restorative movement

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!

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*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.

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!

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!

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...!)

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!