Take a load off your shoulders!

Harkening back to the earliest days of our Facebook Live presentations .. like, wow! February! … one of our first videos was about everyone’s favorite place to hold tension - the shoulders!

With few exceptions (like that one client I had who held his tension in his feet - I hear ya, brother!), this is probably The Most Popular destination for holding stress.

(Though, I’ve become curious: Where would it be if we tried NOT to hold our stress there? Thoughts?)

I have also been asked (and maybe Bill has, as well) if I think their shoulders are tight due to posture or stress.

My answer is generally ‘yes’, because ultimately, the end result is the same: restriction of movement and therefore blood flow, potential nerve impingement, discomfort or pain, and if left, unchecked, can affect other parts of the body … like the neck, arms, hands, and, as we will see in later posts, the rib cage, low back and hips.

But at the root, in either case, are habits - whether of posture* or emotional response, and along with these habits, our stronger and most-oft-used parts get used more, whether we want them to or not (I’m looking at you, upper traps!), and round and round the cycle goes.

One more thing to consider - how we’re walking.

Our stability and balance ideally is within the harmonious functionality of the core, the pelvis and the hip muscles. When we lose that - whether due to age**, a proprioception-disrupting event like a stroke, a compromising event like surgery or injury, or even wearing high heels - we may end up delegating our sense of stability to the upper body, locking up the shoulders and neck.

A lot to think about, I know.

But, we can start where we are.

Try this:

In this video, I demonstrate a few simple exercises to help you practice moving the arms at the shoulder joint without involving the muscles that raise your shoulders into your ears.

I highly recommend practicing with a mirror so you can check yourself.

With entrenched habits, we rarely are aware of what we're doing, even if it "feels" right.

Have fun with it, and be sure to let us know how it goes!

—————-

*Side note: When I’m speaking of ‘posture’, I’m not suggesting a simple fix of pulling your shoulders back. (Please see my ebook: 6 Things to STOP Doing for Better Posture for more about that.) Yes, our 10-12 pound heads, as they drift closer to our computer screens, etc. is yet another load we’re carrying on the shoulders, but, the truth is, trying to rearrange certain body parts for a better position and hold it there for eternity is only going to create more chronic tension. There are better ways to mobilize and balance the forces that bring about alignment and ease.

To learn more, contact us, or check out our classes!

** And yet another side note: When I say age, I’m not suggesting that getting older is the cause of diminished balance; only that the habits of not reinforcing our balancing mechanisms with use have been around longer, and therefore, are more likely to appear as we get older.

The stress of slowing down

September is simply whooshing by, and while it's gray and damp again as I write this, we had a gorgeous respite yesterday - blue skies and a warm sun.

Bill and I finally got a chance to head down to one of our happy places, Longwood Gardens, where we took in the lush end-of-summer colors, including the meadow:

Bill at Longwood.jpg

Anyway...

I wrote a little last week about the Chinese Medicine characteristics of this time of year, namely, late summer, or the transition time between the seasons.

This period, roughly nine days before and after the actual seasonal change, is ideally a time of preparation for what's to come in terms of diet, activities, mindset, etc.

September 22 marks the autumn equinox for us this year.

More than just an arbitrary date, this is when the sun is directly overhead at noon on the earth's equator, and the northern and southern hemispheres are receiving the same amount of darkness and light. As we head into winter, the sun's rays are angled more directly to the southern hemisphere, hence our days here in the north become colder and shorter.

In nature, we can already see the changes, as the leaves on the trees start to darken and then lose their green altogether; more yellows and gold appear on the foliage. Flowers that are hardier in cooler weather begin to emerge: asters, goldenrod, chrysanthemums, and round fruits and vegetables, like apples and squash come into ripening.

Times of transition can be stressful.

But stress - if we think of it as a workload, or a test - is likely to reveal to us where our weaknesses are, which we can then learn to strengthen.

In our culture, we don't typically recognize the rhythmic and cyclical nature of our bodies as we can see so clearly in nature.

But as the light changes (and that's without the whole time change nonsense), the quality of the air becomes cooler and drier. We're inside more, our eating habits and activity levels change - all these things can leave us more vulnerable to colds, flu, and just feeling down and tired.

We are also not a culture that slows down when nature does, and, as our bodies are probably moving less, and breathing less deeply, our lungs and digestive systems are not as active. 

Indeed, the autumn in Chinese Medicine is associated with the emotions 'melancholy' and 'grief', and the Lungs and Large Intestine Organs become predominant.

We'll be talking about that more as fall kicks in, but in the meantime, you can start preparing for that shift in downward and inward energy - mostly by assessing and perhaps capping off your big-project list, and attending to your home space for the next week or so.

Stay tuned - next week we'll start giving you tips for sailing through a healthy autumn!

Everybody Wu Chi Tonight!

IMG_0948.jpg

Here in Pennsylvania, the almost unbearable heat finally broke this past weekend with a startling rainy cold front.

Talk about seasonal transitions!

I'm sure it will warm up again before we're fully committed to autumn, but for the moment, we've dug out the long sleeves, and tested the furnace in the old house we'll be spending our first winter in. (Works great! Phew!)

Speaking of seasonal transitions, in Traditional Chinese Medicine - the philosophy that underpins my (Gina's) bodywork practice - late summer, and particularly, the nine days before and after a seasonal change, is associated with the element of Earth.

Earth (or, doyo) represents the center, the home, the body. Where we go to feel stable when times they are a-changin' - or, more importantly, to where we can best direct our energies until the dust settles.

Self-care is most important (and probably the hardest) during times of change - even basic stuff: eating well, getting enough sleep, and moving the body.

Far be it from us to offer any simple solutions for what would be right for your life, other than, sometimes just choosing one healthy habit can be a good start, and even make a huge difference.

Here's one practice that you can start where you are:

In qigong (pronounced 'chee-kung' - a Chinese style of gentle exercise), we begin our routines with a posture called wu chi.

Wu chi loosely translates as 'no-action energy'. It's a relaxed, yet 'ready' posture, in which 'nothing is happening, but everything is happening'.

Outwardly, one appears still. Internally, there's a potential for activity - a readiness to move that is not in a state of tension per se, or contraction. (If you understand anything about 'muscle tonus' and innervation you'll know what I mean).

