Clamshells my ass!

There’s an article in the September Issue (Vogue baby!) called “The Bottom Line” that is all about, well, bottoms. Apparently, the “trifecta of hindquarterly perfection” of Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez are inspiring women the world over to want a bigger, rounder tushes.

Canadian spine bio-mechanist Stuart McGill is consulted and along with clamshells and bridges, he advises to squeeze the glutes at red lights for example:
“You have to remember, whenever possible, to squeeze robustly,” McGill says. So lately, whether I’m going upstairs, counting sheep, rising from chairs, or watching Veep, “Contract the glutes!” is my rallying cry…”¹

Ugh. It’s the Kegel all over. You may remember the bruhaha over the Kegel when Katy Bowman suggested pelvic floor contractions done in large amounts does not always equal a strong, functional pelvic floor. Well, you can train tension or you can train strength and they are not the same thing. I should mention in fairness that McGill is trying to “wake up” a muscle that is gone offline, “gluteal anmesia” as he calls it. So in this case, creating an awareness of an area that is seldom called upon in our sedentary existence might be warranted–for a time. However, don’t go overboard and squeeze ALL THE TIME or you’ll end up with the same problems that continually sucking in the belly or “kegeling” the pelvic floor does. Taken out of context, that advice could cause more harm than good.

The interesting thing to me is that this article works. I found myself checking out my derriere’s profile in the reflection of my office door* while reading it. I ran my hands over it critically a few times. Hmm, is my butt big enough? How big is big enough? I found myself wanting to do a few squats. I guess every ass does want to hear himself (or herself) bray.

Here’s an excerpt from Bowman’s “Move Your DNA”:

“So we don’t have big butts. Which isn’t to say that we can’t go into a gym and carefully isolate these muscles by mindfully watching our form and working muscles to keep our tension from pulling our pelvis out of alignment so that we can carefully body-build and develop one. But the natural frequency and amount that the posterior leg muscles should be working would not occur. If you figure your butt muscles should be working with each step–and you should be taking enough steps to cover three to five miles per day–you can see how it is not likely that the three sets of a hundred reps of whatever exercises you are doing for your hip area match the natural loads necessary for the lumbopelvic area to function optimally, to function biologically.”

She goes on to say that if you have tension down the front of your leg (hip flexors), isolating and developing glutes can result in two muscle groups “experiencing abnormally high loads” on both sides of the hips. Now if your objective is to fill out your pants a la Beyoncé or Kim Kardashian (like the author of the Vogue article), you might not care. If your objective is performance (McGill works with elite performance athletes) you might be looking for short term gain, so that’s your prerogative. I think it’s important to know why you are doing what you’re doing.

I train people for the long term, the goal in my practice for clients and myself is optimizing the health of joints (hips included) for the long haul. It’s all about balance. So working muscles to hold the pelvis in place while I isolate and build a butt is not on the menu. You can get a bigger rounder butt in weeks, with some will power and a knowledgeable trainer, and if that’s your goal – go for it. But(t) you can also get a bigger rounder butt in time with appropriate amounts of hip extension while walking and some easy lifestyle changes like squatting to bathroom and sitting less for example. Think of it like the “slow food movement.” You will end up with the appropriate end – one that is just the right size for your anthropormetric dimensions,  plus you’ll enjoy the side effects of a healthier pelvic floor, low back, knees and hips.

There are many fabulous successful trainers mentioned in the Vogue article and all of them will deliver for the right price. I’m here to tell you your bum is out there somewhere, waiting for you. And it’s free. You have to cover a lot of ground to find it. But in the process you’ll gain whole body/mind health, and your bum will be with you for life, no gym membership required.

Don’t believe me? Pictures speak louder than words, so herewith is a picture of a certain 55 year old blogger’s butt, who practices Restorative Exercise, squats to bathroom and doesn’t use chairs, doesn’t sit all day long and tries to walk as much as possible. No injections, no implants, no kettlebells were a part of this picture. Just whole body, natural movement.

With a tip of the hat to Keith Haring and E.B.White.

¹”The Bottom Line” by Marcia DeSanctis, Vogue, September 2015

*my office is actually my back porch


How to stretch your Quads

Everybody is familiar with the stretch known as the standing runner’s stretch, or quad stretch. The one where you stand on one leg and hold your foot behind you, to feel a nice stretch down the front of your thigh. There are actually a few ways to do this stretch (and I use the term loosely as we aren’t really seeking a stretch as much as we are seeking a way to determine what is limiting joint range in the hips and knees and rectifying that).

I posted a few pics to my Instagram and facebook pages recently, as a way to hang out and read a magazine or book on the dock at the cottage or on a beach. I mean, you might as well kill two birds with one stone – and get some hip opening at the same time as you catch up on Vanity Fair (or the September Issue!) – better than sitting in a chair. I’m in my backyard here but if my photoshop skills were better I’d be on a beach in St. Tropez. 

