Newsletter, November 2018: Keep moving

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I just got back from listening to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Vonda Wright speak to a room full of educated, affluent women (and me. I was there as a guest). She researches the effects of what she calls mobility on aging. Based on her talk, she was using mobility in a somewhat generic way to simply mean movement. 

The numbers are staggering. A sedentary lifestyle will cause 2.5 million Americans to suffer from premature disability or death in the next ten years. Sedentary people decline twice as fast as people that are active. 67% of baby boomers report weekly muscle or joint pain.

There was more, but you get the picture. The thing that struck me while I was listening was while a large portion of the US continues to struggle with meeting the minimum suggested requirements of physical activity (20 minutes of moderate physical activity, most days of the week), the fitness/movement/yoga/strength training/Pilates/aqua aerobics community is busy squabbling over a) who has the best method or system to maintain fitness and flexibility over time and b) how “other” forms of fitness are inferior. People are dying from inactivity and the professionals who chose careers to inspire people are making it difficult for people to feel good about their choices. 

It’s been said the best exercise is the one you will do. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just move. Because if you move a little bit, chances are high you will start to feel a little bit better and you will want to move a little bit more. And if you find you enjoy a specific modality, great! But don’t build a wall around yourself that prevents you from trying other physically activity things. Variety, after all, is the spice of life, and it’s a little bit freeing to think there is no perfect exercise. They are all good. 

This same philosophy can be applied to learning. I am perplexed when people in the movement industry decide to only learn one system or methodology. It’s great to have a sense of mastery, but so much can be learned from listening to other masters explain a similar movement in a different way, or approach a movement from a completely different perspective. No one system has all of the answers and no one form of movement is better than the others. Study the method that resonates with you, but step outside your comfort zone once in a while with an open mind. And keep moving. 

Yours in health and wellness,
Jenn

Upcoming events: 
Foundation training continues on Thursdays, level I from 4-4:50; level II from 5-5:50. Contact Mia Hurst at miahust@sbcglobal.net.

All levels Vinyasa class Wednesdays, from 6-7 with Andrea Woodhall. For more information, please contact Andrea at woodhall.wellness@gmail.com

Mobility Training: understanding mobility practices, Saturday, October 28 from 9-12.
Join Jenn Pilotti for this three hour workshop on mobility training. Why: Mobility should be trained progressively and systematically. In order to fully understand how to improve mobility, individuals needs to be able to sense the area they want to move and then consciously move the area. Once people can do these two things, basic principles can be applied to improve strength, control, and mobility at certain joints. This workshop aims to clarify these concepts. It is appropriate for personal trainers, movement professionals, yoga teachers, and individuals that are looking to deepen their understanding of how mobility works and why it should be trained in a thoughtful way.

We will discuss concepts specific to mobility, and will apply these concepts to the spine and lower extremity. Programming will also be discussed. To maintain quality instruction, a maximum of 10 spots are available.

Cost: $60
More information or to register: http://www.bewellpt.com/events/2017/10/28/mobility-training-a-3-hour-workshop-on-understanding-mobility-practices

Jules Mitchell workshop series, Saturday, December 3
Join Jules Mitchell, M.S., at Be Well Personal Training for Applied Asana: A Scientific Approach to Stretching in Yoga from 9:30-12:30 and Hip Dynamics from 2-5. Cost: $60 until November 10, $75 after per session or $95/$125 for both.

Jules Mitchell MS, CMT, RYT is a Los Angeles based yoga teacher, manual therapist and educator. She combines the tradition of yoga with her background in biomechanics to create yoga programs designed to help people move better and achieve individually defined physical success. Her approach to asana is multi-modal and skill based, balancing the somatic (moving from within) aspects of yoga with exercise science principles to achieve movement goals – from simply aging well to sport specific outcomes.

Registration: http://www.bewellpt.com/events/2017/5/7/jules-mitchell-workshop-series-saturday-december-2

Recommended reading:
I am almost finished with “The Gene,” by Siddhartha Murkajee. It’s a long, beautifully written tale about the history of the understanding of the human gene. Other than research, it’s been my reading material for the month. 

