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Category Archives: Stretches and Exercises

We all know we’re not doing everything we could be doing for maximum health, right?  Who among us gets all the sleep we need in a perfectly dark, cool, quiet room?  What about getting all the movement and stretching we need and all the water we need while breathing crystal clean air and eating perfectly healthy food in a totally stress-free environment every day?  Anyone?  Bueller?  I certainly haven’t met anyone living that life.

But that’s no reason to throw up our hands in surrender.  Modern, westernized living may not be the ideal prescription for health, but there are a few small changes each of us can make to ensure that our bodies work pretty well for a lot longer than average, if we’re just willing to do them.  Yes, I’d love to see each of my clients (and myself, for that matter) move out into the wilderness and and totally commit themselves to health.  But until that comes to pass, try these six things for a better functioning body, now and as you age.

1.  Move more.  We’re all too sedentary and that’s just a fact.  I’ve seen 671 different clients so far and I think 5 of them were getting enough movement every day.  All 5 of them were under the age of 1.  Back in the day when we needed to move to find and prepare food, to carry water, and to travel from one place to another, we moved all day. Now, we can do all those things with very, very little movement.  The more your move, the more your body will thank you, so try adding movement breaks into your work schedule as well as your weekend relaxing schedule.

2. Move differently. Think about the different positions available to a given body and then think about the positions your particular body assumes in a given day.  I think I only get about 10 if I’m not careful: sitting in chair, standing, sitting on couch, lying down to sleep, sitting on the floor to put shoes on, reaching my arms up to pull a shirt over my head…boring.   When was the last time I tried to do a cartwheel?  Or army crawled from the bedroom into the living room?  Honestly, I don’t think I’ve EVER army crawled from the bedroom to the living room, but I totally could.  I’ve walked that trip a gazillion times.  Why not mix it up with a crab walk or a bear crawl?  Somersault.  Hop on one foot.  Build an obstacle course between the bedroom and the living room.  Move all of your body in all of the ways.

3. Spend time without shoes on.  I know I sound like a broken record and I’ve said it a million times.  But it’s just so dang important.  Our whole entire body is supported by our feet. And most shoes restrict and alter the ability of our feet to support our bodies.  Let your feet do their jobs!  If you’ve spent your whole life shod, start small, with a few minutes a day on the carpet and work up to hours outside on natural terrain.  Since you’re already building obstacle courses in your house this winter (you are, right?), build a pillow path along your most-used routes to gently build your foot, ankle, and knee strength up so you can be barefoot in the grass when it’s warm enough.

4. Squat.  This is one of those movements that is required for a healthy spine, a healthy pelvis, and a healthy digestive system.  But thanks to chairs, tables, toilets, and outsourcing our food production, we don’t need to squat throughout the day, many, many times a day.  So most of us don’t.  Which leads to so, so, so many problems down the road.  Pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence, constipation, and low back pain, just to get started.  Incorporating just two minutes of squatting into your day, every day, can drastically change your expected health in the long run.  I’m not talking 30 reps in the gym, but actually hanging out in a squat.  Ideally, you’d have your heels on the ground and your tailbone untucked while squatting, but after a lifetime of not needing to squat, most of us can’t do that squat without years and years of stretching and bodywork (Rolfing can help!).  Like it or not, your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones all grow into the shapes we use the most.  Which means after not squatting your whole life, you can’t just start doing full, proper squats today because you decided to.  But you can start the process.  And that’s what matters.

5.  Hang.  Just like with squats, we used to need this movement for survival; climbing trees to scout our direction of travel or to look for danger, to pick delicious food from branches, to stay safe, etc.  And now, well, when was the last time you swung from the monkey bars or pulled yourself up into a tree?  Unfortunately, just like with squats, most of us have long lost the flexibility and strength required to safely extend our arms above our heads and support our full body weight.  If we hadn’t, I’m sure we’d see a lot less TMJ, thoracic inlet syndrome, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, and on and on.  Alas.  Start by stretching your arms overhead to touch the doorway every single time you walk through one.  Work your way up to being able to hang your entire body weight from your hands.  Then starting swinging and pulling your self up.  Take it slow, but hanging and swinging can be so much fun!

6. Twist.  Our spines are designed to move in three main ways.  Forward and Back.  Side to side bending.  And twisting.  Luckily, getting into and out of our cars usually requires a little forward and back movement, as well as some side bending, so our spines get those movements regularly.  While we could probably all use a little more of the ‘back’ than the ‘forward’ and more side-bending in general, the twisting is the one that we’ve really let go of in this modern existence.  And the one place we used to get some twisting in, checking our blind-spots while driving, is now being phased out with back-up cameras and safety sensors and whatnot.  So, build it back into your life however you can.  I mean, putting on some oldies and actually doing the twist is probably my favorite of the options, but there are plenty of times throughout the day you can easily just look over your shoulder and give your spine a lovely squeeze.  For bonus points, do some twists while hanging from the monkey bars and make your body feel like it won the movement lottery!