In this version, you are lying prone (face down) and you bend your knee and draw one foot in towards the buttock. Now in this instance, the ground itself prevents the thighs from deviating, they must stay parallel to each other (although it’s possible for them to widen and this is not desirable). So the pelvis is likely to want to tilt anteriorly if there is tension in the front of the thigh (this is why the rolled mat in the picture – it keeps my pelvis in slight extension or prevents anterior tilt). Once the shank is vertical, gravity should help out and the hamstring doesn’t have to work as hard. However, if there is a fair amount of tension in the quads, the hamstrings will have to work to bend the knee AND against the resistance of the tension in the front of the leg, resulting usually in a CRAMP! The hamstring should be able to bend the knee quite easily in this position – the fact that it is often difficult shows us how much tension we carry down the front of the thigh. The test is to be able to grasp the bottom of your shank (just above the ankle), dorsiflex the ankle, and maintain your thigh/pelvis relationship. If you can’t grab the lower leg, grab the foot or use a strap to lengthen your arm.

Now the same stretch standing is a different animal. The hamstring must work to lift the weight of the lower leg all the way, adding to the work. But now you have no floor to help keep the form and now several things might occur:

First, you might anteriorly tilt the pelvis (i.e., hip flexion).


Second you might bring the stretching leg out in front of the standing leg (i.e., also hip flexion).


Third, you might take the leg out to the side -abduction (see video #2 below).

The goal is to keep a Neutral Pelvis, vertical thigh and still be able to grasp your shank! In many cases, that won’t be possible and you will need a strap to add some length to the arm. Once your lifestlye changes and Restorative Exercise practice allows it, your quads will be long enough that the hamstring can generate enough force without resistance to grab your leg (and this also requires full knee flexion).

The Mysterious Pain

Spine Flexion

Oh woe – spinal flexion

I had a client come this week with low back pain among other things. She dutifully pulled out her latest MRI results for me to study. I had to tell her that:
a) I’m not medically trained to interpret lab results (although I find them interesting, always ask for a copy and then google the hell out of it)
b) I’m not allowed to “treat” specific ailments as a personal trainer
c) MRI results can be very misleading.

Let me explain.

First of all, when we have a pain, we really would love to know the source of that pain. We go to the doctor and ask for a diagnostic test so that we can “see” inside the body and thus, find the culprit. Once that culprit is identified, we can treat accordingly. Some treatments include:

  • rest
  • anti-inflammatories or other pain relieving drugs and injections
  • surgery
  • physical therapy
  • massage or other hands-on manual therapy
  • exercise

Officially (and legally) I fall into that last category. Restorative Exercise™ is still exercise, even though we define “exercise” and “movement” separately and I consider what I do more analytical than a traditional strengthening protocol.

As well, sometimes when we think we have an answer, we stop looking. That becomes “the story” and also sometimes, our excuse. I can’t do “x” because I have a slipped disc – even if that slipped disc happened many years ago. The story becomes our history. It starts to define us, and then we behave differently than if we didn’t have that story. We move differently, make different choices. Also, it is well known that many people will exhibit pathological findings on an MRI and be non-symptomatic, or, be symptomatic with no pathological implications on MRI type diagnostics. So just how reliable are those tests?

As a low back pain sufferer myself for decades, I know that exercise in the traditional sense did not alleviate my symptoms. I was told that Pilates would help by strengthening the core. I took Pilates classes and loved them. I became a Pilates teacher. I had a regular Pilates practice. I also had regular back episodes where about once a year I would spend a week lying on the floor in agony. I assumed that I was just not strong enough, or I wasn’t doing my exercises enough times per week or enough hours per day. I would work harder, become stronger. I could do some pretty advanced moves in the Pilates repertoire. I would often be called to demonstrate things in workshops. So why was my back injured? I too requested diagnostic imaging. This found much degeneration in the lower back vertebrae among other things. I was “falling apart.” So what to do?

I tried all the things on the above list, and more. Nothing worked for long. The core strength I acquired by my Pilates training served as a band aid to “brace” the spine and keep it strong while the muscles were there protecting it, but one false move (or more like many, built up) and kapow! Back on the floor in agony. The episodes came less frequently, but they still came.

Once I discovered Restorative Exercise™ it made sense to me on many levels. I started practicing it, and eventually I stopped practicing Pilates. I didn’t even have my spine in mind, the pain was such a part of my life that I never even considered that I was doing RE™ specifically for back pain. I just started aligning myself according to the bony landmarks, discovering where I was unable to achieve this alignment and why, and then going off in that direction, exploring my boundaries and limitations and weaknesses in a way I never had before. Then after a few years, I realized I’d not had my pain episodes in a long while. I hadn’t been bracing or holding or workout out or doing ab strengthening exercises, and yet – no back pain. Weird!

This continued until one day a colleague invited me to her Pilates studio to do a workout. It had been a few years since I’d done any Pilates. I was mildly curious to see if all the RE™ and walking I’d been doing would hold me in stead for the kind of workout I used to do. I admit I might have been a bit competitive in the class, but I did hold my own and was happy to see that even though I hadn’t been practicing the same type of work, my muscles had not lost tone for doing other kinds of things.

And then the next day happened. Kapow! Back on the floor in agony. For a while after this, I blamed flexion – the rounding of the lower back that is inevitable in roll downs, roll overs, rolling like a ball etc. I just assumed that my lower back was toast and that flexion was doing me in.