Speaking of research…
Timothy Noakes paper on how fatigue regulates exercise behavior is brilliant. So is the research paper on the U-shaped curve and its effect on chronic low back pain by Huech, et.al. The research challenged my bias and changed my narrative (which is why reading is good. It challenges perspective. In order: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3323922/pdf/fphys-03-00082.pdf
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827170/

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Pete Hitzeman for the Breaking Muscle podcast. Check it out here: http://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/the-endless-pursuit-of-mindful-movement

Assessment excerpt:

A fair amount of people initially come to see me for issues surrounding pain and discomfort. Often, it’s an area that has bothered them off and on for a long time, with doctors left shaking their heads, suggesting another cortisone shot or another round of physical therapy. These individuals are usually extremely active and frustrated they can’t resolve the issues on their own.

I am a fresh set of eyes in these situations. I don’t look, exactly, at how the muscles fire. I dislike hands on work, so I don’t do any manual muscle testing. Instead, I watch people move in a variety of ways. I watch their posture as they move in and out of positions, not because I think there is a perfect posture, but because transitions reveal habits.

Take the flexible dancer, for instance. I watch her move with ease and grace, as though she is barely grazing the floor with her feet. When her arms lift overhead, the motion is big, encompassing. Her ribs lift, her eyes lift, and energy fills the room. When she walks, everything is in front of her, preparing her for the next step. Nothing extends behind her. When asked to squat, her heels lift and her back arches as she moves into a deep plie.

To read the rest of the 1500 word article, click here:

Build ankle awareness excerpt...

Recently, a client arrived for his appointment, armed with a research paper on the golf swing.1 “I want to discuss this paper before we get started,” he told me.
 
It’s not unusual for clients to walk in with questions regarding research or media reports on fitness topics. I am always happy to oblige with my thoughts if it’s an area I know anything about, as long as we get to moving around eventually.

I listened as he described the analysis of the golf swing. “There is a section on soleus mobility and its affect on the club swing.”
 
“If the soleus is tight, you will get out of your backswing early.”
 
He looked at me curiously. “That’s what the author concluded. How did you know that?”

To read the rest of the 2000 word article (with videos), click here: 

 

Weekly musings, 10/14/17- minimum dosage

Weekly musings, 10/14/17- minimum dosage
A research literature review I read* showed that eight weeks of an eccentric training program was enough to cause a change in hamstring fascicle length. Muscle fascicles are bundles of muscle fibers, encased in a sheath called a perimysium. Fascicles get longer when they are exposed to resistance.

Here is what is incredible about this (to me). Eight weeks isn’t very long. In fact, most people can stick with something for two months. It’s just short enough to not feel like it’s drudgery. The subjects performed three sets of eight repetitions, three times a week over the course of the eight weeks. 

Let’s assume this took 8 minutes (subjects were performing 5 second contractions each repetition, so I am padding in extra time for rest and checking texts). 24 minutes of work each week was enough to cause tissue to change. 

A couple of months ago, a gentleman was referred to me for lingering (self-diagnosed) piriformis syndrome. I chatted with him about what seemed to make his pain worse (he didn’t know), and the activities he enjoyed (walking, swimming, gardening). He had an interesting walking gait, and was hypermobile in his knee joints, something I don’t normally see in men that are 6’3”. I sent him home with a breathing exercise, a dynamic split leg calf stretch, and a wall sit hold. I told him to keep doing the things he enjoyed. He called me two days ago to thank me because his pain is gone. I don’t know if his pain would have disappeared without seeing me or not. It’s certainly possible, because pain is funny like that. But I do know the things I gave him were things that in my eyes, in that moment in time, it looked like he needed. 

It doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. As noted above, it doesn’t even have to take that much time to be effective. What matters is consistency. People don’t need six exercises to do every day at home. They need two to do most days, and then when they get good at those, give them a different two. Keep it simple, keep it enjoyable, and appreciate the value of a minimum effective dose.

*Abstract here: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/46/12/838

Weekly musings, 10/8/17: the inverted U conundrum

Weekly musings, 10/8/17: the inverted U conundrum
For the last several years, I have been under the impression exercise and chronic low back pain correlated in the shape of an inverted U. People who are inactive have a higher risk of developing pain, moderate exercise has a protective effect against pain, and eventually, a tipping point exists where high levels of exercise are correlated with higher likelihood of chronic low back pain.

