Valerie Berg

My 20 Favorite Moments from Season One (Part 2)

56237885_1824693367_zMore! More! So many more jewels! I won’t bore you with an intro- you get the idea. I am sharing my favorite 20 moments from season one- courtesy of these gorgeous people who shared their wisdom with all of us. Part one of that post (with 1 through 10) is here. Other learnings from season one are here. And... 11 through 20 is…. Here! 11. Dissociation, or a limited/confused body map, is often the root cause of pain. Steve Haines: “The sense of being outside of our body is a common theme actually... people don’t know that there is this much richer experience of the body. It’s really not a given. People with pain commonly have more of this kind of dissociation. Dissociation comes first likely due to the responses to being overwhelmed..Dissociation is a last ditch survival strategy, and often the root cause of more pain.

Your brain is expecting you to have a body, so if we’re beginning to cut ourselves off from that, if we’re flooding bits of the spinal cord with endorphins to limit the incoming signals, then you’ve got a big absence. And the absence of something when your brain is expecting it to be there is a threat. It may be that we fill that absence with pain to say, ‘Do something about this.’”

12. “We are an under-grieved society” Oof. When Judith Hanson Lasater said this to me it just pierced right through me. Cleary it’s because I had stuff to grieve, but it’s also because on a larger society-wide scale she’s right. Perhaps it pierced through you too? : “We all experience loss in tiny ways every day. When people have a loss in their lives we try to fix that and say, ‘Don’t be sad. Here take this drug, or let’s go for a run…’ depression follows from that. Depression is anger without enthusiasm. Depression is not feeling sad. People who can feel sadness are deeply alive, because it’s an intense feeling that balances joy.

There is something spiritually profound about being still and watching your mind. Most of our unhappiness is not created by what happens to us but by what we tell ourselves about it. With Restorative Yoga you create a space to watch the rising and falling of thoughts. And then the most important thing we can do can happen- we can dis-identify with our thoughts, ‘I am having a thought of anger, a thought of sadness, but it’s not who I am.’”

13. Redesigning your life to be less convenient can have huge benefits. Valerie Berg, in talking about structural aging and the shoulder pain and immobility that can result from not raising your arms above our heads mentioned, “Years ago I had my kitchen redone and I had them make the cabinets really high, so every day I have to reach really high to get bowls and things.” I love that! We should start a design movement around objects that make life less convenient and therefore make us move more... who’s with me? (P.S. I know Valerie in the real world- not super well but we’ve been in the same place at the same time together- and she is one of the most sparkly personalities. It’s like she’s always got some secret she is delighted by, or some fun-loving prank she might pull at any moment. So to picture her telling a kitchen designer/contractor that she wanted to make it hard for her to reach her things in the cabinets just gave me a special kind of giggle and satisfaction.)

14. Oh fascia. Why won’t anyone give you the cred you deserve? Fortunately for us people like Thomas Myers are on the case. And he’s spreading the concept of fascia as the 3rd big auto-regulatory system: “So I’ve put forth this idea that the fascia is the 3rd big auto-regulatory system. The nervous system is an amazing auto-regulatory system, and circulatory system ever since the 1600′s has been seen as just that- we add in the lymph and the cerebrospinal fluid and we have an idea of how the fluids work in the body.

After 500 years of anatomy we still don’t have this image of the fascia as a whole system. Every time I go to Equinox in NY I see someone on a foam rolling out their iliotibial band. It’s really of limited value, and it’s really quite painful, and if someone could see this as a part of this larger system they might not do it- but the predominating vision in a lot of people’s minds is that we think of ourselves as put together like a Ford or a Dell computer. We live in an industrial society, and so we think of ourselves in these terms. But it’s a really inadequate view.

15. Let’s examine the openness bias, shall we? Matthew Remski: “The openness bias- of flexibility as the goal- is harmful not only to those who are hypermobile, but also to those who are less mobile as well. The studio culture often tells us that more open is more virtuous. Those who identify as “bendy types” were praised for going deep into poses which weren’t really hard for them. And as they were being asked to demonstrate and practicing they were injuring themselves. Women within the hypermobile category are showing the highest rate of lumbar spine injuries.

The other thing about the openness bias is that there is this unspoken connection between joint mobility and emotional openness. Looking at back-bends: when called heart-opening, it suggests that a particular thoracic movement will have a particular emotional effect. Openness in the joints is often associated with an ability to be placid and accepting. First, are these virtues we actually want? And second, is that actually true? I don’t have statistics, but I’ve met plenty of bendy people who are as emotionally closed as anybody else I know.