That’s it, peeps.  There are books and podcasts and videos and such about how to safely increase your flexibility and strength in any and all of these ways (check out Katy Bowman’s work for my favorite source), but just getting started is the biggest challenge.  Happy moving!

 

 

Rolfing is a big undertaking.  It’s not cheap, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of bravery and vulnerability, and there can be many uncomfortable side effects in the physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental realms of your life while getting Rolfed.  And so, I am often asked by my clients, “What can I do to help?”  When undergoing such a possibly transformative process, many people want to make sure they do their part to help things along, and to make sure they’re getting the most bang for their buck, so to speak.  (Which is awesome, btw.  I love when my clients are really invested in the process of transformation.)

Generally, most of what you can do to support the work of Rolfing, whether you’re doing one session, or the 10-series, or ongoing work to unravel old injuries and patterns, is a lot of stuff that we all know we should be doing regardless, but is extra helpful if you can do it around your sessions.  Drink a lot of water.  Eat the food your body is asking you to eat.  Stretch and move when and how your body asks you to stretch and move.  Rest when you body asks you to rest.  Don’t sit in one position for hours on end.  In short, pay attention to what’s going on in your body, then respond accordingly.  It’s so obvious, but a lot easier said than done.

There are, however, a few things specific to Rolfing that can be beneficial to supporting your sessions.  Exercising immediately after a session is not a great plan.  So, get your workouts in beforehand, and make sure you can take a rest day after your session.  Actually, this applies to more than just exercise.  If you have the freedom to schedule your sessions so that you can relax and tune in to what your body is asking for afterwards, that can be super helpful.  Even if you do hear your body screaming that it would like a nice, long walk after your session, it’ll be hard to manage if you’ve got back-to-back meetings scheduled for the rest of the day.  Also, letting your body be a body without many other inputs is great for the integration of the structural changes we’ve made.  This means no shoes, no tight or restrictive clothing, no sitting on/in furniture/cars, and no movements that don’t happen in nature (i.e. no treadmills, no ellipticals, and no lat pulls).  Pro-tip: If you need a machine or a piece of equipment to do it, it’s probably not a natural movement.  So save that stuff for after your session has had a while to settle out and your body has found its new normal.  Obviously, it’s hard to go 24 hours in our culture without shoes or sitting in chairs or cars, so I’m really just asking that you mindfully avoid these things as much as possible, but there’s no need to get obsessive about it.

And on the emotional/spiritual front, talk therapy can be very helpful for processing and integrating the changes being made through your work with Rolfing.  As I like to say, “There are issues in the tissues.”  If any of these emotional issues come up during your sessions, I’m happy to talk about them, but it can also be super beneficial to work with a trained therapist, social worker, or counselor who can more thoroughly and skillfully help you get to where you want to be.  I’m also happy to coordinate with your therapist so they have a better idea what you’re going through (as so many people, therapists included, still don’t know what Rolfing is), if that’s at all helpful to you.

But that’s it.  Try to be aware of what your body wants and needs (both physical and mental) and create space to do what you want and need.  That’s all it takes to support your Rolfing sessions.  That, and enjoy your new flexibility, balance, strength, and stability.

(And buy a whole new closet full of barefoot-shoes, and get a moveable stand-up desk, and probably quit your job, and do pilates and yoga, and start walking a lot more, and climbing trees, and sleeping outside, and throw away your phone…  But that’s it.)

As part two in our sleeping series, let’s talk about pillows.  Everyone wants to know what kind of pillow they should use.  Cervical pillow? Body pillow? Memory foam pillow?  Buckwheat hull pillow?  And how many? One? Two? Three?  Six?  Here’s where I’d like to reiterate that getting a good night’s sleep is more important to me than what sort or how many pillows you’re using.  So if you’re sleeping well and happy, keep doing that.  But ya’ll keep asking for my opinion and now you’re going to get it.

I’m anti-pillow.  I know, this is hard to believe, given that I’m anti-flip-flopanti-high heelanti-shoeanti-arch support, and anti-bra, but it’s true.  I’m anti-pillow.  And I’m pro-hugs, pro-goat, pro-sunshine, pro-hiking, pro-nap, pro-chocolate, and pro-garden, just so you don’t define me by the things I’m against.  But when it comes to pillows, I like to sit on them, but not sleep on them.  Let me tell you why.

