVD, but I just happen to not have used it since I have happy knees, and so did not review it here. To see what other YTU goodies might call to you more precisely, you can scope everything out here

It's a Dance, Not a Grind

4450506813_fa80eaaab7_oOne of my new favorite mantras is, “It’s a dance, not a grind.” I’m taking it out of Seth Godin’s most recent book, The Icarus Deception, and he uses it to describe a new way of looking at an overfull work life, the constant flow of emails, projects, etc. He proposes that instead of feeling exhausted and worn down, one can approach it differently and feel playful and excited by it. I use it to remind myself of both a new view on the inbox, but also how I feel about physical “rehabilitation” for lack of a better word. Because I got into this field after my own broken body had healed from the reverberations of a birth injury, people will often ask me if I’m “better” now. No doubt because they want some hope that they can “get better” too. And my answer is always, “Yes. And…” It’s a tricky thing to answer because besides wanting some hope, there is a, well I wouldn’t exactly call it a darker side to the “are you better now?” question, but I would say it reveals our weird cultural way of viewing the world. If I were to answer by saying, “Yes I feel much, much better but it’s always an unfolding process.” For many that will deflate them as they think, “Ugh! I’ll never be ‘done’!”

But there really is no “done” until we die, and assuming that’s not what you’re hoping for, let’s instead clarify that maybe the goal isn’t to “get better” so that we can totally forget that we have bodies, resume being thoroughly inattentive to them,  and just go comfortably sit on the couch some more.  As long as we’re alive we have bodies, and those bodies are… did I mention, they’re alive!? Meaning, every microsecond of every day they are responding to your environment, the quality of your movement, alignment, food, everything? So we always need to be watching our input into these body things. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, right?

For me the process has been slow, ongoing and delightful (yes those three words can coexist). Even after my Rolfing® series, when I had resolved my pain and was studying to be a Rolfing practitioner, I was still practically allergic to most movement and in particular yoga classes. When at the Rolf Institute all of my supple and athletic classmates would ask me if I wanted to come along I would politely bow out, hiding my terror of reliving my brief time in ballet classes as a child where I was the girl with the weird body among my bendier youths.

Growing up I was a pretty non-physical person (with the hilarious exception of roller skating, it was the 80’s after all), and so even after the pain had resolved I was working through the shame I had about what I still perceived as my body’s limitations with movement. And so, little by little, I dared to move and fell in love with moving until it is now one of the most delicious and rewarding parts of my life.

But, even now that I’m a yoga teacher, I still suffer from a kind of “phantom broken girl syndrome”. Just this year as I began teaching group classes I had my brother and one of my best friends take my class, and after it was over I very nervously took them aside and asked them, “Do I look ok up there? I mean, do I look like the weird gimpy girl who shouldn’t be teaching yoga?” I was surprised by the force of my emotion in asking. I could even feel that old lump well up in my throat. They assured me that I am just dealing with some residual form of movement specific body dysmorphia. While I will never make the cover of Yoga journal for Cirque du Soleil like feats (which is just fine by me for a number of reasons), I at least looked like I should be standing at the front of the classroom. And that’s a pretty big evolution for me, just about at the 16 year mark of beginning this process of healing my body I had decided to take part in the “dance” enough that I was now teaching.

Don’t flinch at the “16 years” thing! These 16 years have been so much better than all the ones that preceded them. And to answer the original the question, “Are you better now?” Yes, about most of the time I am mostly pain free. Stuff still crops up, I admit often in relationship to my Rolfing client load (my C7 is not super thrilled with me lately, and years ago when I was a new Rolfer I had costochondritis show up due to my poor form- which I corrected), so considering that I started off a complete wreck and had 21 years of physical dysfunction under my belt (at age 21), I consider this is a big freaking deal. But the bigger (freaking) deal is that I woke up to having a body, and now get to delight in it in a myriad of ever-unfolding ways. And that brings us to the dance.

In an ideal world “getting better” wouldn’t mean just being relieved of pain or dysfunction, but would mean that a kind of awakening had occurred. That people could enjoy attending to their bodies in a nourishing way, and be excited to discover its new possibilities. It’s really not an, “Oh crap I’m going to be stuck doing these PT exercises forever.” Kind of feeling. It’s more like, “Hmm, why am I still unable to touch my toes? Maybe I could tinker with that in a few different ways and see what happens? That could be intriguing. And perhaps I’ll even get over my embarrassment and try yoga with my friends…” In other words, it’s a dance, not a grind.

