Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New business, New blog.

Hey All!  This is just a super quick shorty post to let you all know that I have moved my blog over to www.livealigned.ca .  I'm finally embarking on my new career path (whoot!) teaching alignment to other people, so I have a super snazzy new website which includes a blog.  It's just easier that way.  And now you won't have to work so hard to find all my info in one area.  :)  I really hope to see you all over on my new page!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Internal Dialogue. or, Don't cultivate boring assholery.

One of the biggest concepts I've learned from the alignment program is to do stuff that is necessary and not harmful, and to let go of everything else.  Like standing with my weight behind me (necessary) and turning off my quads (harmful). The more I apply this concept to my body, the more I feel I should apply it to my mind as well.  I'm seeing similarities and parallels between body and mind that are making me realize that they're not separate, they're just 2 aspects of the same thing.  Just like how each leaf on a tree is connected to the roots, the mind and body are just pieces of a whole, and the health of one affects the health of the other.

So, I've been monitoring my thoughts lately, trying to get a good overview of how my mind is functioning most of the time.  I mean, I know it works, I'm just not sure ti's always working on what I'd like it to be working on.  Here's what it was beginning to sound like between my ears:

"God I'm tired.  Look at that mess.  I don't want to clean that up.  I cleaned up a lot yesterday.  I hate how much cleaning I have to do.  We are out of rice milk.  I don't want to go to the store.  It's too hot, and Myriam might not want to walk, then I'll have to carry her.  If I take the car someone stupid might get in my way . Like that guy that time who cut me off.  I was so pissed!  What is wrong with people?  Am I gonna get a chance to read today?  I need a break.  I hope Myriam goes to sleep soon.  And I am NOT sitting on the bed while she falls asleep.  What a waste of time.  I always feel like I waste so much time...it's so irritating..."

Nah, what's really irritating is my shitty attitude.  SERIOUSLY, STOP WHINING ALREADY!!  I'm boring!  Can you imagine if I actually talked like that all the time?  I'd have no friends, no one would want to be around me.  After listening to my own crappy internal dialogue, I don't want to be around me.  I keep myself very poor company (which is maybe why I always want to be distracted by movies or reading instead of just being with myself.)  This is what I'm trying to stop.  Let go of those boring complainy negative thoughts, and put my mind to better use.  But how to do this?  How can you just decide to use your mind in a less harmful more productive way?

Well, for starters you just decide to use your mind in a less harmful, more productive way.  I'm serious!  Really listen to yourself for a while, and if you don't like what you hear, change the subject.  Everyone has to have something they're interested in besides complaining.  I change the subject to blog posts.  Or I think about a drawing I might like to do.  I think about business stuff.  When it's really hard I read a cool book and I think about that instead (for me it's usually some sociology or evolutionary biology, something that gives me ideas and helps me put my own thoughts together).  You could even pull a Marge Simpson and think about items you would like to purchase.  Whatever you gotta do.

The cool thing is that it really is up to you what you think about (unless you have some kind of actual psychological problem, which I don't, I'm just annoying sometimes).  I'm not saying that I'm trying not to have a negative thought again.  I'm just trying to do it the most minimal amount necessary.  When I've been sufficiently negative (i.e., when I want to shove hot pokers in my eyes cause I'm so flilpping boring) then I start to think about other stuff instead.  If all else fails, then I take a walk in the blazing heat to the store to get milk.  By the time I get back I'm way too tired from carrying my 2 year old to really gripe about much!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Death after life.

What a grim title, eh?  I don't mean it literally.  It's just that my first few days back home after spending a week alone in California have been...an adjustment.  Maybe it's just that I forgot what it was like to be momming it up 24/7, but what I recall as a moderate challenge seems to have become a vertical climb up a slippery mud mountain.  During monsoon season.

I spent the week in California contemplating a simple lifestyle.  I passed the days focusing on where my body was in space, separating one movement from another, learning how to turn off muscles that weren't essential to the task, turning down the level of noise in the background of my life.  My thoughts were clear, my body relaxed.  Without having to calm a tantrum, wash a dish, sweep a floor, or cook a proper meal everyday my mind was quiet enough to have real thoughts.  I even started coming up with epiphanies on the plane ride home about forgiveness, responsibility, letting go, and serving others.  I was seriously feeling my consciousness elevate into some kind of freaky enlightenment and I was going all Siddhartha Gautama all over the place.