I have been one of those lucky people who never really gets headaches.  And by that I mean I get about 2-3 headaches a year and each time I think I’m probably dying because it’s the worst pain ever and how do people go through life getting headaches all the time and I can’t even imagine what a migraine must be like oh my god just kill me now.  And after a few hours it goes away and everything’s fine again.  For my whole life.  Until a few years ago when I got a headache that wouldn’t go away.  It was dull, and low-grade and annoying.  I didn’t want to die or anything, but it was still weird because I so rarely get headaches.  And then I still had it the next day.  And the day after that.  And three weeks later I still had a headache.  And I was exhausted and cranky and no fun at all to be around.  And then I listened to a podcast from Katy Bowman about how she’s always suffered from headaches, but then she stopped using a pillow and now she has way less headaches.  And so I thought, I should give that a try.

Over the next few months, I weaned myself off pillows.  I have to say that I had a distinct advantage here over a lot of people in that I’ve always been a one-pillow kind of girl, and a fairly flat, thin pillow at that (as compared to my husband’s 3-4 pillows a night habit).  So I only had so work down from one, thin pillow to a folded towel, to a less folded towel, to a sweatshirt, to a t-shirt, to nothing.  And now sleeping with a pillow is pretty much not an option for me, unless I’m super sick and fall asleep while reading.  And even then I tend to wake up after 10-20 minutes and toss the pillow aside.

What I noticed in the weaning process and since then is that my neck had to become more flexible to accommodate my new way of sleeping.  I sleep in all the positions and initially, sleeping on my side with less of a pillow was challenging.  But now, my neck is flexible enough that side sleeping is comfortable and in fact, is where I get my best neck stretching done, reducing the tension in my head.  Oh, and I’m back to not getting headaches almost ever.  Which is my preferred way to go through life.

So, to answer your question, in my opinion, no pillow is the best pillow.

A common question I get (at work, not while I’m just walking down the street) is “How should I sleep?”  And let me just preface this by saying that getting a good night’s sleep, consistently, is more important, in my book, than what position you sleep in.  So if what you’re doing is working for you, do that.  Being well rested makes everything else better and easier.

However.  If you really want to know how you should sleep, keep reading.

First of all, there’s no “right” way to sleep.  Other than with your eyes closed.  Because those of you who sleep with your eyes slightly open are creeping out the rest of us.  Knock it off.  But as far as body positioning goes, all of the positions are good to some degree and bad if they’re the only one you ever use.  The truth of the matter is that we were never supposed to lie down in one position and then maintain that position for the next 7-10 hours without any change. In fact, lying in the same position without moving is how bedsores happen and I don’t know anyone who wants bedsores.  While humans have been seeking soft places to sleep for a long time now, it’s only with the advent of these pillow-topped, memory foam, sleep-number, super mattresses that it’s even been an option to lie in one position for 7-10 hours.  Can you imagine your prairie grass or buffalo hair mattress would be comfortable enough for you to lie still on all night, every night?  No, me either.

What I’m saying here is it’s okay to move while you sleep.  In fact, I’m encouraging you to move while you sleep.  Whichever side you’re sleeping on will be compressed, while the side that’s up will be allowed to lengthen.  Let all the sides (and the front and the back) have their chance at both.  Movement is your friend.  So go ahead, stick your legs and arms out at weird angles, spoon your bedmates, and stretch your neck by sleeping on your stomach now and again.  Just keep it varied and you’ll be good to go.

And if your body needs some encouragement to move while you sleep, you might try a firmer or less comfortable mattress.  Yes, it will take a while for you to adjust, but it’s probably worth it to avoid the damage done by repetitive positioning.  You don’t want to be that person who has to go around telling people they got hurt in their sleep by not moving, do you?  That’d be embarrassing.

So, a minute ago, I told you not to wear flip-flops, right?  And I talked about the importance of not wearing shoes that you had to grip with your toes in order to keep attached to your feet.  Now, we’re going to talk about the one aspect of footwear that everyone already knows about, but completely ignores.  Heel height.

Yeah, yeah, we all know that high heels are like cigarettes.  Sexy and terrible for you.  We get it.  But what so many people don’t realize is that any heel on a shoe is detrimental to your health.  This does not just apply to women’s shoes.  This does not just apply to fancy dress shoes.  Almost all shoes these days have an elevated heel compared to the toe.  That includes almost all running shoes, almost all slippers, almost all sandals…you get the picture, right?

The very best metaphor I have to demonstrate why wearing any heel at all is detrimental to your health is one I am shamelessly stealing from Katy Bowman.  I believe she uses this example in both Move Your DNA and Whole Body Barefoot, which are books you should probably read at some point.  But until then, let’s just talk about a bookcase, for a minute.

