#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!

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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….

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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?!!

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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):

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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!

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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.

Everyday Poser–Yoga in the Loo

I hear this a lot: “I don’t have time to do yoga.” That is why I started this feature of my blog called #everydayposer and am featuring ways to sneak postural awareness into your life. I would love for you to make time to come to classes, too, of course. And especially classes at On The Path Yoga (wink wink). But, even if you come to classes two or three times a week, it is the daily practice of awareness that will begin to bring your practice to fullness and light.

So today, let’s shed a little light on your bathroom. How much time do you spend there brushing your teeth and you know, sitting around? Two ideas to bring yoga into your day without adding a minute of time to your schedule:

#1 a calf stretch while brushing teeth or washing hands:

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Most of our back body tightness starts here, so to relieve back pain, this is the BEST way to start your day! (Even better than Folger’s in your cup.)

#2 a deeper squat whilst sitting:

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I sort of can’t believe that I’m posting a picture of me on the toilet, but, here it is with our bamboo Squatty Potty that we have in the studio. So that makes this photo sort of classy. I have a less classy version at home. And I had a member describe the Red Green version her husband created with paint cans and duct tape. Super classy!

The importance of this position for proper elimination can’t be overemphasized. It is the design of the body to squat to poo, but most American toilets have the hips high–sometimes even higher than the knees. Anatomically, the rectum is in a forward position and cannot easily relax unless the hips are flexed closer to 30 degrees. A squat also does a whole lot of good for low backs, too. And healthy knees. Not to mention how important it is to take the hips through their entire range of motion.

So there you have it. Two ways to integrate postural awareness into your day. If it seems too basic to be yoga asana, well, try to come into Warrior pose with calves, hips, or lumbar that are too tight. Try entering into a meditative state while feeling constipated. I’ll end with a quote from Vanda Scarafelli: “As the sun opens the flowers delicately, unfolding them little by little, so the yoga exercises and breathing open the body during a slow and careful training. When the body is open, the heart is open.”

Open your heart when you close that bathroom door and try a little yoga in the loo!