Photo by Dinh Linh

DIY Friday: Upper Back and Shoulders Part 2

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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.*

CA350181Last week we began tackling that crunchiest of crunchy bits: our upper back and shoulders. If you're like most people, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's that place that you squeeze at the end of every workday, the relentlessly congested upper trapezius and levator scapula (and the supraspinatus and rhomboids come in to play, as well as plenty of other musculature). Unfortunately, the way many people deal with this is through postural efforting patterns that cause only more harm, leaving your poor upper back and shoulders in worse shape than they started out. To see my rant on the trouble with the "pull your shoulders back" cue, you can check out last week's DIY Friday. And for more information on the lousy posture cues and why they don't work, you can read more here.

That said, let's dive into more at home help to get your shoulders genuinely happy rather than trapped in unpleasant fake-it-til-you-make-it posturing.

First up, Katy Bowman takes on that other annoying and unhelpful cue, "pull your shoulders down". You can read her take on it, and watch a video explaining how external rotation is the name of the game, not yanking your shoulders away from your ears. It's here! 

Katy also has some short and sweet products that you can use to work on your own shoulders here (this is the whole collection, so you'll have to scroll to the appropriate shoulder goodies): Alignment Snacks

And lastly, here's Jill Miller with some Yoga Tune Up® help in the form of the active pose Pranic Bath. This is one of my favorite ways to get your shoulder mojo moving. And with no toys needed, it makes for a great movement to use when you're taking your (frequent) computer breaks during the day. In fact, I'm going to go do that right now! Do it along with me:

Go forth and have happy shoulders!

photo by hiromy

Are You at War With Your Fascia?

3965901338_8b663c765f_b“Stand up straight!”, “Don’t slouch!” Blah, blah, we all had childhoods, and particularly teen years, filled with phrases like these. Sadly, most of us learned how to “have better posture” from vague admonishments like these from our parents. But here’s the thing, if all it took was for us know that we should to stand up straight* or to stop slouching, well then we would all have flawless and effortless posture. Clearly something is off, because judging from what I hear all the time from readers and clients in my private practice (not to mention friends, family, etc) we all universally think our posture sucks and want it to be better. We pull ourselves up, but something pulls us back down again into our familiar slouch. To a certain degree that something is gravity, but more precisely it’s how gravity is interacting with our fascia, aka our connective tissue. If we are aligned well fascially, i.e. we have happy soft tissue and joints, then we are what we call “on our line” in gravity. Which is to say we are supported in gravity rather than dragged down by it because the organ of support and structure in us, our fascia, is doing its fabulous springy upright suspension bridge thing and keeping us aligned and upright.

But for most of us we have a myriad of compensatory patterns in the fascia that get us “off our line” and therefore we feel pulled down in gravity. Let’s visualize the fascia a bit first to get a better handle on this; Imagine that you have a tightly knit sweater lying just under your skin. This is your superficial fascia. From there,  this sweater under the skin dives deep to wrap each and every muscle (and organ), spinning continuously into tendon which attaches muscle to bone, and ligament which attaches bone to bone.  From there, this tight knit sweater dives yet deeper, forming the interior architecture of each muscle in your body. To visualize this interior architecture fascia, I often tell people to take a bite out of an orange slice and then look at it. What you’ll see are tiny pods of juice that are contained by these thin, translucent fibrous walls. Without those walls, it would just be juice with no structure. Our muscles are similar. Without fascia, we’re just juice (we’re somewhere around 78% water, remember?).

Now attach this tight knit sweater in your mind to the nervous system. As in, it’s not an inert sweater, it’s a living sweater. And the nervous system tells it when, where, and how much to knit more based on the sensory input it is receiving from you. So for example if you work at a lab hunching over a microscope, your nervous system detects your constant forward hunch position and says, “Ah! I get it. You want to maintain this hunched, bring the shoulders around the ears and strain the neck forward position more easily. I’m on it! I’ll help you out by knitting the fascia up nice and tidily to hold you there. Aren’t I super helpful!?” The same goes for anything you are, or very importantly aren’t, doing with your body on a regular basis*.  Which, of course, means that when you leave your job at the lab, or more likely leave your desk or couch at home and go to straighten up, you meet with some pretty fierce resistance. This is being at war with your fascia.

Because he’s A) a gifted genius and B) he explains this more elegantly than I do, I give you the famous fuzz speech from Gil Hedley of Integral Anatomy (be aware that if you watch this video you will see some cadavers):

So what’s a knit-up-in-all-the-wrong-places person to do? First, we are you, you are us, we are all dealing with fascial restrictions to one degree or another. So take a breather, this is not dire (yet). Before it turns into unpleasant pain conditions or surgeries however, you have two options which, naturally, work best when combined.