It turns out, I may have been misinformed.* A very large Norwegian study that spanned 11 years did not find high levels of physical activity correlated with higher risk of chronic low back pain (defined as pain lasting three months or longer). What the researchers were able to conclude was there is no added protective benefit when individuals get more than three hours of strenuous physical activity a week.

I regularly work with active individuals struggling with chronic pain issues. Pain, as I have noted before, is multi-faceted. Those of us that are already active tend to think we can exercise the chronic pain away through a myriad of self inflicted exercises and ideas we find on the internet. This doesn’t always work, and if my clients are any indication, can occasionally make things worse. The two interventions I can generally do to make things feel better is a) give them movement options that differ from their current patterns and b) calm things down, through breathing, rolling, or rocking. What I don’t do is tell people to stop the activities they enjoy; instead, I try and help them find alternative ways of doing them that don’t cause pain. 

Professionals that work with pain are often quick to vilify specific activities. It appears cyclical; one month, Crossfit is awful, the next, yoga is ruining your back, and the next, running is destroying your joints. What if it isn’t the activities that are causing the pain as much as it’s the sameness with which we perform the exercises? If we regularly added variability of movement into our routines, through different cueing and alternating periods of hard work with periods of moving easily, would pain in active populations decrease?

Maybe, instead of telling people, “if it hurts, don’t do that,” we asked them, “can you find a way to do it so that it doesn’t hurt?” people would feel more empowered and in control of their experience and their bodies. And that, it seems, would be a good thing.

*Article here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827170/

Weekly musings, 10/1/17: Why

Weekly musings, 10/1/17: Why
Yesterday, while attending a workshop on locomotion and groundwork, I listened as the teacher explained his thoughts on flexibility. He basically said if your goal is to get into the splits, then there are specific things you need to work on flexibility-wise to get the splits. It’s going to take time, work, and consistency. It can be helpful to ask yourself why you want to attain this specific goal. If it’s to be able to do something cool on instagram, you are less likely to spend the time and work; if it’s a stepping stone to another skill, you are more likely to put in the work. When you think about the squat, the ability to squat allows you to interact with the floor in a more meaningful way. This makes the work it takes to attain the squat worthwhile because the purpose behind the skill enhances the quality of a person’s life.

Whenever I find myself wanting to do something, I ask myself, “why? Why do I want to do this thing?” If the answer is, “because I want to see if I can,” this is a perfectly suitable answer and the curiosity behind what I am capable of is enough to keep me engaged. If the answer is, “because I feel like I should be able to do this because I am a trainer/yoga teacher/female/someone else told me I should be able to” I have learned I am less likely to put in the work. The goal is external, it’s not coming from a place within me that will keep me motivated, day after day, waiting for the improvements to occur.

The clients I find most inspirational are the ones that come back from injury or surgery stronger because, on a very deep level, they have a desire to be strong and capable. They don’t want their lives impacted negatively by whatever physical limitation they had for a moment. They put in the work; it becomes their driving force to be stronger tomorrow than they were yesterday.

When fitness goals cease being about weight loss or looking a certain way, they become more enjoyable and sustainable. It enables us to adjust goals as our lives happen, and the work we put in has a more immediate return on investment. It takes time to get stronger, fitter, faster. Is it worth your time? Take a moment to think about why you are doing something and notice how the answer feels. Sometimes, that’s a more powerful compass than “because I should.”

Weekly musings, 9/16/17 and 9/23/17: aging and trends

Weekly musings, 9/17/17
I work with a number of clients in their 60s and 70s that regularly inspire me.

These individuals are healthy, fit, and engaged with the world. They don’t view themselves as “old” and, aside from the occasional joke about their memory, don’t view their age as a defining factor in their ability to lead a fulfilled life.

Here are a few of the things I have learned:
Read. Read what interests you. It might be novels, non-fiction, or the news, but one thing all of my older clients have in common is they read regularly.

