Homecoming in Ventura


P10508901st Class of 2015 (click on it to enlarge)
I’m in the back with the hair all over my face :)

I just returned from a second RES™ week in Ventura with Katy Bowman. The first time I went to the Restorative Exercise Institute (now “The B.E.A.C.H.”) was my certification week, two years ago. This time I went as an active observer, taking part in all the classes and lectures but watching the private lessons with new certifying RES™.

I went with my two colleagues and one new friend from Toronto and we all rented a sweet house a few steps from the real beach. This was our commute – seriously!

Every morning started with a class with Katy Bowman – how awesome is that? We studied the art of bolstering, discovering your physical boundaries, hanging, squatting, with two classes held outside. As well, there were seven other classes with Master RES™ teachers including a special class on the concept of how the top of foot displaces relative to the bottom of the foot, dragging the rest of the leg (and thus the entire body) with it. Even though I’ve studied this for three years now, I achieved a deeper understanding of many concepts this week, with three personal breakthroughs in understanding some of my own issues.

One was the fact that I am actively plantar flexing in the toe off phase of gait (walking) instead of generating forward momentum during the flat foot phase. A second was a sense that my lumbar spine is hyper mobile in some areas, but hypo mobile in others. And the third is about squatting. It’s a whole new ballgame folks!

Squat class on the beach:

P1050875 Katy demonstrates an enviable squat while the rest of her family plays in the sand

Using the sand as a “bolster” to enhance the Double Calf Stretch resulted in this scenario:

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Gait lesson on the beach included phases of gait and role of arm swing. With lots of racing for good measure:

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Who needs a stinkin’ stroller? Master Teacher Michael Curran demonstrates the Double Kid Lift:

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Someone needs to give this guy the 1A protocol (spot the alignment fault):

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Of course I returned home with more enthusiasm about my work and my role in passing on this important information. Having a week in the sun in January was a huge bonus!


P1050791Pictured L-R is Mina Van Brunschot, Katy Bowman, Tim Harris, Breena Maggio,
teachers at the Restorative Exercise Institute

– All pictures are my own

2015: A Year In Balance

Happy New Year from the Alignment REScue! 

I’ve been telling my clients for a few weeks that this is going to be the year of Balance and Independence. This came about because of an event in my family that I will share here.

A senior member of my family recently fell and broke her arm. It was a simple break and did not require a cast, just a sling. This was tough in and of itself of course, but it wouldn’t be a terrible  hardship for most people. It wasn’t her dominant arm for one thing. It’s mostly an inconvenience pulling on your clothes, doing up buttons, making a meal, etc.

I know from previous client experience though, that having one limb immobilized can seriously hamper your confidence in walking around. You are afraid to fall because now you only have one arm to break your fall, and if you break that one too, you’re screwed. As well, the idea that someone could knock into your “bad arm” in a crowd is enough to keep most people safe at home on the sofa for the duration of their convalescence.

In this person’s case however, she had had both hips replaced within the past few years. She did her PT, healed, and was for all intents and purposes “good as new.” However, what is not apparent to most people who undergo these types of procedures, the environment that created the osteoarthritis in the first place is still there – the tight muscles, the chair bound hips.

Bones regenerate constantly; this is what allows them to heal and knit together after a break (bones are amazing!). But the same thing is happening all the time. Your bones (and other tissues) literally mould themselves according to their use. This is called ADAPTATION. Your tissues adapt continuously to how you use them most often. Thus, if you sit in a chair for hours a day/years/decades long, your bones and muscles are literally formed to make that the most energy efficient position. While heads of the femurs are replaced and sometimes the socket part (acetabulum) of the joint too, the muscles of the hips are still tight, in some cases underused, often not in the right plane or alignment. In the instance of my family member, I believe the confidence of walking was never fully established post-replacement, but this was masked by the fact that she could rely more heavily on the arms to make up for this lost motor skill.

This is something that the body will do quite naturally, and we might not even be conscious of it. For example, if going up stairs is difficult, we can depend on arm strength on the rail to pull us up the stairs. We can use canes or walkers to lean on (effectively giving us more ground support in lieu of strong hips). We can use our arms on the kitchen counter or various furniture as we navigate our surroundings to help us balance.

The problem only becomes obvious if the remaining limbs become incompetent. Although my relative has the use of two legs and one arm, only one of her four limbs is really functional (and who knows at what percentage that arm is really functional – most of us don’t use our arms to their full range of motion and our shoulder girdles are for the most part operating at a low percentage of their potential). In fact, she did fall again, just walking through a room with nothing to hold on to.

At the same time, another relative had a long-awaited knee replacement. Standard PT in both hip and knee replacement focusses on strength, and getting back a functional range of motion. Unfortunately, the operation was a bit of a shock to this relative and she had a hard time recovering and performing her PT. For some time after the replacement, the pain was too great for her to want to move. So she spent a bit too much time sitting comfortably and well…we know that that leads to more of the same – tight hips/knees, weak muscles, loss of bone density, chair bound joints.

It’s sad to see this happening to people I know, but an important lesson is the fact that this all started years and years ago. Can you get up from the floor unassisted (by either hands or knees)? Can you get down to the floor at all? Are your hips strong enough (and not in that weighted knee extension kind of way) to hold you on one leg during a normal gait cycle with everything in alignment?

What compensations are you making – right now – that will inevitably end up being your downfall?

This is why I dedicate 2015 to a year of Balance and Independence work. I will be focussing my classes and privates lessons to ensure that we age as gracefully and independently as possible. It is NEVER too late to start this work! Each lesson will incorporate something that we can work to improve as the year progresses. Hopefully by 2016 we will have completely new hips and knees and shoulders – now isn’t that a nice thought?

Have a safe and happy New Year – may your bones be aligned.

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?

moveyourdna

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

rollmodel

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.

 doughwhisk2

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.

photo 1

 

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.