psoas

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.

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: 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)

 

Your inner cobra (getting to know the deep core)

cobra1The upright human posture and plantigrade gait requires a delicate balance to keep the ventral cavity operating at its functional best. Solving problems in the abdominopelvic region has focused primarily on the horizontal belt surrounding it: the transversus abdominis and its fascial connections to the thoracolumbar fascia and neural connections to the levator ani of the pelvic floor. The concept of ‘core support’ has ramifications to proper sacroiliac stability, lumbar support, pelvic floor health and continence. and a good foundation for respiration – and even on up to shoulder balance and neck strain.

While support in this outer belt is important, and the exploration has produced positive results for patients, less emphasis has been placed on a primary myofascial relationship which is of equal importance to human function, which could be termed our inner ‘cobra’. The cobra lurks inside the belt, and is essential for easy lumbar support of the rib cage, and links the rhythm of breathing and walking.

Cobra 2Our inner cobra is made up of the psoas major muscle and the diaphragm considered together as a functional unit. While these are often depicted as separate in the anatomy books, in the dissection lab the fascial connections are very clear between the diaphragm and the psoas major.

The posterior diaphragm is rooted into three structures: 1) the crura, which blend from the aortic arch into the anterior longtudinal ligament along the front of the lumbar vertebrae, 2) the psoas major (and, if present, the minor) which reaches down from each diaphragmatic dome to the lesser trochanter of the femur, and 3) the quadratus lumborum rooted down to the iliac crest and iliolumbar ligament (and in fascial terms beyond into the iliacus and iliac fascia).

There are two cobras, one on either side of the spine. The tail of the cobra is the lower end of the psoas, curled around the neck of the femur parallel to the pubofemoral ligament. The cobra’s ‘body’ goes forward of the hip joint itself, and then retroperitoneally back behind the organs to lie of either side of the lumbar spine. The ‘hood’ of the cobra is the spreading dome on each side of the diaphragm. In the image, the cobra’s face would be at the front of these domes, approximately at the end of the 6th and 7th ribs.

Cobra 3Considered as a functional whole, the balance of these two muscles is essential for respiratory and spinal health. Get the balance and function of these two cobras correctly, and it will matter less whether your patient has ‘washboard’ abs or ‘washtub’ abs. With a strong and balanced cobra, tight abs are less necessary to upper body support.

When the cobra gets too short, the cobra lifts up and exposes its throat, so to speak – in postural terms, the lumbars get more lordosis and the rib cage tilts back, restricting breathing in the back of the diaphragm. When the cobra loses tone, the head of the cobra dips, the lumbars fall back and the rib cage falls, restricting breath in the anterior part of the diaphragmatic domes.

Learning to read and correct the position of the cobra offers a new aspect to core support that supports the upper body easily, dynamically, and with less residual tension than just slamming down those abs.

Endlessly tightening the TvA, though it does offer increased support, also restricts movement, especially respiration and the organ excursion from respiration essential to their health. Your organs are ‘massaged’ neatly 20,000 times per day by the breath – restriction of the ‘abdominal belt’ and the ‘abdominal balloon’ may create support at the cost of essential function.

Learning to see, assess, and treat the ‘cobra’ of the psoas-diaphragm complex renders core support truly at the core, linking pelvic neutral and lumbar neutral with an easily functioning diaphragm.

                                                                                               

*The original post Cobra  is re-posted here with permission from from Anatomy Trains and Tom Myers

About the Author

Thomas Myers studied directly with Drs. Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, and Buckminster Fuller. He has also studied less extensively with movement teachers Judith Aston, Emilie Conrad, and in the martial arts. His work is influenced by cranial, visceral, and intrinsic movement studies he made with European schools of osteopathy.

An inveterate traveler, Tom has practiced integrative manual therapy for over 30 years in a variety of clinical and cultural settings, including 10 years in London, and traveling practices in Hamburg, Rome, Nairobi, and Sydney, as well as a dozen locales in the US. He is a member of the International Association of Structural Integrators (IASI).

Author of Anatomy Trains (Elsevier 2001) and a set of supporting videos, Tom has also penned over 60 articles for trade magazines and journals on anatomy, soft tissue manipulation, and the social scourge of somatic alienation and loss of reliance on kinesthetic intelligence.

A certified Touch-in-Parenting instructor, Tom retains a strong interest in peri-natal issues relating to movement.

Living on the coast of Maine, Tom directs Kinesis, which conducts professional certification and continuing education courses worldwide.

To read more about Tom Myer's work, please visit Anatomy Trains.