The Truth About Juice Cleanses

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

Enter Sarah:

                                                                                                                                    

About the Author

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

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

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

photo by Food Thinkers

It's Not About Effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo by Erik Meldrum

 

 

Exercise = Moving Less? Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Exercise Causing You to Move Less? Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let's talk about it:

We don't distinguish between movement and exercise:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready? Deeeeeeep breath. There is hope.

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

photo by skittledog

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.

Keep Your Eyes Off the Prize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 2014 Fascia Freedom Fighters!!

 

 

Self-Care Shopping Guide

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

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

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

Happy self-care shopping!

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

photo by SBC9

 

 

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

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

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

Gravity is always present.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo by Scorpions and Centaurs

 

Katy Bowman Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DIY Friday: Gratitude Rampage

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iStock_000025624251SmallRandomly, as I was filling up my car with gas last week, I was suddenly awash in gratitude. I have a daily gratitude practice (more on that soon), so it wasn't totally foreign or anything, but it was quite different and unusual for me. I would go so far as to say that it was what would be called, in Zen Buddhism,  a satori moment. A moment of seeing with complete clarity.

Suddenly the world looked like it was in technicolor. I could see the flowers growing across the street, and every wood slat on the house beyond them. I was totally aware of how cool and wonderful the gas pump felt in my hands, and the air on my skin. And, while they don't exactly translate, my thoughts went something like, "I am so lucky to be a human who is alive right now. That I get to experience this good human life, here on planet Earth, where crazy miracles like growing flowers and lovely breeze and cool gas pump in my hand are happening every second of the day."

About 2 hours later I found out my Aunt had died suddenly in her sleep at home at age 63. Oddly enough, it turns out my satori moment coincided roughly with the time of her death.

My Aunt had a complicated relationship with her health. She is definitely one of those people who showed up in this lifetime with "more in her shopping cart", as my colleague Aimée Shunney would say, than some. But she had a totally normal and full life. She married, she had a daughter, she divorced, she married the love of her life, she did work she was passionate about and which served a community she cared deeply for: the developmentally disabled.

But through all this she was always navigating a body that wasn't exactly thriving. In recent years she had trouble ambulating, couldn't raise her arms (due to tendon tears), and was frequently ill with any virus that would come by. For her, these viruses often turned into pneumonia. Most recently she was in the hospital for mysterious tremors which were determined not to be Parkinson's. It turns out the implant she had had put in her back to block the nerve pain she had had shifted and was now causing full body quaking. The implant was removed and the tremors stopped. We all assumed things would be quiet on the health front for a bit after that. It felt like a eureka moment.

But here we are. She's gone now. And it has brought up for me (among other things of course) why I do this work. Why we, the larger wellness community, do this work. People will often read our stuff about self-care, eating well, moving well, etc and respond with the glib, "You can't avoid death." And they're right, obviously, but they miss the point entirely.

The point isn't to avoid death. It's to avoid missing life. I think of my Aunt when I reach up into a cabinet to grab a can of soup. I think of my Aunt when I frolic through the woods with my son. I think of my Aunt when I simply walk, pain free, from my house to my car. All of these things were off limits to her.

So I got to thinking; We talk so much about what we can do to be (future tense) healthier and to live more full and vital lives, and clearly I'm still dedicated to that. I know my Aunt really struggled with why she always felt so lousy. She prayed every day that she could feel just a little bit better, and on those moments when she did feel better she was so grateful for it- there's nothing like feeling terrible to make you appreciate feeling anything short of terrible. So perhaps for this DIY Friday we can simply take a moment to be grateful for whatever it is we do have. Right this moment.

My son and I have a gratitude practice where most nights at dinner we list 3 things from the day that we are most grateful for. We then write them down and put them in our gratitude bowl, so that we can take them out later and look over all that we were grateful for over the past months in a ritual that usually involves ice cream.

Every once and a while we have a different version of our gratitude practice: the gratitude rampage. For this we will just randomly call out, "Gratitude rampage!" and we have to list things we are grateful for that are directly in front of us in that exact moment. So, for example, in this moment mine would be a laptop that allows me to communicate with all of you, clean, cool water to drink, clean air to breath, a lovely quiet room to write in, the sun coming through the windows, a pain free body that means I can write without agitation, my high school English teacher who taught me how to just sit down and write already, functioning hands that allow me to type, air going in and out of my lungs without me even having to think about it... you get the idea.