  • First, move regularly in multi-dimensional ways. You’re best off moving in ways our ancestors regularly did , which makes MovNat  and things related to it a good option. But you can also just work on your squat, carry stuff, balance, walk, reach for stuff, and lift yourself up and over things (go climb a tree while you’re at it!). Or just go have some fun. It's also no secret that I love Yoga Tune Up® and Restorative Exercise™ for smart movement. 
  • Second, you can check out some of the manual therapies that free up the fascia. Rolfing® and other forms of Structural Integration are great because they deal with the whole which tends to have more thorough and longer term results (I’m biased), and there’s also myofascial release and ART.

Imagine feeling supported by your body from the inside out, pretty appealing right? I encourage you to check out some of the resources I just mentioned above. It's never too late to wave the white flag and make friends with your fascia.

*Footnote: "Stand up straight" is an unfortunate and vague sentence that typically elicits a movement wherein people flatten out their spines, tug their head up, and shove their shoulders back while flaring their ribs forward. Sadly, this is ripe for creating a host of new compensatory patterns and the chronic pain conditions that come with them, so please avoid making this shape, and just try to forget that anyone ever told you that this weird military meets ballerina posture was good for you. It's not. 

Photo by Marmite Toast

DIY Friday: Upper Back and Shoulders Part 1

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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.*

4927974025_116c045142_bI recently asked the Facebook tribe what they wanted me to give them help on in this week's DIY Friday and there was a whole lotta talk of shoulders and the upper back! I can't exactly say I'm surprised. We live in a culture that puts an awful lot of demand here in ways that our bodies are not well designed for. All of that looking at screens, sitting, and typing causes upper back, neck, and shoulder pain that our hunter gatherer ancestors were not having to deal with. I used to joke that the first person who came into my Rolfing® practice with no tension pattern in their upper trapezius would win a treasure chest of prizes. I have not given out any prizes. Call me a defeatist, but I have not even gone shopping for treasure chests. Ok partly that's just the practicality of having a hard time finding stores that carry treasure chests...

But in the hopes that I'll be handing out prizes for supple upper trapezius muscles soon, here's part 1 of a 2 part post on some of the most crucial alignment issues that we face in our shoulders and upper back, as well as some very juicy self massage strategies that are likely to have you shouting, "Hallelujiah!"

Before we bust out the therapy balls, here's a video from me ranting about one of my most despised hall of shame alignment cues. You've all heard it before, "Pull your shoulders back." Argh! To see how this cue may be causing a significant increase in your upper back pain and why I would get so complain-y about something so seemingly innocuous, give it a watch:

And now, finally, the moment you've all been waiting for. Knowing how to work on that cranky tissue on your own. First, to deal with the internal rotation, shoulders creeping up and forward thing that I describe in the video, here's a quickie therapy ball strategy to unglue your pec minor muscle, one of the main culprits in forward rounded shoulders (it's an oldie from before FFF):

Last but very, very much not least, this is the good stuff that you're wanting to get into at the end of every workday. Jill Miller shows you her Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball strategies for getting at the upper trapezius, supraspinatus, and rhomboids. Heavenly! This is a powerful 4 minutes and 55 seconds everyone. It might just change your life (as it does mine at the end of every Rolfing or writing day).

 

*Jill and I are both using the original sized therapy balls in these videos, and they can be found here

photo by Sam MacKenzie

 

DIY Friday: Meet the Knee Whisperer

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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.*

2270021696_c2997ac4ae_oWell many of you already met "The Knee Whisperer", aka Christine Jablonski, via hearing her story of healing a gnarly knee injury and how she's managed to keep all her own parts (hooray no knee replacement!), but now you get to learn some of her most coveted Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball movements for rehabilitating her knees. Watch them, use them, go for it, but remember that healing from anything is a whole body process, so this is only a piece of the puzzle. For a full on Yoga Tune Up program to rehabilitate your knees, check out the brilliant and very thorough KneeHab DVD here.

Here in the first video she works her magic on releasing the quads by using the plus sized therapy balls to simultaneously work both ends (both tendons) of the rectus femoris. If this all sounds like Greek to you, no worries, just try it and see how quickly it can make your knees happy:

In the second video Christine hops to the backside of the leg and shows you how to work your calves and hamstring tendons at the same time, all while also providing some flexion gapping, i.e. giving your knee joint the space it needs to "breathe", rather than just doing the rote strengthen and tighten regimen that people are most often given. (As she and I discussed in our chat earlier this week, that's a fine thing, but it's only one piece of the puzzle and you need to make sure that joint also has some space so you don't wear away at it.):

Lastly, let's not forget the adductors! Your inner thighs need some lovin' too.  Christine shows you how to give them that love with the alpha ball:

*All therapy ball sizes can be found here!

