Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New business, New blog.

Hey All!  This is just a super quick shorty post to let you all know that I have moved my blog over to www.livealigned.ca .  I'm finally embarking on my new career path (whoot!) teaching alignment to other people, so I have a super snazzy new website which includes a blog.  It's just easier that way.  And now you won't have to work so hard to find all my info in one area.  :)  I really hope to see you all over on my new page!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Internal Dialogue. or, Don't cultivate boring assholery.

One of the biggest concepts I've learned from the alignment program is to do stuff that is necessary and not harmful, and to let go of everything else.  Like standing with my weight behind me (necessary) and turning off my quads (harmful). The more I apply this concept to my body, the more I feel I should apply it to my mind as well.  I'm seeing similarities and parallels between body and mind that are making me realize that they're not separate, they're just 2 aspects of the same thing.  Just like how each leaf on a tree is connected to the roots, the mind and body are just pieces of a whole, and the health of one affects the health of the other.

So, I've been monitoring my thoughts lately, trying to get a good overview of how my mind is functioning most of the time.  I mean, I know it works, I'm just not sure ti's always working on what I'd like it to be working on.  Here's what it was beginning to sound like between my ears:

"God I'm tired.  Look at that mess.  I don't want to clean that up.  I cleaned up a lot yesterday.  I hate how much cleaning I have to do.  We are out of rice milk.  I don't want to go to the store.  It's too hot, and Myriam might not want to walk, then I'll have to carry her.  If I take the car someone stupid might get in my way . Like that guy that time who cut me off.  I was so pissed!  What is wrong with people?  Am I gonna get a chance to read today?  I need a break.  I hope Myriam goes to sleep soon.  And I am NOT sitting on the bed while she falls asleep.  What a waste of time.  I always feel like I waste so much time...it's so irritating..."

Nah, what's really irritating is my shitty attitude.  SERIOUSLY, STOP WHINING ALREADY!!  I'm boring!  Can you imagine if I actually talked like that all the time?  I'd have no friends, no one would want to be around me.  After listening to my own crappy internal dialogue, I don't want to be around me.  I keep myself very poor company (which is maybe why I always want to be distracted by movies or reading instead of just being with myself.)  This is what I'm trying to stop.  Let go of those boring complainy negative thoughts, and put my mind to better use.  But how to do this?  How can you just decide to use your mind in a less harmful more productive way?

Well, for starters you just decide to use your mind in a less harmful, more productive way.  I'm serious!  Really listen to yourself for a while, and if you don't like what you hear, change the subject.  Everyone has to have something they're interested in besides complaining.  I change the subject to blog posts.  Or I think about a drawing I might like to do.  I think about business stuff.  When it's really hard I read a cool book and I think about that instead (for me it's usually some sociology or evolutionary biology, something that gives me ideas and helps me put my own thoughts together).  You could even pull a Marge Simpson and think about items you would like to purchase.  Whatever you gotta do.

The cool thing is that it really is up to you what you think about (unless you have some kind of actual psychological problem, which I don't, I'm just annoying sometimes).  I'm not saying that I'm trying not to have a negative thought again.  I'm just trying to do it the most minimal amount necessary.  When I've been sufficiently negative (i.e., when I want to shove hot pokers in my eyes cause I'm so flilpping boring) then I start to think about other stuff instead.  If all else fails, then I take a walk in the blazing heat to the store to get milk.  By the time I get back I'm way too tired from carrying my 2 year old to really gripe about much!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Death after life.

What a grim title, eh?  I don't mean it literally.  It's just that my first few days back home after spending a week alone in California have been...an adjustment.  Maybe it's just that I forgot what it was like to be momming it up 24/7, but what I recall as a moderate challenge seems to have become a vertical climb up a slippery mud mountain.  During monsoon season.

I spent the week in California contemplating a simple lifestyle.  I passed the days focusing on where my body was in space, separating one movement from another, learning how to turn off muscles that weren't essential to the task, turning down the level of noise in the background of my life.  My thoughts were clear, my body relaxed.  Without having to calm a tantrum, wash a dish, sweep a floor, or cook a proper meal everyday my mind was quiet enough to have real thoughts.  I even started coming up with epiphanies on the plane ride home about forgiveness, responsibility, letting go, and serving others.  I was seriously feeling my consciousness elevate into some kind of freaky enlightenment and I was going all Siddhartha Gautama all over the place.

But then real life began again at the baggage claim in the airport, with an immediate cry for milk (from my daughter addressed to me) followed by a long drawn out bedtime, which ended in watching a movie on the couch with a toddler awkwardly flopping in my arms as she finally allowed herself to succumb.  The baby I returned to seems older, smarter, more determined and curious, with a heaping extra spoonful of impatience, and about 50% less emotional stability.  I've never seen someone lose it so hard over whether on not their sippy cup has a lid.  I'm looking around the kitchen for a severed finger, or a missing foot, certainly something dreadful must have happened as I was putting the lid on her cup to cause her to scream and collapse and lament "noooo, nooooo  NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" Finally, from her position face down on the floor, she gasps "cup.  open" between sobs.  I remove the lid.  The clouds break and light beams from her face. "Merci mommy".  I wanted to ask "WHAT THE F*@K WAS THAT?!" But that would be inappropriate.

