Your Body Tells A Story

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Welcome to Anthology Wellness, where I will be sharing the principles of whole body alignment for optimal human function, pain relief, and all around better health. I’m glad you’re here! I’d like to start by explaining the title of this blog: Anthology Wellness . . .your body tells a story.

My husband, Matt, and I were on a road trip a few weeks ago. Somewhere between Bakersfield and Sacramento on I-5 (if you’ve been there, you know it’s the most boring stretch of freeway in the state), we were listening to the final album of our favorite band.  It’s appropriately titled “Anthology.”  An anthology is defined as “a collection of selected literary pieces or works of art or music.”  I started thinking about this word, anthology, and how we’re all a collection of our experiences. Everything I have been through has made me who I am today. Who my parents are,  where I have lived, illness I have suffered, adventures I’ve had, travels, friends, jobs, roommates, successes, failures. . . . they have all formed me in some way. We all have a story. (There is a lot of time to think while driving through the arm pit of California.) Then I started thinking about how the same is true for our bodies, though we don’t usually think of it this way. The state of your body today is the sum total of all your movement habits, injuries, accidents, surgeries, births, hobbies. . . . Believe it or not, all these things affect the alignment and health of your body today. Your body tells a story.

Some of the most common musculoskeletal ailments (osteoarthritis, plantarfaciitis, pelvic floor disorders, osteoporosis, back/neck/hip/knee pain…) have mechanical causes, and can therefore, be treated by changing our mechanics. In other words, many of the ailments you’re experiencing are a result of your movement habits and the way you have used your body over your lifetime. This isn’t meant to place blame, but rather to empower you. You can make dramatic changes in your body simply by changing the way you move! Whatever your story is, I’m excited to teach you how improving your skeletal alignment will help you restore your health and prevent future damage!

For more details on how this blog came to be, read about this blog.

5 Steps to a Stronger Core

Everyone wants a strong core and knows that it’s important.  What most people don’t realize is that having “6-pack” or a flat stomach, doesn’t necessarily equal strong. When I say “a strong core”, I’m talking about muscles that can do their job. The abdominal muscles are meant to decompress the spine, support the organs, provide movement, lower the pressure in the abdominal aorta, help you breathe/cough/vomit, and more. When you have muscles that function properly, you might also end up with a smaller waistline; however, a flat, fit, toned abdomen does not necessarily mean it’s strong and healthy. Plenty of very fit people have diastasis recti, hernias, digestive trouble, and pelvic floor issues. If you are after a strong and functional core, here are a few things you can do to start heading in the right direction.  These things can help minimize back pain, decrease your chances of developing diastasis recti, and recover healthy core function, whether you are pregnant, postpartum, or neither. 

1) Drop your ribs. The rib cage should be stacked right over the pelvis (see photo), not lifted or jutting forward.  Read this post for a detailed description.  This one small thing can have a huge impact on your core strength.  The abdominal muscles attach on the rib cage.  If you are constantly lifting them or jutting them forward, you are undermining their ability to function.

2) Release your belly. Constantly holding tension in your belly also undermines abdominal strength. This can come in the form of habitually sucking in your stomach or constantly bracing/tensing your abdominal muscles. For starters, just get on your hands and knees and try to let your belly relax towards the floor. Allow the tailbone to move up towards the ceiling. Notice any desire to pull your belly back up. Let it relax more. This article talks about why relaxing your belly is so hard.  And this one gets into the difference between sucking in your stomach and activating your TVA.

3) Practice #1 & 2 in everyday life. Once you’ve learned how to drop your ribs and release the tension in your abdomen, start bringing these new habits into everyday life.  Pay attention to them when you walk, stand, sit, drive your car, work on the computer, or hold your baby.  This is a really great post on ways to move better in everyday life to heal diastasis recti. <— IF YOU HAVE DR, READ THIS POST!!

Dropping your ribs and releasing your belly is a great place to start.  Doing those two things will relieve back pain, improve digestion, and increase the activity of your abdominal muscles.  Your abdominal muscles can work reflexively (automatically) now that you’ve eliminated habits that were interfering with this process.  They can now respond appropriately when you move and will become stronger.

4) Move more in everyday life. I’m going to repeat that: Your abdominal muscles can work reflexively (automatically) now that you’ve eliminated habits that were interfering with this process. They can now respond appropriately when you move and will become stronger.  The real gains in strength come when you take your new found alignment and start moving more.  Sitting with your ribs aligned and belly relaxed has its benefits, but your abdominals won’t be very active in this position because there is no need for it when you are sitting still.  They are responding appropriately to your position. When you stand up, they should contract more.  When you start walking, even more. If you walk carrying a baby or a grocery bag, even more.