Photo by coba

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)

 

DIY Friday: Combating T Rex Arms Part 2

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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.*

3194747923_59c6c04f98_zHowdy! On last week's round up we began to look at some therapy ball help for those wound up, bound up forearms and the elbow tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome that so often come along with them. This week we're looking at the same thing but from a movement perspective. Both are fab ways to tackle the issue and I like them (therapy balls and movement) best as a combo platter.

Note: as Sue Hitzmann remarked in her video on last week's DIY Friday, sometimes stretching carpal tunnel syndrome can just agitate things. So if your nerves are currently all gummed up and inflamed, you may want to start with therapy balls and progress to these movements from there. Or give the movements a shot and see how you do with them, but listen to your body!

First here's a little mini Yoga Tune Up® video that I made for you of the fantastic shoulder and arm unraveller, Dancing with Myself (ha ha now you have the song stuck in your head!):

   

Secondly, here's Willow Ryan on Breaking Muscle going over some great stretching and strengthening movements:

Now you and your computer can be better friends!

Photo by Reva G

5 Keys to Age-Proofing (and Reverse Aging) Your Body

5525366853_71d9cf2ba5_bSure we're all going to get crow's feet and, to one degree or another, age. That aging happens is inevitable, but what that means is the interesting conversation. I think in our culture we have been fed the idea that aging means an inevitable downward spiral of ever more medications and surgery (ahem, hip and knee replacements shouldn't be a norm) which ends in a frail, unattractive, pain filled body shuffling towards death. I heartily disagree. Yes, I'm thirty-eight and so many of you out there may be arguing that I'm not allowed to talk about this until I have a few more decades under my belt. To address that, first off, I had a birth injury which meant I grew up with pain and mobility issues until my body gave out on me at the ripe old age of 21. Since that time I have been rehabilitating my own body, which is now light years younger and more capable than it was in my childhood. So I've been reverse aging a body that felt like a ninety-year-old's since I was in my early twenties.

"Yes but you weren't actually ninety!" Ok, ok, secondly I can tell you this: I work in a field where I get a chance to see a lot of bodies, and those bodies in general are the ones who are self-selecting to take care of their physical self. I don't mean in the ripped biceps, botox injecting  model, I mean in the receive bodywork, eat real food, move with integrity model. And what I can tell you is that these people, some of which I've had the chance to watch into their eighties, have a very different experience of aging. And with my colleagues in the field I've just had to accept that I'm always going to assume they are  ten to twenty years younger than they are. Curious? Here's your how-to guide to have the same aging experience that they are:

1) Fascia: There is a fountain of youth, and it lives in your fascia. Your fascia, or connective tissue, is found everywhere in your body. It is your organ of support, and it is also a fluid system which every cell in your body relies on for proper functioning. In fact, connective tissue is mostly fluid, and I often refer to the process of differentiating your fascia (as through some of the methods I will list below) as a process of becoming better irrigated. We have all this information (most of your sensory nerves live in the fascia), and all this nutrition and waste that needs to move through, so you've got to keep yourself well irrigated in order to stay supple and healthy. Sue Hitzmann puts it perfectly in her book The MELT Method"Think of a sponge; when it's dry, it's stiff, but when it's moist, it's flexible, adaptable, and resilient. You can twist, squeeze, or compress a moist sponge, and it returns to its original shape. Your body's connective tissue is similar: when it's hydrated it's buoyant and adaptable. But when it's dehydrated, it gets stiff and inflexible."  It is this hydrated and supple quality to the fascia that I believe yields the most miraculous anti-aging and reverse aging benefits.

Want to get that fascia all supple and re-hydrated so you can look younger, move younger, and be pain free? Some great methods (and there are many so forgive me for not having them all here!), are Rolfing®, or other forms of Structural Integration (Kinesis Myofascial Integration®) , The MELT Method®, Tune Up Fitness/Yoga Tune Up®, Active Release Techniques®, and Strain Counterstrain.

2) Feet:  Ready? Set!? Picture an old person’s feet! Did an image of a gnarled up, bunioned out, tendon popping hammer toe mess spring to mind? Not a pretty picture, right? (Sorry to do that to you by the way.) We all have this image in mind because, sadly, a person’s age often shows very clearly in their feet. Most importantly, those aged feet show in a stiffened and rigid movement pattern in the whole body upstream from those feet. Indeed, if you want to pick one joint complex to be attentive to between now and your ninetieth birthday to dramatically alter your own aging process, that joint complex should be the toe hinge. As an example of how the toe hinge works, when you take a step, there should be a point in your gait pattern where your heel is lifted off the floor, and your toes are still in contact with the floor. This movement, which is also what allows everything upstream from there to move (particularly your spine), is courtesy of your toe hinge. Yep, foot mobility is the key to mobility everywhere else.

