Easy Exercises to Take the Stress Out of Waiting and Commuting

 

Last week’s post was about commuting and how to use simple holding, carrying, and sitting tricks to reduce stress and strain on your head, neck, shoulders, and low back. Today’s post offers easy flexibility and breathing exercises that you can do anytime, waiting for the train, standing and sitting in the airport, or in between starting and finishing points of a long car trip.

The ride out to the weekend house or the trip to visit friends doesn’t have to be one long and uncomfortable journey. Ride for 30-45 minutes, but then get out of the car and move about. It doesn’t have to be a program, but it should have to be movement. Our bodies love motion and responds to an assortment of movements. Vary the exercises listed here. Make up some on your own and throw them into the mix as well.

Waiting for the train and waiting in general can be a good time to squeeze in a few whole body exercises to tone up your postural muscles to support you for the day ahead. Next time you are standing on the subway platform, or waiting for your plane to arrive, try any one or a combination of these exercises. There may not always be enough space for all of these, but choose one that is safe and that won’t involve others.

Exercise during your Commute!

Standing Glute Squeezes… Stand with feet parallel and pointing straight ahead. Strongly squeeze your butt muscles 25 times, holding for a count, and then releasing. Repeat 3 sets. This exercise will tone your glutes and help stabilize your pelvis to support your lower back.

Standing Overhead Arm Reach… Interlace your fingers. Reach your arms overhead and stretch your side body and your arms up. Breathe into your lungs and expand your ribs sideways. Lengthen your waist. This exercise will take pressure off your lower back by creating length in your torso.

Knee Cappers… Start with feet parallel, knees pointing straight ahead. Bend your knees over your toes as deeply as you can, keeping heels on the ground. Straighten the legs and then bend your knees to the right, feeling the stretch along the outer side of the left leg. Come back up again and now bend to the left. Repeat the sequence 10 times. This exercise promotes healthy ankles and knees, giving you lots of energy for climbing subway stairs and standing.

Pursed Lip Breathing… Inhale through your nose for a count of 4 or 5 and exhale through pursed lips as though blowing out through a straw for a count of 5-6. Continue this inhaling and exhaling for 3 to 5 minutes. Feel the action of your diaphragm and the movement of the breath in your lungs. This exercise is good for reducing anxiety and increasing overall wellbeing.

Commuting and long stretches of driving and sitting can take a toll on your mental and physical wellbeing. Adopt some of these simple tools to help your body maintain optimal balance on your way to and home from work. Your body will thank you.

For more tips on Postural Alignment, Moving, and Wellbeing, visit our website www.bodyfixmethod.com, or come and see us for a consultation.

Stay in good health,

Anita Goodkind

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Take the Stress & Pain Out Of Your Daily Commute

For many urban dwellers, our daily commute is a stressful part of our day. It doesn’t have to be painful too. In New York City, a standard commute includes a combination of trains, subways, and buses of the massive MTA system. Sometimes this system runs smoothly, but other times, it is a cause for unnecessary aggravation. In any case, your commute doesn’t have to add mental stress & physical pain to your body on a daily basis. If you suffer from a sore lower back, chronic neck pain, or shoulder tension, consider making some of the following changes to your daily commute and your body will thank you.

Your Commute

  • Your standing posture is the first thing to consider. How are you standing as you wait on the train platform? Are you putting more weight on one foot than the other? Do you kick one hip out to the side? Where are your shoulders? Forward, along with your head? You can break any of these habits just by paying attention, by being mindful.
  • The best standing posture is with your weight balanced on both feet, slightly soft knees, standing so that a vertical line could be drawn from your ankles up through your knees, hips, and shoulders. If you stand this way, you will reduce the stress on all of the joints in your body and alleviate pressure on your spine.
  • If you sit while commuting, slouching is possibly the worst postural habit for you. Slouching back in your seat strains your neck, shoulders, and lower back, compromises your breathing, and interrupts your digestion. Instead, sit on your sitting bones. That’s what they are there for.
  • Allow your shoulders to roll back and your spine to lengthen upwards. If you are going to be sitting for a long time, use a lumbar support just above your hips, behind your bellybutton. A rolled-up sweater, a purse, or a towel will do the job. You’ll love the changes to your breathing, body tension, and awareness of the world around you as you sit in this naturally supported way.
  • Next on your stress list is how much you are lugging around and how you are carrying it. An easy way to wreak havoc on your back and shoulders is to carry a bag or a purse that is heavy, oversized, and weighing you down on one side. To keep your body balanced, opt for a backpack or a cross body bag so that the weight stays equally distributed over the two sides of your body. If you are carrying bags, balance the weight equally and hold them with your palms and thumbs rolling forward so that your shoulders roll back, letting you use your back muscles to full advantage.
  • A backpack is always a great choice because the straps pull your shoulders back and let your strong back muscles carry the load on your back, not your shoulders. Your hands are free for holding onto a stair railing, subway poles, your cell phone, or even a coffee cup.