16. What the hell is stretching anyway!? Jules Mitchell totally blew my mind when the work she did for her Master’s Thesis confirmed what I had been experiencing my whole life: “The concept of stretching in itself, at least in the yoga community, this idea that if you stretch more and stretch harder that it will get longer and you will increase your range and you will get more flexible has very little truth to it. In reality that’s just damaging it [the tissue]. If you hold a rubber band and stretch it, then you release that- you release the load- it goes back to its original shape.

Lack of range of motion is not realty about lengthening. It’s much more an issue of tolerance. It’ s a use it or lose it thing. If you never work in that range of motion your body doesn’t understand it and doesn’t want to go there.

So your nervous system limits your range of motion. That argument is the hardest one to come to terms with- that for the most part range of motion is an issue of tolerance and not mechanical length. “Tolerance” means can they go there? When they hit the end of their range, that’s their nervous system limiting their range. If they were under anesthesia, they would have a full range of motion.”

17. Compression doesn’t just make your back feel cranky. Eric Goodman: “The modern body is super compressed- we are losing the war against gravity terribly. What about the digestive issues, the depression, the mood issues- these are just other forms of compression.”

18. The wolf and the Chihuahua. I asked Erwan LeCorre, “What are zoo humans?” And he responded, “It is a metaphor. Some people are insulted by it- a different metaphor would be that we’re farm animals, or domesticated animals. We’re a little bit like pets. All dog species come from the wolf, which means the Chihuahua and the wolf are related. The Chihuahua would die within hours or days in a wild environment. We are fabricating a form of a “human breed”. We are to our ancestors what the Chihuahua is to a wolf. It’s not about giving people a hard time- but it’s an observation that most people have become alien to the body and are in a state of physical neglect.”

19. A return to head carrying? Esther Gokhale, “Head carrying is something we are not doing at all in our culture. We are really missing out from not doing this. If you have to carry on your head it keeps the rest of your spine honest. You get immediate feedback and you have to straighten out. Putting a small weight on the head is the best way to line things up. It is a very primal experience. All the stabilizers in your neck and spine say, “We know this!” and gear into action. “

20. Can you re-visit your infancy to get super strong as an adult? Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert of Original Strength enlightened us about the bridge between movement and brain development, and how we’re actually regressing our brain development in our under-moving culture. Tim and Geoff developed their work by looking at information that had been previously been applied in the areas of learning disabilities, brain development, and brain rehabilitation.


As always, I am hugely grateful to all the smarties who have shared their work and passion with all of us. Thank you. This is the end of my indulging in nostalgia for season one (well in print anyway), and season 2 will arrive on (Liberated) Tuesday, April 21st. Yes! For reals! More nuggets of wisdom!

Additionally, April is a challenge- aka movement cleanse- month for us, so if you have been curious to try out the Liberated Body 30-Day Challenge, there just isn’t a better season (in my opinion) to dive in than glorious springtime. And if you have been a challenger in the past, you’re still in and can rejoin the group for fun kinesthetic exploring again. If you have no idea what I’m talking avbout of course, you can visit the challenge page to read up on all the details. Doors open this Saturday the 28th. Let’s play this April!

image by Leo Reynolds

Valerie Berg: Structural Aging At Any Age (LBP 012)

Picture the standard old-person shuffle that we have come to assume is the norm. Why do we assume this is what happens to a body over time? What are the beginnings of these patterns and how can we catch them in their early stages? And, of course, how can we avoid them?

Valerie Berg talks about the precursor signs, symptoms, and outcomes of structural aging, and how it can begin to happen at any age (and more and more is happening at young ages). We get into how a gradually increasing fear of movement contributes to this, what the most common symptoms are to show up first as the structure begins to age, how visual perception affects everything, and how we can get more multi-planar movement into our daily lives.




Show notes

"Structural Aging" is a breakdown of the structure that looks and feels like aging, but you can see this in a teenager, or in a 30 year old.

We can all talk about the computer age and what's happening with looking at smartphones and computers, but we can also look at footwear. Those gigantic padded shoes that turn the foot into a concrete block instead of a juicy paw, and that changes the whole structure.

We lost the ground. Serge Gracovetsky is a mathematician who tried to figure out how our spine works, and he set up these transitions of movement that start with the foot and the toe hinge. The spine has these beautiful movements, but the foot is the engine for that.

Walk around and lock your ankle and feel what happens. There's no fuel for the rest of the spirals which happen in every part of the body.

The loss of that joy of movement and feeling good moving is what I call structural aging, it's not an inevitable thing.

When any body worker is looking at someone moving we are also looking at what their approach is psychologically to the world, because our attitude affects how we move.

Much of this is from a loss of movement- jumping, leaping, etc. Valerie begins each class she teaches by asking students to envision the movements they made as a child, and asks them when was the last time they jumped, or even took their arms up really high overhead?

With those losses fascia starts to harden and to restrict the whole constellation of movements in the body.