Bill and I once defined three parts of posture: grounding, centering and alignment.

Grounding, literally means, "firmly connected to a base".

When we stand in wu chi, we imagine roots, which begin, really, within the pelvis, continuing in the legs and delving deep and wide through the earth below our feet.

As we visualize* this root system, as well as an imaginary string gently lifting the top of the head up toward the heavens, we can cultivate a sense of stability, strength and presence within the body.

It's a highly effective and mindful posture to move from, as well as embody as we're dealing with whatever mayhem may be happening around us.

(*In qigong practice, visualization and imagination play a very important role in how they affect our fascia. More on that to come.)

Experience this beautiful, simple practice below!

We believe that the more technologically-plugged in we become, the more input comes through only two of our senses: sight and sound. As we reinforce our experience of the world through such limited doors, we risk becoming more reactionary, disconnected and well, ungrounded.

We invite you to try this wu chi posture - today, if possible. (It's one of September's Movement Challenges, by the way!)

It can take just three to five minutes... the hardest part is giving it your full attention, so, try to approach it without distractions at first. When you've practiced it for a bit, you can 'drop into it' in almost any situation.

Questions? Comments? Just hit 'reply', or come on over to our Facebook page.

New routine? Just keep moving!

I guess when the school busses start appearing on the roadways, we know the end of summer is near. (Insert heavy sigh.)

New routines can be inspiring or disruptive, but are usually a little of both.

We've established an impressive routine here at P4H of airing three Facebook Live videos a week since February (yay, us!).

I think we've done around 83 so far, and as we near our 100th episode, we've been pondering how to engage our readers and office visitors even more - to encourage more movement, and to remember our relationship in the natural order of things, for better health, and less stress.

Soooo..

Coming soon (...like next week!): 

P4H.SeasonalButton.jpg

Posturing for Your Month - Moving Through the Seasons!

As the calendar and the seasons change, so do our external and internal rhythms. Different routines, schedules and levels of energy can threaten to sabotage even our best healthy intentions.

Drawing from the Traditional Chinese Medicine seasonal associations (see here and here for an overview), from qigong, from restorative exercise, and with an eye on how crazy-busy most of us seem to be, we will present a package of 'posturing' resources every month to help you stay balanced and healthy, no matter what the calendar (and Mother Nature) is throwing at you.

What's included in this package?

All this... but not limited to...

~ Inspirational quotes about each season (because who doesn't like quotes?)

~ A short summary of the season according to Chinese Medicine

~ A list of suggestions for seasonally-relevant lifestyle tweaks

~ A monthly book review

~ And ... a list of movement challenges for the month...some with accompanying, helpful videos! 

Best part? No charge! 

Everything will be posted in the office, as well as here on the site, including downloads, in case you want a paper list handy. And, we want to you invite YOU, our readers and clients to post your photos and comments to our Facebook page, and/or our brand new Instagram account

Check back here next week, or subscribe to our newsletter, so you won't miss the first installment of Posturing for Your Month!

Let's move into a new season together!

Movement, Memory and Minecraft

Fourth grade was the toughest three years of my life. (Well, it felt like three years, anyway...)

Fractions and decimals were introduced in math; in science class we had to learn about cells.

cell.jpg

Paramecium and amoeba, along with all those long-named parts, like membrane and mitochondria, and my personal fave- endoplasmic reticulum! Wow, what a word!

Little did I realize that years later … no … YEARS and years later .. I would be
revisiting the world of cellular function to explain to my clients why they need to move more …naturally.

As it turns out, and as we’ve mentioned on occasion, and will continue to mention … cells require movement to stay healthy!

Compression and decompression are as important to a cell’s health as is its intake of nutrients and minerals. The fact is, you may eat the healthiest diet in the world, and yet still be malnourished through lack of movement. Part of this is because cells, like any other living physical structure, require healthy stress loads to maintain strength and integrity.

For instance, osteoporosis is as much a result of lack of tensile strength as it is a lack of calcium. Loading up on calcium will not make up for weight-bearing loads that encourage the cellular matrix to grow dense. Living tissue needs stress loads.

It’s part of the adaptive/evolutionary process.*

In addition to the role tensile loads play, there’s the electrical component to consider.

Cells are more than just little parts working in concert like a tiny clock, or, more accurately, like a tiny city. Cells "buzz”. They are electric. They have batteries (remember those mitochondria?) and they communicate with each other in frequencies (measured in Hz). The entire cell, according to Royal Raymond Rife “vibrates with an oscillatory rate”.

And how does this cell stay “charged”?

Partially through chemical reactions within it of potassium and zinc and iron and so-on … but also through piezoelectric properties.

In other words, when the cels experience compression and decompression, an electric charge (potential) is generated. This “charging of the cell” is as critical to its life as the nutrients and minerals it absorbs.

Which got me to thinking - I’ve read recently, and from several sources, that there are more memory cells in our intestines than there are in our brains. This doesn’t surprise me. I view the brain as a ‘mother board’ of sorts. It’s the processor with a certain amount of memory. But the bulk of the memory is RAM, found throughout the rest of our body.

If this be the case, then let’s link these two worlds together:

If movement is necessary for cellular health, and, If memory cells are located throughout our body (and not just in our brains, as previously held), then could it be that sedentary living is itself a cause for memory loss and dementia?

I know that may seem like a large leap, but if you follow the logic, it’s not that much of a jump at all.

Our body is home to 100 trillion microbes (both good and bad) that make up our microbiome, an ecosystem of bacteria that work together with our human cells. Most of these microorganisms reside in our gut, where they produce vitamins, regulate our immune system, improve digestion, relieve temporary inflammation, balance our blood sugar, and help us absorb nutrients.

Scientists are discovering that the bacteria in our gut may also have a large influence on our brain.

You see, the gut—often called the “second brain”—is home to the enteric nervous system, a vast network of millions of neurons that send and receive messages and respond to emotions (think of a “gut feeling”).

Studies now show that probiotics (the good guys) in the gut—which produce the majority of the body’s serotonin, along with other important brain chemicals—send messages and chemicals to the brain that may affect memory.