Your Habits

  • How you use your cell phone during your commute has a huge impact on your body alignment. The first habit you want to ditch is looking down at your smart phone to read or play games. This creates “text neck”, a forward head posture, which will add constant strain and pain to your neck muscles and cause your shoulders and upper back to round forward. Instead, hold your phone up at eye level, allowing your arms and mid-back muscles to do the work.
  • Avoid walking and texting. This is simply dangerous. For you and for others…look ahead and stay aware.
  • If you have to talk on the phone, use your earphones or a headset. This will also save your neck undue stress. For most of us a cell phone is a constant companion, so hold it wisely.

De-compress with Easy Breathing

Trains are often late, the subway cars are dirty, and people are harassing you, but getting all ‘hot and bothered’ only adds more stress to your day, your life, and your body. While adopting a Zen attitude towards your commute might seem like crazy idea, maintaining your cool and remaining centered on the way to work and home can improve the quality of your week enormously.

Trains are crowded. People say things we wish they would not say. Things smell bad. Some folks are pushy and aggressive. That’s how it goes. Your breath is your best tool to stay centered. When you start to feel yourself getting irritated and anxious, try a technique called Pursed Lip Breathing.

Purse your lips as if you were going to whistle and simply breathe in through your nose and out through your lips. Continue this for a few minutes until you feel calmer. This type of breathing deeply activates your diaphragm and circulates a extra burst of oxygen through your body. The increased oxygen will simultaneously relax you and energize you, and you will feel less stressed by the circumstances of your commute.

Commuting can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. Try some of the suggestions outlined above and let your breath relax your whole body. Owning these simple tools to help your body maintain optimal balance on your way to and home from work. Your body will thank you.

For more tips on Postural Alignment and Wellbeing, visit our website www.bodyfixmethod.com for a free Mini-menu of exercises, or come and see us for a consultation.

To learn more cooling and stress reducing breathing techniques, check out our upcoming workshop!

Summer Breathwork Cool Down

Thursday, August 17th, 6pm – 7.30pm with Elaine & Kat

Take a moment for yourself, and learn easy breathing techniques to cool down, both physically and emotionally. This workshop will teach simple self-help tools and techniques to break the cycle of breathing dysfunction and chronic pain, which can cause anxiety and overheating. The takeaways from this class will be an understanding of what Healthy Breathing is, how to develop better breathing patterns, and what steps to take to mitigate stress and anxiety.

Our breathing patterns, stress levels, and our sensitivity to pain are deeply related. Day-to-day stressors, such as work, restless thoughts, and poor posture, all have an impact on our breathing patterns. Anxiety causes us to take shallow breaths and breathe with only our upper chest and shoulders instead of breathing deeply with the diaphragm, our primary breathing muscle. This pattern carries over to the upper body and shoulders, bringing an irritating pain that’s always there.

Each participant will receive a DIY customized exercise program and hands-on instruction in implementing the work. Come join us on a Thursday evening to learn simple and effective exercises for cooling breathing and healthy living.

$50

SPACE IS LIMITED

NO DROP INS

Sign Up Here for Thursday, August 17th

 

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Here Are Three Easy Ways To Breathe Better

It has been a lovely summer so far. A bit soggy at times though much cooler than usual, which has been nice. Unfortunately, along with the cold and damp, a bout of chest colds and allergies has also come our way. Every time I take the subway or PATH, there are at least one or two people busily coughing. Fear not! Today’s blog is about how to breathe easy and beat that chest cold!

