chronic pain

This is What We Do Here

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

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

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

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

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

What we do here:

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

We do that by:

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

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

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

We do that because:

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

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

What's coming up:

Goodies! So many goodies!

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

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

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

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

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

How can I make your dreams come true?

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

2) Vote on what guide comes next! 

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

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

Awesome Transformers photo by Nur Hussein

 

 

 

Grace Bell Interview

interviews-small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIY Friday: Eating to Address Pain

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.*

8716387730_df2733cc47_zAs you may have noticed, we're talking an awful lot lately about how what you eat affects chronic pain (and mobility and performance, and, well, everything). First we heard a dramatic story of healing from decades of severe pain via food from Curt Chaffee, and then I interviewed Dr. Aimée Shunney, Curt's naturopathic doctor, on how food affects pain, how to do an elimination challenge, and much more.

That said, I figured it was good timing for a DIY Friday that pointed out some of my favorite resources for eating cleanly and sorting out how your diet is affecting you.

Before I dive in, I just want to say that food is a pretty hotly debated topic among many. People get fiercely attached to what works for them and what team they have decided to be on. In my experience, different things work for different people (though I think we can all agree that sugar and processed food are not meant to be consumed by humans), and so this post is from the perspective that your time is best spent on experimenting and seeing how your own body responds. So whether you are vegan or Paleo, here are some places to learn better how to eat clean, and to discover what works best for your own biology:

  • As I mentioned above, I interviewed Dr. Aimée Shunney earlier this week. If you watch/listen to minutes 17:48 to 25:17 of that interview you will hear her detail how you can do an elimination diet on your own at home. And if you want more support, including coaching, a yummy chef designed menu, grocery lists, and more, that's what Aimée and her co-creator Jennifer Brewer made Cleanse Organic for! This program will take you through an elimination challenge diet and an anti-inflammatory cleanse. 
  • For those of you who are inclined to skew vegan, Rich Roll's book Finding Ultra is about as inspiring at it gets. It's a fantastic read and also a great example of how vegan doesn't mean "soy bacon" or other processed foods. In fact, he prefers to call it a plant power diet, since it is heavy on the plants, light on the grains, and soy and gluten free. 
  • If you're in the plant-strong category and are looking for more support than just reading Rich Roll's inspiring story, I recommend my colleague Dinneen Viggiano over at Phytolistic. Dinneen provides holistic lifestyle and nutrition coaching without too much dogma. She specializes in holistic inflammation management (i.e. the exact stuff that makes pain improve) and developing protocols for healthy families.  (P.S. I do realize that most Paleo/Primal folks eat more veggies than most vegetarians, so when I write "plant-strong" in this case I mean more aligned with a vegan/vegetarian plant based diet)
  • I personally skew Paleo/Primal in my eating (I am more Primal as I eat dairy, but hey my people are a long line of herders going way back, so that may not work for you. Paleo is no dairy.) , which means of course that Mark Sisson is one of my heroes. You can find loads of free resources on his widely read blog Mark's Daily Apple, and his book Primal Blueprint is required reading if you want to investigate the effect of the standard American diet, learn how to eat like your great-great-great-great (times a million) grandparents did, and also get educated about a whole lot of other important things we're losing like moving functionally, getting sun, playing, and more. 
  • Since I'm a primal girl, it means I'm also madly in love with Gary Taubes's work. If you're a fan of reading research heavy insights, you just can't do any better than grabbing a copy of Good Calories, Bad Calories. To say it's an eye opener doesn't do it service.  If you want the same information without having to wade through a lot of data, grab his book Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.
  • And no talk about food would be complete without pointing you to the Weston A. Price Foundation  which supports traditional foods as a result of Dr. Price's fascinating research into the health of people in traditional cultures. If you want an easily readable and, pun intended, digestible book form of what a Weston Price diet looks like in practice, Real Food by Nina Planck is excellent.