After my daughter was born, I had a two finger gap above my belly button.  In those first 3 month postpartum, I walked, stretched and paid attention to my alignment during everyday life, and the gap closed;  I didn’t do any “core exercises.” I did this intentionally, as a sort of experiment, to see what would happen.  Going up and down stairs, getting up and down off the floor, and doing everyday life while holding a 10lb baby is a lot of work.  I wasn’t “working out”, but my muscles did a lot of work because I was moving.  Honestly, I did a lot of laying around and resting too, especially in the first 6 weeks.  I don’t have a flat stomach, and I still look 3 months pregnant.  My core definitely isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, but moving well and moving more was enough to close the gap and restore function in a relatively short period of time.

5) Take a class.  I know I just got done saying that you don’t need to exercise, but practicing exercises that encourage reflexive core activity are helpful for regaining healthy core function. If you’ve had years of rib thrusting and sucking in the stomach, chances are you have some tension in the trunk and some muscles that aren’t “online”.  Specific exercises to release tension and reconnect with those muscles can be necessary. Here are two options starting May 16th (next week)!

  • Restore You Core: Restorative Exercise for Diastasis Recti & Abdominal Weakness:  Tuesday & Thursday // 2-3pm.  This is a 4-week, 8-session group training series.  Registration and details here.
  • Core Tone & Restore:  Tuesdays // 12:30pm.  This is a weekly drop-in class. Registration and details here.
  • Online Classes:  If you don’t live local, you can do Katy Bowman’s alignment snacks at home. Try “twisting the night away” and “just a dab of abs”.

My (Postpartum) Baby Bump

I got my first postpartum “when is your baby due?” a couple weeks ago.  My first knee jerk reaction was embarrassment, then the thoughts of “I’m so fat, she thinks I’m still pregnant”, then the indignant “Doesn’t she know you NEVER ask that?”.  After a few seconds I just smiled and said, “She was born in December.” In her defense, I was sitting with my hand resting on my belly, which is the universal sign of “there’s a baby in here.”  Apparently, this happens to Jennifer Garner a lot because she said this on the Ellen DeGeneres Show: “I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump … I get congratulated all the time by people I know … From now on, ladies, I will have a bump, and it will be my baby bump. It’s not going anywhere. Its name is Violet, Sam, and Sera.”  I love that. My response wasn’t nearly as clever, but the experience got me thinking.

I’m going to get real here.  One of these photos was taken when I was 3 months pregnant. The other was taken at 3 months postpartum. Can you tell which is which?

       

It’s ok, my husband couldn’t tell either. I can literally say, “I still look 3 months pregnant”, and it’s not an exaggeration. The reason I’m sharing this is to help normalize the postpartum experience and to say IT’S OK. It’s ok if you look 3 months pregnant.  It’s ok if you look 6 months pregnant. It’s ok if you are bigger or smaller or a different shape than you used to be. It’s ok if you don’t look like you did before you were pregnant. And it’s ok that sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s ok.  I’ve heard people say, “It took your body almost a whole year to get where it is. You can’t expect it to bounce back right away.” I think there is some truth to this, but I also want to say that maybe our bodies aren’t meant to be the same.

This post isn’t about 3 steps to banish belly fat or how to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans. This post is about the fact that when your body creates, grows, births and sustains a tiny human being, it’s a miracle. Natural, medicated, vaginal, cesarean, home, hospital….however you did it, when you bring a new life into this world, it’s a miracle. Your body will never be the same, and that isn’t a bad thing.  We have this notion that we are supposed to go “back,” but maybe the truth is that when we become mothers, we go through a transformation. Every part of us is different, including our bodies, and that is something to be celebrated. On my best day, I’m totally on board with this statement. On my worst, I secretly want to look like my pre-pregnant self….or maybe even the super fit 20-year-old version of myself.

I’m about to do something you will never see me do again: reference celebrity advice in Cosmo Magazine.  I can’t believe it, but this little gem is really worth reading. Read what these women have to say about the notion of getting your pre-baby body back. I couldn’t say it any better.  As women, I think most of us struggle with body image to some extent. There have always been parts of my body that I didn’t like, but now that I’ve had my daughter, I have a whole new appreciation for my body.  It’s incredible that you go from having an enormous belly one day to a tiny baby the next.