Generally speaking your feet are also the key to a healthy and independent life as you age. If you can’t move your feet, mobility shuts down everywhere and you become rigid, in pain, and have an unstable gait and poor balance and coordination. This all puts you at greater risks for falls and their resulting long recovery periods which bring yet more atrophy to your whole body, which is harder to recover from in older age.  So if you want to be springy and young now, mobile feet are the key to your springy-ness.  And by keeping that up through the years, you will also be preparing for an independent and mobile life in your eighties and beyond.

You can make better friends with your feet by regularly walking in nature on uneven surfaces, wearing neutral heeled shoes, reading this great resource, or rolling them out as I do in video #2 here.

3) Food: I’ll fess up that I am not a nutritionist or any other kind of –ist or –ician that has any business giving people advice on food. In fact, as a manual therapist I almost never open my mouth about food to people in my practice. However, I can unequivocally tell you that when we’re talking about age-proofing your body, you are, indeed, what you eat. Having put my hands on lord knows how many bodies over my years in practice I can tell you that the people eating a lot of processed food and sugar have tissue that feels more like a tree trunk than like human flesh. I’ve even encountered some people whose tissue quality was closer to marble. Ouch! I’m not going to tell you that you need to adopt some specific dietary regimen because, as I said, that’s not my expertise. So this is not my big moment to tell you to go Paleo or go vegan or go whatever. But what I can say is if you want healthy tissue, glowing skin, and the juicy hydrated fascia that leads to all that, you should eat food that is food. So if you go the vegan route, um, soy bacon is not food. And if you go the Paleo route, a paleo “nutrition” bar is not food. Eat clean, eat food, live long, prosper.

4)Move Well: Everything we do with our bodies is input. If you sit slumped all day, your nervous system gets the idea that that's what you want and supports it, thereby gradually shutting down other movement options. We have so much gorgeous intricate movement available to us, and we’re generally using such a small percentage of it in our day to day lives. Yes, move it or lose it really does apply. And if you lose savvy and diversified movement patterning, like your body’s version of putting the blinders on, you lose what goes unexplored and develop ever more body blind spots. The old folks shuffle that everyone can imitate is the physical embodiment of living with many unused avenues of movement potential.

Generally in the fitness world, loads of emphasis is put on moving your body more and being more physically fit. What we don’t hear about all that much is the importance of moving well. One of my favorite quotes from Gray Cook is, “First move well, then move often.” [italics mine] More commonly in our culture people will first sit on the couch or in front of the computer for many years thinking about how they should be more physically fit while atrophying all healthy functional movement patterning. Then they will decide enough is enough and get off the couch and work their asses off at the gym, or training for a marathon or what have you to “get fit”. And lastly they will injure themselves through overuse or poor mechanics or a combo platter of the two, and will have to either stop being active or back way up and learn how to move well as they recover and slowly get back into activity.

But there is a better way! Before you throw yourself whole hog into some new fitness frenzy please, please, please dedicate some time to learning smart movement as you ramp it up. I believe that much of the plague of chronic pain that we see nowadays comes primarily from a culture that reinforces poor movement patterning with all of our sitting, and sitting, and well, also there is the sitting. Oh and the inactivity that comes as a package deal with the sitting. Did I mention sitting? This is my way of saying that you are not immune to this one even if you have a six pack and think you are way past learning how to move intelligently. If you live in our current culture and haven’t abandoned modern society to go create a new hunter gatherer tribe, then you are affected. Even with a career in this field and with spending the last 17 years rehabilitating my own body, I am still constantly uncovering and eradicating my own body blind spots.

To ferret out your own body blind spots, become a smart sassy mover, and injury-proof your body while reverse aging it, some excellent systems to check out are Tune Up Fitness/Yoga Tune Up, Restorative Exercise™, Functional Movement Systems®, and MovNat®.

5) Move Often: Now that you are moving well (P.S. that’s a lifelong endeavor, so keep it up) now you can move often! Hooray! Do I really need to do the thing where I repeat what we all know about how important physical activity is? That as humans we are born to move and when we don’t we break down in a myriad of ways? I didn't think so. You guys are totally on that, so what I will say is that you should move as often as feels good, while still remembering that recovery is a super important part of the training process. If you start to feel tired and cranky all the time and you notice you are recovering from your workouts more slowly or are getting injured or dealing with pre-injury nagging aches and pains, remember to take some recovery time. Beyond being attentive to not over training  all you have to do is to find movement that you can fall in love with and embrace it! I don’t know that anyone ever fell in love with walking on the treadmill at the gym while watching The View, so I give you full permission and encouragement to chuck that, but when you begin to explore the endless choices for moving your body, you’re bound to find several things that will resonate with you and put you in your happy place. Hiking! Stand Up Paddleboarding! Capoeira! Yoga! Rock climbing! Powerlifting! Kayaking! Break dancing! Parkour! See, lots of options. Go explore the wide world of movement, find what you love, stop dreading your “workout” and instead fall in love with moving your body.

