Finding My Way

“Your holiest pain might come from your yearning to change yourself in the exact way you’d like the world around you to change.”

This was the last entry in my journal prior to arriving at Kripalu Retreat Center in Western Massachusetts. I don’t know the source or remember why I wrote it down. But it was applicable for my whole experience of this intense week. Throughout my stay I was nourished in many ways, including excellent teachers, amazing food, and an incredibly beautiful view of the lake and surrounding mountains. I was strengthened by an ever more apparent understanding that I am moving in the right direction in my journey of teaching, work, and life. Finally, every one of the participants were challenged to look deep into their place of pain, no matter where it resides within ourselves and our culture–in order to really find our paths, difficult as they may be, to make the world a better place.

Being Medicine

Generally, when we think of medicine, we imagine a person with the identity of doctor or other health practitioner dispensing treatments or advice. However, EVERYTHING in our lives, including persons, places, or events, can have a healing or toxic effect on our health. My morning sessions with Dr. Claudia Welch were particularly moving and healing to me. Over the years I have struggled deeply with my identity as a healer–an identity that I don’t really reverberate or relate to–even though ultimately I feel that what I do as a teacher and health practitioner is healing. In fact, Claudia advised us not to “become anything,” because the attachment to an identity can hold us back from our own growth and healing. So, instead of being an identity, I learned how to be an action: to become medicine.

What does it mean to become medicine? In Ayurveda, anatomy is depicted in a very different way from Western anatomic understanding. Rather than having specific muscles, bones, or fascia, the dhatus, or layers of anatomy, organize and flow around the direction of prana (life energy). Prana, in turn, moves in the direction of focus. A good illustration of this might be that if we don’t move a part of ourselves, say an arm, the organization of the tissues changes. As energy leaves bones become fragile, muscles atrophy, and fascia becomes thick and stiff. On the other hand, one might go to the gym and build muscle, strengthen bones, and keep the fascia fluid. Although the arm is still an arm, the anatomy within it is not a set pattern; it evolves due to our focus and energy. This means that actions can either be healing (if it creates a flow of prana) or toxic (if it creates disruption).

The first dhatu is rasa. Rasa is the juiciness of life and has to do with how our mouth waters for the taste of good food. It is also all of the fluid in our body that is found in the interstitium (the spaces of fascia), tears, and the plasma part of our blood. Since form and appetite are influenced by attention, then it matters where we focus our minds! Prana follows focus and focus creates flow. To become medicine, stay focused on what is most important in your heart. Allow for a fluid relationship as to how you pattern your life. Live without undue attachments to identities that cause tension or disruption in the flow of energy.

There is nothing to dispense. I am not a healer. Rather, the teaching is to focus on being medicine myself and in doing so, the flow and organizational power of prana travels from and through me and becomes medicine for all.

Being Magic

One of the more delightful sessions I encountered was with Vicki Nobles and her Motherpeace Tarot cards. She offered a unique intersectionality of mythology, anthropology, astrology, archeology, and modern culture. Her work on the tarot began in the 70’s with a partner in Berkley. Together they set out to reclaim the feminine spiritual magic that they saw rooted in tarot, but not depicted on most decks. The Motherpeace Tarot came out in 1981 and through the years it eventually became obscure. That is until Christian Dior’s fashion designers decided to do a show based on feminist themes and contacted Vicki on the eve of her 70th birthday to ask if they could use her art as a part of their new line. Today her images are featured throughout the world on incredible one of a kind Dior designs. She believes this is one way magic is spreading and therefore reorganizing the flow of energy toward a more feminist culture.

One of the realizations I had about my experience last week came after I arrived home. My goal for the week was to be a student again, but not in order to pass a test or become in any way certified. I wanted simply to explore and learn. As a teacher I am in charge of timekeeping. Since there are no clocks in our studio space, my way of doing that job is to wear a watch. When I went to security for my flight out, I had to remove the watch from my arm. Later, I found that the watch stopped working the moment I passed through that portal. It was as if I was being guided, maybe by magic, to let go of timekeeping and the identity of a teacher.

I sat down to try the tarot a couple of times after purchasing a deck. Both sessions I did with the cards during the week were really quite inspiring and transforming. Magic even. Perhaps Vicki is right. The magic in my life is spreading and through it I am growing in fluid and surprisingly sweet ways.