Imagine a bookcase, filled with books (and maybe a plant or a few rocks or shells or glass jars, or whatever else you like to keep on your bookcases besides books).  Now, imagine a wooden block, 1 inch high and 1 inch wide.  Go ahead a slip that block under one edge of your bookcase.  Is that bookcase functioning to the best of its ability?  Now, imagine that your bookcase is as tall as you are, probably somewhere in the 5 to 6 1/2 feet range.  Now, imagine your bookcase is as wide as your foot is long (maybe 9 to 14 inches).  How does that 5 1/2 foot tall, 1 foot wide bookcase look, leaned up against your wall with a one inch block under one side?  Super good?  Want to see what it looks like in a 4-inch stiletto?  I didn’t think so.

Now imagine your bookcase has to do more than just stand there, holding books.  Imagine your bookcase needs to walk the dog uphill in the snow, carry a giant pan of lasagna from the oven to the table, run after the ice cream truck, jump on the bed, bend down to pull a golden ticket from the gutter, hang from trees, do the twist and the hokey-pokey.  Do you think your bookcase is very well set up to do all these amazing things with that block under one side of it?

No; me either.  And yet, we ask our amazing bodies to do all these things and more with giant (proportionally) wedges under them, throwing them off-balance with every step.  So yeah, stop it with the heels.  Please.  Or do less with the heels.  Try slowly transitioning to shoes with less rise from toe to heel.  How about that?  Is that fair?

Flip flop season is just getting started and I’m writing to ruin your fun.  I would say that I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if I’m honest, I kinda love it.  So let’s just get right to it, shall we?

I could talk for days about foot health and how important it is (as the foundation for the rest of your body all day, every day), but suffice it to say that it’s really, really important and whatever you do to your feet, the rest of your body has to deal with as well.  And so, when choosing your footwear this summer, can I please, please, please entice you away from the flip flops?

I know nobody will be surprised to hear me say that high heels aren’t good for you.  But so often I see people trade their heels (and yes, that includes the gentlemen; anything where your heel is higher than your toes is considered a high heel in my book) for flip flops and consider the problem solved.  Not so, my friend, not so.

Ideally, as you walk, your foot should go through a full, smooth roll, from the outside edge of your heel to the very tip of your big toe before leaving the ground to stride forward to the next step.  I tried to find a video of this, but this animation (which is a terrible example of how to walk, but is great if you just watch the feet) is the best I could find:

However, when you wear flip flops, you need to hang on to them with your toes or they’ll go flying.  Which means your toes are contracted when they should be at their longest, most extended.  And you do this with Every.  Single.  Step.  No bueno, team.  It shortens the fibers in the plantar surface of the foot…which can lead to plantar fasciitis.  It prevents you from having a full, long stride, so you end up taking more steps per mile, compounding the problem with each step.  It causes a mirrored shortness in the pelvic floor, straining the super fun zone that’s located there, as well as the bladder and the urethra (but those aren’t that important, right?).  With a shortened anterior pelvis, a hyper-lordotic lumbar curve is encouraged, which is just a fancy way of saying low back pain is probably on its way.  Oh, and knee problems!  I almost forgot about knee problems!  They come with flip flop use as well because all that tightening and shortening in the toes happens mostly through muscles in the lower leg, which creates imbalance in the knee joint, and let me tell you, the knee is a tricky joint to rebalance once it’s out of whack.

So.  Flip flops are bad.  Sorry, not sorry.

But, I really am trying to help you live your best life.  Not just now, but 10 years from now.  And 10 years after that.  And if you spend half the year wearing flip flops, every year, for 60 years, then come to me with plantar fasciitis, knee pain, back pain, and pelvic organ prolapse…well, don’t say I didn’t warn you, but I’ll happily take your money and we can do weekly Rolfing sessions for the next 5 years to get you back on track.

OR, try going barefoot!  Or, try one of the (what seems like hundreds of) ‘barefoot’ sandal options.  Or, just find a shoe that securely attaches to your foot so your toes don’t have to grip with every step.  Remember, your foot should be able to move like this:

And if it can’t while wearing and walking in your shoes, you’re basically putting your foot in a cast, then expecting it to do its job, which isn’t exactly fair.  I don’t put your hands in mittens then ask you to play the piano.  Set your feet up for success and ditch the flip flops.

Until next time, happy moving!
Theresa

Can I talk to all my ladies for a few minutes?  We need to talk about boobs, or more specifically, bras.  Gentlemen, if you’re a life-long bra wearer, please, read on.  But generally, I’m talking to my women-folk here.

Dearest bra wearers,

For years, I have held off on saying something.  Like, from the beginning of my career as a Rolfer.  See, one of the things that drew me to Rolfing was that you (the client) got to do whatever you liked doing.  I had had a chiropractor tell me when I was in high school, that I shouldn’t go into landscaping, because it would be too hard on my back.  I’d had a surgeon, a doctor, and a physical therapist all tell me to give up on running after knee surgery.  I don’t really like being told what I can and can’t do.  Just ask my mom.  Rolfing never asked me to stop doing what I loved just because it hurt.  Instead, Rolfing attempted to make the hurting go away, so I could just enjoy the loving of the thing.  And that’s a major, major thing I love about Rolfing.