Photo by ShelterIt

DIY Friday: Piriformis Syndome, The Literal Pain in the Ass

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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.*

498391534_e8873818ac_zSometimes when it rains it pours, and right now it is raining pains in the ass in my life. Fortunately not of the icky people variety, but rather in the actual ass department. For whatever reason not only am I seeing a lot of clients in my Rolfing® practice with piriformis syndrome at the moment, but one of my closest friends is also currently in agony from the same thing. So for all of you who are dealing with this rather unpleasant pain syndrome, this DIY Friday is dedicated to you.

Before we dive into the resource round up for the week, just a little bit about piriformis syndrome. Your piriformis is a small muscle in the back of your pelvis which connects to your sacrum and hip and is deep to your glutes. This muscle and the sciatic nerve have a special relationship: depending on your anatomy it either passes right next to the piriformis and they are close neighbors, or some people have a split piriformis muscle and the sciatic nerve passes right through it. It causes pain, you guessed it, in your ass, and because of the nerve agitation can also travel down your leg and into your foot. The pain can be severe and is frequently caused by the thing we do most commonly in our culture: sitting (especially sitting on your coccyx/tailbone with a rounded low back!). Now on to the good stuff:

  1. First, check out what the divine Katy Bowman, founder of The Restorative Exercise™ Institute has to say about stretching the piriformis, and also preventing and resolving piriformis syndrome through sitting appropriately. Sitting on your tuberosities instead of your coccyx is one of my big important causes that people have to listen to me yammer on about all the time. So now you can listen Katy for a change. Here's her post where she declares Stretch Your Piriformis Day a holiday. I'm all for it! This also includes one of my favorite alignment nerd videos of all time.
  2. Next, Brett Blankner of Zen and the Art of Triathalon has a very handy video that covers how to do nerve flossing to relieve the pain on your own. That sounds like fun, right? But it's thoroughly useful. We'll forgive Brett for sitting on his tuberosities in the video since it's just so dang helpful. Also I choose to believe that it's because he filmed it in a cramped hotel room. You sit on your tuberosities, right Brett!? I digress, you can watch that video here.
  3. Next up, Dawn Adams tackles it on the Yoga Tune Up® blog. This talks about how you can use the therapy balls to work it, and includes a video of another great stretch. Here's all that goodness.
  4. And, oops, since the magical Alpha Ball is new, there isn't any video of how to use that (which Dawn mentions in her post and which I am a huge fan of), so I made up up right quick for you which you can watch right here:
  5. Lastly, hey now, there's a book! And it's written by all around great body nerd Jonathan Fitzgordon who created the Core Walking Method! Right on! Sciatica/Piriformis Syndrome to the rescue.

Photo by Erik Mallinson

 

Yes it IS All in Your Head: Deprogramming Chronic Pain Messages

5209489135_8ca516fd1e_b“My doctor couldn’t find anything on the MRI, so he suggested I try yoga. He’s heard it helps.” This has been a common refrain from new clients with old injuries who have come to work with me. They are in pain, lots of it, and have been for quite some time. And yet, these students, who have turned to yoga, desperately seeking relief, back away from the work when they start to get uncomfortable, saying, "I’m not doing that. It hurts. I’m just going to listen to my body." As a  yoga teacher, I can foster a safe haven for my students to deal with their pain, but to be effective, I must help them decode what their body is telling them—and if what their body is telling them is true! Understanding the science of how the brain processes pain can help.

When we get injured, our tissues often require stillness to heal. Our muscles instinctively immobilize tissues by tensing around them, and we also impose stillness with slings, casts and braces. Over some period of time (a doctor can tell you how long given the specific injury) tissues mend. However, a period of no movement means no circulation. No circulation means  chemical waste builds up around the injury and inflames the tissues. Inflammation triggers nociception (the body’s warning system of imminent injury)—and the brain senses pain.

Nociceptors possess an interesting behavioral trait. Immediately following an injury, their sphere of influence spreads beyond the injury site and they respond with greater amplitude every time they are stimulated. So, with time, nociceptors need less stimulation to scream louder from father away. The brain gets bombarded with pain warnings long after the tissues have healed, and now can’t figure out how to break the cycle.

