Aston Kinetics

My 20 Favorite Moments From Season One (Part 1)

6151476235_7200e501bd_zLast week I sat down to write a post on some of what I learned from season one of the podcast... and it turned into a 3 parter. Brevity just isn't my gift. Sometimes there's just too much goodness to condense it into a short article. So this week is part 2 of 3, where I begin getting into my favorite moments from some of the episodes. Initially started as a "top 5" list, it's now 20 items long. Oops. One through ten are this week, the final ten will be up next week. Here are some of my favorite mind-blowing moments; the things that have stayed with me and continue to dart around my brain and body on a daily basis: 1. We are built more like foams than like buildings. “Essentially we are foams” according to Dr. Stephen Levin. Whaaaaa!? Mind. Blown. This talk is, as one of the listener’s who wrote me said, a “braingasm”. So if you want to get friendly with biotensegrity and the miracle of the omnidirectional icosahedron (I just wanted to see how many syllables I could fit into two words) and how its shape is our most fundamental building block from the cellular level on up, give it a listen.

2. Every step I take is a conversation I’m having with the planet. “This relationship of gravity and this force that the opposite force is called ground reaction force or the secondary force of gravity.It actually literally pushes everything off the planet toward the stars. A lot of people know about these forces but it’s how you maximize and optimize the use of pushing off the ground and relaxing into it to be weighted... it’s a dynamic recycling of gravity and ground reaction.” Thank you Judith Aston, you have forever changed my walks through the woods (or anywhere for that matter).

3. That whole core stability altar we’ve all been worshipping at for years (myself included)? Yeah, turns out that’s a wild misinterpretation and misapplication of the data. Dr. Eyal Lederman: “Basically there are no sub-systems in the body. There’s not a sub-system called core muscles. We’d like to believe there are muscle chains and some kind of system of core, global, muscles, and so on, but it just doesn’t exist in human movement.”

4. We have to take our whole lifestyle into consideration when we train, or we are at risk of injuring our neuro-endocrine system, and (let me tell you from experience) that’s a slow one to heal. Dr. Steve Gangemi, “I’ve done enough Ironmans in the past where you’re just running your health down just that little bit to exceed that little bit extra. It’s okay if you do that for a competition but you’ve got to be careful about doing that too much, too often because the next thing you know you don’t recover well or you end up with some chronic injury that you just can’t resolve and you can’t figure out. Because it’s due to an actual physical depletion of vitamins, minerals, hormones in your body and not just a straight out structural shin splint, shoulder problem or whatever type injury. It’s not local. It’s becomes more systemic.”

5. “The study of anatomy does bring us into a much deeper understanding of ourselves if we’ll let it.” Hallelujah Gil Hedley, hallelujah! I asked Gil how he feels the model of the body that we’re functioning from is determining our behavior towards our body, and he replied: “The thing is that anatomy is generally understood as this naming of things based on the cutting up of them. It generates a very abstract set of information and categories. I literally mean abstract meaning the levels of tissue have been drawn away from other levels of tissue. Abstraho literally means to draw away from, so we draw one thing away from another, and then we develop a mental conception of it. Every time you approach a body with an idea, and then execute that idea with a knife, you’re making up anatomy, because there is no such thing as a liver on a tray. There is no such thing as a skin unto itself, except through a process of dissection, and abstraction. Those aren’t realities. The reality is this whole flesh and blood pulsing experience that we’re all wandering around with.

Then we get our abstraction built, and then we say, “Oh, okay. There’s this muscle, rectus femoris, there this muscle adductor magnus, there’s this thing in our chest, the heart, and that’s a pump. The other one abducts and the other one adducts. We have all of these very abstract, conceptions. Then we approach with our techniques people, and we see them move, and we have that set of abstractions in our brain, and we say, “Well.” It’s like a math problem, and we add it up, and say, “Well, this should be doing that because of what they’re doing there. Then we apply our abstraction to the form, and try and make it emulate what our abstractions tell us it should be instead of taking in a given whole set of compensations and helping it to function better.

The actual functional person is always a gestalt of all the systems, and all of the hopes and dreams, and all of the life processes, and all of the trillions of cells streaming. In other words, that’s what’s happening in front of you, not, “Oh, we’re having difficulty abducting our x, y, z. Which would be cured by strengthening the a, b, c.” I don’t think we work that way.

I don’t think I’ve fallen too far from the Rolfian [Rolfing] tree in my aspirations along with you to transform culture. She was looking to cultivate a more mature human being, and I feel that I’m wanting to do the same, at least for my part. I feel that part of that maturity lies in an acceptance and learning from the body.”

6. Support and stability are not the same thing! It’s support we need more of, and our grasping at creating stability isn’t helping us to find it. Mary Bond, “I’d like to make a distinction between support and stabilization. Support is something we receive. We allow ourselves to be supported. Lots of times, that’s a problem.We can’t, for some reason or another because of habituation. It makes it difficult for us to trust that we could allow ourselves to be supported by the ground or by another human, by the table. Support is something that we take in and allow.

Stabilization is something that we do. We stabilize the core in order to push off from the ground and lean into the air, for example. We need stabilization, but in this culture of hyper-fitness, there’s too much emphasis on stabilization. I think it’s because we lack support and people don’t see that. They don’t see that distinction.”