         

We are inundated with pictures of airbrushed models and the message that we should look like them.  I encourage you to ignore those messages and replace it with this: Your body is amazing. Let’s focus on feeling good and being strong and healthy. Let’s value being able to run and jump and laugh without peeing our pants. Let’s aim to be strong enough to carry our babies without pain.  Let’s be mobile enough to sit on the floor and play with our kids.  Here are a few ways to get started:

  1. Take a daily walk.  If you push your baby in a stroller, start carrying or wearing him/her for part of the way. Slowly increase the out of stroller time as you get stronger.
  2. Watch this video on alignment tips for pain free baby holding.
  3. Try sitting on the floor in different positions at least once a day.
  4. If you are experiencing incontinence, back/hip/pelvic pain, or pelvic organ prolapse,  come to a pelvic floor workshop. Register here.
  5. Come to my series on Restorative Exercise for Diastasis Recti in May. Register here.
  6. Schedule a private session to set goals and work on your individual alignment needs.

My super fit 20-year-old self looked good, but she was also in chronic pain and not all that healthy. She wouldn’t have felt good carrying a baby for 41.5 weeks and certainly wasn’t mentally or physically prepared to birth that baby naturally.  When I think about what my body has done, I don’t really want to go back.

 

The One Where I am Pregnant

This is the one and only post written during my pregnancy. (I’m full term now, just waiting on baby to arrive.) Writing a blog or engaging in social media just hasn’t been a priority the last nine months. I’ve been spending less time online. I wanted to experience this pregnancy with less technology, fewer distractions and time wasters. For a variety of reasons, we made a conscious decision to keep our news off social media.  Now I’m heading into my maternity leave, and I wanted to write a quick post. Short and sweet, just a few things I’ve learned about alignment and natural movement during the last nine months. These are all things that I knew on an intellectual level, but being pregnant has caused me to understand and appreciate them in a new way.

1) Keep moving, so that you can keep moving. This is probably the most important thing I did during this pregnancy. JUST KEEP MOVING.  I’ve made this recommendation to my clients, but now I really understand how important it is.  You are gaining weight gradually and your body is going through major changes over the course of almost a year. If you keep walking, squatting, going up and down the stairs, getting up and down off the floor, you will gradually gain the strength as your weight gradually increases, and you will be able to continue doing those things.  Two of my goals for this pregnancy were to reach the end and still be able to get up and down off the floor and be able to hike at least 2 miles. I’m nearing the end, and let me tell you, I feel truly enormous, but it’s manageable. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to get around if I hadn’t been moving all along. Last week we went for a hike– uphill, downhill, up and over boulders, through a partially dried up creek.  At this stage of the game, I’m tired, I’m slowing down, and I stop for lots of pee breaks (good thing I’ve been practicing my squatting!).  We went slow, about 3 miles in 2 hours, BUT I did it. Not only did I do it,  I enjoyed it. I share this not to brag (my endurance certainly isn’t what I had hoped it would be!), but to encourage you that it’s possible to never reach the point where you are too big to move. Just keep moving.

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2) Do what you can, then rest.  There were days that I could walk about 10 minutes before I needed to have a snack and take a nap.  You’re tired. I hear you, mamas.  Sometimes it is a victory just to get out of bed and walk to the mailbox. When you can only muster the energy for a little movement, DO IT, then rest. Other days I felt up for a long walk, going to prenatal yoga class, and teaching a class.  When you feel good, and you can challenge yourself, DO IT, then rest.  Give yourself grace. Growing a baby is hard work. Release yourself from expectations. Your body is doing an amazing thing.

3) Don’t underestimate the importance of pelvis back, ribs down & feet straight.  Seriously, this one small thing saved me from so much potential pain. I didn’t have any back pain during this pregnancy, and this is part of the reason why. I knew this was important before, but experiencing it while pregnant took it to a whole new level. In my classes, I demonstrate leaning your pelvis forward and thrusting your ribs (what NOT to do).  It’s really common to assume this position in pregnancy because the extra weight in front tends to pull you forward, unless you know to stand differently. As I got bigger, demonstrating this became more and more uncomfortable. Even just being in this position for a few seconds feels awful. I actually had a hard time demonstrating for the pictures below because it feels that bad.  You can learn more about this (and see better pictures of these various positions) in these posts about pelvis positionrib position, and how to stand when you are pregnant.

(Left to right: Ribs lifted, pelvis forward & feet turned out, pelvis back & ribs down.)