Revolutionary Love

Our opening speaker was Valerie Kaur. Her words resonated throughout the week–and her urge to put love into practice was truly tested. This week’s plenary speakers did not mince words. This was not a touchy-feely retreat. This week was personal and political. Sean Corn, another plenary speaker, shared her own commitment to an inner revolution, summing it up nicely: “What happens on the mat is NOT a recipe to bypass, it is the opposite, to MAKE us be present.” Being present and taking action become more difficult the more we are stuck to being “something” and having an identity that is removed from heart focused prana.

Valerie urged us to take on the three revolutionary love practices. You can find out more about her work at The Revolutionary Love Project:

  • See no strangers and accept them as a part of YOU that you have not yet met. Listen to their stories.
  • Tend the wounds of our culture and world. Be committed to changing toxic systems for lasting reform. No action is too small–use your particular skill set and move in love.
  • Wish for others a life that you would wish for yourself. This means that it is totally okay to take time out, because you would want anyone who is going through a challenge to rest as well. This is very different from privileged escapism.

At some point, whether it was from speaking deeply, seeing one another as they wish to be seen, feeling pain, or hearing difficult stories–at some point, all of the attendees were moved into a place of revolution within. Valerie’s advice is to take on the words of a midwife: breathe and push. Holy pain. Within the birth experience there is a sense of love and sacrifice and magic that is also birthed in that moment and it is truly revolutionary.

Finding Our Way

The last morning of the week involved a panel discussion with all of the major teachers from the sessions (not including the plenary speakers). It was my first time to connect with Angela Farmer during the retreat. She depicted her yoga practice at the beginning of her career as a “straight narrow path up a very steep mountain.” She eventually turned away from such an extremely disciplined practice and life. Now she embraces a way of being that is more curious and individualistic–an understanding that there are many paths to explore in this journey up the mountain. “Remember that there are roots underground that connect us, but above ground we are all separate.” I spoke with a few people who were in her daily morning sessions and they were both pleased and relieved that they could make yoga their own journey and allow for individual exploration and evolution.

Since the path isn’t straight and narrow it is okay, and maybe even necessary, to ask for help. In fact sometimes it is the only way to “see” our way. One of the teachers, Toni, described an exercise she did while on a leadership retreat. Everyone was blindfolded and placed into a maze. The only instructions were to find the way out of the maze without removing the blindfold. Names of participants were called out as they succeeded. Toni described herself as very competitive: “I had a poster in my bedroom as a teenager that said ‘winning silver means you lost the gold.'” Several times Toni was asked quietly if she needed help to navigate the maze; “NO!” was her emphatic response. She was determined to do this and win. Name after name was announced and still Toni struggled to figure out how to get out of the maze. Finally, when asked gently once more if she needed help, she said yes. “Toni is out of the maze,” came the immediate announcement. No longer attached to being a winner, becoming someone who could ask for help was Toni’s medicine.

How many of us feel the need to both find our own way, while also getting help? Isn’t that the meaning of a true community? When all are welcomed, guided and supported as needed, we become medicine for one another.

Belonging is not Attachment

After the week at Kripalu, I was able to visit some dear friends in nearby Concord, Massachusetts. Stephanie and I met when she was in the midst of relocating and starting her Doctorate of Divinity at Harvard. She was a single mom with a young son and lived in Spring Lake during the interim–we met at church and got to know one another more deeply through a women’s group. We realized during this particular visit that while we’ve only lived in proximity to one another for about a year, our friendship has lasted almost two decades. Our lives have grown apart, but our sense of belonging to one another has remained.

Stephanie is a now a minister at a United Universalist congregation and was speaking on the theme of belonging the Sunday of my visit. She told the story of our meeting and that I had invited her to brunch after church. My husband and I fed her. Made her feel like she belonged to a community. Offered help in the maze of her life at that time. Listened to her story. As she shared her gratitude about our time together, I felt once again tears rolling down my cheeks, the umpteenth time over the last week. Remember, tears are a part of rasa dhatu. They are the result of focusing on that which is most meaningful to our hearts.

