Friday, May 1, 2015

Can you stand up straight?

I've got a surprise for you: if you have to put effort into standing up straight-- holding in your belly, tucking your bum, retracting your chin, shoving your shoulders back--you're actually doing it wrong. Standing should feel effortless, but seldom does, right? It's not that you are doing it wrong, but your brain and nervous system are messing with your muscles so you can't simply stand up. If you have rounded shoulders or arch your back, or slump to one side you have to put effort into getting out of those positions to stand up. Your body is habitually stuck in some nasty little faulty patterns. But don't despair! I'm here to help you find the culprits!

When people come to me, one of the first things I do is photograph them from the front, back and both sides. These images help me document, and show the student, what I see when assessing their posture and if they are stuck in one (or more) of the reflex patterns Thomas Hanna referred to as green light, red light or trauma reflexes (you can read more about them here). All perfectly natural human reflexes, but can cause us pain when we get stuck in one (or more) of them.

When I share and explain what their bodies are telling me in the photos they are amazed and say, "I had no idea I stand that way!"  But it helps them become more aware of how they stand in the grocery line or sit at their desk.

If you can sense it you can change it!

You can do a simple assessment on your own, or get a friend and do this together. You'll need a full lengthen mirror. Stand about a 1-2 feet away from a full length mirror and close your eyes. Stand calmly for a few seconds, sense how you're standing, shift your weight a bit from foot to foot, then open your eyes and observe the following:
A few things to notice in this photo: the staggered feet,
differences in the arms, and uneven shoulders.
  • Check out what your chest is doing. Is the front of your chest fairly parallel to the mirror, or are you twisted a bit? Yes, most breasts are not symmetrical, but look at your clavicle bones in the mirror to check. Are the level?
  • What are your shoulders doing? Are the tops of your shoulders level with each other, or is one higher or lower than the other? Is one closer to the mirror, or pulled back a bit? 
  • See what are your feet doing. Are they both pointing forward, or is one turned out or slightly staggered forward a bit? You may have to step back a bit to see your feet in the mirror and look down at them.
  • Put your hands on your hips (feel for the crest of your pelvis at your waist) and see if they are level or is one side of your pelvis higher or lower? If so, you have a hiked hip. Is one hip further forward or backward? Your pelvis is rotated.
  • Wearing shorts or rolling up your pants will give you a view of your knees. Are both knee caps facing forward? is one turning outward a bit, or pointing inward? Do you see a leg bowing out while the other is straighter? 
  • Sense what your feet are doing in relation to your knees and hips. If your knee bows out, do you sense that you are putting more weight on the outside edge of the foot?
  • Look at your hands. Do they hang the same way at your sides or is one more in front of a thigh? Do they hang evenly or is one closer to the floor.
  • If you turn to the side, ideally have your friend take a photo of you. See if your low back arches. Does your bum stick out and belly stick out?
  • Take a walk and sense how you move. Do your feet hit the ground softly or loudly? Do you sense your waist moving a bit, as well as your hips? Do you feel like with each step your legs are pulling your forward or do you sense that your legs push you forward? What do your arms do? Do they swing with each step? Evenly or is one swinging more than the other? Have your friend watch you too. 
  • Lastly, just lie down on the floor on your back and scan your body and sense how it touches the floor. From what you saw while standing, what does your body now feel like on the floor? Is one side of your body heavier and presses down into the floor more? How do your legs feel? Is one doing something completely different from the other? Turns out? Feels hiked up to your waist? Scan your hips and shoulders the same way.
There are more observations I make in a session, but this will give you a sense of what your body is doing day in and day out. It may not seem very significant to some, but I always equate this to the foundation of a house. If your foundation is off, your doors won't open and shut properly, your windows will get stuck, the the house will sag. From a bodily perspective, your joints get stiff, your posture sags and you can get "stuck" with frozen shoulder, low back pain, plantar faciitis, tension headaches, even scoliosis.