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4) This stuff really works, AND ALSO sometimes you need additional support. By “this stuff” I mean practicing good alignment, moving more (and moving better), sitting less, the corrective exercises, and moving towards more natural movement.  Don’t get me wrong– I’m tired, I wake up stiff and achey, and my fingers and toes are starting to get a little sausage-y.  This pregnancy hasn’t been without it’s discomforts, but I’m nine months pregnant and I’m not totally miserable. For starters, I haven’t peed myself once.  Yes, the baby head pressing on my bladder is causing unspeakable pressure. Yes, I pee more frequently than I did before.  But I’ve never felt like I couldn’t control my bladder. I haven’t had any back pain, sciatica, pubic symphysis pain or hemorrhoids.  One thing I did experience early on was SI joint instability and a tweaky feeling in my hip. Before I got pregnant, I knew that my right side was weaker and less stable, so it was no surprise when it started giving me trouble after gaining my first 10 lbs.  I knew the exercises I needed to do to improve my pelvic stability, but it wasn’t getting better. Getting additional support from a PT was really helpful.  She could manipulate the bones of my pelvis to help correct a rotation and tape my sacrum to give a little extra support until my muscles were strong enough to keep my pelvis stable and aligned on their own. Here’s the thing with the common pregnancy aches and pains: most of them come from issues that were there before you were pregnant (like mine did). Add the extra weight, the shift in hormones, and all the other changes that occur, and the “weakest link” presents itself. These issues aren’t “just part of pregnancy” that you have to live with; often there is something you can do to make it better.  Seek out help!  Try the things in this blog or find a Restorative Exercise Specialist near you.  If you need additional support, see a chiropractor, PT, massage therapist, or another professional who can help.

This One’s for the Guys

“My husband/boyfriend/dad needs this stuff!”, I hear it all the time!  So, in response, I’m teaching an Alignment for Guys workshop February 28th (details below). I work primarily with woman, but corrective exercises, alignment principles, and natural movement apply to men too.  Other than our reproductive organs, men and women have the same basic anatomy & physiology.  It’s nothing new, just worded differently, because it’s hard for a man to read something about pregnancy and vaginas and think “yes, I can see how this applies to me.”

My classes are full of women, and we talk a lot about pelvic floor issues–things like incontinence, painful periods, sciatica, etc.  Today, let me be clear that men have alignment related pelvic floor issues too! Several sources estimate 95% of prostatitis (prostate inflammation) isn’t bacterial. Meaning there is inflammation that isn’t caused by an infection and can’t be treated with an antibiotic. In many cases, there is a mechanical/muscle tension component. In the year 2007, John Hopkins estimated over 18 million men in the US over the age of 20 suffer from ED. (I’d be willing to bet it’s higher now.)

Another thing I’d like to be clear on is this: the alignment principles aren’t just for pelvic floor issues. Problems with pelvic health and function are common, so I tend to talk about them a lot, but they are just one small piece.  The tension and misalignment created by our modern life creates issues for every part of our body.  Improving alignment can help rotator cuff problems, arthritis, plantarfasciitis, headaches, back pain, hernias, prostate issues, and high blood pressure, just to name a few.  We like to blame these things on “getting old”, but all of these aliments can have mechanical causes.  How you move (or don’t) can cause or exacerbate these common male issues.

man on ball

Bear with me as I make an over generalization. Men are less likely than women to do activities like yoga, walking and stretching.  I know this is a stereotype, but look around the yoga studio or the stretch class at your gym, and TELL ME this isn’t true.  (Funny story about guys trying yoga here.) What I teach is different than than yoga, but the trend applies here too. When I used to teach “co-ed” classes, they were usually 80-90% women.  When I teach at a certification week, it’s at least 95% women every time.  Men are more likely to do activities that are about speed, strength, endurance…..things like weight lifting, running, sports, cycling…. None of these activities are bad, but when you combine short bouts of very intense workouts with longer periods of sedentary time, pain and injury are bound to follow, despite your best intentions.  In order to continue doing the acitivites you enjoy, you need something to help fill in the gap between your sedentary time and your workout time.  Exercise and sports have a lot of benefits, but we know now that they can’t undo hours of sitting each day.  Our bodies have adapted to a lifetime of chairs, couches, cars and computers creating tension and misalignment. When we take these bodies to the gym and ask them to do challenging things,  it’s like taking out a rusty, misaligned, uncalibrated machine that has been sitting in your garage for the last 20 years and expecting peak performance.  Not going to happen. This is why even the most fit, athletic guy you know has pain and injuries.

I think there is a widespread belief that when it comes to exercise, the harder it is the better it is. The “easy” things like stretching and walking aren’t worth doing because they don’t make you sweat and don’t  make you want to puke.  If you want to remain active, pain free and have all your parts function well, you need to start doing some of the “easy” things.  As you learn to move differently and move better while doing the “easy” things, you can start doing the more challenging things without injury and pain.  If you come to one of my classes, you’ll find very quickly that the things that appear “easy” can be quite challenging.

man stretch

 

If you (or the men in your life) are experiencing any of the above mentioned issues, feeling a bit achy or older than you should, here are some suggestions:

  1. If you are local: Join us for the Alignment for Guys Workshop on February 28th! This class will be an introduction to alignment for better health, mobility, and strength. We’ll identify and review exercises that address common aches and pain brought on by hours sitting in front of a computer or behind a steering wheel, overcorrecting a slouch with “military posture”, and “getting old.”  Register and see details here.
  2. Try these movement breaks for the office.
  3. Read “Don’t Just Sit There” by Katy Bowman to figure out how to move more and still be productive at work.  Another good resource is this list of ways to create a more active workstation.
  4.  For male pelvic floor issues: David is a Restorative Exercise Specialist who works with men experiencing pelvic pain and dysfunction.  This article has lots of resources too.

