Physical Disempowerment of Infants and Children with Kathleen Porter (LBP 042)

Kathleen Porter of Natural Posture Solutions and I had a chance to talk about the many developmental issues facing children that are new since the 1970's (with an even bigger wave of change hitting in the 90's). How have our "advances" physically disempowered infants and children and what long terms costs does that have? How might the current epidemics related to poorly functioning nervous systems be linked to or influenced by this? And, importantly, how might we be sending the message that what is "out there" is more important than what is "in here"?




Conversation highlights

  • Kathleen talks about some background on Natural Posture Solutions, and how she became concerned about how American children were developing.
  • Why do we assume that children in developing nations who carry siblings on their backs or who do physical work like head carrying are suffering? We have an auto assumption that physical work is a strain.
  • Children in these cultures have fewer cases of developmental disabilities and neurological disorders.
  • We have lost our connection to ground reaction force and therefore we experience physical work as a strain- we are hauling ourselves around.
  • Neurobiologist Richard Sperry says that 90% of the nutrition to the brain is driven by the movement of the spine.
  • The new focus on the intrinsic or enteric nervous system- there are millions of sensory and motor neurons in our gut and it is vitally important to engage the core. Not with contrived exercises, but if you inhabit your body in a natural way the core takes care of itself and the spine is supported.
  • By the time toddlers are upright and walking they have all the core strength they will need in their lifetime.
  • The current disruptions of our nervous systems in contemporary culture.
  • Beginning in about the 1970's we started putting children in all these devices- molded plastic carriers, swings to lull them to sleep, carriers, etc.
  • In the 1990's the Back to Sleep campaign which was designed to prevent SIDS came along and created a perfect storm.
  • With this parents have become convinced that putting children on their tummies at all is a dangerous thing to do. They have then lost the belly to earth connection and there has been a 600% increase in Plagiocephaly. Also things like Torticollis and vision problems which were rare in children are now more frequent.
  • This loss of engaging with the Earth with the belly down has huge implications.
  • Kathleen gives a little home play exercise where you can see what gets worked when you try it out for yourself.
  • Instead we focus on dangling all these bright colors and shapes in front of them in the hopes of giving them a cognitive head start, are we giving infants the message that what is out there is more important than what is in here?
  • Kathleen tells a story of working with a child who "could sit up but not roll over or move". This perplexed her since rolling over comes first- it's how the infant gets into seated position. What she found is that the parents had been placing the child in a sitting position- and the child didn't know how to get into or out of it. It has become common for pediatricians to do this to encourage slow development along.
  • How we teach infants to sit on a "sad dog" pelvis.
  • Head lag as an early predictor for autism. 90% of children diagnosed with autism later on had head lag at 4 to 6 months.
  • Putting babies on their backs all the time has disrupted their development of the core. While one certainly can't say that this is the cause of autism, the lack of core tone should be looked at more globally to see what role it plays in spectrum disorders.
  • Some of the promising therapies for autism are things like Hippotherapy which reverse the collapsed spine and the posterior pelvis.
  • We don't just have bodies. We are bodies.

Home play!

Somewhere around about minute 25 or 26 (or 27? precision was never really my thing...) Kathleen gives a great home play. She suggests getting a pillow to prop under the belly and lying belly to floor like an infant. See how even the small movements create so much dynamic work in the core and the spine!


Natural Posture Solutions

Happy Dog, Sad Dog: How Poor Posture Affects Your Child's Health by Kathleen Porter

Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living by Kathleen Porter

Richard Sperry neurobiologist

Head lag in infants at risk for autism: a preliminary study, The American Journal of Occupational Therapy

The "back to sleep" campaign and deformational plagiocephaly, The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery

If you liked this episode, you might also like

Esther Gokhale: Primal Posture 

Katy Bowman: Move Your DNA

Judith Aston: Our Relationship to Our Bodies and Their Relationship to the World

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful! If technology isn’t your thing however you can just tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!