Push yourself physically, but respect your boundaries. My clients like to work hard. They enjoy feeling strong and aren’t afraid to try new movements. However, they also respect their physical abilities, such as missing ACLs, bone spurs that limit full range of motion, and other variants that creep up. Exercising for life is different than exercising to increase your deadlift 1RM or attain a particular yoga pose. Goals change, and that’s okay.

Travel. If you can’t afford to hop on a plane and go to Europe, travel new places by car. Don’t be afraid to explore the world around you.

Socialize. Similar to reading, socializing can be done many different ways. You don’t have to throw large dinner parties to have meaningful relationships with people, but make sure you regularly leave the house and have a conversation with someone you find interesting.

Laugh. Life is too short, and the world too unsure, to take yourself too seriously. All of my clients laugh often.

Be kind. The amount of volunteering and giving back my clients do is inspirational. Practicing kindness creates a meaningful life worth living.

*The idea for this week’s post came from a recent New York Times article on how to embrace aging well. Link here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/smarter-living/aging-well.html?mcubz=3

Weekly musings, 9/24/17: trends
On the island of Maui, a Polynesian inspired fitness trend is emerging called Kiakahi.* It involves things like chanting, crawling, somersaulting, carrying rocks, performing partner work with sticks, and carrying sandbags through the waves. It’s a scalable group workout that is both challenging and filled with focus.

There are common themes that survive the test of time in the multi-million dollar industry that is fitness, an industry filled with more “new” classes and certifications than I can count. They include:

Workouts that elicit a sense of play resonate with people more than those that are simply doing the work. I see this with my clients all of the time. If I pose an interesting challenge, they become mentally engaged and more interested than if I just have them do reps and tedious stability work. Those things matter too, but many people like being mentally engaged beyond lifting a heavy weight.

Being outside benefits people’s emotional well-being. I have said this before, but I feel it’s worth repeating: we are meant to interact with our physical environments. Being outside is an opportunity to actually practice interacting. While not all workouts can be done outdoors, occasionally taking what you work on inside and using it outdoors creates a sense of synergy.

The benefits to community are far-reaching. I love training people in a one on one environment. It’s my favorite form of teaching. However, we are social creatures. When a group of people is working towards a common goal, such as accomplishing a physical task, it creates a sense of teamwork and improves social bonds, both of which benefit our psychological well being.

A little bit of hard is good, a little bit of focus is good, and a little bit of ease is good. It’s good to be challenged; it’s also good to do focused movement and breathe for a few minutes without interruption. Create workouts that use aspects of being hard, mindful, and easeful to increase strength but leave you feel energized, not depleted.

*I first read about Kiakahi here: http://www.cetusnews.com/business/Struggles-With-Depression-Lead-to-Polynesian-Inspired-Kiakahi-.HkU_qoR7i-.html

Weekly musings, 9/10/17: body parts as tires

Weekly musings, 9/10/17: body parts as tires
A regular client came in this week, feeling strong and healthy. As we chatted, she shared she had a massage recently with a therapist that hadn’t worked on her in several months. He was impressed by her change in tone and holding patterns in her upper extremity. “From the torso up,” he said, “you are in great shape. Your feet, however, are thin and will eventually wear out, like a tire. You should make sure you always wear shoes so they last a little bit longer.” 

This particular client likes to be barefoot. She walks around her house barefoot, she occasionally trains barefoot. She has no pain in her feet, and, as someone that incorporates a lot of foot training into people’s programs, I can attest to the fact that she has decent intrinsic foot strength. Her ability to interact with the floor continues to improve. “What do you think about that?” she asked. 

“Well,” I said carefully, “I don’t necessarily think that body parts behave like tires. We are constantly changing, getting stronger or weaker, depending on what we ask our bodies to do. I think if you like being barefoot, you should be barefoot, and I think keeping the foot strong is important in order for you to continue being barefoot.”

The thing is, body parts don’t wear out the way we envision. If you never challenge your joints at different angles and don’t work on gaining strength in a variety of positions, habitual patterns can lead to tissues becoming sensitized. This sensitization is often accompanied by physiological changes, but it doesn’t guarantee physiological changes. Just like people can have bone on bone in a hip and have no pain, people can have pain in the hip and have nothing show up in their imaging. Pain is funny, and to assume thin skin will cause foot pain is a risky leap. Our structures are living, breathing, and constantly in a state of change. We are not the same as we were last week, and those changes, if the right stimulus is provided, can lead to more strength and coordination. Thankfully, we are not built like cars and don’t need to upgraded every ten years- we are built to last. 

