#everydayposer: Contents Under Pressure!

Ahhh, so we have been exploring stretching. And now we are coming to the time of year when we stretch our stomachs. Hello holidays! Let’s revisit the drawing of areas in the body that tend to have tension:IMG_1498

In my last post, I exhibited how stretching the back of the legs can have a release throughout the entire back side of the body. I also, in my blog before last, explained that stretching is a temporary thing due to the elasticity of muscular tissues. So here, in THIS post, we see that my little stick person rather than stretch regularly AND change lifestyle habits (in this case wearing those 1-inch heels), the heels have remained and tension patterns are still present.

No problem–if things get a little tight in the back, there is plenty of room in front, right? Except that this poor little stick person is likely to suffer from back pain if the abdominal muscles aren’t able to provide support. Enter the six-pack abs!



Everything looks good now! And unfortunately, many, many fitness and health professionals will do exactly that: add tension to help with tension. Which works, sort of, until….


We see A LOT of abnormal abdominal issues in our country. And not just at Thanksgiving. Issues that have to do with pressure (no stick pictures on what that looks like–I’m going to let your imagination run wild!). Pressure caused by tension. By each of us, to ourselves. It’s time to stop the madness.

Stretching may only create a temporary release to tight muscles. And that is a good thing to do because, even for a little while, you can relax. But more importantly, attempting to stretch an area that is tight lets you know that it IS tight. The next step isn’t to tighten up more, but to find out why the tension is there in the first place. And then start to change your lifestyle, slowly, and stretch, regularly, and you might find that over time you feel better. In many ways. You sleep better, don’t burp as much, your knees don’t ache as much, tension headaches disappear, constipation is eased, sneezing doesn’t require a change of pants…..you get the picture.

So, enjoy your holidays. Enjoy your family. Take a walk and stretch your legs together. Eat together. Sit on the floor together. Hang from a tree together. If you go shopping, look for shoes without heels for each other. I have some other gift thoughts as well: a Squatty Potty, toe separators–like from a pedicure–or toe separator socks, yoga classes (maybe from yours truly?), a hanging bar for your house–even better, line a hallway with several bars so you can monkey swing! There are lots of ways to relax and relieve pressure. And wouldn’t that be the BEST way to enjoy the season?!!

21st Century Yoga #everydayposer

A friend of my daughter just got back from an extended trip to India. He brought her a couple of cool gifts, one of which she stuck onto the dash of our car. I don’t like car time, but I might just have to spend a LOT more time looking at this:

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It’s a solar powered prayer wheel. It happily spins all day long glowing brightly in the corner of the windshield. It is maybe the best way I can imagine to enhance the driving experience. Ever.

But, maybe the best part of all is the instructions that came with it:

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Hard to read in the photo, but I wanted to prove that I didn’t make this up–so if you doubt me, maybe zoom in and look very carefully.


1. Banned by the compulsory rotation forcibly cone.

2. If the solar lenses and base surfaces have dirt, please dry, clean cloth wipe gently. Do not add any cleaner is wiped. 

The back of the instructions go on to just as clearly describe what a prayer wheel is and how it works metaphysically–not too difficult a task at all to do in a foreign language.

So. My fellow students going through the Whole Body Alignment training come from many backgrounds, including midwives, physical therapists, yoga or pilates instructors, people with bad hips, people that love science, and I’m sure many, many other areas as well. You can imagine that we all talk in different languages and have subtle (or not so subtle) differences in expressing what we mean to our clients. We probably know what we mean, but in complexity do express is not correct use.

In a recent discussion online (we have a *secret* facebook page), a yoga instructor asked about the cuing often used in yoga to “press into the 4 corners of the feet.” This is an instruction I personally used to employ as well, but no longer. It was a long and thoughtful thread and I appreciated reading everyones’ translation of what that cue should mean or why it is useful or just plain wrong. Since the teachings of yoga originate from the same place as my new solar prayer wheel, maybe, just maybe, something has been lost in translation. Another thing to consider is that premodern yoga teachings were directed toward a very different population.

