Off the Beaten Path

On Katy Bowman’s Facebook Page she is posting daily advent walking and movement tips. This week one of the tips was:

Get off the beaten path. For at least 10 minutes today, walk OFF that flat and smooth ground and let your ankle joint complex participate fully. Don’t have wild terrain nearby? Just walk on the stuff right next to the path.

This reminds me of a part of my commute to work that goes through a park. Over the years I’ve explored enough to make most of my 5km walk to work on surfaces other than sidewalk. I go through dog parks, ravines, through community gardens…and one of the parks is part high school’s sports field/part city park. Along side the park runs a laneway (Toronto is full of them!). Here’s a shot:

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Needless to say, I walk through the park, usually barefoot. There’s a big rock at the other end where I can sit and brush off my feet and put my socks and shoes back on. Here’s a shot of the high school kids:

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Hordes and hordes of them, all walking on the asphalt of the laneway, while I walk through the empty park all by my lonesome…

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…barefoot, in December, in Toronto, because….well:

Today you’re going to walk and get a little COLD, WET, or DIRTY. No, you don’t have to throw your immune system under the bus, but our over-zealous relationship with “clean, neat, and comfortable” has left our immunity and metabolism a bit compromised. Don’t go outside naked and roll around on an ice pond, just shed a layer or two. Expose some skin. Allow the strength of your tiniest parts to strengthen relative to the environment you’ve chosen as “home.”

The other thing I take off on my walk is my glasses. I keep my peripheral eyesight scanning the ground for possible dog poop and focus on a tree at the other end of the park, because…well:

Your peripheral vision uses different areas of your eye; parts that go unused in the all-day tunnel vision utilized in screen work. Today, pan out while walking and see if you can keep checking in with a wider view of the world. Bonus points for distance-looking now and then (even more unique eye-work!).

So just think of all the health I got on in that one little section of my walk! Check out Katy’s Aligned and Well Facebook page for giveaways all this month!

It’s that Time of Year!

It’s the time for rampant consumerism, greed and gluttony otherwise known as Christmas! So I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and add my gift list here. So you’ll know what to buy me.

I live in an igloo and I’m cold for 9 months of the year (June, July and August are okay). So I would like to be wrapped in this blanket from Toronto’s Dear Lil Devas. You can tie it around your waist for added warmth and also use it as a regular blanket/throw.

DLD blanket

Also, check out their Haramaki – core warmer. I have one of these already and I’d like another (in size small please). It’s really very comforting to wear this. I have become very attached to mine.

haramaki

I also own their fleece yoga pants and highly recommend them. COZEE! I live in mine. Check out this Christmas colour:

fleece pants

I discovered Vauxhall Gardens, a woman owned/operated natural products company at my local farmer’s market this year and she’s become a big favourite around here. We use her soaps and shampoo and conditioner and face lotion….you get the idea. There are a lot of great products out there now but what makes Adele different is that she is a trained horticulturist who grows all her own ingredients. She’s amazing! Her packaging is gorgeous too. Each purchase comes with an information sheet.

 vauxhall

One exception to Vauxhall products is this strange little website selling various products. I discovered this lady selling her wares with her husband in a farmer’s market in Bancroft Ontario this past summer. I bought a little jar of their Harmonia cream for $20 and they assured me that the same ingredients and size of jar would cost hundreds of dollars elsewhere, and that she went to Germany to learn how to make it. And well…I love it! It will last a long long time, as you only use a little. She warned me over and over that if it appears greasy, you’ve “used too much!” She made lots of health claims too and you just never know.

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One of my favourite stores just opened in Toronto – MUJI! So exciting! I went on opening day and turned around and went home when I saw the 3 hour long lineup to get in. I managed to get in a few days later and many of the items are sold out. But – I managed to snag a pair of toe socks and they are GREAT! I’ve tried lots of toe socks and these are the best of the lot. There was no pic of the toe socks on the website, but all their socks are cool:

socks

Last year I got a handmade Squatty Potty for Christmas! It’s the best present EVER. Bed Bath and Beyond in Canada now carries the Original Squatty Potty! I think you should have one delivered for every toilet in the house.

squatty

Do you have this book yet? Why not?

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While you’re ordering that, throw this in the cart too, it is at a special introductory price so don’t dally!

