Newsletter May, 2018: the sum of the parts

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I recently posted a video of me doing a depth jump to a forward roll on Instagram. My philosophy with Instagram is if I post something that either teaches someone something or inspires someone to look at movement in a slightly different way, I am (hopefully) providing a useful service. Someone commented that she didn’t know anyone else who would try that particular move.

I replied that what she didn’t see was the work that went into doing that. I did drills for my depth jump. I practiced forward rolls. I practiced a depth jump to an all fours landing. I worked all of these pieces, until eventually I could jump down to an all fours position and go right into a forward roll, ultimately eliminating the all fours position. It took months of working the basic pieces, over and over again. I posted the finish product because I feel like if someone like me, who has no high school or college athletic career, isn’t naturally flexible, and spends hours each week practicing alone, can learn how to use my body in an interesting way at age 38, anyone can with the right amount of dedication and practice. 

Not everyone wants to put in that amount of work, and that’s completely okay. Not everyone has to be an aspiring Parkour enthusiast to appreciate novel movements; practicing physical skills once or twice a week in a class setting can bring a person’s ability to perform specific skills to a new level. 

The crux of all of this is the basic components of the skills that are being sequenced together need to be practiced, over and over until the student doesn’t need to think about it anymore. So if you want someone to actually be able to perform higher level skills, they can’t be introduced to the basic pieces once on a Monday in February and once more on a Thursday in April with the expectation that the student will have adequately learned the necessary parts to perform that thing. 

I have a client in his early 60s who isn’t naturally flexible. The first time I had him come into a tall kneeling position, he struggled. When I had him try and sit back on his heels, he could barely go down.

Over time and with repetitions, he was able to lower to his heels, but only with the foot perpendicular to the floor. Any other position caused cramping or discomfort. We practiced every time I saw him, which is about twice a week. I added in standing ankle work to improve his ability to flex his foot and get the top of the ankle moving down, towards the ground. We practiced this regularly for a month.

Today, he sat back on his feet, toes pointing behind him. He looked surprised and excited as he realized he could do this elusive movement for the first time in his life. 

The total amount of time each session devoted to this is probably less than four minutes. But moving in and out of positions with control, and allowing pauses enables the nervous system to adapt to new positions. And while the position itself doesn’t matter, he realized a new way to sit on the floor which, arguably, is a good thing. It also highlights the fact that, at 62, he is able to gain flexibility and control that he has never had before. Learning happens throughout life, and using the physical practice to reinforce this fact can have a positive impact on the client.

Upcoming events:
May 23-25:
World Posture Virtual Summit
In addition to 11 other professionals in movement disciplines, I will be speaking (albeit, virtually), at the World Posture Virtual Summit on what it means to move well. For a limited time, access is free with registration. Link here.

End of May: Studio location change! I will be moving into my new space sometime at the end of the month. It’s exciting, and worth noting.

June 2:
Unlocking the power of the hips through the ankles and feet. Location: Be Well Personal Training Studio, The Barnyard, Carmel CA. 
Information and registration:

June 16:
Unlocking the power of the hips through the ankles and feet. Location: Move-SF, 2863 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94115, time and registration: TBA. 

Learn how the feet and ankles influence what is experienced in the hips and glutes and how pelvis position influences the feet. We will discuss proprioception from the ground up, and still utilize sensing, isolating, and integrating as a framework for improving movement efficiency and creating a deeper sense of embodiment. Gait mechanics will be touched upon, as well as how the feet influence common foundational movements such as the squat and hip hinge. This workshop is appropriate for movement teachers, personal trainers, and those interested in deepening their knowledge of how this area works. Class format will be lecture, practical application, and partner work. Please bring a notebook and dressed to move around. 

“Please download all your information into our brains!! The clients are loving the exercises we did at the workshop and they all say their feet feel stretched out/flatter/more grounded and they are fascinated by it!” A.G., recent workshop attendee.

July:
Learning Opportunity
I am looking for three curious movement/fitness professionals that are interested in honing their assessment skills, deepening their knowledge of movement and how to work with individuals with injury or pre-existing conditions, and are curious about how to combine strength, somatic work, and mobility work in an individualized setting.

