Move Your DNA

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.”

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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

Katy Bowman: Move Your DNA (LBP 020)

Katy Bowman is a biomechanist, the author of the award winning blog katysays.com, and the founder of Restorative Exercise. Today she talks with us about her most recent book, Move Your DNA. We get into what diseases of mechanotransduction are, the profound ways our environment shapes us, why exercise and movement are not synonymous, how cardio can be harmful in our sedentary times, and how we are animals who have put ourselves in our own cages. Plus much, much more. Oodles more. So much more!

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Show notes

Diseases of mechanotransduction: instead of looking at the chemistry precursors to a disease (like a blood lipid profile), it's looking at what are the mechanical issues associated with this disease. The category  diseases of mechanotransduction are any of those diseases known to be influenced by something mechanical.

Loads: If you're carrying 7 bags you are going to be loaded by them. It is a response to this load. You are always being loaded by gravity, but the loads that you experience depend on your position relative to it. Loads are the affect of applied forces. The way you orient your body dictates what load occurs.

There is a big interface between people who are thinking in terms of biotensegrity and Newtonian biomechanics. I think one of the reasons loads can be so hard to understand is that they have been reduced to the applied force- like when knees hurt and people ask how much you weigh- and then determine that is too much weight for your knees. That is a very basic way of looking at loads.

There are other things tha affect the load to the knee like what's on your foot, the position of your foot, and of your knee, and your ankle and your knee to your hip, and your position relative to gravity- so all of those things go into consideration when you consider loads. It's not the weight, it's how you carry it.

It's really impossible to calculate a whole body load because the applied force is experienced differently by all parts of the body. For example: The wind going through the trees. In biomechanics, you're looking at a problem and asking how is the wind affecting these trees, but there is no way to measure how the wind is pushing on every single tree because every tree is experiencing the wind differently. Because that math is overwhelming, we have to reduce it so we call the load the wind and quantify the applied force. It's kind of erroneous to do that because it really doesn't matter, what matters is the adaptation of the tree to the wind.

[I give the example of the Orca in captivity with its floppy fin which Katy uses in the book Move Your DNA] Structures that are not maintained by their environment- we don't see ourselves in the same "tank" as the Orcas in captivity in their tanks.

It's that 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] 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?

I just got back from a book signing and people ask what are the programs they can follow, or what is the prescription. And once you are in the prescription-land, you are out of movement-land. The solution would be, in the most general terms, to consider all of the movements you would be doing with your body if you didn't have any of the things you have. You don't have a car, or food in your refrigerator, or cabinets... How would you move? You start to be surrounded by the conveniences but opt not to use them.

For example, when I'm making breakfast for my kids I will opt to make it on the floor. I don't want to reinforce that they need to bring a chair to the counter, and my standing at the counter is a kind of cast- always bringing things up to that level where I don't need to use my knees or hips. Not only are they practicing the movements that are natural to them, but surprise!, I got squats in in my busy workday this morning.

The more you want to find an exercise solution, the more you will struggle with trying to fit it in to your day. Exercise doesn't support the movement paradigm.

There is some junk food exercise out there. [Using the food analogy] so many people survive on junk food or heavily processed food because it can satiate part of your biology. For someone who has no food, it is filled with positives. But the reason it's junk is that with some satiation of this biological signal of hunger, it also comes with a tax.

There's exercise that satiates many of the "you need to move" signals you are getting, but it may not support your health in the long-term. It's costing your body something that you will require in the future.

Exercise is becoming more nuanced. It's always going to be processed food, but you could be eating the equivalent of an organic, minimally process whole food bar. We're moving towards more high quality exercise in the same way that we did with food. People who know how to create something that is synthetic but better meets our needs.

In the next 40 years I expect I fully expect movement to be as nuanced as nutrition is now, and they will understand why a treadmill is really the equivalent to a Snickers.

So many people are out there doing a ton of work and taking time away from their families and crafting their lives around exercise for their better, and then they are getting this list of ailments, so I'm just trying to bring out the biological understanding so that people have a better context for why to fill in the movement deficits.

When you have sedentary populations- which we all are, even the exercisers- when they are still they are assuming one geometrical position. That is the bigger problem. I'm actually ok with people not bumping up their total movement as it relates to moving across the ground, even if you could just be still differently than you are always still, that would be a better nutrient.

If you are always sitting in the same chair, or how you sit in a car, you have this one specific body constellation. The bulk of your life is in this one geometrical position. Your mass distribution of your entire body has adapted to this shape. It becomes easier for you to do.

Then you have lots of kinks in your hoses of your arteries, and they are receiving a repetitive use injury because the blood is flowing in this exact same geometry, there are a lot more bends than there should be. You accumulate this arterial plaque, but it's secondary. You're changing the genetic expression of your lumen cells, the endothelial cells, you're changing some of the genes here because of this repetitive blunt trauma.

Plaque is put down to reinforce the walls. So then you take that structure and you do something highly intense for a short period of time each day and are accelerating blood through it, so you are compounding the problem.

We're trying to balance being sedentary by doing something short but high intensity, and I don't know that it has the payoff that we believe it to have. I think it would be much better for people to address that they can't be sedentary and in the same geometrical position for 98% of their lives. In the end that's what affects your arteries' ability to respond in the way they need to respond. In the same way you can't eat junk food everyday and then exercise to take it off.

Balancing out to zero is a mindset we have, but it's all input. Your body adapts to what you do the most.

I do think the purpose of getting your heart rate up is a skill that every human should have. I don't think that it is the thing we should be spending the bulk of our time training. If you are interested in your cardiovascular health there are many other things you need to do first.