Based on the assessment you've done, if your shoulders round forward that's a sign that you are stuck in the red light reflex. Do you bend or slump to one side a bit? Are your hips are out of alignment? Then you are showing signs of the trauma reflex (side bent and twisted). If you arch your low back you are stuck in the green light reflex

What do you do with this information? Drum roll, please... explore Hanna Somatics! With Hanna Somatics you learn how to release chronic tension in areas of your body that have gotten stuck in the reflexes mentioned. This is not stretching, or yoga, or pilates. This is different and much more effective because it goes to the root of all movement and muscle control: your brain and nervous system.

There aren't yet many somatic educators in far-flung places, but search for Hanna Somatics or Clinical Somatics to find someone to help you learn how to break the habitual patterns that create your pain and dysfunction. Those of us who do this work, work with people in person, in small groups and some even Skype. (I do all three.) There are also videos on Youtube. Search for Martha Peterson, Susan Koenig, or James Knight among others. There are books on Hanna Somatics too. You don't have to resign yourself to "getting older" or just suck it up and suffer with your pain. Honest! 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Have you worked your diaphragm today?

Breathing is one of those things that you likely don't think about much. It's an involuntary action, meaning that you don't have to voluntarily think about breathing to make it happen. But for a lot of people, they aren't breathing very efficiently or deeply. And if you're not breathing well, you can have brain fog and sore muscles, feel anxious and stressed,plus be exhausted a majority of your day.

Your diaphragm is one of the muscles that helps you inhale and exhale, taking in air and expelling it 24/7. Ideally as you take a breath in, your chest expands and the diaphragm contracts, expanding downward, so your lungs can fill with oxygen, and then relaxing back up as your chest contracts. For many people, due to stress, poor posture, anxiety, or just plain stiff, tight muscles around the torso don't do this when they breathe.

While the diaphragm is the largest muscle involved with breathing there are more. Check them out in the image at the right. You even have muscles between your ribs!

Yogis and babies know how to breathe. For the rest of us, we're likely going through life holding our breath a bit. Wanna learn how to breathe more efficiently and fully? Want to learn how to tone your diaphragm so you can relax, sleep better, reduce tightness in your core, think more clearly and get more oxygen to your muscles?

This coming week in the Myth of Aging Series we are dedicating a portion of class to our diaphragms. This class will truly enlighten you! I'll cover this in my other somatics classes as well.

Mondays at 545pm
Tuesdays t 9:45am
Wednesdays at 5:45pm
Fridays at 8:30am

Reserve your spot here!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Somatics for the desk jockey, blogger, crafter--anyone who sits a majority of the time!

This morning I introduced a bunch of ways to work on your somatic awareness, loosen up muscles tightened by static sitting, and increasing the oxygen to your body and brain. All from a chair or standing! The students loved it, so said I share a list of what we did, so they could practice. It might not mean much to you if you haven't attended a class, but you are welcome to come join us, or contact me to meet privately or Skype.

We started by closing our eyes while sitting and bring awareness to how we sat. We explored what it felt like to 
arched our backs and shift into the green light reflex, then round our backs into the red light reflex. I asked them how the generally sat at their desks when on a computer and maneuvering a mouse. Did they lean forward and slump towards it, or draw back away from it with their arm reaching to hold it? Either way, they can get stuck in the trauma reflex.(You can read more about the reflexes we can get habitually stuck in here.)

After that we slowly moved our spines more into the red and green light reflexes. Exploring how it felt and did we sense the same weight on both sitz bones, or one of our feet or legs? 

Moving on, we did a seated variation on reach the top shelf. We reached up with right hand as we shortened our waists on the left side and lifted our left heel. Sense the length of the body on the right and how the bend on the left increases that length.

