Never too old.

You're never too old to feel good!


For some reason I have been hearing the "I'm getting old" excuse from a handful of people, young and older lately and it bothers me. The phrase is often made in reference to some kind of chronic pain that is limiting their lives. When I hear, "I'm just old," the soap box rolls out of nowhere and I take a big step up and say what I am about to share here with you. "It's not your age that's hurting you, it's your movement patterns. Even though you can't change your biological age, you can change the way you move and feel."

As the days go on I witness my son discovering how to move about in his growing body. He is 4 month old and rolling from back to front, then pushing with his hands to lift up and look around. It's the best cobra pose I've ever seen (but I'm admittedly a bit biased)! He is learning to move in this gravity environment for the first ime and wow, it's awesome to witness. When my wife was recovering her strength after birth, she mimicked his tummy time, and recovered her neck and upper back strength within a few sessions. I'm looking forward to our crawling sessions in the next weeks :)

As we age, it seems that we take movement for granted. In fact, we can spend hours slumped in front of the blue screen without moving more than our typing or scrolling fingers. This sets us up for a slow return to the fetal position and our bodies don't seem to like it one bit. The external stimulation overpowers our body's signals of pain and discomfort, and over time the signal becomes less apparent until it is too late (or so it may seem).

What I mean by "too late" is that the physical body is breaking down and much of the time it continues silently. You don't hear discs expanding and pushing out on nerves, or feel the osteophytes (bone growth associated with spinal degeneration) growing and adapting to the increased loads of collapsed, stagnant posture.

I have good news and bad news about this. I'll give you the bad news first. Yes, you are getting older, this is true. But, here's the good news: you can take charge and pull yourself up and away from the force of gravity that is slowly, creepily pulling you down and in. The challenging piece is that you must bring your awareness back to your breath and body from time-to-time throughout the day, every day.

Only you can remind yourself to take a break. Only you can remember that you haven't stood up or had a drink of water in the last few hours. There are applications that will black out your screen for a time for you to step into the self-care mode. You can also set a timer on your phone every 20-30 minutes. If you're feeling chronic pain, remember, that it took you time to get to where you are and it will take some time to get you out of it. 

Foundation Training (FT) is the best way I know how to do this. It will not fix everything, but it will fix a lot of things. We start with decompressing the spine and expanding the rig cages capacity. FT creates space and lasting change when you make time for yourself. Even 10-15 minutes a day will help. I'm here to support you in person and by Skype or Zoom video calls.

Healthy reminder: I am hosting a FT workshop at POST Clinic/ Gravity 101 in Redwood City March 3rd, 9am-11am. I'll teach you a few powerful moves, so you "get it" in your body. After the workshop, I'll send a follow-up video to help remind you of the most important tips to incorporate into your daily routines.

Entire body breathing.

Breathe your whole body

After observing many people breath in this world, one thing is very clear: rarely do I see mobility in the rib cage. I often see people breathe shallow or breathe in the front part of their rib cage only. 60-65% of your lung field lives in the back of your body. When you breathe more fully and expansively, your whole system runs better. It's like pumping full octane fuel instead of the 87.

You may find yourself breathing fuller when you exercise at your maximum output. The breath expands to meet the muscles' demands. But, what if you could actively mobilize your ribs and thoracic spine, and engage your breathing muscles and lungs at any time of day? Doing this creates more space for your heart and digestive organs, and enhaces the oxygen/carbon dioxid exchange in your tissues.

If you are new to AnatomySense, welcome! For those who have been following me for awhile you know where I might be going with this. Decompressing Breathing is how I found my fullest breath. It took time and practice, for sure, but it has changed my body from the inside out. I use it throughout the day as a quick reset for my posture and to bring mindful awareness to the moment.

Breathing with intention brings focus and clarity. Breathing through active tension brings freedom and space.

You see, your body is in a losing battle with the invisable force of gravity. What makes the battle even more challenging for many of us is our lack of awareness around our most dominatling extremity - the head. Bring it back, bring it back, bring it back and lead with your breath not with your head!

