Yes, we are connected

skeletons

Though I’ve been focusing on the feet these last few weeks, if you’re having problems with your feet you may also want to make some other connections. Yes, similar to what we’ve been exploring there are things you can do physically that will help. But our feet are connected to our leg bones, our leg bones are connected to our hip joint. Our hips are connected to our spine and further it goes, up the whole body.

We tend to look where pain expresses itself… and think we will find the solution there.

Some people may have knee problems and look to ‘fix’ the knee when really what’s happening (or not happening) is at the hips or at the feet. Or elsewhere.

Imagine you have a cast on your ankle and how it might feel when you walk. How your body might compensate. You may end up with a sore back or shoulder muscles as you try to move as best you can with a stiff, unable to bend, ankle. We’re not usually walking around with a cast on, but many people don’t really use a lot of their ankle flexion for a whole host of reasons. Shoes, patterns of movement, previous injury, etc. Pain may be expressed in your back or shoulders when what’s really going on is down at your feet.

People will often say, “yes but I had an x-ray or ultrasound and they found this (insert condition here) is wrong with my feet”. Yes, I’ve been there too. Diagnosed with chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet, osteoarthritis in both big toes. Basically, I was told to wear rocker shoes, orthotics, and live with it.

Orthotics absolutely serve a purpose in many cases but I’m not sure of any other body part we are willing to cast or brace for a lifetime. We might need a collar brace, but not forever. We may need to wear a special boot to help with a foot injury or after surgery. The point is we work hard, physiotherapists and others work hard with us, to remove these external or artificial supports. Our feet and some orthotics, in my opinion, should be no different.

After my own diagnosis and subsequently learning that our body will most often adapt to what’s asked of it, I figured there must be another way. I have put some effort and focus on my feet in many of the ways shown last month but what was happening in my hips (lack of strength and stability) also played a part.

There are often many pieces to the puzzle of long-term, persistent or chronic pain.

For instance, why was it my feet didn’t always hurt? Why only sometimes? Some days?

Paying close attention I came to notice that when under stress, under too much ‘load’, my pain was likely to arise or increase.  If I was out enjoying myself, not a care in the world, doing something fun or even necessary perhaps, I didn’t seem to have pain. But at other times, it most definitely kicked in.

The biggest a-ha for me now is to realize that structural degeneration or tissue damage is likely to show up for me and everyone else at some point (Note: Brinjijki et al 2014 study as shown in the table below). Particularly by the time you’re my age (56). I need not ‘fear’ this, or fear making things worse, but rather utilize all the things I know I can do, that might help with the pain I sometimes experience in my feet.

  • Strengthening
  • Stretching
  • Keeping my feet soft, supple, agile
  • Adding load, good stress, to keep the bones healthy
  • Wearing appropriate footwear; allowing for space, mobility, flexibility
  • Keeping my overall ‘weight’ in a manageable range
  • Knowing that my levels of stress, fatigue, diet and a range of other factors may also play a part.

degenerative spine issues

In the month of November, we’ll explore our HIPS (Yes, I switched my focus this month from shoulders to hips. We’ll get to shoulders in December). This is where load and/or gravitational forces are primarily distributed through the body so how well we manage this, matters.

Along the way, I’ll throw in a few morsels about chronic pain that might help you make sense of your own personal experience with persistent pain in the hips, or elsewhere.

I hope you’ll join me.

 

The Evolution of a Practice

SimplifyWhen I used to write about yoga for a local magazine, the numbers of Americans practicing yoga was about 20 million. Today, about 6 years later, that number has nearly doubled, edging up towards to 40 million. Globally, the estimate is about 300 million and the number of over 50s practicing yoga has tripled over the last four years.

People often wonder what this thing called yoga actually is. Difficult to answer in just a sentence but to me YOGA is the exploration, awareness, and response that informs how I (might best) relate to the world inside myself and to the larger world around me.

A large part of this doesn’t involve the physical yoga postures or asana practice, but that’s usually where people begin. It is a good way into the wider exploration. Most, practice on a mat and typically in a group class. Certainly, it’s where I began.