Early this year I went back to my second RES™ week. This is where you spend a week at the Restorative Exercise Institute and study and learn and immerse yourself in all things alignment. Katy Bowman led a class in…spinal flexion. OMG – I was so confused. Do I do the class and just take my chances? Excuse myself and watch? I didn’t know what to do, but trusted that I could stop if things got dicey. Well things got very interesting, but they never got dicey. I had a bit of an epiphany that day as I explored (carefully and thoughtfully) lumbar flexion. I discovered that because I had a hyper mobile segment in my low back, I also had a hypo mobile segment. This means that one part of my back moved too much, and one part didn’t move enough, putting too much stress on that part that could move. This took years of study and a very subtle and advanced practice to discern. I don’t think a beginner could expect to make such subtle distinctions about themselves. It’s possible for anyone to do eventually I believe, but you need to slow WAY down and start to listen to your body like you never have before.

Once I made this discovery I started putting some flexion back in the rotation of exercises. The things I’d been avoiding become possible again. And then recently I had another epiphany. The problem was not flexion per se, but the pressure I was creating by flexing. Often times in Pilates (and other modalities) you are cued to suck in the belly, (navel to spine) or tilt the pelvis, rolling vertebra by vertebra through the low back with a strong posterior tilt to initiate. Most of us modern people spend a lot of our day sitting on our tailbones, in a posterior tilt. I think that the movement was too extreme on one area, but more than that – it was the increase in pressure along the spine that caused the pain. We aren’t used to thinking of loading or pressure when it comes to our bodies. We are used to thinking of moving. “When I move this happens.” “It hurts when I do this.” So we stop moving, take that (perfectly reasonable) movement out of our repertoire and thus the muscles that create the movement atrophy and the health of those tissues gets worse…and we feel worse…leading us to more diagnostics and ever more invasive treatments.

Thinking in terms of what is being loaded and how (there are different kinds of loads and different ways to create them) and pressure differentials within the body’s spaces (and in my case, within the discs) can be an eye-opener. And a game changer.


Snack Homework part 2

As promised, here are the remaining 10 snacks with a brief description. Read about the first 12 here. Don’t forget to use my affiliate link if you care to support my work. I appreciate it! Just use the green Alignment Snack link at the bottom right of this post.

A Balanced Approach to Hip Strength – have a chair handy and use either the seat or the chair back. Standing, squatting and one legged squats (hard), alternating with anterior shoulder work using yoga strap. A lesson in knee alignment in squat. Standing #4. Nice demo on Double Calf Stretch or forward bending. Listing with forward bends. Posterior arm hold.
Not easy, not a beginner snack – recommended for those who are already proficient in squatting and listing.
Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders – (this is the free Snack!) Rhomboid push up, interspersed with yummy shoulder stretches in quadruped and seated positions. Some inner thigh stretching seated. At around the 21:00 there is an interesting lesson on bone health/aging. Differentiating between scapula and arm movements. Posterior arm stretch.
Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster – you’ll need a bolster or equivalent (rolled sleeping bag for eg.) Most of lesson is done supine (lying down). Starts with everyone’s favourite: Psoas Release (a cheer goes up in every class when I announce this exercise). Some great talk on cardiovascular health. A great lesson on floor angels. Finger stretches. External rotation of the shoulder. A really hard hamstring stretch (have a strap handy for it). Stacked cobbler. Thoracic stretch on the bolster. This is a personal favourite – a great snack and Katy is talkative, which is a good thing! Listen and learn!
Let’s Do the Twist – Trunk mobility. Yoga block and half dome handy. (Can use a book and a rolled blanket.) Deconstruct the twist. Very important skill! Crescent stretch. Prone Inner Thigh Stretch. Prone Quad Stretch. Bonus material after the class plus a surprise guest appearance. This Snack is delicious!
Quads and Hams – lesson on floor sitting protecting knees. Strap Stretch. Prone Quad stretch. Happy Baby (upside down squat with some squat talk). Thigh stretch kneeling (this is a good one). Lesson on quad muscles and orientation during gait, knee health.
Rhomboid Madness – Rhomboid push up. This is an exercise that creates a lot of confusion, and it’s actually very simple, you just rarely move your scapulas this way. So this is a good one if you want to study it a bit further. Some chat on breast cancer/health. Tricep press up (hard!), a few different Finger stretches, Tricep Lowers (hard!), twist with arm Windmill. Bonus material after the class: 2 min. chat on Bone Density and exercise.
Stretching the Standing Muscles – Calf Stretch with head hang and shoulder stretch (multitasking!), Double Calf Stretch (flat and on the dome), Listing on a block with concentric/eccentric lateral hip, Double Calf Stretch wide with lateral hip shifts, List on block with Forward Bend (hard!), List on dome round side down (unstable, balance challenge), Soleus stretch. This is your basic stance exercises so a great Snack for everyone. There is a lot of listing in this Snack, so if you are a beginner your lateral hips might be sore afterwards!
Take a Load off Your Chest and Your Hips Too – You’ll need a bolster or equivalent. Psoas Release (ahhh!) with Floor Angels. Hand Stretches. Thumb stretches (really!). Cobbler stretch for hips, Hip Internal rotation. ALL this with the bolster under the shoulders, so a very restful Snack.
Twisting the Night Away – Deconstructing the twist. A nice lesson on finding your twist boundaries. Starts with spine mobilizing, hip flexing, leading into the first twist with knees together. Full twist with focus on various body parts. Twist variations. Rhomboid Push Up. Seated Twist. V sit stretch. This one is very twisty!
Just a Dab of Abs – what’s the difference between coordination and strength? Tricep Press Up. Cobbler, hand stretch. Prone Quad stretch, Plank on knees with positioning cues, lowering from Plank. This Snack differs from all the others in that it is the only one you hear the other class participants, mostly laughing at their own attempts. Supine, Happy Baby hip opener. Lifting from Tricep Press Up into Plank (groans from the crowd). Luckily this class is less than 20 minutes long. Bonus Material after class: Do you have tight traps (shoulders)? How do you fix that? Bonus Bonus Material – What’s the difference between Movement, Natural Movement, and Exercise? This 5 minute speech is worth the price of this Snack!