Happy eating!

photo by Graduated Learning

Aimee Shunney Interview

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Aimee Shunney bio picTo say that last week's post, which detailed Curt Chaffee's dramatic story of healing, got a lot a lot of attention is, er, an understatement. Clearly we all feel that the conversation about the role of food in chronic pain is a very important one to be having. So let's talk in more depth, shall we!? In case you missed it, Curt is a patient of Dr. Aimée Shunney's. After decades of severe chronic pain, 7 highly invasive surgeries, and many doctors and specialists he resolved his pain when Dr. Shunney recommended he try an elimination diet challenge. Wowzers. Going back to basics can be profound.

Since I am a manual and movement therapist professionally, I spend my work life helping people to resolve pain through those means. However, I've been in my career for long enough that I have seen how markedly pain (and tissue quality and movement quality) is impacted by food. So I brought in the big guns to talk about it more.

Aimée is a naturopathic doctor who practices in Santa Cruz and Campbell, California. She is also the co-creator of the Cleanse Organic program. And she's got a lot to tell us about how food affects not just pain, but, you guessed it, everything. So take a gander at the interview, and/or scroll below to see the transcript if you wish to skim.

1:34 I mention the Curt Chaffee interview and his profound experience healing from severe chronic pain when he stopped eating gluten. Aimée talks about her initial overwhelm when he came to her, so she opted to go back to basics, and that was what, ultimately, was profound for him.

 

2:30 Shortly after I interviewed Curt for the site a colleague of mine sent me another story about a person who had severe migraines. Their grandfather had had the same pattern, and ultimately had brain surgery to address the pain. This person was, clearly, determined to not go their grandfather’s route, and through the process of trying to get well they found out it was gluten too. It’s pretty shocking.

 

3:30 [me] So what is the connection between pain and food [Aimée] I think that if you are unwittingly eating something that is not good for you, even if it seems like a healthy food but your body is having an immune response to it, your body might compensate for it for a long time, but you’re having this chronic inflammatory hit every day. Couple that with other stuff that happens in life and it all adds up into this perfect storm and you start exhibiting symptoms.

 

4:19 [Aimée] It’s hard to tell with food. We usually think of allergies as the immediate response stuff that our allergists test us for. But there are delayed response allergies that take a while to show up, there are food sensitivities that we really don’t understand very well, and food intolerances. So we just think it’s our normal state. Bloated, in pain, whatever it is, it becomes our normal.

 

5:09 [me] Are there typical foods that you see as the most common offenders? [Aimée] The big 5 are: dairy, gluten, corn, soy, and eggs. Those are foods that are in everything. So we’re getting them a lot. And then I’m always looking at sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. When those things are consumed too much, or even for some people just a little, they can be problematic. So it ends up being a cleanse, which is how my program, Cleanse Organic, started. I feel extremely confident in telling people if they are in pain, they should do an elimination diet. People who were on on pain killers, people who had movement problems, they get better. Beyond that, their energy improves, they start sleeping better than they ever have, headaches go away, mood stability gets better, and their digestion returns to normal. Then blood levels of course change too- cholesterol, etc.

 

8:28 I mention the well known DO that I know who is in very high demand. She has a rule that she will not work with patients if they are not following an anti inflammatory diet. We talk about how you can feel the change in people’s tissue really dramatically with food.

 

10:07 I think that sugar is really profound. I think we’re just starting to understand it. A study just came out recently in the Journal of Nutrition that showed what it really does to the body. From the world of holistic nutrition it’s like a, “Duh”, but in a conventional medical model they’re just catching up with the fact that these things cause inflammation and promote chronic disease.

 

11:00 Part of this study was this concept of these foods as addictive substances. I was doing a radio show where the host got out the DSM V and was reading the criteria for addiction, like to heroin or cocaine, and it fits my sugar addicted clients perfectly.

 

11:47 And that first week [on a cleanse, specifically removing sugar] is terrible! But then you really change, your whole chemistry starts to change. And your taste buds change too.

 

12:33 In the Cleanse Organic program we had people take out sugar and artificial sweeteners, but then we found people were subsisting on agave, honey, etc. So we had then take out all the natural sweeteners too so that they could reset their taste buds. And we found they got much better results too.