This was medicine–the experience of an old friendship that gives us a sense of belonging to a community. Medicine was the experience, teaching, and making new friends at Kripalu too. All of this created a focus and fluidity to move me into new and maybe even revolutionary space which only became open when I released the attachments which were holding me back. That was true for Stephanie, Toni, Angela, Sean, Valerie, Claudia, and everyone at the retreat. It was holy and not without pain. But it was healing.

Who was healing whom? We all were. We were and are medicine for one another. Focus on being strength, nourishment, and support for each other and watch the magic spread. We can start a revolution.


This week one of my favorite news sources put out a story that had my Facebook feed on fire. I have to say that my husband regularly notices that I get different posts than he does. Posts like images of uterine alignment, vulvar-vaginal tissues, and diastasis recti. What can I say? I have friends with connections in “low” places!

NPR did a story on diastasis recti (DR) which refers to abdominal separation that sent my colleagues and me into tizzy. The title “Flattening the ‘Mummy Tummy’ with 1 Exercise, 10 Minutes a Day” with an instructor promising that “you can easily expect to see 2 inches off your waist in three weeks of time,” triggered those of us that are working hard to improve women’s pelvic and abdominal health. Read the whole article for yourself here.

I personally and professionally have so. many. problems. here. With the grabby title, with the promise of an easy fix, and most of all with the content and evidence that was used to validate what was perceived as a positive outcome. Please understand that I am very happy that women’s health challenges are being reported on national media. I also appreciate that the author did present some good information from health professionals and a variety of resources in the article. But the main premise, as the title promises, is a quick fix to a very complex symptom and the research uses a measure that has very little to do with health or function as evidence-based “success.”

Root medicine is about finding the cause of a symptom, not simply solving or relieving a symptom. In fact, symptoms such as pain or dysfunction are regarded as important signals to learn from rather than fix or medicate. DR has several root causes: intra-abdominal pressure, reflexive movement patterns, and muscular integrity through a range of motion. Although DR is generally considered a postpartum issue, women that have never had a baby and many men have experienced abdominal separation. Therefore, clearly, pregnancy is not a root cause; however, all women will have some degree of stress on abdominal musculature when pregnant. DR becomes a concern when abdominal thinning or separation do not heal or when dysfunctional co-morbidities are present.

Many of my colleagues are pushing for postpartum physical therapy (PT) in the US. I mean, we get routine PT for joint surgeries. While that is important, these surgeries are generally less disruptive to overall function than the process of pregnancy and birth. Often accompanied by tissue damage and surgical interventions, birth has very limited follow up care in the US. Additionally, this tender, torn, and tired mama must feed and care for a completely dependent newborn. And then return to work promptly. Stress much? PT, tribal support, meals, maternal/paternal leave, flowers, and much more is needed for our young mothers. What isn’t needed? A promise of an easy fix and a quick  return to a trim waistline.

Because, trust me, if the fix were easy, the problem wouldn’t be so pervasive. There aren’t easy answers and the root causes are not being addressed in our health care system. Our bodies are complex. Although we are able to heal, healing happens most thoroughly when all of our systems are working together in their beautiful complexity.

So, let’s look back at those root causes and how the method of bringing the “belly to the spine” technique supports healing. First off, intra-abdominal pressure (IAP): pulling your stomach in increases IAP–which is one of the causes of DR. So how can the cause be the fix? It can’t. It only displaces IAP. Breathing is dependent on the management of IAP, which is why the women in the class had to take tiny breaths–they couldn’t take a deep breath with so much pressure. If a belly is pressed to the spine, and a deep breath is required, IAP forces are transferred toward the area that can “give.” Forceful abdominal contraction with increased IAP is created reflexively to push something out by coughing, sneezing, or vomiting–creating “give” through the throat and clearing out blockages or poisons. Intentional over-contraction makes a necessary movement like coughing less  effective. Since breathing may ultimately depend on coughing something out, the reflex-driven force increases and may lead to stress incontinence, especially when pelvic floor muscles have been compromised from pregnancy and birth and may have more “give” than the throat. Symptoms are simply transferred rather than fixed when root causes are not considered.