I am launching an online mentorship/coaching program. The beta test group will consist of one month of weekly web chats, homework, and a dive into spine mechanics, proprioception, assessing what you see, and breathing. We will also how to address specific client needs or questions around programming and troubleshooting. (Future programs will be longer, but I am keeping this short and small to get a sense of how it feels for everyone). Cost is $100 for this group only. If you are interested or know someone that might be interested, please e-mail me with a bio or resume, why you think this might be a good fit for you, and career goals. pilottij@gmail.com

August:
Open House! If you are local, celebrate the opening of the new studio space with us August 4 from 11-2. 

A slight change in location, a much bigger space, and an opportunity to take classes, look around, consume refreshments, and ask questions. Join Jenn in celebrating the new studio location, still in The Barnyard, located upstairs, directly above Patrick James and next to Yolanda's Hair Salon facing the courtyard. 
12:00-12:45: Mobility and game play
1:00-1:30: Restorative
Cost: Free!

Saturday, October 20:
Free your head and the rest will follow
Location: 36o FitHaus, 1400 Colorado Blvd. Suite C., Los Angeles, CA 90041. Details and registration coming soon.

Happy days!
Jenn

Weekly musings, 4/15/18: Rigidity and posture

Weekly musings, 4/15/18: Rigidity and posture
Have you ever been told you “should” hold yourself a certain way because it’s better for you? Or that if you round your spine, you are loading the discs too much and you are certain to cause imminent damage?

The spine is designed to move in order to respond to perturbations, or outside forces that act upon it. Rigidity during movement doesn’t allow for any sort of response and it doesn’t feel good. Think about a metal rod. When you hit it, how does it feel? Now imagine that you are hitting a water balloon that doesn’t burst with the same amount of force. How does that feel and which object do you think is more stable? A spine that works well is one that is strong enough to return to its resting position, but supple enough to give when there is outside force that acts upon it.

In fact, in a 2013 study, researchers examined how well subjects were able to recover from an unexpected perturbation when their lumbar spines were in a corset that held them rigidly. This was contrasted with how well they recovered from the same unexpected jolt without the corset. The corset hindered the subjects’ abilities to recover their balance; without the corset, the subjects recovered more efficiently and in less time.*

A client came in recently who struggles with low back pain. She has made dramatic improvements, but still struggles with occasional bouts of discomfort. We were discussing her tendency to hold herself rigidly and her fear of moving her lower back. “I was told I should keep my lower back a little bit arched at all times and never let it round because of my disc extrusion,” she told me. 

“Does it hurt when you let your back round a little bit when you bend over or does it cause your symptoms to flare up?” I asked.

“No, it feels really good.”

“Then it’s okay to do occasionally,” I responded.

Fearing movement isn’t helpful, just like always moving the same way limits mobility and strength going the other direction. If it hurts, don’t do it, but while strength is one of the best things you can do for your body, rigidity and strength aren’t necessarily the same thing.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24036601

Weekly musings, 4/8/18: Slow and steady

I have a client I’ll call Megan. We have been working on a lot of strengthening exercises on the floor, loading her arms and her legs in different, dynamic ways. I regularly have her hold positions that are uncomfortable for a moment, just long enough to feel a sense of struggle before she moves away from the discomfort, back to a place that’s more familiar. She moves through positions that, to an outsider, might not look like much, but when done slowly are challenging. She does low reps, 4-6, before moving on to something else.

I recently had her perform a move that she initially balked at, unsure she had the strength. She tried it and successfully completed it four times, surprising herself with her ability.

I have another client I will call Jessie. She had a vague goal of doing a chin-up, so I started having her hang from her arms while doing different things, building up her endurance and grip strength. She did rowing variations with suspension straps, holding in different positions, not always performing very many repetitions, instead focusing on the quality of the movement and finding a sense of work before slowly moving away from the sensation.

I recently had her jump up to the top position of a chin-up and hold it there, using just her arms. She, too, was skeptical when she realized what I was asking her to do. “Do you think I can do that?”