Here's how:
Draw your head back over your body to lengthen the sub-occipital triangle (picture below). Make sure not to extend your neck or tuck your chin too much. Now it's time to love yourself. Give yourself a big hug, wrapping your arms around you so your elbows are stacked on each other. I call this the alligator hug. While keeping the back of your neck long and your alligator hug strong, take 5 deep breaths into your back body. Feel your back-body becoming more spacious with every inhalation. Send the breath to the uppermost portions of your spine and to the lowest aspect of your posterior rib cage around your kidney level. Once you feel the opening and lengthening of your back-body, release the alligator hug and take a few deep breaths into your entire rib cage, front, back and sides - 360 degrees. Feel your rib cage lift up and away from your pelvis. Decompress and win the battle against gravity.

Once you train your body to be open and spacious it is much easier to find it again. This is best way I know to create space in my body. I practice this breath throughout my day many, many times. I encourage you to do it as well and see how you feel in body and mind.

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Stretching redefined

Why stretch when you can load!


I often hear from my patients: "I stretch to relieve the pain, but the effects don't last long," or "I have to roll out my quads every day." We often think stretching is the answer to common aches, pains and tightness in the body. Why are we stretching and why are the effects short-lived?

For this discussion, I am mainly referring to traditional at-home stretch exercises, rather than yoga. Yoga has tremendous benefits for the entire body and soul, and I incorporate it into my daily practice. An emphasis on breath, flow, strength and length connects the limbs, mind and heart thus creating integrated expansion versus simple stretching.

Typically, stretches at home are small pieces of the puzzle that do not target the real reason why you may be feeling "tight" or uneasy in your body. You see, we are a sitting society that folds over and towards our work in ways that compress the front (ventral) side of the body, while overstretching and under-facilitating the back (dorsal) side. This limits the body's natural ability to disperse the constant downward force of gravity.

Our modern postural adaptation is actually increasing the compression and accelerating its effect throughout the body. Sitting also turns off essential postural muscles, such as hamstrings, glutes and back muscles. Simple stretches (think of forward folds, where you passively reach for your toes to "stretch" tight lower back) can accentuate already lengthened, weak hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

When your body absorbs forces in focal areas, then vital blood supply and nerves that give you life and freedom to do what you love will be compressed and compromised. What else contributes to this compression and tension? Posture, stress, emotions, acidity, chronic and acute injuries...

What I am getting to is this: your body needs, and I mean needs! to be lifted, elevated, expanded, and decompressed to thrive. Simple stretches are local short-term solutions for a global problem. Stretching may provide relief for a short time, but doesn't target the real reason why you may be feeling hamstring "tightness", low back pain, headaches, knee pain, sciatica, neck pain etc. The body is meant to disperse forces across larger muscles groups called chains. Think about it this way: we are actually 1 muscle held in over 600 bags, instead of a group of individual muscles that perform specific, independent tasks. That is why posture is so important. Posture is an endurnace sport. Training yourself to stand up tall will bring more chains of muscles into action.

Another question to consider around stretching is this: What prevents you from reverting to those habitual patterns of "tightness"? What I have found is that loading (engaging) and lengthening your tissues at the same time - eccentric loading - connects these chains of muscles and beneficial tension across the whole body in a healthy way (rather than at a focal point (joints) that may already be over-stressed). Practiced regularly and over time, this will make you stronger, more flexible and even taller.

The practice that I teach and live by on a daily basis is Foundation Training. Many of you have heard of FT, read the book, watched the DVD's, or taken a class, but to get the full benefits you really need to live it every day. Changing your relationship to chronic holding patterns and breath patterns takes time and dedication. The key is to remember to practice more often throughout the day and not to forget that you have the ability to consciously rewire your patterns. You can do it!

Breathing is serious business

Take and deep breath, this is serious.

How you breathe and where you breathe is a big deal. I've written about this in past mailers, but the importance and the power of the breath can't be stressed enough. The Serratus Posterior Inferior and Superior muscles (the chevron-shaped muscles in the pictures) are waiting to be used in the way they were meant. The way so many of us sit rounds the back and overstretches these muscles.