Which brings us to the second root cause of DR: a confused reflexive core. Our societal drive for a sculpted 6-pack is driven by media, not health professionals. Having a “strong core” does not guarantee less back pain, better posture, breathing, or a reduction in the incidence of DR. Overriding our reflexes by constantly engaging the core also tenses the pelvic floor which works in tandem with deep abdominals. Constant tension reduces our ability to relax or even feel tension. This may seem like a way to decrease “give” and reduce leakage, however, since the core is over-engaging, most likely so is the pelvic floor. It is common to have at too-tight pelvic floor as the root cause of many problems such as urge incontinence, nerve impingement, digestive issues, uterine displacement, and difficulty in sexual intercourse or with orgasm. That is why working with a pelvic PT is so important. Besides back pain relief, no other typical co-morbidities are discussed in this article. We know nothing about how the 63 women in this study are functioning the other 23 hours and 50 minutes of their day.

The third root cause is about contraction of abdominal muscles themselves: this is about connective tissue adaptability and recovery from stress. Strong muscles have tone throughout their range of motion–not just in their shortened and contracted state. In the abdomen, range of motion needs to be adaptive enough to allow for expansion of organs–and in pregnancy, to accommodate a full term baby. If a growing baby increases IAP and muscles cannot stretch with integrity and tone, some portion of the connective tissue becomes stressed, undernourished, and weakened. Eventually there may be tearing and separation from attachments. So in a sense, weak muscles are a cause of DR, but the weakening is due to a lack of adaptability and maintaining tone in a stretched state. Limiting the range of motion by constant tensioning is the reason for this lack of adaptability. Re-establishing tone in a shortened state only will not fix the inability of a muscle to stretch and maintain integrity. The next pregnancy will cause DR again.

Finally, the proper way to measure recovery from connective tissue stress and DR is by muscular responsiveness through a complete range of motion. In the research quoted in the article, success was measured by how many inches lost from the waistline and the width of the DR in a contracted abdomen. Waist circumference is not a valid measure for muscle tone since waists include fat, organs, and digesting food. Although measuring the DR split in a contraction is somewhat indicative of tone, it has reliability problems and should only be used as a comparative guideline rather than a validity measure. A much better way to measure tone is through ultrasound and having the client move through a range of motion to test if a muscle is responding.

With a small sample and no control group, poor validation, and mostly, with an extremely superficial understanding of what diastasis recti involves, this pilot study is just plain sad.  As the article indicates, even ACOG recommendations are vague so I will forgive NPR this one time. I’m hopeful that more help, research, evidence-based practices, and reports are on the way. Let’s fill up everyone’s social media with lots of really good information on women’s health. That would make me happy.

Bone Deep

Ah January–the time for resolutions. After nearly 35 years teaching in fitness facilities, I  know that many, many people will make healthy eating habits a priority, especially after the holiday feasting. Which is a good thing! Better nutrition is a vital part of any integrative approach to health. Without going into detail, our physical body is made up of the stuff of food and to be a little more detail-ish, minerals in particular, when we think of bones. For bones to form it takes more than just ingestion and digestion. There is a healthy competition going on inside us for those minerals that goes bone deep.

How nutrients absorb into your tissues has to do with what happens at the cellular (micro) level. First, think from a macro level: when you move a lot, you get more hungry, right? Well, the same thing happens in your cells. When they move, they absorb more nutrients. But it is important to consider how these cells move, since they are part of a specialized team of cells that form a tissue. Bone tissues have different movement needs from muscle tissues. The study of biomechanics (emphasis on the BIO) researches specifically what happens at the cellular level to create healthy nourished tissues. FYI: mechanotransduction is what happens.

When I was in biology class in middle school, we drew blobs with little floaty parts and called them cells. The floaty parts were organelles and they were sort of cool and we needed to know their names, but that was about it. As it turns out, the human body has patterns that repeat from the micro to the macro levels. Cells have a very tiny bone-like structure that “feels” movement and transmits signals like “I’ve been moving a lot and my cell is hungry” to the organelles. Which then absorb more of the nutrient soup that is extracellular fluid. No movement, no signal, no soup.

So we not only need to move to need to eat, we need to move specifically in a way that signals all of our tissues to get into the soup line. Which, since there is a variety of tissues in our bodies,  we need to move in a variety of ways. I’m just going to talk about bones for now, for the sake of staying sort of non-detail-ish.