Not knowing anything about yoga when starting out, I first practiced Ashtanga yoga and then when I began teaching it was a somewhat modified Vinyasa practice. Both involve strong, physical, almost gymnastic-like movements linked with the breath. Ashtanga, in particular, is meant to be practiced for 1.5hrs each day, 6 days of the week.

My practice today no longer resembles this in the least. Today, my physical yoga practice is interweaved throughout the day, with broader concepts in the background.

  • Most often it does not take place on my mat.
  • Most often it is less than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Most often it’s a response to whatever I feel might best serve me, at any given time.
  • No special place, clothing, or time.

Which I think might be a helpful way to practice for many who don’t have the time, money, or perhaps ability to get to a studio or gym.

What does this practice look like?

Join me over the next few months and we’ll look at little snippets of yoga, movement, breath practices that can be done in a couple of minutes or combined to make your own personal practice. On your own time, in your own space, that fits into whatever your life demands of you.

Most important to me is to teach people what they can do for themselves. Provide agency. The ability for you to have the tools and the freedom to make choices that enhance your wellbeing and your life.

  • In October we’ll focus on the feet.
  • November will be all about the shoulder joint.
  • In December, we’ll get into the hip joint.

I’ve chosen these particular areas to focus on as they tend to be where problems, pains, issues show up for most people I talk and work with.

You can find me talking about this on Facebook, and Instagram, if you want to follow along.

 

“Are we there yet?”

squishedSummer has officially begun and soon many will be on their long-anticipated holidays. Most likely, it will involve some travel. And at some point the dreaded ‘are we there yet?’ You might think it to yourself or maybe your little travel companions repeat the phrase. On the hour. Time seems to drag. on. forever.

Why is it we dread the getting to, and coming back from, our trips?

Sure there can be unexpected delays or surprises that inevitably happen. But typically it’s the thought of sitting in our vehicle driving for 4, 8, or 12 hours to our destination. Or being crammed into the airplane for hours on end. Uncomfortable, to be sure. Not only being seated for so long but also waiting to eat on someone else’s schedule or getting to the bathroom when the need arises.

Most of us sit, for hours, all day long. Why then, does it feel different or more noticeable when we’re traveling? In an airplane, it’s not so easy to move around, to shift in our seats, when discomfort arises. In our cars, perhaps it’s a little easier with more room and not so many eyes watching us.

On most any day, we tend to listen to the hunger and thirst signals our body sends us, while other ‘discomforts’ such as simply moving, tend to be ignored. Why do we respond to some and not to others?

Which discomforts do we choose to tolerate? 

Little kids fidget, move, express themselves all the time. Until they’re told not to.

How might it feel …

to move and shift, and stretch and dance as you like, when you like? As you feel the need or desire to do so? At any time. Any place. Before, the discomfort pretty much commands that you do so?

When you are uncomfortable, how do you respond? Do you respond?

Hmmmmmm……

 

What might be useful skills?

Funniest thing I read the other day.

Being flexible ain’t all it’s cracked up to be

Doing the splits is not exactly a useful skill.

– Painscience.com

I’ve written about this before, here. But I think it’s important to talk about again.

People associate yoga with flexibility.

I do associate the word flexibility with yoga, but it’s in how we apply flexibility to our life.

That is, we have lots of choices available to us.

People often get stuck and then their choices become smaller, and smaller, and smaller… until they feel something a little like this; boxed in.

stuck

What I’m really looking for is this:

Freedom.

Do you have freedom, to do what you want in your life?

Do you have the freedom to BE you?

Skills that may aid in this might be strength. Physical strength if you want to move around in the world. Be able to go jogging, walking, cycling. Even to simply pick up and play with your kids/grandkids.

Maybe you are an office worker or writer and need to sit a lot of the day. What skills might be useful to do that?

A skill may be the ability to voice your opinions at work?

Or the skills required to get a good night’s sleep, so you have the energy for the coming day.

A useful skill may be noticing what creates tension in your body.