Gary Ward: What the Foot? (LBP 023)

Gary Ward is the founder of Anatomy in Motion, and the author of the book What the Foot?. He talks about how Anatomy in Motion is based on understanding how the body moves- or what the body does and when it does it- why change can happen in minutes instead of months, his Flow Motion Model, why he is not a fan of stretching, the reason behind redefining “neutral” as “center”, how we need to learn how to have better posture in a subconscious way, what nobody-ever-moved-me-itis is, and of course, plenty about the feet as the gateway to appropriate movement everywhere else.




Show notes

Gary [all other text is Gary unless noted]: Anatomy in Motion is a movement oriented education system. It is based on what the body does and when it does it. What I mean by that is what joints do  in what dimension of movement and in what time- for instance for us in the gait cycle.

Brooke: You say the body does know how to work effortlessly and efficiently.

I think the big picture is that the body- or more accurately the brain- has choices. The way people use their bodies in their daily routine has a repetitive nature. Everything they do is operating in these fixed patterns and habits of movement. The choice essentially becomes no choice but to move in our fixed patterns- We have no choice but to move the way we move until we show the body another way.

What is remarkable to me is that when you show the body how to access the movements it is missing it gives more choice and more options, and allows the body to do what it needs to do when it is required. The brain seems to notice the upgrade in efficiency. Pain drops away and performance is naturally enhanced.

The efficient and effortless state seems to be known by the body, but it needs to be accessed and to allow the nervous system to do its thing.

Brooke: You mention change can happen in an instant or in moments instead of years. To what do you attribute the "biomechanical quantum leap"?

I know that is how it happens because I have seen it too many times to deny it, but I realize that it is radical thinking. I don't want thinking to limit what is possible. It's very important for us to consider that the person who does the healing is not the therapist, it is the individual. If we are able to give a person better choices for their movement potential then they are going to move better. Given that we have the opportunity as therapists to take information from them, and so understand their limitations, then maybe we are able to see the things they can't. We can replace them back so they have a full repertoire of movement back to them. Then they instantly get taller, feet start to move better, pelvises rebalance...

We had a physiotherapist in our training recently and he was saying that he was trained that posture cannot and does not change, but he was seeing it happen. It doesn't take months, it takes minutes.

Reverse compensations- so if you roll your ankle off the side of a curb then you are instantly going to start hobbling around to protect the system from this drastic thing that has happened to it. If we can say you no longer have to be in this space, the dots connect and people can release themselves from their postural problems. Joints find better alignment, length-tension relationships of the muscles change, you are less weight-bearing on just one side- and so obviously things change.

Brooke: A lot of what we see prescribed for managing these issues is stretching and you talk about how that doesn't really work.

I'm not a fan of stretching. The need to stretch a patient or client after every session indicates that nothing has really changed if your hamstrings are the same. It is because of the way they are moving in between sessions. People are taught to stretch the hamstrings, but we have to ask why is it continually tight when I stretched it to be loose?

If stretching doesn't work what does? A recognition that the ability to lengthen is an isolated part of the muscle's skill set. Muscles lengthen AND shorten.  In fact if you reach a maximum stretch the muscle will start to shorten against it. You are teaching it to shorten by stretching it. The more you stretch it, the more you are asking the muscle to concentrically contract against it. It is a protective mechanism that kicks in in the unconscious arena. If we encourage the actual shortening it seems to want to do- muscles lengthen and shorten all day long. Muscles lengthen before they contract. So after every stretch there should be a contraction. I'm never one to take part of a solution, so I would rather teach a muscle to do what it does best and to lengthen and shorten.

Brooke: I wonder if it's possible to paint a picture what it might look like if I walked in and saw an Anatomy in Motion session in progress?

Basically we have the 5 laws of motion:

1)  Muscles need to lengthen before they contract, 2) Joints act and muscles react which kind of flips the model on its head because most people feel they need to contract a muscle to move a joint, but in movement it seems to be the opposite way around so we look at the movements of the skeleton and what movements are missing, 3) Everything operates around a perception of center.