But then real life began again at the baggage claim in the airport, with an immediate cry for milk (from my daughter addressed to me) followed by a long drawn out bedtime, which ended in watching a movie on the couch with a toddler awkwardly flopping in my arms as she finally allowed herself to succumb.  The baby I returned to seems older, smarter, more determined and curious, with a heaping extra spoonful of impatience, and about 50% less emotional stability.  I've never seen someone lose it so hard over whether on not their sippy cup has a lid.  I'm looking around the kitchen for a severed finger, or a missing foot, certainly something dreadful must have happened as I was putting the lid on her cup to cause her to scream and collapse and lament "noooo, nooooo  NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" Finally, from her position face down on the floor, she gasps "cup.  open" between sobs.  I remove the lid.  The clouds break and light beams from her face. "Merci mommy".  I wanted to ask "WHAT THE F*@K WAS THAT?!" But that would be inappropriate.

So now I'm presented with this new challenge.  How do I get back to that mental state while still living in the real world?  It was so easy for me to wisely talk about responding to stimulus appropriately, only experiencing the minimum amount of emotion necessary in response to crap that goes on in life, keeping calm through adversity and all that crap...but  that was when I was sleeping and didn't have someone groping and squeezing my boobs yelling "milk! nurse!" every 2 seconds.  Now,  back in reality I want to be face down on the floor screaming NOOOO as well.  Was it really like this before I left?  Had I just become numb to the stimulus, had I just adapted to my crazy environment?  Get back to me next week and I'll let you know if I figured it out.  Right now I have to go decide what to make for lunch and empty the garbage and bring out the compost and wash the diapers and put away the dishes I washed this morning and...and...and....stretch my hamstrings.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Wait, what? Kegels DON'T work?

Have you heard about this yet?  How Kegels don't actually work and how they actually make pelvic floor problems WORSE over time?  That doesn't really make sense, I know.  If you constantly flex a muscle, it makes it stronger, and that's better, right?   Well, it's true that you do have to use a muscle to maintain it's health.  There are, however, 2 parts to using a muscle.  The contraction, and the following release of the muscle.  Both parts are very important for the function of any skeletal muscle (those are muscles that make you move around, as opposed to the muscle of your heart or intestines which do their own thing without your asking them to).

Here's a picture of some skeletal muscle.  A simple way to think of muscle is as overlapping blocks.  When the muscle stretches, the gaps between the blocks widen.  When the muscle contracts, the gaps between the blocks get smaller.  A muscle, at it's most contracted or it's shortest length, has no gaps.

Here's a simplified side view of a pelvis (and legs and some ribcage and spine).

Here's what happens when you sit on your tailbone on a chair, or couch, or the floor.  When you put pressure on your tailbone, it pushes it into your pelvic cavity and puts slack in your pelvic floor and makes it like a hammock.

Skeletal muscle doesn't like to be floppy or saggy, however, so it will actually rearrange itself by closing the gaps to be taut again.  This isn't the same as contracting a muscle to make it shorter though.  This is the muscle changing its resting length.  If the resting length of your bicep changed like this, you wouldn't be able to straighten your arm.  It would just be bent all the time without you flexing to get it there.  The muscle becomes permanently short (unless you started stretching it back out again.)

 So when you have slack in your pelvic floor all the time (too much sitting and pelvis tucking), it will become short, and therefore weak.  When the pelvic floor is in it's shortest position, it can no longer contract properly.  In order to contract, there must be enough length in the muscle for it to close the gaps.  If the gaps are already almost closed, the muscle can't contract as much as it needs to in order to maintain proper function. (ie, you start peeing when you laugh.)

Here's what happens during a Kegel.  The pelvic floor contracts into its shortest position and tugs the tailbone even further into the pelvic cavity over time.  Often, people that do Kegels are doing them because they already have some kind of pelvic floor problem, which is probably a too short or tight pelvic floor.  So when you do a Kegel, you contract the muscle even further, to it's absolute shortest length.  If you do this enough, and you never lengthen the muscle back out, the muscle will eventually arrange itself so that the gaps stay closed.  Once the gaps are closed, there is no possibility to generate force!  This is where really bad pelvic floor disorder comes from, including things like urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, chronic pelvic and low back pain, stuff like that.