“Yes,” I replied, and with that she jumped up and held herself in the chin-up, before slowly lowering herself down. Her eyes were big, and she was clearly surprised at her strength. “I did it! My arms held me!”

Building strength doesn’t necessarily require performing 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions, though that’s definitely one way to do it. What matters more, perhaps, is consistent exposure to various aspects of the skill you want to accomplish, becoming adept and strong in a multitude of ways. I find, too, when people feel supported by their structure, it matters less how many reps they perform and more that they acknowledge when something hard becomes easier through practice. 

Weekly musings, 4/1/18: Handedness, strength, and motor control

A 77 year old client came in recently, excited about a book she is reading on cognitive health. “I am using my left hand to do things around the house that I would normally do with my right. It’s supposed to be good for my memory.”

How we use our hands impacts strength and coordination. Which hand we prefer also influences how we use our brain,* so it’s not a stretch to assume learning how to use the hand that’s more awkward to do functional tasks might improve cognitive function.

Curiously, the hand that is more competent at specific tasks isn’t always the hand you write with; in one study, grip strength in 10.93% of right handers was found to be stronger in the left hand. In left handers, 36% had a stronger right hand than left, suggesting strength isn’t always correlated to hand preference. A number of factors could be at play, such  as injury and the fact the world is set up more for right handed individuals. As a left handed individual, I open jar lids with my right hand because it is easier to grip and twist to the right with the right hand as opposed to the left. Conversely, I would open a box with my left hand, since the task doesn’t require a specific direction. If I am seated next to a right handed person, I will often use the fork with my right hand so I don’t bump the person next to me, and I can cut with either hand.

Does my ability to perform tasks with both hands matter? Probably not, except that it allows me to feel fairly balanced in strength and coordination on both sides of my body. If a person so strongly favors one side of his body that he doesn’t feel secure supporting himself with the other hand or arm that will limit how he chooses to use his body during movement. An easy way to begin feeling more coordinated in the non-dominant hand is to consciously use it.

Try doing basic tasks with your non-preferred hand. Things like brushing your teeth, opening a water bottle, or opening a box are safe ways to see what it feels like to use your body in a different way. If you use ball exercises for hand eye coordination drills, use both hands to throw and catch. Do single arm strength work in the gym, observing how it feels to grip a weight and move it with your non-dominant hand, A little bit of awareness and conscious change can improve your sense of self and maybe even create a little more balanced strength.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153632/

Weekly musings, 3/25/18: the feet

Weekly musings, 3/25/18: the feet
The feet live (mostly) in shoes, but are designed to interact with uneven terrain. They respond to the terrain by moving in a variety of ways, making them adaptable to most environments through an impressive network of sensory receptors, bones, muscles, and ligaments. They propel you forward when you walk, alternating between rigidity and flexibility. 

Like all body parts, when they aren’t used, they atrophy. When they aren’t asked to walk on uneven surfaces, their responsiveness lessens; coupled with the fact there is usually something between them and the floor, it’s no surprise people feel less grounded and secure on the two structures that are meant to hold them up.

Have you ever wondered why the bottom of your feet are sensitive when you walk on natural terrain without shoes? Maybe it’s because they aren’t used to being exposed to contact with the earth, so the feedback from the ground acts like sensory overload- the nervous system responds by yelling, loudly, that the ground is uncomfortable and potentially painful. With repeated exposure, the discomfort decreases and the foot and ankle become more responsive.

If you don’t want to walk around without shoes, consider walking around barefoot once in a while. Try balancing on balance beams or walking over different surfaces in the house. Which parts of your feet can you feel? Which parts of your heel can you feel? Where is your sense of center? Your feet support you regularly. Acknowledge them occasionally by feeling them.

Weekly musings, 3/18/18: Constraints and movement

Weekly musings, 3/18/18: Constraints and movement
When a flock of birds flies, they follow three basic rules.* They maintain separation by not crowding their neighbors. They maintain alignment by steering towards the average heading of their neighbors. The maintain cohesion by steering towards the average position of their neighbors. Another way to look at the three rules of behavior (separation, alignment, and cohesion) is in order to fly, the birds must satisfy these constraints.