7. Tissue damage does not correlate particularly well with pain. Todd Hargrove: “Pain is an unpleasant conscious experience and it is designed to protect you against what the brain perceives as a threat to the body to motivate you to do something about it. Pain is an output of the brain- it is something the brain creates to warn you of the situation.

The reason I make that clear is that sometimes we get confused about pain and tissue damage. Tissue damage is damage in the body. It results in a sensory signal, a nociceptive signal coming from that damaged area. That’s not pain yet. The damage is just damage, and the signal is just a signal. It goes up into the brain and then the brain decides what to do about it. It’s not going to create pain unless it decides, ‘This is a dangerous situation, we need to create pain to protect us from that potentially dangerous situation.’ It might decide, ‘I hear those nociceptive signals, but I don’t want to create pain right now because I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ For example, if you were a soldier, and a toe got cut off, it would surely activate nociceptors in the foot and send a signal, but the brain might not create pain, because the pain might not promote your survival very well. The brain might think, ‘We’re not going to create pain because we need to run across this field and to get out of this emergency situation.’ That’s why people often don’t feel pain in emergency situations.

On the other hand, there might be a relatively innocuous situation going on in the foot, and there is sensory information coming into the brain, and the brain for some reason interprets it as a very dangerous situation for the foot, and so can feel a lot of pain even though there is not a lot of tissue damage. That might be why tissue damage doesn’t correlate all that well with pain. It’s because the important decisions are being made in the brain by the neuromatrix. The brain can be confused. Something happens in the body, the sensory organs report it, and it’s like a big game of telephone. The spinal cord receives that information from the body, it can suppress that signal, it can amplify that signal, it can misinterpret that signal as it goes to the brain.”

8. When you give some love to the tissues, you can heal the issues. Jill Miller, “I put out a call when I started writing this book [The Roll Model Method] to ask folks who had been using the Yoga Tune Up® balls for their story and I expected to get a lot of stories about rotator cuff tears, knee stuff, back stuff… all these musculoskeletal things. I ended up getting all these stories  from people with Lupus, or MS, or cancer recovery- there was this disease category. But the category that most surprised me and most filled my spirit are the stories of people who dealt with unbelievable emotional trauma.

I am a psychological runner- a runner from the family dynamics that were not supportive to my own expression of emotion. I shut down in my own way. I starved myself, I threw up, I used my body aggressively. A lot of people wouldn’t think yoga is aggressive but I literally stretched myself end to end and destabilized my body completely. I was that yogini that could do everything- I could do all kinds of crazy-town things. I was in a lot of denial about my own aches and pains, I was in denial about my compulsion to practice. It destroyed relationships, it affected friendships, it affected my job.

Addiction to food is really difficult to deal with. You need to eat to live. I did heal that part and then it transmuted into this other pie-piece of addiction which was an addiction to stretching. Stretching calms you down- that’s one of the great things about stretching. It turns off your stress switch. I was addicted to that because I  was so freaked out on the inside.

I do think that in the exercise and fitness industry the dirty little secret is that there is a lot of body dysmorphia- there is a lot of intense dislike of the body. My goal is for everyone to live playfully and peacefully.”

9. Giving the prescription to "just move more" is missing whole universes of information about what we are truly lacking in our contemporary domesticated human environment. Katy Bowman: “The generalization of quantifying things- like saying an Orca swims in the ocean, so the Orca can swim in a tank, that way the “swimming” box is checked, therefore this [the floppy fin problem of Orcas in captivity] could not be  disease of mechanotransduction.

You need to break down swimming into something more specific. You can call swimming a macronutrient, but if you look at the micronutrients the questions are: What were the distances covered by whales in the ocean? What are the speeds that are normal for a whale to swim? What about swimming in a circle, is that normal?

Where we are with movement is where we were with nutrition 40 years ago. We say, ‘Just move more!’ if a whale in captivity were to just swim more, it would make the flopped fin worse. Moving more might bring about even more of the forces that brought about the disease of mechanotransduction- in this case the flopped fin. It might make things worse.

At the end of the day swimming more wasn’t really the problem. If you walked in a circle everyday, you would notice that your body became shaped to that. Then you walk fast in that circle, it will highlight those diseases even faster.

When we say we need to move well or differently, often we say [in this example], ‘Walk in the circle in the other direction.’ You would offset some of the adaptations with that correction, but it’s still treating the symptom.

Corrective exercise is spot-treating these nutrient deficits by creating something novel instead of pulling back and asking what is the actual problem here? What are my actual movement requirements and how can I actually meet those instead of taking the vitamin or pill equivalent?”

10. Be aware (beware) of relying on momentum. Bo Forbes: “Familiarity and discomfort breed momentum. When we move very fast, and when we’re moving into yoga as exercise (which we know is beneficial, so I’m not saying it is a bad kind of practice), but we use momentum to repeat familiar patterns in the body, and to speed up transitions between poses. This is why things stay the same.

The transition between downward dog and lunge is a place where many of us put our bodies into a box that doesn’t fit them. 80% or so of people have a body whose proportions don’t make that shape well, so that in order to transition between those poses we have to do things- like moving fast- to accomplish the transition and we sacrifice the opportunity to not what might be going on that makes it hard to make that transition.

[When we don’t over-rely on momentum] We’re using our practice to awaken more as opposed to creating mastery. Mastery and mindfulness are almost on opposite ends of a spectrum. Where there is mastery usually by definition we have less neuroplasticity- less new learning- we feel very comfortable in those places. We’ve lost the opportunity to gain new neuroplasticity.