Here’s where yoga comes in: get your students relaxing then moving. Relaxation encourages muscles to stop holding, which allows circulation to increase. Increased circulation clears inflammation; less inflammation means less nociception.

As nociception decreases, you can approach tissues with pressure (I use the Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball program). Have you ever noticed that when we get hurt, we intuitively hold or rub the injury? Pressure sends proprioceptive information (location, pressure) to the brain. Like a Royal Flush beats Four of a Kind in poker, proprioceptive input to the brain trumps nociceptive input, which overrides the pain response. Looked at another way, our bodies love compression—that’s why hugs and massages feel so good—they soothe. When we are soothed, our breath deepens, circulation improves and muscles relax, all of which facilitate healing.

Now for movement—yes, when tissues begin moving again after a long time of stillness, the brain will perceive discomfort. Encouraging students to stick with a movement program is not an attempt to deny their pain, but to turn the pain mechanism off and train the brain to stop protecting tissues that no longer need protection.

My first step in working with clients overly familiar with pain is to get them breathing, then onto the therapy balls, then into movement. I always start with the Belly Breath Primer (shown below and on the 5 Minute Quick Fix Stress Relief video). Once they start breathing they start unwinding the chronic pain state their brain perceives, then they really can start listening to their body.

Re-posted from the original Yes it IS All in Your Client's Head with permission from Yoga Tune Up

Photo by gavinrobinson                                                                                                

About the Author

Christine Jablonski

christine_head_shot4aI believe most people who end up in the fitness profession are trying to heal themselves. Fifteen years ago I sought out SPIN to rehabilitate a full knee reconstruction. Ten years ago I started Pilates to help me recover from a horseback riding accident. More recently, as still-young age and old injuries caught up with me, I began a restorative and Kripalu yoga practice. In every instance, with every discipline, I've experienced a moment of “ahhh....I want to make everyone feel this good.” And so began my path toward fitness studio ownership where I could keep my classes small and focused on my client's journeys from injury, through healing, and on to strength. In addition to figuring out how my clients and I could feel even better (as well as look better in our jeans), curiosity about human biomechanics led me to study with Helena Collins of Life in Synergy, Sadie Nardini of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga, and of course, Jill Miller. Combing the knowledge from these tremendous teachers with my strong Pilates background has enabled me to create exceptionally effective programs for my clients, who range from joint replacement patients needing post-physical therapy help to the “uninjured” wanting stronger, better aligned bodies so they can experience life to the fullest. I teach at Quiet Corner Body Studio in Connecticut.

                                                                                              

About Yoga Tune Up®

avatarYoga Tune Up® is a therapeutic conscious corrective exercise format that strikes a balance between the worlds of yoga, fitness, and myofascial self-care, attracting students of all ages and body types. It breaks down the nuts and bolts of human movement and provides therapeutic strategies that create balance and flexibility in the body, while helping to relieve painful injuries, improve coordination, and reduce stress. It interweaves precise anatomy with a yogic lens of awareness, conscious relaxation, and self massage to help every student live better in their body – no matter what form of movement you practice. The study of Yoga Tune Up® delves you deeply into integrated anatomy and body mechanics while helping you discover a fresh approach to asana.

DIY Friday: Lengthen those itty bitty hamstrings!

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5483358664_22080e5e98_bI have been a card carrying member of the short hamstrings club my whole life. As a result of a birth injury I had, among other things, profoundly limited range of motion in my posterior chain (think back body/postural musculature). So while every other little girl in ballet class was effortlessly falling into a full split, I was busy trying desperately to touch my toes, which at that time resulted in merely touching my knees. Yep you guessed it, ballet classes didn't last long for me (and ended in tears...). I honestly had recurring dreams as a child about doing an exquisite forward fold and being able to press my nose to my knees.

While I still struggle to some extent with mobility restrictions in my posterior chain (the nose to knees dream has yet to be realized for example) I have come a long, long way from the days of feeling like the gimpy girl in ballet class. I still smile every time my hands touch the floor in a forward fold, and I doubt that will ever go away! So for those of you who are looking at the floor with yearning as your fingertips dangle far above the floor, this DIY Friday is for you.

The first 3 videos are re-posts from my private practice blog, Soma Happy, which was the inspiration for FFF (it became FFF because I wanted it to be more than just my voice). So you can watch my three favorite insta-hamstring lengtheners in action! They are all taken from Yoga Tune Up®, which I teach, and if you want to get the magical therapy balls for yourself, you can find them here. And once you get past all of my videos, there is a link to a super useful post from Gray Cook which offers another perspective.