Weekly musings, 9/3/17: Get outside

Weekly musings, 9/3/17: Get outside
The Finnish people are known for a handful of things: their taciturn nature, a tendency towards introversion, and a love of the outdoors. This love of being outside fascinates Finnish scientists so much, they decided to study the effects of nature on well-being.*

It turns out, being outside for 5 hours a month, preferably near water, positively impacts our emotional and physiological states. We are happier, have lower blood pressure, and are calmer when exposed to the natural environment; one with water appears to take the benefits up another notch. 

Committing to being outside 5 hours a month might sound like a lot at first glance, but it’s the equivalent of 30 minutes, three times a week. To achieve the benefits, it doesn’t matter how hard you nature- aggressively hiking the steepest trail isn’t any more restorative than slowly strolling by the ocean. 

Nature could be a starting place for those that feel anxious, depressed, or generally stressed out to begin restoring their emotional balance. It’s a way to achieve calm and the health benefits appear to match those of meditation. In any case, the health benefits from the outdoors shouldn’t be underestimated.

*The book, “The Nature Fix,” by Florence Williams is a wonderful romp through the science of nature. 

Weekly musings, 8/27/17: on editing

In the book, “Visual Intelligence,”* Amy Herman discusses how our ability to observe without imparting our own biases can improve outcomes in our careers and lives. In the chapter on communication, she writes, “how does [Amsterdam painter Jan Frank] know when a painting is finished? ‘When I get the feeling adding one more stroke would be too many.’”

There is a tendency in workouts, self improvement, careers, and personal relationships to make things complicated. It’s as though simplicity is too easy; instead, we complicate things like exercise in a way that makes solving a Rubik’s cube look easy.

For instance, consider the well read individual that is designing his own workouts. What does he do? Foam roll for 10 minutes, 10 minutes of joint mobility, 10 minutes of corrective exercise work, 10 minutes of HIT work, 10 minutes of heavy strength work, 10 minutes of skill work, and 10 minutes of stretching, followed by recovery boots and a cryotherapy session. Within that 70 minute workout what did he accomplish?

Probably less than he would like to admit. The problem with living in an age where information on any topic is available at our fingertips is it’s easy to get bogged down with everything we “should” be doing to get the “most” from our desired activity. 

But the thing is, like with writing, less is often more. Why do three exercises that perform the same basic function when you could just do one? This doesn’t mean don’t vary your workouts and ignore prep work before exercises, but in the example above, if instead of trying to do everything in one day, what if he made his workout focused on strength and cut out everything that didn’t help with strength? Or mobility or recovery or metabolic conditioning… You get the idea. Prioritize one thing during your daily workout, choose exercises that support that one thing, and see if simplifying the process makes the act of designing your workouts easier (and more enjoyable). Complicated doesn’t always mean better.

*”Visual Intelligence” is one of the more useful books I have read for coaching in the last 12 months. I highly recommend it.

Weekly musings, 8/20/17- On low back pain

Did you know:

  • 80 percent of individuals will struggle with low back pain at some point in their lives
  • Most clears up on its own within 6-12 weeks, regardless of what you do (chiropractic, acupuncture, exercise, massage…)
  • In 10-20% of cases, the low back pain becomes chronic
  • Most of those chronic cases don’t have a structural cause
  • Research suggests the most effective exercise intervention for chronic low back pain is one that increases proprioception and flexibility in the spine
  • Proprioception means sensing where your body is in space
  • Flexibility in the spine allows you to perform tasks in a variety of ways; research suggests individuals with healthy spines don’t just use one strategy to pick things up. There are small variations in the way they lift
  • Chronic low back pain is multi-faceted, meaning it’s affected by more than just the muscles being tight. Chronic stress can make it worse
  • Cardiovascular activity seems to help with low back pain; so does getting stronger and gaining confidence in your physical capabilities

*For those of you that like to read research, check out this paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934575/ and this abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24502841

September newsletter, 9/17: moving forward

When I finally became consistent with my handstands, I practiced them daily. Unvaried, at the beginning of the workout, the way I was taught. Maintaining a steadfast commitment to consistency allowed me to keep my handstand; however, I didn’t improve. I remained stagnant, and my hesitancy to work on variations that were challenging for me didn’t exactly move me forward in a meaningful way.