And…just as I finish up this Post, Katy Bowman announced on her Facebook Page that MORE Snacks are coming! So quick, buy all these and get busy!

Hanging for Shoulder Health

Shoulders are particularly poor in health in our culture. We use arms and hands and shoulders a fraction of their potential. Arms are usually internally rotated as the default norm, which means the humeral head is rolled forward and in in the glenoid fossa of the scapula.

Typical forward head of a "gamer" showing rolled forward shoulders.

Typical forward head of a “gamer” showing rolled forward shoulders.

The scapula (shoulder blade) sits on the rib cage, so the position of the rib cage can also effect the shoulder positioning and if the ribs are thrust, or sheared, in an attempt to stand straight and appear in good posture, the scaps will end up too close together passively, which shortens the Rhomboids and changes the orientation of the glenoid fossa, making a natural arm position practically impossible. So ALL THIS needs to be addressed when you have shoulder issues, which is everybody right?

So first of all, drop the ribs until they sit over the pelvis and not out in front of it. Broaden the scaps using the Rhomboid Push-Up. Other exercises in the RE™ repertoire that can assist in a healthier shoulder are Thoracic Mobility, Thoracic Stretch, Head Hang, Head Ramp, Windmill, Floor Angels, hand stretches, Posterior Arm Hold, Posterior Block Hold, and MORE!

But the grandest of them all is the hanging series. This is where you really start to get your arms to open up and do what they were designed to do, which is to hold your body up. As well as carrying, reaching, holding, etc., (not typing or diving cars, which are not natural, but where we spend the bulk of our time), we are meant to use arms to pull us up trees, hills, climbing rock faces. Do you have what it takes to grasp onto a ledge and pull yourself up? This requires tough hand skin, strong arms, a weight ratio that does not exceed that strength, hip mobility (to get the legs in position to assist and push up from below).

The ability to hang our body weight from our hands is developed over time as our tissues adapt to this new job. We start by first hanging partial body weight from door frames, at shoulder height or lower if necessary. As the chest and arm tissues adapt to the list of exercises above, we can start hanging our body weight from above, first with feet on the ground and then as a full body weight hang/feet off the ground. Scaps are allowed to be elevated at first, and then depressed so that their stabilizers are involved in organizing your weight. And let me tell you – IT FEELS GREAT! I think it feels like the arm joints are yawning and getting more oxygen. Which in fact, they are!

If you don’t have a chin up bar, any branch of a tree will do (providing it is sturdy enough and won’t break, damaging the tree and possibly you!). I thought I’d share my hanging set up. I put it on my back porch, so I can hang outside. I used a plumbing bar, although varying your hanging bar would be a good idea, so that you get used to different diameters and different textures. I plan on having more than one hanging station eventually, so I started this way. TRX mounts at about $40 each (Cdn) and 3′ of galvanized chain on each side. The 3′ bar was less than $13.00.  Altogether this cost around $100 and will give me years of pain pleasure.

The end of the bar showing the hardware through the bar and a double end clip attaching galvanized chain

The end of the bar showing the hardware through the bar and a double end clip attaching galvanized chain

The TRX brand mount is very strong.

The TRX brand mount is very strong.

Plumbing pipe end

Plumbing pipe end

Eventually I can progress to longer hangs, one arm hangs, swinging. It’s new territory, or at least one most adults haven’t explored since they gave up monkey bars. Kids will climb quite reflexively given the right environment, so it’s a great skill to cultivate. Don’t be in a rush and don’t be frustrated if you never achieve a full body weight hang or a pull up. You can gain a ton of shoulder health just by progressing through the steps you can do. So, along with brushing my teeth, calf stretching and hanging are just part of my day. Make them part of yours.

Attach the bar into the ceiling making sure you are finding the joists! Mine are 2' apart, but the bar is 3' long.

Attach the bar into the ceiling making sure you are finding the joists! Mine are 2′ apart, but the bar is 3′ long.

Here’s where I got my TRX mounts:
All other hardware (chains, bar, clips etc.) from Home Depot. Canadian Tire also has all the stuff.


Snack Homework!