If a center of mass is over to the left, or forward it is going to influence the stance in standing and in walking. What movements can we create to bring their mass over to the right and how is that going to give an opposite experience to the muscles? If a pelvis is over to the left you might notice the muscles on the outside of the left hip and inside of the right thigh are going to be stretched and lengthened and those muscles are trying to decelerate any further movement of the pelvis to the left.

Muscles that are long and tight are working hard by concentrically shortening against a skeleton that is moved away from its resting position. So they feel tight and irritated and we want to stretch them, but in reality what we should do is show the skeleton the opposite space and what that would do is to take those long muscles and allow them to relax. When the brain perceives this is starts to make a decision do I want to stay left, or access right? And then it can find its position of center. Or what most people understand as the word neutral.

Somebody walks in in a habitual pattern of movement and we are able to use the Flow Motion Model to observe what movements are excessive and what movements are missing and then to use exercises to replace the missing movements so the brain can find center.

Brooke: You had touched on neutral and how the concept of neutral is flawed and you use "center" instead. Can you say why you think neutral is flawed?

Center is neutral- just to get that clear. When other people would be saying neutral, I would be saying center. and I made that change because neutral leads to this idea that the perfect way to move is in neutral- you lift in neutral, you sit in neutral, walk in neutral, stand in neutral... But you can't be in neutral and the body is not designed to be in neutral full time. Movement is about moving away from neutral and then back through neutral and then away from it again. So neutral is a mere moment in time.

If you look at a gait cycle, you are asking a spine that is able to flex and extend, rotate side to side, and side bend side to side and you're asking it to be in neutral. It is critical that we can be able to move through neutral when going from point A to point B. But actually we should access 2 flexions and 2 extensions in the spine through each step we take, and if we hold our spine in neutral we are going to miss out on that. We call it center because it is the middle of two extremes of experience.

There is also a thing in the book about the spinal gyroscope- if you can fully explore the 6 ranges of motion your brain will have a better appreciation of what it is like to have a spine standing tall.

What this means [when you attempt to hold your spine still in neutral while walking] for other joints in the body is that they have to take up the slack for other joints that are not doing their job in the body. The body is a completely closed system, which means if something doesn't do what it is supposed to do, something else has to do its job. This causes excessive ranges of motion of the joints and new length-tension relationships of the muscles which get sore over time. The trick is not to treat the soreness but to get he spine doing what is hasn't' been able to do for years.

The muscle system is the great tension exchange. When you lose tension someplace, you have to get it somewhere else.

Brooke: What does the Flow Motion Model look like?

It's basically my next book that I am writing. I'm really excited to bring the flow motion model to life for people as a kind of reference book. It is the thing that I have been passionate about since I got into the world of movement. It's the description of what he body does and when it does it. It is a detailed description of each joint motion in all 3 dimensions in each phase of gait in each step in the human gait cycle. The unique thing about gait is that over a period of 0.6 and 0.8 seconds, which is the duration of a single footstep for most people, as measured by the force plates that we use, we should see that every single joint motion should take place in that small amount of time.

And they have relationships up and down the body. So the relationships to the foot and the knee, the shoulder, the arm... each phase becomes like a roadmap to what should be happening in which segment of the human body at what time. We can observe a person's gait cycle or their posture and observe the missing motions. All with the goal of giving us informtion as to what to do next. We can watch somebody walk and pick aspects of what they are doing. What can we do to restore function so that they can [heel strike] optimally next time.

What we notice by doing that is that if we can make every person's strike phase "perfect", then it's going to influence how they move into their suspension phase and how they move through the whole journey. and because it is happening in such a small time period there is virtually no time at all to recover if the strike phase is off.

Brooke: The idea being that addressing the feet with this much nuance is going to affect everything upstream.

I genuinely believe that. Even now you can go online and find stuff about feet but it's really all about a concentric way of thinking. There are very few people thinking big about the foot related to movement.

Brooke: And we do a lot of controlling the feet- it's about how to prop them up, give them orthotics, or limit their movement really.

That marries back to our neutral conversation. Can you teach a body to find center rather than by enforcing neutral on it? There are 26 bones and 33 joints in each foot. Our spine has 33 joints but there are 2 feet- so that's 52 bones and 66 joints. They form our foundation in the sense of gait and they are the interface between our inner world and our outer world.