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and then buy some of these in every size. If you live near a Yoga Sanctuary in Toronto they carry them. Otherwise, order here:

balls

My butcher has started a supper club! For 55 bucks you get a FIVE COURSE meal. BYOB – no corkage! What the what!? These kids are ex-chefs so they know their way around a kitchen. If you are in Toronto you need to check out this butcher. Great quality, all grass fed and pastured meats free of hormones. They’ll even brine your Christmas capon or turkey for you!

Meat

If you need a new backpack or a great t-shirt, check out this company. Everlane uses the same factories as the high end designers but doesn’t mark up 8x like the designers do. Great quality at a great price. I bought a backpack from them and it never fails to get compliments, most recently from the cool kids in the Muji lineup! Everybody loves this backpack!

backpack

I spend roughly half my life in the kitchen (the other half sleeping) so this list wouldn’t be complete without a kitchen implement. So I give you: The Danish Dough Whisk! I bought mine from Lee Valley but I’ve seen them in the odd kitchen store. I love this crazy thing and I find myself reaching for it a lot. They come in two sizes, get the smaller one, it’s plenty.

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doughwhisk

* I don’t receive any kickbacks from any of these websites, dammit! They’re just my favourite things that I thought you’d like too.

December Advent Calendar, RE™ style!

Just a quick visit to the blog today, things are heating up in freezing Toronto and I’ve been busy! The Pelvic Floor workshop was a blast to teach, and many participants shared their history with me. I hope they will get in touch as the weeks progress to let me know how the exercises are helping. Many of them expressed a wish to experience the foot workshop – so maybe in January 2015 we can start at the beginning (because that’s a very good place to start) and do the Foot workshop again. I’ll be in Ventura for more training mid January so it will be an end of month event most likely.

Katy Bowman over at Katysays.com is holding a December Advent Calendar, with short alignment tips every day! Here’s the first one (yesterday):
http://www.katysays.com/24-day-walking-advent-calendar/
(it’s a longish one but today’s is much simpler).

Join me in this event and make sure to “like” Aligned and Well over on Facebook for giveaways!

 

 

Winter Boot Time

I’ve had a few people in class bemoan the fact that with winter fast approaching (it’s snowing as I type this!) it’s difficult to find a good warm boot that is not heeled in any way. So here’s a quick and dirty list of options for you. I’m saying ahead of time, they aren’t cheap (is any boot?) and many require waterproofing and some maintenance to remain in good shape.

Vivobarefoot Karma

Vivobarefoot Gobi

Vibrams Lontra (made for winter running)

Softstar Sheepskin 

Mukluks

Lems Boulder (some sizes/colours on sale)

Belleville (never heard of these before but they came up on a search)

Merrell (some models are flat)

Bogs

Fluoro-Felt Boots from Love Winter (Canadian made)

If you’re really brave or have an incredible sense of style, drop in to Cool East Market and try on some Tabi boots. They have a full rubber model (you’d have to buy a pair of tabi winter socks) and also (incredibly) a steel toe safety Tabi boot! Neither are on the website.

Cool East Market

Fleece Tabi Socks

Rubber Jika-Tabi

If you know of any other boots feel free to leave a comment! If you need assistance transitioning to minimal or zero drop footwear, get in touch!

Pelvic Floor Workshop November 29

In a month’s time I’ll be doing my second workshop at Yuri’s Village on Greenwood N of Danforth. We had a very successful turn out for the foot workshop last month. The Pelvic Floor is the natural place to go after the foot workshop, but don’t worry if you didn’t make it to the Foot workshop. It’s not a prerequisite, but there are certain things you will have to take my word for without having the background information that would make sense of it. Or, there is also still time to book a private with me to catch up on some of that foot, knee and hip work that we covered in that workshop.

In this workshop I’ll be talking about the role of alignment in pelvic floor health: how you stand and walk, how much you sit can be a contributor to many pelvic floor issues. I’ll also lead an exercise portion and you can have a downloadable pdf of those exercises to continue with at home.  Restorative Exercise™ has helped many women labour more easily (especially the second stage of labour). Ensuring optimal blood flow and oxygen to the hypertonic pelvic floor can improve the health of those tissues. The position of the internal abdominal organs are also alignment dependent! Find out how a few simple changes in geometry can help with POP (Pelvic Organ Prolapse).

To be a participant in this two hour workshop on Saturday November 29 at 10am just email me.

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For a larger view click:

PelvicHealth

Preventative Medicine: What is it worth to you?

