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!

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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:

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.

Whew! The most obvious title would totally suck…Spring, Cardiovascular Health and YOU! #Everydayposer

Geeze. We’ve been waiting for spring for.ever. It’s mid-April and yesterday there was snow, north wind, and temps in the low 30’s. But we know it will come, right? right???

Well these bushes are ready! The little buds are just waiting for the first warm temps and they will burst into blossom.

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They will get the needed water to mix with sunlight and perform the miracle of photosynthesis and probably all of us will burst into song.

These little buds get water up from the root by a process of fluid dynamics called transpiration. Notice the geometry of the branches: sort of straight and with little forks. The buds are located on the outermost aspect of the branch. None of this is accidental. There is a specific design of this bush that allows for maximum fluid flow of water up to the buds against the flow of gravitational pull. Physics isn’t just a good idea, it is the law my friends.

Essentially, this little bush sucks. And I mean that in the most earth-loving-can’t wait-for-May-flowers kind of way. And guess what! Your body sucks too. And I mean that in the most you-are-beautiful-and-a-miracle kind of way.

Throughout my college education and subsequent career in fitness, the emphasis of health was cardiovascular function. Of that function, we focused on heart rate, checking usually every 10 minutes to make sure we were working “aerobically.” This is probably familiar to most fitness enthusiasts. The only thing about checking heart rate is that it is based on a conceptual theory that the heart is responsible for oxygen uptake. Which is wrong, according to those darn laws of physics.

The little bush doesn’t have a heart and fluids move just fine. Your body has a very similar geometry of vascularization that creates fluid flow out to your “buds” which are your muscular cells. If we only emphasize the heart muscle, we might be missing out on large areas of the other 600+ muscles that are within your skin. All of them suck when they move. Which makes “cardio” more about circulation than about heart rate. Which means it isn’t just about moving the biggest, oxygen sucking muscles when we exercise, but really it is about moving all of them as much as possible.

I know lots of “fit” people that cannot move their toes. They cannot actively stretch their hamstrings. They cannot control their shoulder blades. If you cannot initiate a full range of motion through your motor functioning, those muscles are not metabolically active. In other words, they don’t suck. Which is bad.

If you want to learn more about how much you suck as well as how the other aspect of fluid dynamics which includes your lymph system, which does not have a heart muscle at all, which is the part of you that drains toxins out of your body, which if your muscles are not metabolically active creates inflammation, which sucks in the other not-nice-high-blood-pressure-and-pain kind of way, come to my Yoga & Aging serie on cardiovascular health May 3. It might put a little “spring” in your step 🙂

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!

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.

Caution: Contents Under Pressure

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I’ve been thinking about this one all month. Which, I guess is only about 12 days so far, but, I have little notes all over my desk. Remember to mention this, bookmark that, etc. In other words, this post isn’t going to be under 500 words.

February has been declared heart health month by the American Heart Association (AHA). Earlier in the month, I got to go to our local elementary school and teach yoga to the fourth grades, so I emphasized poses that stretched and opened the heart space. At the end of class, the regular teacher made announcements about Jump Rope for Heart, which was the next special program they were participating in and an activity that is good for strengthening the heart. Here is a question I am going to ponder: which is better for your heart, stretching or strengthening?

Usually, when we think about heart health, we associate it with “cardio” something like jumping your heart out for an hour, or for those that go to gyms, it’s the tread mill, stair climber, aerobics class. Maybe you run outdoors. Or you might be a swimmer. But the idea of cardio is that your heart has to work hard, that it has to achieve a certain percentage of maximum output, which you check from a chart on the wall or an app on your phone. We like numbers: calories burned, VO2max, miles or laps completed. Maybe I should clarify what I mean by “we” here, because my grandmother, who had to raise a family of 5 during the Great Depression, liked other numbers: quarts of tomatoes put up, pounds of meat in the freezer, dozens of cookies in the oven. Her idea of heart health was to simply stay fed with whatever is at hand and your heart will keep ticking.

My grandmother’s diet,which included sugar, saturated fats, red meat, and processed vegetables (although the processing was done at home), would not be declared “heart healthy” by the AHA. I never saw my grandmother drink a green drink, nor did she even once consider vegetarianism, and yet she lived past 90. So did my great grandmother. Neither ever, ever did a cleanse. And I also never saw either of those two women run. Never. Not a scientific test group, I know. But still.

There are changes in how we perceive healthy eating. This morning, NPR had a report on whole fat milk, a real no-no to women of my generation. The naturopath that I work with recommends saturated fats. I have friends that are paleo eaters and those that swear by veganism. I once saw a Facebook post on paleoveganism…so here is the other question I am going to ponder: which is better for your heart, the diet of my grandmother or a specialty health diet determined by the latest nutritional advice?