But.

There are things I see in my office, over and over and over and over again.  Things that make me cringe.  Things that make me sad.  And at a certain point, doesn’t it become my responsibility to say something?  As part of your healthcare team?  I want to be a good Rolfer and all, and not tell you what to do or what not to do.  But at the same time, I feel like I gotta say something.  What if I just tell you what I’m seeing and you can decide for yourself what you want to do or not do about it.  Okay?  Okay.

What I see is this: bras are suffocating us women.  When I think about it from a fascia standpoint, I’m not at all surprised.  If I wear a restrictive garment around any other body part, the body will change accordingly.  It’s like how shoes change the shape of our feet (and everything above them).  If you know anyone who has worn glasses their whole life and you ask them to take their glasses off, you can see the indentations in their heads, just above their ears, and usually at the bridge of the nose.  This is the whole idea behind braces and why they work to reorganize our teeth in our mouths.  How many of us have indentations in one of our middle fingers from where we hold a pen when writing?

So I understand why bras, too, would leave their mark with a tight band around the rib cage, just under the breasts.  Just like with shoes shaping feet and glasses shaping heads, you can see the indentations a bra strap leaves on the rib cage.

But then I started wondering about the benefits of bra wearing.  What’s the reason we’re wearing them all day, every day?  I understand there are several benefits to shoes.  Besides warms toes, protection from broken glass, and fashion, they’re required by the health department in restaurants.  I’m guessing most people who wear glasses their whole lives do it because they gain a benefit from having corrected vision and that benefit is worth the cost of having a slightly dented head.  Straight, well-organized teeth are highly valued in our culture, and probably easier to keep clean and healthy.  I will take a dented finger bone for the pleasure granted to me by writing.  But bras?  The cost-benefit analysis gets a little murky.

Why do we wear bras?  What is the benefit, here?  Well, they hold boobs up and in all sorts of positions that boobs don’t naturally come in.  They hold boobs still (or more still) during exercise and activity.  They make boobs look bigger, higher, smoother, and less dynamic than they actually are.  They minimize the appearance of nipples.  And they provide any extra layer of protection from the elements.  So, what it comes down to is mostly looks, with a little bit of function.  When I really take a good look, it seems like the number one reason I wear a bra is because it’s expected that I wear a bra.  I wear a bra because everyone else (with boobs) wears bras.  You know what they say about jumping off bridges just because your friends jump off bridges, right?

Really breaking it down, I realized despite my relatively high activity level, I ‘needed’ a bra for less than an hour and a half a day, on average.  I don’t like my boobs bouncing around while I run because it’s uncomfortable and I have sensitive nipples.  Same goes for when I play volleyball.  That works out to be about 9 hours a week that I ‘need’ the support of a sports bra.  And if I hadn’t coddled the damn things since I got ‘em, my boobs would probably be fine unsupported while I ran and played volleyball.  In addition to these ‘highly bouncy activities,’ I’m active in many other ways (walking, hiking, dancing, climbing trees, stretching, cleaning), but it’s actually fine if my boobs move during those activities.  That’s what they were designed to do. And it’s super fine for my boobs to be unsupported, free-flowing fat-bags while I do stuff like write, cook, read, watch tv, drink tea, and eat meals.

So, if I’m wearing a bra most of my waking hours, let’s say for 14 hours a day; but only 1.5 of those hours do I need a bra; then we’re looking at around 12.5 hours a day, every day of wearing a restrictive garment for no reason other than everyone else is doing it.  If I asked you to put one of your arms (even your non-dominant one) in a sling for 12 1/2 hours a day, every day, just because, how would you feel about that?  If I asked you to do this starting around the age of 10 and told you to do this every day for the rest of your life, how would you feel about that?  Why did we all agree to do this again?

Here’s the thing.  Your life would be severely limited if you put one of your arms in a sling for 12 1/2 hours a day, every day, but people live without arms.  Your survival does not depend on you having two functioning, sling-free arms.  You know what your survival does depend on?  Breath.  You know what a bra restricts?  Yeah.  See what I’m saying here?  See why I can’t just be quiet about this?  We need to breathe.  Yet every day, for 10-16 hours a day, most women (and girls who are on their way to becoming women) wrap a strap around their rib cages and voluntarily limit their breath.  The thing that keeps them alive.  Because everyone else is doing it.

What.  The.  Heck.