So, even if you are at home, sick, dealing with chronic pain, suffering through stress or trauma, whatever it is, what can you be genuinely grateful for right now in this moment?  This moment while we are so lucky to be alive, here on planet Earth, experiencing this good human life? If your whole body is in pain, is your pinky toe feeling pretty good? Add it to the gratitude list! If you are home sick, are you laying on a comfortable bed in a home you love? Add it to the gratitude list! Are you alive? Can you walk? Can you reach for a can of soup in your cupboard? Can you see the flowers growing across the street?

Ready... set.... gratitude rampage!

DIY Friday: Eating to Address Pain

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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.*

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!

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

The North American Pelvis Meets Bollywood

9239560569_df06fffc9a_bI’ve just returned from the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon! For those of you who are not familiar, it’s a weekend of talks, workshops, films, glow in the dark mini golf, and zoo animals (to name just a few things) with 3000 of the world’s loveliest people, all joined together under the common goals of community, service, and adventure (it’s purely benevolent world domination…) Yep, it’s pretty fantastic. While I had many wonderful experiences and a-ha moments there, the one that really spoke to me about the goals of The FFF happened at the after party. Enter DJ Prashant.

Imagine a large outdoor square (Pioneer Square in downtown Portland) totally taken over by 3000 benevolent world dominators, food carts, and a massive sound stage dedicated to Bollywood (obviously!) If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching DJ Prashant work a crowd, let me tell you, the man is a force of nature. Since I’m a movement junkie I was the on the dance floor immediately- well I was technically about the 4th person to get on the dance floor, but that’s only because I had to run back to my hotel room for something- anyway, as someone who’s happy to shake it on the dance floor at these types of things, I’m used to the usual scenario where somewhere around 15% of the crowd is shaking it with me, while everyone else abstains.

I mentioned the force of nature that is DJ Prashant, right? I think it was by, hmmm, maybe the third song that he was leading a large percentage of this massive crowd, in unison, in a Bollywood dance to amazing music. And that continued for two hours non-stop. I’m not totally sure how he pulled it off without collapsing, but he did. It looked a little something like this:

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When I took a water break (Bollywood is intense!) I had made my way to the back of the crowd and was able to look out over this sea of newly minted Bollywood dancers and one thought occurred to me, “What the hell!? This guy is getting people to move their pelvises in ways that I spend ages trying to convince them to explore! He’s like a magician!” People were unabashedly shimmying, grinding, and rolling like champs. It was beautiful.

First let's back up and say a word about the “North American Pelvis”. We seem to grow up in North America convinced that we have to lock that shit down. Here we have this beautiful structure that moves happily in many planes and yet we put a strangle hold on its beautiful potential. We all get the messages; Ladies, don’t let your butts stick out or you’ll seem slutty. Men (particularly straight men), don’t ever let your pelvis deviate from sagittal plane walking-forward-only movement or you’ll seem gay , God forbid, or just downright too feminine (ahem, your Latin brothers to the South seem to pull off a more mobile pelvis just fine. They don’t seem to be getting many complaints…).

Suffice it to say, we’re all walking around wearing the equivalent of tighty whities that are thirty sizes too small slapped on over our once supple fascia. And because this leads to a wide array of problems, some of which are low back and sacroiliac pain, osteoarthritis of the hips (leading to hip replacements in some cases), incontinence in older and younger years, and even sexual dysfunction, well, I kind of tell people to move their pelvises more on a pretty regular basis. And they resist like I was asking them to go on a fluffy kitten killing spree!

Through all these years of telling people that they can embrace more multi-dimensional pelvic movement I have decided that it takes patience to get people to give it a shot. Which isn’t untrue of course, but now it appears there’s another option: Bollywood! Or, more precisely, fun.

Generally when we’re trying to “fix” our bodies, or to just plain old better inhabit them, we forget about the importance of fun and of novelty. DJ Prashant certainly reminded me of how powerful a tool that can be in opening up movement potential. So whether you’re a pretty embodied athlete or yogini or bodyworker, or someone who is desirous of being more embodied and rejecting the mold your cubicle is shaping your body into, see if you can maybe break out of your norm, and try something radically different. Ideally something that includes new planes of movement. Bollywood dancing was my latest epiphany (I’m checking out classes near me, natch), but think of all the possibilities! Aerial silks, hip hop, Capoeira, ballroom dancing, Parkour… See what calls to you and move in a new and delicious way!