 

14:15 [me] People are asking me, “Why does everyone have celiac now?” Or at least, “Why is everyone gluten intolerant now?” Do you have an opinion about what’s changed that now so many people have at least sensitivities or at most this autoimmune condition?

 

14:40 [Aimée] There are multiple factors. One of course being that it’s just not good for us. But we ingest so much of it now! Many of us are also eating animals, and animals are being fed it and they don't digest it well. Then there is the GMO component; Is the grain we’re eating the same grain our grandparents were eating? Throw all of this on top of the standard American diet and the standard American lifestyle and you have a real problem.

 

16:02 I think for a lot of people it’s just that they are at threshold. Your body is managing everything it can. You go back to that shopping cart theory; Where we all come into the world with a shopping cart, some of us already have some stuff in there, but you go through life and add things into the cart until we hit threshold, and once we’re there, it doesn’t matter what goes into the cart  now, it’s going to tip over. So the question is what can I take out of my cart? Which is a beautiful place for food to come in because we actually have some control. You pull something like gluten which we’re eating so much of, and people get relief. Is it that they actually have an intolerance, or is it that they have just lowered their threshold of overwhelm?

 

17:40 [We both beg you to please not do a “water for 30 days” type cleanse]

 

17:48 [me] What can people do at home that would be safe and fruitful? [Aimée] Doing an elimination diet is a great way to get to the bottom of how food is affecting you. Remove those big 5: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and eggs. Do this for at least 3 weeks, and if you are so inclined, pull out sugar and sweeteners, avoid alcohol and caffeine and eliminate red meat. Then reintroduce your foods one at a time. The challenge part of an elimination challenge diet is just as important as the elimination. Don’t break it with a beer and a burger. There seems to be a 72 hour window for food sensitivities to manifest symptoms, so you reintroduce a food once every 3 days. Eat it twice a day for 3 days, if you still feel as good as you felt on the elimination, you keep going. If you get a response, you stop, and reintroduce it again because there can be flukes. The challenge part can be slow going, but it’s the most important part because it’s where you actually mine the data that you created in the last 3 weeks.

 

20:22 Now that’s a simple outline to follow at home, but I created Cleanse Organic with a chef, because a certain number of people can just do these recommendations on their own, but lots of other people need support. So Cleanse Organic has coaching, meal plans, shopping lists, and the food is amazing. I’m a big foodie. It it doesn’t taste good I’m not going to eat it. you have to be willing to keep doing what you are doing to feel better once you get there. It has a real structure to follow and to help hold your hand.

 

21:35 It also includes some supplements, because I do think there are some things you can do minimally when cleansing. Basic support for the liver and for the gut with probiotics. And you want to be sure you continue to get enough protein. When protein goes away we feel terrible. you may want to get a protein smoothie, like hemp or rice to have every day.

 

22:29 The protein is going to help your liver to detoxify properly because the amino acids in the protein actually run your liver’s detox pathways. but it’s also going to give you stable energy and make you not terrible to your partner and your children...and if you don’t get the amino acids from the protein, then your body is going to pull it from your muscles, and then you’re losing muscle mass and thinking you’re losing weight, but it’s not what you want to lose.

 

23:10 I also think that fish oil is super important. It is probably the most potent natural anti-inflammatory that you can get your hands on. So if it’s something easy you’re looking to do at home, fish oil and an elimination challenge diet is a good way to go.

 

24:45 The changes, especially in the realm of pain, are profound. Somehow food has become alternative medicine, which is crazy! But I think we forget that what we put in our mouth is the way we can have the most control and the ability to make the most impact over our health.

 

25:17 One of the most  successful and sustainable things about doing an elimination diet and a cleanse is that you get back to cooking, you get back to reading labels, you just get really conscious again.

 

25:48 [me] I ask that people fight back from white noise syndrome where you feel kind of crappy, but are not debilitated, so you just put it on the back burner and live that way. A lot of people will hear “Oh I have to give up all this stuff!” But think about how your life changes when you remove the constant grating agitation that is in the background. It affects how you treat your partner, how you treat your children, how you show up for work, It changes the whole way that you show up for your life, which is not a small thing!