When I first started my practice, I thought, “well, that’s just how it goes with women.”  And I am so done with that.  It may be how it goes with women right now.  But, it’s not how it has to go.  There is no reason I can see, from a health perspective, for women to wear bras all the time.  They’re not cheap, or easy to maintain, or super convenient.  It’s not like any of us accidentally fell into the habit of wearing them because it was so fun.  If wearing a bra is more comfortable for you during certain activities (like me and running, per esempio), then by all means, be my guest.  But watching Portlandia?  Sitting at your desk checking emails?  Almost any activity besides jumping and running?  Think about it.  If we free the boobies, we begin to free the breath and the ribs, the shoulders and the neck, the sternum and the heart.  Sounds ay-okay to me.

I don’t want you to think that I’m this shining example of braless living.  I’m not.  But I am trying to wear a bra less.  Putting one on later in the day, taking it off as soon as I’m home at night.  Seeing if I can just be a little more conscious around my bra wearing instead of automatic.  I’m not going to tell you what to do or what not to do; I still want to be a good Rolfer, after all.  But if breath is important to you (and it is, trust me), maybe you might want to bring a little more consciousness to your bra habits as well.

That’s all for now, ladies.  Breathe free and prosper.

-Theresa

Can we talk about shoes (oh my god, shoes) for a minute?  I know, I know, we’ve talked about them before.  I don’t care.  It’s my blog and I do what I want.  Shoes keep coming up, so we’re going to talk about shoes again.

You know how we evolved running through the savannas of Africa?  You know how we evolved climbing trees and mountains?  You know how we did that without Doc Martens on our feet?  Yeah.

Your feet (and my feet, or any feet, for that matter) are awesome.  Not only are they strong enough to hold you up and carry you around all day, but they are so magnificently flexible and adaptable.  You can wiggle your toes.  You can flex and point.  You can supinate and pronate.  You can rotate left and right.  You can tell, even with your eyes closed, so much about your environment, just from your bare feet.  Is the surface you’re standing or walking on level, tilted, or uneven?  Is it smooth or textured?  Is it slippery or grippy?  Is it hot or cold?  Is it soft or unyielding?  Is it wet or dry?  Is it constant or constantly changing?  So much information!  Feet are like the wikipedia of human existence!  They might not tell you everything you need to know, and you might want to fact check what they tell you, but you can still learn an awful lot from your feet.

And what do we do with them?  We put them in casts.  We put them in their little leather (and canvas and rubber and plastic) casts as soon as we wake up and don’t take them out until it’s time to go to sleep, when, let’s face it, they’re not good for much besides regulating temperature.  Can you imagine?  (I’m sure you can because you’ve probably been doing this to your feet most of your life, or at least know someone who has.)  It’s like taking a well-trained, super-fit border collie and putting it in a crate all day.  Every day.  For it’s whole life.  Not cool.  And it wouldn’t be super-fit for long, would it?

We’re missing out, people! And the bottoms of our feet are connected to the tops of our heads, obviously.  When we stimulate, stretch, and move one, we stimulate, stretch and move the other, and everything in between.  Did you know there’s a huge correlation between foot function and pelvis function?  Don’t want to be incontinent as you age?  Keep your feet healthy and active.  Did you know that pelvis function is related to head and neck function?  No interest in headaches or TMJ?  Keep your feet fully functional.  And can we just pause for a minute and consider how important it is to feel steady on our feet as we age?  How often have you heard of an elderly someone who seemed to be in great health, but they fell, and broke their hip, and then they were hospitalized, and then they got pneumonia…and that was the beginning of the end?  I’m not saying that you’ll never fall again once you restore your foot health.  But functional, vibrant, healthy feet will not make you fall more.  Guaranteed.

I know, I know, we can’t all be barefoot all the time.  I get it.  We live in a place where winter happens.  We (some of us at least, myself not included) go to real jobs, where shoes are expected to be worn every day.  And quite frankly, for most of us, suddenly going all barefoot all the time would land us with tons of injuries and the accompanying pain.  Think about it like this: if you kept your hands in casts from your fingertips to just above your wrists, starting around age two, until now, and then decided to take them off today and go play a two hour piano concert, do some light carpentry, knead a double batch of bread dough, and write a five-paragraph essay, by hand, how do you think that would go?  Yeah.  Not super great.  Let’s think about our feet the same way.  Yes, the goal is to do light carpentry with our feet.  No, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  (I’m kidding about the carpentry.  Come on.)

Getting Started:  So what can you do, today, to start restoring your feet to high functionality?  Let’s get rid of the shoes once in a while to start.  Can you walk around your house without shoes on?  I’m guessing most (if not all) the walkable surfaces in your house are flat, level, in a narrow range of comfortable temperatures, not too slippery, and not very texturally interesting (ooh! carpet! how exotic compared to hardwood floors!), but also pretty gentle on your fresh-out-of-their-casts feet.  This is like going from a cast to a sling.