So now I'm presented with this new challenge.  How do I get back to that mental state while still living in the real world?  It was so easy for me to wisely talk about responding to stimulus appropriately, only experiencing the minimum amount of emotion necessary in response to crap that goes on in life, keeping calm through adversity and all that crap...but  that was when I was sleeping and didn't have someone groping and squeezing my boobs yelling "milk! nurse!" every 2 seconds.  Now,  back in reality I want to be face down on the floor screaming NOOOO as well.  Was it really like this before I left?  Had I just become numb to the stimulus, had I just adapted to my crazy environment?  Get back to me next week and I'll let you know if I figured it out.  Right now I have to go decide what to make for lunch and empty the garbage and bring out the compost and wash the diapers and put away the dishes I washed this morning and...and...and....stretch my hamstrings.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Wait, what? Kegels DON'T work?

Have you heard about this yet?  How Kegels don't actually work and how they actually make pelvic floor problems WORSE over time?  That doesn't really make sense, I know.  If you constantly flex a muscle, it makes it stronger, and that's better, right?   Well, it's true that you do have to use a muscle to maintain it's health.  There are, however, 2 parts to using a muscle.  The contraction, and the following release of the muscle.  Both parts are very important for the function of any skeletal muscle (those are muscles that make you move around, as opposed to the muscle of your heart or intestines which do their own thing without your asking them to).

Here's a picture of some skeletal muscle.  A simple way to think of muscle is as overlapping blocks.  When the muscle stretches, the gaps between the blocks widen.  When the muscle contracts, the gaps between the blocks get smaller.  A muscle, at it's most contracted or it's shortest length, has no gaps.

Here's a simplified side view of a pelvis (and legs and some ribcage and spine).

Here's what happens when you sit on your tailbone on a chair, or couch, or the floor.  When you put pressure on your tailbone, it pushes it into your pelvic cavity and puts slack in your pelvic floor and makes it like a hammock.

Skeletal muscle doesn't like to be floppy or saggy, however, so it will actually rearrange itself by closing the gaps to be taut again.  This isn't the same as contracting a muscle to make it shorter though.  This is the muscle changing its resting length.  If the resting length of your bicep changed like this, you wouldn't be able to straighten your arm.  It would just be bent all the time without you flexing to get it there.  The muscle becomes permanently short (unless you started stretching it back out again.)

 So when you have slack in your pelvic floor all the time (too much sitting and pelvis tucking), it will become short, and therefore weak.  When the pelvic floor is in it's shortest position, it can no longer contract properly.  In order to contract, there must be enough length in the muscle for it to close the gaps.  If the gaps are already almost closed, the muscle can't contract as much as it needs to in order to maintain proper function. (ie, you start peeing when you laugh.)

Here's what happens during a Kegel.  The pelvic floor contracts into its shortest position and tugs the tailbone even further into the pelvic cavity over time.  Often, people that do Kegels are doing them because they already have some kind of pelvic floor problem, which is probably a too short or tight pelvic floor.  So when you do a Kegel, you contract the muscle even further, to it's absolute shortest length.  If you do this enough, and you never lengthen the muscle back out, the muscle will eventually arrange itself so that the gaps stay closed.  Once the gaps are closed, there is no possibility to generate force!  This is where really bad pelvic floor disorder comes from, including things like urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, chronic pelvic and low back pain, stuff like that.

Even if you're not doing Kegels, if you go around with your pelvic floor really tense all the time, it creates the same problem.  Right now as you're reading this, see if you can relax your pelvic floor without peeing.  If you were able to relax and not pee, you were tensing your pelvic floor too much, and shortening it.  It's like doing an all day low intensity Kegel, which is not good for the health of your pelvic floor.  Your pelvic floor really only has to be tense enough to hold in your pee, you don't need to clench it all the time.

So, what should we do instead of a Kegel for a healthy pelvic floor?  There is actually a lot you can do to fix this problem!  My top 4 tips (out of like, a gazillion) are:

1.  Stop sitting on your sacrum. (click)  Try to stand up as much as possible.
2.  Stop doing Kegels, and check in with your body as often as you can to make sure you're not over-contracting your pelvic floor.
3.  Stretch your hamstrings.  A LOT.  Here's how you can do it every time you bend over. (click)
4.  Use your glutes!  The glutes offer counter tension on the tailbone, which pulls the pelvic floor taught again without any muscle rearranging and shortening. (here's a sweet class you can buy and do at home. click)

For further information, check out this blog post (click) over at Katy Says.  There is so much good info over here!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Don't just stand there! How are you *actually* supposed to stand?

There's a lot of talk in the media these days about how standing is way better for you than sitting, but did you know there's actually a "right" way to stand?  Here it is: space your feet pelvis width apart, line up the outside edges of your feet, fully straighten your legs, relax your quads, and carry your weight in your heels (get your hips directly above your heels).  This advice may be different from what you've heard over the years, like "keep your knees soft (slightly bent)", or "tuck your pelvis under to engage your core".  So who's right?  How do you know which advice to follow?  In my opinion, you should follow the advice that doesn't do damage to any of your body parts.  Read on, you'll see what I mean. 
First image: hips forward, loading the feet.  Second image, knees bent, loading the knees and the feet.      Third image, hips over heels, loading the posterior muscles.
Let's start with the feet.  Your feet are like your hands, your toes are like your fingers.  If you did a handstand, you probably wouldn't let your body go forward and put your weight on your fingers, you'd keep it in the heel of your hand, closest to your wrist.  The rules are the same for the foot.  Your feet actually house 25% of your body's bones and muscles, and are packed full of nerves.  The fact that your feet are capable of an infinite number of positions and are so sensitive to pressure, shape and texture suggests that they are made to read information from the environment.

A nice, flexible foot will be able to form to the surface you are walking on, giving you greater stability.  If your foot can't move to accommodate a rock or a hole in the ground, or a rogue Lego, some other joint will have to (sprained ankle, knee), or you fall over and break a hip.