It’s easy to become complacent. When something works, why change it? However, complacency doesn’t make us better. It makes us stale, neither flourishing nor withering. Sometimes, it’s good to stay put for a while. If you are comfortable with one area of your life, it can allow you focus and expend energy in other areas. Eventually, however, boredom will set in. Or overuse injuries. Or a general apathy for the thing that used to excite you. Apathy feels different than boredom and can seep into different aspects of your well-being, silently poisoning your optimism.

I am working on changing a few things. It started with my studio, which I have now been at for four years. I got rid of things, re-arranged a few things, and am actively looking to expand by adding another trainer. The first two years after I opened were filled with a little bit of anxiety, a lot of work, and finding a rhythm. Eventually, I became comfortable. Over the past six months, the sense of unease settled in, letting me know it’s time to shake things up and grow in some way. Part of this means overhauling my website and doing that annoying thing where I make the business website just about the business and start another website dedicated to my teachings/writings/products. It will take a while to get all of that sorted out, but the momentum is beginning to build. While change always provokes uncertainty, it’s also exciting to see where I can go from here. 

As for handstands, I mentioned a while ago I hired a coach who did what all good coaches do- he programmed them in twice a week instead of daily and is making me work on variations that are challenging for me. My wrists aren’t sore any more and I am getting stronger. If you feel stuck and unsure how to move forward, either in your workout or your life, talking with a friend or mentor to get an outsider’s perspective can be invaluable. So can writing about it. Tim Ferriss gave a great TED talk on fear setting.* Basically, if you want to do something but anxiety is holding you back, map out your fears- what is the worst thing that could happen? And if you have any control over the causes of that worst thing, what can you do to implement tools to minimize the risk. Embrace when life is easy, but remember that in order to move forward, eventually you have to get out of your comfort zone.

Yours in health and wellness,
Jenn

My latest course on the shoulders is available for purchase on Vimeo. Check it out here: 
*The TED talk can be found here

Upcoming events:
I will be back in LA at teaching 360 FitHaus Saturday, October 14 from 12-4:30. We are covering the spine. If you are interested in joining us, registration can be found here: 

I am really excited to be hosting Jules Mitchell at Be Well Personal Training Saturday, December 2. For more information or to register, visit the link.
(Early bird pricing ends November 10). 

Suggested reading:
“How Emotions are Made: The New Science of the Mind and Brain,” by Lisa Feldman Barrett. She has strong opinions that are backed by science. Interesting view on things.
“The Stranger in the Woods,” by Michael Finkel is a fascinating look at the North Pond Hermit, a man that lived in the woods of north Maine for 27 years. If you like journalistic books in the vane of Jon Krakauer, this is a worthwhile read.

Two good pieces on back pain came out this month. The first is a discussion with Cathryn Ramin, whose book “Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery,” is out now. The link to the article can be found here.

The second is a short read by a writer for The New York Times who quieted his back pain down with medically supervised meditation. Check it out here.

Ryan Holiday wrote an interesting piece about being creative and selling. This is a struggle for me, and I think most of us that create would rather not deal with actually making money- except living is important, too. Here, he tries to reconcile the resistance creatives have against the s word.

Weekly musings, 8/13/17: tackling the hard stuff

Weekly musings, 8/13/17: tackling the hard stuff
It is hard to be productive. In his book, “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield calls this resistance, writing, “Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead, we say, ‘I am going to write my symphony: I’m just going to start tomorrow.’”

People do this with diets, exercise programs, writing, budgeting, and a myriad of other tasks which might, in some way, alter life but requires effort. The easiest way I have found to maintain a high level of productivity is to do the things that are most challenging for me at the times of the day when I have the most energy. 