Other sling-like options include switching out your hard-soled shoes for more flexible-soled shoes.  Sure, there are lots of companies nowadays making ‘barefoot’ shoes and minimalist shoes.  Which is awesome.  And most of those shoes are hideously ugly.  (I still own them.  Stop judging me.)  And some of those shoes may just be too much for your recently-back-from-the-dead feet.  So, instead.  Next time you go shoe-shopping, try this.  Walk around the shoe store for a minute or two in just your bare feet, or with socks on.  Yes, you will look weird.  Who are you trying to impress? You can do this at home, first, to get a feel for it.  While you’re walking around, pay attention to how your feet feel.  How do they move?  Do your toes spread as your weight transfers forward over them?  How long is your stride?  How fast do you comfortably walk?  Where does your foot contact the ground?  Heel first?  Mid-sole?  Starting at the toes?  Really feel your feet as you walk.  Then, try on a pair of shoes.  Go for another walk.  Really feel your feet again.  What changed?  If the answer is “nothing,” this is probably a good shoe for you.  In fact, this is probably a great shoe for you (but is also probably imaginary, as even ‘barefoot’ shoes still feel different from actually being barefoot).  If the answer is “everything,” this probably a terrible shoe for you.  Try to get as close to “nothing changed” as possible within your style/budget/patience-for-shoe-shopping constraints.  See?  Easy.  If you do this every time you go shoe shopping, in 10 years, you will have totally different, and significantly healthier feet.  I promise.  (They’ll also probably be bigger.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

With your new and improved choice of footwear, you can now start mixing up the terrain you walk on.  Start with walking through the grass at the park instead of on the sidewalk or path.  This will help build up the stabilizing muscles in your lower legs and feet (and all the way up through your pelvis and back) that might have atrophied from always walking on flat, level surfaces.  Go hiking (not in thick-soled hiking boots, in your new, more flexible shoes).  Climb trees.  Scramble up rocks.  Go out in the rain and the snow and the ice.  Teach your feet to be good at handling as broad a range of experiences as possible.  This is also good advice for bodies in general.  Flat and level is for sissies.

Another option for improving foot health and slowly restoring function to your feet is taking shoe breaks.  We all know by now that sitting for four hours straight is bad for us, right?  Right.  We all know that even if we can’t be moving all day, we’re supposed to get up every hour (or 20 minutes) and walk around/stretch/just stand.  Same thing applies to shoes.  Can you slip them off at your desk and wiggle your toes?  Can you pad around in your socks while you’re on that phone call?  Can you go stand barefoot in the grass in your backyard for five minutes while you’re waiting for the water to boil?

Next Level Shit:  Once you’ve gotten your feet out of their casts, and comfortable in slings (and this could take several years), it’s time to take things to the next level.  Go ahead.  Take the slings off.  You might want to consider some of those ugly, but awesomely functional ‘barefoot’ shoes.  Work up to spending as much time as possible barefoot.  Strengthen the skin of your feet by walking barefoot on as many different textures (and in as many temperatures) as you can.  Strengthen the tiny little muscles in your feet and the big strong muscles of your core by walking on different terrain, at all sorts of angles.  You can even do some of this in your house!    Throw the couch cushions on the floor.  Throw the kids’ building blocks and Lincoln Logs (Do they still make Lincoln Logs?  Please tell me they still make Lincoln Logs.) on the floor.  Walk over it all.  The couch cushions will make you work harder to balance.  The Lincoln logs will challenge your skin strength and flexibility.  Rolled up towels, wooden spoons, pencils, a rolling pin, a candlestick holder, a bookend, heck, crumple up your junk mail and throw it on the ground.  The list goes on.  Throw it on the floor and walk on it.  (And you’ll get bonus movement points when you have to pick it all up and put it away!)  Keep seeking new and different challenges for your feet.  Don’t let them get bored.

You can get those border collies back in top shape.  It’s a long process, but you can do this.  I know you can, because I’ve done it.  And my feet continue to get stronger and more flexible.  And the rest of my body continues to thank me for it.  But we’ve got to start with the shoes.  For the love of your feet, please stop it with the high-heels and the flip flops and start letting your feet be the magnificent beings they are.  Oh my god, shoes.

I don’t know about you, but for me, summer is non-stop, and I absolutely love it.  There are just so many opportunities for movement that I don’t feel like I need to “work-out.”  It just happens.  Volleyball in the park, riding my bike instead of driving, a hike with friends, camping, dancing at weddings, long walks with ice cream on a warm night, the list goes on and on.  And as a general rule, I know I feel better when I move more (serious injury not withstanding).  More activity equals more joy.