The side of my foot can come up over the block so I don't have to fling my whole body to the floor to avoid getting hurt.  If I carried my weight in my toes, this would be very painful.

When you carry your weight on your toes, your foot has to contract and grip the ground all the time to hold you up.  This puts a significant amount of strain on the small muscles and soft tissues of your feet, makes the muscle stiff and unyielding, and actually cuts off blood flow to your foot.  Your poor foot loses its fantastic range of motion and will be in pain and may even start to deform from the strain (bunions, hammer toes, flat feet, etc.)

The size of muscles and bones can give us a clue to their intended function.  Bigger muscles and bones should be doing heavy load bearing work.  Smaller muscle and bone is more for proprioception and other functions, like the delicate task of capturing nose goblins from a sleeping 2 year old.  When you carry your weight back in your heels and turn OFF your quads, you allow the large muscles on the back of your leg and your butt to hold your weight, rather than the teeny tiny bits and pieces that make up your feet. 

Another thing to look at is the effect of a contracted muscle on other parts of your body.  When you use the back of your legs and your butt to hold you up, your butt muscles gently tug your tailbone outward, which maintains a healthy tone to your pelvic floor ( it is attached to your tailbone).  Cool!  When you use your quads to hold you up, either by having your hips shoved forward or having your knees bent, it pulls your kneecap up and into the knee joint, grinding through the cartilage, creating lots of friction and inflammation, leading to chronic pain/disease, eventually knee replacement.  Uh-oh.  Also, you lose any toning effect on the pelvic floor.  Dang.

The last thing I'll mention is the effect that the placement of your weight has on your bones.  In order for your hip bones (femoral heads) to develop and maintain their proper density, your legs MUST be vertical.  Your leg bone is triggered to grow (ie, NOT degenerate over time) through the compression it gets between the ground and gravity. 

A tilted leg bone, as in hips forward OR knees bent, is not getting the right amount of compression, which means your bones are not as strong as they have to be for your weight.  If I weigh 100 lbs, I want my bones to be able to handle that weight when I'm walking, or if I have to jump to avoid getting hit by a bus, or if I'm going downstairs and I think there's another step but there's not and I land hard on my leg and get that jolt that reverberates through my skull (we've all done it) .  If I don't bear my weight on my bones properly, that means that maybe they'll only be able to handle 85% of my weight, which is bad news for me in the above scenarios.  I don't know about you, but I'd REALLY rather have my bones strong enough to hold me up, since I have an aversion to chronic pain and osteoporosis and hip fracture.

(A side note, this is why time spent sitting is such a big factor in the development of osteoporosis.  Those hours you spend sitting in a chair are hours that you're telling your bones to go on vacation.  A horizontal bone isn't getting ANY compression from gravity, so it isn't getting ANY signal to replenish!)

So there's my case for standing with your weight in your heels, and for learning how to relax your quads when you stand around.   Makes sense, doesn't it?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The body's check engine light:how to know if you're wrecking the crap out of your machine.

I'm going to use some references and comparisons to machines today to help illustrate some points about the human body.  Sometimes it seems like people aren't comfortable thinking of their body as a machine (with correct and incorrect ways of use) even though that's what it is; a living machine.  To ensure the proper functioning of a machine, you have to make sure you're using it properly, the way it was designed to be used.  Dont' use a lawnmower on a rock beach.  Don't use a snow blower as a wood chipper (especially not Fargo style, ew.)  Don't use your drill as a hammer, etc.  Your body and its parts are subject to the same rules.  Don't use your forefoot as a heel (to carry your weight), don't use your knee as a hip, don't use your low back as a hip, etc.  What I'm trying to say, is don't let one body part do the work that another body part was specifically designed to do.  When you use your parts to do stuff they weren't designed to do, they start breaking down prematurely (so stop calling it a part of aging!  you're just doin' it wrong.)

So, how do we know that machines are breaking down?  Sometimes they straight up break.  Sometimes they stop functioning properly, like when your drill will run but it does "grrungg, chk, chk,chk (grinding sound here) vrrrrggg".   Others, like your car, have a sweet warning system, a red flag: the check engine light.  What do you generally do when the check engine light comes on?  Put a piece of black tape over it? Outta sight, outta mind? Just because you don't see it, or aren't thinking about it, doesn't mean you won't still have to deal with the eventual consequence of ignoring the problem.  Personally, I think "oh man, the check engine light!  Better get this piece of crap into the garage before this issue destroys my car".

What's that you say?  Your body doesn't have a check engine light, or a complicated on board computer system that lets you know when something is wrong?  Of course it does!  You have a very technical system, called your nervous system, which monitors your body, and has a very clear check engine light to let you know you suck at operating your machine.  It's PAIN.  When something hurts, it's a pretty good indication that something's wrong.  A malfunction, or a misuse of sorts.  We don't always pay attention to this warning system until it's too late though, and our machine starts getting wrecked. :( 

We don't even realize we're ignoring our check engine lights!  Sure we go to the doctor, and we usually end up taking some kind of pain medication or anti inflammatory or giant needle in the joint.   Here's the kicker:  taking these medications is like putting black tape over the light.  Just because you bring down the inflammation, or can't feel the pain, doesn't mean that the ROOT CAUSE is gone.  Say you have inflammation in your knee because you walk with your foot turned out, and you depend on your quadriceps to do the work of your backside.  Then you take an anti-inflammatory and a pain medication.  Weeee!  The pain is gone!  But you didn't address the actual reason for the pain in your knee, so the damage continues to be done, until you need a knee replacement. 

