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:

Advertisements

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): images-13 images-12

 

images-11images-15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

images-17

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.

Unknown-3Here is a final image of a group of children running. Notice the amount of movement behind their bodies:

images-21

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!

The Back of the Heel is Connected To…The Back of the Head???

In my last blog, I talked hamstrings. Now let’s look at the cervical compression that the drawing showed:

IMG_1494

I WILL eventually get to low back issues, but this post is going to address the connectivity of connective tissue. How it’s all, you know, connected.

Here is a selfie of me checking the tension in my neck by dropping my head (passively–I am not “pushing” my chin down) and very scientifically measuring the distance between chin and chest with my fingers:

photo 2

I apologize for the poor color and want you to know that taking a selfie one handed with an Ipad is REALLY HARD to do!!!

But–can you see that my chin is clearly two fingers away from my chest? And then I did about 5 minutes of calf stretching (2 minutes each foot done singly and then 1 minute of both legs together) and my selfie now looks like this:

photo 1

Barely one finger. And I emphasize that I was NOT pressing my chin down, it simply released to this position after stretching my lower leg. GO NOW AND TRY IT YOURSELF!! Now, in my last blog I wrote that stretching a muscle doesn’t necessarily result in a lengthened muscle, however, that said, it isn’t for naught that we “stretch”. Fascia DOES respond to tensile (ie stretching) forces and responds by allowing an increase in mobility. I love fascia. You should too. Stretching an area of the body (in this case the lower leg), results in an increase of flow–blood in/lymph out–and an overall softening of the fascial fibers. Sort of like wetting a dried up piece of leather–well, in a way exactly like that–the fibers soften and become malleable. The fascial system has wide ranging connections–along our back side it has fibrous links from heel to forehead. This is similar to grains in wood–if you look at a chunk of sawed wood you will see how one line flows into another.

Stretching DOES serve a purpose and it is something we all need to practice, because our lifestyles don’t regularly take all of our joints through a complete range of motion. Generally our shoes shorten the potential range of the ankle. Our chairs limit knees and hips to a 90 degree angle–which is really not an exciting place for those joints to be. We just need to begin to rethink the whys and hows of our stretching practices. In this example increasing the fluidity of my lower leg resulted in relaxing the tension in my neck. But there is a catch: if my daily activities lead to a reduction of mobility in my lower leg, stretching that area will not have a long lasting effect. In fact, I checked my neck mobility again after a couple of hours of sitting and it was right back where it started. I didn’t feel like taking another selfie, however. Sorry.

Stretching is one part of a whole body movement program. In the very distant past, our ancestors had to do a lot of wide-ranging movements that created multiple demands on their bodies. We have adapted to our current lifestyle–which doesn’t include those ranges of motion and isn’t a great thing for optimizing our health. While our necks are relaxed, let’s stretch our minds together and explore more about what whole body mobility means! Watch for my next post for more!! This is sort of starting to feel like a mini series 🙂

The Silence of the Hams #everydayposer

I’m talking hamstrings today. How tight are yours? Many of my clients come to me with a goal to reach their toes again. I sympathize–I have reached longingly for my toes too. But tight hamstrings aren’t the end of the world, right? I mean touching my toes, while nice to do, isn’t really a problem, is it?

Spoiler alert: it is. Well, it is important to have mobile posterior hips if you value your pelvic floor. If you wish to end chronic back pain. If you would like to rid yourself of tension headaches. If breathing matters…

Wait, a minute! Our ability to breathe depends on loose hips? Yes my friends, the old saying is wrong–it is TIGHT hips that sink ships. Here is a relatively poor, but sort of accurate drawing (I did myself!) of two bodies:

IMG_1494

The posterior body of the drawing on the right is tight. All over. And eventually, this poor stick figure will begin to have some amount of trouble in the tight areas. We tend to seek help for low back problems and lay low for tension headaches, but this tightness is a whole body issue–and symptoms will continue to crop up along the posterior connections as long as there is any amount of tension anywhere.

So, we can stretch out of it, right? I’m sorry, but no. “Stretching” a tight muscle is much like stretching a tight rubber band. It just springs back to its original length. And to complicate matters more, all your tissues are connected. Stretch your back, but not your hamstrings, you still have posterior tension. It shouldn’t be hard to reach our toes at all–small children do it easy breezy. So we get old and tight, nothing to be done, end of blog. Wrong again, banana nose. Let’s check out the difference of those two stick figures again and look at what started the back body tension: the one inch block beneath the heel. Which is my equivalent of drawing a shoe.

But, I know that you don’t wear high heels shoes, right? Now I’m the wrong one. Here is a photo of my husband’s running shoe (he LOVED doing this project by the way):

IMG_1495

When seen from the inside, there is a one inch rise from the ball of the foot to the heel. I don’t encourage you to take a band saw to all your shoes, but know this: ANY amount of rise in the heel will crumple your back side into a screaming knot of pain someday. Will you change your shoes now? Run a band saw through them maybe? The length of your connective tissues (muscles, tendons, fascia and the like) depends on what you do all day, everyday–not what you do for a few minutes in an exercise class, even one like yoga where you “stretch.”