A stagnant pond breeds disease and the body is no different. Gentle movement encourages your internal generator to keep your filtration systems moving. This allows your lungs to pump in clean air and filter out waste. To help keep you moving for optimal health, I’ve included some fun exercises to sneak into your daily routine.

Open the chest.

Sitting at a desk, using a computer, texting on our phones, all cause the chest to collapse, the neck to drop, and the shoulders to round. Imagine how happy this makes the mucous gremlins living in the lungs! Let’s open up the chest to get a nice gust of wind tearing through their house party.

A simple Doorway Stretch can get this going. Stand in a doorway and put your arms up in an “I Give Up” position against the doorframe. Take deep breaths to fill the stomach to the top of the chest. Fill to about 80 percent and hold with a slight squeeze for 2 seconds and release. If you have a cold and this triggers a cough, fill your lungs just a bit less. Relax and slowly increase. Do this breathing and chest opening for 5 repetitions. Don’t forget we breath in all directions. Now that the front of the chest is open, let’s get some blood pumping and unlock the sides and back of the ribs.

Strengthen the upper back.

A great tool for this is an exercise called Wall Angels. Stand with your back and heels against a wall. Bend the elbows and flatten the back of the hands against the wall. Lift the hands and arms up to the ceiling against the wall on the inhale. Bring the arms back down on the exhale. Breathe deep and go-slow trying to stretch the shoulders and ribs with each breath. Keep the arms, back, and hands as close to the wall as possible for a set of 20 repetitions or until the ribs and shoulders feel looser.

Now that we have opened up the chest and gotten the ribs and shoulders to loosen up, let’s finish with an exercise that involves the whole body, one that strengthens the muscles keeping the chest open.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whole body awareness helps.

Go into a Wall Sit (Skier’s Bench) at 10-15 degrees above sitting level. Keep the shoulders and elbows against the wall with palms in lap. Squeeze the shoulder blades together 10 times with slow, purposeful contractions. Finish your set and use your hands and arms to push yourself off the wall. Walk around and come back to the wall for 1 more set or until you feel your heart rate increase and your legs begin to tire. It’s not an aerobic exercise, so you will feel your thighs heating up!

These simple exercises throughout the day will help the body rid itself of infection without overworking it. We hope you will enjoy these suggestions for better breathing and overall health. If you have a topic of interest for a future article, please email me at: kat@bodyfixmethod.com. I would love to hear from you.

Kick Your Flip-Flop Habit For Your Health!

Flip-flops are a fact of life in Florida and beach communities year round and in the rest of the country in summer. Too much of a good thing can be wonderful, but wearing flip-flops isn’t a good thing. Flip-flops, named for the sound they make with each step, change your natural way of walking and increase the wear and tear on your ankles and feet.

Although common sense would tell you that flip-flops aren’t a good idea for everyday wear, Auburn University’s Kinesiology Department conducted a study of 39 college-age men and women almost ten years ago, contrasting thong-style flip-flops in the $5 to $50 range with traditional athletic shoes and trainers. The report concluded that flip-flops alter the way we walk in subtle but specific ways, leading to ankle, heel, and sole problems. Here are some of the effects of wearing flip-flops:

  • Flip-flops change the way we walk by ignoring the natural heel-toe walking pattern. The heel-toe pattern engages the thigh, calf, and butt muscles, building strong legs, calves, and ankles.
  • Flip-flops force us to take short strides just to keep the sandals on, forcing the ankles to turn inward as a result. This is often called over-pronation, which then doesn’t allow the foot to roll forward into what is called supination. This will cause long-term ankle and hip problems.
  • Flip-flops don’t build leg or calf muscles. They force us to walk straight-legged, not bending the knee for fear of losing the flip-flops. If there are muscles for scuffling, those do get stronger.
  • Flip-flops don’t support the ankles because there are no straps around the ankle to do so. Welcome to sprains and twists. The foot can’t stay in the flip-flop because there is no well-placed ankle or wrap-around strap to keep it there.
  • Flip-flops generally don’t have an arch support, which most of us need, and so the foot collapses and flattens out. This puts more strain on the connective tissue from the heel to the toes. Once irritated, it becomes plantar fasciitis and burns or stabs the heel with every step. In addition, with a standard thin sole, there’s almost no cushioning for the heel, either.
  • Flip-flops cause long-term hip, neck, and shoulder problems as the toes can’t extend and push off because they are busy scrunching under to hold the flip-flop on. We lean forward to offset the toe scrunching and our shoulders and neck suffer.