Our external environment is generally flat these days and that contributes to the repetitive habits and the lazy feet that we see these days. Our feet are incredibly complex but also incredibly simple. The idea that we want to put stability into a 33 joint system is crazy. We should put movement and mobility into the system.

It would take some serious convincing to get me to think about the foot does not effect the rest of the body. So for example if  the foot has a more internally rotated rear foot on the left side than the right you will notice that there are some inseparable connections. One of them being that this will generate a rightward rotation of the pelvis, and a counter rotation to the left of the spine. This results in a lengthening of such muscles as your right internal oblique, left external oblique, right erector spinae, and right lat. Other therapists can observe these things but as soon as this guy leaves the room on his pronated left foot  he's just going to walk those stretches right back into his life. It's  about the repetitive patterns in the gait. We won't change the body if we don't change the gait.

People say but the foot can be affected by the rest of the body and I wholeheartedly agree. If you bang your head and if affects your neck and reaches into the spine and filters down into the feet and makes a change, that change will affect the gait cycle and that gait cycle will be used  every single day until it's changed. That gait cycle is feeding information back into the body all the time. One way to change that is to work with the feet simultaneously while working with the neck. We are pretty sure that whether it came from the feet or not you get the information from the feet.

We get people to look at the feet and predict what the rest of the body is doing. But we would like to get to a place where you can look at a scapula and predict, or look at the pelvis and predict. When you consider that the human goal is to keep their head over their feet and to move forward, there are not a lot of adaptations- so we find a lot of common adaptations that people are using as their cheat mechanism to move through life.

Brooke: I get emails a lot from people and often I get asked if I only have one place to work to affect my body where should I work?  I always say, "You are never going to not benefit from getting more mobile and supple feet."

Brooke: Let's talk about what never-moved-me-itis is.

It was a phrase I invented- it popped out of people coming to see me who were in pain for years and had seen everyone and they had all these labels and the crazy thing would be 2 or 3 movements into the session they are remarkably pain free and light on their feet and they were giddy and couldn't understand why. They had been given so many labels so I would tell them, "You have nobody-ever-moved-you-itis.So keep moving!" We provide a heap of homework solutions for people to keep putting the good work back into their bodies. And it's not unusual for me to hear from people a year or two down the line, and people are always still saying that these exercises gave them their lives back.

Brooke: What are you playing with in your own movement practice right now? Or is there anything you are especially intrigued by?

We leave our students with a very specific instruction at the end of every training and it is observing your own body in movement. A way of observing yourself an the changes that happen in your own body.Outside of that I like movement and sports, I like hand balances and handstands. I just move!

Home Play!

While this mobilization does not come from Anatomy in Motion (I haven't studied it- sorry guys!), it is something I do with my clients frequently to help them get their feet juicier and more mobile. It's time to shake hand with your feet! Here is a moldy oldy video of me demonstrating it back in the Fascia Freedom Fighters days- happy foot mobilizing!


Anatomy in Motion

What the Foot? book

Anatomy in Motion intro video

If you liked this episode

You might also like:

David Weinstock: Neurokinetic Therapy

Valerie Berg: Structural Aging at Any Age

Jonathan FitzGordon: Psoas Release Party!

Katy Bowman: Move Your DNA (LBP 020)

Katy Bowman is a biomechanist, the author of the award winning blog, 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!




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.


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

If you liked this episode

You might also like:

Erwan LeCorre: Evolutionary Fitness

Esther Gokhale: Primal Posture

Darryl Edwards: Primal Play

Jonathan FitzGordon: Psoas Release Party! (LBP 018)


Jonathan FitzGordon, creator of the CoreWalking Method, talks about the uniqueness of the psoas muscle, how its connected to trauma and uprightness, and how and why to release it. He also gets into gait patterns, what the most common dysfunctional gait pattern is these days, and how changing your walk can actually resolve your pain and discomfort issues, as well as unlocking emotional patterns. Last but not least we also get into one of my favorite topics- why we all need to stick our butts out more and what that means.