Over there on the bottom right of your screen is a link to the Restorative Exercise Snack’s page. This means I’m an affiliate and every time someone uses that link to buy a Snack, I get a kickback. It’s a very generous way that the Restorative Exercise Institute gives back to its community. This enables me to buy more online courses whenever they come out. I’m not getting rich but hey – it really helps! So why should you click on that link you ask? Because you can buy a half hour workout taught by Katy Bowman herself for $5. US. FIVE DOLLARS! So it’s a total no-brainer as they say. You will get a link emailed to you with a zip file to download to your computer. Yes that’s right – you get to KEEP these classes forever. You can download them and take them on vacation or to the cottage. Or if you miss your regular class or walk, hey, do a Snack! I really like listening to Katy bantering, because she’s the kind of person who drops pearls of wisdom every time she banters.

So I thought I’d start you off with a brief description of 12 Snacks to help you choose. They typically have a subject (neck, shoulders, balance etc). I’ll do another post soon with the remaining 10 Snacks. The first Snack is available FREE  – it’s called Can’t Get Enough Shoulders. So go try that one and then start downloading!

It helps to have a half dome, yoga block, bolster and strap for some of these classes. If you don’t have them, you can probably find substitute items around the house. Don’t let that stop you.

Within Reach – quadruped lesson including rib cage position, elbow pit definition. Rhomboid Pushup, shoulder stretches, tricep lowers, hand stretches, psoas release, TWIST! with arm stretch. Great great snack for everyone but especially people who don’t use their upper body optimally (computer users anyone?). Wonderful snack – a MUST.
Walk This Way – Stand This Way – Entire class standing. Lateral hip in gait lesson. Listing, Leg stretches, squat, standing #4. Not a long list, but you will be working hard!
Hips Don’t Lie – They Sit – which starts with a nice demo and instructions on how to find neutral pelvis and what a rib thrust looks like. Various seated hip stretches (sitting on block), twisting, lying supine cobbler hip stretch. Very nice!
Balance Using Lateral Hips – a lesson on *optimal gait* AND *how to climb stairs without sacrificing your knees*. Katy gives a great lesson here.  At about the 20 minute mark, one of the students asks a question and Katy answers it at length (all the time standing on one leg).
The Backbone’s Connected to the Other Backbones – This one starts with a lesson on hidden hyperkyphosis (dowager’s hump that you might have and not know) and where the movement to address it needs to come from. This is followed by thoracic mobility to get that part of the spine more mobile. Of course, Katy explains it all so well! This snack is done mostly lying down.
Don’t turn off the snack after the lesson has ended – there is bonus material at the end! – all about Muscle Cramping.
Leg Goes Forward, Leg Goes Back – Hip Extension! Psoas lesson! All about metabolism! Hamstring stretches! Quad stretches! Apart from a kneeling lunge, this is another one done mostly lying down; mostly supine, some prone.
A Real Pain in the Neck – How nice to spend a half hour stretching the muscles of the neck! You know you need it. A lesson on the pectoralis (chest) muscle, and the rib position.
Frankie Says Relax the Psoas – Lesson on the location and function of the Psoas muscle (using skeleton). Psoas release, lunge, rib drop. If you do Yoga, this Snack has a portion on Down Dog you might find interesting!
Adductor Madness – Pez dispenser with legs up, lots of leg lifts (concentric quads!), cobbler, pretzel stretch, and ends with rhomboid push up and tricep lowers…this is good value – lots of exercises. Katy keeps up the pace on this one. This is a good one for someone who wants a challenge and isn’t ready to spend 30 minutes just doing one or two exercises mindfully.
All Around the Thighs – standing stretches, calf stretch, double calf stretch, quad stretch, #4 stretch, lunge with some modifications. Helps to have a chair nearby.
All Fo’ the Pelvic Flo’  – a great one! A lesson on the correct function of the pelvic floor. Just get it. You’ll need a bolster or a cushion. V sitting, leg extension prone (great lesson on walking with hip extension versus spine extension). Bridging with foot lifts, cobbler. Stay tuned after the class for Bonus Material – all about the armpit “Egg Hole” (breast health!) Super duper Snack!
Gotta Get Down to Arm Swingtown – arm swing (in gait) lesson. Shoulder stretches, listing, finger stretches. Do you really need those walking sticks?


Why you want to come to the Pelvic Floor Workshop

Wouldn’t it be nice if when you delivered a baby, the midwife or the doctor handed you the manual for the body that would map out your entire life so that you could prevent many illnesses and optimize the function of the body you just delivered? Well guess what – that manual exists! It’s known as the Whole Body Alignment Course and is offered by the Restorative Exercise Institute. People who have studied and certified in this method are known as Restorative Exercise Specialists™ and can help people who didn’t get a manual at birth to deal with things that have gone awry in the meantime.

The pelvic floor creates the bottom of your trunk cylinder. Looking down into the pelvis from above it appears as a muscle bowl. So many things depend on the function of the pelvic floor that it is incredibly important to not only your own personal health, but the survival of the species known as Homo Sapiens. (Although perhaps when every pelvic floor is kaput, maybe we’ll have that cloned baby in a lab thing working.)

Your sex life, your digestion process, elimination of waste when you want to, not eliminating waste when you don’t want to, keeping your organs where they belong, normalizing your menstrual cycle, conceiving a baby, maintaining a pregnancy, giving birth vaginally, are some of the things that rely on an optimal functioning pelvic floor to some or a great extent.