Part of being a certified Restorative Exercise Specialist™ (RES) is belonging to a unique community of like-minded people. We RES™ have our own password protected Facebook page where we can chat with founder Katy Bowman and talk about our personal alignment journey, read research articles that members post and come together for support. There are RES™ all over the world and yet as far flung as we are, we know each other and feel like friends. Indeed, when a RES-in-training recently came to Toronto from Portland, I met her and we went for walks and dinners together, and had plenty to talk about!

And yet, when you are part of a movement that is “cutting edge”, sometimes you feel awfully alone. Yoga and Pilates studios can open on just about any corner in this town, hang a shingle and expect customers: “build it and they will come,” because people know these modalities and believe they will give them the health and fitness and bodies they desire.

RE™ is a preventative model, although to be sure, it helps with issues that you might currently have. Indeed, some people have found RE™ and been inspired to take the training to teach it after it cured them of maladies when no other protocol seemed to help. For a great example of this click here.

But it works even better if you can live a natural movement, optimally aligned lifestyle before illness and disease steps in. My personal goal for doing RE™ is to remain pain-free and drug-free as long as possible. I recently visited an aunt in hospital after her knee replacement, and that was very motivating for me – if I can avoid that you better believe I’m going to do everything in my power to do so. We live in a time where replacing body parts is an accepted part of aging.

Not only would I like to avoid the pain preceding a hip/knee/shoulder operation, I’d like to have fully functioning, full range of motion and strong supportive joints that I can count on. How many 40 year olds do you know who can hang full body weight from their arms for a minute? 30yo? 20yo? How many 40 year olds do you know who have full ROM in their shoulders or hips? 30yo? 20yo? Can you sit on the floor comfortably? How many illness that have a stress related component are you dealing with? What are you currently doing to reduce stress?

So what it comes down to is: are you willing to invest in your future now? Having the pain free body of our younger selves is still possible - it is not a normal part of aging to have creaky stiff joints and painful knees/hips/feet, leaky pelvic floors…the list goes on. I won’t lie: it takes a lot of work to restore joint range and function when it is compromised. I work with people whose lives and livelihood are diminished because they are in constant pain. Start now.

Coming Soon: a FREE one hour workshop in Restorative Exercise™ as part of the weekend long health event at Yuri’s Village on November 22. For details click here. The week following I’ll be leading a two hour Pelvic Floor Health workshop at the same location November 29. Details and sign up to follow soon.

 

 

Orthotics: Good or Bad?

I’m doing a Foot Workshop this Sunday and every time I do a foot workshop I get this question: “What’s your take on orthotics?”

The answer always is: “it depends.” It depends on what the orthotic was prescribed for of course, but it also depends on what your goals and priorities are. For example, if I told you to fix a fallen or collapsed arch caused by excessive pronation, or perhaps relieve a plantar fasciitis issue, you would need to:

  • change your shoe selection to a shoe with no heel or less heel than you currently wear and more room for the toes
  • work on mobilizing the joints in your feet using tools such as various sizes of balls, cobblestone mats, non-level and uneven ground surfaces
  • go shoeless when possible inside and out to develop callouses and revive the proprioceptors and sensory nerves on the soles of your feet
  • work on strengthening the intrinsic musculature of your feet and toes
  • change your gait (walking pattern)
  • walk far more than you currently do, working up to a 5 mile walk several x a week
  • work on internally rotating your shank to get your feet back in line
  • change the way you organize your centre of mass (pelvis) and how far apart you keep your feet
  • change the direction your feet are pointing when you are walking
  • work at increasing the mass (literally the # of units that make up a muscle) in the calf group using tools such as half domes
  • externally rotate the hips to get the knee and ankle and foot joints back in alignment
  • work on muscles all around the hips to increase balance and take excess work from ankles
  • restore hip extension
  • sit less/move more

and if you did all that, in about one or two years you might have stronger arches and better feet, would you be willing to take that on? If someone could promise you pain free feet in moments just by putting an orthotic in your shoe, doesn’t that sound like a much easier, much faster choice?