Even if you're not doing Kegels, if you go around with your pelvic floor really tense all the time, it creates the same problem.  Right now as you're reading this, see if you can relax your pelvic floor without peeing.  If you were able to relax and not pee, you were tensing your pelvic floor too much, and shortening it.  It's like doing an all day low intensity Kegel, which is not good for the health of your pelvic floor.  Your pelvic floor really only has to be tense enough to hold in your pee, you don't need to clench it all the time.

So, what should we do instead of a Kegel for a healthy pelvic floor?  There is actually a lot you can do to fix this problem!  My top 4 tips (out of like, a gazillion) are:

1.  Stop sitting on your sacrum. (click)  Try to stand up as much as possible.
2.  Stop doing Kegels, and check in with your body as often as you can to make sure you're not over-contracting your pelvic floor.
3.  Stretch your hamstrings.  A LOT.  Here's how you can do it every time you bend over. (click)
4.  Use your glutes!  The glutes offer counter tension on the tailbone, which pulls the pelvic floor taught again without any muscle rearranging and shortening. (here's a sweet class you can buy and do at home. click)

For further information, check out this blog post (click) over at Katy Says.  There is so much good info over here!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Don't just stand there! How are you *actually* supposed to stand?

There's a lot of talk in the media these days about how standing is way better for you than sitting, but did you know there's actually a "right" way to stand?  Here it is: space your feet pelvis width apart, line up the outside edges of your feet, fully straighten your legs, relax your quads, and carry your weight in your heels (get your hips directly above your heels).  This advice may be different from what you've heard over the years, like "keep your knees soft (slightly bent)", or "tuck your pelvis under to engage your core".  So who's right?  How do you know which advice to follow?  In my opinion, you should follow the advice that doesn't do damage to any of your body parts.  Read on, you'll see what I mean. 
First image: hips forward, loading the feet.  Second image, knees bent, loading the knees and the feet.      Third image, hips over heels, loading the posterior muscles.
Let's start with the feet.  Your feet are like your hands, your toes are like your fingers.  If you did a handstand, you probably wouldn't let your body go forward and put your weight on your fingers, you'd keep it in the heel of your hand, closest to your wrist.  The rules are the same for the foot.  Your feet actually house 25% of your body's bones and muscles, and are packed full of nerves.  The fact that your feet are capable of an infinite number of positions and are so sensitive to pressure, shape and texture suggests that they are made to read information from the environment.

A nice, flexible foot will be able to form to the surface you are walking on, giving you greater stability.  If your foot can't move to accommodate a rock or a hole in the ground, or a rogue Lego, some other joint will have to (sprained ankle, knee), or you fall over and break a hip.

The side of my foot can come up over the block so I don't have to fling my whole body to the floor to avoid getting hurt.  If I carried my weight in my toes, this would be very painful.

When you carry your weight on your toes, your foot has to contract and grip the ground all the time to hold you up.  This puts a significant amount of strain on the small muscles and soft tissues of your feet, makes the muscle stiff and unyielding, and actually cuts off blood flow to your foot.  Your poor foot loses its fantastic range of motion and will be in pain and may even start to deform from the strain (bunions, hammer toes, flat feet, etc.)

The size of muscles and bones can give us a clue to their intended function.  Bigger muscles and bones should be doing heavy load bearing work.  Smaller muscle and bone is more for proprioception and other functions, like the delicate task of capturing nose goblins from a sleeping 2 year old.  When you carry your weight back in your heels and turn OFF your quads, you allow the large muscles on the back of your leg and your butt to hold your weight, rather than the teeny tiny bits and pieces that make up your feet. 