If we practice for many years, being able to tolerate that experience of awkwardness- or not mastery- and even seeking it out... If we start with interoception, we bring our awareness to our body and our breath, and the movement is funded from that place.

Momentum affects other parts of our lives- getting carried away with momentum to stay in that relationship you shouldn’t stay in, or that job you don’t want to be in… Our practice can allow us to colonize new areas of awareness in our lives. So if we get angry- and we have difficulty experiencing sadness- cultivating the time to notice that vulnerability underneath the anger can happen via interoception.”


Pure gorgeousness. I'm so grateful to all these people for the good work they are doing in the world. And next week I'll be back with ten more shiny golden nuggets of wisdom from season one.

image by Leo Reynolds

Judith Aston: Our Relationship to Our Bodies and Their Relationship to the World (LBP 034)

I talk to somatic pioneer Judith Aston about the Aston Kinetics paradigm and how it integrates seamlessly with other paradigms like yoga, Pilates, and personal training. We discuss how seeing the body is taught in those disciplines and what seeing the body even means, our bodies not just as self-contained units but also about their interactions with the physical world, thoughts on the impact of product design on our bodies, what the early days of co-creating with Dr. Rolf and other pioneers was like, and the meaning behind her quote, “sometimes we just need help interpreting ourselves.”




Show notes

Brooke: You have been in the movement field for a long time- You're really one of the true pioneers  of the field, so you have a huge breadth of work. Maybe we can start with you telling listeners in your own words what Aston Kinetics is and what you do?

Judith: The general description of Aston Kinetics is a system of movement, body work, fitness and ergonomics. We train people in these forms. Now, this sounds like most systems out there so it's always challenging these days to communicate the differences between different ideas applied to body work, movement, fitness and ergonomics. Basically, it's an educational system about a certain perspective of the body in relationship to itself to the planet and to other people and tasks.

There are concepts that are inherent in the work that we teach people, and really if people learn just even one of these concepts and they apply it to their body use during the day, they can have dramatic differences in the way they feel.

Brooke: It's wonderful that you make it so tangible, you make it so connected to people's day to day movement lives.

Judith: It has to be because people think so often that it's going to the gym for that hour or it's doing the meditation for that hour and those are so helpful but there's a way to meditate throughout the day in the body. There's a way to juice the body up so to speak by the way we move whether we're just reaching for our coffee or we're reaching for the phone or what have you. Suddenly the person has this flow in their body that's really moving the fluids around.

Just to add one more sentence, what I say to people- and this doesn't matter whether it's a class for the public, whether it's a class for elders in their 80's, whether it's professionals- when they learn some of these very basic concepts I say this is a way you can massage your body all day long.

Brooke: I love that. That's perfect. It's really empowering too because instead of people feeling like they have to always be putting their body in other people's hands knowing that they can do that from the inside out on their own.

Judith: The beauty of putting it into your own hands so to speak is that you improve on your own and when you go to see the person who coaches you or gives you body work or helps you with your life coaching you're usually in a more evolved place. You've moved forward so that you're not working on the same stuff because you're keeping the body alive and therefore it doesn't get so attached to the past.

Brooke: I know you teach and communicate with people based on something you call the Aston Paradigm. Can we dive into that a little?

Judith: That's correct. Paradigm is a pattern, a system, a belief and everyone has at least one somewhere. A thousand, depending in terms of their religious belief, in terms of their diet, in terms of their ... I always say to our students please learn to be respectful to people's paradigms because you don't want to impose and say, "You should do this. You have to do this. This is correct and what you're doing is wrong." We don't say that. The piece there is that when you're facilitating you want to evoke the person's ability to communicate.

"Actually, I wouldn't want to be too relaxed because that would imply I'm a loose woman." I had one of my debutantes say to me from the south, she said, "My mother said that when I move like this I'm a loose woman." She said, "But when I move how am I supposed to, my back hurts."

The paradigm: Getting to that- I'm going to tell you the little story the last time my friend drove me to the Kona airport. We hit the first speed bump and he said, "I hate these speed bumps." I said, "Me too." I said, "You know? If you break right before you hit the bump and then you release quickly it puts the weight on the back wheels and  you'll just glide over that speed bump." He stopped enough to turn to me and look at me like, "Who are you? What are you thinking?"

I said, "Try it on the next one." He did and he goes, "That's amazing. Why would you even focus on that?" I said, "It's interesting because my whole life even as a child I've been very aware that I didn't want to do things that hurt me or jolted the body or pushed the body in a ways it didn't need to be." I have to say that that particular way of thinking and problem solving is what allowed me to come up with a paradigm that has these principles that are applied to movement.

As I said all forms of movement- whether it's body work, fitness, sitting, products, the way we are in our body, in relationship to the planet and the sky and to each other. It is definitely a perspective of how the body can move and be on this planet.

Brooke: You have a very non-dogmatic approach obviously and so you don't just work with teachers of your method per se. You've done a lot of training with specific groups like pilates teachers, yoga teachers, personal trainers. When you work with professionals across all these different disciplines are there any themes you're seeing? Whether it's specific to one group like say pilates teachers or just generally about how they are working with the body or things you've picked up on there?