Show notes:

CoreWalking is teaching people how to walk, or re-teaching them. Jonathan has been teaching yoga for 15 years and when he had his own studio he had an interest in helping people to take yoga off the mat. He used to think people came to yoga to change their bodies or their posture, and I realized that people really came to yoga to reinforce their movement patterns.

[the rest in Jonathan's voice except where noted]

Walking is a fundamental thing that we all do, but we don't really think about it. No one is taught how to walk, you usually imitate your parents and grandparents, and their patterns might not be great.

As I created this program right away it started helping people with back pain, which was a nice reaction that I wasn't looking for, but I began to pay attention to it.

If you know how your body works, it's going to work much better for you. I teach anatomy in a basic way, but if you understand how your foot is supposed to fall in every step you take, you're more likely to do it.

The root of the CoreWalking Program is that if you change physical patterns you can unlock emotional patterns or blocks that you have carried around without realizing it. I see that when people change their physical patterns emotional patterns change too.

In New York (where Jonathan works) there are bodyworkers everywhere, so I wanted to create an online program where people who live in places where there aren't a ton of practitioners can get help. They can send me a video and I mark it up and we talk about what's going on.

I am shocked by how effective it can be at changing patterns. I'm not doing anything. I believe in bodywork, but it's not what I happen to do, and I'm amazed at watching these people do all the work themselves.

It's as simple as moving differently. I have to emphasize that I'm not hung up in being "correct" or getting it "right" so much as moving differently.

I [Brooke] mention the Amy Cuddy TED talk: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (in resources).

I spend way too much time watching people move in the parks, and you can watch someone and you can really read what they are going through by the way they carry themselves.

How can working on your gait pattern help your pain issues?

The body is a self-healing machine, but only if it is working somewhat well. We don't think much about how we walk, we don't align our bones well. If our bones are misaligned our muscles are going to have to work to hold us upright. Overworked muscles don't allow us to move well, and if we aren't moving well the nerves don't flow as well. If we can bring these things together the healing takes place naturally.

Everyone listening can just go outside today and start watching people walk.

Most people when they stand they lean slightly backwards, and when they walk the legs lead, the pelvis is pulled forward and the upper body is pulled backwards. When we do that, we lose the most important part of the gait pattern which is a spinal twist with every step.

So many muscles are involved in a body that walks better from head to toe, so when the spinal twist gets involved that's when we get the core involved. Every step twists and turns and massages your organ body, it affects the lungs, your urogential function... the idea of the body as a self-healing mechanism is the essence of what I'm working with.

You have injuries and you walk and sometimes compensate for them. The way we walk most of the time exacerbates the injury pattern. The way you compensate is fine, but you didn't come back to the way you walked, so you get problems somewhere else.

It's all about movement. The more we move the better. When we do that there is going to be so much less pain.

The Psoas Release Party is an ongoing workshop and a book that Jonathan has written (both in resources). Why all the attention for the psoas? What makes it unique?

The psoas is an important muscle for three reasons: 1) It's the muscle that brought us up to stand 2) It is the muscle that walks us through life and 3) It is the muscle of trauma, or the muscle that warehouses the unprocessed energy.

One of the things that makes us distinctly human is that we have a lumbar curve, that's what allows us to stand upright, it's what transfers weight through the spine, it's what allows us to walk bipedally, and the psoas created the lumbar curve.

When we came up to stand the gluteus maximus is formed- it pulls down on the pelvis to pull it upright. As it does that, the psoas major crosses the pelvis and tension is created and its engagement creates the lumbar curve.

Once the spine is upright, there are only a few muscles- the  psoas major, the piriformis, the gluteus maximus are working front to back to stabilize the pelvis.

I love the concept of walking as falling. What prevents us from falling completely is the psoas. When we lead with the legs instead of the core the psoas isn't aligned correctly at the back half of the inner thigh. When this doesn't happen the back half of the body doesn't activate.

When the psoas is engaged with every step the entire back body lengthens. There are certain muscles that support the extension of the spine. If the psoas is not engaging to walk us through life the whole posterior chain is going to collapse.