An easy way to change this is to decompress. Easier said than done. For those of you who have dipped your feet into Foundation Training know the power is in paying attention to the details, and regularly checking in with yourself throughout the day.

The purpose of this email is to remind you of your breath and to tell you to get as big and wide as you can with your breath. The arrows in the picture show expansion in all directions; front, back, sides, top and bottom. The trick is to keep the expansion as you exhale. Think about a balloon increasing in size and building tension as you inflate it to its maximum. Your intention is to create tension, by pulling the outer edges of your lungs away from the midline of your body. This counteracts the tendency to collapse towards the midline, which compresses the soft tissues along with digestion, circulatory and respiratory systems to name a few. You have the power to change not only your posture, but your overall health through decompression breathing. It simply takes awareness and a microbreak with a series of 10 breaths at least once an hour.

Here's a little spacial exercise so you can really experience this:
If you are sitting, sit on the front of your sit bones with shins vertical, big toes touching, heels 2 inches apart.
If you are standing, stand with big toes touching, heels 2 inches apart, weight in your heels and knees soft.

In the picture above you will see some muscles at the base of the skull - the suboccipitals. Lengthen those by pulling your skull back over your body/ shoulders. You should feel a slight bit of tensional length ("stretch").

Take a deep slow inhale (5 count) through your nose, sensing your rib cage widening and lifting. Exhale. Take another inhale, noticing where your breath naturally goes. Is it more belly, or are you noticing that your back is extending to create space. Stop both of those habits. Let your entire ribcage expand, especially the back through your thoracic spine - this region of your spine has the most amount of joints and is the longest.

Bring one hand to your heart and one hand to your belly. Take another deep breath through your nose feeling your abdomen pulling away from your hand. As you breathe up you are creating tension along with length. You can visualize this when you think of the finger torture toys you used to use as a kid. When you pull the ends away from each other, the center tightens. Exhale.

Take another slow inhale. On this exhale, keep the expansion. Don't let your rib cage drop. One inhale and exhale is 1 rep. Repeat this cycle 10 times every hour as a microbreak. You are creating space from within and your body will thank you.

The serratus muscles (muscles in picture) actively lengthen and support your upper back, neck and lower back when you retrain them with this breathing pattern.

Forward folding done correctly

Functional Forward Folds


In my workshops I teach about the importance of a functional forward fold. Here are the main actions:

  • transfer your weight into your heels
  • extend your lumbar spine slightly
  • unlock your knees
  • hinge at your hips (rather than flex/bend through your lumbar spine)

Try practicing this with a bar held along your spine, touching your occiput, thoracic spine, and sacrum (see the video below). After you hinge as far as you can, let the bar slide off your back and fold forward, bringing your hands to the ground or yoga blocks. Make sure your hips stay behind your heels, and your knees behind your mid foot. To transition up to standing, bring your hands to your shins and engage your hamstrings and glutes to reverse the hinge. After doing this exercise with the bar at least 10-15 times you will get a sense of how to move from your hips rather than from your low back.

Your future back will thank you.


Fascia


I love talking about fascia and how it links everything in our body. Although it is important to know the names and functions of individual muscles, you will have a greater understanding of the moving body if you think in terms of fascial trains and kinetic chains.

Remember the posterior chain - a group of muscles connected by fascia running from the bottom of your feet along your entire backside, up to the back of your head, helping to support you in gravity. This is what we work with in functional forward folds.

Knees and what they do.

Knees...

What are knees anyway? How do they function? When do they get upset? What can you do to keep them Happy?

First the anatomy:
The knee is the largest joint in your body. The entire joint is about the size of your hand fully extended. It is made up of your femur and tibia. If you make 2 fists and put them together your knee kind of looks like that. The main motions are flexion (heel to butt) and extension. There is also some internal and external rotation at the knee joint.

The hamstrings are the main knee movers and groovers, and are located on the back side of your thigh. The muscles on the front side of your thigh are called the quads. The Hamstrings and Quads have a pretty cool paradoxical relationship: when you transition from sitting to standing their length stays the same, even though they are antagonistic muscles (opposing actions). See, the hamstrings extend your hip and flex your knee, while the quads flex your hip and extend your knee.