Judith: Yes, this is a very nice segway you just made because again the person who's teaching yoga is teaching a paradigm of either the lineage of that yoga form or there's specific teachers interpretation of that lineage and the paradigm to their students. The first time I did Aston for yoga, I do Aston for yoga, Aston for pilates, Aston for personal training because I add this paradigm to their particular focus and people tell me it just changes and makes everything so much more negotiable.

The first time I did this I started by asking someone to do one asana and someone started and this person said, "Excuse me. I've been doing Iyengar for 35 years and I would never do it like that. I'd never teach it like that."

Okay, we got a room full of everyone from a different form so I talked to my husband and I said, "I don't know whether we'll make it through tomorrow but let's see how this goes." People were pretty attached until we got to this general paradigm of the work that we teach and they could see I could use that this way. The other person said, "That's really helpful if I have the person sequenced the way they get in to that spinal twist differently."

Then they started working with each other and problem solving and oh my goodness it was such ecstatic experience by the end. I love that because these ideas I think the oldest person I've worked with is 96 in all the movement and fitness trainings that I do. She was in an elders group and just watching her have trouble beginning out with her oxygen attachment from the chair to the walker and to stand up out of a chair.

By the time we finished, I think it was the fourth week of the classes, on the last day she pop out of that chair and didn't use the walker and everybody yelled and screamed and applauded. One of these things where it's just so reaffirming and satisfying to be able to help people help themselves so much.

It doesn't matter whether it's a yoga or the pilates. Meaning most therapies, most educational systems are easier to pass along to larger groups and larger numbers of people and students. When they have protocols, recipes and the rules it's easier. You do it or you don't. It's right or it's wrong. You understand that a lot of us had been taught in that way.

I mean I'm sure I pretended to be a great student but the point is I always had these questions and when Dr. Rolf asked me to create the first movement program in 1968 that's what happened. I started and as soon as I got this form based around her work it became outward and visible. I'd say, "Oh," that's a little too effortful. I wonder if we change... and that's how this went.

I love giving the principles of this work to it doesn't matter whether people teach kayaking or stand up paddling, the balance of the body on the board will change when you know how to optimize your neutral.

Brooke:  Another thing that I feel like maybe doesn't get passed down in all these disciplines in a more nuanced way is the concept of really seeing a body- or sometimes a really two dimensional model of seeing can be taught in certain fields. Can you speak to that a little bit? What seeing means for bodies?

Judith: Yes, it's a rather linear approach and it's actually again very easy to use a grid and say, "Your left shoulder is low, your right shoulder is high and that's wrong," and so on and so forth. What was interesting for me is how I came upon the seeing ability. Evidently I had the seeing ability. I can remember at age five being aware that, this is in many articles but I'll just say it briefly that when I would be home and my mother would be somewhere else running an errand or what have you.

I would be with an aunt in the back room but somebody come to the door and want to hand me something for my mother and she would leave and my mother would come home and she'd say, "What's this?" I'd say, "A lady brought that by." She'd say, "What lady brought this by?" I'd say, "I don't know her name but she walked like this."

Brooke: That's great.

Judith: That's Mrs. Brown. Yes, that's Mrs. Brown. I had this ability to watch people and imitate and meme and I use that all through my trainings and my school and my teaching and so on. When I got to the college I was hired by a college to come- and I'm still going to UCLA- but I was hired in 1963 to create movement programs for the athletic department, music department, theater department, community and to create a dance department. That was my task. One of the things in the theater department class was I realized that unless the students who were between 18 and 20 mainly knew their own body first.

They could see it and they could see their fellow actor's body. They really didn't know how to portray someone who was 60 or someone who was limited or someone who was a character in a Shakespearean play. When I got to Dr. Rolf I was injured in a couple of accidents and I went to big search, sit on her doorstep until she had a cancellation to see me. She somehow had done her research on me, in the first session she said, "I understand you design movement programs for people. Could you do that for my work?" I said, "Sure."

Anyway, when I got into auditing the class, Dr. Rolf had a way, a talent, a skill, a brilliance that she could look into a body and see the musculature and the fascia in her mind. I didn't have that ability but I could see position. I would be in the back of the room being silent of course because the auditors are to be silent and the practitioners would be put on the spot. "Okay, okay, what do you see up there?" They go, "I don't know." "What's the matter with you, man? Can't you see that the shoulder is tied on the left?"

I'd be in the back of the room and whoever was standing next to me would say, "What do you see, Judith?" I'd say, "The pelvis is closer to the ground. It's low on the left. The shoulder is high on the left." They walk up to the front they'd say, "I see the pelvis is low on the ... High on the left in the shoulder." She'd say, "Very good. Now, what makes it that way?" So on and so forth. Pretty soon they were coming to me asking for this information so Dr. Rolf said, "You could teach this class."

I said, "Okay. I'll create this class also." We made a combined class of teaching people to see. Now, one of the things is when you have a grid it's very, very easy. It's not three dimensional but it's very easy to see the translations in the body, shifts in the body. The sheers in the body et cetera et cetera. I began to see that yes you can see that the left side is low on the shoulder and high on the right. When I started training the Rolfers in this technique of seeing the body and problem solving I'd say, "Where would you start?"

They said, "It's obvious that the right shoulder has to come down." I said, "How do you know that?" They say, "It's too high." I said, "What if the left side is pushing it up?" They go, "Don't mess with me. Don't mess with me. I see ... " I say, "Okay, those left side could be held short." They'd say, "Okay, I can see that." I'd say, "If so, you'd want to start on the left side." They go, "Aha." I say, "Or the left side could have such low tone that it's hypo tonic in its tissue and therefore you need to do toning first."

