Love for the Upper Trapezius

trapeziusI am lucky enough to know (and to live near enough to video!) an exceptional teacher, Lillee Chandra. Lillee has devised an ingenious solution for getting at that "spot" that you are always trying to squish at the end of the day. Enter Lillee:

In our tech-ready, chair-heavy modern world, the neck and upper back are a tension dumping ground for the majority of people. However, one of the most common areas of complaint lives directly under the swagging outline of the upper trapezius. Here, a convergence of many deep shoulder-to-head and neck-to-trunk musculature traverse, namely the: levator scapula, middle and posterior scalenes, and the supraspinatus.

Treating this pervasive trigger point epicenter on one’s own is compounded by the fact that to apply the most effective vertical pressure to it, one must push top-down into the shoulder. Even most thumbs (both trained and untrained), tire quickly when scrubbing along this supraspinous gutter that runs from neck’s bottom to the head of the humerus. These approaches are generally awkward for the giver but even more importantly, the source of pain tends to continually escape into hiding along the many folds of various muscular fiber directions exposed here.

Here is a way to finally treat yourself without having to exhaust yourself. This Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball solution allows you to get the most beneficial angle of approach while laying down in a relaxed position and using your feet to push instead of your thumbs.

                                                                                                                          

About the Author

Lillee headshotLillee Chandra, the founder of Chandra Bodyworks ,has a distinct approach to massage therapy and yoga that is fueled by more than 20 years of experience in competitive sports, movement arts, health education, and therapeutic bodywork. Her diverse clinical training, keen intuition, and exceptional hands-on skills have distinguished her as a leader among fitness and health communities. She is a known specialist in postural re-education, pain management, and injury and illness rehabilitation. Thai Yoga Massage, Craniosacral work, and Yoga Tune Up® strongly inform her hands-on therapies.

Her unique style of working with the body is significantly sculpted and nurtured from advanced trainings with Ana Forrest and Glenn Black, and now more recently, from her mentorship with Jill Miller.

In addition to her full-time private massage therapy practice in CT, Lillee continually extends her professional reach to students and teachers throughout the US by developing and leading anatomy and yoga teacher trainings, workshops and classes.

Lillee has taught at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, is a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), and is a certified Yoga Tune Up® (YTU) Integrated Teacher. She is a top assistant to Jill Miller, a contributing author and editor for YTU articles and training curriculum and leads YTU Anatomy modules and YTU Teacher trainings nationally. She is currently concluding her Clinical Orthopedic Massage Certificate with Dr. Joseph Muscolino.

trapezius image by Anatomy for Sculptors

 

Shoulders Tug of War

Woman with upper back and neck painWhen I keep seeing a theme in my practice I know it’s time to write about it here on FFF. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of people who are suffering from pain in their neck and upper shoulders/back, and they are trying to relieve or resolve the pain by pulling their shoulders down and away from their head, only to find that this makes the pain worse. While “pull your shoulders down” doesn’t exactly make my movement cue hall of shame (like, say, “tuck your pelvis” or “lift your chest” do), it does make my movement hall of lack-of-nuance. Since that just rolls of the tongue so easily, we’ll go with that.

“Pull your shoulders down” is one of those things that many people are mistakenly under the impression they need to be constantly vigilant about. In reality, most people’s shoulders are a totally fine distance from their head, and so when they are tugging their shoulders down, in what is a chronically overtaxed and tight area for most in our culture, they wind up agitating their soft tissue instead of relieving it. It’s kind of like the tension put on the rope in tug of war. If both teams are pulling the rope is taught. Tugging harder on the rope isn’t going to make it longer, it’s just going to pull the team on the other end around while creating more force and strain on the rope. When what we’re talking about is your tissue instead of a rope: Ouch.  In short, you can’t force yourself past an end range and expect to find more space. Instead you will find more strain.