26:32 [Aimée] We are so willing to accept the terrible mediocrity. I hear from patients, “Oh I’m just getting older.” Don't believe the hype! You can be amazing! It doesn't’ matter what age you are. Chances are you aren’t going to react to every food. You’ll get some back. and then you can make choices. When I have wine at night I get the sniffles. Does that mean I will never have wine again? Well that’s up to me. But at least I have informed choices.

The Role of Food in Chronic Pain

5650486605_f38434c896_zI recorded this interview a couple of months ago, and re-listening to it now it still gives me chills. And gets me all welled up with tears. As a part of my "Let Freedom Ring" series, where I talk with people who have recovered from chronic pain and mobility conditions, I had the great honor of talking with Curt Chaffee. Curt is a patient of Dr. Aimée Shunney's, whose interview is coming up next week. Before you hear from Aimée, I wanted you all to have a chance to hear from Curt's mouth how profoundly impactful a very simple tool was in healing his chronic pain. That simple tool was an elimination diet. I.e. removing foods that are commonly not tolerated very well by many people, like gluten, dairy, soy, etc, and seeing what changes it might make. Let me back up a moment and describe what I mean a bit more by profoundly impactful. Before Curt tried the elimination diet that Dr. Shunney recommended he was at his worst. While the first signs of what would become a severe pain pattern had begun when he was about eleven years old, with profound headaches and muscle spasms, the worst of it did not begin until his  late thirties. At that time he developed severe neurological pain, to the point where he had to go into the emergency room with sharp, electric, stabbing pain down his left arm. Initially of course the doctors thought he had had a heart attack, but they quickly discovered that that wasn't the case. From there he was admitted and spent a week in the hospital heavily sedated on pain killers in order to try and figure out what this pain pattern was that seemed to have no rhyme or reason to it.

This kicked off a ten year long process of doctors finding things they thought might be the problem. Curt had 7 surgeries. They removed his first rib. They stripped muscles in his neck. A few surgeires were just experimental to go in and scrape nerves and vertebrae of any scar tissue they could find. The general consensus was that there had to be some physical structure that was impinging the brachial plexus nerves. But since the surgeries did absolutely nothing to mitigate the pain, depression set in. In fact, the pain was still getting progressively worse. Any intervals of being pain free were shorter and shorter, and Curt spent months incapacitated in bed. After surgery had clearly failed, he went to pain therapy, where stronger and stronger drugs were tried to quell the pain. At this time he also learned how to meditate, which he credits with keeping him alive through all of this. But the pain killers did nothing other than making him "stupid", in his own words.

At this time he sought out naturopathic medicine because he had tried everything else and was desperate. This brought him to Dr. Shunney. He was at his worst, and had seen all of the best doctors in California. Intially, Dr. Shunney said she didn't know what was going on either, and for his first few months of working with her, nothing really changed. The day his life turned around was when she turned to look at his diet. He began an elimination diet, cutting out gluten, dairy, and cutting way back on sugar. By the end of the first month he was 50% better. In 6 months he was 80% better. Ultimately it was the wheat gluten that was the worst trigger.

Today he is back at work, back to racing his motorcycle, playing his guitar, and playing golf. At the time of our talk, he had just came home from a backpacking trip in Big Sur in which he carried a heavy pack for days.

One of the things I really love in our conversation is that he emphasizes that it isn't over. He still has mild chronic pain symptoms from all the years of stress, the trauma of surgeries, etc, but he's not at all down about that. Instead he radiates gratitude and clearly enjoys working on helping his body to keep getting better, and better and better! Curt says about this part of the process, "You feel so much better that you then have the energy and motivation to take it further."

Even if you know food isn't a culprit for you, hearing the hope and gratitude in Curt's voice will go a long way to helping you  if you are finding your way out of your own chronic pain pattern.