Another thing to look at is the effect of a contracted muscle on other parts of your body.  When you use the back of your legs and your butt to hold you up, your butt muscles gently tug your tailbone outward, which maintains a healthy tone to your pelvic floor ( it is attached to your tailbone).  Cool!  When you use your quads to hold you up, either by having your hips shoved forward or having your knees bent, it pulls your kneecap up and into the knee joint, grinding through the cartilage, creating lots of friction and inflammation, leading to chronic pain/disease, eventually knee replacement.  Uh-oh.  Also, you lose any toning effect on the pelvic floor.  Dang.

The last thing I'll mention is the effect that the placement of your weight has on your bones.  In order for your hip bones (femoral heads) to develop and maintain their proper density, your legs MUST be vertical.  Your leg bone is triggered to grow (ie, NOT degenerate over time) through the compression it gets between the ground and gravity. 

A tilted leg bone, as in hips forward OR knees bent, is not getting the right amount of compression, which means your bones are not as strong as they have to be for your weight.  If I weigh 100 lbs, I want my bones to be able to handle that weight when I'm walking, or if I have to jump to avoid getting hit by a bus, or if I'm going downstairs and I think there's another step but there's not and I land hard on my leg and get that jolt that reverberates through my skull (we've all done it) .  If I don't bear my weight on my bones properly, that means that maybe they'll only be able to handle 85% of my weight, which is bad news for me in the above scenarios.  I don't know about you, but I'd REALLY rather have my bones strong enough to hold me up, since I have an aversion to chronic pain and osteoporosis and hip fracture.

(A side note, this is why time spent sitting is such a big factor in the development of osteoporosis.  Those hours you spend sitting in a chair are hours that you're telling your bones to go on vacation.  A horizontal bone isn't getting ANY compression from gravity, so it isn't getting ANY signal to replenish!)

So there's my case for standing with your weight in your heels, and for learning how to relax your quads when you stand around.   Makes sense, doesn't it?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The body's check engine light:how to know if you're wrecking the crap out of your machine.

I'm going to use some references and comparisons to machines today to help illustrate some points about the human body.  Sometimes it seems like people aren't comfortable thinking of their body as a machine (with correct and incorrect ways of use) even though that's what it is; a living machine.  To ensure the proper functioning of a machine, you have to make sure you're using it properly, the way it was designed to be used.  Dont' use a lawnmower on a rock beach.  Don't use a snow blower as a wood chipper (especially not Fargo style, ew.)  Don't use your drill as a hammer, etc.  Your body and its parts are subject to the same rules.  Don't use your forefoot as a heel (to carry your weight), don't use your knee as a hip, don't use your low back as a hip, etc.  What I'm trying to say, is don't let one body part do the work that another body part was specifically designed to do.  When you use your parts to do stuff they weren't designed to do, they start breaking down prematurely (so stop calling it a part of aging!  you're just doin' it wrong.)

So, how do we know that machines are breaking down?  Sometimes they straight up break.  Sometimes they stop functioning properly, like when your drill will run but it does "grrungg, chk, chk,chk (grinding sound here) vrrrrggg".   Others, like your car, have a sweet warning system, a red flag: the check engine light.  What do you generally do when the check engine light comes on?  Put a piece of black tape over it? Outta sight, outta mind? Just because you don't see it, or aren't thinking about it, doesn't mean you won't still have to deal with the eventual consequence of ignoring the problem.  Personally, I think "oh man, the check engine light!  Better get this piece of crap into the garage before this issue destroys my car".

What's that you say?  Your body doesn't have a check engine light, or a complicated on board computer system that lets you know when something is wrong?  Of course it does!  You have a very technical system, called your nervous system, which monitors your body, and has a very clear check engine light to let you know you suck at operating your machine.  It's PAIN.  When something hurts, it's a pretty good indication that something's wrong.  A malfunction, or a misuse of sorts.  We don't always pay attention to this warning system until it's too late though, and our machine starts getting wrecked. :( 

We don't even realize we're ignoring our check engine lights!  Sure we go to the doctor, and we usually end up taking some kind of pain medication or anti inflammatory or giant needle in the joint.   Here's the kicker:  taking these medications is like putting black tape over the light.  Just because you bring down the inflammation, or can't feel the pain, doesn't mean that the ROOT CAUSE is gone.  Say you have inflammation in your knee because you walk with your foot turned out, and you depend on your quadriceps to do the work of your backside.  Then you take an anti-inflammatory and a pain medication.  Weeee!  The pain is gone!  But you didn't address the actual reason for the pain in your knee, so the damage continues to be done, until you need a knee replacement. 