Here’s where the lack of nuance issue comes in; Yes, most of us in our culture are suffering from overworked and tight muscles in this area. Namely the upper trapezius, levator scapula, and scalenes. Plenty of other things come into play because there are no local problems, but these places are for sure gummed up and tight. And when these places are tight, they can contribute to an upwards creep of the shoulders. But things aren’t always short and tight. We can have plenty of places that are pulled long and tight, and that happens a lot in the upper shoulders and neck.

Regardless of whether you are a “long and tight” or “short and tight” person in this area, because of the sensitivity of the tissue here, tugging the shoulders down often just lights up the pain pattern. It can also be useful to know how nerve rich an area this is. In particular, the ulnar and median nerves exit your cervical spine (neck vertebrae) here to weave their way through your shoulder and down the arm. And nerves just don’t like getting yanked on.

So what to do for your cranky shoulders, neck, and upper back? First, the ultimate goal should be for the shoulders to rest, not for them to be chronically pulled downward with muscular effort. Second, giving the tissue some slack in your stretches for it often helps to unglue the area more effectively. And lastly, external rotation is your friend. Let’s talk about each one at a time.

Nuance! We like it in our movement cues! Here goes:

  • Shoulders are designed to rest. The beautiful design of our interior architecture is made precisely so that we can be supported from the inside out, not so that we need to be constantly efforting. I think sometimes we forget that the goal is to feel supported and fluid rather than to be striving in the direction of perfection (Wow I could go on a long tangent here about what that means about our cultural conditioning! Another time…). In other words, your tissue has got your back. That’s what it is designed to do. In the case of our shoulder girdle (which just means the entirety of what we define as shoulder structures), the clavicle, scapula, and humerus, and all the soft tissue that emerges from and weaves into those bones, make up this lovely structure that just rests on top of your ribcage. So before you do anything else, first ask if you really need to be pulling your shoulders down. Take a good look in the mirror. Are your shoulders really masquerading as ear muffs? Really?  In my experience, that is not the case for many people. If your shoulders seem to be a just fine distance from your head, why not give up yanking them down and see if this act of not doing actually resolves or relieves your pain. I have seen in many of my clients that when they stop forcing this corrective on themselves that they get better.
  • Give your tissue some slack. My brilliant Yoga Tune Up® colleague Lillee Chandra has a great way of describing this. She says that it’s kind of like when you have a drawer that’s stuck, and you keep yanking on it in the hopes that you’ll free the drawer to glide again, but it won’t budge. Ultimately what really frees the drawer is to stop yanking on it, and to actually push it back in until it gets back on its track, and then it slides open without the slightest glitch! A simple way to do this is by rolling your shoulders instead of pulling them down. You go through a full rotation of bringing them up to your ears, down towards your back, and then to rest in neutral. Another way to play with this is with the extreme trapezius shrug, which is in the video below and is from the Yoga Tune Up lexicon.
  • External rotation is your friend. Much of what we perceive as shoulders that are “too high” are actually shoulders that are internally rotated. Because we primarily use our arms in one configuration in our culture (out in front of us and internally rotated at the humerus while typing, texting, holding the steering wheel, carrying groceries, lifting weights, etc, etc) we tend to get stuck in internal rotation. Go back to your mirror and internally rotate your humerus (upper arm bone) as much as you can on one side. Does that shoulder now appear higher than the other side? And if you now externally rotate the humerus (the pit of the elbow will begin to face out) does that shoulder now appear lower? Magic! This doesn’t mean you need to be walking around in forced external rotation, but it can be a much more useful direction to stretch in than simply pulling the shoulders down. I also demonstrate this and talk about it in the video below.

Enjoy! And be kind to your shoulders. Give those guys a break this holiday season, ok?

And now on to the video:

   

DIY Friday: Healthy Pregnancy and Beyond

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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.*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy baby making!

photo by Bethany Brown

 

 

DIY Friday: Too Tight and Too Loose Ankles

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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.*

People are frequently plagued by seemingly disparate, but often intertwined, problems with their ankles. More specifically the curse of the too tight ankle, and the curse of the too loose ankle.

Too tight ankles are a pain in the butt for things like doing squats, and for walking and running in ways that won't agitate your spine (because you need ankle mobility for normal biomechanical movement of the spine- true story!).