If you hear yourself saying "but my pain is from arthritis" or "my bunion is hereditary" or "my back hurts for (insert whatever reason here)", maybe you should get a second opinion from a restorative exercise specialist (like me!! :D).  Soooo much of this stuff is due to user error (you're the user, and you're using it incorrectly), and if you can learn to start using your machine correctly, you can stop wrecking the crap out of it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why I love to walk with my kiddlet.

I recently got back from a wonderful trip to Newfoundland where I was visiting my family.  I love it so much there, not only because it's my home, also because it speaks to a really human part of me.  It's a place where I feel acutely aware that couches and cement aren't part of the "natural order" of things.  The primal human in me feels a little more at home in the setting of looming cliffs and close trees.  As my daughter grows up, it's important to me that she gets to spend time in actual nature.  I feel like it's essential for her development as a biological human, if that makes sense.  She has to know where she came from, what she would have called home 40,000 years ago.  When we go walking here around the house, it's mostly on paved trails with the distant sound of 18 wheelers rumbling down the road.  In Newfoundland, there are rugged trails meandering high into the cliffs, old trees creaking in the wind, and the rhythmic "shhhh... shhh ... shhhhh" of the ocean meeting land far below.  It feels really untouched and authentic (because it is).

It's actually really important for a child's physical development as well to be able to wander around in environments like this.  So while we were in Newfoundland we took Myriam for her first 2 real hikes.  Though she's only been walking for 6 months or so, she didnt' have much trouble adjusting to the uneven ground beneath her feet.  In a super soft leather shoe, she could feel every pine needle under her heel, and her foot could splay like a hand as it formed to the shape of a root or rock.  All the muscles in her little feet worked in harmony to keep her vertical (most of the time).  1 hour, and over 200 pictures later, she finally asked to come up for a rest in my arms, at which point I had to carry her over the same bumpy terrain until we got back to the beach.  Luckily I was wearing my own thin soled moccasins, and didn't worry about falling down.

It's really important for babies and young children to start going on walks early in their life.  Basically, as soon as they can walk they should walk.  A Lot.  Children gain mass very quickly, and it's essential that their muscles get a chance to develop at the same rate.  Babies are born with the ability to hold themselves up, but if we start them off right away with passive positioning (car seat, bouncy chair, cradled in your arm) then they gain mass but do not get any muscle development along with it.  That means that the muscle they have is no longer strong enough to hold them up.  It's the same for their legs.  They should go for a walk every single day, for as long as it takes for them to reach their limit.  Some days it's gonna be 10 minutes around the block, some days it might be 45 minutes before they need a break.  Don't shy away from difficult terrain either.  Just let them do it.  That way they're building their endurance and strength, their muscles will never be too weak to support them.

Don't forget that their little feet are always growing and developing too, so be sure to keep them out of stiff, bulky shoes and in non-restrictive thin soled footwear. That will give the foot muscles a chance to develop properly as well.   And never EVER let your kid wear shoes that are too small. 

Getting our kids out walking does amazing things for all of you!  It's so great for your body, but it also creates some wonderful memories.  I know it's one of the things I remember most about my childhood.  Walking with my mom on a rock beach on a sunny summer afternoon, padding along after the first snowfall in the dark singing Christmas carols, scooting over to the park after work with mom and dad to take a walk in the back trails.  It's something we still do to this day when we're in the same city, and I'm almost 30 years old now.  That's more than 25 years of creating something special with my folks.  And check me out now, repeating the cycle with my own chicklet!

Start young.  Don't mind the weather.  Dont' mind the time.  Find exciting places.  Walk the same boring route.  Go with friends.  Go for hours.  Go for 10 minutes.  Go as often as your kid asks.  No one's ever said "well that walk was a waste of time" (unless they're stupid).  No one's ever said "I wish I spent less time walking with Mom and Dad and more time watching tv alone in my room."  No one's ever said "We should have spent more time in the car." 

Thanks a lot to my dad who spent this walk with a camera stuck to his face.  I really appreciate it.  :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Don't bankrupt your joints with your poor spending (movement) choices!

The way you move throughout the day has a big impact on the health of your joints and spine.  Think about things like picking up a sock, unloading the dryer, tying your shoe, washing the bathtub, sweeping the floor, putting a DVD in the DVD player (assuming it's lower than waist height), getting up off the toilet.  Think about all the things you do with your body in the run of a day that require you to go from being vertical to being bent in the middle, or at the knee.  There's are a multitude of ways to get closer to the ground,  but depending on how you do it you may be causing a lot of wear and tear on your joints.

Knee over toes, no lumbar curve, even some neck compression.  I also had to grip the floor with my toes to keep from falling forward on this one. It hurted!

Let's say you have a bazillion dollars in the bank.  But over the years you spend all of it on stupid stuff.  You bought a  pale blue diamond studded track suit, you bought a helicopter made of gold, you ate take out sushi for every meal instead of buying groceries and making your own food...  Now you have one dollar left, and you spend it on a chocolate bar.  You blew your last dollar on a chocolate bar.  Tell me, did you go broke buying a chocolate bar, or did you go broke because you made bad choices with your money, and had poor spending habits?

Your joints are kinda the same deal.  When you use them improperly, their health is finite.  FINITE!  If you're always bending at the spine, letting your lumbar curve do the work of your hips, it's like taking a big fat $50 bill out of the bank.  At some point, you're not gonna have anything left in the bank, and you're not gonna have any health left in the joint.  So when you bend over to pick up your newspaper and you put your back out, it's because you just took out the last dollar in the account.  You did not injure your back picking up a newspaper, you injured your back due to years of making bad choices with your movements, and having poor postural habits, then you blew your last bit of health picking up a newspaper.