How I Made it Through a Move Without Back Pain

We recently moved to Nashville, and although this move was considerably easier than our last one, it still takes a toll. For most people moving and back pain go together. We’ve all been there: I think I can move that couch by myself….this box isn’t THAT heavy….I don’t need help…. Usually what follows next is a back spasm (and maybe some cursing) followed by days/weeks of pain.  Even if you get off lucky and only have some mild soreness, it’s both uncomfortable and avoidable. Here’s how I got through the move without the typical back pain:

1) I used my HIPS.  You’ve heard “lift with your legs, not with your back”, right?  I’d like to revise that saying to “lift with your hips, not with your back”.  I think a lot of people get into trouble when they THINK they are using their legs because their knees are bent.  It’s true, some of the leg muscles are working when the knees are bent, but the position of the pelvis determines whether the big muscles on the back of the leg (gluts & hamstrings) can work here. The position of the pelvis also effects what is happening in our back (because they are attached).  When our hips are tight, we tend to over use and abuse our spine and/or knees when bending over to pick something up.  The pelvis will tuck, the low back will go into flexion (round) and the knees will move forward. In addition to being a vulnerable position for the spine and hard on the knees, it prevents a person from being able to effectively use the gluts and hamstrings to do the heavy lifting.  A person who lifts like this might use some leg muscle but will also use their back:

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Try this instead: Bend down like you are going to pick somethings up. Now, do it again, and pretend like you are squatting. Untuck your pelvis and back your butt WAY up until shins are vertical. This allows you to use the gluts and hamstrings (hips!) as well as save your back when you lift:

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Now, you might be thinking “I don’t think I can get into that position, much less lift a box in that position.”  Can you see how my knees are coming forward in the picture on the left? I can’t quite make it all the way to the ground with vertical shins, so I allow them to come forward, then on the way up, back my pelvis up as soon as possible, so I can use my hips to do the work. You might also notice that my pelvis is a little bit tucked.  It’s not perfect, but it’s still enough to keep me from the full on back spasms of my past.  I’ve been working on building the strength and mobility to be able to do this for years, and I still have a ways to go.  It takes time. You’ll find some hip opening and squatting homework at the bottom of the page to help you get there.

2) I paid attention to my body’s warning signs and asked for help.  What are the warning signs? I’m so glad you asked. All of these are signals that you are not strong enough to do what you are attempting to do.  Stop and ask for help if you:

  • Have to hold your breath, bear down, valsalva
  • Leak urine (Yes, it’s common. No, it’s not ok.)
  • Feel any downward pressure, straining or bulging in your pelivc floor or abdomen
  • Experience back or pelvic pain (during or after)

By the way, if you experience these signs during a workout, the same guidelines apply.  It’s your body’s way of telling you that you are not ready to do that particular activity. Continuing to do an activity that causes theses things to happen can make back, pelvic floor and core issues worse.  There are steps you can take to gradually build strength without compromising spinal health or core/pelvic floor function. (See the suggestions below.)

3) I relaxed & released my psoas. If you try your best, but still have some pain at the end of the day, try these psoas releases. The psoas is a muscle that attaches on the spine (T12 & all lumbar vertebrae), goes through the abdomen, and attaches on the femur (thigh bone). It is often a culprit in low back and pelvic pain. During this move, some days I had mild soreness/stiffness in my back, but when I did these two releases, it was gone the next day instead of lingering or becoming worse.  Notice I’m calling them RELEASES not EXERCISES. This is because all you have to do here is relax and let the tension release. There is nothing to do or force. If you want more, my colleague Susan demonstrates more psoas exercises on her blog.

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Bolster up the head and shoulders and let the ribs and spine relax towards the floor. Make sure the bolster isn’t under the ribs, pushing them up towards the ceiling. Breathe here for 5 min.

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Place a block under the pelvis (not the low back) and let the pelvis and spine relax towards the floor. Breathe here for 5 min.