Too loose ankles are known by their partner in crime: the constantly repeating ankle sprain and the nagging sense that you can't trust bearing weight to the all important weight bearing ankle.

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So whether you're a tight-ankled person or a chronic sprainer- or a combo platter of both as your ankle tries to stabilize and find a happy home base- here are some excellent resources for your self care needs:

  • Did that leave you hungry for more!? Did you totally fall in love with that Wheelies in the Park move!? I thought so. Here Katy talks shop re: ankles with more precision, and also includes the inspiration for the wheelies move, a video by the brilliant Jill Miller. (Seriously the Wheelies in the Park is one of my new favorite things and has my neighbors worried, yet again, about my sanity as I play with them in my yard).
  • Lastly, Jill makes another ankle-relevant cameo, but this time with Kelly Starrett on MobilityWOD. He talks about the important piece of the fibular head being able to "get out of the way" so the ankle can move. I see this particular stuck-ness a lot in my practice. And Jill, the chocolate to his peanut butter, comes to the rescue with a therapy ball move to mobilize that. Do not do this with anything harder than a therapy ball. Please and thank you.

Go forth and have happy ankles.

photo by Generation X-Ray 

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

DIY Friday: Keeping Your Body Complaint Free At Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To address our need for constantly varied movement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIY Friday: Make Your Jaw Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without further ado, I give you Jill and Kelly:

photo by Theen

DIY Friday: Skin Rolling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now watch the video and go for it!

photo by Charles Fred

DIY Friday: Ode to Yoga Tune Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIY Friday: From Boring to Badass

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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.*

We are a culture of doers. We love to do the hell out of stuff. I myself have been doing the hell out of things this summer, traveling, so far, to Munich, Seattle, Portland, and Boulder. By this time next week Saratoga Springs, NY and Ojai, CA will be added to the list. And while I have thouroughly delighted in such a spectacularly full summer and all the places it has taken me, it also has me thinking a lot about over-doing in my own life, and, since this is how I roll, what happens when we overdo it with our bodies. Or more to the point when we decide to value living at the brink of collapse personally or physically. This train of thought has led me (Buddhists, prepare to not be surprised) to thinking about all of the "boring" stuff and how, with a whiff of irony, when we engage in the "boring" things everything actually seems to get more badass. In my personal life I am now setting aside 10 minutes a day to meditate. My mind makes all kinds of excuses to avoid it, but when I set the actual timer on my phone for 10 minutes it's hard to argue with what a small thing that is. And when I start my day with a clear mind, I am light years more fruitful throughout the day.

1034410859_a9ca87bf88_bBodies are similar. Endlessly squeeze every last scrap of energy out of them and they start to suck. But try out some of the boring stuff and hey now! Suddenly you're a superhero. So in the spirit of reclaiming yourself, here are a few of my favorite resources about how doing less can reap more rewards:

  • First up, Justin Archer, aka The Posture Guy, has put up a great video resource on some Egoscue postural realignment tricks in his post here. I've mentioned my video on constructive rest before, and for those of you who are fans, this is a great way to try out new forms of resting constructively. The video is long-ish (Ha! 11 minutes! But we live in a world where 11 minutes is now a "long" video), but particularly for those of you who are dealing with back pain (especially low back pain), groin/inguinal ligament pain, and psoas strain or injuries, this is a gold mine. Boring, sure, but gold if you want to feel better. This is also some pretty magical stuff for those of you who just feel "off", like you are crooked, or slumping and always at war with your fascia. Oh, and Justin did tell me about the prism spectacles, which allow you to watch TV or read while laying down. My academic clients from Yale are going to love these things! And there are always books on tape... Here's the video: 