The trauma piece is incredible to me. Psoas is the main hip flexor in the body and what I mean by that is that the psoas is involved in every response of fear. We're all stuck in our fear response. Every time we're afraid we flex; Fear is flexion. Your psoas is involved every time.

We have the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system which work together to create homeostasis of the body. Sympathetic is in sympathy with our fear, parasympathetic is what brings us back to relaxation.

People who cannot relax as quickly as someone else, that gets into PTSD. I'm not trying to minimize PTSD, but I think we are all traumatized to one degree or another. We're here to be traumatized and to work hard to develop a support system to integrate that trauma.

When the psoas cannot release out of the fear response, we get stuck in the sympathetic nervous system.

I don't know why I'm interested in this stuff, I have the longest psoas in the world. I think  the fact that I'm fairly chill helps me to work with people in trauma.

What are some ways to release the psoas?

You can stretch your psoas but you only feel it when it's unhappy. I don't think psoas is a muscle we need to strengthen. I am interested in strengthening the muscles that support the psoas.

When you look at psoas and piriformis, a lot of muscles in the body don't work all the time, like the biceps. The psoas and piriformis are working a lot.

What happens when you do give these muscles a break? I think it's a lot about the level of trauma in the body. How do you let that go?

One thing I'm doing is constructive rest position (in resources). It is popular across many different techniques like Alexander Technique. It was invented by a woman called Lulu Sweigard who wrote a book called Human Movement Potential [resource]. It allows gravity to relax and release the psoas. I also do one with a foot on the block and one leg hangs off. I want to put the psoas into a place where it can relax.

What's fascinating is what happens when you do that. Every Psoas Release Party starts with 15 or 20 minutes of constructive rest. Some people have nothing happen. Some people will have their legs flop over to one side, and over and over again it happens. I have seen bodies convulse completely, I have seen feet stamp hard on the floor.

I love that the body takes care of itself when it is ready. It has to feel ok.

I think people are very messed up in their quads particularly the rectus femoris, and I feel like people sometimes can't get to the psoas until the quads get better. I do a pose block lunges for that (in resources).

There are all different ways around it, but the idea of release is to put the muscle into a non-working state to get it to let go.

David Berceli does TRE, Trauma Release Exercises (in resources), and is really interesting to me. His work is about inducing tremors in the body in release positions.

Stick your butt out- why might that be worth harping on?

When I set out to teach people to walk I love that walking is a basic, big concept. I like using big images rather than the subtle. I love the subtle, and I love these really smart people who write about or teach really complex stuff. But I want it to be simple. It doesn't get more simple than "stick your butt out".

I don't feel like you need to be able to do subtle work to change your body.

The main thing is using that cue to get your legs under your pelvis. Everyone leans forward in their thighs and back in their trunk. It doesn't always pull the pelvis into a tuck, but often it does. So when I'm saying stick your butt out, I want their legs under their hip sockets.

"Relax your butt" is another one I use a lot. If gluteus maximus needs to be turned on, it's only a little bit. When you're just standing, relax your butt.

"Give your butt a room of its own." It's not meant to sit on your hamstrings, it's meant to have it's own space. We all need bigger butts.

It's all simple imagery. I get into more subtle things with kegels, mula bandha, and uddiyhana bandha.

You're not saying, "arch your low back more."

We need to have a curve in our lower back, but you want the smallest possible curve. It is essential, but it does not need to be large. If the curve is too big or does not exist, the spine is not going to work well.

The keep on truckin' cartoon is a good exaggeration of the walking pattern Jonathan is describing. His whole upper body is way behind him with the leg out in front.

In his own practice Jonathan is playing with how to spread the fingers in down dog. When he had been doing it, he was spreading them as much as he could. So the pinky was wider than the edge of the palm. I read a blog and the woman who wrote it said to move the pinky in line with the outer edge of the palm. It resonates all the way up into the arm, head, neck, and shoulder. (video in resources)

Home play!