Then, they just throw out their hands and go, "This is ridiculous." Because we weren't doing movement, we weren't doing fitness, we weren't doing toning but the point is that I got to that place of being able to show them the need to really be able to see. Then, I found out that you can have excellent alignment along the plumb line that Dr. Rolf used or the medical model used from the ear to the ankle, the malleolus lateral malleolus. You could look at this body and they'd be in perfect alignment and I'd look at them. I'd say, "But their chest is compressed or their back is inflated." I realized it was about the shape of the body. I started adding dimension as the second piece that you've got to look at the relationship between the aspects of the dimension of the segments in relationship to the alignment. Then, from there it was like, okay that's still not good enough. It's got to be the internal volume because you can have those right shoulder high and you can have the left shoulder low.

You can have the chest, the ribs compressed on the right side and inflated on the left. You want to really be able to look through from the right side through to the left from the front through to the back and all the way through all the body segments so that you begin to see that that right shoulder being high and the left side low really fits all the way down to the foundation of the left ankle and the internal rotation of the tibia. Then, now you get to see the relationship of the pattern and that was the Aston Patterning part of the movement work that I created.

Brooke: I remember when I was at the Rolf Institute, one of my teachers saying to me that one of the greatest gifts that we give people with this work is just allowing people to be truly seen. That that doesn't happen that much and I still feel like that's one of the greatest gifts I give people. I don't see them perfectly- I don't have Dr. Rolf's gift- but just that I take the time or all of us in this fields, we take the time to slow down and really look and really try and see that person in front of us. I think this is a big deal.

Judith: In helping people learn to see themselves as they are and to see themselves how they could reclaim rather than see themselves as they are where they are apologizing to us when they walk in and say things like, "I bet you can see that I slump. I mean, I know I slump. Everybody tells me I slump."

Really, the piece that I added immediately when those moments happened was I taught people how to teach people to say, "You know, I see what you're saying about your chest being a little bit lower in front than in back. I'm wondering why your body has to do that pattern. Let's figure that out together." Because if we can figure out what's going on that causes it to do that it can change.

Brooke: We're so shame based about the things we've decided are faulty in our bodies. It's great that you can give that to people in working with them.

I love that you talk not just about our body as this self contained units but also about their interaction with the physical forces of the planet. That's something I think we forget a lot because it's such an assumed constant.

Judith: Indeed. Just being in our own body is enough for most people. Right? What we have to put it through and what it gets put through and the speed of life these days and so on. The technology changing the body and it's relationship to technology has put us into a rather ADD kind of attention span. I think around the word now, the world is so easily accessed but also these move our center of gravity off the planet. I think people don't feel grounded and so on and so forth. There are so many affirmations about how that's happened. One of the pieces that I became aware of and really became such an integral part of the work that I teach is that I heard so often that gravity was the enemy.

That you have to fight it and the way you fought it was by holding up against it. Before I met Dr. Rolf in dance and in different posture classes we were taught to pull up to the sky hook. Dr. Rolf had her own model of the feet very close together then you slightly soft the waistline back slight pelvic tilt, chest out, elbows out, top of the head up, chin in was her alignment pattern of what was correct posture. It also had this up feel, this is a feeling of up that you had to pull up against the force of gravity pulling us down.

When I look at that model I taught it a lot to many, many people but when I looked at it in action I didn't like the effort. This little voice inside me said, "If this is correct, why does it have to be so effortful? If this is correct, why do people not do it naturally?" Therefore I was off jumping in to the field of trying to figure out a different way of finding a better posture and being on the planet. I'm not lifting up. I never saw a sky hook before. The only sky hook I've ever seen are those that hold the skeleton by the head in a screw.

That's the only sky hook I've ever seen. There is no sky hook. If we bounce off the earth, if we let go into gravity it increases this pressure into the ground and it pushes back on us. As children we learn that spontaneously. You're holding the baby's hands while they are learning to stand and they start bending their knees and pushing off the ground. My goodness you put them into what used to be called a Johnny Jump Up and they entertain themselves for hours.

I'm not happy about the product design of the Johnny Jump Up- it is going to create problems with the alignment of the legs and has. The point is that as babies we learn that, as we go into dance we learn that, push off the earth off the floor to jump up. As skiers we learn that. People learn this but what I saw same with the alignment, yes that looks like good alignment but it's too effortful. Yes, you're pushing off the ground but it doesn't go all the way through your body.

It needs to go all the way through your body if you're going to juice the body and get maximum effect from being on the planet and unweighted from being pulled down by gravity. This became an essential concept I would say by mid to late 70's and really refined itself by the late 70's and has been an integral part of everything that I teach. This relationship of gravity and this force that the opposite force is called ground reaction force or the secondary force of gravity.

It actually literally pushes everything off the planet toward the stars. A lot of people know about these forces but it's how you maximize and optimize the use of pushing off the ground and relaxing into it to be weighted. To push off again to reestablish an effort for movement such as raising the arm or doing any task raising your child into the air it's a dynamic recycling of gravity and ground reaction.