And although I am going to ponder those two questions, I’m not going to answer them. Really, it is impossible. If you know about the scientific process, you know that there are just too many variables within humanity to say anything for sure about how to exercise or how to eat. But, this much I can say for sure, because the science is sound and the logic is pretty clear: nothing works well under pressure. (Not even pressure cookers. I remember my mom’s blowing its little spinning thingy off many times and put a hole right in our kitchen ceiling.)

If you really want to help your heart, take off the pressure. Whether that pressure comes from tight muscles surrounding it, overworking the heart muscle itself, poor circulation in the extremities, constant worry about diet, or unresolved stress in your life (watch this TED Talk for cool insight to stress). Any scientific experiment starts with a laboratory full of equipment. You need to understand how the basic set up works. Your body is your lab. Do you understand, really, how the equipment works? Although it far less complicated than understanding the role of cholesterol in your body (which a surprising number of people claim to know), the basic functioning of the human laboratory is pretty misunderstood.

I’m going to set up the experiment. I need the following items: blood, lymph, and electricity. I’ll put the blood in about a million test tubes and the lymph in the same amount test tubes. I need a way to get blood in and lymph out–the electricity will do nicely, trading one test tube of blood for one of lymph. I need to have good alignment of the test tubes, too. If I don’t set it up right, I’ll end up with too much of either blood or lymph in an area. The pressure in that area will increase. Test tubes will start to crash, maybe even break, spilling blood or lymph all over my lab. And then I’ll have to clean up the mess. The mess will resemble high blood pressure and inflammation. If there is breakage of the test tubes containing blood, the mess will be a problem of malnutrition, since the blood isn’t getting to where it needs to be. If a test tube containing lymph breaks, the mess will be more of a toxic problem, since lymph carries waste products. What matters in this experiment is how I moved the test tubes around. All of them, since any one of them can start to create havoc in my lab.

In yoga, we call the flow of blood, lymph, and electricity “prana.” In a human performance lab, the terms are more technical, but essentially the gist is this: you have to flow. All of you. No test tube is unnecessary and none are more important than the others.

So what is better, strength or stretching? Well, does all of your body move with ease while walking or standing? Do you have any tension in your body? That is an area of pressure. Blood is not going to flow well into a tight area or an underused one. Regarding diet, most likely in our society you are getting enough nutrition in your mouth, but your cells might still be starving. If you don’t move the nutrients around to all your parts, then the question of nutrition becomes moot. Can you move your little toe? No? Then even if you drank the best green drink this morning, your pinky toe is still starving. Besides your pinky toe, what else haven’t you moved lately? Anything that isn’t moving with ease is increasing the pressure gradient for your heart. And even if you do the hardest cardio workout ever, if you do it in the same position you spend the rest of your day in, you are just increasing the pressure on your heart muscle and not actually feeding the other muscles of your body. Crash.

What about clean diets? No matter how careful you are to remove toxins from your diet, cells are constantly metabolizing within your body and metabolism produces waste. The lymphatic system is responsible for removing waste and it works without a central beating heart, depending solely on the electricity of localized muscular movement. I repeat, no heart. The good news is that a large number of lymphatic drainage points are in your groin and armpit, so if you are extending your legs and arms regularly, there is no buildup of toxic waste. Oh. Wait. You sit a lot and then go to spinning classes, metabolizing a days worth of calories, but never fully extending your limbs behind you. The bad news is that a build up of lymph generally or locally (in the nodes) creates a toxic, acidic atmosphere which will alter cellular reproduction at that site. Crash and burn.

This is sort of a downer post. But I’m going to end it with happy news! To maintain heart health, cellular health, and overall functioning of your body, move in different ways throughout the day so that your test tubes are aligned and being moved in and out of each area of your lab, err, body. It really is easier than going to the gym for a kick-your-butt-training session. Or learning how to ferment your own ghee. Are you sitting? Stand up and stretch. Kneel for a while at your desk. Go out for a walk and focus on reaching back with your arms and legs–you are doing extensions and draining those lymph nodes of toxins! Want to improve your cardiovascular health? Move your toes. You can do that while you are sitting. You just need to take your shoes off. You don’t have to move harder, you just need to move more. In fact, moving harder might cause a crash in an area already under pressure.

All your test tubes are very important to your human lab. Notice if any areas are under pressure and avoid a crash simply by moving the blood in and lymph out. You provide the needed electricity just by moving your muscles. You don’t need a special app, an expensive gym membership, or the latest advice from the AHA. In fact, 1500 hundred words of this post could have been two: move more.