 

Here are some ways to start gaining the strength and mobility you need to prevent injury:

  • Get started at home with this easy series.
  • Try an Alignment Snack (20-30 min online class). I like “All Around the Thighs” and “Frankie Says, Relax the Posas” for stretching all the muscles around the hips and addressing the psoas.
  • Join me for Aligned & Fit on Mondays at 8:30 (starting 9/14) at Blooma Nashville Yoga. This class focuses on building functional strength– the kind of strength you need to do daily life.  Play with your kids, lift heavy boxes, climb stairs, chase your dog, carry babies…. without peeing your pants or ending up in pain!

PS- This isn’t just for moving! Apply these principles to any heavy lifting or repetitive bending down you might do– lifting your kids, cleaning the house, lifting weights, loading the dishwasher, etc. to use your hips and save your back.

Movement Breaks for the Office (part 2)

Here is another series that can easily be done at work with no equipment.  These exercises are all meant to reduce the upper body tension that comes with computer/office work. Alternate this upper body series with the lower body exercises from Part 1 to hit the whole body!

1) Head Ramping: Instead of the “forward head” position that creates compression of the cervical spine, gently slide the head back. Pay attention to your head position when you are looking at the computer screen and driving. Ramp the head as often as you remember.

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2) Head Hang: Let the chin drop towards the chest to lengthen the back of the neck. Relieving tension in the neck improves circulation to the brain which can reduce headaches and brain fog. Hold for 1 minute, repeat several times a day.

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3) Hand Stretching: Do you have “claw hands” from computer work? This tension in your hands may seem insignificant, but it can lead to things like carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis. With your palm face up and your elbow by your side, stretch each finger towards the floor.

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4) Thoracic Stretch: Place your hands on a wall, roll the elbows in towards each other so the elbow “pits” point up towards the ceiling and elbows point towards the floor. Drop the chest towards the floor as you hinge forward from the hips.  (If you have learned about rib position, try to pull the ribs “up” instead of letting them slide towards the floor.) Hold for 1 minute.

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5) Standing Crescent Stretch: Stand with your feet a few inches from the wall and your gluts against the wall. Keep the ribs down while you lift the arms over head. Arch your body towards the right, breathing into the right side of the rib cage. Hold for 1 min and repeat on the other side.

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Want more for the shoulders? Try an Alignment Snack (20 min online classes) on your lunch break. For upper body work, I love these: Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck.

I also recommend Katy Bowman’s book, Don’t Just Sit There. It’s a comprehensive guide to sitting less and moving more, without compromising your productivity.

Movement Breaks for the Office (part 1)


By now you’ve heard about the benefits of sitting less a time or two. Maybe you’ve created a standing desk or experimented with sitting on the floor in a variety of positions. Changing you position throughout the day (rather than sitting in one position ALL day) has improved your health in countless ways. Well done!

Here is series to help relieve the lower body tension caused by excessive sitting. These exercises can easily be done at the work– no need to change clothes, get all sweaty, or buy special equipment! The tension in the legs and hips can cause back/hip/leg pain, incontinence, prostate inflammation, pelvic pain, sciatica, poor circulation, muscle weakness and countless other ailments. For best results, do these at least 2-3 times during the day.  It is best to do these exercises barefoot or in socks, as wearing shoes will interfere and make the exercise less effective.  You can also combine these exercises with short walks around your office (or even outside of your building) every time you need to make a phone call. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes, moving instead of being stationary improves circulation and glucose regulation. Some say that sitting for too long increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 91% even if you exercise regularly! 

1) Double Calf Stretch: This is a great way to work on untucking the pelvis and stretch the calves and hamstrings. Roll up a towel or yoga mat. Place the balls of both feet on the towel with the heels on the floor. Place your hands on a chair and bend forward from the hips. Your feet should be pointing straight ahead. Let your hips back up so that there is more weight in your heels. Lift the tailbone up towards the ceiling without bending your knees.IMG_2484

2) #4 Stretch: This stretches the piriformis and is great for those suffering from sciatica. It can be done any time you are sitting or standing.

Seated: Sit on your “sitz bones” the edge of your seat. Cross your left ankle over your right knee without letting your pelvis tuck. Relax the left knee towards the floor without letting your pelvis shift to the side

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Standing: Stand on your right leg and cross the left ankle over the right knee. Bend the right knee like you are sitting in a chair (like a 1 leg squat). Lift the tailbone towards the ceiling as you back the hips up. Hold onto a chair or wall for balance.

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3) Wide Leg Wall Glide: To stretch the inner thighs, stand with your legs wide and feet about 6 inches from a wall. Hinge forward from the hips, tailbone to the ceiling. Then glide the pelvis right to leg along the wall. Keep your gluts against the wall and the knees straight (relax the quads if you can). The hands can rest on a chair for support. This can be done without a wall as well.