Furthermore, the vagus nerve is an information superhighway that extends from the brain stem all the way into the abdomen. Researchers are discovering that microbes in our gut can send messages and important brain chemicals via the vagus nerve to our brain, affecting how we think, feel, and remember. It seems to me that movement … natural movement … like walking and playing on the floor and dancing, would have a profound effect on the health and functionality of these memory-structures.

Maybe forgetfulness and what we call ‘dementia’ in the elderly is more of an atrophy which takes place when sitting all day in front of game shows.

And if that’s the case, what do we do about the new wave of entertainment that’s taken over the youth of today?

Yes, I’m talking about computer/video games.

When I visit my grandchildren, all I see of them is the top of their heads. Their faces are buried in their hand-held gadgetry. And when I look outside, I no longer see kids riding bikes, playing kick-ball or tag, or walking in the woods. They’re home … sitting in front of their computers playing “Minecraft”.

Does this count as 'natural movement'?

Does this count as 'natural movement'?

What's to become of this generation, with their senses dulled and their bodies turned off? What will the quality of their lives be in their 70’s and 80’s. Heck… in their 40’s?!

Movement … motion … activity … should be as much a part of our diet as fruits and vegetables (and ice cream. There, I said it!)

So - all that to say- if you want to stay mentally healthy, consider natural movement as a means to that end.

Therefore- since movement affects memory- remember to move!


(* G - The scientific term for this is mechanotransduction: “the process by which cells sense and then translate mechanical signals (compression, tension, fluid shear) created by their physical environment into biomechanical signals, allowing cells to adjust their structure and function accordingly.”. ~ Katy Bowman, 'Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement.'

It's important to note that this is a very localized event - in other words, with 7+ trillion cells in your body, it is possible that while some cells may get a lot of input, others may not get any, even if you're 'active'.)

Live! From Chester County, PA, It's....

..... just us. :)

But, hey! We did our first Facebook Live video today! 

This one is a nice wakey-wakey-routine for the spine and the whole body (Bonus: Bill opens the show with a ukulele piece - sung to the tune of "Folsom Prison Blues" - not to be missed!)

With the humility of the learning curve balanced with the gig dust of FINALLY doing something we said we were gonna do ages ago, we're still kinda excited.

Admittedly it was weird for me (Gina), heading right into 'teacher' mode first thing on a Monday morning (which is typically my 'work-at-home-but-not-till-9-ish' day), and perhaps it showed a little. But, I, and we, actually liked getting back into moving our bods before starting the rest of the day (or, even finishing our coffee...!)

We plan to offer these 15-20 min vids at 7:30am EST every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on our P4H Facebook page.

Being there live is kinda fun as viewers can ask questions, offer comments etc in real time. It feels almost like being in a real class (while still possibly in your P.J.'s!).

But, the videos stay on our page, so if you're not a morning person you can watch them anytime. (And, please, feel free to comment, like or share!)

And, if you're not even a Facebook person, you can watch them here.

This Wednesday, (Feb 14th), we'll be doing some moves to help remove your shoulders from your ears. :)

Hope to see you there!

Why treadmill walking is not exactly the same as walking

So, my daughter called me a while back to ask if I would go do a "lunch hour workout" with her at a local gym she'd begun to frequent.

Sure, I said, always thankful to spend a little daddy-daughter time.

I show up, ready to go. I have my cleanest pair of sweatpants on, a sleeveless t-shirt from like, the 80's, and my Chucky-T's laced for business!

"Oooohhhh, Dad...", my daughter says, shaking her head.

"What?"

woman_on_treadmill.jpg

"Nothing..." still shaking her head. "C'mon... this way..." leading me to the treadmill department

And it was there, on that very day, and on that very treadmill, I made a startling discovery: Treadmills are misleading!

Here's why I say that.

My daughter and I 'walked' for 20 minutes at a pretty aggressive clip on our respective treadmills. I was breathing a little heavier, I suppose, and my heart rate, I'm sure, had elevated some, which me feel pretty good about myself (Like, hey! Pretty good for a grand-dude! That's what my grandkids call me. Anyway...)

When it was time to get off the machine, and walk to the next 'station', IT happened.

Treading on treadmills.

Walking suddenly felt... strange. Like, I had no sea legs. Walking on the regular floor after having been on the treadmill for a while was, in fact, an entirely different experience. It took me a few minutes to re-adjust to NORMAL walking. Immediately I knew I had a mystery to solve.

Q: Why, if treadmills are designed to simulate or rather, replicate, the walking experience, do I feel different when actually walking on the floor afterward? It should have been a seamless transition from one 'walking' to the other, not? (That's how we talk in Lancaster County.)

As we were getting ready to leave, I made my way back to the treadmill area, and watched some of the folks on the machines.

There they were, 'walking'. Putting one foot in front of the other, left-right-left-right and so on.

By all outward appearances, they were 'walking'. And that's when I realized, No! They're not! In fact, on a treadmill, half of the muscle groups used for normal walking are disengaged.

Here's why:

When we walk, a several-step process takes place (no pun intended).

First, our iliopsoas* (along with other hip flexors**) raise our knee forward, while the quadriceps extend the foot outward, and then we plant the foot. THEN, our glutes and other extensors pull the leg back behind us, projecting our bodies forward through space, while the other foot comes forward, plants itself, and so on.

We're walking!

BUT - on a treadmill, something different happens.

We raise the knee, extend the leg, plant the foot, and THE MACHINE BRINGS OUR LEG BACK BEHIND US! The glutes play little to no role in the second half of the process. They are, for all intents and purposes, off-line, and that's not good.

Muscles are designed to work in concert with other muscles.

In combination, they keep even, steady tension in our bodies. This, in conjunction with the fascial system, ultimately forms our shape (i.e., our posture). And, the extensor and flexor groups are a perfect example of this.

Both the extensor and flexor groups should be in equal strength and ability to help balance the other.

That's not what happens on a treadmill.

On a treadmill, the flexors are getting a workout, but not the extensors.

This especially matters because the flexors in today's sitting-all-the-time society are usually too short.

I don't just mean in a shortened position.

I mean, they're too short because they've adapted that way from too often being in a seated position. So, when you spend time on a treadmill, you're strengthening a group of muscles that are already contracted, while ignoring its counter-balance muscles altogether.

This creates an even greater imbalance which can often be the cause of low back pain.