If you look at people like Tim Noakes research on cardiovascular training and function. The notion that people have about needing cardio isn't really an evidence supported thing. It is understood in science, but it does not' trickle down to the health magazine that you read.

Brooke: I mention the Jeremy Morris study which is always presented as thig being the study that proves that cardio is good for us, when really they weren't describing cardio exercise.

There are a lot of conclusions that are extrapolations, and I always encourage people to go back and look at the actual data. Really what the conclusion is is that you should mimic the movements of the ticket conductor, not that you should exercise beyond what was measured.

I was just in a Reuter's piece (in resources) this morning and we were talking about how walking is really a superfood, it contains quite a bit of nutrition. And it's the thing a body would be doing the most of, it would be the most frequent vitamin intake. Then at the end a professor tosses on that it doesn't' maintain your bones as well as running. But that notion comes from a similar extrapolation. They found kids with strong bones and so put an accelerometer on them and noticed they were moving at 4 Gs. So we know that peak bone mass in kids comes at this high G. Then they had woman with osteoporosis wear them and they say they only got to 1 G. Then they had college students do a bunch of exercises to see what would get them up to 4 G, and running did. So then they just say, running gives you strong bones. That is not the scientific process. That is just everyone's need to be told what to do.

And the answer is we don't know what to do. We don't know how to take a whale in captivity, what kind of exercise program could you give it to have it be the same robust function as if it were in the wild? But the biologically plausible prescription we can give is to do the things you would have been doing in the wild. That's where it's at.

There is load science stuff that comes from physical therapy, we know that the position of your foot and the angle of your knee and the way you walk create load profiles that are likely to tear your ACL, and that's where therapy and correctives come from. We can know what exercises can balance out and distribute the loads well, those are great places to start. But if you're still swimming around your tank, your correctives aren't really enough to get you out of the diseases of your tank.

We only have limited energy, so I like to focus on the problem instead of treating the symptom.

Brooke: Would it be fair to say that our bodies are hunter-gatherer bodies that are undernourished by leading these lives of convenience?

Remember you are an animal walking around in a zoo. Reflexively your body is always trying to conserve energy. The decision to shuck convenience has to be a choice. You are going to have to choose to get out of your couch and sit on the floor. You're not really in a cage, you've put yourself in- there's no lock, it's habit. You can go outside whenever you want.

Movement is way easier to get in your life than exercise. Exercise takes time away from your family living. It takes a drive, a shower, a special outfit, equipment. It's not as easy as. "I'm making breakfast anyway, I can make it on the floor? I'm walking on this path anyway, why don't I just walk on the grass just 6 inches to the left? I'm going to the bathroom anyway, why not put my feet up on this squat platform?"

Because movement is not exercise, you have the potential to move all day long. I have no more time, I'm doing this podcast now so I could be sitting in front of my computer, or I could be standing and doing a calf stretch, and squatting a bit. Once you start thinking that way you can really move all day long even if you can't go anywhere.

Me: I think it's been diminished as valuable in our culture.

We've lost the understanding of the word movement. We are a non-moving culture. If you grew up in captivity, [for example] if we ask the Orca to figure out that it is in captivity, you are asking it to understand a concept of which it has no knowledge. We've never seen a person who didn't exercise.

The real difference between exercise and movement would be anytime you are doing movement for the purpose of reaping a health benefit, that's exercise. While movement is something that happens while you are getting something else accomplished.

You'll never have enough time to get all the necessary loads in your body if you are only exercising. In order to fit the time constraint you have to accomplish your life while you are moving. Movement has to be a part of accomplishing your life. I go for a walk every day and I need to accomplish something in my work or my regular life. I try to give my brain a reason for going out and doing some sort of movement that is about accomplishing something else that needs to get done.

Brooke: My son's school is about 6 miles from my house and we could walk it and he would get 6 miles in before school, and I would get 12 miles in, but these are the things we don't' think of when we've grown up in captivity.

I have a friend who did this and she didn't have time to do the full walk, so she drove to where they were 2 miles away. Then her sons had has a very nutritious movement breakfast before they went to where we all learn how to be still. She got the time with them and in a different context, and she also got a 2 mile walk to herself walking back, and she got them to school.

Brooke: What are you playing with in your own practice?

A lot of upper body hanging and playing is new and challenging for me.

Playing with surfaces is probably where my brain is as well as my own body. Looking at the difference between a set of monkey bars, which would never occur in nature, and then looking at trees. Not just their angles, but also the textures of the bark. All the things you would touch would not have been smooth, they would bite into your skin and require that your skin strengthen.

Our skin is a big limitation to our health. The muscles of the entire body has to pass through either the hand or the feet if you're doing something with body weight, and yet the skin has never been exposed to anything natural. Even if you are barefoot the nutrient you consume the most is a flat man-made surface.

I'm observing how everything is flat and smooth in my whole life. Nothing has asked the skin to the party. Nothing has asked the skin to participate in your body's way of moving. Walking on different surfaces just for the sake of the skin. Playing with grip, diameter, and how that changes muscle recruitment.

Our idea of cross-trainig is so small. We think about adding 2 or 3 things- how about adding trillions? The habitat we're in is really not conducive to health.

Home play!

Let's do as Katy suggests and imagine our lives stripped of all its conveniences. Where would you sit? Stand? Prepare and eat your food? ow would you get from point A to point B? See what new potentials for movement are revealed when you look at your life through this new lens.

Resources

The book: Move Your DNA

Restorative Exercise

Katy's blog, Katy Says

Timothy Noakes

Jeremy Morris

Katy in Reuters: Walking is the Superfood of Fitness

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