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.
Today I’m going to review Katy Bowman’s three books to help you sort out which one you might like to read or give as a gift. They all deal with the same basic principles (alignment) but in different ways. This should help point you to the one you want based on what type of read you are looking for. (If you want the super brief summary, skip to the end.)
Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief, The New Science of Healthy Feet
This one has the longest title (by far), but is the shortest. Despite it’s name, it’s just as much for men as it is for women. Think of it as a “manual” for foot health, based on science yet easy to understand. Katy describes the root causes of foot pain and gives simple exercises and lifestyle changes to fix your feet. The exercises are laid out with pictures to give you an easy-to-follow plan. You’ll find exercises for the legs and hips too, as the tension in the feet, legs and hips is all connected. Although this is a book on healthy feet, you will find that your whole body benefits from the recommendations in this book. Katy also includes information on what factors to consider when choosing footwear. (You have to wear shoes anyway, so you might as well wear ones that work for you health, not against it!)
This book is an edited and organized version of the first five years of the Katy Says blog. If you’ve read her blog, you know that Katy combines humor, science, and real life events to teach about alignment. You can read her blog online for free, but if you are like me, you will find that it’s totally worth the $20. I get tired of reading off a computer screen and much prefer holding a book that I can highlight, underline and book mark. This is one of those books that you DON’T have to read cover to cover (although you will want to). Chapters are organized by topic or body part, so you can easily flip to a section and read all about Shoulders, for example, or Pregnancy & Childbirth. This is the book for you if you want one you can pick up for 1o minutes at a time and read quick tidbits. (Or if you have a short attention span.) This is a great book for anyone wanting to understand the science behind their aches, pains, and diseases and how to start healing them.
Move Your DNA
Move Your DNA is Katy’s newest book and most comprehensive book. It provides a look at the “big picture”, the fact that most of our diseases come from living outside of nature. At the same time, Katy explains more of the complex scientific principles, such as what happens at the cellular level when we move. I know this sounds contradictory, but this book looks natural movement through both a very broad lens and a microscope. This book reads like a novel; it tells the story of humans moving away from nature, becoming modernized, and suffering diseases of “captivity” as a result. This book also reads like a textbook; it breaks down complex biomechanical principles, teaches lessons in anatomy and physiology, and includes definitions in the side bars. The second half of the book is full of exercises to get you aligned and moving more naturally from head to toe.
To sum it up:
Foot Book: Quick read. Straight forward program. Science. For the feet, but will improve the health of the legs, hips and spine as well.
Alignment Matters: Blog in book form. For the whole body. Heavier on the science. Chapters organized by topic/body part for quick reference.
Move Your DNA: A text book for restoring your health. Big picture and tiny details. Heaviest on the science. Will change the way you look at movement and exercise.
It’s that time of year when everyone is getting colds, flus, chest infections…. You know all the regular recommendations: wash your hands, take Vitamin C, get plenty of rest, take On Guard (I think I’m a little behind the trend on this one– I JUST discovered how amazing this essential oil blend is. Seriously, it changed my life.) or immune boosting herbs.
I’m going to give you a new one today: Move Your Lymph
If you are thinking, “move my what?”, keep reading. How do we move our lymph? Before we get to that, we need to talk about what lymph is and what it does…but before we get to that, let’s start with the blood. Everyone knows that the heart pumps the blood, circulating it around the body. What many people don’t realize, is that the muscles are designed to help move the blood along as they contract and relax. While the heart is the main pump, muscle activity helps draw the blood to the smaller capillaries that feed the cells and pickup the cellular waste. The large veins and arteries are like the main lines in an irrigation system that would water a large garden, and the capillaries are much smaller lines watering specific areas on the outskirts. When muscles are tight, they are not very active, and the blood flow to that part of the body is relatively low. When this happens, the blood flow may be lower than optimal (or not reaching ALL the cells adequately), but at least it’s still flowing because the heart it pumping.