Brooke: When I was preparing for this interview and we had a chance to talk briefly before this conversation and we got into this just a bit and it really has been fun to play with because I'm a daily walk in the woods person- Just thinking about the walking as this conversation that I'm having with the grounds like this friendly relationship I'm having with the ground instead of what is my gate pattern and those linear things I can get into because I'm a body person. Making it like a friendly conversation or like you said the dynamic recycling of gravity. It's just such a more easeful and fun and lively way to move.

Judith: We don't weigh the weight of an elevator but if you think about the elevator when we land you bounce, you hit and you bounce a little bit even though it's cushioned and when you get to the top you have this moment of suspension I call it. The moment of suspension is a key place where the most difficult movement can be done and be almost unweighted and the moment of suspension is where we can set ourselves up for the fall of how we want to land. It's so practical from walking as you say a nature walk to running to maximizing your running by knowing how to use gravity and ground reaction. It's fantastic.

Brooke: You touched on this a tiny bit when you spoke about how technology is affecting us and I know that one of the other things that you talk about a bunch is the impact from product designs which is a personal obsession of mine. I'd love to hear you speak on that a little more.

Judith: Sigh. When you see bodies the way we see bodies, and when you come to see that as I did ... I mean, my first work was called Structural Patterning because of Dr. Rolf's Structural Integration and she thought that that sounded okay. The piece there is that I realized that so much of our patterns are functional and you sit in a chair design, it shapes you. It shapes you and you may get out of that chair and have no consequence.

But if you sit in that chair every day for a week, by the end of the week you have a consequence of the design of the chair affecting your breath, affecting your pelvis and bottom, the more the glutes lose their tone. You get shaped into perhaps what people would call a slump or reflection pattern as we would call it by that one chair. That chair was the $1,500 ergonomic chair.

You want to use it for years to get your money for it. I cannot tell you the number of chairs we have modified with our wedges and our cushions and here, this, there, they go, "I cannot believe I paid $1,500 for this chair and for a $100 you're modifying it and I love it."

I thought all babies just had four double chins. I thought that that's just the way they came when I was taking my seeing skills to observing babies being held by parents or an infant seat or car seats et cetera. Then, I said, "I don't think it needs to be that way."

I started modifying all of these things. Teaching parents how to hold their baby in neutral ... Babies don't have four chins and not only that, they love neutral. It's this innate feeling.

Product design, this is an interesting one. I just did because of this nature of mind to be creative and I just can't help myself. At one point I had 300 product designs. I think I took a 175 of the ideas to a patent attorney and I showed up and he said, "Okay, this is overwhelming. I'll get back to you in a week." I said, "Okay, I just hope you could give me some thoughts today." He said, "No, I can't." Anyway, he calls back he said I have the good news and the bad news.

The good news is it seems as though you've discovered a law of nature. The bad news is you can't patent that but we can patent every single product idea. I started and it took five patents just to get one handle. It wasn't financially realistic for me to do that so I have all these product ideas.

Sometimes people are getting closer in these product ideas that are out there. Sometimes they get it but it doesn't come because they came from the body necessarily.They came from the hand or the wrist, or they came from the bottom or they came from the foot, but they didn't connect it to the whole body and that's why it doesn't quite work. Why we still teach people to modify shoes, modify chairs, modify sports equipment, modify helmets and golf clubs and so on and so on and so forth. Maybe before the end of this time on the planet I will do a book on my product ideas.

To realize that the way you sit in the chair at the dentist office affects the equilibration and the way they grind your teeth for the bite or fit you for the appliance, the night guard. The way you sit at the optometrist is going to affect the acuity of your eyes. The way they make you reach forward when you go to the DMV to push on this machine with your forehead so they can test your vision affects the ability to see clearly. All of these things have to do with the ergonomic relationship of the body to the task. To empower people before they go to the dentist, before they go to the optometrist is one of the great joys of my life.

Brooke: I think the more we can realize how much our environment affects us and shapes us and because we are contemporary humans and we are going to be interacting with products. If we can have more human friendly design that takes into account the whole body that would be amazing.

Judith: Exactly, the body is not static it's always dynamic. The more you can encourage and support it being dynamic again all systems are go. When the body has to sit in a chair that has such a strong opinion on it the system shut down in some degree.

Brooke: Absolutely. You have a great quote that I love, "Sometimes we just need help interpreting ourselves," I think it really gets to the heart of your approach being about evoking awareness rather than telling people how to get it right.

Judith: Yes, yes, yes. Many, many years ago I worked with a body worker. This would have been in the 70's and he said, "Why are you asking my clients how they feel? They don't know how they feel. You have to tell them how they feel." What? I think my mouth dropped open I said, "Wow."

Okay, there's a lot of education that needs to happen here. I was Dr. Rolf's Girl Friday in that first training. I did everything, I picked up her cleaning as well as in class I picked up her cleaning. I could get her coffee, I could do all these things for supporting her which I was ... I don't know what that, I was a graceful and always compassionate girl Friday but I was appreciative to be able to assist because I love Dr. Rolf and she deserved assistance in every way.

One of the things she ask me to get her a coffee and I brought it to her and she said, "No, no. You didn't put the cream in first." I said, "No, I didn't." She said, "You put the cream in first and then the coffee." I said, "Okay." Because I'm eager to please her I'm on my way back to the coffee machine and I come back. She goes, "That's much better." I said, because I'm curious, "Why does that matter? What's going on here, Dr. Rolf?" The piece there is that as a biochemist she can explain to you that the first ingredient in anything determines how any other ingredient breaks down.