Even our bones have a variety of needs that are based their shape and function. Long bones, such as your femur (thigh bone) need a certain amount of compressive and vibrational impact to get hungry. Movements like walking provide most of those needs, but the walks should encompass a variety of terrains and inclines rather than be flat and level, like most walking paths. The changing vibrational directions of non-flat walking creates a better diet for femurs. Running is fine, but it should be done on varied surfaces as well. Running on flat, level concrete may be too much of a good thing; steadily feeding the same area in a bone creates excessive growth such as spurs or arthritis.

The tiny sesamoid (“sesame seed”) bones in our body in places like hands, feet, and neck prefer pulling or tensile movements rather than impact. These bones are embedded in joints that have a lot of tendons and they help to create sliding movements. Your knee cap is the largest sesamoid bone. Compressing your kneecap doesn’t make it stronger and usually doesn’t feel good at all, which is a signal that it is getting the wrong kind of diet. Rather, the knee cap helps the knee to slide well and the pull from that sliding is what stimulates its appetite for some good calcium rich soup.

The human pelvis is maybe one of my favorite bones. Well, it is actually several bones that change over a lifetime, especially for women. Within the pelvis are the pubic symphysis, the sacroiliac (SI) joints, and the hip joints. Any of these can become mineral poor if not given a healthy movement diet. Hips are one of the main sites for osteoporosis. And no matter how much calcium you eat in your macro diet, the hip joints need specific movements to absorb it. There are several shapes of bones that come into the structure of the hip joint, so movements need to be varied including squatting, climbing, crawling, and walking. Standing posture is also important since the bowl of the pelvis is what holds the belly of our body and that creates a specific compressive load as well. The pubic symphysis needs tension that moves diagonally across from thighs to abdomen for the joint to be stable. And the SI joint needs a bit of both tension and compression in balance. Bottom line (hee hee) is that you need to move your bottom in a variety of ways. all. the. time.

So, when you make your resolution for the New Year—be sure to think bone deep. Move in a way that serves all of your needs, not just the need to reduce your calorie load. Your tissues will be inclined to help you with that if you create a hunger within their cells!

Science Discovers: Your Brain is Connected to Your Body!!

This has been an exciting week in body-nerd world! Two important discoveries were in the news, both of which sort of discovered that the workings of the brain are undoubtedly connected to the body. Yes!

The first study, “Hacking the Nervous System” reports on the importance of the vagus nerve in organ regulation–specifically on inflammation response. Read the article, because it is truly important and interesting, but I am just going to for now point out that the brainstem (a part of the brain) is connected to the body through the vagus nerve via the neck and shoulders (parts of the body).

The second report is really ground breaking: scientists have discovered lymphatic vessels in the central nervous system (the brain). “In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.” (link here to read report).

Maybe I’m being too snarky, but I’m glad that science has discovered the links between the brain and the body. Maybe now we can move into more integrative medicine. One can hope.

In the meantime, I would like to point out the absolute importance of HOW the brain connects to the body through the neck and shoulder girdle. If the alignment of those areas is not optimal, then much of these important connections can be lost. Vessels and nerves are extremely sensitive to geometry and pressure. Having incorrect alignment can result in poor communication (think “telephone game” from your childhood).

SO another, more “science-y” reason to DO THE HANGING CHALLENGE WITH ME THIS SUMMER!!! Your shoulders were meant for so much more than typing and driving–they need this! I have looked at hundreds (thousands?) of spines and seen for myself the amount of hyperkyphosis–both apparent and hidden we are currently carrying around. Increased neck posterior flexion and shoulder girdle weakness are rampant. And now, more than ever, maybe we can realize how important it is to have a properly aligned neck–to connect the brain to the body.

Here is a video of your next portion of the challenge:

Older Than Dirt

Last week two things occurred: I read Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougal  and I got to dig in my garden for the entire weekend.

McDougal’s book delves into natural movement–its ancient and modern applications. This is an area that I have done extensive research and some bit of training. It is the source of my summer hanging challenge–which I PROMISE I will return to. But before I do, I want to–actually I feel I need to–get a little more philosophical.

You see, I went to visit my mom a couple of weekends ago. She is in the final stages of her life. My trip left me satisfied and yet unsettled. Not because of her dying–she has had a good run and is ready, as ready as anyone can be for their life to end. No, rather I am unsettled by living, having another birthday that officially brings me into my mid-fifties and another year closer to the end of my life expectancy. And reading this book. And digging in the garden.