We always work to put and keep money in the bank, likewise you need to work to maintain the health of your joints and spine.  You can start right now by changing those mundane actions you do day in day out.  All those damaging little movements add up over time, turning into pain and disease.  My three helpful hints to keep your joints and spine from going bankrupt are:

1.  Try not to let your knees track over your toes when you bend them.  That might mean really backing your weight into your heels and bending quite a bit at the hip, you may not be able to bend your knees very much at first if you're trying to keep your shins vertical.

Lumbar curve in tact!  My shins could stand to be a little more vertical.  Some practise in a mirror will help me learn how to feel when my shins are really vertical.

2.  When you bend at the middle, make sure you're hinging at the hip instead of from the lower back, keep your tailbone untucked and your lumbar curve intact. Try bending over while looking in a mirror at first, sometimes it's hard to tell if you're moving from the spine or the hip.  You can also put your hands on your lower back and feel for movement as you bend (hint: there shouldn't be ANY movement in your lower back).  If you're not used to it, you may not be able to get very close to the floor.  That's ok.  Keep at it.

Let your fat ass back up behind your heels to keep from falling forward.  Otherwise you have to grip the floor with your toes, and they weren't designed to be used like that.

3.  Switch it up!  Sometimes try bending with your legs straight, hinging at the hip.  Sometimes try bending at the hip and knee, with your shins vertical, like a squat.  (click for more squat how-to)

It's difficult at first, but just changing the way you move will help you loosen up, and before long you'll be touching the floor without having to worry about hurting yourself.  When you move this way, you actually increase the health of your joints.  Your hips, knees, and back will really feel like...a million bucks.  ha.  ha ha.  ha ha ha.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What difference does it make how I squat, as long as I'm trying?

Good day!  I'm teaching my first class tomorrow and I did these drawings to illustrate the difference between a good squat and a bad squat.  It really does make a difference which version you do, as one is really really good for you, and the other is really really NOT good for you.  Can you guess which one rules and which one sucks?

If you guessed the one on the left is the squat that sucks, then you're wrong and you suck.  haha.  No I'm kidding, you don't suck.  But prepare to get schooled, son.  The squat on the left is the one that you always hear about, how it's so good for your knees, hips, pelvic floor spine, etc.  If you're doing the squat on the right, you're never going to see any of these benefits.

First lets compare the form.  In a good squat, the shin bone will be vertical, the feet will be wide and flat and the outside edges will be parallel.  The tailbone will be untucked, the torso fits between the knees, and the entire spine extends, right up to the crown of your head.  This lengthens the hamstrings and calves, and requires you to use your glutes to hold yourself up (it's a great butt "work out"). It helps tone the pelvic floor, and maintains hip mobility.  It doesn't overload the knees, and it doesn't open the spine in a dangerous way.

The bad squat allows the heels to lift, the knees to track over the toes (non-vertical shin) the tailbone tucks under (like the dog you yelled at on your lawn that time) and the spine curves forward, causing the neck to compensate by curving in the opposite direction.  This overloads the knees, doesn't do a damn thing for your pelvic floor, doesn't really work on hip mobility, it opens the spine dangerously (especially for all those people who sit a lot) and it causes unhealthy disc compression in the neck.  boo!!

So there you have it.  That's why one is good and one is bad.  Someone once asked me "but, isn't it better to squat rather than not squat, no matter what your form looks like?"  My answer would be no.  A squat is not really an exercise that you should do, but rather a movement you should be capable of doing, and one that you use multiple times throughout the day when you need to get down to the ground for something (maybe to pick up the present the dog left on your lawn).  When you can do a proper squat, you are in REALLY good shape, alignment-wise :)  Instead of saying "well, this is the squat that I can get into, so I'll just keep doing it this way" you need to pull back and do some stretches that will help you be able to do a full squat.  Start here, with this awesome tropical squatting video by our favorite Katy Bowman.

Then head on over to her blog to check out some other sweet squat stuff that you can do to get your body back to where it needs to be  :)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

What alignment is to me.

As a result of a conversation I read online between my teacher and some other students, I decided to stop and really think about the bigger picture behind what it really means to be in alignment.  Here's what I feel like I've learned so far. 

First, it's about more than exercising to maintain a healthy weight, or to develop a specific muscle or area that you think would look better bigger.  It's not really an "exercise" program at all, in the standard interpretation of the word (like t-tapp, or zumba, or tai bo).  It's also about more than doing a particular move to reduce arterial plaque, or some other move so you can reduce your risk of a lower leg amputation. 

Though I think it's things like the above mentioned (healthy weight, strong, keep all your limbs) which give the program it's initial appeal, it's nice to dig a bit deeper and realise that there's more to it.  For me at this moment in time, it's about cultivating the connection and amplifying the communication between body and mind, and becoming aware that the two are more than linked...they are parts of the same entity.  Feeling an emotion can contract a muscle, and cell death in the body can cause the feeling of anxiety.

It starts by getting your muscles at the right length, and then you start to really become in tune with your body.  The communication becomes crystal clear just because you choose to pay attention (learning how to stand on one foot with your eyes closed is my favorite example of this).   You realize that you have been in control of yourself since the start, and you begin to make better choices for your body.  You realize that by choosing to use your body the way it was designed, you are both respecting yourself, and the incredible evolutionary design of the human machine.

After you apply all this stuff to your body, you realize you can apply it to your mind as well.  You can stop repeating behaviors, and holding your mind in positions that are harmful.  You learn to let go of thought patterns that aren't working like you consciously stop flexing a muscle that's pulling your skeleton out of alignment. 