The ankle sprains and the foot soreness will happen quickly; some of the effects of flip-flops will take a few years to show up as bunions, hammertoes, and neck and shoulder pain. Why risk it?

Summer sandals with solid soles and ankle straps are available everywhere. Keen and Teva both make great summer sandals. I wear Keen’s for serious walking, trail hiking, and the beach during the summer. The ankle straps allow my foot and ankle to use the natural heel-toe walking pattern and to avoid foot and ankle problems. These are just two sandals that I know are good for you. There are many more out there, sandals to fit every price range and style. Just don’t settle for flip-flops. They are cheap and popular, but your feet will pay a big price.

Most of us follow a fix-it program when something hurts. When nothing hurts, we think everything is fine. Not always. Use this program to avoid a flip-flop problem. If you are already wearing solid, ankle-strapped sandals, use this program to build strength and flexibility in your feet and ankles and lower legs.

Antidote to Flip-Flops Exercise Program

  1. Foot Circles & Toe Flexes: What does this do? This restores the ankle’s flexibility and strengthens the lower leg.
  2. Calf & Hamstring Stretch With A Strap/Towel/Belt: What does this do? It reconnects all the muscles from the leg to the foot.
  3. Bent Knee Rocking Chair with Pillow: What does this do? This exercise stabilizes both sides of the pelvis during flexion and extension, allowing the ankles to work.
  4. Asian Sitting Pose (with or w/o cushion): What does this do? This exercise promotes pelvic extension and loosens up knee and thigh muscles, restoring flexibility to the arch of the foot and toes.
  5. Funny Walk-Four Steps: What does this do? This works all of the foot and ankle muscles, allowing the lower limbs to handle balance and control.

Use this program every other day. Your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders will thank you. If you would like a PDF of this program, with directions and pictures, please fill out the Comments block below and we’ll send a set out to you.

Moving With the Seasons

 

 

 

As a New Yorker, I am blessed with the pleasures and constraints of four delightfully defined seasons. I have appreciation for all of our seasons, but like many people, I particularly enjoy summer. With summer at mid stride, I’ve been biking more, hiking a bit, and enjoying outdoor dance rehearsals. While these are not exclusively summertime activities, the extra heat and daylight do give them a bit more charge. Given that I’m more active outdoors, it’s no surprise that my indoor movement practices have naturally shifted away from building heat and more towards cooling down. I still enjoy and rely upon yoga and BodyFix exercises to keep me feeling mobile and aligned, but I don’t make much of an effort to break a sweat. And yet, many of my clients spend plenty of time at the gym doing the same workout in the summer as they would in January. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to your routine, but I feel that some of them might be missing out on diversifying their movement practices and could be disengaging from their body’s natural sensibilities.

Adjusting our habits and lifestyle to the changes in the weather doesn’t take a whole lot of guesswork. For example, it would never occur to me to roast a Tofurkey dinner or drink hot cocoa in July. My flannel pajamas are stored away, and the long hot baths I luxuriated in during the winter have been replaced with refreshing cold showers. These are common seasonal adjustments, but somehow the thread gets lost when it comes to our movement choices. Indoor cycling classes and hot yoga remain popular in mid summer, despite internal cues that suggest that we’re overheating. If feeling fatigued after a workout is a typical experience in the summer, even if you exercise in a climate-controlled gym, then it may be time to make some seasonal adjustments that coordinate more with the weather.