In mathematics, a constraint is a condition that the solution must satisfy. Applying constraints in a movement setting allows analysis and problem solving (“how am I going to perform the task while obeying the rule imposed”), and removes the idea that there is a certain way you must move to accomplish a specific task. 

Introducing a constraint makes a movement interesting. It begins to look like game play, rather than “exercise.” Examples of how a constraint might be applied to an exercise setting include:
Move across the room with two contact points always in contact with the floor.
Set a timer for two minutes. Lower a body part as close to the floor as you can without actually touching the floor with the body part.
Set a timer for two minutes. Place your right hand on the floor. Move as many ways as you can without letting the right hand come off of the floor.

Constraints can involve using outside objects as well. Asking someone to place a yoga block flat in the left hand and draw a picture on the ceiling keeping the yoga block and the hand flat would be an example of using an object as part of the constraint. 

Not only do constraints make movement interesting, they also engage the mind and the body together in a way that allows for embodied cognition. Cognitive psychologists believe that from an evolutionary perspective, we evolved to problem solve by using our mind and body to deal with issues in the environment. What if you were walking along and there was a huge tree that had fallen down, blocking the path between you and your food source? You would have to critically think about the problem, using the mental and physical options available to you. Could you climb over the tree? Is there a different path you could take? Could you make tools to cut a section of the tree out? Before we could ask Google to problem solve for us, we relied on a different set of cognitive strength, one which was deeply intertwined with the physical self.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3569617/

Weekly musings, 3/10/18: C-sections and movement


Approximately 31.9% of births in the US will be performed via Cesarean section. The two incision techniques most frequently used during a C-section require slicing through an abdominal area innervated by two nerves, one of which, the ileo-inguinal, contains sensory fibers to the groin and motor fibers to the large abdominal muscles.* The second nerve, the ileo-hypogastric, pierces through the transverse abdominis and passes through the abdominal obliques. During surgery, the abdominal fascia is cut and the muscles are pulled apart by the surgeon.

Over the years, I have trained several women who had C-sections performed on them during the birth of their children. Not only is surgery potentially traumatic (the majority of my clients who had C-sections spent time in labor, only to be told vaginal delivery wasn’t going to be an option), but in my experience, physical therapy is rarely prescribed after the 8 week recovery period. 

When women post C-section return to exercise, again, in my experience, there is generally a disconnect with the sensation of the abdominal muscles. When you consider the incision, it makes sense. A sensory rich area has been cut, and muscles have been stretched (not of their own volition). It seems logical what the individual experiences and feels in the abdominal region is different after surgery than what she experienced before C-section. It also seems logical that for some individuals post c-section, spending time becoming re-acquainted with what it feels like when the deep core muscles contract to provide support may be beneficial for proprioceptive feedback and an overall sense of strength and internal security.

Exercise should be encouraged for new mothers for a variety of reasons; however, recovery from surgery and all that goes along with it makes exercise post C-section a little bit trickier. If you have a C-section, don’t be afraid to ask for physical therapy, and when you do return to exercise, make sure you listen to your body. If you feel disconnected from your abdominal region or like you aren't supported in your center, find someone that can help. Taking a little bit of time to feel whole again can go a long way to ensuring a life filled with movement.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315586/

Weekly musings, 3/4/18: Bone and images

Weekly musings, 3/4/18: Bone and adaptation
I was chatting with a client recently, who mentioned how surprised she was we had been able to do so much with her feet. (Her feet had sustained several injuries over the years, and her imaging showed structural abnormalities).

“Bone is a living tissue,” I told her. “It can adapt and become stronger with the right stimulus. Just like people with osteoporosis can become less osteoporotic because their bones get stronger with weight training, the bones and muscles in your feet can become stronger with a slow and gradual exposure to force, assuming you are otherwise healthy.”