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4) Pelvic List: Stand with the right foot on a step, phone book or block. Line up the outside edge of your foot with the edge of the step to straighten the foot. Slowly lower the left foot towards the ground (without bending the knee) and bring it back up using the muscles of the standing leg (not the muscles of the low back or waist). This exercise strengthens the muscles on the outside of the hip.

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5) Door Knob Squats: These are a great way to simultaneously stretch and strengthen the gluts and hamstrings. The strength and mobility required to squat is essential for pelvic floor, hip and low back health. As you bend your knees, back up your hips as far as you can, untuck the pelvis and lift the tailbone. Keep the knees over the ankles (vertical shins) to both protect the knees and help you use your gluts and hamstrings. Holding onto a door knob will help you back your pelvis up.

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For more “at work” exercises to address computer claw hands and shoulder tension, see Part 2.

I recommend Katy Bowman’s book, Don’t Just Sit There. It’s a comprehensive guide to sitting less and moving more, without compromising your productivity.  Another good resource is this list of ways to create a more active workstation.

10 Minutes to Tension & Pain Free Shoulders

You are going to love this! These are some of my favorite exercises for relieving shoulder and upper back tension that accumulates during the day. We do so many things with our arms: computer work, driving, studying, carrying babies, breastfeeding, yard work…. add misalignment, old injuries, weak muscles and stress to the mix and you have a recipe for serious discomfort.  If you experience shoulder & upper back pain and/or tension, you will love this routine. It only takes 10 minutes and you’ll feel great! (See additional resources at the bottom of this post as well.)

Minute 1: Rhomboid Push Up

The rhomboids are muscles on your upper back that connect the spine Muscles_rhomboïdesand the scapula (shoulder blades). When you have the habit of retracting your scapula (retraction=pulling the shoulders back like you are squeezing something between the shoulder blades) these muscles get tight and weak. I know that this position is often taught as “good posture”, but it is not good alignment. (Read about posture vs. alignment.)  When you retract your scapula it looks good, but holding this position habitually is sabotaging your shoulder girdle and spinal health. These muscles help hold the spine upright, and when they are tight and weak, they can’t do their job, resulting in hyperkyphosis.

To restore the length of these muscles, try this. Start on your hands and knees. Roll the elbows in towards eachother so that the elbow points back towards your thighs and the elbow “pit” faces the same direction as your middle finger (see picture). Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep from hyper extending.

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Let the chest drop towards the floor and feel the scapula come together (retraction) WITHOUT BENDING YOUR ELBOWS ANYMORE THAN THEY ALREADY ARE. Then press the hands into the floor and push the shoulders blades wide (protraction). Keep the pelvis untucked.  This is a VERY difficult motion to learn, so it may take some time to master.  WATCH THIS VIDEO of my friend Susan demonstrating the rhomboid push up.

Minute 2: Floor Angels

First bolster you head and shoulders with some pillows or folded blankets. To stretch the chest and shoulders, move the arms slowly overhead like you are making a snow angel.  Rotate the arms so that your palms face up towards the ceiling and your thumbs are closer to the floor than the pinkies.  The hand will start out touching the floor, but will lift away from the floor as you move the arm overhead.

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Keep the ribs relaxed down. Try not to let them pop up towards the ceiling like this:

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Minutes 3-5: Tennis Ball “Reverse” Rhomboid Push Up

I got this AWESOME move from Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up. Take two tennis balls or balls of similar size & density (I’m using yoga tune up balls here) and put them in a sock. Tie a knot in the sock to keep the balls in place. Lay on your back with the balls underneath your upper back, one on either side of the spine. Start at the top of your scapula.

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Reach your arms up to the ceiling feeling the scapula spread wide, them relax and let them fall towards the floor. It’s the same motion as the rhomboid push up, just upside down. Do this for 1 minute, moving slowly. Then roll the balls down an inch or two, and repeat this motion for 1 minute. Repeat this process one more time. (We are doing 3 different positions here, but you can always do more.)

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If you want more pressure, you can experiment with pressing your feet into the floor to  lift your pelvis up into a small bridge.

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Minutes 6-8: Tennis Ball Floor Angels

Move the balls back up to the first spot they were in (on either side of the spine near the top of the scapula). Repeat the same “snow angel” motion with your arms that you did in the Floor Angels for 1 minute. Roll the balls down an inch or two and repeat 1 minute. Roll the balls down again and repeat.

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If you love this stuff as much as I do, you will want to check out Jill Miller’s new book The Roll Model. My husband gave it to me for Christmas this year, and I’m slowly working my way through it. She shows you how to roll away tension from head to toe. SO GOOD!

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Minute 9: Rhomboid Push Up

Repeat slowly for 1 minute.

Minute 10: Floor Angels

 Repeat slowly for 1 minute.