I am of the opinion that as a culture we should be moving more and exercising less. I maintain this logic year round, but there is no better time than the summer to implement an intuitive and seasonal approach to movement and self care. If the distinction between movement and exercise is unclear, try comparing how many workouts you do during the week to how many cabs you take. If the ratio is even or falls in the favor of hailing cabs, then you probably need more movement, not necessarily a deeper workout. The point is that with no shortage of beautiful weather at our disposal, we might enjoy skipping the gym and taking a Citibike to work. It could be fun to walk or lightly jog to a restorative yoga class instead of driving to a hot vinyasa studio. If you spend next Saturday tending to the community garden and playing tennis at the neighborhood courts, you may not feel an urge to rush to an air conditioned gym for an intense power lifting session. Certainly fitness goals have their place, and training hard in hot weather can be fun. However, the idea is to keep our movement vocabulary diverse and open ended, not to phone in an exercise routine in lieu of trusting our body’s internal cues.

Next week, at BodyFix Method, I will be co-teaching a Summer Breathwork Cool Down Workshop designed to air out the body and calm the nervous system. Anita Goodkind and I will guide our students through therapeutic breathing techniques and restorative movement that will soothe and cool. You’ll leave feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready to enjoy a mid summer evening walk. Check the website to register online. I hope to see you there!

Thanks for reading.

Elaine O’Brien

 

Summer Cool Down: Deep Breathing to Calm the Nervous System

 

July is here and summer is heating up. Summer is associated with fun times…the beach, the sun, barbecues, travel, but all that running around can also be stressful. If you find your nerves a bit shot from travel, heat, pool parties and not enough down time, you might be feeling a bit off. We all want to stay focused, calm, and in balance, and here are a few tricks to get back to that “center”.

When we are anxious, we begin to breathe in a shallow way. Shallow breathing is actually a mild form of hyperventilation, which deprives the body of oxygen. A cycle is initiated within the body, whereby anxiety encourages rapid breathing, and then the rapid breathing encourages anxiety. It becomes a vicious cycle. Anxiety, fear, and stress can all trigger the “fight or flight” response in our nervous system. We might sense a rapid pulse, butterflies in the stomach, and tense muscles.

Tight shoulders, head or neck pain, and upper body tension increase as our breathing becomes more rapid. There is often a rise in our body temperature and we feel hot and uncomfortable. Our lung power is reduced and our diaphragmatic breathing stops, forcing the delivery of oxygen to our body via the smooth muscles of the stomach. These smooth muscles are not good at multi-tasking, and as breathing takes prioity over digestion, our digestve track suffers.

Shallow breathing disrupts the balance between carbon dioxide (CO2) and calcium (Ca++) and our blood becomes more alkaline. The low calcium and the higher carbon dioxide levels cause nerves and muscles to function poorly. This imbalance results in fatigue, dizziness, exhaustion, tingling, cramps, muscle weakness, altered motor control, and a reduced pain threshold. Our general sensitivity is increased and our tolerance for pain is decreased.

It is a vicious cycle. Anxiety creates shallow breathing and shallow breathing stimulates anxiety. Our best defense is a good offense, finding our center through deep breathing. Our breath is our most powerful tool to become focused, calm, and balanced.

 

Here Are 4 Deep Breathing Exercises for Stress & Anxiety.

Cool Down. Calm Down.

  1. Pursed Lip Breathing. Sit upright on the edge of a chair. Relax your shoulders and rest your hands in your lap. Inhale through your nose. Exhale through pursed lips as though you are blowing out through a straw. Keep exhaling until you can’t exhale any more. At the bottom of the exhale, inhale through your nose. Continue for 3-5 minutes.
  2. Diaphragmatic Breathing with a Block. Lie on your back on a yoga mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place the block under your sacrum at the medium level so that your sacrum feels supported. Allow your arms to rest at your sides and your ribs to relax to the floor. Feel your breath moving into your ribs three dimensionally. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Make a sighing sound. Exhale completely. Breathe here for 3 minutes.
  3. Side Stretch and Breathing on a Bolster. Place a round bolster on a yoga mat. Lie on your side with your knees bent over the bolster so that your bottom ribs are on the bolster. Rest your head on a yoga block. Stretch your top arm overhead and breathe into your top ribs. Expand your ribs to the ceiling with every breath. Hold for 3 minutes. Repeat on the other side. Relax into the position and breathe deeply into your ribs.
  4. Child’s Pose with Deep Breathing. Kneel down, bring your feet together, and press your hips to your heels so that your buttocks rest on your heels. Relax your shoulders. Direct your breath into your back ribs. In this position, it is easier to access the back portion of your lungs. Visualize the air moving into the back of your lungs. Breathe here for 1-2 minutes.