We moved on to explore:
The Flower while seated

The Seaweed Spine
The Backhand Sweep and Forehand Sweep, some with the right arm and then the left
Alternating Thigh Slides reaching one knee forward as the other knee drew backwards, slowly alternating (this was a favorite!)
Explored movement of our necks with 
   * forward and back
   * side to side, then adding a lift of the shoulder towards the head
   * up and down with the head turned at a 45*, then adding a lift of the shoulder towards the head

Shoulder to torso cylinder twist (this one is very enlightening, so I'll give you the run down)
This move is about getting your shoulders girdle to move separately and in conjunction with your torso.
To start stand comfortably with feet about hip width apart
cross your arms over each other and elevate them to about shoulder height. You should look like “I Dream of Jeannie”
Gently rotate your arms and torso and hips side to side. Be soft with this move and let everything relax. Notice your end range of motion with each turn to each side, and how far you can rotate. 
Go side to side about 4-5 times
Release your arms and relax for a few seconds
Next, position your arms again in your “Jeannie” position.
Now, keeping your torso and head still, rotate your arms and shoulder blades side to side.
This is where the “cylinder” visual comes in. Your rib cage is a cylinder and your shoulder blades are another cylinder. The ribs are the inside cylinder, and your shoulders are the outside cylinder. Rotate that outer cylinder around the inside one. Make sure you feel your shoulder blades glide with this move, avoiding just shifting your arms side to side. Explore breathing into your rib cage as you rotate. Does it help you rotate further?
Release your arms and relax for a few seconds
Next, position your arms again in your “Jeannie” position. Try crossing your other arm over the other one. This may feel odd but give it a shot.
This time you’re going keep your arms and shoulders in place as you rotate your head and rib cage side to side. The Inside cylinder is rotating within the outside cylinder. 
Lastly Reach the Top Shelf while standing

Like I said, if you are scratching your head and wondering what the heck I'm talking about, sign up for a class or email me for a private session in person or via Skype. 

I have only one video about somatics to share so far, but there are others sharing them on youtube. My SEC teacher Martha has videos and a youtube channel, and I think I actually picked up the torso twist from Susan Koenig, who will be one of my teachers when I start me Clinical Hanna Somatics Educator training in June. Lawrence Gold has a channel too.

If you have a favorite move or something to share, let me know below in the good ol' comments. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Wide-eyed, a-ha moments with Hanna Somatics

We started the Somatic Exercises to Bust Myth of Aging series this morning. So many a-ha moments and wide eyes when folks rediscover how to move their bodies better. 

Even before we started with the exercises I shared some information about Hanna Somatics and how it pertains to our lifestyles and bodies. Here are some key points.

First of all, it's called Somatic Education for a reason. 
This is not a passive-do-it-once-a-week-and-not-think-about-it way of moving your body. This is a method where ideally you need to become aware of your body, learn about how it works, and sense it to get the best results. 

What is Hanna Somatics, in 25 words or less?
Hanna Somatics is a method of exercises developed by Thomas Hanna that correct full-body patterns of dysfunction so you can get rid of pain in your muscles and joints.

How does it work?
Hanna Somatics goes to the root of all movement--your brain! Our brains control everything our bodies do. There are involuntary actions-- digestion, beating hearts and eyes blinking--and voluntary movements-- learning to sit up as a baby, walk, dance, knit, or drive a manual transmission. But eventually those voluntary actions become second nature and what was a voluntary action--you had to think about it and your brain was fully engaged and taking notes--becomes involuntary, so your brain can think about other things, like what's for dinner while you drive your manual transmission car home and not think about shifting gears. You with me so far? Good!