One of the people McDougal researched was French naval officer George Hebert who witnessed the volcanic eruption of Mount Pelee on Martinique in 1902. He was a part of rescue efforts as people ran into the water to escape the burning ash and then drown as they panicked. Almost the entire population of the capital city died. The “uncivilized” native population however were more fit to survive the disaster–they recognized the signs that lead to the eruption, knew what to do, and were able to stay afloat even when their canoes were burnt by the flying embers. Eventually, Hebert developed a philosophy to fitness: “be fit to be useful” was his credo. These words attached themselves to my heart as I read them. I reread that passage from the book throughout my week as I taught yoga–a practice that could be deemed “UN-useful” if viewed in certain ways. But my purpose was to shed light on the practice that is entirely useful: to really understand what it means to be human, you need to spend time exploring consciousness. And exploring consciousness is the root of a yogic practice.


And then I went out to the garden. And dug in the dirt that wasn’t there fifteen years ago when I first put my trowel in. The place in my yard I chose for a vegetable garden, it turned out, used to be a gravel driveway. No dirt–just rocks and sand–which are not the best medium for growing. So over the years I sifted out rocks, added topsoil, hauled manure, composted and slowly created a garden of 4×4 beds. I was amazed last year when a friend brought over his tiller to help me turn the beds. His machine was too big for the small beds, so he tilled between them. I stood in amazement as I saw dirt between the beds. No gravel anywhere. And this weekend as I hand dug to plant, my trowel sunk into a good 6-8 inches of real, live soil. I had been useful–I made dirt. And I felt very human and very deeply alive.


In my years as a fitness professional, I have seen many strong and sleek bodies. I have seen–and participated–in feats of both physicality and courage. All of it is inspiring, but I’m not so sure about how useful any of these feats are in the long run of life. Especially when our physical efforts result in injury. And what amount of these efforts were made to overcome a sense of humanity rather than participate more deeply within it? This is the source of my unsettling. What does it mean to be useful? and what do we do to become fit so that we can be useful? As I–we–approach the end of our lives, how do we assess our usefulness?

“Exercise with only the intention to carry out a physical gain or to triumph over competitors is brutally egoistic…and brutal egoism just isn’t human,” Hebert is quoted as saying. McDougal goes on, “We like to think of ourselves as masters of our destinies, as lone wolves in a dog-eat-dog world, but guess what: Dogs don’t eat dogs. They work together. As do most species. As do we. We’re the most communicative, helpful species that’s ever existed.”

My dear mother is maybe the least physically fit person I know. But she was very good at being a mom. Even though she might not have been able to save me from drowning in a sea of ash, she saved me from a shadow that hovered over our family life and kept me free and innocent. I’m not sure even what that shadow was, exactly, due to how useful she was in protecting me. The Greek term “hero” means protector. My mom was my hero growing up.

One final quote from McDougal: “Empathy, the Greeks believed, was a source of strength, not softness; the more you recognized yourself in others and connected with their distress, tho more endurance, wisdom, cunning, and determination you could tap into.” Being useful is sort of a mystery when you are in the midst of a crisis. Most heroes have no idea why or how they did what they did. What matters, what lasts, is how those heroes made other humans feel: recognized and worthy.

Heroes come in many forms–not all are strong or sleek. Awards aren’t all brass and glass–some of them crumble easily and are full of worms. As I grow older I am challenging myself to learn how to strengthen my shoulders not so I can perform a pull up and overcome aging, but so I can continue to reach out to others. I know what it means to get a good hug and thank god, my life is full of them. I want to be useful back. Hug back. Hang out and extend myself to others–whether that is by reaching into an isle of lava or across an aisle of difference. You are very human and hug-worthy.

Do Your Arms Hang Low?

….do they wobble to and fro? Well, in that song, I think it was about your ears, and there were more subtle meanings as well that I didn’t get as a child. I also didn’t get the subtleties of hanging either. I was a child that liked to be planted firmly on the ground!

And now I’m making some advancements toward a healthier shoulder girdle by learning to hang. Last week, I posted about hands and wrists. Today I’m talking upper arms and getting them into correct positioning to hang well.

