Everyday Poser: Walk the Plank!

I’m seeing all sorts of plank challenges happening. It’s cool to plank. Here is a photo of me planking a chair:

(pretty cool, but not as cool as the van!)

(pretty cool, but not as cool as the van!)

Planking is a great way to build tone in what is commonly referred to as “the core.” But (and by that I mean BUTT), here is the deal: most of us WAY overuse our gluteus maximus for standing. I do it all the time (although I am working on it! #everydayposer). Here is me standing with a thrust pelvis, tight glutes, internally rotated shoulders,and a dumb look on my face:

Notice how my hips are in front of the rope, but my heels are aligned with it.

Notice how my hips are in front of the rope, but my heels are aligned with it.

If you stand that way, then most likely you are planking that way. And holding a plank position is going to reduce your awareness of alignment, strengthening muscles that are already overused. There is a way of finding body alignment that is very subtle. What happens the moment you learn to ride a bike? Are you suddenly stronger? No, you just have found an inner awareness that coordinates all your movements. It won’t help you to find this by riding the bike harder or longer with training wheels.

Rather than holding a bad plank for 1-5 minutes, try to walk the plank. That’s right–and I’m sorry it isn’t National Talk Like A Pirate Day, because you could simultaneously say arrrgh while doing this and be as cool as participating in a plank challenge. But yesterday was March Forth, so go with that and make this month be your time to retrain the way you walk.

The key to stimulating the core musculature lies in your heels. If you want to stand, walk, or plank well, you must place a lot of effort into your heels. It’s easy to activate the kinetic link in your heels standing, just back your hips up until they are over your heels. It will be harder to then align the rest of your body, especially if you are a pelvic thruster. But you will begin to find your core while you find your alignment. Then, walk by pushing back with your heels. If you have a tendency of keeping tension in your glutes, this will be difficult at first and feel like walking in downhill ski boots. RELAX YOUR BOOTY! Use your hamstrings instead. Glide back with a straight leg. Your glutes will engage at the last portion of your step when you move into an extended hip and then relax when you flex the hip forward, as designed. Each step should be a core strengthening plank. Bonus: you can walk for a much longer time than you can hold a plank.

Walking this way will be more beneficial metabolically as well. Chronically tense muscles eventually become metabolically inactive. Yep–if you are pulling your bottom forward while standing or walking to make it look smaller, eventually it will become bigger. Dang. And so not cool.

Finally, if you insist on planking, rather than hold it, try moving in and out of your plank using your triceps (with relaxed glutes, straight hips, and neutral spine). If you cannot do it, then drop your knees to the floor. Your body to strength ratio for your upper body is whacked, which means you are hurting your shoulders while holding your plank as well. If shoulders creep up or elbows turn out, you’ll be tearing at your rotator cuff while planking. Again, not cool.

Learn plank like you would learn to ride a bike. It isn’t really possible to just balance on a bike without moving. Likewise, it isn’t really likely you will find your true core musculature in long-term holding of plank. Remember your body design is meant for movement and most likely you are in a holding pattern too much of your day already. Move more and start walking the plank!

Ice Age Ending Soon!

Here is a photo taken recently in my current home town:

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We look like zombies of the Ice Age Apocalypse, no?

It was one of the few sunny days of this Polar Vortex winter and there was ice, so hundreds of people wondered out onto Lake Michigan as if answering a calling of some sort. Kind of cool. Sort of strange. A bit dangerous. This ice is formed by wave action and wave action continues under the surface creating an constantly shifting ice surface. Thus the upheaval of ice seen in the foreground.

And here is where I take a metaphorical leap into our bodies (you knew it was coming, right?) We sort of think of our skin as a solid barrier to the constant flow of stuff beneath it. But it isn’t. There is NO separation of tissues in our bodies. One flows into another like the Grand River flows into Lake Michigan. Skin is the outermost layer of tissue containing the ends of blood, nerve and lymph systems. Ends that connect further up. Ends that eventually tell their whole systems to respond in a certain way depending on what is happening on the surface.