How does this relate to pain and faulty movement patterns?
There are three perfectly natural reflex patterns humans do with their bodies in response to daily activities. They are the:
  • green light reflex- or sometimes called military posture, where one stands with an arch in the lower back and chest lifted. This posture is a reflex to get-er-done, go-go-go demands in life.
  • red light reflex-- or sometimes called startle reflex, where one stands with rounded shoulders, head forward. A reflex in response to stress, fright, anxiety or depression.
  • trauma reflex-- where the body bends to the side in response to injury, surgery or sometimes abuse. (Imagine a sprained ankle. You will tilt your body away from the injured ankle to take weight off of it. Eventually you walk on it again, but you may very likely still have a bit of a tilt to your torso.)
Like I said, these are natural responses to daily demands. But if and when we do them repeatedly or don't fully relax out of them, that they become habitual patterns. Your brain has gone offline and these reflexes have become involuntary, which then can create misalignments, tight muscles, and pain in a variety of places in the body. Just think about what most of us do day in and day out; We sit at desks with our posture either slumping or arching and our chins jutting forward. 

How is Somatics different from other treatment options, like chiropractic, massage, physical therapy? 
Treatments are passive. You have someone else move, massage or crack your body to "correct" misalignments. But if you want to make your adjustments last, you need to get your brain to undo the tightness, or else you're right back to where you started within a few hours or a day later. With Hanna Somatics you are proactive! You can self-regulate and self-correct so you can fix your body when you need it and learn to maintain proper posture with Hanna Somatics.

I found these photos in Kathleen Porter's Natural Posture book.
Take a look at the over-tracing of skeleton. Very enlightening!

So what's the Myth of Aging?
Thomas Hanna coined the term Myth of Aging. He said most things we associate with aging aren't due to getting older, but are a result of learned and habituated patterns. What if these two folks (above) hadn't spent years in the startle (red light) reflex?  Sadly they probably have a whole host of aches, pains and health issues, that they attribute to aging, but could be remedied or avoided altogether with Hanna Somatics.
  • tension headaches
  • neck pain
  • shoulder pain/dysfunction
  • reduced oxygen consumption which can result in:
    • brain fog
    • headaches
    • poor circulation
    • reduced endurance
    • cold hands and feet
  • bladder control issues
  • trouble swallowing
  • indigestion and acid reflux
  • low back pain
  • poor mobility
  • poor balance
  • knee pain
  • foot pain
So if your brain can learn to get stuck in these patterns, you can consciously learn to undo them. Now, that's what Hanna Somatics is all about!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Do you believe in the Myth of Aging?

Do you have ongoing issues with your shoulders, back, hips, feet, knees that you, or maybe even your doctor attributes to "well, you are getting older..."?  then I'd like you to flip that belief on it's head and consider this:

Aging is NOT the cause of your pain.
Your brain and body are just stuck in faulty patterns. 

What most people believe to be the inevitable part of aging--losing our natural mobility and becoming disabled--Thomas Hanna, called the Myth of Aging. Check out his book, Somatics to read more. It's facscinating! 
Around the world there are cultures where people continue to move well throughout their lives. Meanwhile many of us in the first-world are being beaten down by stress--anxiety, accidents, repetitive actions, surgeries, etc --that takes a toll on our bodies and plays a role in whether we age well and can continue to enjoy a good quality of life, or not. Our bodies respond to stress with natural reflex patterns, but if we get stuck in these patterns our bodies can develop pain and dysfunction.

So what can you do to age well and feel better in your body?
Learn Hanna Somatics!

With Hanna Somatics you use your brain to neurologically "reprogram" your muscles so they can relax to their natural resting length. Your brain also regains better sensation and control of your muscles, so you can move with more ease and grace. fluid, an ultimately less pain.

Hanna Somatics is amazing stuff! Everyday I work with people who are rediscovering their bodies, their muscles, how they react to voluntary movements.  They realize that no matter how much treatment they get or medications they take, that they truly do hold the key to lasting change. By using their brains and sensing what's happening with their muscles they can reprogram their nervous system to reset the length of their muscles. It's just that simple!

Just that simple, but it takes practice and awareness. To learn about Hanna Somatics, I strongly suggest you read Hanna's book, Martha Peterson's book, Move Without Pain, and find a Hanna Somatics Exercise Coach or Hanna (Clinical) Somatic Educator. 