I’m running out of words and time for this post. SIGN UP to get my posts and the next installation which will be how to test the posterior body’s tension!! A REAL cliff hanging kind of ending, I know, but you can handle it. In the meantime, check your shoes!

Motivation, Me, Malala & YOU

I want to know–what motivates YOU? I’ve been struggling with a new blog post for over two weeks now. Lots of ideas; that part wasn’t a problem. And I like to blog. But I just haven’t been able to get the work done. I want to, because I want to give away another of Katy Bowman’s books, Move Your DNA, and THIS post will reveal the next way to win. Feeling motivated? Read on!

Unknown-4

But I want to motivate you, my dear reader, to not only try to win a book, but to change your life. I can’t do that for you–I have a hard enough time changing myself! Knowing what motivates you would be helpful.

I can tell you what motivates me: fear and pain. Yep those two get me going every time. When I see people struggling with mobility I am motivated by fear of becoming them. I would like to keep moving as I grow older. And when, in my 40’s, I started to hurt myself by moving forward (aggressively, you know, from fear), pain motivated me to evaluate how I was moving.

Maybe that is why I haven’t been motivated to write this blog. Because until now, the deadline was far away enough to not be afraid of missing the opportunity to share with you. And of course, it is always sort of scary to write down something really personal, so that motivated me to do anything else. And, since I’m using this format to gauge my readership, I might painfully discover how little my blog is really read.

But. Here I am!! And if you are reading this, yay! And I have to admit, I am also motivated by inspiring people including students, teachers, and leaders. This week Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize. At 17. Her motivation was a dedication to seeing girls get access to education in Pakistan. She motivates me to be a teacher worthy of her efforts and the efforts of all my clientele that come to me to learn how to move and become healthier.

And REALLY I want to know: What motivates YOU???? Here’s how you will register to win Katy’s book: answer my question. Reply to this blog or comment on On The Path Yoga’s Facebook page with your honest answer. I will put your name in the drawing and let you know by the end of October if you are the winner. Thank you! By knowing what motivates you, I can be  a teacher worthy of your time.

Viral vs. Vital–ALS Ice Bucket Cha(lle)nge

My friend Allison nominated me and I accepted the challenge–only if you know me well, you know that I am a bit rebellious. So, I’m going from *challenge* to *change* and offering up a new way of accepting her challenge.

In Allison’s video she defined ALS with the following from the ALS Association: “A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. “A” means no or negative. “Myo” refers to muscle, and “Trophic” means nourishment–”No muscle nourishment.” When a muscle has no nourishment, it “atrophies” or wastes away. “Lateral” identifies the areas in a person’s spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening (“sclerosis”) in the region.”

I really appreciated her using the challenge as a teaching opportunity and I hadn’t taken the time to research ALS, so I looked into the disease a bit more. I found that these symptoms have no known cause, so there is no known cure as of yet. It has a little genetic connection (5-10%), but not enough to be considered a cause. There was one study from a couple of years ago regarding nutrition and eating a diet rich in anti-oxidants and Vitamin E–both of which are good for nourishing motor neurons and in that way, may offer hope and help for those already diagnosed with ALS, but again, not enough of a link to be causal. What could my dumping a bucket of ice water on my head do to help this bleak outlook?

But WAIT! I just spent 7 days in an intensive certification week on developing neural pathways and studying mechanobiology, which according to Katy Bowman, MS, in her new book, Move Your DNA, is “a relatively new field of science that focuses on the way physical forces and changes in cell or tissue mechanics contribute to development, physiology, and disease.” (In fact, this area of study is so new, my autocorrect is sure I made a mistake on mechanobiology.)

Here’s the short on my Ice Bucket Challenge: I decided to USE MY ARMS rather than douse them in ice. I do that every year anyway (the photo below was from two years ago in November on Lake Michigan–I’m in the blue bikini). Also, having grown up along the shores of Lake Superior we spent our summers challenging ourselves with icy water. Been there–done that.

679867_4937858404979_3514960_o

BUT what I didn’t do much as a kid was climb trees. Part of my training to become a Restorative Exercise™ Specialist was working on my ability to manage my body weight with my arms and increase the nourishment to the very tissues affected by ALS.

SOOOO HERE IS MY CHALLENGE TO ALL OF YOU–It may not go VIRAL, but it IS VITAL to the health of your motor neurons no matter what, so go out and climb a tree, hang from a bar, USE YOUR ARMS! Somewhere, someone suffering from ALS wishes with all their heart they could do this. Here is my answer to Allison’s challenge:

IMG_1467 IMG_1464 IMG_1447

AANND since it was more than 24 hours, and I didn’t actually douse myself with ice water, I will also make a donation–with a note that says 1) increase funding for ALL research through our National Institute for Health, and,  2) READ KATY’s BOOK! Sometimes what looks like prevention could be a cure!

I’ll end with another quote from Move Your DNA, “Our general lack of awareness of the mechanome should not muddle the fact that many of the processes occurring in the body, including genetic expression, can be regulated mechanically. When you understand this, you quickly see how searching for a health solution without considering your ‘movement environment’ inevitably produces results that are limited in scope and benefit.” (p 31)