The concept can also be applied to your whole life in general.  You choose to engage in behaviors and activities (including work) that benefit you and make you feel good.  You refuse to sit on your tailbone because it's bad for your skeletal alignment, you refuse to work at a job you don't believe in because it's bad for your overall alignment. 

In the process of learning to self evaluate, and self correct, to let go of habits and re-write motor programs, by learning to respect yourself by making better choices, you can live up to your human potential.  To me, that's what it really means to be in alignment.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A post pertaining to the problem with passive positioning.

It seems to be common knowledge that there are certain positions that our bodies, or our body parts, function best in.  We know that there is a specific curve that the spine needs to take.  We know that the foot is supposed to have an arch.  Some of us know that being vertical is better than sitting down.  As a result, all kinds of products and gadgets have been developed to help us maintain these proper positions.  Ergonomic chairs with lumbar support, orthotic inserts for your shoes, there's even this crazy "Plasma2 System Health Postures" standing work station which lets you be vertical-ish without really having to support your own weight.  In the past, there were some aesthetic postures and shapes that people wanted to get their bodies into, like the hourglass shape, which is why things like girdles and corsets came onto the scene.

These devices use what's called passive positioning to get your body into a certain position.  It means that your body doesn't have to actually do any work to maintain said position.  A girdle holds your waist in, an arch support holds up your arch, a lump in your chair keeps your lumbar spine curved.  Another device that uses passive positioning is a cast.  I've never had a broken bone, but I know a few things about casts.

One: they are itchy.
Two: they are smelly.
Three: when the cast comes off, the body part it was holding in place has become very weak.

It's really the third point that I'm concerned with for this discussion, because it has a lot in common with all these orthotic ergonomic devices that people use (Unless your ergonomic chair is itchy and smelly...in which case perhaps you should throw it out).  To keep functioning properly, a muscle requires regular use.  When you don't use a muscle, it will atrophy, or waste away.  Women in the past who used to wear corsets all the time ended up with atrophied core muscles, and many weren't able to eat or even sit up on their own without their corset after years of wearing one. Guess what that means for people using supports in their shoes?  It means their foot muscles are atrophied.  Actually, any stiff shoe, with or without arch support, is a lot like a cast.  Shoes that lack flexibility restrict the movement of the toes and intrinsic foot muscles (which help hold up the arch in your foot).  Most people are actually walking around on feet that are atrophied (hense the chronic food pain everyone has).  And what happens when you sit in a chair with lumbar support all day, but then you have to stand up to go somewhere?  Those mucles which you should have been using to maintain your own spinal curve are turned off.  Having your body held in a position is not the same as using your own muscles to maintain a position. 

So now you're moving around in space with all these critical support systems totally turned off.  You've got back pain, foot pain, knee pain, and maybe core pain if you're in the habit of strapping on a corset.  However, I've come up with an awesome solution.  We should replace the lumbar support in chairs with a row of razor blades.  Now you'll maintain your own curve.  Instead of an arch support in your shoe, put a thumbtack there.  Maybe now you'll stop letting your arch collapse.  Am I right?  Ok, maybe that's not a good solution.  But what you can do for real is to be aware that when you're not using a muscle, you are losing it.  Pay attention to your position, and start using your own muscles to hold you up.  Ditch the chair and stiff shoes as much as possible and scoot around on your naked feets for a while.  Your whole body will thank you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A heart to muscle conversation.

h- Hi!  I'm your heart.

m- And I'm a muscle.  Well, technically you are too...

h- Yes, but I'm a different kind of muscle.  You do stuff like bend an arm, or wiggle an ear.  I pump blood around the body.

m-  What most people dont' know is that I can actually help with that.  A LOT.  I ust have to be told to do it.  It's in my nature to follow orders.

h-  Where as I get'er done.  I'm a hard worker.  I start my job like, 2 weeks after a person is formed and I dont' take any breaks (usually) until my job is done.

h-  I'm cool with that.  Honestly.  i don't know what I'd do if I didn't work.  Not like this one over here...What pisses me off is that people are always trying to get me to work harder, get stronger and such.  Newsflash, dinguses, I'm already doing everything!  Get someone else to do it.

m-  Seriously, right?!  What pisses ME off is that no one will let me help!!  I just sit there, waiting for an order, and one never comes.

m- Then, if an order finally does come, usually it's been so long I don't have the strength to do it anymore.  Or it hurts.  Or I'm not long enough to reach where I need to reach.  After that, who knows when I'll be asked to do soemthing again.  I do a crappy job due to lack of practise, and I don't get any practise because I do a crappy job.  Doesn't seem fair, does it?

h-  No, my friend, it's not fair to you, and it's not fair to me.  See, if you were being used all the time, you'd just contract, vasodilate, and pull blood through you.

h- When you're NOT being used, and I know you can't help this, but when you're not being used you act like such a jerk!!  You tighten up, you get all short and you close up all your blood vessels.

h-  do you understand how hard I have to work to get blood flowing around when you aren't helping?  When you're actually working AGAINST me?  Then when there's a work out, you know, aerobics or whatever, everyone's all "Oh, Heart, it's for your own good.  You need to be stronger".

h- Uh, NO, I need help!!! Sweet Jesus, I work non-stop, and it's always more, more more,...blood pressure goes up, adn then it's like "oh, get MORE exercise."  And I'm all "LOOK!!  I'm just the heart!!  I can't fix the pressure that well!!  But there's over 600 other things that can...they're called MUSCLES!!  TRY USING THEM ONCE IN A WHILE!!

m-  yea, maybe you should calm down...you're looking a little stressed...
h- I AM stressed.  That's all "cardio exercise" is to me, stress.

m-  I know, I know, I'm sorry.  I'd help if I could.  You know how much I love a drop of blood flow.  It's what keeps me in such good shape.
h-  You and I are a dream team when we work together, aren't we.  You feel healthier, I'm not under so much strain all the time...
m- yup.  You push, I pull.  You get to decrease your workload, I get to not starve to death from lack of blood and wither away like an unwatered plant.

h- It would make me SO SAD if you withered away.  I'd break in half.  I'd miss you so much.  I really appreciate you, you know?  ALL of you.  Even you, muscle that lifts up the pinky toe...I love you...so....much.

m- alright, alright.  Don't get all sentimental on me...
h- can't help it.  It's in my nature.