(Note from Gina: The lack of extensor workout out also matters regarding the use of the pelvic floor muscles, with which they have an intimate and supportive relationship.)

Anyone who has trouble getting up out of a chair because they feel pain in the low back knows exactly what happens when those flexors pull forward on the vertebrae, instead of opening up and releasing.

And that's why, after only twenty minutes, my body had to readjust to using all muscles again to walk. Ta-Da! Mystery solved!

But, now I'm faced with an even greater mystery: How come no one has ever noticed this discrepancy?

And, even greater than that, how do I get people, en masse, to get off their treadmills and walk for real? To do the natural instead of the artificial replication? To realize that their machine, while creating the appearance of walking, lacks the true power thereof?

In the meantime, I'm gonna take a walk.


 * Lots of discussions have occurred between Gina and Bill about the accuracy of the word, 'iliopsoas'. Here's an article by a doctor framing that debate.

** What flexors and extensors are: A flexor muscle is one that will decrease the angle of a joint when contracting. Like the action of the bicep on the elbow joint. An extensor will open up the angle of a joint when contracting, like the tricep on that same elbow joint.

In the case of the hip joint, hip 'flexors' will raise the femur, creating a small angle between the thigh relative to the pelvis. The glutes and hamstirings, when contracting, will bring the femur back and behind the pelvis, creating 'extension' in the hip joint.

It's all relative, my friend!

 

 

 

 

Stretching: The Truth

.. what it is, what it isn't, and how to do it effectively (without injuring yourself..!)

Why do we feel a need to clarify something so simple and seemingly self-explanatory?

Well, along with everything else regarding movement, it's become a topic we have to discuss at all because our lifestyles have made it pretty much optional.

Stretching as an exercise seems to have been around since ancient Rome, Greece, and of course, India, as with yoga.

Yet there are those who would say that stretching, as most of us do it, is not only unnatural (as compared to say, 'pandiculation', a type of active stretching that all animals with a spine do, like when yawning. So, here's your word for the day. You're welcome.)

And, of course, it is possible to stretch to the point of injury.

There is also the problem of the inversely proportional relationship between flexibility and joint stability .

In other words, one can reinforce the elasticity of a muscle/tendon structure into such a state as to become incapable of stabilizing a joint, as in the case of 'hypermobility')

So, you see, stretching can be a tricky business.

Part of the problem is that we are still trying to understand the optimal applications of exercise, but only from the perspective of our own sedentary culture, rather than within the broader context of human movement across all cultures and history.

Or, more to the point, what human movement would look like without the limitations of walls, floors, chairs, cars and other developments.

Our belief is that stretching has become a means of offsetting muscular adaptations that become tense and tight from a lack of well-rounded, whole body movement (I know, duh, right?)

However, one of the main arguments against stretching is that it really does nothing to offset any of this.

I will say that, as far as the waywe think most people approach stretching, this is probably true.

We believe, like with many of our' culture's approaches to health, concepts have become so oversimplified and misunderstood as to be use inappropriately.

So, regarding this particular practice,we 'd like to offer a few basic bits of info:

1) Not everything 'tight' needs to be stretched. In other words,  a 'tight' muscle can be due to it being chronically contracted (shortened) or chronically overstretched (lengthened).

2) Stretching a muscle should not be applied in a manner similar to reshaping a wool sweater that got caught in the dryer. Going to the burn is rarely a good idea, and is what can lead to tendon tears, scar tissue and even greater restriction.

3) The elasticity of a muscle (the capacity for it to actively extend longer than its resting state, and then return to that length) is determined by sarcomeres - long, fibrous proteins within the muscle fibers that slide past each other when a muscle contracts or relaxes.

A muscle that is held or used in a perpetually shortened position (like a calf muscle) will actually adapt to being shorter through a process called sarcomerolysis, which is basically the body cannibalizing some of the sarcomeres, like taking links out of a chain. This allows for a more efficient neutral resting state, but also decreased elastic range.

4) It is possible, with consistent lengthening input to produce an effect called sarcomerogenesis, which is the regrowth of sarcomeres back into the chain.

The key here is consistent input.

As we've stated, stretching alone will not typically produce any lasting changes.

In fact, passive stretching (that is, extending a relaxed muscle into a stretched position with no other muscles countering with contraction - think of stretching your quadriceps by pulling on your foot, as opposed to contracting your hamstrings to lift your foot toward your butt) is more likely to trigger a guarding reaction which only reinforces a tight muscle.

I do use passive and active stretches in my restorative exercise work as a means of illustrating what's really happening when you move one body part away from another, or what happens when you 'cant'.

But, two things about this:

1) I do stress the need for consistent 'elongation' input. In other words, our bodies adapt to what they're doing most frequently. We do the stretches, both for the purpose of supplementation, and to know what we should be moving.

But the changes (read: adaptations) really only occur when we are using our muscles in extension throughout the day. If you're doing your calf stretches regularly, great! But, if you're still wearing heels 8 hours of the day, you're kinda working against yourself.

2) I also teach mindful passive stretching. Functionally, we have two muscle lengths: the actual end range where any further stretch will create a tear. Before that, is the 'easy barrier' - the place where muscle tension starts to register and the reactive guarding mechanisms perk up. Between these is the sweet spot where either you will reinforce those guarding mechanisms by trying to blow through them, or you can relax and ease into the tension mindfully and allow the barriers to release.

This requires practice and some degree of body awareness which varies from person to person, and again, will not necessarily create instant changes, but will be a lot more effective over time.

(PS - another restriction to gaining length may be the presence of scar tissue in a ligament or tendon which may benefit from a technique known as 'cross fiber friction' - which Bill is skilled at providing or teaching his clients to do.)

So, while we're not ready to toss stretching out as archaic and misguided, we do hope this helps you apply it more effectively.

Want to learn more?

See our listings page for more info on restorative movement classes and workshops!

Working outside vs working out

Truly time waits for no man (or woman!) As I write this, a new year is upon is, and, of course,  with that comes the ever-familiar New Year's resolutions, with diet and exercise related goals topping the list.

I have to laugh as I hear people stating their intentions knowing darn well that if they hold true for a week or tow, they'll have bested last year's effort(s). It's like they know they're doomed to failure.

But, what if the problem is going unmentioned?