Try sitting in a dentist chair for any length of time and notice how you feel?  A sore jaw, perhaps, makes sense. But what might your shoulders feel like? Or your leg muscles? Imagine doing this, unknowingly creating tension throughout the day, and what it might create? Pain, fatigue, stiff or sore muscles.

Yoga, is all about the noticing.

Which helps guide our life, …

out of the box, and toward spaciousness and freedom.

 

 

 

 

Just, … breathe

People often sit at their desk, laptop, TV, or plugged into a smartphone with their earphones in. Listening to music, podcasts, videos on YouTube, working, or whatever.

As an experiment, the next time you put your earphones on, don’t ‘listen’ to anything except your breath.

It may not be as noticeable if you’re on the bus, driving, in an airport or a similar noisy environment. But, still, I think you’ll find it to be … telling.

How are you breathing?

Are you breathing fluidly?

Is there equanimity on the inhale and exhale. Or is one shorter or longer than the other?

A pause in between may be good. But do you find that you’ve actually stopped breathing? As in not breathing altogether of course, but that your breathing is not fluid. Easy. Continuous. That there is a long pause, perhaps, between the two. That you fail to begin the inhale, until long after the exhale.

  • Why might that be?
  • How do your neck muscles feel, while you’re noticing ‘this’ breath?
  • How does your torso or trunk feel?
  • How does your abdomen/belly feel?
  • Do you notice or feel anything at all?
  • Do you sense anything?
  • What might this noticing, this awareness tell you?

In the meantime, try this.

Inhale, and exhale, along with the shape below.  Expansion, contraction.

breath

I’m curious to hear of your experience.

I can say for sure, I noticed a few things about my own breathing patterns.

When there is quiet, what do I hear?

(Though we’re in the midst of a cold winter, I find I can ‘listen’ more clearly to my breath when swimming or floating in water, similar to listening with earphones in as above. Or if I submerge myself in bathwater. So choose what’s best for you, whatever might be your season.)

Please feel free to comment, in the space below.

 

What can you do today?

Most of the time I’m not sure where I’m at with my practice.

(I tend to substitute ‘my practice’ at any given time with ‘my life’, to get to the bigger picture).

  • Am I doing enough?
  • What should I be working on?
  • Is there enough time in the day?
  • What comes first?
  • What’s most important?

I used to get, oh, so bogged down in the details. I would be stuck because there were so many areas I needed to work on, I didn’t know where to start.

What I’ve learned over the past 3-4 years in looking at the research, the evidence about movement, manual therapy, yoga, etc. it’s become clear to me it’s not so much what I choose to do

… but that I choose to DO something.

Today I will go for a skate. Hopefully, I will remember to do a few useful stretches / movements before I begin. I know that doing these will be of benefit to me. Particularly in the cold weather and, well, because I’m getting older.

Canal

When I feel the muscles in my back, shoulders, and face tighten from the cold I will try to remember to release some of the tension there. Soften.

I will try to remember that LESS is MORE.

I’ve only been skating once this year, so it probably doesn’t make sense for me to skate the WHOLE canal.

Listen to the whispers that tell me when I’m feeling fatigued.

It is enough.

Sit back down. Unlace my skates. Grab some hot chocolate and call it a day, … well done.

What will you do, today?

 

 

It’s your life

Consider the ways you need to use and move your body every day.

It's your life

Depending on your life, how much you move throughout the day may be fairly limited or alternatively, you might go through a whole range of movements.

Do you work in an office? Sitting, walking, reaching, writing might be some of the things you do in a day. I suspect sitting, is a primary one. Do you work as a plumber? Your movement needs are different than the office worker. As are what a doctor, teacher, hairstylist, service worker, etc. will be, who are often on their feet much of the day.

What you need to ‘train for’ is different than what anyone else needs to ‘train for’.

What a person needs who sits at a desk all day, is different than what a parent with toddlers needs, versus what a teacher might need.

train for your life

We sometimes get into trouble when we’re doing exercises, that don’t always or altogether correlate so well to what’s actually required in our life. If you’re exercising for basic fitness and enjoyment, that’s fantastic. That in itself is an achievement. But perhaps you might consider adding more to the mix if you’re someone who also experiences pain, fatigue, etc.