 

Breathing is a powerful tool for reconnecting with your center. It’s a tool that’s always on hand when a stressful moment arises. Rather than letting the anxiety cycle to take over and allowing yourself to get all “hot and bothered”, just take a moment and do 3 minutes of Pursed Lip Breathing. Just doing that can stop a cycle of hyperventilation and restore optimal breathing patterns.

If you enjoyed this sequence for cooling and stress relief, you will get even more out of our upcoming workshops:

Summer Breathwork Cool Down

Thursday, July 20th, 6pm – 7.30pm with Elaine & Anita

&

Thursday, August 17th, 6pm – 7.30pm with Anita & Kat

Take a moment for yourself, and learn easy breathing techniques to cool down, both physically and emotionally. This workshop will teach simple self-help tools and techniques to break the cycle of breathing dysfunction and chronic pain, which can cause anxiety and overheating. The takeaways from this class will be an understanding of what Healthy Breathing is, how to develop better breathing patterns, and what steps to take to mitigate stress and anxiety.

Our breathing patterns, stress levels, and our sensitivity to pain are deeply related. Day-to-day stressors, such as work, restless thoughts, and poor posture, all have an impact on our breathing patterns. Anxiety causes us to take shallow breaths and breathe with only our upper chest and shoulders instead of breathing deeply with the diaphragm, our primary breathing muscle. This pattern carries over to the upper body and shoulders, bringing an irritating pain that’s always there.

Each participant will receive a DIY customized exercise program and hands-on instruction in implementing the work. Come join us on a Thursday evening to learn simple and effective exercises for cooling breathing and healthy living.

$50

Space is Limited

NO DROP INS

Sign Up Here for Thursday, July 20th

Sign Up Here for Thursday, August 17th

Take care and be well,

Anita Goodkind

Alignment Therapist

Teach Your Kids to Walk & Play with Ease!

 

We look at our friends and our loved ones, young and old, and we see most of them slouched over, walking with feet turned out, walking on their toes, or not walking at all because they are just too tired to walk. Naturally, we think of our children and how we want them to be. We want the best for them. We want our children to be able to move, walk, sit, and stand with comfort, ease, and grace. Here are some tips to help you help them do that, without nagging or becoming irritated.

  • Make Good Posture A Game.

Youngsters mimic their mothers and fathers, copy their postural habits and gestures, and imitate the way you walk. If you want your little ones to develop healthy postural habits, you have to show them good habits for sitting and standing. Sit on the floor or a hard surfaced chair. Make a game of finding your sitting bones. Once you and your child find them, see how long can you sit on them without rolling forward. First one to fold loses. There’s got to be an M & M treat there somewhere. Reward your little ones for imitating you.

  • Practice Yoga Together.

Another way to make good posture fun is to practice these easy-to-follow yoga poses together… Mountain pose, Tree pose, Cat-Cow, and Down Dog pose. These poses not only build coordination and strength, they also build big-time body awareness. Once your child is aware of his body, alignment and good posture are easier to find and maintain.

  • Build Posture From the Ground Up.

Bring awareness to your child’s feet as often as you can. Teach her to stand with all ten toes pointing forward and with her weight equally balanced between the heels and balls of both feet.

Make sure that your child wears sensible footwear when she has to wear shoes but goes barefoot whenever possible! Children don’t need flip-flops. Flip-flops force their toes to curl and heels to drag. Her calf muscles can’t move the ankle in flip-flops, so her stride will be shorter, and her ankles will roll in. Sneakers and real shoes are better.

Most of her balance information comes from her feet. Shoes, no matter how cute, restrict neurological development. Wearing flip-flops, like wearing high heels, is developmentally detrimental to your child’s alignment and postural wellbeing. Children need to be barefoot as often as possible.

 

  • Teach Lightness of Being.