If you hear yourself saying "but my pain is from arthritis" or "my bunion is hereditary" or "my back hurts for (insert whatever reason here)", maybe you should get a second opinion from a restorative exercise specialist (like me!! :D).  Soooo much of this stuff is due to user error (you're the user, and you're using it incorrectly), and if you can learn to start using your machine correctly, you can stop wrecking the crap out of it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why I love to walk with my kiddlet.

I recently got back from a wonderful trip to Newfoundland where I was visiting my family.  I love it so much there, not only because it's my home, also because it speaks to a really human part of me.  It's a place where I feel acutely aware that couches and cement aren't part of the "natural order" of things.  The primal human in me feels a little more at home in the setting of looming cliffs and close trees.  As my daughter grows up, it's important to me that she gets to spend time in actual nature.  I feel like it's essential for her development as a biological human, if that makes sense.  She has to know where she came from, what she would have called home 40,000 years ago.  When we go walking here around the house, it's mostly on paved trails with the distant sound of 18 wheelers rumbling down the road.  In Newfoundland, there are rugged trails meandering high into the cliffs, old trees creaking in the wind, and the rhythmic "shhhh... shhh ... shhhhh" of the ocean meeting land far below.  It feels really untouched and authentic (because it is).

It's actually really important for a child's physical development as well to be able to wander around in environments like this.  So while we were in Newfoundland we took Myriam for her first 2 real hikes.  Though she's only been walking for 6 months or so, she didnt' have much trouble adjusting to the uneven ground beneath her feet.  In a super soft leather shoe, she could feel every pine needle under her heel, and her foot could splay like a hand as it formed to the shape of a root or rock.  All the muscles in her little feet worked in harmony to keep her vertical (most of the time).  1 hour, and over 200 pictures later, she finally asked to come up for a rest in my arms, at which point I had to carry her over the same bumpy terrain until we got back to the beach.  Luckily I was wearing my own thin soled moccasins, and didn't worry about falling down.

It's really important for babies and young children to start going on walks early in their life.  Basically, as soon as they can walk they should walk.  A Lot.  Children gain mass very quickly, and it's essential that their muscles get a chance to develop at the same rate.  Babies are born with the ability to hold themselves up, but if we start them off right away with passive positioning (car seat, bouncy chair, cradled in your arm) then they gain mass but do not get any muscle development along with it.  That means that the muscle they have is no longer strong enough to hold them up.  It's the same for their legs.  They should go for a walk every single day, for as long as it takes for them to reach their limit.  Some days it's gonna be 10 minutes around the block, some days it might be 45 minutes before they need a break.  Don't shy away from difficult terrain either.  Just let them do it.  That way they're building their endurance and strength, their muscles will never be too weak to support them.

Don't forget that their little feet are always growing and developing too, so be sure to keep them out of stiff, bulky shoes and in non-restrictive thin soled footwear. That will give the foot muscles a chance to develop properly as well.   And never EVER let your kid wear shoes that are too small. 

Getting our kids out walking does amazing things for all of you!  It's so great for your body, but it also creates some wonderful memories.  I know it's one of the things I remember most about my childhood.  Walking with my mom on a rock beach on a sunny summer afternoon, padding along after the first snowfall in the dark singing Christmas carols, scooting over to the park after work with mom and dad to take a walk in the back trails.  It's something we still do to this day when we're in the same city, and I'm almost 30 years old now.  That's more than 25 years of creating something special with my folks.  And check me out now, repeating the cycle with my own chicklet!

Start young.  Don't mind the weather.  Dont' mind the time.  Find exciting places.  Walk the same boring route.  Go with friends.  Go for hours.  Go for 10 minutes.  Go as often as your kid asks.  No one's ever said "well that walk was a waste of time" (unless they're stupid).  No one's ever said "I wish I spent less time walking with Mom and Dad and more time watching tv alone in my room."  No one's ever said "We should have spent more time in the car." 

Thanks a lot to my dad who spent this walk with a camera stuck to his face.  I really appreciate it.  :)