Of course I understand why someone would choose an orthotic over such a long and daunting list of chores. So let me try to convince you otherwise :)

Putting a platform under the foot that is unchanging will over time create a weaker foot, not a stronger one. What happens when you put a cast on an arm or leg, and hold the limb in one unchanging position for a spell? The muscles don’t have to do any work to hold a position or (in the case of feet) adapt to a changing surface and thus, they atrophy. Feet were meant to have many potential joint movements to adapt to various surfaces, and providing only one unchanging surface means none of the joints of the feet (there are 33) have to do much when you are standing on your orthotic. Most people move their orthotic from shoe to shoe, so the surface that the foot experiences virtually never changes.

There is no bone in the foot that is arch shaped – the arches are created by the muscles and ligaments, so taking work away from them will mean the foot is likely to weaken progressively over time. You may find that an orthotic “stops working” and you need succe$$ive orthotics to deal with a problem that is not resolved.

Placing an orthotic under your foot might help the positioning of the knee and hip, relieving knee and hip pain in the short term, but as we have learned, when we remove the orthotic and walk around the house, the feet are weaker and the knee and hip are not really any different (and may in fact be worse due to a less supportive foot). Using an external device to prop the leg into better alignment only works when the device is in place. Any real change in the knees and hips must be addressed as a separate issue that is contributing or caused by foot issues.

Here’s what I tell people who ask me if they should be wearing an orthotic, and I think this is a good compromise:

If foot pain is affecting your ability to move and walk, by all means use an orthotic so that you can get some movement into your day. But then do whatever work you need to do to NOT NEED that orthotic!

I think the same advice is good for things like nutritional supplements and prescription drugs too, but that’s another post.

If you want to learn the steps to take to have strong healthy pain free feet, consider joining us this Sunday at Yuri’s Village, 663 Greenwood at Danforth 12:30-2:30. Email me to reserve a spot.

 

Hip Extension or Spine Extension?

Let’s take a moment to define two anatomical terms; extension and flexion.

Stand up and let your arms hang by your side. Now reach out in front of you as if to grab your steering wheel. This is flexion.

Let your arm hang by your side again. Now move the arm behind you, without twisting or turning. This is extension. When you walk with a good arm swing, your arm is moving from extension to flexion in this plane (back to front) that we call the sagittal plane.

The same can be applied to the legs. If you lift your leg out in front of you as if to climb a step, this is flexion (of the hip and if the knee is bent, the knee also). Standing on one leg, take the other leg behind you: extension of the hip. When you are walking, your leg moves backward and forward on the sagittal plane.

The amount of extension of the thigh bone (femur) can be measured by how many degrees the thigh can move in this direction, provided the pelvis remains neutral. Although if you watch someone walking it might appear as if their leg is moving behind them, If the pelvis tips forward when the leg moves back, the fulcrum is actually the lower back – precisely the place where back pain is commonly felt! There is less movement in the actual hip joint than there is a combination of movement of the hip + lower back. Ideally we want to move just the hip joint to get our leg in extension, sparing the spine the wear and tear of having to compensate for a lack of movement in the hip joint. In this drawing, the red dotted line shows that the two alignment points on the front of the pelvis remain vertical as the leg is moving behind the body. The red dot in the middle of the femur is the fulcrum around which the leg is moving within the hip joint. The spine remains unchanged.

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But in what circumstances would we have to resort to a combination hip/spine movement – why does it occur and why aren’t we aware that we are doing it? It’s not like you would consciously choose to wear out your disks!

The amount of hip extension that a normal healthy hip should have varies depending on the source consulted but ranges from 5° to 30° (or more). The above picture shows extension of approximately 25°.  Let’s simplify the pictures and look at a few more examples.

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Picture A above shows a neutral pelvis (block) and a neutral femur. This would be like standing up with the leg vertical and the hip is in neither flexion nor extension. The lower back (lumbar spine) is also in a normal lordotic curve.

Picture B shows the hip in 25° extension with the block still in neutral. This is like the drawing above, where the hip is in extension and the spine is unaffected. So far so good.

Picture C shows the pelvis tilted. The femur is in 25° of extension relative to the ground but in fact, NO CHANGE has occurred in the hip joint itself. The movement occurred in the lower back. This is the unfortunate situation in the majority of people. We have lost our normal range of motion in the hip and have to resort to moving our pelvis and spine to get what looks like a normal gait pattern. In fact, with every step you take, you are creating damage to the disks of the lumbar spine.

In order to restore range of motion to the hip and prolong the life of the lumbar spine and disks, one must lengthen the hip flexors and stop sitting all day long. Getting the pelvis in alignment and restoring the natural reflex driven gait pattern that utilizes hip extension over hip flexion is also necessary. Restorative Exercise™ is a great choice for learning how to get your hips moving again.