So, you get a scrape. Blood flows and coagulation occurs due to the movement of lymph into the area. Your nerves say ouch. You learn to stay away from that which scrapes you and you heal. Or you can ice the scrape. This reduces the flow of blood and lymph and deadens the nerves. Because what you do with your whole body in a Polar Vortex, you will do on the microscopic level when you apply ice locally: increase muscular tension. Everybody has been complaining of tight shoulders this winter. Because it has been freaking cold! and we’ve been drawing inward away from the cold. Why do we think that icing an injury is the correct thing to do? There isn’t any reason. No science has ever “proven” that this is good for you. What? Click here for a thorough discussion with Dr. Kelly Starrett of Mobility WOD. In order for our bodies to heal, we need the free flow of blood, lymph and nerves into that area. Muscular tension reduces that flow. Tension is NOT THE SAME AS MOVEMENT! It isn’t nice and although icing an injury may make you feel less of the ouch, that decreased sensitivity also is decreasing your body’s response to the injury. A response that is natural and healthy and the only way to actually heal the tissues.

I was taught all through my college and fitness career that RICE is nice: Rest Ice Compression and Elevation. Maybe I was taught that because everybody was doing it. We were the ice age zombies of what-to-do-when-you-hurt-yourself. But it is time for winter to end. All of us, even those (like me) that sort of love winter, feel it is time to move on. It’s time to be tired of icing injuries too, and move on to whole body wellness.

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!

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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:

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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)

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#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!

Peace Begins With Me

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…

Remember singing those words in camp, or Sunday School, or somewhere when you were younger? I do, but I probably just sang it because somebody told me to. I didn’t really think about it. And yet, it does bring up good memories and emotions.

RIght now, for me, our national news brings up bad memories and emotions. Just in the past week there were 2 mass shootings, adding to the multitude our nation has experienced. Not to mention bombings. And in local news, minor shootings, child molestation, rapes, domestic violence of all sorts. Now there is also Rhabdomyolysis. Wait, Rhabdo….what???

Maybe you don’t follow health and fitness reporting, but I have seen a few stories about this recently. Rhabdomyolysis is the catastrophic break down (really an explosion) of muscle fibers, which leach proteins and electrolytes into the bloodstream. This release overloads the kidneys and can lead to renal failure and possibly death. Usually it is caused by crushing injuries, electrocution, or seizures.

The causes of this condition make it rare. But you can force yourself into Rhabdomyolysis by over exerting yourself during exercise. I know that some people will hurt themselves if they are hell bent on it whether it is with drugs, a weapon or an excessive work out. And I don’t mean to be critical of the movement science behind CrossFit in particular. But I do have a problem with competition and exertion to the point of death and the glorification of self destruction. CrossFit has a mascot called “Uncle Rhabdo,” along with quite a cultural awareness of a relatively rare condition. Here is Uncle Rhabdo:

 

A clown that is obviously overexerting, bleeding, with kidneys and intestines falling out, and taking in a little dialysis between sets.

Dialysis is not funny, Crossfit. Neither is this cartoon, nor the tees that are for sale, nor the idea that doing as much as you can, no matter what the cost (there is also a cartoon of Uncle Rhabdo vomiting and there has been recent news about peeing during CrossFit workouts). Here is a quote from a CrossFit participant: “I see pushing my body to the point where the muscles destroy themselves as a huge benefit of CrossFit.” Sick. Just like Uncle Rhabdo. This is from a man that spent six days in ICU after self-induced Rhabdomyolysis. This is a problem on so many levels. But for now lets just stick to the part of promoting pain rather than health and wholeness (what I thought fitness was supposed to be about).

This idea of proving yourself–of glorified self destruction, or of being better than someone, or of feeling superior–is what I feel is at the center of our social violence.