Creating an environment for optimal flow of oxygen to these tissues, creating a biomechanically correct position for the bones and muscles of the pelvic floor will help eliminate (sorry) some of the issues you may be having. And if you are one of the (very few) lucky ones without a pelvic floor disorder, wouldn’t it be nice to get the manual for the pelvic floor so you can prevent them in future?

I’m doing a Pelvic Floor Workshop in Toronto’s east end on June 14, 2015. Won’t you join me?



Feet and the Pelvic Floor

I just finished another foot workshop. I love doing them because they are literally your foundation and also the foundation of all the work that follows, typically the pelvic floor. So yes, next up is a pelvic floor workshop (my second!). I thought I’d write a post about how feet and the pelvic floor are related, and why you can’t really address one without the other.

Let’s establish some very basic anatomical details:
1. Your hip joint is made up of the ball and socket of the femur and the acetabulum. The femur is your thigh bone. It ends in a “ball” which sits in a rather deep socket made up of your pelvic bones.

2. Your knee is in the middle of your leg and this joint is formed by the bottom of the femur (thigh bone, see #1) and the top of the lower leg bones, specifically the tibia. The top of the tibia is like a plateau. In fact, it’s called the Tibial Plateau. Poetic eh? The back of the knee is what we’ll be looking at today.

Here's what the back of the knee of the average person looks like. The red dots are indicating the hamstring tendons. With the feet in turn out, the hamstrings almost face straight back (this person probably walks with more turn out than she is showing here).

Here’s what the back of the knee of the average person looks like. The red dots indicate the hamstring tendons. With the feet in turn out, the hamstrings almost face straight back (this person probably walks with more turn out than she is showing here).

3. Your ankle is at the bottom of the leg, between the lower leg and the foot, and it is made by the two lower leg bones (tibia, fibula) and the top bone in the foot called the talus. The talus is a magical wonderful bone. It has no muscular attachments (the only bone in the body with this distinction!). It supports your whole body like a keystone in architecture. The talus in turn sits on the heel bone (calcaneous).

4. Of course your foot is at the bottom of the leg and is comprised of 26 bones, 33 joints, and basically three arches; one arch on the inside of the foot (often collapsed or “pronated”), one on the outside and another one across the ball of the foot called the transverse arch. (This last one is often also collapsed.) The foot is considerably more complex than the hip or knee.

Let’s get personal. I’m going to introduce you to my pelvic floor. My pelvic floor has done a great job for me over the last 5+ decades. It has birthed two children and held in my internal organs pretty effectively. I’ve not had any really serious issues with my pelvic floor (no prolapses). I’ve had some incontinence following the birth of my kids, but only when I jump around on trampolines (not that often) or laugh really hard (unfortunately not that often) or sneeze really hard (about 100 times a day). I’m willing to bet that most of my female clients have some degree of the same issues and haven’t even mentioned it because “it’s normal.” Most people wouldn’t consider what I’ve just described as a Pelvic Floor Disorder. That has to be more complicated/severe/advanced/painful right? Well, that is incorrect. Peeing when you sneeze or laugh is not normal. It’s common, but not normal. So what if you have the same problems, or perhaps something more problematic, such as a prolapse (unfortunately very common as well) or pain in your pelvic floor? What has that got to do with your feet?

The soles are your connection to the earth, and that fact has many ramifications. For one, there is traction between your foot skin and the ground, unless you are in the nasty habit of wearing those contraptions otherwise known as “shoes.” Then your foot skin is in traction with a sock within a shoe. But whatever. How your foot meets the surface of what you are walking on will affect the joints listed above (ankle, knee, hip). The best biomechanical situation for your feet is with the feet facing straight forward in the direction you are going. This enables the ankle to articulate on it’s correct axis, or plane (which is forward and back, not side to side). But if you walk with your feet pointing out (even a few degrees) the movement that should occur at the ankle occurs below the ankle where the talus articulates with the foot bones, creating an overuse situation that may result in lax ligaments (ankle sprains anyone?).

The foot is made to articulate in all manners of ways with those 33 joints, to accommodate all manner of surface variants, so all these movements aren’t damage making in themselves, but in their frequency of use. Because we walk on flat surfaces pretty much 100% of the time, this turned out position will end up creating the shapes of the bones of the legs, and changing the orientation of the joints of the knee and hip as well as the ankle! Pretty radical eh?

Now the muscles of the pelvic floor are connected to the hip joint (both literally and figuratively) in that the position of the femur in the acetabulum (thigh bone in the hip socket) will change the resting tension of the pelvic floor. Add to that a chronic tail tucking position (which does NOT allow normal hip extension, which would engage the posterior butt muscles and create normal tensile loads on the sacrum – which is a heavy duty pelvic floor attachment site) and we’ve got some major mechanical flaws that will inevitably end up affecting the function of the pelvic floor.