There is a concept called Wolff’s law, developed by German anatomist Julius Wolff in the nineteenth century which says if load on a bone increases, over time, the bone will remodel itself to become strong enough to withstand the load.* What this means is not only can you become stronger on the deepest structural level if you use your body under load consistently, but that an x-ray is a lot like a photograph. You know that a photograph of you today will look different from a photograph of you five years from now because you might cut your hair, your body might change, or you might change your diet, affecting how your skin looks. A photograph and an x-ray (or any other type of imaging), are a snapshot in time. They are not necessarily indicative of what you will look like later because you can (and will) change. How you change depends largely on your choices today.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15038485

Weekly musings, 2/25/18: Bodies, machines, and human capability

In 1926, English physiologist Archibald Vivian Hill declared in a Scientific American article, “Our bodies are machines, whose energy expenditures can be closely measured.”*

This mechanistic view of our physical selves permeated the beliefs of the twentieth century. “Body parts wear out, like tires” we were told, “you only have so much energy to expend- it’s like gas in a car. Once the gas is out, you will no longer be able to keep going,” endurance athletes believed.

The problem with this is pain can exist without structural damage and structural damage can exist without pain, which means in the presence of structural damage people can often still perform everyday activities in a pain free manner.** Unlike tires, which need to be replaced if they get a hole in them, our original parts can not only take a little bit of wear and tear, our structures adapt to the demands placed upon them, getting stronger and better able to withstand force. If an engineer were to develop a tire that adapted to the demands of the terrain and became more durable over time, he would be considered a genius (and probably be worth a lot of money). 

In a similar manner, the ability to endure is dependent on a variety of factors, including how well rested you are, your psychological state, and, yes, your nutritional state. However, it’s more than that, as tales of survival remind us. (Google “survivors lost in the woods.” You will find amazing stories of people lasting far longer than they physiologically “should” be able to keep going). 

We are multi-faceted organisms and are physical capabilities and experiences are predicated on much more than our physical parts. If we stop viewing ourselves as machines that break, we will tap into a deeper sense of resilience.

*From Alex Hutchinson’s book, “Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.”
**https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4464797/

Weekly musings, 2/18/17: Overuse and the middle

At a workshop I attended recently, several times during the observation period, people noted their movement tendencies. One woman preferred rotating one direction, another young man was frustrated he only had one strategy for avoiding an object. The instructor commented late in the day after another habitual pattern was observed, “it seems the metrics are overuse, if there’s any use at all.”

In the US, we tend to “go hard or go home.” We don’t like to slow down and take a moment to observe our actions and the consequences of our actions. Movement illustrates this concept so well- every time we move, no matter how subtle, there is a response in the entire body. The consequence, then, is the change in how we hold ourselves as we respond to the shift.

The instructor is an Israeli man, living in Barcelona. He has studied and taught movement all over the world. He was not trying to be cheeky or profound with his statement- he was simply voicing his observations. I had a woman recently contact me for training, only to call back before we started to tell me, “I’m not ready.” Though I had mentioned in our consultation that my style is a little unusual, I got the sense she envisioned training the way it is often depicted in television shows and movies- with lots of discomfort, pained looks, and soreness. The all or nothing approach serves no one over the long term. Finding the middle way and taking the time to slow down, move in ways that are unusual, and be less connected to succeeding or failing allows general fitness to become sustainable.

Weekly musings, 2/11/18: Movement choices and one arm handstands

Weekly musings, 2/11/18: Movement choices and one arm handstands
At a workshop yesterday, one of the participants asked about the one arm handstand. Specifically, he wanted to know the steps he could take to actually achieve the one arm handstand. 

The instructor (who practices one arm handstands on a semi-regular basis), began by assessing his ability to rock both and forth while he was on both hands. He could do that without much trouble, so they began working on the next progression, which was challenging for the participant. He rotated his pelvis and fell as soon as his legs were in a wider position. 

To help the participant feel what he was doing, the instructor placed him against a wall and had him do the same drill. This time, because the wall was in the way, he was unable to rotate his pelvis. Suddenly, the issue wasn’t the participant’s ability to balance; it was the large amount of work he felt in the stabilizing arm and shoulder. He came down, with a look of surprise on his face.