 

Want more for your shoulders?

1.) Read 3 things you need to know about your shoulder tension.

2.) Drop in for Upper Body Stretch & Strengthen class at Blooma Nashville.

3.) Try an Alignment Snack (20 min online classes). For upper body I love these: Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck.

3 Things You Need to Know About Your Shoulder Tension

1.) Constantly pulling your shoulders back (shoulder blades together) will make it worse. I know that this position is taught as “good posture”, but it is not good alignment.  (Read about the difference between posture and alignment.) The rhomboids are muscles on your upper back that connect the spine and the scapula (shoulder blades). When you have the habit of retracting your scapula (retracting=pulling the Muscles_rhomboïdesshoulders back like you are squeezing something between the shoulder blades) these muscles get tight and weak.  When you retract your scapula it LOOKS GOOD, but it is only masking your shoulder tension, NOT FIXING IT. Trying to keep this “good posture” all the time is causing these muscles to become tighter and weaker, sabotaging your long term shoulder and spinal health.

2.)  The tension in your hands is directly related to the tension in your shoulders.  Before I started studying Restorative Exercise™, it never occurred to me to stretch my hands.  I didn’t even realize there was tension in my hands. If you can relate to this, try these tests.

Test #1: Start on your hands and knees. (If you can’t get on your hands and knees, try bending over and placing your hands on a coffee table.)  Place your hands on the floor so that the middle finger points straight ahead and the thumb and pointer finger make an “L” (a 90° angle).  Then roll the elbows in towards eachother so that the elbow points back towards your thighs and the elbow “pit” faces the same direction as your middle finger.  Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep from hyper extending. In the photos below, there is a red dot on my elbow pit to help you see it.

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Arms internally rotated, elbow pits facing each other. (Not good for your shoulder health)

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Arms externally rotated to neutral, elbow pits facing forward. (A neutral humerus=better shoulder alignment.)

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“Claw Hands” that are tight and cupping away from the floor reveal the relationship between shoulder and hand tension.

 

Did your hands cup up away from the floor? Is it impossible to get the hand position and arm position at the same time?  This shows you how the the shoulder, arm and hand tension is all related. We SHOULD be able to keep both the hands and the shoulders aligned at the same time, not one or the other.

Test #2: Reach your arm behind your back without letting your scapula “wing” (boney edges stick out). Keep the flat and wide across your back. If you can, reach your arm up towards your neck without winging the scapula.

 

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Scapula (shoulder blades) wide.

Then flip your palm over so that the palm touches your back.  You should be able to do this without the scapula winging. If you can’t, this shows you (again) how your shoulder and hand tension are related.

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Hand flipped over, winging scapula.

 

 3.)  Just because you don’t FEEL a stretch, doesn’t mean you don’t have tension.  It’s pretty common to have one or more hyper mobile joints.  When a joint is hyper mobile the ligaments are too lax, making it easy to move a joint without the muscular tension getting in the way.  In this case, you may be able to move through a normal (or often excessive) range of motion without ever feeling a stretch.  When you try to stretch, you don’t feel anything, so you assume your muscles aren’t tight.  The tension is still there creating pain, tendonitis, numbness, tingling, etc only you don’t realize it because you can’t feel it.  It is MUCH harder for someone with hyper lax ligaments in a certain area to access the muscular tension. It’s very complex to learn to stabilize your hyper mobile parts.  If you suspect this is an issue for you, see suggestions 3 & 4 below.

What You Can Do About It:

1.) Stop pulling your shoulders back/together all the time. Let them relax wide.

2.) Practice Test #2. It’s a test, but it will also help mobilize the shoulder.

3.) Join me at Blooma Nashville for Upper Boday class. Come stretch and strengthen the muscles of the shoulders, arms, chest, neck & upper back to create shoulders that are both strong AND mobile. This class will restore upper body alignment, relieve tension & pain, improve flow of blood, lymph & milk, and teach how to deal with hyper-mobility.

Every Thursday at 6:45pm

4.)  Try Katy’s online Super Supple Shoulders webinar for an in depth shoulder workout and education. This class will help you learn to deal with hyper mobility and relieve tension.

5.)  Try these Alignment Snacks (shorter 20 minute classes): Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck. Get Alignment Snacks HERE.

Happy New Year!

Happy-New-Year

Happy New Year! I hope you find yourself healthier and more active than your were at the start of 2014. The beginning of a new year always lends itself to reflection and making resolutions. This year, I invite you to take inventory of your health in 2014.  Write down your triumphs, to-dos, proud moments, “I can do better” moments. . . be honest, but don’t get all “judgey” on yourself.  You can use Katy’s 2014 Health Recap questions to help you.

I’m off to go work on mine!