Lastly, I just want to say that we forget to think holistically in ways other than just how we see the musculoskeletal/myofascial interconnection of the body. We assume that food can only be about gut stuff. Curt was not having intestinal symptoms. We assume that if food were the culprit that his symptoms would have resembled something like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but his problem was severe neurological pain. From food. We've got to take everything into consideration when we're trying to get well. So don't forget the old adage, you are what you eat...

Without further ado, here is Curt in his own words:

photo by Martin Linkov

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!

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: Skin Rolling

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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.*

I was fortunate enough to spend last weekend in Ojai, California at the Yoga Tune Up® teachers summit where, naturally, we're prone to doing things like taking breaks for skin rolling. This made me realize that this handy, tool-free form of myofascial release had yet to be featured on DIY Fridays!

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So here you have it folks. This is a simple way to manipulate your own tissue in a way that gets the glide back in your fascia. If you're wondering why you would want such a thing- it promotes ease of movement, decreases or resolves pain, improves balance and proprioception (your sense of knowing where you are in space, which determines if you are a graceful or clumsy mover), and decreases risk of injuries, not to mention improves the appearance of "skin stick", which is that youthful elastic quality that makes young people look young while old people get saggy. Yes, you can, to a certain degree, keep the spring and fight the sag by keeping your fascia healthy.

While what you are doing is directly lubricating the superficial fascial layer, because all these layers are tethered into one another, you are actually having an effect into the deep fascia as well. So if you have a problem area, like a shoulder impingement for example, you will benefit from doing skin rolling around that joint and upstream and downstream of it.

Clearly there are certain places that will be easier for you to do skin rolling on yourself. I like it on the arms and shoulders and legs. If you want skin rolling on your back or other hard to reach areas, buddy up and show this video to your partner or friend.

A couple of key points: fascia is very slow to release, so please  move like molasses so as to avoid making someone feel like they're being skinned alive. We do not want this. That brings me to my second point, the tighter, more adhered and more dehydrated the fascia, the more painful this will be. Slow, slow, slow is the only way, and for some people it may be downright intolerable. In which case they should find their way to a good manual therapist rather than just avoiding or ignoring it. Downhill trends go, well, downhill unless reversed. Lastly, try to contact yourself or your skin rolling buddy with as much surface area as possible. Touching with just the tips of your fingers is more painful and less pleasurable than touching with your whole finger pad. Oh, and no oils or lotions, or you won't be able to affect the fascia.

Now watch the video and go for it!

photo by Charles Fred

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.

 

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

Sue Hitzmann Interview

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SueHitzmann_IMG_1511 (1)I recently had the great pleasure of having a fascia nerd chat with the founder of the MELT Method, Sue Hitzmann. Sue is incredibly well informed and has created a thoughtful and remarkably useful system out of studying the emerging research on fascia, and her dedication to helping people out of pain. You can read the FFF review of it here.

We got into a lot of fascinating topics including how to slow the aging process, what the root of chronic pain actually is, and how you can't exercise your way to a strong "core". There is so much more! Say glycosaminoglycans 5 times fast! (I bet Sue can... ) Anyway, on the the interview. Also check out the time log below if you're hoping to skim it or just to see some of the many other things we chatted about:

:35 I explain my erroneous view that I thought Sue was “the foam roller lady” and how MELT is in fact a much different thing.

 2:53 Sue talks about the common misconceptions of what fascia is as a system.

3:38 How can a fluid system be a stability system? How does fluid make something stable?

4:58 Sue talks research on fascia and dehydration. Compression (as in sitting for long periods of time) and repetitive motions create strain that makes it harder to keep your body stable and increases stress and strain in the whole system.

 5:41 The dehydration issue is not just about drinking more water. If you’re a frequent urinator, you may have poor cellular absorption.

6:39 Sue talks about the importance of looking at fascia on the micro  level of nutrient absorption, cellular stability, and neurological information going through your body, rather than just the macro level of posture and performance and muscles.

7:22 Q: What’s special about MELT that you can access it on that micro level and not just the macro level?

8:00 You can adapt connective tissue very quickly in a light touch way. Monumental global changes can be made in people’s bodies with that light touch.

9:03 Sue talks about the shift in her own private practice after years of more strong touch practices, as she learned about the properties of the cells of connective tissue.

 10:38 The trouble with actual foam rollers. Why you don’t want to actually “iron yourself like a shirt” and why you can’t “pop a bubble of pain”. When you have connective tissue dehydration it is going to increase the sensitivity of your nerve endings.

12:55 How MELT can help such a broad spectrum of people- from someone who is 90, to someone with chronic pain, to a performance athlete, or children who are managing ADHD, or even stress issues.

13:31 Q: How does the aging process (and cellulite too!) get impacted by MELT?

14:55 The dirty little secret is that 85% of fitness people are in pain.

17:20 We take for granted that we can pull on our skin and it goes back to where it was. What allows that to happen is the deeper layers of connective tissue that provide the support for every aspect of your body, which includes our skin staying taught. It’s the flexible scaffolding, and it is completely continuous. From skin to bones you can follow one piece of collagen and see it pierce through every structure down to the bone.

18:40 Microvacuoles work and adapt to our movements but only when hydrated. So when you sit for long periods of time, you are pooling the connective tissue in a specific way.

20:28 Fibroblasts are reactive cells. When you compress them for short periods of time and then let it go (as with MELT), it fills the system back up and brings fluid back to those microvacuoles. It is a restorative system, and it doesn’t take a lot of compression, time, or effort.

21:39 Connective tissue dehydration is the cause of pain.

23:00 What is the NeuroCore? The word “core” is really trendy and therefore misunderstood these days.

23:36 Instead of just strengthening all your core muscles, you can be supported. What actually keeps you stable is the neuro-fascial system. The connective tissue is the environment that your sensory nerve endings live in, so if the environment is not stable, your nervous system is going to have to work harder and harder to relay this information to the brain to get an adequate response.

25:59 If you ask someone in fitness, “What is the core?” they’re going to define it as a muscle system that stabilizes the spine, but they can’t answer the question, “how does it work” beyond defining the muscularity of it. We’re trying to define a “core” in the musculoskeletal model, but it’s a dual neuro-fascial stabilizing system that works involuntarily, i.e. you can’t strengthen it via exercise.

27:40 Sue describes how she and Gil Hedley of Integral Anatomy dissected a cadaver layer by layer to find the NeuroCore, and demos what they found.

29:55 Sue weighs in on the debate about if the psoas muscle is actually a hip flexor. It’s actually the communicator between your head and feet. It’s where in embryology we see the cells divide to create the compartments of the human body.

30:40 The “core” is not the muscles. That is the least important element of how the system stays responsive, flexible, and adaptable. Many of us we are so dehydrated in the connective tissue that we cannot hold stable. We become less and less efficient. and our bodies can’t compensate anymore, then we get muscle imbalance, joint pain, etc. But these are symptoms of the NeuroCore not functioning.

34:10 How if you do the 10 min rebalance sequence to access the NeuroCore before doing core exercises, you would actually strengthen your body more in a much more efficient way and would get more benefit from any exercise.

36:40 Your brain doesn’t see muscle. As far as your brain is concerned you have one muscle with 700 compartments.

37:45 We take for granted that as long as we’re moving, we’re moving efficiently, but the connective tissue is the stability architecture and your nervous system relies on that architecture to send information through the body.

38:50 Sue’s goal for people is to understand that the autonomic nervous system needs our care, and if you go to the environment that it lives in, the connective tissue, you’ll make a bigger change. And it is so simple to do.

40:31 Sue’s recent MELT tour of middle America. The general population assumes that if you’re having a problem, you go see your doctor and get a pill. But with chronic pain, the medication is not helping them.

42:18 There are 100 million people in chronic pain, so there is some piece of education missing. Our pharmaceutical industry is the leader of how people are taken care of, so Sue’s hope is to expose  the general population to the fact that we’re out here (bodyworkers and this work in general).

45:20 MELT is giving people the tools of tapping into the connective tissue and the nervous system in order to give them a baseline skill set to use at home. Pain does not need to be a day to day event!