( Frequent, all day movement and using all your muscles every day is required to have the happiest, healthiest heart.  Lots and lots of stretching and lots of walking with minimal sitting is better for your heart than exercising at the gym a few times a week after work.  The more you sit, the more your muscles atrophy and shorten, and the more they resist the blood flow, causing your heart undue stress.  )

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I thought this stretching crap was supposed to be good for me, so why does it hurt??

I got a really great question from someone on my last post, and I decided to put my answer a separate blog post.  Here's the shorthand version:  "You mention yoga and pilates in opposition to alignment, please comment further.  Also, I am strong and flexible, but classical yoga poses hurt me. What's up with that?" 

First of all, it's not that I see anything in opposition to alignment, but rather lacking in alignment.  In fact, some of the stretches and movements we learn from the insitute are very similar to some yoga poses.  The difference is form.  You can do the same pose in alignment and out of alignment and get totally different results.  Take downward dog.  It's a great pose to stretch the backs of the legs and open up the shoulders, but if you're doing it with your quadriceps contracted (legs straight with knees flexed) and your elbow pits facing each other instead of pointing straight ahead, you either a.) dont' stretch what you think you're stretching (shoulders) or b.) do damage to a joint while you're stretching (knees).  So it's not that there's anything inherently wrong with the stuff you do in yoga, but how you align your body while you do it can be wrong and potentially damaging. 

Another thing to remember is that the poses in yoga were developed a very long time ago when people used their bodies in different ways.  People walked to get where they were going, squat to go to the bathroom, and used their bodies all day in many different positions.  The poses in yoga were appropriate movements for the population they were developed for. In a population that spends too much time in a chair, in the car, on a bike, on the couch, and that doesn't use their body in various different positions throughout the day, their muscles may be too short to properly execute a pose so it gets done in a way that puts strain on other parts of the body.

Lets use a forward bend as an example.  For a population not constantly in hip and knee flexion, the hamstrings would be long enough to allow a person to hinge at the hips and maintain an aligned spine (with lumbar curve).  When you do the pose, you want your hands to touch the floor, or you want to get your head as close to your knees as you can.  So you tilt your pelvis, bend your knees ever so slightly, and sacrifice your lumbar curve to get the "right" position.  If you weren't already doing this all.the.time (while sitting, or while walking) then it might not be quite as stressful on your joints.  But when you already have unhealthy habits or muscles that are at the wrong length or joints that are already being over used (knees) then this pose can be really painful, even harmful to you.  Doing an exercise like this is just doing more of the same damaging joint loading that you already do, only you're probably pushing yourself a lot harder in the "exercise" context, so it begins to hurt.

The problem with being strong or fit is that it can be arbitrary.  Sure you can ride a bike for an hour, or do a really impressive bicep curl, but are you able to hang on a bar and pull your weight up?  Are you able to do a pushup without bringing your shoulder blades together? Do you know how to use the back of your leg to hold your body weight instead of the front? It's cool to be strong, but of you aren't strong in the right places then it doesn't really matter.  What's more important is that your muscles are the right length, and you have a one to one strength to weight ratio in your body parts.  When your muscles are the right length they are better able to stabilize and keep space in your joints, so they don't start to hurt and wear out half way through your life. 

See why I didn't want to just put that in the comments section?  And this is the nutshell version.  I'm probably leaving out a lot, and I didnt' even put in any pictures, but there you have it: Why stretching hurts. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Die Gestalt.

The key difference between alignment theory and other exercise/stretching practises (yoga, pilates, etc.) is that alignment not only focuses on where your body is in space, but also evaluates the position of your parts relative to your other parts. Like when we evaluate someone's spine, we also look at the ribs and pelvis and legs.  Or when we look at someone's feet, we also have to look at their knees and pelvis and torso...and also shoulders...and the head.  The body is really one unit that depends on all its parts to work together properly.  You'll never get to the root cause of problems if you don't look at all parts of the body.  Cervical disk degeneration can originate in the foot and calf, and if you aren't looking at the body as a whole, you're going to miss the root cause of the problem. 

Take this shoulder stretch.  In the first picture, sure, my arm is on the door frame and my body is going past the door frame.  But in actuality, I'm NOT stretching my shoulder.  I'm just collapsing through the back to make it look like I'm stretching my shoulder.  There isn't much regard for the position of the upper arm relative to the actual shoulder joint, and the fact that half my back is displaced is a big clue that this stretch isn't doing what it's supposed to. 

In this second picture, you can see that my shoulder blade is stabilized, and I'm not allowing my body to hinge in the center to allow my arm to come back further than it actually can.  Here I am actually opening the shoulder joint and getting a good stretch.  It might not seem like a big difference, but if someone is supposed to be doing physio for their shoulder (to heal an injury or something) and they're doing the stretch by collapsing their back instead of just moving the arm, they're not going to get the results they could get if they did the stretch properly.  It's the difference between a full recovery and a life long "bad shoulder".  This applies to every stretch you do.  The position of other parts, besides the part you're stretching, can make a difference to what you're actually doing, vs. what you look like you're doing.