Starting with the foot position, let’s get those feet facing straight ahead. And then have a gander at the back of the knees. You will notice that the grooves which are your hamstring tendon attachments are not facing straight back the way they should. They face more toward the sides, away from the midline, or laterally. So to get them facing back again, so the knee is also articulating on its correct axis, we need to externally rotate the femurs. This will end up affecting the foot position again – the medial (inside) border will lift off the ground. Only with diligent practice at mobility drills and walking on a variety of unlevel, uneven surfaces will the foot gain back the mobility it needs to evert the forefoot back to the ground – and VIOLA – ARCHES!

With the feet aligned you can see the hamstrings are pointing out to the sides. You can't even see the outside one on the L leg.

With the feet aligned you can see the hamstrings (black lines) are pointing out to the sides. You can’t even see the outside one on the L leg. The feet are flat but pointing straight ahead.

So there you have it, to get the arches back, and the resting tone in the pelvic floor, you need to start with the feet and work your way up to the hips. My foot workshops end with this external rotation, but it’s a concept that is very challenging to do without some guidance – the health of the knee can be compromised if done incorrectly. So please see a certified Restorative Exercise Specialist before you try it. There are also more detailed instructions in Katy Bowman’s books (links in sidebar).

Now the femurs are externally rotated. The feet lift up on the medial side. Eventually, when the feet are more mobile, they will come back down with this hip/knee arrangement: alignment complete!

Now the femurs are externally rotated (the right one needs more!). The feet lift up on the medial side. Eventually, when the feet are more mobile, they will come back down with this hip/knee arrangement: alignment complete!

By the way, it’s been 3 years since I corrected my foot orientation and began walking with correct hip extension. My pelvic floor is a lot stronger. I can sneeze 100+ times now and no leakage. Cool right? And that was accomplished without one kegel. Not one.

Shoe Review: Lems


I was sent a gratis pair of Lems shoes recently, much to my surprise. I actually thought the email was spam and was about to trash it, but a quick search for company staff led me to believe this was on the up and up. They even let me choose model and colour! I went for the black Primal (called Shade). I’m a size 11 and ordered 44, as per their sizing chart, which was perfect. Of course, they requested I review the shoes on the blog, but my opinions are completely my own and I review honestly.

I have to say, Lems had been high on my list of must-try shoes for some time. Restorative Exercise Specialists™ are quite happy on the whole with this brand and it is recommended among our group highly. But of course, not every shoe works for every foot, and buying a shoe online is always a gamble – especially if you are shipping internationally (Lems is a US company – their shipping rate is 9.95 for one pair domestic and a whopping – unrefundable – $24.95 for shipping internationally). If you are cheap like me, you wait until you are in the States to buy.

My last pair of kicks were Altra, reviewed here. I was happy I started out my zero drop adventures with this brand as it is rather cushy (it’s meant for running) and helped with logging lots of miles on sidewalks in the urban jungle that is Toronto as I transitioned. The soles are starting to wear out so these Lems came in the nick of time. I haven’t logged a lot of miles in them yet, but enough to formulate an opinion.

All of Lems shoes are Zero Drop – industry speak for no positive heel. This is an absolute MUST of any shoe I buy. I wouldn’t even consider anything with a positive heel. If you need to ask why – read this. Or this. How about this. And then get this book. And this one.

Got it? Heels bad!

One of the selling points for this shoe is their wide toe box (also the reason I bought my Altras). If you wear Correct Toes (which the company also sells – and I recommend them highly) this shoe will accommodate your foot + Correct Toes. One cold day I tried toe socks + Correct Toes and this was a bit too much. I have since read that the company suggests removing the insoles if you are wearing Correct Toes but I found they fit fine unless I also tried to add all that extra fabric of toe socks (double fabric between four toes).


Tracing of my foot with the shoe beside it. The shoe should cover the tracing. If any part of the tracing sticks out, the shoe is not wide enough.IMG_3353














Another selling point is how flexible they are. We know the less a shoe does to interfere with the natural movement of the foot’s 33 joints, the better, especially over varied terrain such as a park or hiking trail, rocks at the beach etc. A stiff soled shoe will prevent your foot from moulding to the surface it’s on, and shift the load to the ankle to deal with – which of course is not equipped to move in all those planes and this results in sprains, or worse; falls. So a nice flexible sole like the Lems’ is not just a welcome design feature – it’s a matter of foot health and safety.



Right out of the box I noticed the shoe had a strong off-gassing kind of smell – they are marketed as microfibre and open weave mesh – 100% vegan. Whether this was the result of being in a shoe box during transit…I don’t know, but I left them in a spare room for a few days (it was still too inclement outside) until the smell dissipated.

They have a slight toe spring (I believe .5″). This is an angle where the toe end of the shoes rise upward from the ground. I’m not sure why this is part of the design of this shoe – it’s slight enough that it’s not a deal breaker for me, but I’d like to see it go. The toes are meant to lie on the ground, and lifting them up places an unnatural load to the ball of the foot (metatarsal heads). Of course most shoes have a tremendous amount of toe spring, so this shoe is a step in the right direction and certainly better than most out there. And the soles are flexible enough that when the foot is in them, the toes spring less.


Reflection on my dining room table showing the toe spring.