  • If you want more of these goodies, you can also check out Pete Egoscue's book, Pain Free
  • And of course no discussion about the boring stuff that actually makes you more badass would be complete without a chat about over training. Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple does the best job of this that I've seen, so you can head over here to read his excellent article, 8 Signs You Are OvertrainingA great outtake: "No activity is worse than some, while too much may be worse than none at all." The only thing he doesn't cover very much is what a slog it is to recover from over training. It can require weeks, and frequently months, off, which is spent dealing with pain and a fatigue that makes you feel underwater most of the time. I have seen some pretty profound cases of this, particularly in the university athletes who have already been over trained by the time they arrive as Freshman, only to undergo the grueling regimen that competing at that level requires. Many have seen their athletic career end far too soon, and are left grappling with a host of injuries and punishing exhaustion. Things that, in my opinion, should be considered highly unusual in people in their late teens and early twenties. (But then again I think they should be considered highly unusual in most people).
  • And lastly, I'll leave you with my two favorite non-body related posts on the plague of overdoing (busyness) and what it is costing us, just in case you find them as delightful as I did: Busyness is Laziness by Dr. Reggie Ray- favorite outtake: "By being busy you are basically giving away your human existence."- and The Busy Trap  by Tim Kreider of the New York Times- favorite outtake: "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

And with that, go forth, be boring, be lazy, be idle, and thrive. 

Photo by Jenny Potter

DIY Friday: Run Smarter

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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.*

7951627190_9b75735982_cThis week I put my interview with Jae Gruenke of The Balanced Runner up as a delicious treat for all you runners out there. So I thought I'd follow it up by dedicating this DIY Friday to The Balanced Runner's Five Running Form Tips You've Never Heard Before. There is so much lousy information out there about how to be a better (faster, more efficiently, and injury free) runner, but this stuff is gold. Enter The Balanced Runner team:

 

 

Video #1- Dealing with Tight Shoulders: 

'Video #2: Dealing with Sore Knees:

 

Video #3: The Trouble with Being Too Upright, and How To Avoid It:

Video # 4: How to Avoid Working Too Hard:

'Video #5: How to Avoid Overstriding: 

 

photo by Matt Brock

DIY Friday: Plantar Fasciitis

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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.*

A recent chat with the Facebook tribe started to go down the plantar fasciitis rabbit hole, so here I am dedicating a DIY Friday to it! I also have an interview coming up next week with Jae Gruenke, founder of Balanced Runner, and since so many runners struggle with plantar fasciitis it seemed like a theme was emerging.

First, what the heck is plantar fasciitis? The short version is that the plantar fascia (fascial sheet on the bottom of your foot) begins to pull away from it's attachement on the calcaneus (heel bone) and you wind up with some pretty gnarly burning heel and foot pain. In the book Born to Run* author Christopher MacDougall describes it as the runner's version of a vampire bite, because, as runner legend has it, once you're "bitten" with plantar fasciitis many feel you are never the same again. Well breathe deep because I'm here to tell you that plantar fasciitis is one of those things that I actually have in the "easy" category in my brain simply because I see it resolve so often and so readily. Which isn't to say it doesn't take some doing, but here's how:

  • Erik Dalton is a brilliant manual therapist and teacher, and this video is the clearest description I have found of what is actually going on in plantar fasciitis. The article that precedes the video also does a fanstasic job of explaining how it's not just your foot. It's never just one thing. Never, ever. But it's always helpful to be educated on the more global view of any condition, which is what this article handily does! If you are a manual therapist, there is also great content here on how you can treat it in your clients. If you are not a manual therapist, please don't go grabbing your friend's leg and shoving and shaking stuff around! It actually takes a good bit of learning in order to effectively contact fascia and to know how to appropriately work joints like he does in the video, so just mashing on your buddies is likely to cause more harm than good. The article is here, and the video is at the end of it.

 

  • Speaking of taking a global view, as Dalton mentions in his article, "Plantar fasciitis often results from lack of individuality of motion in the calf muscles due to adhesions." That is very true, and taking it a bit further, it is an issue with the whole posterior chain of fascia. Otherwise known as the "superficial back line" as defined by Tom Myers Anatomy Trains work. Here is a great image of that line. So, if you want to resolve your plantar fasciitis, give due attention to everything here along the chain as well.