Psoas Release Part 2

The first post in the psoas series can be read here.

I thought a simpler explanation with pictures of the psoas release would be helpful. Not everyone wants to study the physiology and anatomy, but everyone could certainly benefit from having less tension in their psoas (or psoai as there are two of them).

The first thing you should do is gather some materials that you can use to bolster yourself. We use a yoga bolster but they can be a bit pricey. Some things that could work: couch cushions, rolled up beach towels, a rolled up sleeping bag, a rolled up blanket secured with ties. Here’s how to determine how much bolstering you will need:

First sit on level ground (the floor is best) with your legs straight out in front of you. You can use your hands on the ground behind you so you don’t have to strain to sit up straight. Take one hand and feel along the back of your thigh (hamstrings). Usually the back of the thigh is right down on the ground in this position. There are extreme cases where this isn’t true, but for most people you will have your hamstring muscles on the ground. It will be hard to get your fingers underneath, you kind of have to shove them under the flesh. Got that so far?

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Now, ease yourself back until you are lying all the way out on the floor without any bolstering under your head or shoulders. If you feel under your thighs now (you have to side bend a bit) you might find that they are no longer solidly on the ground. The space might differ person to person – sometimes there is a really large gap, sometimes you are almost on the floor, but not the same as when you were sitting. It helps to have a kid or spouse or someone to help with this part, but with practice you can certainly do it, and once you do this the first time you don’t have to repeat this every time. Note that I am not talking about the space behind your knee, but rather the belly, or middle of the thigh.

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Sometimes the hamstrings are low but the ribcage looks like this:

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Can you see how the model in the photo is arching away from the floor? If you took a horizontal line from the front of her ribs it would be above the pelvis. We want those bottom ribs to be down as well.

Take the bolster you are using and place it under your head and upper shoulders. It takes a bit of practice to get the placement just right, but don’t be too concerned at first, you can always move up or down and make adjustments as you go. I cue people to place it a little above mid-thoracic. The thoracic part of your spine is the rib cage area. The bottom ribs will be hanging in space.

Now check the hamstring situation – are they back down on the floor? If not, and they must be right down, increase the height of the bolster until they are. You can throw folded blankets on top, or use a yoga block or dome, whatever you have handy that is comfortable for you. There are some people who are so tight that they are practically sitting upright to get those hammies down, and if you are one of them, don’t despair. This will change with time and diligent practice. Eventually you can lessen the amount of bolstering.

You might find (this is common) that one hamstring comes down, but not the other. This is because one of your psoas muscles is tighter than the other. Get them both down.

Check out the position of your head and neck. Is your chin pointing to the ceiling? If so, you are in hyperextension of the neck – not good! Place something under your skull (not the neck) until the curve of your neck follows gracefully the curve of your ribcage/upper back. This should be a very comfortable position.

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ps I asked the model in the photo to raise her arms for the picture so the placement of the bolster would be visible. You want to have your arms on the floor a little bit out from the body, with the palms facing up.

Now the next part is the most difficult. Lie there and do nothing. That’s right, do nothing. This is harder than it sounds. We all have residual tension in our trunk muscles and letting go of it is really helpful, but first you have to understand that the tension is there. We are so used to having this all the time that letting go is the hardest thing! This why one of my favourite sayings is “Doing nothing is doing something.”

After a bit of time has elapsed (5 minutes is the minimum, but feel free to lie there for 20 minutes) you might find that your bottom ribs are sinking closer to the ground. Maybe they are touching the ground! In most cases, it takes a bit of practice to get the ribs down, but by no means are you to force them down. You can probably engage your abs and tug the bottom ribs toward your pelvis, but this is using tension in the front of the body to override tension in the back of the body, and two wrongs do not make a right! The idea is to alleviate the tension in the back of the body.

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AHHHHH! (Ideally this would be on the floor and the entire arm would be supported – I thought the white wall would be a good backdrop for the shoot.)

The goal would be to eventually lie flat on the ground, with the back of the legs in contact, and the back of the ribs in contact with the ground. The fact that the ribs and/or hamstrings are not in contact is indicative of tension in the psoas and other hip flexors.

This is the first of two psoas releases, but it is my favourite and the one all my clients insist on doing every day! Let me know how it goes for you.