What if the reason we 'drop the ball' so quickly is not because of a lack of willpower or self-discipline, but rather, a realization on our body's part that what were attempting isn't what we need? There's a big difference between saying "I'm going to lost weight,", and, "I would like to eat better food."

Likewise, there's a difference between committing yourself to a daily/weekly 'workout' and moving more.

In the first instance, you're forcing your body to do what doesn't always come naturally.

In the second instance, you're aligning your body with what it actually wants (and needs) to be healthy.

Yes, your body actually craves movement. It's thirsty and hungry for it. A great Rabbi once said, "Who of you, when your child asks for bread, would give them a rock?"

So, too, why, when our bodies are hungry for movement, do we give it a barbell? Or, why, when our bodies needs walking, do we give it a treadmill?

Trading off real-life movement for simulated activities is like trying to subsist soley on a diet of nutritional supplements.

Here's an example from my own life:

Our house backs up to an Amish farm. The boundary dividing the two properties is lines with old walnut and sassafras trees. When I first moved in, this tree line was completely overtaken by sticker bushes, wild grape and poison ivy. The vines had grown up and over the tress, killing some of them, and making a mess of the rest. So, the tree line wasn't so much a tree line as it was a thirty foot swath of jungle, growing wider with each year.

The backyard 'before' shot.

The backyard 'before' shot.

Enter the 'me'.

Having spent a good bit of my adult life doing carpentry and excavation and so forth, my body missed that activity, and yes, the thrill of mindless grunt work.

I know - it sounds strange - bu there's something about ripping out weeds and pulling down vines that is very zen to me.

I have no problems to solve. I don't have to think a whole lot. I only need to tackle one weed, one vine, one root at a time. And, although getting started is always the hardest part, once I get going my body springs into life! My muscles are engaged, my breathing becomes more powerful, and my heart develops this nice bass drum punch to it that makes me feel like a machine coming back to life.

After about three or four hours, I usually have removed enough 'crapola' to then construct an evening's worth of bonfire, which I enjoy immensely!

Here's another thing. On several occasions, whilst whacking away at the verge, my neighbor comes over with this curious look on his face.

"What the hell are you doin'?"

"I'm clearing the tree line."

"Why are you doing it like THAT?" he asks, his eyebrows knitting together is a curious and semi-concerned manner. "I got a piece of equipment that can do all this in an hour!"

"Yeah, well -  like doing this. It makes me feel good. But, hey, thanks anyway!"

"Alright, suit yerself..." he says, and heads back over to his place.

I can't help but wonder about a connection between his choice for the 'easier and faster' approach to getting a job done, and his health issues, even though I know he works out.

Me? I'd rather work outside.

I have found that what most of us try to avoid is what we actually really need. By making the effort to go outside and yank weeds, dig up roots and move rocks, I get a full-body workout while making my yard look better. What do you get from lifting weights? Does the gym look any better after you're done? Can you look at the dumb-bells with any sense of lasting satisfaction?

"See those weighs over there? You oughtta see what they looked like BEFORE I lifted 'em twenty times!"

No - give me a sickle and a digging bar any day!

I use my arms, my legs, my torso ...everything!... to accomplish a task and feel good about it, and myself. And, I can enjoy my efforts for years to come. Every time I stand on my deck to look out over the beautiful landscape that was once untamed brush, I get a complete sense of satisfaction.

The backyard 'after' shot.

The backyard 'after' shot.

It's taken me five years so far, and I'm almost done. I have maybe two or three hundred more feet to go and I'm already wondering about what I'll do when I'm finished. (Gina asks, anyone need some brush cleared...? :)

In the meantime, I'll keep finding ways to use my body to 'do life', rather than seeking the 'easier, faster' ways, and then trying to fit my body's needs for movement around that.

What are some activities you might otherwise use technology for that you can re-purpose to meet your body's needs for movement?

Can you walk while doing your phone meetings? Can you shovel some of the drive before reaching for the snowblower? (Yes, Gina just inserted that suggestion, knowing that Bill who does still use a shovel actually covets the neighbor's snowblower...)

There's a million big and little whole foods movements we can reclaim for our workout.

Homework: In the last email, we asked you to pay attention to marketing messages for 'wellness' and 'health' and 'fitness', and see if you can discern what they're really selling.

This week, we want you to notice ads promoting 'ease' and 'convenience'. What sort of connections are you making (if any) between the two?

We invite you to post your comments below, or visit us on Facebook.

Stay tuned next week, where we'll discuss the differences between treadmill-walking and walking.

The backyard 'with Gina' shot...

The backyard 'with Gina' shot...

Ditch the workout and just move!

There is a prevailing mindset these days concerning health, fitness and well-being that has spawned what is probably a multi-billion dollar industry.

injuryimagery.jpg

As a result, most of our clients are people who injure themselves trying to get healthy.

Advances in technology allow a satellite to monitor our heart rate, our breathing, our blood pressure and count how many steps we've taken from the car to the desk. And yet, the actual understanding of fitness seems to be getting lost.

In short, we're buying products and paying for services that promise to help us reach goals. Those goals are determined by the standard the industry sets for itself. (Example: If I want to sell weigh benches, I want the public to think that big muscles = fitness. Or, if I sell cosmetics I want you to believe that smooth skin = health.)

But, what is 'fitness'? And what is 'health'?

I've worked with guys who were so muscle bound that they lacked endurance. Where they 'fit'?

I look at the guys and gals on the covers of health magazines and I question, "How do I know they're healthy?" They might have picture-perfect bodies but are dealing with "diseases of captivity"* - high blood pressure, thyroid problems, diabetes. And I wonder, what's their range of motion? I really don't know.

We're offered health idols based on an appearance, and often, little else.

And, based on that standard, we're sold products like treadmills and elliptical machines, free-weights and dumb-bells, and exercise programs - all designed to strengthen our muscles in an attempt to conform our shape to the statue ... err .. standard of what fitness 'looks like'.

In the next few weeks, we would like to challenge the conventional approach to fitness and wellness. In particular, we want to examine the differences between 'exercise' and 'movement', as well as between what good health 'looks like' and how it actually manifests.

One of the most exciting directions Gina and my practices(s) have taken recently is the discovery (by Gina) of Katy Bowman's work, and her emphasis on 'nutritious movement',

We've learned and continue to learn that health and fitness have a lot to do with being able to function naturally in a natural environment.