You are how you move. Teach your children grace and lightness when they move. Start with talking about their top and bottom, head and feet. It is essential to spinal alignment and development. Cue your children to be aware of their heads by describing how their heads are ‘floating’ on their spines like balloons. We all take our bodies for granted, but if we are aware of how we move, that lightness will carry over to good alignment, posture, and agility.

 

  • Whole Body Walking.

Your child learns by your example in walking. It is important that you walk with awareness. Practice a graceful and long stride. Learn to walk with your whole body. You are how you move.

Here’s a trick: walk around the living room and see if you notice your butt muscles and your hamstrings (back of legs) working. If you don’t, your stride is too short. Your child’s stride will mimic yours, so lengthen yours! Do the same walk, but now extend your stride by an inch or two. See if you notice the butt muscles and the hamstrings working. If you do, your stride is good, and you are using the muscles you were given.

My father used to play a game of Giant Steps with me. I was tall, gawky, and uncoordinated. A game like Giant Steps helped me to find my balance, find the leg, and butt muscles for walking and running. As adults, we now call it a Lunge.

 

  • Chin Level With The Earth.

This is a daily reminder in yoga. Grandma probably walked with a book balanced on the top of her head. We don’t do that today, but see if you can do it, and then make it a challenge with your kids. Don’t use today’s fashion models as examples, as most of them have horrible, slouchy posture.

If your chin is level with the earth, then your head is up, relaxing the shoulders. It is a way to organize the body for elegance and good posture. Encourage this simple trick in your children and you will create healthy gait and postural patterns. If you look down, you’ll fall down.

  • Use Your Whole Foot.

Your foot has four points of contact: heel, mid foot, forefoot, and toes. Again, make it a game but show your child that he can use the entire foot to walk, balance, and push off.Walking is a game of balance. There’s an exercise called Funny Walk that my daughter liked. Walk barefoot on your heels, then toes, then outside of the foot, and then the inside of the foot. It’s fun, awkward initially, but it gets the foot and lower leg working.

Funny Walk will build your child’s arches. Feet need arches to work well, to absorb shock and to provide power in movement. Orthotics should be used as a temporary measure only, and only as part of a leg-building program. If your doctor or podiatrist recommends them as a permanent solution, say “no thanks”. Find a professional who knows how to strengthen leg and foot muscles. It’s not rocket science.

With exercises like this, she can have a healthy foot strike and a long stride. She will develop good balance and that healthy stride will build muscle and neuromuscular coordination.

 

  • Play Every Sport, Any Game.

Put all these steps into action with play. Children learn how to move by being active. Different games, different sports demand different movement patterns…all good. Specializing in one sport develops only one set of patterns…not so good Children should be active in as many ways as possible.

Minimize all sitting. TV, IPads, IPhones, and Internet games should be a reward for being active. Your children will sit hours and hours in school. Don’t contribute to their inactivity. This will be a battle, but it’s one worth fighting.

Get out there and play with them. Throw a baseball, softball, basketball, anything round and catchable, to your kids! Encourage your children to play every safe sport, to dance, to run, to swim, to throw a Frisbee, and to be kids. Playing outdoors is where they will grow strong. Playing is critical to the development of their bodies and their brains!

 

Who’s writing this?     Bill Boland is an exercise physiologist and lifetime runner based in New York, where he directs an alignment and movement practice known as the BodyFix Method™.

The Perils of the “Yoga Butt”

I had been teaching yoga for about two years when I first heard the term “yoga butt”. Having mistaken it for an eye-roll worthy comment regarding a shapely backside, my friend and co-teacher Megan, corrected me. “It’s when you’ve done Pigeon so many times that your glutes (butt muscles) become weak and overstretched”

I accepted the validity of that view, so it took some time before I embraced the importance of strengthening my glutes as a valuable addition to my yoga practice and teaching. Since the beginning of my yoga practice, I’ve heard countless teachers cue their students to deactivate their glute muscles. The claim is that tight butt muscles result in pain in the hips and lower back, and that soft, squishy glutes are the key to a mobile, flexible body. “Nobody wants a tense, tight ass!” One of my yoga teachers would routinely exclaim to a roomful of delighted students. The relief was palpable. We were finally off the hook for not wanting to do squats and leg lifts!