“When I got my one arm handstand,” the instructor said, “I did it by muscling through it. I wasn’t stacked and my line wasn’t efficient. Another coach reached out to me and told me I needed to stack the joints, just like I would in a handstand. As soon as I did that, even though the work felt harder at first, it was eventually much easier to maintain. If you learn how to be efficient now during the progressions, the one arm handstand will actually be easier than if you muscle your way through each step.”

We all have a choice when it comes to learning movement. I muscled my way through just about every skill I learned the first eight years of my movement journey. As I re-learned everything, gaining efficiency was challenging. I tapped into different stabilizing patterns, which caused the sensation of muscular effort in a different way. I learned to slow down, and see if I could do things easily, which conflicted with my go-go-go personality. 

Eventually, the sensation of muscular work and the internal battle over wanting to “get it done now” gave way to something else, something that made movement more enjoyable, more fluid. There is no right or wrong way to learn a skill, but if you take the time to break it apart, practice the pieces, and find efficiency, your path will be more direct than mine. Embrace the process.

Weekly musings, 2/4/18: Eyes and observation

Weekly musings, 2/4/18: Eyes and observation
A client came in recently, frustrated that his low back was bothering him. As I had him do some gently mobility work, I chatted with him about which positions seemed to cause him the most discomfort. “Standing up,” he said. “Particularly getting up out of a chair or the car.” 

This client happens to be a writer, and he spends a fair amount of time on his iPad or laptop. I set up a box that was a little bit higher than than hip level. “Stand up and sit down twice for me please,” I instructed. He winced a little bit on the way up. “That hurts,” he said.

“Okay, the next time you do it, look up and forward before you stand.” A smile spread across his face as he stood. “That doesn’t hurt at all,” he said, clearly pleased. After doing a few more and performing different types of basic get-ups throughout the session, he left with the clear correlation of that using his eyes to initiate his movements significantly reduced or eliminated his pain (at least for the time being).

There are several muscles that control movement at the eye. The eye, like many body parts, is able to move a variety of ways, including up, down, away from the nose, and towards the nose.

In addition, the eye plays a key role in our brain’s ability to understand where we are located in space. If we aren’t using the full action of our eyes, our sense of our body position will be altered. This will change how we perform certain movements. In this particular client’s case, looking down was altering how his brain organized his spine to stand up. (It doesn’t help that the head sits on top of the skeleton. Head position is partially determined by eye position, which influences the position of the spinal column).

Basically, the eyes matter. So, too, does listening to the person in front of you. I knew changing the eye position could potentially have a significant influence on this particular client’s experience because of the questions I asked and my ability to listen. 

1/28/18: Breathing and bracing

1/28/18: Breathing and bracing
Have you ever considered the value of a full exhale? Often, when we are instructed to breathe, we think about the inhale, but the exhale is really what allows us to re-organize the way we are holding ourselves. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, causing the entire self to feel a little bit calmer, and allows deep stabilizing muscles to coordinate a little bit differently.

I was teaching a workshop yesterday, and one of the participants was struggling in a hands and knees position. She was holding herself tensely, with the understanding that she needed to stabilize herself. The way she did it was by bracing, using as much muscular effort as possible.

Not surprisingly, when she tried to move in that position, she found it very difficult. A tense structure doesn’t have much give. Instead of the structure supporting movement, it resisted it.

When she was instructed to exhale fully, her structure changed. She no longer braced to hold herself in a hands and knees. Instead of holding herself rigidly, she had a little bit of give. When she tried to move, the rest of her structure responded, supporting the effort of the movement.

Sometimes, high amounts of tension are necessary. When I go to lift a heavy weight, for example, I need to establish a high level of tension so I don’t buckle under the load. I should still be breathing, but my strategy should meet the demands of the task. But when I lift a hand while in a hands and knees position, I don’t need to brace. I should be able to breathe smoothly and softly, allowing the structure to support the movement.

If you find yourself bracing during tasks that don’t require a lot of effort, ask yourself if you can take a long exhale. See if that helps you soften. The ability to move fluidly starts with the breath.

Weekly musings, 1/21/18: strength makes ease

Weekly musings, 1/21/18: strength makes ease
I was working with a client recently who used to have a really hard time relaxing into the floor. When she would lie down on her back, her mid back would arch up, creating space between her ribs and the ground.