First up, how to use the therapy balls to safely roll out the hamstrings directly without agitating the sciatic nerve:

Secondly, this one is a sneaky little side door entrance to longer hamstrings! You'll find that by simply rolling out your feet, that your entire posterior chain is lengthened courtesy of the magic of fascia (connective tissue). Test it out for yourself by doing an initial forward fold/toe touch, then rolling out one foot, and doing another toe touch before moving on to the other side. Are your hamstrings much longer on the side that got the foot rolling? Boy howdy they are!

Lastly, this is a stretch called Asymmetrical Forward Fold which will really get you and your toes closer to one another. Try the same test/retest as in the last video by doing before and after forward folds, checking the difference between sides when you have only worked one leg.

Ok that's just about enough of me. All of my approaches here are myo-fascial release oriented. For another perspective from a great mind in functional movement, this is an excellent article from Gray Cook, one of the co-founders of Functional Movement Systems, which addresses the neural factors at play, and the why behind short hamstrings. Hint: many of us are using them as stabilizers, so if you want to lengthen them, you had also better pay close attention to upping the ante on stability and motor control as well. Bonus! It also has phenomenal instruction on deadlifting (with video) if you stick around to the end. Check it out here: What's In a Toe Touch? 

 

Photo by kevinalle

Is leg crossing to blame for your low back pain?

[Side note from Brooke: For the men reading this who are not big leg crossers, please take a look at whether you are sitting on your wallet! It has a very similar effect to leg crossing, and has a lot to do with the high rate of low back pain in men. So as you read this, you can replace "leg crossing" with "sitting on your wallet"] Enter Amanda: 2992437556_05abdf5a82_oLow Back Pain can reduce even the toughest of tough guys to tears. For years I suffered (and, yes, I even cried) due to recurring bouts of debilitating low back pain that I could not figure out the cause or cure for.  I now know that a major contributing factor was an unconscious habit of sitting with one leg crossed over the other … every day … several hours a day … year after year.  Happily, I also found my cure.

If you are a leg-crosser, sit up, uncross your legs and pay attention. The following information might provide you with the keys to liberation from chronic pain.

First, get to know your Quadratus Lumborum (or ‘QL’). Your QL inhabit the space between the bottom rib, the pelvis and the transverse processes of the first four lumbar vertebrae.  Best known as the ‘hip hiker’ muscle, its primary function is to bring the hip and rib cage closer together (as in sidebending). It should also be known as a chief culprit in cases of low back pain – and definitely held under suspicion when low back pain is one-sided.

Try this experiment:

  • Sit in a chair.
  • Cross your left leg over your right.
  • Notice: the left hip ‘hikes’ up, making your left side waist (and QL) shorter than the right.

If you sit for a large portion of your day – and you habitually cross your legs one way, BEWARE!  You are creating a QL imbalance for which you may suffer (or already be suffering) mightily. Fortunately, you can help yourself.

First: Stop crossing your legs.  Be vigilant about it.  In fact, put a post-it note on your computer screen that says ‘Uncross your legs’ as a reminder.

Second: Try the following active pose in the video below, Sidewinder,  to restore balance to your QL.  Whether you are a chronic leg-crosser or not, if your QL is responsible for the pain in your back, these exercises are your therapy.   Practice and enjoy freedom from pain. I am!

 

                                                                                       

The original post Danger: Do Not Cross! (your legs) is re-posted here with permission from Yoga Tune Up®

About the Author

Amanda Tripp ThumbIt was love at first Sun Salutation for Amanda Tripp, who was introduced to yoga as a teen when her mom brought home a video. Eventually, she sought out living, breathing teachers to help direct and deepen her practice. Her teachers have been inspirational; her yoga practice: transformational. Amanda felt the call to share the healing benefits of practice with others and completed a 250-hour teacher training program at the Yoga Centre of Burlington. Continuing studies led her to the work of Jill Miller and certification as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher. Amanda’s classes speak to the body, breath, mind and heart as she guides students toward greater ease of being.

                                                                                     

About Yoga Tune Up

avatarYoga Tune Up® is a therapeutic conscious corrective exercise format that strikes a balance between the worlds of yoga, fitness, and myofascial self-care, attracting students of all ages and body types. It breaks down the nuts and bolts of human movement and provides therapeutic strategies that create balance and flexibility in the body, while helping to relieve painful injuries, improve coordination, and reduce stress. It interweaves precise anatomy with a yogic lens of awareness, conscious relaxation, and self massage to help every student live better in their body – no matter what form of movement you practice. The study of Yoga Tune Up® delves you deeply into integrated anatomy and body mechanics while helping you discover a fresh approach to asana.

 

Photo from girlguyed