Three days a week, I wake up and go for a run. At 4AM. I love my morning runs. They give me time to think, I always feel better afterwards, but they aren’t always easy. Running is one of those things it’s easy to put off and say, “I’ll do it later.”

I run at 4AM because I am a morning person. By rolling out of bed and running, I don’t have time to talk myself out of it, and I don’t notice if it’s cold- I simply bundle up and walk, bleary eyed, out the front door to begin running.

I am able to do things like run, write, and create consistently because I minimize distractions during the hours I feel the best. I don’t have internet at work and my cell reception is spotty. This allows me to maximize my output. I am not distracted by web surfing. I use my computer for writing and my iPad for filming. I don’t check my phone during my workouts because there would be nothing to see. 

Figure out when you have the most energy and schedule your hardest thing for the day during that hour. Whether it’s lifting weights, balancing your checkbook, or something for work you really don’t like doing. When you get into the habit of overcoming your resistance during your most energetic times, it makes it easier to deal with resistance at other points in the day. I can proof a blog in the evening, for instance, knowing the hard part of writing is done. Start the hardest part today when you feel the best; the rest will seem easy.

Weekly musings, 8/6/17: incorporating mindfulness and movement


When I first begin working with someone that is trying to make a change, I make suggestions that, to the outsider, seem small. Whether the individual wants to increase the amount of physical activity he’s getting, pay more attention to his breathing, or simply be more aware throughout the day, I find the smallest changes often make the biggest difference. Below are five suggestions I regularly give for clients trying to increase awareness and movement.

 

  1. In the morning, before you get out of bed, check in with your breathing. Lie on your back, with your legs either long or your knees bent and inhale for a count of four through your nose, exhale out your mouth for either a count of six or eight. After four breaths, roll over on to your side and get up. (If you remember, do this before bed as well).
  2. Walk on your lunch break. Even if it’s just for five minutes, walking on your lunch break will give you a little more energy for the afternoon. If possible, walk outside.
  3. Set your food (or fork) down between bites. Don’t pick your fork back up until you have finished swallowing.
  4. Set a timer to go off once an hour; when the timer goes off, either shift positions or get up. Take a couple of breaths at the same time. 
  5. Once a day, lean against a wall, so your hips and mid-back are against the wall, the feet are away from the wall, and slide your hips down the wall. Keep the feet flat with most of the weight in the heels. Feel the pelvis against the wall and the ribs against the wall as you breathe in this position for four breaths. Press strongly through your feet to stand up.

Changing habits is hard. However, building a little bit of awareness into the day can lead to long term change.

*Though not necessarily about habit change, I found this article about increasing physical activity in rural Kentucky inspiring: https://www.outsideonline.com/2195101/one-mans-fight-change-fate-rural-appalachia

Weekly musings, 7/30/17: exercising discomfort


During one of the opening scenes of “Atomic Blonde,” Charlize Theron’s character is submerged in an ice bath. It was memorable because a) the thought of being in an ice bath, let alone underwater in an ice bath, makes me quietly cringe inside and b) the movie takes place in 1989, well before Wim Hof was touring the world, teaching people how to overcome their discomfort through mental practices, reminding me people have probably been taking ice baths longer than I realized.

Building resiliency is a topic that has been garnering a lot of attention. We live in a comfortable world, with climate control, a surplus of food, and cars that transport us. We are rarely physically uncomfortable in any way. Jack Groppel says in a recent New York Times article on building resiliency, “You have to invite stress into your life. A human being needs stress; the body and the mind want stress.”*

The idea of seeking out discomfort seems counterintuitive; why would we make so many advances to ensure all of our needs are met, only to ultimately realize we thrive on discomfort? Maybe it’s because discomfort in small doses builds our mental strength, reminding us we are designed for survival. (This might explain the recent Cryotherapy fad. Three minutes of feeling cold is, after all, just another way to build resiliency). After I finish 4 reps of a challenging exercise, there is something reassuring that whatever else I face during the day probably won’t be quite as hard as what I just did. And even if it is, I know I am strong enough to deal with it. 