Now we are ready to talk about lymph. (Keep in mind this is a simplified explanation of a very complex physiological process.) The lymphatic system is your body’s garbage clean up system, and it circulates a fluid called lymph. All the cellular waste, toxins, and other “garbage” gets picked up in the lymph, which travels through vessels (similar to blood vessels), passing through lymph nodes to get filtered. Lymph doesn’t have a pump, so it relies on outside forces to move it…muscles, gravity, massage, etc.
When muscles are tight and bodies are inactive, lymph gets stagnant. The lymphatic system is directly related to the immune system, and when it’s not functioning as it should, immune function is compromised. We often forget that there are mechanical components to disease & illness, and this is one of them.
Here’s a picture of the lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and organs associated with the system. The areas with more green clusters are the areas with higher concentration of lymph nodes (pelvis, groin, armpit, & neck).
Back to the original question: How do we move our lymph?
1) Stretch tight muscles in regions of high lymph node concentration– chest/shoulders, groin/hips & neck. If you’re like me, these areas with a lot of lymph nodes also happen to have a lot of tension. When muscles are tight, they are relatively inactive and don’t circulate lymph (or blood) very well. Here are a couple of my favorite stretches for theses regions.
2) Move more, starting with a daily walk. Regular, full body movement is necessary for moving blood & lymph (and for health in general). Walking is the preferred full body movement for many reasons, but that is another post for another day. (I do NOT recommend walking on a treadmill. It’s not the same.) The rhythmic movement of arms and legs helps pump both blood and lymph around the body, feeding cells & removing waste.
You also may have noticed that the areas of high lymph node concentration happen to be near major joints. These are joints that would get a lot of movement IF we were moving naturally instead of sitting all day. When I say “moving naturally” I am referring to the way humans moved before we had modern conveniences like cars, grocery stores, high heels, chairs, strollers, toilets….not bad things, but things that require us to move WAY less than before. Walking, hunting/gathering food, kneeling, climbing, carrying kids, squatting….can you see how just “doing life” would facilitate the movement of lymph (and blood) throughout the day? If this concept resonates with you, I’d recommend Katy Bowman’s new book Move Your DNA.
(SIDE NOTE: High intensity exercise is not necessary to move lymph, and it can actually weaken your immune system.)
3) When you walk, swing your arms. You have a built in reflex for arm swing. Without thinking about it, your opposite arm and leg will move together. It’s called reciprocal arm swing. When you are carrying a baby or a purse, that arm tends to not swing, so try alternating sides (or finding an alternative that allows arm swing, like a sling or messenger bag). For optimal muscle use and lymph movement, keep your elbow pointing back behind you and the elbow “pit” pointing straight ahead as your arms swing. Then keep the arms straight (not bent like a race walker), and push them back behind you. More on this here. Yes, you’ll get more toned arms (say good-bye to that flap on the back of your arm), but more importantly, it is essential for breast health!
Now, take a computer break, and go move that lymph!
PS- If you want more, here a few 20-30 minute classes that target these areas. Click HERE, then choose one of the following titles:
A Real Pain in the Neck, Rhomboid Madness, Adductor Madness, Take a Load off Your Chest & Hips, Frankie Says: Relax the Psoas
Hi folks, I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a new post. Life has been busy, and this just got pushed to the back burner. This post is here to let you know what’s new with my business and what resources are available. There’s a real post (with pictures and everything) coming right after this, I promise.
Thank you for your interest in learning how to restore your health through improving your body’s alignment. It’s an honor to help you reach your goals and live an active, pain free life. I’ve started two new methods of communication: a newsletter & an Anthology Wellness Facebook Page. This is an effort to stay better connected with you and provide you with more options, so you can choose what works best for YOU.
Perhaps you are wondering how the newsletter & Facebook page will be different than this blog. The blog tends to be mostly educational material. My intention for the newsletter is to highlight current classes, workshops & events, as they are constantly changing. The newsletter will also include links to online classes and other tools to help you in your quest for better alignment. The Facebook page will share helpful tips, quick facts, and relevant articles from myself, other Restorative Exercise™ Specialists, katysays.com, and other health professionals.