Which is why I no longer use that cue. I see loads of bunions and crooked, gnarly-looking toes which speaks to me of TOO much pressure already in the front edge of the foot. So my instruction is to back weight into the heels and go from there exploring the movement sensations of the front and sides of the foot. Other cues which I find no longer pertinent include “lift your kneecaps” since many people cannot lower them, and “tuck your tailbone” since most of our population already has a posterior tilt to their pelvis. Pressing, pulling or tucking something already engaged in that activity is too much effort in one direction. Physically and metaphysically, yoga is essentially about balance. Therefore, I need to understand the forces in the lives of my students–right now and in our cultural setting–that affect them in a negative way and introduce a practice that remediates imbalances in body, mind and spirit.

Yoga has and continues to evolve. The tenets remain that were laid down in the Sutras of Patanjali, but the way we practice today is far different than thousands of years ago. If you would like to know more about the changes in modern yoga practice, I highly recommend Mark Singleton’s book, Yoga Body.

As teachers, we need to evolve yoga language and practice to guide our students toward physical and mental liberation so spirit can be fully experienced. That can only be achieved by knowing their current physical condition and mind set. Culturally, there are many commonalities, so this is becomes easy to discern as we observe our students practice. It is also helpful to actually know your students–not to teach to such a large class that you aren’t aware of their personal limitations. And then we must learn the language of instruction that compulsory clarity do not body distort.

Everyday Poser-Balancing Act

Here is a photo of  my business partner, Anne, and me:IMG_0125

See any difference? I mean I know that you see I am wearing a blue shirt and she is wearing a white one, right? But notice ANYTHING else? Do you see how she is balancing on ONLY her feet? I am on my entire forearm and head–creating a much larger surface area on which to balance.

In the above photo, we are in the exact same alignment and body position: leg extension, arm and elbow flexion. But really, the load of our bodies on our muscles are completely different because she is head up and I am head down. Generally, we “feel” that it is easier to stand on our feet because we are used to loading our muscles that way. Exercise is what we do to change how our muscles are loaded. Although technically I have a much larger surface area, it feels harder to stand on my forearms and head, because I am changing how gravity acts on my joints and I have to relearn how to stack everything. Balance doesn’t change; strength does.

Children learn to walk and the first thing we see them do is this:1656102_10152877109814298_591128827_n

They naturally know that to really “get” being heads up, you need to try heads down. They will try this over and over again, because they have a clear connection to their innate body balance. 1656102_10152877109809298_149190829_n

AND If standing and balancing on our feet is so easy, then why are we always leaning? I blogged a few weeks ago about my leaning habit in the kitchen. I have tried to catch myself whenever I lean. Geeze, I lean on one hip, I lean on the bathroom sink, I lean on the desk, I lean on an elbow. Leaning is not balancing. Check for yourself and see how much you are not able to balance standing up–you can even use both feet!

Notice in little Charlotte’s photos she is working on leg extension with the bed in the first one and with her foot kicking up in the second. She’s having fun trying extended poses similar to standing while using different gravitational forces. She is a natural little yogi with a still intact sense of her WHOLE body.

Yoga is essentially about being whole. If we are always looking at life from the same perspective, we start to lose sight of that wholeness. Change position. Change perspective. And for heaven’s sakes, get some pink flower boots!

Everyday Poser–Walking in the Snow!


Here is what my neighborhood looked like this morning. Usually when things go winter around here, I get asked (told?), “you didn’t walk TODAY did you???”

Yes. I walk everyday. Walking is the best pose you can do for your body, yogis. And walking on varied surfaces is important for all kinds of reasons. Mostly this morning, my lateral hip muscles got a bit of challenge. These are called the Tensor Fascia Lattae. Which always makes me want coffee. But I had it before I left the house and I LOVED my morning practice of “walkasana” in the snow. See:


Everyday Poser–Elbows off the table!!!


Everybody has said it, thought it, or had it yelled at them sometime. Why is it such a big deal?

The distance from the heart to the head is why. There is a reason why deep conversations are called “heart to hearts” and an argument is referred to as a “head to head.” The person in this photo is obviously bored. Her heart isn’t into the lovely meal, the company at the table, not even the wine! When we lean on our elbows, the anatomical action is a collapsing of the chest and the heart (along with the support structure of the spine and ribs) moves away from the head. The head is heavy. When it is place in a forward position, tension begins to rise in the occipital joint (head/neck connection) as well as in the jaw. Distant heart, heaviness, and tension do not lead to happy meals. Even if there is a toy.

Open your heart this Thanksgiving and sit tall. Become an #everydayposer and bring yoga to the table!

