movement

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:

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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!

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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!): 

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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!

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.

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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)

 

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.)

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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.

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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.