Okay, now we all know that when we make a recipe that if you put the tomatoes in first followed by onions, peppers et cetera- It's a different flavor if you change the order. This is how famous chefs make their dishes taste different. Okay. They may not know the rule or the principle but the point is they know that this changes it. When you are the person who can offer you wisdom, your experience to a client coming- You still want it all to be where they have the highest percentage of the ingredient first that you add information too. Rather than, "You should, you're wrong, this is the only way. Hold this, add effort," et cetera et cetera.

Brooke: You're mentioning Dr. Rolf a bunch. I have to ask, because I don't get to chat with you every day, she entrusted you to come up with a movement paradigm for the Rolfing work. What was it like in the early days where everyone in this emerging fields were figuring out totally original potentials for accessing health in the human body? I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for some of that.

Judith: Dr. Rolf used that very same line, Brooke. That she was only going to be a fly on the wall when I invited her to show her what I had come up with. She didn't turn out to be a fly on the wall.

Brooke: Somehow I'm not surprised from the stories I've heard.

Judith: She's very, very vocal and active and right in the middle of it- which is what actually what I wanted- and I was surprised by the comment about fly on the wall.

I'm so intrigued that the skills we have as a child- when they can manifest into the thing that we end up doing in our career and loving it- it's so satisfying and rewarding. My skills were creativity, memeing and math. Math and abstract thinking, patterns.

They already had told me that I teach chaos theory and I said, "No, I don't know that." She said, "You teach it." I said, "Okay, fine. Let's not call it that. I'll just keep teaching the way I'm teaching." The piece there is that I could look at a program in the theater department and see how they were working with their actors. I could create a way of teaching them how to take people from where they were to where they wanted them to be for that characterization and back out of it.

I created a movement program for a psychiatrist for his patients. He was a Fritz Perls' trained psychiatrist and I created a program for him. I had so many different experiences of creating movement forms, so I observed and then could get to what were the common denominators of this work. What were the objectives of this work? How could I extrapolate out of that and create and use Dr. Rolf's paradigm?

Her idea about movement was extremely easy by the way. Her idea was you take the Rolf line and you add motion. You initiate through the psoas. Really, that was it. She added a few different things probably from her yoga to palms up palms down palms, baby fingers et cetera, arm motions as an exercise going up onto half toe, toes up toes down et cetera, et cetera. She had just a few things. I felt I had carte blanche to create this thing but I used it around her theories.

When I trained and finished my training in 69, February of '69, Dorothy Nolte was assisting Dr. Rolf in order to assist me to train because of my size I was only going to be trained to work on small women and children. People were working with Dr. Rolf in the main room. Dorothy was working with me in a private room at the hotel with my sessions and my clients. When I started to work with this movement program, Dr. Rolf surprised me by saying, "Dorothy Nolte has a movement program. Maybe that would do."

I said, "I don't know anything about it. I'll go and I'll look into it." It was called structural awareness I think. Anyway, I got a session from her and it was lovely. It was very much going internally and increasing awareness and it was nice. I stopped at phone booth, we had phone booth at the time in 1969, phone booth and I called Dr. Rolf. I said, "Dr. Rolf, I just had a session. It's very, very nice but it is not what I wanted to do at all. You need to go decide whether you want me to go ahead and create this program or whether you want to use Dorothy's which is fine. Just let me know."

She said, "Tell me more about your program." Okay, I want to help people get neutral, I want to help people take this into their yoga, in their athletics. I want to help people transform themselves and have tools to do so. I want people to be able to do body work and not hurt themselves. I kept going and she goes, "Okay, okay, okay." Dr. Rolf had a very fun way of when she had enough of what you were saying or doing she's say, "Okay, okay, okay." I said, "What?" She said ... Because by this time I'm a bit revved up. "What?"

She said, "Okay, go ahead. I want you to do your program." I said, "Okay, fine." I started to do this program in terms of using her rolling down for you to do the work going down the erector spinae et cetera et cetera. I did this work and as I said each time I started to put a piece together and I would show her she would comment. I would start to change it and then by the time I first started training people in '71 it was already quite different. It was only ten days that first time.

I had ten days to teach people this and then it became two weeks and then it became four weeks and then it became six weeks. Now, they work that includes body work movement, fitness and ergonomics is two weeks every six months, six phases of that. It just kept growing because of the problem solving of what people either knew or didn't know, what they were interested in, what the clients brought in and that we would apply it to- Your client needs some information about applying it to yoga.

Your client needs it for working in an office. Your client works as a mechanic and really needs help with that. Your client is a plumber. How do you get into that tiny space and keep your body able to help you do all of those task in such confined and limited spaces? It just grew and grew and grew and I remember Dr. Rolf at one point when the work had really grown and people really loved it and she said, "I never thought you'd take it this far."

Brooke: I think you're one of the people who's primarily responsible for cracking that nut or cracking that shell of this idea of finding perfect stasis. Getting on your line and just getting it right and turning it into a much more fluid experience of a human body. I thank you for that because I think that lineage just keeps evolving in really beautiful way.

Judith:Thank you, yes I'm glad she gave me permission and I felt that I was progressing it. Although it's a long way away from the paradigm that she really held as correct. One of those things, we just went speaking with Dr. Rolf and one of the things that I had to learn when I started teaching at the college in '63 before I met Ida in '68 was about teaching.

