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 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.