Ok, ok, so what.  It looks like I'm stretching, but really I'm not.  Call an ambulance, right?  Well, this concept can actually be applied to a much more dangerous situation.  An example of this is when people are told they are swaybacked when really they are thrusting their ribs into the air to make it look like they are swaybacked.  That's because the diagnosis is often made looking only at the the spine, ignoring the position of the ribs relative to the spine, and the pelvis relative to the spine, and the position of the femurs relative to the pelvis.  Even the way you carry your weight (either on the front of your foot vs. the heel) can add to the illusion and make things appear like something they're not.

So you go to a doctor or a physiotherapist who gives you the wrong diagnosis because they miss this critical concept of evaluating your parts (spine) to your other parts (pelvis, ribs).  With this wrong diagnosis comes the wrong advice to fix the problem.  Usually a "sway backed" person will be told to tuck their pelvis under to decrease the amount of curve.  When you tuck your pelvis you can expect a drastic decline in the health of your knees, hips, and feet.  You can start stocking up on adult diapers now, because you're going to end up with pelvic floor disorder.  You can expect your back pain that sent you to the doctor in the first place to stick around (oh cool!) because you HAVEN'T FIXED THE PROBLEM, which is a rib thrust.  The scariest part is that thrusting your ribs out/up is asking cardiovascular disease to be your bff 4 evr.  So you think you've taken care of this problem, but really you still have the problem and you've created even more problems to keep your other problem company.  Now THAT'S a problem.  :(

It's really important to understand the difference between the way things look or seem and the way things are.  It's like katy says about fixing a flower pot on a crooked table.  The flowers on the crooked stand LOOK crooked, but really it's the table that's the problem.  Until you fix the crooked table, nothing you do with the flowers is going to help.  So if you have a bad back, it's time you started looking at other parts of your body to fix the problem.  You're not Astar the robot with all these separate functioning parts.  You are one unit, and what you do with one part affects all the others.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why is walking falling?

I've been wanting to post about this for a while now, because it really seems to be something a lot of people are confused about.  I hear lots of people say they don't do it, but truthfully there are few who don't.  So, to clear things up, I'm going to give you my illustrated version of why you're not walking, you're falling.

First of all, just because you don't end up flat on your face after every step doesn't mean you're walking without falling.  The falling motion, when it comes to gait, is actually quite small, not the head over heels face plant you're thinking of.  The problem comes from the way we move forward.  If you're lifting your leg out in front of you to walk like this:

then I'm sorry to say this, but you my friend are falling forward with each step.  With your leg bent at the hip and knee, there is no other way for your lifted foot to hit the ground unless you fall.  See?

Either you fall, or you bend your other leg to get your front foot on the ground, but then you'd look like you were supposed to be in a Monty Python sketch.  This is a really high impact way of walking on lots of different body parts.  First of all, your center of mass is constantly thrown over the front of your body.  This overloads your knee and the front of your foot, since they weren't designed to carry the weight of your body from the knees up.

The second problem is that this motion is causing you to pivot on your foot.  Instead of your body just gliding forward, it is pivoting from a single point (your foot on the ground).That means your big fat head has to travel a further distance than any other part of your body!  Not only does it have to travel further, it also has to do it in the same amount of time...which means it has to go FASTER.  That's right.  Your fat stupid head has to travel further and faster through space than the rest of your body.

Something has to eventually stop you from pivoting, though, or you'd end up face planting.

Luckily for you, your other leg is bent at the hip and knee to catch you every. single. time.  Ouch.  So, the leg breaks your fall, but something still has to stop the acceleration of your fast, monumental head.  Otherwise:
Guess what you're gonna do?  You're probably going to end up using your lower back to stop yourself from kneeing yourself in the face.

So, let's see.  We've got excessive loading on the knees and lots of repeated impact (a life time of steps worth of impact).  We've got excessive loading on the front of the foot.  Your spine is being used like a jimmy-wiggler to stop your massive, ugly, stupid head from flying through space and to stabilize your torso.  I'm not even gonna mention what it does to the hips.  (Not because I dont' know, but I think this is enough for now.)  On top of it all, your feet probably aren't even pointed in the right direction (hint: the outside edge of your foot should be lined up straight, not the inside edge).  Foot pain?  Knee pain? Back pain? Acceleration headaches? (I made that one up. but you might have acceleration neck pain...)  Big surprise.  You're bouncing around on your gear like a paddle ball.

So you're thinking "Thanks, GAIT keeper" (haha, get it?) "how the eff am I supposed to locomote then?"   Well, simply put, you're supposed to put your weight on one straight, vertical leg and push yourself forward.  Then you land on your other leg, which stays vertical beneath you, and that becomes your straight, vertical weight bearing leg which you then use to push yourself forward again.  This way, your weight is always stacked where it should be, and your whole body moves through space at the same speed!
Walking this way does require lots of lateral hip and butt strength, and nice long hamstrings.  But once you get it you can pretty much say good bye to shitty stuff like pelvic floor disorder (peeing when you laugh) back pain, and osteoporosis, to name a few.

A final note about walking: you cannot walk on a treadmill.  Walking requires that you push your weight forward off a fixed ground.  On a treadmill, the ground is already moving, so you have no other choice than to....*drum roll please* lift your leg out in front of you and fall down onto it.  And that, my friends, is not walking.