I also love the fall, but as the temperatures drop, the hours of daylight lessen, and that myriad of movement opportunities seems to disappear just as quickly.  Volleyball leagues end, my bike seems like a chore because of all the layers I need to wear, hiking seems more tedious for the same reason, it’s too cold to camp, wedding season is over, and ice cream doesn’t hold the same appeal if I need to put on a coat first.  It sounds like a much better idea to cozy up on the couch with that book I’ve been dying to read and a blanket on my lap.

So this is when I really need to be careful that I’m still getting all the movement my body needs and wants.  In an effort to make sure I don’t lose my summer-time happiness, or, for that matter, my summer-time muscles, I’m trying to consciously up my movement wherever and whenever I can.  And I really mean wherever and whenever.  I’m trying to wiggle my toes and shift my weight from side to side while I wait in line at the grocery store.  I’m trying to do squats and calf raises at my office while I wait for clients (don’t laugh too hard if you catch me in the middle of a squat when you come in).  I’m trying to walk while I make phone calls instead of sitting on the couch or the bed.  I’m trying to dance while I fold laundry.  Can I do 5 push-ups while I wait for the water to get hot in the shower?  As I write this, I’m lying on the floor, kicking my feet behind me, just to try a different position from sitting.  I’m looking for races in the winter and spring to keep me motivated through the desire to hibernate.  I just listened to a Katy Bowman podcast where she mentioned building obstacle courses through her house, just to keep things interesting.  The cats will love me forever when I finally do that.  Maybe this is the excuse I’ve been looking for to jump on the bed to my heart’s content.  Just like I’m always trying to sneak more vegetables into everything I cook, I’m now trying to sneak more movement into my day.

What about you?  Do you have a plan to keep you moving through the fall and winter?  Got any tips or tricks you want to send my way?  I’ll take all the help I can get.

Happy moving and happy fall!

Okay, so today we’re veering away from the philosophical mumbo jumbo and getting on the practical-tip train.  Are you ready?  Are ya? This may be the quickest, most effective tip I’ve ever learned.  So I hope you’re excited, because I’ve learned a lot of tips in my day.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you, Super Brain Yoga!

It’s so exciting, I made a video.  But first, let me tell you why Super Brain Yoga is so damn exciting.

We know, from research and science and lovely things like research and science, that the brain works better when the two halves of it are communicating well.  For this reason, activities that involve contra-lateral movement are super good for the brain.  Contra-lateral means both sides of the body are being used in opposition, like when we walk, and our right arm swings forward as our left one swings back, but it’s balanced by our right leg swinging back, and our left leg swinging forward.  Get it?  So activities like walking, crawling, cross country skiing, and freestyle swimming, while super great for the body, are also super great for the brain, because they demand that the two halves of the brain work together.  Super Brain Yoga is like a condensed version of going for a half hour walk.  You won’t get all the physical benefits, but you will get the mental ones.  And the mental benefits of your brain halves talking to each other include improved memory, greater focus, and even getting smarter.

I was originally shown Super Brain Yoga as something I might want to teach a client who suffered from ADD and a general inability to focus.  But it seemed so easy (it takes 3 minutes and you don’t work up a sweat!) that I tried it myself.  I would do it in the mornings while I waited for the water in the shower to heat up.  And you know what? I noticed a difference.  More importantly, my boyfriend, who always made fun of me for my poor memory, noticed a difference.  Which was all the proof I needed.  Less teasing?  More remembering?  Done and done.  So, for a few months, I did Super Brain Yoga pretty much every morning.

Then I moved somewhere where it only took a few seconds for the water in the shower to heat up, and I couldn’t justify letting all that hot water just pour down the drain.  But even though I stopped doing Super Brain Yoga, my improved memory stuck around.  Now, I do Super Brain Yoga whenever I think about it.  Which, honestly, is probably about once a month.  But I should do it more.  ‘Cause it’s awesome.  And easy.  And effective.  And I like being smart.  Right now I do it when I’m tired, or feeling fuzzy, or unfocused, or ungrounded.  But really, doing it every day would be swell.  If you do it every day I’ll be so proud.  Also, I’ll be blown away by your superior intelligence.  So there’s that.

So, are you ready to learn how to do Super Brain Yoga?  Yeah, I bet you are!  Click on the picture to watch the video.  It’s just a minute long, so you have no excuse not to watch it.



Did you watch it?  See?  Isn’t it easy?  I told you it was great.  Just don’t do it right before you go to bed ’cause it’ll wake you up and then you won’t get a good night’s sleep and that’ll make you feel dumb, which is the opposite of what we’re trying to do here.

Oh, and Super Brain Yoga was on the news!!  Four years ago, but still.  It’s an interesting clip, I promise.

Now go, impress me with your super brain!  I can’t wait to be wowed by your intellect!