I'm a Somatics Exercise Coach, and it the process of getting my Hanna Somatics Educator certification. I teach somatic exercises to classes and individuals. 

Join me for The Myth of Aging series 

Over the eight weeks of classes you'll learn:
  • what the natural reflexes to stress are, which ones you may be stuck in, and how it can result in back, shoulder, hip, plus other muscle and joint pain
  • what Sensory Motor Amnesia is, how it the most common cause of chronic muscle pain, and to undo it
  • why stretching (or massage or adjustments, etc) doesn't work for long term relief and what does. Hint, it's called pandiculation...
  • easy somatic exercise routines you can do to rid your body of muscle pain and keep you active so you can maintain your quality of life
Here's what we'll be focusing on each week.
week 1: release the muscles of the back of your body
week 2: release the muscles of the front of your body
week 3: learn how to release and lengthen your waist muscles
week 4: learn how to increase the mobility involved rotating your torso
week 5: learn how to increase the mobility of your hip muscles
week 6: rid yourself of neck and shoulder muscle tension
week 7: expand your breathing
week 8: put it all together for effortless walking

I'll be starting these 8-week series of classes on 
Tuesdays at 9:45am starts March 10th 
OR Wednesdays at 5:45pm, starts March 11th

You can view the calendar here. You can sign up for all of them for the most benefit or pick and choose. Or email me with questions. I'm thrilled to share this with you. Together we can start turning back time, and proving that aging does not equal pain and dysfunction!

Friday, February 20, 2015

It's Official! I've been accepted to the Novato Institute of Somatic Research and Training!

Last year marked my initial Somatic Exercise Coach (SEC) certification with Martha Peterson of Essential Somatics. I was so impressed by the results somatic exercises has on one's posture, alignment and pain I just had to delve much deeper. I had a hard time deciding on which school to attend, but am excited with my choice and acceptance into the Novato Institute of Somatic Research and Training (Thomas Hanna's original school) for my Hanna Somatic Educator (HSE) certification.

This is why I love what I do! This is a "before and after" of one of my lovely clients.
She has had multiple traumas to her body, and as a result literally couldn't stand up straight.

photo 1- before any Hanna Somatics exercises
photo 2- after her first 1-hour Hanna Somatics session
She has a way to go but is she says she's loving the results, feels like walking is easier too.

Confused about what a SEC does versus a HSE? As a SEC I teach people how to do somatic exercises to help them rid their bodies of faulty patterns that cause pain and/or effect how they walk and function. A Hanna Somatic Educator goes deeper. An HSE does hands on treatments, that are generally quicker to provide results*. An HSE will also share exercises the student/client can do on his own to enhance/speed up/maintain progress.

There aren't a lot of Hanna Somatic Educators out there. Yet. This method is becoming more widely known. Searching online you'll find many variations of somatic educators. To be called a Hanna Somatic Educator, you must be a graduate of the original school, though there are Educators that use Hanna as part of their titles or may call themselves Clinical Somatic Educators. There are only three other Somatic Education schools in the US that teach as true to the original methods of Thomas Hanna.

I'll be starting my training in June 2015. Here's what I'll be learning over the next 3 years.