I’m also learning how to post a video. I hope. Rotation in the upper arms is easier to show than describe. I love this exercise in finding your upper back muscles! I hope you have fun with your challenge for this week:

The Problem Isn’t Always Where You Think It Is

This weekend I went for multiple walks and each time I did just a little bit of hanging. Once it was about hanging on to the dog but also, we went out to the woods for an afternoon walk and found a few tree limbs. I love to have bark beneath my skin rather than metal. I think you will find that the first problem of hanging isn’t so much the strength of your shoulders–it is the softness of your skin. Calluses are healthy adaptations on skin surfaces and the first step to hanging from your hands is to develop some thicker skin. Literally.

The second thing is wrists. Mine are totally wimpy. And not surprisingly (although I WAS surprised) my forearms were stiff and sore today. So, let’s begin our challenge, not at the shoulders, but in the hands and forearms.

To watch an 11-month old baby do some hang time, check out this video of my teacher, Katy Bowman’s little girl, Roan. See how often she checks her hands? But she isn’t crying or acting like they are hurting, she’s just connecting to them. Also notice that her hands are almost vertical and pretty open along that bar. No need for a tight grip! I think it is safe to say that as adults, we don’t have that kind of strength in our hands and wrists, especially in extension.

Begin by mobilizing those tissues and taking them through a complete range of motion. Here is your first week’s assignment: do these hand movements throughout your day:

Full extension

Full extension

Full flexion of fingers and wrist

Full flexion of fingers and wrist







Notice which direction is more difficult. Why? What is your hand position during most of your day?  To correct a movement limitation, we need to introduce small changes  throughout the day  to avoid injury. I like to do the extension one at my desk regularly, while I stop at a light when driving, and while sitting around doing nothing in particular. I use the desk, steering wheel or my other hand to provide gently pressure toward my limit of mobility and hold it for about 30-60 seconds. This was the exercise I was doing today that made it clear that I HAD done some work yesterday.

Tissues–whether it is skin, fascia or muscles–will adapt to changes in loads. The key is to do these changes slowly and apply the loads where it does the most good first. Take a tip from Baby Roan and check out your hands!

The Hanging Challenge

This will be the summer of the hang. As in me hanging from my arms. I’m not dubbing it as the summer of the pull up, because at 53, so far I have never, ever been able to do even a single pull up. Which, I have to admit, pisses me off a bit.

In my 20’s, when I was working as a trainer in a weight room, I tried. I really, really tried. Every day I would use the pull up bar and give it a go. And I continued to fail. Every. Day.

So, rather than get my hopes up, I am going to do what I succeeded in doing–hanging. In as many different ways as I can. Every. Day.

Because, even if I never do a single pull up my entire life, I need to use my arms and shoulders as they are designed–to be mobile, strong, connected to the rest of my body, and when needed, able to support the weight of my whole body. I have seen too many people take a little fall and end up immobilized due to a broken wrist or arm.

As a Restorative Exercise Specialist™ I learned the importance of the positioning of the rib cage, how poor alignment can affect breathing, digesting, birthing, eliminating, and the functionality of the entire musco-skeletal system. Rib positioning is totally related to shoulders. So, weak shoulders CAN mean poor pooping. Who knew??? Who cares? Well, if you don’t eliminate well, you probably do–or rather don’t doo (sorry can’t resist)–and well, you probably care. Because constipation sucks. Or something…

Anyway. The summer of hanging has begun. Here is my first attempt:


Keep reading dear reader! I’ll be posting every week or two about my experience. Can I challenge you to join me??

#everydayposer : Think INSIDE the Box!

Here is some wellness news that I came across in a recent Time Magazine (Feb. 16, 2015): mindfulness helps children in learning. Whoa! As opposed to mindless learning? We need studies to figure this out?

Maybe so.  It seems that we need to qualify everything. Even things that should be common sense. A colleague of mine recently gave a public talk about alignment and Restorative Exercise™ (RE). Someone in the audience wanted “proof” that the theories behind this approach to movement was valid. Well, the theories behind this approach are that 1-movement is a biological requirement and 2-bodies respond to that which we do most often, not what we do most enthusiastically (read more).