*The New York Times article can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/well/mind/how-to-boost-resilience-in-midlife.html
**Catherine Cowey wrote an excellent guest post for my site on this topic a few months ago. Check it out here: http://www.bewellpt.com/blog/2017/4/27/resiliency-training-daily-discomfort-vitamin?rq=resiliency

Weekly musings, 7/22/17: confidence and sharing

I posted a blog recently, quietly, with little attention. Few people read it, which fortunately isn’t why I write. A business associate, whom I have a lot of respect for, messaged me after reading it, encouraging me to be more visible. “You seem almost shy about it,” he wrote.

I do challenging physical skills almost daily. I think of myself as physically competent, resilient in many ways. However, the hardest thing I do on a regular basis is hit “publish.” I am never fully happy with anything I create. Whenever I re-read a blog or re-listen to a class I have crafted, I find myself critiquing my words. “I should have said it this way,” “it would have read better if I gave it more context,” “I should have used less words…” 

If I waited until my work was perfect to share it, I wouldn’t share anything. And maybe that would be okay. The fitness industry is riddled with noise, people asserting their opinions about why specific exercises are “the best,” and what people should do to become more fit. I am just one more voice in the sea of “experts,” and I often find myself confused about where I fit. I believe in strength and mobility; I also believe in the mind/body connection and the power of breath. I read psychology and motor control textbooks, but appreciate a good paper on biomechanics and tendinopathy. Trauma fascinates me; so does the shoulder. I think the fitness industry doesn’t spend enough time teaching people how to fully be in their body, but many coaches have better progressions to more advanced exercises than I do. 

So I write about these things and create content around these things, the ones that fascinate me and help me be a better teacher and coach. I write for me, so I can dive a little more heavily into the research; I hit “post” because I spend so much time thinking about things and trying to understand that I feel like others shouldn’t have to work so hard. If I help one person see something a little bit differently, I have saved him time and maybe made a small difference in his life. To me, this is valuable. 

Steven Pressfield writes in “The War of Art,” A professional schools herself to stand apart from her performance, even as she gives herself to it heart and soul. The Bhagavad Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field.” When you create something, anything, you have a choice- either share it or keep it for yourself. My grandmother used to sketch, pencil drawings. When she died, I felt a sadness that her ability to perceive the world around her and interpret it on paper was kept hidden from all of us. She did not share her work, save for the occasional cartoon when we were children. Perhaps she was afraid it wasn’t good enough to share. But that’s the thing. It’s never good enough, and there will always be people that judge harshly. 

If you are creating for someone else, you are destined to feel inadequate. You will never feel like you have a right to share your work. You will find yourself comparing your creations to others, paralyzed by their thoughts and judgments. 

If you create for you, even though your work will never live up to your standards, it makes the opinions of others an afterthought. Rather than feel lesser because of a critique, if it’s a critique you haven’t already given yourself, you are less defensive and more open to how your work can be made better. Through practice and consistency, you will improve, but it will never be perfect. You don’t hit “post” because of the amount of likes you might get, but because you are sharing your imperfect creation. If your creation taught you something and made you better in some way, it is worth sharing.

And so I will continue to quietly hit post, knowing that if one person learns something from my words, it is enough.

Weekly musings, 7/16/17: Experience

This funny thing happens when you are “the teacher,” or “the trainer.” Your clients assume you know all. They come to you for advice, they assume you understand how the body works, and they trust your knowledge. They are, after all, paying you for your expertise.

As teachers, we are only as good as the sum of our experiences and our knowledge. Experience can’t be bought. Watching people move, observing what cues work, and noticing how people respond to specific exercises comes from doing, from being the teacher or trainer. 

However, if we rely only on experience and we don’t value learning from others in our field, we get stuck. Listening to others explain things and seeing how they put things together opens doors to new vantage points. It keeps our brains engaged with the material of human movement.

It also keeps our brains involved with our bodies. If we aren’t continually playing with movement, seeing what happens when we do x, y, and z, the connection with our subject lessens. 

Whatever field you are in, taking the time to listen to what other experts have to say is invaluable. Interacting with the material on a deeper level, through coaching or a long term course, can have a profound impact on how you experience what you are teaching. If you don’t value what you do enough to spend money on it, how can you expect others to do the same?