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  • Oh look! Here's recently interviewed Sue Hitzmann of the MELT Method preaching it like she teaches it, and is also talking about plantar fasciitis as a global issue:

  • Oh wait! What do we have here!? It's Katy Bowman of Restorative Exercise talking about plantar fasciitis as a global issue (in particular those persnickity hamstrings with some data that talks about why). Hmmm, maybe it's not just about the foot...

Ok, ok, taking all this good input about how it's not just your foot and moving forward with a healing plan for yourself here's what I actually like, a lot, for treating plantar fasciitis:

Smart fascial manual therapy from either a practitioner, or you can MELT at home.

Softness! Learning how to soften your foot is a game of coaxing it to let go, not of yanking it around. I like hamstring stretches that have a fully dorsiflexed ankle (bring toes toward shin) so that you're not missing tight bits in your calves. This would look like lying on your back with a strap around the ball of your foot, and flexing at your hip to bring the foot closer to the ceiling. Though stop when you hit your own end range with the flexed ankle (rather than pointing the toe to get farther). You can also stretch standing on a slant board like this one, again, I like a soft surface to a slant board, and it is also very helpful to think about really letting all the musculature of your foot soften into is as you stretch. Think of your plantar fascia as warm, gooey silly putty that is just oozing onto the slant board. Do not hyperextend at the knee or shove your pelvis forward ofyour ankles while standing on a slant board.

Alexander Technique. Speaking of letting the musculature go, I find so many people micro grip in their feet as a result of stress, or strain and pain patterns elsewhere in the body. I love Alexander Technique as a way to learn about your own micro grips and how to find a way to let them go. I recommend working with a teacher, rather than doing this alone at home, as you will need trained eyes to point out things you have become totally blind to in your own body. Most people are amazed at how much they are subconsciously clawing at the floor with their toes. No really.

* Footnote: If you haven't read Born to Run I highly recommend it. And if you are a runner, I practicaly require it (if I could do such a thing). It has a lot of  fascinating information, particulary when it comes to the evolution of highly engineered running sneakers paralleling the evolution of highly unpleasant runner injuries, and is also a beautifully written and engaging story.

DIY Friday: MELT Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*MELT stands for Myofascial Energetic Lengthening Technique

DIY Friday: Upper Back and Shoulders Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go forth and have happy shoulders!

photo by hiromy

DIY Friday: Upper Back and Shoulders Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

photo by Sam MacKenzie

 

DIY Friday: 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

DIY Friday: Losing Our Heads (and How To Regain Them)

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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.*

The screens! The screens! What a love hate relationship I/we have with them! One the one hand... Um hi there! I wouldn’t even be communicating with any of you without them. Among many other things, technology has given lots of people a voice and a gathering place here in The Land of Blog, and for that I am hugely grateful.

7275218206_4888f9a1a1_bBut as an embodied person, who happens to write about embodiment via this handy computer I am currently on, ugh! Frustrating! I also notice that running 3 businesses means that I am now fully addicted to my phone as well, bowing my head to its screen as if in some weird prayer ritual a gajillion times a day to respond to emails and texts. Do I need to do it that often? No, but alas I am working on my “rat to the pellet lever” type addiction to the thing. And I suspect I’m not alone. Look around you. We are the pre-cyborgs. Carrying around our not-yet-built-in gadgets and bowing our heads down to the ever beckoning screens.

The addiction piece is a big one here, but, apologies, for now I’m going to leave you guys to grapple with that one on your own, while I grapple with it on my own. (And hey now, if you have handy tips for being less addicted, add them to the comments below). We will instead talk about what is going on when we lose our heads and how to retrieve them before we are feeling 90 years old at any age.

First, there is the obvious impact on the spine. Anyone who has had low back problems is probably very familiar with decoding what I mean when I write “L4/L5, L5, S1”. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, I am referring to a grouping of your lowest vertebrae in your spine, and this bit of letter plus number body code speak is actually quite well known these days by laypeople because so many people have disk herniations* at these levels of the spine. In other words, if you didn’t know what I meant you are in a lucky minority. This epidemic of herniations has happened because the scourge of sitting has been going on for long enough and people do it for so many hours in every day, and improperly by sitting with a tucked under pelvis instead of on their sit bones (aka the ischial tuberosities).  But that's fodder for another post…

Back to the neck: I predict, and I’m definitely not alone here in my prediction, that “C6/C7, C7/T1” will be the new hot trend in disc herniations. I kid. But seriously, we’re headed for some trouble here (as in, we’re already in trouble here and it’s going to get worse.)  These levels of the spine are at a different transition point, right where your neck ends and back begins. In other words, right where you hinge forward when you look at your phone or your while-curled-up-on-the-couch laptop screen. We’re going to see a ton of unpleasantness here, and for those of you with kids (I’ve got a 6 year old) their generation is being primed for this at a very young age. So save yourself and your kids by starting a family project of reclaiming your heads.

Now on to the DIY:

Regain your head intervention #1:

Remember that phone prayer bow that I described earlier? Here’s how I break the cycle:

  • First, a little movement experiment: Get up from your computer and, bow your head forward as if you were looking at your phone. In other words, drop your head and narrow your gaze as if you were looking at a screen. Keep your head and vision like that and then take a little walk around the room you’re in.  Do you feel 90? Well you look 90, so knock it off. Losing your head instantly ages you everywhere, not just in your neck. You start getting shuffle-y all over the place.
  • So let’s reclaim the top of your head first, shall we? Without tugging your head up like you had some imaginary traction device on, simply bring your head back to normal (it bears repeating: do not pull your head up to the ceiling in mock good posture, or shove your chin back to flatten your neck out. This only sets you up for a different pain pattern whilst giving you an attractive double chin).
  • Now you have simply brought your head back up away from looking at the imaginary phone. If you heeded my warning about not tugging your neck long, you’re likely still a little forward with the carriage of your head. Goofy as it may feel, give yourself a gentle tapping on the crown of your head, or the very top most point of your head. This invites an awareness in of where the top of your head is. You can then gently(again no tugging!) follow that awareness to an upright head posture.
  • The top of the head is a very common body blind spot these days. Most of us (including me on my heavy phone use/Rolfing client days) lose connection to that. The gentle crown o’ the head tap is so simple but can have a huge result. Pepper it throughout your day. It may have the bonus effect of making your boss think you are having a nervous breakdown and inviting you to take a personal day. It’s worth a shot.
  • Next up (you’re still standing right? I’m going to make you walk around more) let’s play with your vision. The other thing that shuts down our body-wide movement potential is this narrowing of the gaze via the tunnel vision that exists only for the screen. So instead, start looking very consciously with your peripheral vision. Notice if that feels weird. For most of  us these days it does, because we  wear the imaginary screen blinders for such large portions of our day.
  • Keep that “looking through your peripheral vision” action going and now take a walk around the room. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit off balance. Your peripheral vision is likely rusty, and you need to reclaim it gradually. This impacts your actual vision, but also, as I mentioned, movement potential and responsiveness (what if a ninja attacks your from the side after all?). Play with turning your peripheral vision on consciously through the day.  This is one you can do without anyone even knowing you’re expanding your movement vocabulary, so go for it.

Regain your head intervention #2:

Want a longer, more upright neck? Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up® shows you how to lengthen the tissue on the front of your neck, mainly the platysma and scalenes muscles, which, when shortened,  are a large part of why people turn into vultures. Go slow and use broad touch with this. Imagine you are trying to slowly and gently warm up and stretch a piece of dense taffy. Rubber band snapping sensations are no good. 

Regain your head intervention #3: 

Kelly Starrett of Mobility WOD has got you covered for addressing positioning when using your phone and computer. Check it out in his post, Death by Texting. And please heed his warning when he says that he's not asking you to stick your chest out when you externally rotate your arms. Don't shove your chest forward with this! That will only agitate your neck over the long term. 

Lastly, why not cap this all off with a laugh by checking out The Oatmeal's comic on The Evolution of our Spines and Speech. Hilarious perfection. 

Go forth and use your gadgets without hating on your neck!

*Important footnote: The diagnosis of a disc herniation is, in my opinion, a hugely simplified view of what’s going on when people experience back pain. Beyond it being simply my opinion, data shows  that pain frequently does not correlate with what is going on with the discs. Often times when a thing can be easily measured, as in, “Look! There it is on the MRI!” people get told it is the whole story. But nothing in our bodies exists in isolation, so there is always a myriad of other things going on with the muscles, fascia, nerves, etc. So for the purpose of this blog I am using the simplified “disc herniation” issue to illustrate specific locations in your body clearly. It’s also handy because many people know what I mean via the diagnoses they have been given. But please know that it’s not just your discs I’m referring to here, and when you have a musculoskeletal/fascial issue it’s never just one thing. We just happen to live in a culture that loves a good bullet point. But bodies are not bullet points.

Photo by Roger G1

DIY Friday: The Mysterious Bum Knee

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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.*

When I was interviewing Christine Jablonski about her rehabilitation from a nasty knee injury, she and I spoke off camera about the fact that the vast majority of knee stuff that we both see with clients is actually not precipitated by an injury, and instead is given that lamest of lame labels (I hate even typing this phrase. I seriously might break out in hives over here.) "normal wear and tear".

Give me a moment while I clear the flash of white rage from my eyes... What!?! I'm sorry but people in their 80's or 90's can talk about "wear and tear" (and even then I've got a lot to say about it), otherwise it is simply far from "normal" for knees to wear out, to the point of requiring either "clean up" surgery or a total knee replacement. So the orthos at some point decided to use the term "wear and tear" instead of the less appealing: "I have no idea why your knee is shot." Or the more honest, "My medical training- which is about performing surgery on people- and world view tell me that our bodies simply wear out for no good reason, so I'm going to throw you into that pile." So get ready for it: If you are using your joints with integrity, i.e. how they are designed to function, then they will not be "wearing" or "tearing". They will simply be doing what they are designed to do, and functioning. 

As Kelly Starrett points out in his book Becoming a Supple Leopardour tissues are designed to last roughly 110 years. Going farther, Starrett clarifies that 1 percent of musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction is due to pathology (i.e. there is some serious disease process going on, for example cancer instead of a torn meniscus), and another 1 percent is due to catastrophic injury (like the kind Christine and I discussed). Which leaves a full 98 percent of dysfunction (98 percent!!!) due to overtension (missing range-of-motion), and open circuit faults (moving in a bad position). In other words, most of our dysfunction, or wearing and tearing, is a result of misusing our own bodies.

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Now before you go shaming yourself into a stupor, please remember that you didn't do this on purpose. Sure you probably ignored some signals that you were pushing it, but mostly it was that you never got the owner's manual on how to use your body with integrity. And sadly we now live in a culture where we are disconnected from that and are doing things our bodies really don't benefit from. Like sitting in chairs, or typing on laptops. But I for one and not going to give up the glory of technology to become a hunter gatherer (I am both sitting and typing on a laptop right now), so let's instead go the route of getting some insight on how not to wind up with the mysteriously bum knee.

Which brings me, finally, to this week's DIY Friday round-up. Both of these posts are courtesy of Vital Gaitway. And sometimes all I can say is, just, wow. Both of these posts are gloriously thorough in explaining how to use your knees with integrity. But as our knees are connected to our everything, they are so much more. If you've ever wondered about healthy standing, walking, or sitting, or just plain how and why do our joints wear out when we're not aligned, well then, this is a treasure trove. It's a bundle of information, and I know we're all time pressed, so I suggest you print them out and make your way through them gradually. The nuggets of wisdom in them are worthy of your time. For reals.

Fixing Your Knees Without Surgery Part 1

Fixing Your Knees Without Surgery Part 2

Enjoy!

*And if you missed it, Christine also gave us her top Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball moves in last week's DIY Friday.

Images by Vital Gaitway

DIY Friday: Meet the Knee Whisperer

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

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

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

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

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

*All therapy ball sizes can be found here!

Photo by coba