I’m going to propose a proof: bed sores. Stasis eventually brings about cell necrosis which, I’m pretty sure, isn’t good. Here’s another: overuse injury. Repetitive movement creates friction and eventually, tissue damage. There may be studies that confirm these findings, however, I’m going to suggest that it is sufficient for this rant er, blog to simply rely on common knowledge.

About this blog: it is about what you do at your desk–inside your “box.” Are you able to work without creating physical damage? If your desk job IS causing health problems, then how does that affect your success and eventually, your company’s?

Sitting is the new smoking and standing work stations have become all the rage, but standing has problems as well. Going back to RE, movement is the biological requirement. So it’s not sitting OR standing, but rather changing positions that is going to be most beneficial to your workday/life outcomes.

Here are some changes of positions I have devised behind my desk:

standing on my rocks!

standing on my rocks!

squatting on my BOSU!

squatting on my BOSU!

lunging on rocks and BOSU!

lunging on rocks and BOSU!










Changing positions often will help to relieve the pressures our bodies feel, both in stillness and repetitive movements like typing. Small stretch breaks should occur every 20-30 minutes with a complete change in position to follow. Remember, it isn’t what you do at the gym for one hour, but how you move your body (or don’t) for the other 15 hours of the day that counts. These 3 positions change the degree of my hip flexion, the rocks create a variety pressures on my feet and “encourage” me to alter my stance, and altering my relationship to my screen allows my arms, head and eye positions to change. The BOSU has tons of other movement options when I’m not doing desk work as well. And the rocks are fun to try to pick up with my toes.

Another very cool and hip way to change positions often is to get an IKEA “Bekant” desk. Of course, between sipping kaffe and looking suave and making the desk go up and down every 5 minutes because COOL! and needing to run to the loo because KAFFE! and HAIR! I doubt that my work outcomes would be very good. But if you show this video to your employer and suggest that you need either one of these (with the very cool matching  chair, file, and attitude) OR a much cheaper BOSU and a pile of rocks–I’m betting you’ll get an okay update your desk in some way. Bring some proof if that is what it takes, too. This blog will suffice.



Walk b4 u Run #everydayposer

We don’t really have to teach a baby to walk. They will move through the necessary phases of rolling over, pushing up, crawling, pulling up, cruising, and then taking a first step.  However, as we enter adulthood we slowly take on habits that override our natural reflexes.

Here are the activities that typically make up a day in the life of a modern Westerner (I especially like the 70’s era TV pic):













What do you see that is common to all of these photos? (hint: seated posture with hip flexion–which isn’t so much a hint as the answer)

It is no wonder that our running gait looks like this:


Looking carefully at these two runners, neither one of them is really extending their thigh relative to their torso. The woman in red looks like it–her leg is back and she is closer to extending, but she is also leaning forward considerably. Try drawing a line from their ears down to the midline of their pelves and see how far you can draw it into their upper legs. Hip extension happens when the femur (thigh bone) is moving towards an angle larger than 180 degrees.

I’ve been doing walking gait analyses on clients now for about 6 months. And probably everyone I’ve filmed flex forward at the hip and knee to take a step. You might argue that is how we are supposed to walk and run.

My mom always told me that I shouldn’t be influenced by what everyone else is doing. I bet your mom did, too.

Think about paddling a boat. Which way do you push? Do you reach waaaay forward when you put the paddle in? Nope. You put the paddle in close to you and push back. The way physics works is to move forward there needs to be a backwards force. And that push should start from the point closest to the center of mass to be most effective.

Walking (and running) then, should be EXTENSION of legs (and arms too). If we flex at the hip to move forward, it means that our glutes are not doing the work.Want a toned butt? Try using it! Extension is where it is at, baby! And if you watch that baby learning to walk, that is exactly what you will see! Notice in this photo, the leg she is landing on is directly beneath her. Draw that line from her ear to the middle of her pelvis and you’ll find her thigh is behind her. No hip flexion is happening in either leg.

Here is a final image of a group of children running. Notice the amount of movement behind their bodies:


If you have a habit of sitting more than 2-3 hours per day, go back to walking before beginning a running program pretty, pretty please! Learn how to extend your hips and arms again. I think you will find it extremely challenging and a way to really improve your ability to run well too!