Where is your leg in your gait pattern? We have an image of our friend, the keep on truckin' guy here, it's clearly a gross exaggeration, but how much are you walking like him? Is your leg way out in front of you? Does your trunk trail behind? Does your leg ever get behind your midline into extension in your walk? How much does it move behind you? Can you use your toe hinge/toe off- that moment when your heel is up and your toes are on the ground? Or do you pick up your whole foot like it's a block? See what you notice!



Psoas Release Party DVD (coming soon)

Psoas Release Party book

free ebook How Walking Can Change Your Life

Amy Cuddy TED talk: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Jonathan's video on how to do constructive rest

Jonathan's video on block lunges

Lulu Sweigard Human Movement Potential

David Berceli Trauma Release Exercises (TRE)

Jonathan's aligning your pinky finger video

If you liked this episode

You might also like:

Eric Goodman: Resolving Back Pain

Valerie Berg: Structural Aging At Any Age

Steve Haines: Body Maps and Interoception

Jules Mitchell: The Science of Stretching (LBP 009)

I got a chance to talk with Jules Mitchell right after she turned in her Master’s thesis on the science of stretching. Jules’ work blends biomechanics with the tradition of yoga to help people move better, and while looking into the research on stretching she discovered some pretty eye-opening things! For example, the idea that we can persistently stretch a muscle and have it grow longer, it turns out, is not true. We get into many other myths of stretching- and it seems there are plenty- what really works, what’s really risky, and what a better model of viewing the body might be when we put aside the “stretch tight bits to make them looser” paradigm.




Show notes

Exercise Science is a field of science with many different aspects. Jules focused on biomechanics in her Master's work, which is a science of forces and how the body responds to loads.

Yoga therapy can mean many things, but for Jules it means the application of biomechanics into yoga. It takes into consideration how the body is responding to loads, and how individuals have a loading history based on what they have done in the past, so you can't give people a blanket yoga practice.

Her Master's Thesis is basically the science of stretching.

About 1 year into the research she discovered that what she had learned from the yoga community was not supported by the science.

She went through a pretty big transformation from that and had to allow herself to unlearn and approach the science with a blank slate, and then to re-learn.

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.

For those who are dealing with limited range, or flexibility issues, what can they do? Gentle, passive stretching to the point of tolerance where they can relax into it and their nervous system feels safe there, and be there for 30 seconds to no more than 1 minute.

If you really want to see changes it's really about using it. Create muscle force at that range of motion. It's active, your body has to be in control.

Jules does more strength training at these ranges of motion than passive stretching and that's where you start to see the results, because your neuromuscular system starts to work in cooperation.

Pectoralis minor (images here) if that's my issue and I want it to get longer, what would it look like to do this with strength training?

Jules says she is not going to use the word "longer" because the range won't increase. And it's not just pec minor, it's all the connective tissue around it, the ligaments of the joint, all the neighboring muscles, etc.

How that would work, you would bring the shoulder into a range where the shoulder is limited, and then you would work in that range on flexing the muscle to get it as strong as it can at that limited range. It's kind of like resistance stretching. You are stimulating the fibers so that they can communicate with your nervous system back and forth, and that's one of the most effective ways because you are developing strength and control in that joint position.

At the opposite end of that she would refer them to Restorative Yoga which is based in props. You wouldn't try to stretch as hard as you can. When you stretch as far as you can what's already compliant is going to stretch first so you're not going to hit your target tissue. But if you properly use props now there's a more equal force distribution, and you can be in that pose for a long time and communicate to your nervous system.

We are dynamic communicating organisms vs. lumps of clay that can be molded. It's all about how our nervous system regulates our muscle tissue, which transmits a force to our connective tissue.

We have to look at the tensegrity model where muscle fibers literally embed into connective tissue. If you think about it your muscles are contractile tissues- that's what they do. They produce force. the sarcomeres are literally transmitting force to the connective tissues all around, not just length-wise but also radially outwards in all directions and dimensions.

If you don't have the ability to control the muscle force in all dimensions you run into weakened muscle force. We want our muscle tissue to be strong enough to move.