Semester One focuses on:
  • somatic functional problems of the trunk and vertebral column
  • assessment techniques to recognize common postural disorders: Landau (or green light) Reflex, Startle (or red light )Reflex, and Trauma Reflex
  • sensory motor amnesia
  • kinesiology
  • techniques to eliminate fundamental disorders such as chronic back and neck pain, headaches, sciatica, scoliosis, etc. 
Semester Two focuses on:
  • expanded study of the trunk and spine plus functional problems of the shoulder joints, arms, hip joints and legs. 
  • procedures for eliminating 
    • carpal tunnel syndrome
    • tendinitis
    • frozen shoulders
    • chronic hip and knee pain
    • pronated or supinated feet
  • and my favorite! neurophysiology
Semester Three focuses on:
  • expanded the clinical skills 
  • expanded the understanding of neurophysiology
  • ability to help clients with walking/gait, balance, and other more complicated conditions
* Thomas Hanna felt that most people would be "fixed" i.e. relieved of their chronic pain with three hands-on sessions and daily homework exercises done between sessions. Since there aren't a lot of Hanna Somatic Educators in the world, one can do the "homework" exercises on their own, though it can take about 8 or even more weeks of daily practice of the appropriate exercises for one's particular habitual faulty patterns. You can find basic exercises in Thomas Hanna's book, Somatics, and Martha Peterson's Move Without Pain. I highly recommend getting them both if you can't find a Somatic Exercise Coach or Hanna Somatics Educator in your area.

Cheryl Ramette at Pacific Northwest Pilates and I are the only SECs in Oregon. After my HSE training I'll be the only Hanna Somatics Educator in Portland and second in the Oregon behind Victor Novick in Southern Oregon. 

Pretty exciting! 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Recipe: Gluten Free PB + PB Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'm not gluten free, but a lot of my friends are so I try to create things they can eat when we gather. Since, I've been cooking up a lot of dry beans lately--black beans, pinto, navy, garbanzo-- and I made black bean brownies in the past and wondered if I could make cookies with beans. Thanks to the intertubes I found out that people have been baking with chick peas. Bob's Red Mill has gluten free baking mixes, but I'm not jazzed about garbanzo flour, which is a key ingredient in many GF mixes...hmmm... I wondered if pinto beans would be a good alternative. So what's the best way to find out? Make some and taste 'em! It's always good to have an extra taster on hand, so my husband was happy to help out. 

The verdict? Not the same texture as a regular cookie, but really nummy! I used my food processor to make these, but a standing mixer would work, but a hand mixer might be challenged. I wouldn't attempt this in a blender, unless you have one of those uber fancy, super powerful ones.

Pinto Bean, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chip Cookies

1.5 cups pinto beans, rinsed and drained well
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup honey (or sweetener of your choice)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt, optional. (if you have salt free beans you might want to add a pinch of salt, otherwise maybe not)
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F / 175°C. 
  • Combine all the ingredients, minus the chocolate chips, in a food processor and process until very smooth. At this point C. thought the dough tasted like the filling in bean paste sticky buns at our local dim sum spot, which he thought was pretty awesome. Me? Meh.
  • Once that's all blended, add the chocolate chips and stir or give your food processor a pulse or two.
  • The dough is thick and sticky, so you'll want to wet your hands with water to shape the dough into about 1" balls, then flatten in your hands a bit. Place on a cookie sheet.
  • Bake for about 10 minutes. These cookies don't brown up like regular cookies so don't based their doneness by appearance. Remove them from the oven and at this point they're the epitome of chewy, gooey goodness!
  • Let them cool and then you can store them in the fridge or at room temp in a closed container.

They turned out really tasty! I added some flax seed meal to the second half of the dough and that changed the texture a bit. I think I'll play around with this recipe a bit and see if I can make them into some sort of bar, with more something in them... shredded coconut? nut meal? oats? Maybe some protein powder? (I just checked this book out from the library that's got me thinking about cooking with protein powder....) Not sure yet. In the mean time, we'll enjoy what we have!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New Recipe! Mu Shu Tempeh

When I get hungry, and a flavor pops into my head--or is it in my belly?--of what I want to eat, I look in my pantry and fridge, then I wing it.

The other day I was craving hoisin sauce. Yes, I have weird cravings. No pork on hand, so I thought I'd make some mu shu tempeh wraps. 

ALERT! Before you go any further, please know I don't follow recipes, nor do I pay attention to exact measurements. I whip up meals pretty quick. If something I cook up turns out nummy and I think I gotta share this, I then scramble to remember what I did... So feel free to take this recipe and use your best judgment and preferences to make it your own.