We need to move in all planes. And the fear of falling is one of the things that freezes us up, and that can happen young from actually falling, and from not feeling our feet on the ground.

There is a study by Stephanie Studenski in the Journal of the American Medical Associationl (in resources) that gait speed and variability can predict mortality. When we're watching people as body workers we intuitively know that- we see how adaptable they are.

The classical sagittal plane, single-planar movement is the bent over shuffling person. This is not about how old you are, this is about a posture. A lot of times someone will have an accident or get hurt and they will take on that posture because it's in the nervous system now- there is a lot of fear and trauma.

The other study I looked at (in resources)  is the loss of the ability to have strength in the lateral line of the body, and the lateral side of the hip joint stabilizing us, and that goes all the way up to peripheral vision.

The ankle joint is not meant to handle impact higher up, because it is meant to flex and extend. So if you get hit higher up, it's the hips that stabilize you, so we need strength and stability there.

The loss of peripheral vision happens to people who aren't looking at their screens too. They are looking down and becoming eye-focused. So again if they can't feel their feet on the ground as supportive and stable, there's a grasping with the eyes to know where they are.

Have people close their eyes and stand near a wall and begin to sense through the ear, and the eyes.

The loss of peripheral vision goes straight to the nervous system. That orienting response is pretty primitive, so if we can't orient and check out our environment we go back into that fear posture.

In the animal world an animal who isn't in fear has wide vision moves with these beautiful undulating movements.

We know this from trauma, Peter Levine's trauma work (in resources) shows us that when there is trauma or fear vision narrows and focuses, the body narrows it's movements and freezes.

Common patterns of structural aging:

Pronation, knock-kneed and belly drop (especially in women)

Toes start to hammer. When I see that it's the flexors and extensors of the foot imbalanced, someone who is not sure where they are  in space so they are grabbing at the ground.

More frequent plantar fasciitis.

Little toes and the lateral edge of the foot curling under.

The lateral sides of the body stop expanding out.

Shoulder pain because people stop taking their arms above their head. Years ago I had my kitchen redone and I had them make the cabinets really high, so every day I have to reach really high to get bowls and things.

Rounding forward of the ribcage. If there is too much of a kyphosis you can't get a shoulder to come up and extend back.

Stiff ankles.

Femurs that lose rotational options- both internal and external.

I talk about how I'm seeing more hammer toes in younger and younger people in my practice.

Valerie and I hatch a scheme to develop Peripheral Walks in the Woods with Brooke and Valerie (it's going to be big!) ; )

If you walk really slowly and just feel what's happening when we step forward you realize how many planes of movement happen to get us forward, we have to use all planes of movement.

I talk about Valerie's talk at the European Rolfing Association's Annual Conference where she had us walking around exaggerating one plane of movement to create various silly-walks. Then I say the supermodel walk is an abduction exaggerated walk and I got it wrong (The horror! I hate getting a direction of movement wrong, but c'est la vie). Adduction exaggerated is the supermodel walk, abduction exaggerated is the staggering from vertigo walk. Try it! Good times.

There's a beautiful quote from Luigi Stecco's book Fascial Manipulation that blew me away- it says that every muscle and fiber in our body has the ability of spiraling in every direction.

If the multi-planar movement is a solution to not going into the downward spiral of aging, what are some thing people can do at home?

Valerie has therabands wrapped around many things at home. She doesn't' think of it like "exercising", and instead uses them to move in varied planes.

A great Feldenkrais exercise- turning your head in one direction and looking the other direction to uncouple the eyes from the neck and head.

Any balancing with your eyes closed.

Walking backwards changes your eye focus- you're' really sensing the feet, and it forces your pelvis to do the spirals in case you're not, so you walk backwards for a bit and then turn around.

Also walking sideways- step left and right leg goes in front. Think of any kid movement, changing direction quickly. So it's not working on this for 20 minutes a day, it's all throughout the day adding these movements in.

We also don't get enough extension, we shouldn't have an intense kyphotic thoracic spine, but it's a really hard place to get people to move in. But playing in small movements with the ribcage extending back can help.

Valerie has recent taken up aerial yoga and is playing with inversions and hanging upside down. Not everyone is going to want to hang upside down, but it's just about finding the range of movements, changing perspective.

Home play!

Try playing with your peripheral vision by going for a walk and seeing how much you can see with your peripheral vision as you move forward. This is a way to take the "blinders" of tunnel vision off and broaden your vision, and therefore your movement.


Valerie Berg

Serge Gracovetsky The Spinal Engine

Stephanie Studenski Gait Speed and Survival in Older Adults

D. A. Winter, Human Balance and Posture Control During Standing and Walking

Peter Levine's trauma work Somatic Experiencing

Luigi Stecco Fascial Manipulation