Everyday Poser-Hip Thrust

No–it’s not an anti-Rocky Horror’s Time Warp blog. I love takin’ a step to the right. And the title, Everyday Poser, is a new # for my blog (I don’t know what to call that number-thingy, but I know it works on Twitter and stuff). I will occasionally have a longer rant (if you know me, you know I like that old soap box!), but I’m going to up the frequency on blogging and start with a series of shorter blogs with a daily practice tip to put yoga into your life everywhere. These blogs will begin a long and exciting process of becoming a Restorative Exercise Specialist. I’m super-excited to start this learning adventure and share my experiences over the next year! Let’s go Everyday Poser Possey!

#1: Here is me thrusting my hips (thanks to Sigrid for the photobomb)

#2: Here is me with my hips over my heels in proper alignment
IMG_1194The first “hip thruster” pose is something I find myself doing in the kitchen constantly. It seems as if I am taking a load off and freeing my arms to work harder. But if you compare it to the aligned hips over pelvis pose, you can see my mid back is straighter and my shoulders are more anchored into their sockets. Also my belly isn’t going to directly eat that apple–my ribs and stomach are stacked and supportive. Notice how you are standing next time you are in the kitchen!

Walking In Alignment

Walking“One foot walks, the other rests. Doing and being have to be in balance.”

That quote came from a commencement speech given last spring at the University of Pennsylvania by Nipun Mehta. I don’t remember where I first heard the interview with him, but I am an avid walker and I was drawn into the conversation. I later found his complete speech transcript online (thank you Google) and I find myself thinking of it regularly.

And now in this time of New Year’s resolutions, I turned again to the wisdom in his story of pilgrimage through India. He and his wife began walking across India with the simple goal to be in a space larger than their ego.

I have been in the fitness industry long enough to be wary of resolutions. Each year the fresh faces greet me with expectations to help them be thinner, healthier, happier. Some succeed, but most do not. It is my deepest desire not to become jaded by life, so I have tried to help as much as possible and keep an optimistic attitude.

Last January my partner, Anne, who is a Naturopathic Therapist, and I started a new series called Path to Transformation. It was an eight week program that assigned meditation, journaling, reading, yoga, massage, and food tracking. The beginning of the program emphasizes the difference between goals and outcomes.

This is an important distinction, and the reason while so many resolutions fail. A common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, an outcome resulting from a myriad of changes. Each change is a goal in itself. Each goal has wide ranging effects physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Physically, an imbalance in calorie intake and expenditure may have a desired outcome of seeing lower numbers on the scale, but energy loss most likely will also occur, eventually resulting in weight gain. It is a fact that metabolism is set by several factors; a major one is caloric intake. Still the ego says, “I can do this,” and the mind usurps the body’s instinctual wisdom. Imbalance between body and mind results and emotional frustration, rather than weight loss, is the outcome. Furthermore, in my experience, rather than quieting the ego and honoring the needs of the body, human tendency moves toward firing up that ego even more.

If I were to use one word for my goal in life and in teaching, it would be alignment. My yoga classes are about physical alignment within the body, but also alignment of body, mind, and spirit. I talk a lot about creating space. Creating space allows for finding alignment. Once alignment is achieved, balance is innate. I have no idea what the outcomes will be, but I believe that alignment is essential.  In myself and in others, I witness being aligned, being balanced, and being amazed.

So this year, rethink resolutions. They may have already given up, succumbed to temptations or habit. Or maybe you are toughing it out. Take time out now and step back. Sit down. Breathe. Feel the exhale and with it, let go of expectations. Understand that you were never in control of outcomes. As your mind quiets, maybe allow one thought to emerge: something that you can control and do upon standing. One thing. Make that your goal. Before you move, prepare for that goal. What would it take physically? Mentally? Spiritually? Is it something you can align yourself with completely, no matter what the outcome? Notice how you move from outcomes to goals and how simple the goal becomes. One small step, but in time, one large transformational process of becoming fully integrated, aligned, and balanced.

Barefoot in the Park

Sandy's feet after a barefoot run

Dirty but happy toes!

My daughter started it. I had been curious, but unsure about trying it. The first time I carried them just in case. But it didn’t take long to know that I was ready to do it. And now, after four weeks, I am shoeless and convinced. I love barefootin’ it!