Our intention is to present insights concerning the body's design (anatomy) and function (physiology) in a clear and understandable way - hopefully without your eyes glazing over.

We believe that the better informed our clients are, the more equipped they are to know what's actually supportive for them, instead of taking the industry's word for it. The great thing about knowledge is that it equips you to ask better questions!

We'll talk about muscles and how they're designed to function, and the role posture plays in tendons, ligaments and whether or not it makes sense to go to the gym after sitting all day.

We'll also offer practical suggestions to reclaim movement opportunities throughout your day.

You'll be amazed at how much natural movement there is to be experienced, free-of-charge and without carving out any extra time in the day to do it.

For example: When walking from my car to my office, I've begun walking on the curb instead of the blacktop... ya know, like we did as kids!

... and why do we stop doing this?

... and why do we stop doing this?

Why do we stop doing this as grown-ups? I don't know.

But, I do know that a simple thing like balancing on a slight curb brings movement ... natural movement ... into my otherwise non-movemental day, (And, yeah, I did just make that word up).

It costs me no money, it costs me no time, and I gain the benefit of engaging my core muscles, all the while, starting off my work day doing something fun!

That's what we're talking about. Reclaiming movement as opposed to (or in addition to) 'exercising'.

Here are some upcoming topics that are sure to challenge the Conventional Fitness Paradigm:

  • What is meant by 'nutritious movement'?
  • What is muscular strength really?
  • Does lifting weights provide the same benefit (nutrition) to the body as climbing a tree?
  • Why treadmill walking is NOT the same as walking outside
  • The difference between isolationist and holistic workouts
  • How can small things like walking on a curb possibly be as effective as a workout routine?
  • But your ____ hurts, and what if you can't do a lot of the stuff we suggest?

We also invite you (and this is important) to send us your thoughts and questions. (You can comment below, or privately.)

There's no sense in us just talking about what WE think is important.

As we explain the benefits of natural movement, we need to hear from you concerning the challenges and difficulties of moving more and sitting less in your every day life.

Is it a deal? Good. :)

==> Here's some homework until the next time: Pay attentionto how often 'Fitness', 'Healthy', 'Wellness' and 'Health Care' are used in commercials, logos, and other forms of advertising, and ask yourself, 'What are they REALLY selling me?" What images are being held up as the ideal?

Write your answers down and hang on to them. Throughout this series, we'll have you come back to this and draw comparisons between what they're selling and what natural movement offers.

Next week: Working Out vs Working Outside.

In the meantime, stay outta the news!

(*A phrase coined by biomechanist Katy Bowman, to describe the health conditions that may have a strong root in a sedentary lifestyle, reinforced by an environment that doesn't require us to move much. ~ G)

 

Exercise: Resist the Head!

In this video, I demonstrate one more neck tension relieving exercise - also from the Qigong series, "Eight Pieces of Brocade" (although, this particular move is from Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming's 'sitting set', and therefore, it can easily be done, well, sitting. Or, even while you're still in bed.)

While stretching-type motions often feel good, there's something about contracting the musculature against resistance that can really help with release of a tight area. This has to do with the Golgi tendon organs, and other mysterious components of muscle tissue that responds differently with novel types of stimuli.

All you need to know is that it can help your neck, upper back, and even your mid-back feel a lot better in a pinch.

As I mention in the video, your hands are placed on the base of your skull - not your neck.

And, it's a bit more effective if you are pushing your head back n the right direction - not so much with a 'lifting' of the chin, but by tucking the chin under and sliding the head back. AS you GENTLY stretch the head forward, keep the chin tucked under.

After you do this 4-5 times, you may notice your neck muscles releasing and the stretch moving further down in to your back and spine. (You can do this up to 8 times, if it's comfortable.)

Please note: If you ever feel any kind of pain, especially of the radiating sort, use your judgement and stop the exercise, if necessary, If this kind of sensation continues, it may be wise to consult a chiropractor, or other health care professional with a background in structural issues.

Have fun! And, as always, we welcome your feedback!

Exercise: freeing and strengthening the neck

... in which I get distracted by the cameraman. :)

As you'll hear me say in the video, this move comes from a Qigong routine called, "The Eight Pieces of Brocade".

As the legend goes, it was developed in the 11th century by a Chinese general to help strengthen, revitalize and even heal his troops before and after battle. This particular exercise helped the soldiers maintain strength and mobility throughout the neck muscles in order to bear up under their heavy helmets.

For us, it can help us bear up under our 42-pound heads (Hopefully, you read that post, or you may not get the reference...)

And, as I also say in the video, it can be soooooo boooooorrrrring to do.

But, in my own experience, as well as the experience of almost everyone I've recommended it to, it's almost miraculous for dealing with neck pain, and in my case, putting an end to months of vertigo.

A few key points to remember:

~ Remember to tuck your chin under slightly and bring the ears back over the shoulders. Doing this with a hyperextended ("turtle") neck will work against you, as you'll be creating a shearing force in the vertebrae.

~ As you reach your end range of motion in the turn, think 'opening' rather than 'stretching'. This matters particularly if you have a lot of tension, as pushing past your 'easy barrier' can make the tension worse, and possibly bring on dizziness or headache.


Yeah, it's that powerful.

Okay! So give it a go and tell us what you think.

One more thing, if you are really committed to trying this out, consistency is really important.

Trying it once or twice, even a couple times a week, probably won't do much for you. In my case, I was practicing this every day for 23 days (eight times in each direction, and with three different hand positions - 24 times in all) when I suddenly felt a noticeable release in my neck and into my shoulder.

So, be patient and persevering. That's probably the hardest part of all this. (And if you have questions, or a neck condition you're dealing with, please feel free to contact us!)

Good luck! (Click the image to view...!)

If you keep making that face, it's gonna stick like that

Did your mom ever tell you that?

(My mom didn't, but my grandmom would threaten me that a little bird was gonna come perch on my bottom lip if I kept sticking it out. Duly noted.)

C&H.makingface.jpg

I hate to tell ya, but there is something to that.

In the post about the 42 pound head, we can see how repeatedly keeping the head in the 'desktop' position creates adaptations in the supporting structures that help to maintain that position.

So, this is a good thing, right? I mean, look at the official definition of adaptation:

Adaptation: 1) adjustment to environmental conditions, such as modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence under the conditions of its environment; 2) a heritable physical or behavioral trait that serves a specific function and improves an organism's fitness or survival.

But, consider this point (from biomechanist Katy Bowman's excellent book, Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement.):

"In a biological context, adaptation doesn't imply your body has been improved in the sense of having become healthier. Rather, adaptation is the result of your body's constant pursuit to conserve energy. Because we have practiced sitting daily, and for hours, our bodies have responded by making 'sitting' easier on us.

Tissues that spend most of their time in a fixed position will adapt to that position by making alterations that are fairly permanent. The changes are not truly permanent, as they can change over a long period of time with new habitual behavior, but your tissues don't change as much as you might assume - certainly not just because you get up out of a chair at the end of the day."

But, you have a standing desk. Or, you work out a few times a week, or even daily.

Swapping out one habitual static position for another (while the change itself is good) is now going to prompt the body to support THAT position more efficiently, which is really not what we're after.

As far as 'exercise' or working out, your body is adapting to what it's doing (and not doing) ALL the TIME. And, not just on a whole-body level, but on the cellular level.

Meaning, there is a difference between 'exercise' and 'movement' which we'll get into next time.

sittingicon.png

In the meantime, take this little "How Much Do You Sit" quiz, to get an idea your ratio between 'sitting' and 'non-sitting' time, or 'sitting' and 'time you could be moving', remembering that your body is adapting to what it's doing the most.

Does this squash make my head look fat?

Last week, I left off by saying we're going to add 32 pounds to your head.

Chances are, you've already done this yourself.

See, there's this fun little graphic floating around bodywork circles that looks something like this (Thank you, Erik Dalton!):

42lbhead.jpg

The explanation is that the average human head weighs about 10-12 pounds, and for every inch it moves forward off the center line, it gains ten pounds.

Not in reality, of course, but in how the head-supporting structures of the body 'perceive' it.

That baby is homegrown!

That baby is homegrown!

Imagine holding a bowling ball like this. (I do not own a bowling ball, so pretend this squash is a Brusnwick TZone. Or something like that).

It's easier to sustain this stress load when the force of gravity can travel through the center of the ball down through my supported arm.

Now, imagine moving it slightly off-center. More ball for gravity to pull on. Pretty soon, my arm would fatigue and shake, and probably drop the ball.

P4H.42lbsquash.jpg

Or explode onto the floor... creating quite a mess. (Use your imagination...)

With the head, however, this is a much more gradual process that the supportive tissue has time to adapt to, which it does ... by beefing up the muscles in the neck, upper shoulders and back (maybe you sport one of those little to not-so-little humps at the base of your neck?), as it gallantly attempts to keep your head from falling forward into your chest.

Now, it's important to understand, that, while typically 10-12 pounds is still no easy feat to not only balance but mobilize in many directions atop a small stack of cervical vertebrae, we are equipped with an almost anti-gravity-like tent that begins developing from the moment we're out of the womb

This tent includes the neck muscles, but also those of the upper back and the upper chest, and when we are recruiting a wide range of motions of the head, neck and shoulders, this support is accomplished with ease.

But, as we get older in this technologically-advanced society, we've come to limit our range to forward, and even more forward.

And now with the standard feature of cars equipped with backing up screens, we soon won't even need neck rotation at all.

Yay...?

So, the next time you say, "I hold all my tension in my neck and shoulders..." now you know you also may be carrying a 42 pound butterrnut sqaush up there that your upper body (and eventually your mid- and lower body) is doing its darndest to support.

More on how to deal with this will be revealed in coming issues. In the meantime, keep doing your head ramping and dropping, while adding in some slow turning from side to side.

Next time, we'll talk a bit about adaptation, and why this isn't always a good thing.

Exercise: Ramping Your Head

Now that we've introduced you some ideas about 'good posture' and alignment (which will continue to be fleshed out as this series goes along), let's try an alignment-oriented movement, which addresses the relationship between your head and your upper body.

You may have noticed (or, maybe are noticing right now) that when positioned in front of a screen (or book, or dinner plate, or steering wheel), your head not only drifts out in front of your upper body, but your neck takes on a kind of turtle-quality, as your cervical vertebrae go into 'hyper-extension', or excessive curvature.

ForwardHdEv.jpg

Besides the pain in the neck this eventually causes, over the long haul, those vertebrae undergo chronic, imbalanced compression, leading to joint inflammation (arthritis) and degeneration of the discs. (Think of what happens to a door hinge over the years when the door is hanging crooked...)

What this simple movement is intended to do is to not only bring your head more in alignment with your upper body (ie, ears stacked over the shoulders); but allow for the elongation of the neck as the vertebrae are given more space, and eventually some release in the tightened short muscles of the back of the neck.

There are more mechanics to reversing this pattern, but this is a good place to begin.

Ideally, you would 'practice' this as often as you could remember throughout the day. I also recommend 'ramping' anytime you're doing movements that involve turning the head, or when doing exercises in a 'down on all fours position.' The video will give you demonstrations of what I mean.

Let us know what you think!

In the next post, we'll add 32 more pounds on to your head!

The P4H Formula in action

In last week's post, we introduced you to Bill's P4H Postural Postulate:

PosturalPostulate.jpg

.... with an example of how that plays out when carrying a load, such as a box of books.

Let's use another example: this simple act of standing.*

Everyone knows that standing properly is important. Teenagers have been admonished to "Quit slouching and stand up STRAIGHT!" since the beginning of time. (Who knows? Maybe primates first became homo erectus as a result of mommy apes barking that very command! But I digress...)

Q: When we are standing, what is the 'stress load'?

A: Gravity.

Gravity wants to pull us to the ground. So, in order to stand upright, we are 'managing a stress load'.... literally.

And, how do we best manage that stress load?

~ We make sure our feet are positioned shoulder width apart, and parallel to each other. This is the beginning of good posture because it grounds us. Standing with our legs crossed, or, with one foot jutting way off to the side is not an efficient posture, because our grounding is compromised. Furthermore, if we are standing on a roof top, or the deck of a boat, we will want to adjust our stance to match the terrain.

Which is easier to stand on: a flat surface, or a snow-covered slope?

Grounding can take many forms, but it always accomplishes the same purpose: to firmly connect us to a base.

~ Proper posture when standing will also involve being centered.

Centering simply means, 'equal distribution of a stress load'. (In other words, you want as much weight on one side as you do the other.) When we stand off-center, whether from side to side, or front to back (as in the case of 'head-forward' posture), we are giving gravity more surface to act on, and therefore, we have to work harder to stay upright. When that happens, we are actually making more work for ourselves, or rather... increasing the stress load!

~ The last part of the equation involves alignment. When we are standing, what are we aligning ourselves with?

The answer is: We are aligning all the structures that make up our physical being in relation to the perpendicular force of gravity. The way the bones are stacked, the way our joints articulate, the balanced tone of our muscles - even the pathway(s) of our breath and circulation.... ALL of that needs to come into alignment with the force of gravity while standing.

To the degree that everything is properly aligned, we can say that we have 'good posture'.

Text-neck-image-by-Hamblin.jpg

Why is posture so important to us?

Because, as bodyworkers, we see the effects of poor posture daily.

Simply put, poor posture causes injuries.

Sometimes, it's an immediate effect, like 'throwing out your back' when lifting something the wrong way. Or, sometimes, it takes a while to show up, as in the case of arthritis, scoliosis, hyperkyphosis, and a host of other -osis'.

We know you know this, and we want to help you understand what 'posture' really consists of, and how it increases your stress load.

Injuries are almost always a result of poor grounding, off-centering, and /or misalignment.

So, internalize the P4H Formula, and think about some ways you can apply it to any situation you're in. When you start to adjust yourself in healthy relation to a stress load, you will truly be Posturing for Health!

(*We're using 'standing still' as an example of how the formula plays out, but, even as we shift our weight, change position, move, etc, those components shift with us. And....we should be changing our positions! "Good" posture is really being in healthy relationship with a multitude of circumstances! ~ G)

What does posture have to do with stress?

How do you posture yourself in business? Or in a relationship? Has anyone ever asked you that question?

Or, how about this? Are you postured for success?

Like Gina has been saying, the word posture gets used a lot, but really... what does it mean?

Most of us, when we think about posture, think about how we stand, or how we sit; basically, the shape our bodies take while holding still. But, that's really only a small part of a much larger scenario.

Posture is also how you move, how you carry yourself, and how you position yourself in relation to a stress/work load.

Again, as Gina mentioned previously, we have a tendency to think about posture as either 'good' or 'bad. But in relation to what? What are the marker that determine excellent posture from poor posture?

At Posturing for Health, one of our goals is to demystify truths about health and 'well-being'.

For this reason, when you hear the word 'posture', we want you to think of a very simple math formula.

In fact, I want you to memorize it and refer to it throughout your day:

PosturalPostulate.jpg

That, my friends, is how we define posture.

No matter what the application (i.e., posturing yourself in business, posturing yourself in a relationship, posturing yourself for success, pr posturing yourself for health), the same formula applies.

This becomes especially relevant when considering the role posture plays in handling stress.

Think about it.

If you are lifting a heavy box of books, the first thing to make sure of is that your feet are on a flat and reliable surface.

That's GROUNDING.

You also want to pay attention to how you lift the box (i.e., with your legs, and not your back!), and whether you carry it off to one side, or out in front.

That's called CENTERING.

All the while, understanding the forces at work, and working with them as opposed to against, is all part of ALIGNMENT.

When these three bases are covered, you can be said to have good, or rather, appropriate posture.

In the next post, we'll give you an example of this formula in action.

Good posture is not really what we're after

In the last post, I mentioned that the word "posture" can be misleading.

One, it’s because we tend to understand it more as an appearance, rather than a physical state based on biomechanical principles.

("Biomechanical": relating to the mechanical laws concerning the movement or structure of living organisms.)

Two, it suggests that there’s one best way to stand or sit or walk, when really, this relationship between our parts, and between our parts as a whole and our stress loads, is dynamic and ever-changing.

Even the word, alignment* (while sometimes used interchangeably with posture, is actually quite different) can mistakenly suggest a static position, and so what most of us end up trying to do is hold our bodies in a position or posture or in an alignment that we believe is ‘good’.

And, if this is you, how's that workin' for ya? Not so well, I'm guessing...

(* "Alignment": arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative positions.)

"Correct" and "appropriate" positions imply an objective reality we would be measuring ourselves against to be considered in alignment. And, there is something to that, in terms of how the effects of gravity transfer through our own physical mass, particularly through the bones and joints, over the course of a lifetime.

The challenge is understanding that alignment can't be forced. It's the natural result of cultivating a state brought about by the balanced relationship between muscular strength, muscular yield, joint mobility ... and, how we're using our bodies on a day-to-day basis.

So, what we're really after is mobility. Functionality. Range of motion. It's my belief that true 'alignment' can't be forced by chronic tension holding patterns.

In other words, 'alignment happens'. And, therefore, 'good posture'.

(Did you get my free ebook, "Six Things You Can STOP Doing if You Want Better Posture"? If not, grab it here.)

In the next post, Bill will give you another way to think about posture and what it has to do with stress.

What's all this about posture, anyway?

As our name, Posturing for Health, includes the root 'posture', it only seems fitting to begin exploring here... as it's a word we are all too familiar with.

But what does it mean, really?

In our experience, it’s become clear that while most people believe they know what ‘good posture’ looks like, they know a lot less about what it actually is, as far as the mechanical properties of the body. (Because why would you, unless you were really curious about biomechanics...)

But, this is what it’s really about... right?.... That there’s a connection between how we feel and how our body parts are arranged.

So, let's begin with the most basic definition of ‘posture’: an arrangement of parts.

Not good, not bad, just an arrangement.

Bill and I (Gina) have also defined posture as the relationship between us (our bodies, mindset, etc) and our stress load. More on that later.

What we've come to define as posture being either ‘good' or 'bad’ is really about the quality of that arrangement - between the parts of the body, as well as between the relationship of that body as a whole and what it’s trying to accomplish, and if those relationships are facilitating mobility, growth and strength, or setting us up for degeneration and breakdown.

In the next post, we’ll get into why using the word posture at all is misleading.