In the body there is a dynamic relationship between Mobility and Stability to produce optimum function and efficient movement. Ideally, the ankle joint is mobile, knee joint stable, and hip joint mobile. This alternating relationship of mobility and stability extends all the way up the body. So, if your ankle is locked (from previous injury, scar tissue, overly tight muscles, or shoe choice), then your knees will make up for lost motion and become relatively unstable, and your hips will become more stable (i.e., tight). Classic example and my beef with the ladies is high heels. High heels lock the ankle into a position, which upsets the mobility/stability model all the way up the body.

The hips are the driving force that translates and distributes energy from your feet up your spine, and back down. Since we live in a mostly 90 degree culture where sitting is how we do the majority of our travel and work, the glute muscles atrophy, meaning they are on extended vacation. The glutes, including all the deep hip rotators, help move the femur (thigh bone), which connects directly to the knee. The strength and endurance of your glutes is essential for proper knee placement and function.

Can you see how the health of your knees is in a direct relationship to your ankles and hips? What I tell my patients is that if you are experiencing knee pain with no specific injury to the knee, check the ankle and the hip.

Here are some exercises:
Practice standing on 1 foot and on uneven surfaces to bring strength and mobility to your ankles.

Strengthen your glutes by standing on 1 leg, while lifting your other leg up to 90 degrees hip and knee flexion. Make sure that your iliac crest (generally where your belt is) stays level. Hold that position and see if you can feel some engagement on your standing leg. For a little more awareness let your flexed hip drop down a little bit to the side, as if you are pouring out some tea from your greater trochanter (knobby bone on the side of your femur), and then re-level your hips. You can repeat that 5-10 times. Now there are many, many more exercises to engage your hips and we can go over those in class at a later date.

Are you sitting right?

Are you sitting right?

I don't know about you, but when I go out for lunch or dinner I look at how people sit, and it scares me. The amount of people who are sitting in what I would call good posture is close to 0%. Their backs look more like bananas rather than nice vertical columns of ingenious design, and their heads look like they are about to fall off the front of their bodies!

What is "good" posture? I hear and read everything from shoulders back, chin back, straight back, back, back, back...The truth is the human spine is not designed to be straight. The curves help distribute gravity and allow proper movement to occur, while protecting your spinal cord. When the spine is straight it can actually put tension on the spinal cord which could lead to a myriad of issues that I could talk to you about in detail some other time.

Posture is all about the Goldie Locks effect. Not too straight, not too curved, but just right. Let me give you a great analogy that I found on a Ted Talk about proper posture. Imagine a tail extending from the back of your sacrum (the flat inverted triangular bone on the back side of your pelvis). Most people sit on their tail - imagine a very unhappy or scared dog. Instead, sit so your tail extends straight back from your sacrum - happy dog.

Here are some basic steps to do this: First, when you begin to sit down, hinge at your hips (which you will learn in class, or watch my hip hinge video) so the weight goes into your heels and your butt leads the way down. Said in another way: sit down as if you are about to fall back over your heels, while engaging your muscles to maintain control. Next, get a little more familiar with your gluteal anatomy. With your hand grab under your butt muscles and find a bony protuberence. This is your ischial tuberosity, better known as sitting bone. Its is actually closer to your pelvic floor and further in than you might think. Once you find it, shift your weight so you can easily pull the sitting bone away from the opposite knee. Repeat on the other side. If you did it correctly you should be sitting more firmly on your sitting bones. Be sure to pull the bone back, not just the superficial flesh and muscle. The latter could lead to micro tears and no one wants a torn buttocks. :) From here, lift through your spine, and practice your decompression breathing.

This is just part of the puzzle to proper sitting. Good posture is made from engaging a bunch of muscles and linking them so they can stabilize and support each other. Now we have to get you to access the muscles to assist in keeping your spine stable and strong. And to do that, you can come take a Foundation Training class or buy the DVD  :)

I urge you to observe how you and others sit, and let that mobilize you to learn how to  improve your posture, and even your confidence and happiness.