Mu Shu Tempeh Wraps

1-2 tablespoons of olive oil or sesame or what ever you like
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
1 big carrot, grated
2-3 cups of cabbage, chopped (I used some already-shredded cole slaw mix 
1 block of tempeh, crumbled
1-2 garlic cloves, pressed,  or garlic powder
soy sauce (I love my mushroom soy sauce! If you don't do wheat, then you know there's always Bragg's or tamari)
black pepper (some white would be nice, but I didn't have any)
washed and dried lettuce leaves of your choice, or you could use rice paper wraps or I've also used sprouted grain tortillas
hoisin sauce (this brand is my favorite and you can get it at your local asian market.)
chopped green onions, optional
  1. start with the onion and celery and sauté to soften a bit
  2. add the carrots, cabbage and tempeh and pressed garlic and sauté to wilt the cabbage ( I added a bit of water to steam it a bit)
  3.  add your soy sauce, black (or white) pepper, and garlic powder (if you're using it), to taste
  4. cool it a bit, then wrap it in lettuce leaves and top with some hoisin sauce and green onions. Yumm!
If you have food sensitivities by all means, make changes. Enjoy!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cross training for somatics

When it comes to different fitness programs, I used to think I was a Jill-of-all-Trades-a-Mistress-of-None, but now I know that the more I learn about movement, from multiple disciplines the better teacher I am. Plus we all know that doing the same routine day in and day out, year after year sets us up for plateaus, back sliding on our progress, risk of repetitive-stress injuries, and just plan boredom.

I may be all about somatics these days, but I know we need more movement than just slowly rolling around on the floor! :-) So when one of my students asked me what should she be doing in addition to her somatics practice, I thought I'd share some thoughts.

Think of Somatics as Movement 101. 
Most of us are not functioning well, so by retraining our brains to let go of chronic tension in our muscles with somatic exercises, we make everything else we do so much easier and enjoyable. Really! I was so messed up after my accident it got to where walking--one of my favorite things to do--just felt hard. Not heart rate wise, but physically I was not moving fluidly or comfortably. Now I just want to walk all the time!

Move it or lose it.
Once you are moving with better functionality, I encourage you to explore movement that get our bodies moving in multiple planes. Here are a few I came up with, but feel free to share yours too!

Hula hooping: a full-body integrated movement.
  • hula hooping
  • dancing
  • nordic walking
  • cross country skiing
  • roller blading/skating
  • hiking
  • rock climbing
  • crawling and rolling
  • skipping
  • rotational and contralateral exercises as well as exercises that move your spine in and out of flexion and extension, such as yoga or pilates, but be sure to get plenty of extension. Our world puts our bodies into flexion plenty already. 
  • tai chi and qigong
  • martial arts
  • playing with your kids, and I mean really playing with them. Play Follow the Leader and let them lead you!
  • imitate your cat or dog. They pandiculate every day, and so do babies and small children. Let them teach you how!

Go for a somatically-aware walk.
One of the first things I do when I start a class is have everyone walk around the room. I have them explore how their hips, waists, shoulders move, or don't move, as the case may be. Does one arm swing more than the other? Do they hear their feet hit the floor loudly or softly? Do they reach with their feet to pull them forward, or do they push off their feet behind them to propel them forward? Somatics encourages us to feel every move we make as an extension from the torso, but our culture has turned us into almost robotic walkers. We don't move our torsos much to move, resulting in awkward gaits and sore feet and knees. 