I hope this helps you find the tools YOU need to help you on your alignment journey. You can use the links below to subscribe to the newsletter, read the most recent one or find me on Facebook.
When my husband was working on his undergraduate degree in history, he had an assignment to write about the 1940’s using the school’s archives of McCall’s magazine. He wrote about how the ads exploited the emotions of war wives and the homecoming of soldiers in order to sell things like silverware and soap.
This one’s my favorite. It reads: “Happy New Year – I’m Your Dad!”
While he was sifting through the archives, he found this gem: the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of good posture according to McCall’s Magazine. Knowing that it would make my day, he snapped a quick picture.
Here is what they say and my thoughts as I was reading them.
(Top. How to Stand.) Don’t:“Stand like this, you look ten years older! Your tummy is pushed out, back rounded, head and neck outthrust like a turtle’s”.Could they have picked less flattering imagery? Do:“Stand tall, feet straight ahead, tummy pulled in, buttock muscles tucked under, shoulders erect, head and neck held high.”I will grant them, the picture on the left is really sad looking….and the one on the right looks much better. Feet straight ahead-yay! Pulling your tummy in and tucking your butt under? Not so much. It looks good, but she’s on the fast track to back pain and sneeze pee.
(Bottom. How to walk.) Don’t:“Lead from your chin in walking! Abdomen sags; body slumps for it is used in disjointed sections, big muscles out of balance.”…..I don’t even know what any of this means.Do:“Start walking from a good standing posture with a spring in your step. Weight of body should be even over both legs and feet.”Why do I need a spring in my step?
(Top. How to climb stairs.) Don’t:“Carry your weight from lower back or cramp middle muscles in climbing stairs. You tire if you don’t use leg, thigh muscles.” What?How do you climb stairs without using your legs? Do:“Climb stairs correctly. Lift weight by strong leg, thigh muscles. Body slightly forward, erect, as in good standing posture.” (Sigh)
(Bottom. How to carry bundles.) Don’t:“Use your hips for a shelf to carry bundles, books; this causes curvatures. You look lopsided— ”Oh, I totally do that, carry the laundry basket on my hips… Wait! It got cut off?! Lopsided…and what? Man, I bet it was good. Do:“Carry bundles with shoulders and hips even. Spine straight, use muscles of back, abdomen, arms.” That’s actually not bad….but what came after “lopsided”?
Well done Husband, well done.
Besides the obvious entertainment factor, why am I sharing this? I think it has some good reminders for us.
1) Beware of where you get your health information. There is a whole generation of ladies with pelvic floor disorders because they read to tuck their pelvis and pull in their tummy in McCall’s magazine. Ok, that’s dramatic. It’s not all their fault; McCall’s was simply reflecting the popular belief of the culture. But you get my point? The same thing happens today. Just because SHAPE magazine or Oprah told you to do 3 sets of 50 kegels everyday, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. (It’s not a good idea, by the way. Read why here.) No one is trying to mislead you or sabotage your health, but sometimes information you read is based on popular culture instead of science. (Or it starts out as science and then becomes misunderstood/misinterpreted and turns into something scary.) The point is, question what you read/hear. Always ask “WHY”, especially if you are going to make a decision about your health based on the info.
2) “Good posture” is decided by the culture and has nothing to do with health. Just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Read more about the difference between posture and alignment here.
3) Did you notice the vague and subjective language? Shoulders erect, lead from your chin, good standing posture, big muscles out of balance, don’t cramp your middle muscles…. When you read these, did you think “What exactly does that MEAN!?”. Recommendations for good posture are often subjective. There is a lot of room for interpretation and misunderstanding. When it comes to your health, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification!
Pregnancy is another place we see the difference between posture and alignment. You all know the common pregnancy posture: pelvis and belly pushed forward with hands resting on the low back. It’s normal to see this all around us, but it’s not good alignment. Ideally, you would stand the same whether you are pregnant or not. If you haven’t read the last few posts, start by reading “Alignment, is that like posture?” and “Stand up Straight!” to bring you up to speed.
When you are pregnant, you still want all your pieces stacked perpendicular to the ground. In fact, this may be even more important when you are pregnant. If you add 30 extra pounds to a frame that is unstable, you are going to notice pain or dysfunction at the “weakest link”. For example, maybe you stand with your pelvis thrusting forward and have occasional back pain. Then you get pregnant and have excruciating back pain. Is the pain cause by the pregnancy? No, it’s the result of putting extra weight on a skeleton that was already misaligned. Pregnancy magnifies whatever misalignment you had going into the pregnancy.
This is my dear friend Leanne about 38 weeks pregnant. She is such a good sport. (Fun fact- she actually went into labor an hour after I took these photos. On the left we have the typical pregnant posture. Imagine her hands on her lower back, belly pushing forward as she waddles along. (I say “imagine”, because Leanne worked so hard on her alignment during pregnancy that she never actually waddled.) Her pelvis is leaning forward and her torso is leaning back. Her pelvis is posteriorly tilted (aka, tailbone tucked under), and her feet turned out. On the right we have a beautifully stacked skeleton. Her ear, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle are all in a vertical line. She has a neutral pelvis with her rib cage stacked right on top and her feet straight.
Picture A: Typical Pregnancy Posture (Just say no.)
Picture B:Aligned and Pregnant (Gold star!)
A pregnant woman who stands like Picture A will likely have more back pain, but alignment affects more than whether or not she is in pain. I’d like you to notice two very important things: the shape of her belly and the shape of her rear end. It’s ok, I asked her permission to have a bunch of strangers (although, let’s be honest, not that many) analyzing her very pregnant figure. Can you see that both her belly and her backside are completelydifferentshapes in the two different pictures? In the typical pregnancy posture (Picture A) her rear end is flattened out and looks smaller. Her belly is sort of pointing upwards. In the aligned picture, you can see her gluts look bigger (in a good way) and her belly is pointing straight ahead.
Looking at the shape of Leanne’s body is a subjective assessment, but it illustrates an important underlying concept: How you stand affects your pregnancy, labor and delivery in very real ways.
1)Betterbaby positioning in utero. You are the container in which your baby lives. When you change your shape, you change the shape of your baby’s container, and the baby will adjust accordingly. How you stand during pregnancy can help (Picture B!) the baby to be in an optimal position for delivery. More on this here.
2) Appropriate pelvic floor tension. Standing with the pelvis in a post tilt (tucked under, like Picture A) causes excessive tension in the pelvic floor and inactive gluts. You want your pelvic floor to be relaxed enough to let a baby pass through more easily. You also want your pelvic floor to be strong enough to hold up your organs and hold in your pee. You need strong gluteal muscles to achieve this not too tight/not too loose pelvic floor muscle length. When you stand like Picture B, your gluts are being used all day long to hold you up and move you around. They will become as strong as they need to be to support your pregnant body and balance out the pelvic floor.
3) Increased birth space. The strong gluts mentioned above will pull the sacrum posterior (back), increasing the birth space (who doesn’t want that?). In addition to changing how you stand, you can also START squatting and STOP doing kegels. For more on squatting and pelvic floor health, read what the Alignment Monkey has to say.
Have you ever been told to “stand up straight!”? This phrase has children everywhere grumbling as a well meaning adult lectures on the importance of good posture. In my opinion, it’s one of the most relevant examples of the difference between posture and alignment. The phrase has permeated the culture with its vague (subjective) recommendation for our spinal health and caused a lot of confusion. I have many clients who have spent years trying to get their back “straight” because of this misunderstanding and suffered greatly because of it. For all of you out there in the same boat, I hope this post helps you find some relief.
First of all, the spine isn’t supposed to be straight. It has curves like an “S”. I’m going to say it again: a healthy spine has curves. Specifically, notice the thoracic (mid back) curve. This is called kyphosis. The word kyphosis is often misused to mean “too much curve.” (Too much curve is called hyperkyphosis.) You want that kyphotic curve. It’s supposed to be there.
Most people translate “stand up straight” to equal “chest up, shoulders back.” This lifting of the chest/rib cage creates forces that distort the curve of the thoracic spine. If I asked you to stand up straight or show me your best posture, chances are it would look something like this:
(Again, ignore the “I Dream of Jeannie” arms. I’m just doing that so you can see the line that is coming up.)
Looks pretty good, right? In my last post, you learned how to align your pelvis. When you did this, you may have felt like you were going to fall over backwards or felt some discomfort in your back. If so, learning where your ribs belong will help. Let’s revisit the super awesome grid app.
The vertical line is lined up with the bottom of my rib cage. See how that line falls out in front of my pelvis? My “good posture” is lifting my rib cage and pushing it forward. Look at any skeleton in an anatomy text book, and you will see that the rib cage is supposed to be right over the pelvis. Put your finger tips on the most inferior, anterior part (the part that is lowest and towards the front) of your rib cage. Can you feel the pointy edges of your ribs sticking out? Now exaggerate your best posture. Are your ribs sticking out even more? Now relax and let the ribs drop down ALL THE WAY. (If you feel like you are slouching, you’re on the right track.) At this point you shouldn’t be able to feel any boney edges sticking out. They will be directly over yourAnterior Superior Illiac Spine (ASIS: boney protrusions on the front of each side of your pelvis). If this description is confusing, or you have a hard time finding these boney markers, see how to test for rib thrusting against a wall.
I have one finger on my ASIS and one on my bottom rib, so you can see where they are. Now the rib cage is right over the pelvis, where it belongs.
Take a look at these side by side. On the left: Ribs are aligned, restoring thoracic kyphosis. (What you want.) On the right: Ribs are lifted and thrusted forward, distorting the thoracic curve. (A recipe for pain and degeneration.) Can you see the difference?
I know these two positions look similar, but the physiological effects of these two positions are very different. Remember, “good posture” looks good but is not necessarily healthy. The rib thrusting/chest lifted position distorts your spinal curves and puts excessive compression on the one or two vertebra that you are displacing. The vertebra that make up the spine stack on top of one another forming a protective housing for the spinal cord. When we lose or distort our spinal curves, the integrity of this protective structure is compromised, and the spinal cord and nerves that branch off are at risk for damage. Displacing the ribs also compromises the abdominals’ ability to do their jobs. One of these jobs is to properly support the spine and decompress the discs. Many people find huge relief from back pain when they stop thrusting their ribs. Another job of the abdominal muscles is to support the weight of a growing baby when you are pregnant. When these muscles are compromised, it can lead to diastasis recti (excessive spreading/separating of the abdominal wall).
When you get your ribs down (ALL THE WAY DOWN) you might (read: almost certainly will) find that you have hyperkyphosis and your head and shoulders are too far forward. Like this:
Don’t panic! I know, it’s alarming when you see how far forward your head is. The good news is you can make changes with some hard work. Resist the urge to lift your chest/ribs to “fix” this problem! It will look better in the short term but will not solve the problem. When the ribs are down in their aligned position, it reveals all the tension in the upper body that we typically hide by lifting the chest/ribs. Instead of hiding the problem, use the two exercises below to start correcting it.
First, elevate your head and shoulders and relax here until your ribs start to relax down towards the floor. You can let your arms rest on the ground by your sides. This helps relax a muscle called the psoas.
Next: After several minutes, add SLOW arm motions like you are making a snow angel without letting the ribs pop back up towards the ceiling. Rotate the arms so that your thumbs are closer to the floor than the pinkies. This will stretch the chest and shoulders.