I brought awareness to it, like I do. We worked on breathing, and she began to understand how her exhale could change her rib position. She learned to feel where her ribs were during positions like hands and knees, and she figured out that if she wanted her abs to support her, rib position mattered.

She brought the same awareness to standing strength based exercises. I would occasionally let go of major alignment cues, allowing her instead to simply work on the basic coordination and motor control needed to do things like squat, row, press. I would mention her ribs periodically, but I also let her do the movement- if her ribs flared after my initial cue in the beginning, that was okay. In order to build basic strength, sometimes the alignment is a little bit off while the body and the brain figure out how to do the movement. At the beginning of the next set, I would re-cue the ribs and almost always things would look a little bit better than they had the first time around.

Gradually, the client became stronger. As she became stronger, her ribs lifted less and less away from the floor when she lied down. She looked at me last week and said, “my ribs just go down now. I don’t have to think about and it feels so much better on my mid-back.”

Building strength in different positions take patience and consistency. It’s okay if things look a little bit awkward at first as long as you occasionally bring awareness to how you want to be supported. I was once told, “you grow into the position in which you spend the most time.” If you consistently train with your ribs lifted up and out, that’s where they will remain when you sit, lie down, or even come on to your stomach. Establishing the strength to keep the ribs relaxed and down is not necessarily better, but it is different and requires a different way of holding yourself. Play with your alignment occasionally and see if holding yourself differently offers you more or less support in positions that require strength. The most supported place of strength will also give you the most ease.

Weekly musings, 1/14/17: Simplicity

Weekly musings, 1/14/17: Simplicity
Recently, I was visiting the esthetician I see once every couple of months for skincare stuff. She was peering at my face under a magnifying glass, like estheticians do, when she peeled her eyes away from my skin to look at me. “Your skin looks amazing. What are you doing?”

“I am using olive oil, in the morning and evening,” I replied.

“Olive oil? Wow. Well, it’s working.”

What’s fascinating about this isn’t the fact that olive oil is making my skin look great (though that is a nice little by-product). I have spent thousands of dollars on expensive skin care creams over the course of my life, looking for the perfect one to hydrate and replenish (because women care about these sorts of things), and the thing that has been most effective is the one I read about in a fashion magazine twenty years ago and a bottle will probably last me a year. 

For some reason, when it comes to health and wellness, there is this idea that expensive and complicated must be better than simple and minimal. Clients are frequently amazed at my ability to design a challenging workout using a washcloth, 2x4, and their own body weight. Though I utilize external load almost every workout, once in a while it’s nice just to return to the most basic patterns. 

Additionally, the basic patterns can be cued using muscular tension to provide support. A movement such as hands and knees can be done in a way that feels like nothing is really happening, or it can feel extremely challenging. “How can this simple little movement work so well?” clients often ask. 

The answer, maybe, is that like the olive oil, simple is better. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective, so if you are struggling with something, take several steps back and work on the most basic patterns. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Weekly musings, 1/7/17: cells, life, and movement

In the book, “The Big Picture,” Sean Carroll discusses three features that are ubiquitous to our concept of life: compartmentalization, metabolism, and replication with variation. Compartmentalization, he writes, is actually part of a more general concept called self-organization.

When Mr. Carroll discusses life, he is looking at it from a cellular level, but these three ideas could easily be translated to the foundations of healthy movement. Compartmentalization and self organization are how the body organizes itself to move effectively and efficiently for the task at hand. When joints work both independently and interdependently, forces tend to be dispersed more fluidly up the skeleton.

Metabolism is required for movement (and life) to take place. A person that moves little is not using as much energy as one who moves often. The ability to use energy means the system is alive, so movement is a way to maintain life.

Replication with variation is a lot like repetition with variation. Repetition with variation is how we learn, and in movement, is a way to define play. It maximizes options, improves self organization, and requires energy. By moving in similar, but different, ways regularly, we maximize long term success for moving efficiently and effectively.

Maintaining health and vibrancy throughout an individual’s life is multi-faceted, but it is clear movement is a large part of the equation.