Our local middle school just began a program called “Rachel’s Challenge.” Rachel Peck was one of the first victims at Columbine High School and her family has established a program to end bullying in schools. Bullying is when, because of a low sense of self esteem but also fear of hurting themselves, young people instead hurt others. They usually pick on the ones that cannot defend themselves, so winning is assured.  Rachel’s Challenge hopes to begin a chain reaction of kindness to help eradicate bullying in schools. It’s a beautiful program and I am hopeful that it will have an impact. Just attending the community meeting made me even more mindful of the importance of my actions toward others. And there were over 300 people at the event. Let the chain reaction begin.

October is a big month for causes–usually the one most promoted is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Yes, I hope we can end cancer of all types, but I am somewhat disheartened at the amount of funding put towards pink products. I’m not sure if it is spreading awareness or consumption.

The other colored ribbon for the month is purple which represents Domestic Violence Awareness. Not heard of that one? Well, it might be that the ones suffering from it are usually destitute and don’t have the backing of big pharma to develop cures or products. How do we cure domestic violence? The same way that Rachel’s Challenge hopes to end bullying: by kindness. Bullies are the same whether they are children or adults: they need to hurt others to feel better about themselves. In fact, many bullies in school are from homes that suffer some type of domestic violence. This is a chain reaction that needs to be stopped.

In 2012, Nipun Mehta gave the Baccalaureate speech at graduation for the University of Pennsylvania. A man “who has never in his adult life has applied for a job. A man who hasn’t worked for pay in nearly a decade, and whose self-stated mission is simply ‘to bring smiles to the world and stillness to my heart.’” This man walked across India with his new wife hoping to find out what life was about. They budgeted a dollar a day for the two of them and walked over 1000 km. “For our survival we had to depend utterly on the kindness of strangers.”

I have a feeling that Uncle Rhabdo would NOT have approved. Mr. Mehta is an unusual choice for a graduation speaker to be sure. But that he was asked to speak at such a prestigious event is the point. His speech received a standing ovation. Please read the whole text. Here are some excerpts:

After returning from their pilgrimage, Nipun was asked what he had learned. He summed it up with an acronym using the letters of the word walk:

W-witness: A walking pace is the speed of community, which will lead you to witness a profoundly inextricable connection with all living things.

A-accept: You place yourself in the palm of the universe and accept whatever life tosses into your laps.

L-love: The more we learned from nature, and built a kind of inner resilience to external circumstances, the more we fell into our natural state–which was to be loving.

K-know thyself: Our plans and actions buildup mental residue and this internal noise starts polluting our motivations, our ethics, and our spirit.

The path that Nipun and his wife took began at Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram. Gandhi is maybe most remembered by his words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Witness, Accept, Love, and Know Yourself. Be kind to your body and to who you are. You were born for a reason and that reason isn’t to hurt yourself, to prove yourself, or to inflict pain and suffering on others.

In the yoga community, every class ends with just a simple kind word, Namaste. Simply put, it means that you honor the people that shared your experience. This is important. In yoga classes, we reveal our weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as our strengths. Again, not a scene for Uncle Rhabdo. Good. Let us invent a mascot that is more like a beautiful child–not encumbered by mental residue, fully engaged in loving life, whose main goal is to grow, whose heart is broken by any hurtful action, and whose smile can light up a room. Let’s advertise that, maybe have a slogan like Nipun’s or Rachel. Pass on the smile, the love, and the peace.

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During the month of October, On The Path Yoga will be offering donation based classes every Saturday. All funds will go towards The Center for Women in Transition (CWIT). Also, every Saturday afternoon, a workshop around the theme of “Centered & Strong” will be offered, with a portion of the fees also going to CWIT. Please see our website for details. Or find out more about Rachel’s Challenge and participate locally to start a chain reaction of kindness. Let’s please stop hurting ourselves, hurting each other, and hurting our society.