One of the things was I learned- and I learned by observation and trial and error- is that the body doesn't learn movement well on the no.When you teach don't lift your shoulder for the golf swing. Don't let that happen. Do not let your knee do this. When it's all based on the no you will get a static jumping from frame to frame movement experienced with that athlete. When you teach on the yes, you link things- "next time think about your knees coming from that in position to slightly out as you step on the right. There you go. That's it, just slightly out, there you go." As opposed to "don't let your right knee internally rotate."

It's a totally different thing. I get to Dr. Rolf's class having felt like I had a certain success at building and teaching on the yes. This was her teaching style. "Okay, all the auditors up in front in your underwear let's see you." Rolfers, Rolf trainees I want you to pick out who has the worst pelvis.

Brooke: Sounds like so much fun.

Judith: As an auditor you're shaking in your boots. You wear no boots, you were barefoot. You're shaking up there going, "Oh please, God. Do not let me be the person with the worst pelvis." Because you got that session that day, right? You are the model or something for Dr. Rolf's ...

And it was so hard teaching techniques were often on the no because and she, along with Moshe Feldenkrais along with Fritz Perls, so many people they had these brilliant systems they just didn't know how to teach it. People learn their system by duplicating, imitating and passing along the same paradigm until they really started learning on their own and made changes then. I'm just saying that's what was so unique about the teaching style was then I could bring my teaching style into it and things changed quite a bit.

Brooke: Before we wrap up, what are you currently fascinated by in your own practice either your movement practice or your teaching or learning?

Judith: I'm always fascinated. That's how all of these forms- when you talk about the breadth of the work- and the only reason there aren't more is time probably. I love creating forms around whatever a person's interest is and whatever the problem is that I'm looking at et cetera et cetera. I'm always fascinated. Right now, I'm most interested in doing vignettes, little pieces of maybe a little bit of a concept dealing with an issue that is hot in the world right now.

For example one of these that I'm going to be doing next month is about sitting. I can't tell you how revved up I get when I start saving all these information that sitting is the new smoking. Sitting is killing you, stop it and you see all of these photographs of people in Scandinavia leaning on molded sculptures instead of sitting and so on and so forth just to keep the body from sitting in a chair.

We're starting this blog actually it's next week I think we're starting a blog and I'm doing a little vignette like a preview in the blog about these issues. Then I'm going to do short little videos that give people ways of dealing with sitting or ways of sitting on the floor and meditating and so on and so forth. Then people can buy those little sections on our website. That's one thing I'm going to be doing.

Brooke: I'm excited about that.

Judith: Yes, because I get revved up and you can just turn me on. I sometimes teach classes that they get going with the questions that are coming and I look at them and I say, "Someone lock the door we're going to be here for a month." Because they have posted their questions and it's so exciting. This will be a way for me to start handling and managing some of those. I'm starting to wind down- I won't be teaching the fundamental classes very much longer than this year. I'm scheduled for that.

I'm scheduled for one more certification starting this year and finishing up. It's two weeks every six months and so they'll finish up in March 2018. I want to get to some of these other things and some of these other things are as follows. Products, of course but mainly and we have products by the way I should mention that. We have products. Go to our website and look up some of them because they can help you transform the way you sit on the floor, sit in a chair, sit in your car or if you travel a lot. Oh my goodness, you want wedges for the airplane.

Brooke: Airplane seats are made by the devil.

Judith: Yes, yes. One of the things is that I'm thinking of doing two day classes around each around one concept applied to something. For example, a concept applied for personal trainers, two days on the weekend. The concept of our work teaching people how to use that concept applied to body workers. A concept of the work applied to anyone who teaches pilates et cetera et cetera so by activity, by field. I'm really looking at doing that. That's got my excitement right now.

Brooke: I want all of it. I can't wait to see it all come to fruition. It sounds great. Yes. Thank you so much. I really can't thank you enough for all that you have done for our fields and for just people getting a chance to get friendly with living in their own body. Thank you and thank you for talking with all of us today.

Judith: I thank you so much, Brooke and thank you for what you're doing for everyone. Congratulations.

Home play!

Between talking with Judith about how product design impacts the body and the fact that in the Liberated Body 30-Day Challenge we just wrapped up our week where we were thinking about the same thing, well, let’s just say it’s on my mind big time. In the 30-Day Challenge what people do is to gradually (and individually, it depends on where you’re at in your body) shed layers of things that impact our bodies and our movement. What that looks like is going either furniture-free or furniture-light for a week- and we have some screen-free time too. It really helps us to notice what our most frequently used products are doing to our bodies. Things like always sinking into the couch into the same shape every night for hours, bending your head to text 30 times throughout the day, sleeping on a mattress that conforms to your body in the same way every time, sitting in the same old office chair that holds you in the same old shape- ALL of that. So this week I offer you this challenge- grow just a teensy bit suspicious of the products in your life. How are they impacting your shapes and your movement? Can you be more conscious about that and switch up the autopilot interactions? It doesn't have to be drastic (though it can, it can certainly be drastic for some folks who go full monty in the 30-Day Challenge...) it can be as simple as sitting on the floor to watch TV instead of the couch. shutting off the phone after 5 pm. standing at the kitchen counter with your laptop to return emails... see what comes up!


Aston Kinetics

Aston Kinetics instructional videos

Aston Kinetics courses and events

Aston product line (sitting wedges, etc)

Dr. Ida Rolf


Moshe Feldenkrais

Fritz Perls

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