Check out how these women can dance with baskets on their heads. They have to move their bodies to balance the weight. If they were were rigid in their torso they'd lose those baskets in a second! Or watch how this woman balances a jug of water on her head...and what the spine looks like of the one who carries it under her arm. Yes, it may be a hardship to haul the water every day for these women, but their bodies are healthier than most westerners because they integrate their whole bodies in movement... Another student just today mentioned how women in South American cultures swing their hips and move much more fluidly. Yep! That's a good thing. In my teacher training someone said you need to channel your inner hooker. :-) 

... Walking with somatic awareness could be a whole post in itself. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Practically passive ways to improve your health

It's that time of year again. When half the planet declares their new year's resolutions, the other half says, "Meh, I never follow through so why bother."

For each camp here are a few ways to healthy up your life without really trying. So easy to slip into your day...all you have to do is think about it then take action. :-)

I love my Altras! The soles aren't really this thick. 
Get some new shoes. There are shoes galore, but most alter your foot's natural shape and how your feet should interact with the ground, which effects your gait, which effects your hips, back, spine, etc. Personally I love my Altras. They are a zero drop shoe, meaning there is no heel lift, has a flat sole and no toe spring (the part of the shoe that turns up at the toes) plus they're wide at the toe box, instead of tapering to a point. (No wonder everyone's feet are messed up!) These aren't a barefoot/minimal shoe, which most people can't switch to without a lot of practice, if ever. Your local running shoe store should have some options to explore. I got my first pair at Fit Right NW.

Reach high. This tip is from Katy Bowman, one of my favorite biomechanists around. Every time you walk through a doorway, reach up and hook your finger tips over the door frame, and then with most of your weight on your legs and feet let your body weight "hang" towards the floor.  Don't feel strong enough?  Just try to extend your arms up and then step forward a bit so your chest is between arms. Door too tall? Take your hands to the sides of the frame and do the step through option. If you did this every time you walked throw a door way you'd improve your should mobility and posture.

Get a massage everyday!
Have a ball! Tennis, pinky, super, soccer, dodge, pilates, cricket, soccer balls, balls from the dollar shop, balls from your pet store, the variety of density, size, texture is practically endless. Tie two of them in a sock and roll your back against them on a wall or on the floor for a great back massage. You can roll them under your feet at your next boring work meeting. Roll a smaller ball between your hands. Even a rolling pin can iron out some kinks. Just remember, less is more. Too much pressure and your muscles can actually tighten up, rather than release. Check out Jill Miller's fountain-of-knowledge book, The Roll Model for more techniques to keep your body supple and healthy. Personally I like Jill's book much more than Sue Hitzmann's better-known Melt Method.

Lift your bootie. Your butt muscles are designed to help you walk, run, climb hills, and stand tall. I find people are either butt tuckers (pelvic tilters), or don't use their butts much at all, instead use their quads and hip flexors more to pull them along as they move, than get their butts to push them forward. So this exercise helps to wake up those butt muscles! Stand with your feet wide enough that you feel a bit of a stretch in your inner thighs, feet and toes pointing forward. You may have to actually place your hands on each gluteal (butt cheek) to get this right. Now, engage your butt muscles so your feel your cheeks engage and slightly rise upwards. Remember this is not about tucking your tailbone under, or just engaging the deeper pelvic muscles around your anus. Do about 20 of them, take a break and then do another 2 sets. You'll be amazed at what this does for your rump and hips. Granted this might look a bit odd depending on where you do it, but I bet you can find time while brushing your teeth, standing around the dog park, or doing dishes.

Somatics changes everything! OK, somatic exploration will take some time to incorporate into your day, but everyone who tries some of the exercises, loves them and actually finds the time to do a little every day. check out these simple, safe somatic exercises from a previous post. And just how do they change everything? They help aleviate pain, faulty movement patterns. Help you sleep better. Put you in charge of your health. They calm the brain, which in turn can effect your endocrine system. The list goes on...

At this time of year people think big, grand plans to lose weight, or get in better shape, so those posts are a dime a dozen. These tips on the other hand will help you function better so you actually can tackle those bigger, grander plans without injury, which will set you back... and end up having to start over again next January.
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