I’ve worn these barefoot now and really like the feel of the shoe in bare feet. It’s comfortable right out of the box. Remember when you had to “wear shoes in?” What a ridiculous concept! Yesterday I wore them sans socks in 18 degree weather (64F) and found them to be a little sweaty, so in super hot weather I’ll probably go with a thin pair of socks.

I think these shoes are good looking design wise. I’ve had lots of compliments on them already. Not everyone loves the white soles but I do. I would recommend them with no reservations to anyone ready for a fairly minimal shoe. The company also offers zero drop, minimal, flexible dress shoes (great for the office) and a great looking boot (that’s next on my wish list). I’m going to enjoy wearing these shoes this spring/summer! They are perfect for my foot and my current urban environment. Thanks Lems!

OH! One more thing – my cat wanted to thank you for the box. It was very tasty!


Transitioning to a Minimal Bed

All my friends know about my penchant for things Japanese. I love the stores Muji and SouSou and this song. I love their rain boots and Japanese literature old and new. I love anime movies, Tamagotchi…the list is long.

So when I found an importer of real Japanese Tatami right here in Toronto I was ecstatic! Tatami are rice grass mats, used as flooring in traditional Japanese homes and often in martial arts studios. Apartments and rooms are described by how many mats they hold, for example, a “seven mat room” is approximately 10’x13′. To see pictures and learn more, link here.

There are many importers and makers of mats but the real mats are unique. They are 5.5cm high and no wood filler or styrofoam goes into their making. They are made with rice grass all the way through so they are all natural and smell lovely. They are quite heavy and don’t fold. They are meant to sit on the subfloor and be the wall-to-wall flooring in the room.

The showroom at Tatami Imports (note dining tables - one in back with the legs unfolded, and the one in front legs folded ready to be moved against the wall)

The showroom at Tatami Imports (note dining tables – one in back with the legs unfolded, and the one in front legs folded ready to be moved against the wall)

As well as the mats, Tatami Imports also carries the traditional Shikibuton, or futons. They are different than the futons you get at the futon store. Thinner and stuffed with soft cotton, they are no more than a layer of comfort between you and the floor. They fold up when not in use and can be stored away.

Kitten Soetkin tries out the Shikibuton (futon)

Kitten Soetkin tries out the Shikibuton 

Unlike North American homes with many rooms, each dedicated for a specific purpose, traditional Japanese rooms were multi-purpose. So the dining table legs would fold up, the table leaned against the wall, and out from the cupboard would come the futon and bedding. Thus one room could serve as living room, dining and bedroom. I love that idea – that a room could be devoid of permanent furnishings and could morph into whatever you need. Once you try living in a room that is not filled with “stuff” you quickly realize how wonderful it is to have space around you, and only the things you need at hand, nicely organized.

Of course this fits into the whole Restorative Exercise™ paradigm of natural movement, less furniture, floor dwelling to eat and work and relax. So I was hell bent on getting myself some tatami and a futon and making over my spare bedroom into a room that would be multi-purpose – both a studio for private clients, and a second bedroom.

That dream finally became a reality and I have my peaceful beautiful room. During the day I fold my futon and sheets and store them away and have a big space to do my exercises in or teach clients.

My studio for private or semi-private lessons

My studio for private or semi-private lessons

I started sleeping on the futon as an experiment to see how sleeping on the floor would feel. Readers of will know why. (Read this post for more information.) A mattress is essentially a cast, something that allows you to maintain a position for a long period of time that would not be comfortable otherwise. I tend to sleep on my left side about 95% of the time, since my first pregnancy. The first night on my futon, I woke up sore and turned over uncomfortably to my right side. The fact that I didn’t have 10″ of foam under me meant that I felt the weight of my hips and shoulders on the floor. The mats have more give than hardwood, but they are still harder than a mattress. Then invariably, I would get sore on the right side and flip back to my left. This went on all night and in the morning I was tired, cranky and sore! But I was not about to give up, because the thing was – I moved all night long and didn’t stay stationary on that left side.

Why is being stationary a bad thing? Well think of side lying – your spine is dropped on one side in the lumbar (low back) and cervical (neck) areas, all your weight is compressing one hip, one shoulder is displaced and one arm is pinned and getting less blood flow. Not to mention what’s going on internally (organs and circulation). Often those shoulder and hip pains are so stubborn because you spend so much time in one position all day and night. And I’d been lying on that left side 95% of the time for over TWENTY FIVE YEARS! I was not about to give up after one night!

So I persevered. After a few more nights, I didn’t wake up to turn over, or only slightly so. I woke in the morning with no aches and pains. I started using more sleeping positions that the one or two previously. I slept better and longer. I started really looking forward to going to bed. Maybe it’s memories of sleepovers or camping, but it feels child-like and fun to sleep on the floor. Plus my cat thinks it’s awesome (my husband probably less so but I’m hoping to convert him). There is one surprising thing that I didn’t foresee: getting up in the morning is literally getting UP in the morning – from the floor one must fold one’s creaky old limbs and push yourself up to standing, unlike before when all I had to do was to swing my legs over the edge of the bed to the floor and be half way to standing already. Ah, the benefits of getting up and down from the floor!

My cosy room all made up for bedtime.

My cosy room all made up for bedtime.

Thinking of Airbnb’ing my new room – how much would you pay to sleep on the floor? 😉