DIY Friday: MELT Method

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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.*

sue hitzmannI recently had the privilege of interviewing Sue Hitzmann, the creator of The MELT Method®*, and she will kick off our Interviews With Geniuses series next week! Yippee! So before you get to hear from the brilliant, fascia-nating mind (I couldn't resist) of Sue, I wanted to write a review of The MELT Method so that those of you who are not yet familiar can get a sense for what her system is all about. Plus, MELT is literally an entire system around teaching people how to work their own tissue, so it seemed pretty perfect for DIY Friday.

First off, let me just say that it seems like people who are in the fitness world are creating a new "method" with their name attached to it roughly at the rate of one new method per second (which I believe is the same rate as new blogs?), and so I realize that it's easy to dismiss yet another method considering that most of them are built around the founder's ego and more blab about tinier middles and firmer rears. If I haven't made it clear yet, MELT is absolutely no where in the vicinity of this type of method.

Sue has managed to take her expertise as a body worker, fitness educator, and extreme fascia research nerd and smoosh them all together to create a truly holistic hands-free bodywork system, which intelligently affects your fascia, and which you can learn to do on your own. Wowzers. It's kind of a big deal.

When I picked up her book I had her in the interesting, but not exactly mind blowing, category in my brain which was labeled "girl brings foam rollers to the world". Yeah, hmmm, so I'm here to tell you that if Sue occupies a similar category in your brain, please take her and The MELT Method out of there. This is not her deal. At all.

First, while it looks like The MELT Method is employing foam rollers, they are in fact a whole different animal, albeit a similarly shaped one. The foam rollers that Sue has designed for MELT are much softer than a conventional roller. So much softer in fact, that you can bend them in half easily. This is a nod to the vast amount of research she has delved into which tells us that if you use a hard implement too quickly, you are likely to smash and compress fascia, rather than to lengthen or re-hydrate it. The softer surface allows the kind of access and stick that, when paired with the MELT Method sequencing, can restore vitality to our beloved and (ideally) juicy organ of structure, the fascia.

Speaking of sequencing, MELT helps you to self-treat your tissue by using the four R's every time you MELT: Reconnect, Rebalance, Rehydrate, and Release. I'll give you a mini breakdown of each so you can begin to glimpse the yumminess and effectiveness that MELT has in store:

  • Reconnect techniques help you to heighten your awareness, or body sense, so you can better "see" yourself from the inside. This is crucial to a body's healing ability.
  • Rebalance techniques directly addresses your body balance, grounding, and organ support by getting you in touch with your NeuroCore, which I talk with Sue about in detail in our upcoming interview. That whole graceful, move with ease thing is all about activating your NeuroCore.
  • Rehydrate techniques are where you clear out the crunchy bits in your connective tissue, and restore the fluid state of the web. This has a huge impact on effortless alignment, decreasing pain and inflammation, and fluid and nutrient absoprtion at a cellular level.
  • Release techniques decompress your joints to help keep you mobile and pain free.

If you're like me, after reading that list of what MELT accomplishes you are now drooling from the intense yearning your tissue now has to MELT! It's pretty right on. And with only a teeny bit of MELT in your regular routine you have a very powerful preventative (and restorative if you're working through something) self-care tool which is vastly less pricey than hiring a live-in massage therapist to be at your beck and call. MELT is a wonderful tool for dealing with chronic pain, pre-pain conditions like the discomfort you feel at the end of every workday, and is also profoundly impactful as an anti-aging tool. Yes, I mean that in both the "look cuter longer" way as much as I mean it in the "don't get joint replacements" way. Sue and I chat a lot about that in our interview too, so stay tuned.

Lastly, for those of you who are looking for a thoughtfully written primer on fascia, which is research based, and which helps you to wrap your brain around how this tissue system actually impacts you, the MELT book is the best resource that I have found for that thus far. I highly recommend.

Check out our interview coming up on The FFF next week!

*MELT stands for Myofascial Energetic Lengthening Technique

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.