I’ve tried two activities this summer that changed everything about regular exercises, running and yoga, that I have done most of my adult life. Last month I blogged about doing yoga on a stand up paddle board which changed the way I think about stability and balance. Today I’m going to blog about running barefoot, which has changed the way I think about stability and balance.

And first, a disclaimer. I just submitted my test to become a certified foot specialist.* And I would be in deep doodoo if I didn’t say LOUDLY that you should never, never, ever take feet that have spent 10, 20, or more years in shoes out for a barefoot run without training the feet carefully. Think back to the time you broke your arm or leg or whatever. Did you notice muscular atrophy? After only, like six weeks? Would you have lifted heavy weights or jumped up and down right after that cast was removed? No? Okay then.

So, after strength training my feet for the past two years, I tried running on the sand dune trails near my home. My husband and I have been running these trails for a few years. They offer a perfect surface of packed sand covered with pine needles and leaf meal. And acorns. Did I mention we had been running these trails for years? That we have named every hill? That we also know all of the roots, benches, and trail spurs by memory? For my first barefoot run, I had no idea whatsoever where I was. At all. I went totally Zen. I had to focus my eyes on the trail just ahead as I navigated through the roots and debris. Occasionally an acorn would lay in wait under what appeared as nice soft leaf meal and I would have to instantly adjust my foot placement and quickly rebalance my body. Every step took total concentration. Thank goodness my dear spouse stayed close by to guide me and that I didn’t try my first barefoot run somewhere in traffic.

The second run was less disorienting. I could look up and mostly I knew where I was. I noticed that I was holding my torso much more erect in order to shift my balance quickly. Sometimes an acorn would get me, but rather than feel like I might fall over, it just hurt a bit. I also ran a little faster.

By the third week, I saw acorns, but didn’t notice the sharp pain of stepping on them. I wondered if they were somehow washed out from under the leaf meal, but my daughter confirmed she had experienced the same thing after a few weeks (which would have been when I was very much feeling them). A friend that also runs the dunes wanted to see the bottom of my feet to see if I had grown thick calluses. The funny thing is that my feet really have not been so callus-free in a very long time. It was about this time I taught about proper foot alignment to stabilize the hips in my weekly yoga classes. By the end of the week, I DID notice one thing: very tired hip stabilizer muscles. More than usual.

Even running shoes have heels. Most have about an inch incline from the ball of the foot. In my foot specialist training, the physics of a positive heel was taught. And guess what! I’m going to teach it to you! This conservative one-inch heel will pitch you forward 30 degrees. In order to adjust to that forward pitch, we bend slightly at the knee and hip. Essentially, every step we take is a tiny little fall forward and a tiny little catch by our leg joints, especially the knee and hip. It doesn’t seem like a lot until you do the math. Ten thousand steps every day and the ensuing tiny little falls for 365 days a year times 50 or more years is like a gizillion tiny little falls. Ever visit the Grand Canyon? Each tiny little molecule of water added up to quite a big deal of wear and tear on those rocks. In the same way, our soft connective tissues erode in our overused leg joints and eventually we even begin to wear away on the bone surfaces.

So, by ditching my shoes, I also straightened and repositioned my body, which made my hip flexors stretch back to their proper length. I had to simultaneously pull my torso into a more erect position to maintain balance, so those hip flexors had to work harder while lengthening. It is what we call in the fitness biz a “strong” muscle–one that can BOTH eccentrically and concentrically contract. And since training begins to take effect after about 4-6 weeks, it explains why my hips were feeling it at week three.

But what about the acorns? Next lesson: your feet should be able to move like your hands. Hold your hands out in front of you and separate your fingers. Now hold your feet out in front of you and separate your toes. All of them. Including Miss “weeweewee all the way home.” If you cannot do it, you now have your first foot strength training exercise assignment.

The intrinsic muscles of our feet–which means simply, those muscles that start and end in the foot–are weak from being in shoes, just like those arm or leg muscles that were once in a cast. Weak muscles do not move joints very well. Your feet have over 30 joints. The acorns didn’t disappear, nor did my feet suddenly develop a layer of super strong skin. My feet muscles simply began to move their joints and adjust for stepping on those little buggers.

It’s actually pretty simple: I used my body to move in the way it was designed. Now I have more stable hips, more aligned knees, and more mobile feet. My running form is improving–I am more erect and in control. To use an old phrase, less really IS more!!

*certification through Katy Bowman, MS, director of the Restorative Exercise Institute. Her most recent book is Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief.