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.
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 position, rib position, and how to stand when you are pregnant.
(Left to right: Ribs lifted, pelvis forward & feet turned out, pelvis back & ribs down.)
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.
“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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- Try these movement breaks for the office.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Happy New Year!
I thought I’d start off 2014 by addressing one of the questions I was most commonly asked last year: “Alignment, is that like posture?”.
When I tell people that I teach alignment, what usually comes next is something like “Alignment, is that like posture?” or “Oh, I need that, I have terrible posture.” While they may sound like the same thing, alignment and posture are actually two different things. Posture is how something looks. Alignment is how something works. Posture is subjective and cultural. Alignment is objective and scientific.
“Good posture” means different things to different people. We decide that a particular posture is good if it creates a look that is seen as desirable. Certain postures might look good, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. Different sports or activities require a particular posture to maximize performance or to create a certain aesthetic. (This usually occurs at the expense of tissue longevity. Look at all the best athletes and dancers. They are REALLY good at their sport, but their career is usually over by age 40.)
Whether it’s intentional or not, we often use our body position to say something about ourselves— a macho guy who puffs up chest to look tough, a tall kid who stands slouched over to appear shorter, a woman who sucks her stomach in to look thinner—you get the idea. Sometimes we adopt a particular posture for a good reason, such as coping with an injury or surgery, but continue the habit once the need is no longer there without even realizing it.
I’m writing this on an airplane, and one of my seatmates asked me what I’m writing about. We got to talking about posture and where the notion of good posture comes from. Seatmate #1 said her parents told her good posture meant standing up straight and holding your stomach in. Seatmate #2 said she spent time living in another country (I wish I could remember which one…. somewhere in Asia) and that the desired posture for women in that culture was a stooped over position because it showed humility. A woman who walked around with her head held high and “stood up straight” would not be respected. Subjective & cultural.
Optimal skeletal alignment is objective. It’s based on science—anatomy, physiology, biology and physics—rather than culture. It’s the orientation of all the parts that allows everything to work the way it is supposed to work with the least amount of damage. Think about the alignment of your car. You go to the mechanic, and they adjust the alignment. (No one ever took their car in to get the posture checked.) They make sure all the parts are in the proper position—not just to allow your car to run, but to help all the parts wear evenly, and ensure that the vehicle doesn’t sustain unnecessary wear and tear. The same is true for your body. When your musculoskeletal system is aligned, all your body systems can function properly, for as long as possible, with the least amount of unnecessary wear and tear.
This image is taken from the Restorative Exercise™ Specialist training manual. It shows the 25 points to consider when assessing skeletal alignment.
Here’s your first step to good alignment: Back up your pelvis.
First, let your pelvis shift forward. (Notice the picture on the left.) You will feel more pressure in the front of your feet than the heels. Now back your pelvis up until you feel more pressure in your heels. (Notice the picture on the right.) That’s where you want it. Your legs should be straight (no bent or locked knees) when you do this. Can you feel the difference?
Left: My pelvis is out over the front of my feet, and my upper body is actually behind my pelvis.
Right: My pelvis is stacked right over my ankles. There is a vertical line from ear, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle.
(Don’t let the “I Dream of Jeannie” arms confuse you…they aren’t part of it. I’m holding them up so they don’t block the view of my pelvis.)
NOW, check out the lines I can make with my super awesome (not at all nerdy) grid app. It’s much easier to see the differences when there are actual lines.
SO COOL, right? I’m not a very “techy” person, but I LOVE this app. Go by the objective alignment marker (a vertical line) rather than how it feels. If you go by what feels right (subjective), you will always go back to your old postural habits. To see the lines on yourself, you can hold a belt or strap at the center of your hip joint and watch where it falls. It’s helpful to do this in front of a mirror. You would want the weight bearing, structural beams of your house to be completely vertical (perpendicular to gravity), and it’s the same for your legs.
Just backing your pelvis up will reduce unnecessary damage to your feet, knees, hips, and spine. This position gives you stronger bones and better pelvic floor function. You will use more leg muscle which means a higher metabolism and better circulation– all this just by shifting your pelvis.
Whatever your health goals are for 2014– less pain, stronger muscles, better balance, fewer headaches– working on your alignment is the first step! In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more about the differences between posture and alignment and giving you simple, practical steps to make big improvements.
I know, I know. Hear me out.
You may have seen this article in Buinessweek that came out a few years ago titled Your Office Chair is Killing You. It focuses mainly on the way that sitting negatively affects the alignment of your spine, encouraging a “C” shape instead of the natural “S” curve, which leads to degenerative disks, neck/back pain, osteoporosis of the vertebra, bulging disks, high blood pressure and about a hundred other things. It also talks about the metabolic changes that occur after prolonged sitting, which increase our risks for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Sitting in a chair all day make the muscles of the legs very tight, which causes hip/leg pain and significantly reduces the circulation to the lower body. Do your feet or legs get numb halfway through the work day? Now you know why! Tight muscles of the hips and leg are also a huge culprit in back pain because they can pull the spine out of alignment. When you are sitting, your muscles are pretty inactive, which significantly affects metabolic processes in your body.
We all know that it’s unhealthy to be sedentary, but here is the part that is often misunderstood.
“People need to understand that the qualitative mechanisms of sitting are completely different from walking or exercising,” says University of Missouri microbiologist Marc Hamilton. “Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. They do completely different things to the body.”
Did you catch that? Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. If you go to the gym everyday, you may consider yourself an active or fit person. What you need to understand is that an hour at the gym everyday is not enough to counteract the damage of sitting all day. That’s like eating a salad for dinner to make up for the fact that you smoked all day. It doesn’t work like that, right? No amount of kale is going to undo those cigarettes. The research shows we need to sit less, not just exercise more.
Take this quiz to find out how much you ACTUALLY sit each day. It’s very eye opening. The first time I did it, I was shocked!
If you are a student or have a desk job, sitting less requires some creativity. Read how to transition to a standing desk here.
This is my new desk that I made recently. It started out as a $19 baby changing table from the thrift store. Unfortunately, in my excitement, I forgot to take the “before” picture before I tore off the box part on top. (You know, those side pieces that keep the baby from rolling off.)
I attached a piece of plywood on top, painted it, and found some cute hardware in the clearance bin at Cost Plus World Market. A non traditional desk doesn’t have to be expensive or ugly!
I like to multi task by stretching my calves while I work. My dog likes to be RIGHT next to me all the time. Sometimes it ends up looking like this.
Just by standing up you will:
- Increase your metabolism & circulation
- Use more muscles during your day
- Reduce hip, leg & back pain
- Build bone density
- Decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity & diabetes
It’s not that standing is a magic pill, it’s just a simple way to start reducing the amount of time you are sitting in a chair. You can swap your chair sitting time for sitting on the floor in different positions and other types of movement. The goal is varied and regular movement throughout the day.
Here are a few ideas:
- Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, meet at a park and take a walk.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Instead of sitting at a desk, try sitting on the floor while studying or working on the computer. Cycle through different sitting positions.
- Look for the furthest parking spot instead of the one closest to the store.
- Stretch while watching TV or reading rather than sitting on the couch.
- Read Don’t Just Sit There, by Katy Bowman for ways to get in more movement while you work.
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.