P.S. It helps to do this in a low shame, high love and support community (as we were all blessed to have at the World Domination Summit), or with a very supportive buddy. For better or worse most of us have a lot of shyness and shame around trying out new stuff, especially related to our bodies, so set yourself up for actual fun by paying attention to who’s along for the ride.

DIY Friday: Move

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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.*

5837875221_78fdb12266_bAn alternate title for this post was DIY Friday: Everything. Yep, we're going big picture this week and looking at our most important issue, by which I mean this one of the most crucial DIY Fridays ever, as it is the place from which most problems stem; movement. Or our lack of it. I know what you're thinking: "She's not talking about me. I work out 5 days a week." Actually, I am talking exactly to you! So here's the deal, we live in a culture where we believe that exercise and movement are synonymous. Nope. Totally not the case, particularly if your main form of exercise involves gym machines, which are, as far as I'm concerned, a plague upon our people. Don't you love how I over-dramatize things with blanket statements like that?! Me too.

Anyway, since my Rolfing® practice is filled with people who are dealing with fascial and musculoskeletal issues like chronic pain or injuries, I am frequently telling people how and why to avoid gym machines. So I figured we should just go ahead and dive into that topic here. In particular, I have no love for the elliptical machine which has been marketed as the "safe" choice, and yet creates (in my opinion) the most problems for people, particularly those with low back pain. So I wrote this article a while back when this blog hadn't yet been born and my writing of stuff was happening on my private practice website:

Low Back Pain Beware: The Machine to Avoid at the Gym.

And then Katy Bowman wrote these two stellar posts recently which really get at the heart of the matter in a way that makes my girl crush on her only blossom more. Read them, they are wise, wise, wise posts for discerning the difference between "exercise" and "movement" and understanding just what's so lousy about gym machines, and what we miss when we consider exercise the same thing as movement:

First up, Junk Food Walking, and next up:

A Wee Problem with Crossfit. (Which actually starts out addressing the peeing while exercising issue that many women have, but heads away from a pelvic floor conversation to address the root cause, which is what happens when we 1) live in a movement drought and then 2) load our atrophied bodies with "fitness" or "exercise". )

Lastly, I am also falling more and more in love with MovNat® these days, which is a great system that is taking real deal, do-what-your-ancestors-did-movement and making it accessible. If you want to experience some smart movement, find some MovNat near you. Or check out this DVD set (or you can get the downloadable version) where MovNat (Erwan Le Corre) and Functional Movement Systems™ (Gray Cook) join forces. I don't own it yet, but boy howdy, I'm am excited enough to get my hands on it, and have enough faith in both of these guys work, that I'm pre-plugging it here.

That's it! That's all for this week's DIY! I know it's a broader lens than we generally look through on Fridays here at The FFF, but it is profound stuff, and so read the articles, ponder what your ancestors were doing with their bodies back in the day, and know that moving, truly moving, can resolve and prevent a whole lotta problems for a whole lotta people.

Photo by Tigre Sauvage

When it's Better Than Just, "I Feel Better."

Woman Forming Heart Shape with HandsI am writing to you on the plane home from Munich, where I just spent the weekend presenting at the European Rolfing® Association’s annual conference* and, while I normally talk here very specifically about how people can feel better in their bodies, a weekend of being surrounded by Rolfers in Munich has brought back to the fore for me just how valuable that is beyond the straightforward, “my knee feels better”, or “my headaches are gone”, so I thought I’d jot down some of those thoughts here. The mission here at the FFF is to liberate bodies from chronic pain, mobility issues, and subpar performance. Which (and I think those of you who have come out from under pain, mobility, or performance issues will back me up here) is pretty dang fantastic. So fantastic in fact, that we normally end the story with, “I feel better! Hoorah!”

But I would argue that an additional, and pretty interesting, story starts to unfold both during and after the “Hoorah!” That, once your body has been positively impacted in this way (once you have, as we say in the Rolfing and SI fields*, more structural integrity), you are changed. Not just your knee, and not just your headaches. You.

I have the great pleasure of watching it occur on a regular basis with my clients. As they go through a Rolfing 10 series with me their anxiety attacks cease, or they decide to change careers or leave a relationship that isn’t serving them. All kinds of stuff unrelated to their bodies gets stirred up. It seems that, even though it isn’t a psychotherapeutic process at all, for many people working in their tissues in this framework of a larger organizing process (i.e. Structural Integration) does change people’s “life stuff” and not just their “body stuff”. In fact, Dr. Rolf once described Rolfing as “an approach to the personality through the myofascial collagen components of the physical body.” Whoa.