[said another way] We want to be stiff- just stiff in all ranges of motion, not just one range of motion. In a full range of motion "stiff" makes us powerful beings and now we have a full range.

This idea that the more flexible we are the better off we are- when reality those people have more trouble "holding themselves together".

How does someone get "tight" in the first place?

Jules does not use that word, because there is no definition for tight. It's not a mechanical term.

If we're going to go with air quotes "tight", or talk about limited range of motion- that you can only take your joint in certain positions- that happens, 9 times out of 10, because it hasn't been used there, so the nervous system doesn't put it there. The muscle fibers aren't strong enough to maintain that force regulation through the body. It will go to where it's safer. It's not a matter of tightness, it's more a matter of communication.

Jules mentions Van der Wal's article (which is linked below in the resources). He was groundbreaking in this research. He was an anatomist and he realized that our mathematical models for human movement weren't fitting in to how we viewed anatomy. We really aren't a collection of muscles. There's never any part of the body that's slack. His work was groundbreaking for understanding tensegrity. Force transmits radially through out the body, so everything is always under some degree of tension.

One of my favorite Dr. Rolf quotes of all time: "Wherever you think it is, it ain't"

Stretching an injury: we have a cultural misunderstanding of stretching. We have an idea that if it hurts, stretch it. People who are in pain should just leave it alone instead of stretching it and instead move it and use it so the muscle fibers will direct the loads where it's supposed to go.

If you have a tendon or ligament tear, that you want to wait before you stretch. A big problem is that the inflammation goes down within a few days and they no longer feel the injury and so are ready to go right back to stretching it. It's a good 6 weeks before the collagen can take stretching. And that's conservative; A safe measure would be 1 to 2 years.

Most often it takes some re-injury before people are willing to hear that advice about not stretching.

Nobody cares about stretching the way the yoga community does. In the research and in the Exercise Science community there is no interest in these extreme ranges. In fact, in the research Jules was looking at- in many cases people who practiced yoga did were excluded from the studies because they don't expect these extreme ranges.

The biggest surprise was that there was very little research on yoga and flexibility. She found one short study. The yoga community has done some great research but more on mental health and relationships.

However in 2012 Yoga Journal did a study on the 18 million Americans that practice yoga and the number 1 reason they were practicing yoga was to increase flexibility, so there' s a big disconnect [between the research and the reasons people seek out a yoga practice].

When flexibility is the issue for a person, stretching is not going to help. Moving frequently in more full ranges of motion and incrementally increasing the load is actually the answer.

Jules believes that is what yoga was meant to do- yoga is using your body weight in a bunch of different positions.

But we have gone in this "push harder, harder, harder" mentality and you have 80 people in a classroom, and some have been doing handstands for 10 years, and some just got off their couch, and you're giving them the same class. That's scary.

You can't expect a yoga teacher, or any other fitness instructor, in a group setting to be able to fully take into consideration how you have used your body for its whole history. And you have to keep that in mind.

In her own practice Jules is currently playing with decreasing her flexibility. She was never hypermobile, but she's learned that she was really flexible and she was really weak in these full ranges of motion. Increasing the muscle contraction at the end range has got her feeling better than she ever has.

Home play!

I am in the process of finishing the first Liberated Body Guide (short guides of what works for what) and the first one will be the Short Hamstrings Guide ("short" in air quotes, but Limited Range of Motion in Your Hamstrings makes for a wordy title...). Because my world is fairly hamstrings-centric right now due to the guide, let's play with load instead of stretching to see how the hamstrings respond. For one week play with swapping out any stretching protocol you might have for squatting, lunging, or a Founder (from the previous episode with Eric Goodman) and see what response you get. I'm talking about body-weight movements that are not high velocity or high quantity. This is good for both the "tight" types and the Gumby types, so everybody wins!


Jules Mitchell's site

Jules' most current blog post which covers in more detail what we talked about in the interview: Stretching and Muscle Control

Restorative Yoga

Jaap van der Wal article  (It's exceptional, print it out and digest slowly...)

Jules' post that I refer to in the home play section: Are You Really Stretching What You Think You Are?