This is important:

  • If you’re hitting the gym every day, building strength and stamina but suffer from low back pain because you’re also sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day, perhaps you need to train differently or add something to your training routine.
  • If you are the most amazing yogi but suffer from hip strain or other pain symptoms because during the rest of the day you’re standing on your feet, perhaps you need to look at what you’re training for.
  • If you’re out on the golf course getting your exercise and fresh air daily, but cannot ‘do, or manage’ the rest of your life, perhaps you need to do something else as well.

What happens all too often is the hour of exercise we get at the gym, yoga studio or out on the golf course doesn’t quite support all the rest of what we need to do in our day.

  • If you need to sit, train as best you can so your body can adapt for this.
  • If you need to stand, train what’s required in order to stand a lot.
  • If you are the golfer, train for whatever it is you need to do, besides golf.

But how can you do this and where to find the time?

It’s not always easy, but you can learn to build it into your day. It doesn’t always have to take another hour going to the gym, paying for a babysitter, driving through the snow. There are simple tools, you can use. Anywhere, really. That don’t take up a lot of time.

 

Yoga Tools – Open Your Mind

I’m going to challenge you to change things up this week. Whatever you think you should be doing, (in a movement, in your posture) whatever you’ve been told to do… do the opposite.

15327336_10157994488295226_6548450058877273096_n

As an example, while you’re sitting during the day:

  •  If you have a tendency to hold yourself rigid, perhaps with your shoulders pulled back, chest puffed out front, sitting up nice and tall, as some would say ‘good posture’, allow yourself something different. Perhaps slump a little, let the upper back round a little, feel as if you can soften the area between your collar bones, let your belly be soft and full when you breathe. RelaxI’m not saying this is what you need or you should sit this way all day. But try it for a few minutes and notice what you feel.
  • If you tend to be someone who is generally in a slumped position when sitting, try the opposite. Feel your sitting bones on the bottom of your chair, perhaps even pushing them into your chair slightly. Think about sitting tall, imagining your head feeling light above your shoulders, it lifting towards the ceiling. Collarbones wide, shoulder blades down your back.  Notice what you feel.

Though this is only one example. You might try this way of being, or doing, in a multitude of ways.

In yoga, do you always exhale when forward bending and inhale on the reverse? Try changing it up and see what you feel. What do you notice?

Experiment with doing the opposite of what you think is right for you, what you’ve been told is right for you and see how it goes. If you like, comment below so we can take the conversation further.

 

Do you feel stuck?

babies
It used to be so easy

Look at a baby or a young child for a few moments and you’ll notice they make all kinds of movements, in all kinds of ways.  I watched a video yesterday and thought back to the crazy, wild, wonderful things we did as kids with no thought or consideration about how to move our bodies.

Look at old or aging people and what do you notice? I suspect it would be unsteadiness, stiffness, feet shuffling, bending or moving with great care.  For me, the word rigidity comes to mind.

Rigidity – Not able to be bent easily, not easily changed, not willing to change opinions or behavior.

What happened between then and now, new and old?  What does the future look like in terms of your body’s ability to get around in the world?

Today I noticed a question on a Facebook site, “If there was one thing you could change about yoga what would it be?”  

One of the responses was “Having people talk about flexibility the moment I mention I teach yoga.”

Flexible – able to change or be changed easily according to the situation; able to bend or be bent easily without breaking.

You could also add – the ability to be easily modified, willingness to change or compromise.

People always link yoga with flexibility which can be true. I want you to think of flexibility, however, in a slightly different context than the ‘bendy’ flexible yogi.

You don’t need to have a ‘bendy’ body to do yoga or live your life. However, you DO want to be able to manage the task at hand, whatever that might be for you personally.

You want to have options, multiple ways of navigating rather than narrow lines, restrictions, or rigidity.

How can you do this?  How do you go from feeling stuck and/or experiencing chronic pain to feeling flexible in this context?

That you have options in your body, in your life?

Follow along… and we’ll find a way to bridge the gap.

(To receive future blog posts, please scroll to the top of the page and on the right-hand side click the FOLLOW button)