Considering that our goal, at least in Rolfing and SI, is to better align a person in gravity- to make them more upright, more at ease, and less at war with this whole gravitational field that we live in- its implications are pretty profound. In fact, at one of the talks I attended this weekend given by Pedro Padro, he said that Rolfers are, “consciously doing work to change the evolution of the species.” Wooowee! If you read this and it sounds creepy, like we’re fancying ourselves puppet masters of humanity, please instead just turn your attention to how your body feels while you read this, or while you stand in line at the grocery store, or while you take a long drive in your car, and you should start to better understand what I mean. We’re just trying to be helpers to uprightness. Gravity is so ubiquitous that we forget about it and the thousands of micro-wars (like standing uncomfortably in the grocery store line) that we have with it every day.

But what if we didn’t have to be at war? What if we instead felt buoyantly lifted and supported in it? Well if we can say that one of our biggest goals of evolution has been getting upright (and I think we can pretty easily say that), then to stop struggling against gravity and be yet more upright is a piece of our evolution. We’re not “finished” evolving, it’s an ongoing process, and one glance at any teenager texting on their phone should tell you how easy it can be to lose what we’ve collectively worked so hard to achieve. (But I’ll leave the question of whether our uprightness is guaranteed, including a rant on staring at screens, which I am doing right now on an airplane, complete with downward gaze onto my fold out tray table, for another post.)

Sitting at the conference this weekend and ruminating on what it meant to be better organized physically in gravity brought back a memory that I honestly don’t think I’ve considered since it happened. It was on the day of my 10th session (the last session in my initial Rolfing series, though I’ve had boatloads of Rolfing sessions in the 17 years since then) and my Rolfer, Joe Wheatley, had a journal available to people in the waiting room in case they wanted to jot down anything. I remembered how reading through the brief impressions of all the “Rolfees” who had come before me on the day of my first session had soothed my nerves, and so decided to contribute to the journal. For posterity’s sake I guess.

But of course there is always something about the power of writing a thing down that allows surprising stuff to spring forth and grab your attention. After all these years I doubt I’ll quote myself precisely, but I wrote something along the lines of, “I didn’t even know what a gift this work had to give me! I have a body! And now I get to enjoy it for the rest of my life! You’ve given me back to me.” After writing it I thought it was a little corny and amusing, so I wondered what I meant by “I have a body!” or “giving me back to me”? I mean, duh, yes we all have bodies, and obviously I belong to myself. But as someone who grew up with chronic pain, mobility issues, and a seizure disorder, I had gone to great pains to forget that I was stuck inside of this very inconvenient and often unpleasant thing called my body. I had split away from myself without realizing it.

After (and during) Rolfing I was not just pain free, but suddenly self sufficient, capable, and even giddy in ways I hadn’t ever touched into before. Pain and physical limitation, it turns out, are kind of like the metaphoric frog who gets put into the stovetop water at room temperature, which is then turned up so slowly that he never notices he’s being cooked until it is too late.

But I had gotten out of the boiling water! “I have a body! What can it do!?” Was the simple but gleeful thought that bounded through my being. It was like a grand adventure- that of having a body- had been right under my nose and (for me) I needed Rolfing to unlock it. I was free! And I was changed far, far more than as a physical being. Being given a sense of yourself as capable, self-sufficient, and transformational will do that to you. And here I am 17 years later, with that grand adventure still unfolding.

(Shout out to all the amazing European, American, and Brazilian Rolfers who made up this weekend’s conference! Thanks for the inspiration!)

*Footnote1: Had I presented on body nerd goodies I would have included that here, but alas I presented on practice building, which, while still valuable, probably doesn’t quite get people excited here at the FFF.

*Footnote 2: Rolfing is the original form of Structural Integration and so those who call themselves Rolfers have studied at The Rolf Institute, which was the school Dr. Rolf founded (that is definitely the sentence with the most “Rolf’s” in it that I’ve ever written…) but there are other schools of Structural Integration, such as The Guild, KMI, or The New School of Structural Integration, and the graduates of those schools go by the name “Structural Integrators”.

Photo by Patricia Mellin