My teacher was somewhat correct. You don’t want glute muscles (or any muscles) that are loaded with tension or are overly tight. But it’s inaccurate to equate tightness with strength. Like every other muscle group, glutes should contract and release appropriately during movement. Yoga certainly qualifies as movement, so why all of the misinformation?

There are a few reasons why. One could actually be cultural. When I began practicing in 2007, yoga was a certain type of “anti-workout”. Plenty of practitioners (including me) embraced yoga after years of joyless exercise programs that included tedious glute and hip exercises. To engage in a sweaty, breath-centered practice that didn’t include sculpting the rear end was beyond refreshing.

Another reason glute strength was discouraged could ultimately be in the service of the poses, even if the poses don’t serve the practitioner. Certain Pigeon variations and “advanced” hip stretches are so extreme, that only the hyper-mobile can achieve them. A person would have to have profoundly overstretched glutes in order to put their foot behind their head. These “hip openers” can feel great in the short term, but over time, glute muscles lose their functionality. The result can include pelvic instability and pain.

When the glute muscles are weakened, an inevitable lack of balance develops in movement. A variety of compensations can spring from underachieving glutes. Hip extension can become limited and hip flexors are taxed. Hamstrings frequently take over where the glute muscles fall short, and they become even tighter as a result. The femoral head can lose its centration (neutral position) and slip laterally, often resulting in a sore outer hip. The lower back can ache due to glutes that fail to anchor the back of the pelvis down. Regardless of the symptom, weak glutes can inhibit functional movement and limit the benefits of a yoga practice.

I’ve made a few key adjustments to my yoga practice since learning more about biomechanics and butt muscle function. In addition to daily glute exercises (see below), I’ve deliberately activated my glute muscles in Bridge pose and in Prone Backbends. I still practice Lotus and Pigeon poses, but I no longer include Compass pose or any Bound postures that tug at the glute muscles to the extent that the hip hikes up or moves laterally. I frequently practice Warrior 3 with the support of blocks so that I can access my glutes within my practice. As a result, my lower back has regained its length and my pelvis feels symmetrical and stable.

Yoga is a personal practice with a variety of techniques for each individual practitioner. There is no single solution for all bodies, but if you relate to any of the symptoms of “yoga butt”, it might be time to bring glute strength into your practice. Try the exercises below as a warm up before your favorite yoga class or home practice. Explore balancing your hip opening routine with some stabilization work and enjoy the results!

Strength & Stabilization Exercises:

 

Supine Buttock Contractions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butt Blasters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clamshell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reverse Clamshell

STAY PAIN FREE DURING SUMMER TRAVEL

 

School is out for the summer and temperatures are rising. As you start to plan your summer getaway, whether it is a weekend in the country or a romantic European vacation, take some simple measures to reduce any undue stress that traveling might add to your body.

If you suffer from chronic pain, whether it is your low back, hip, knee, neck, or shoulder, it could be exacerbated by the long periods of sitting that travel often requires. In addition, travel often involves lifting heavy loads as well as changing our patterns of eating, drinking, and sleeping. It also disrupts the healthy habits that keep us out of pain and in balance.

So, if you are packing up and heading out for an exciting adventure, take these simple measures to keep yourself pain free while traveling….

  • Pack lightly…

An easy way to injure your lower back is by lifting heavy loads. There are two ways to protect yourself from this as you travel. A simple solution is to pack less! If you do have to lift a heavy load, use proper form.

  • Lift luggage carefully…

If you lift heavy luggage, protect yourself with optimal stability.

  1. Keep your hips and shoulders square; do not rotate or twist your spine as you pick up the suitcase. This is how injuries occur!
  2. Bend from the knees and hips, not your back. Keep your back flat; do not round your back as that strains the discs.
  3. Avoid putting anything heavy in overhead bins on the airplane. Lifting heavy objects overhead puts you at unnecessary risk to strain your lumbar back. If your suitcase is heavy, do yourself a favor and check it.
  • Sit smartly…

Protect yourself by sitting well on the plane or in the car.

  1. Use a lumbar support! This is an easy way to protect your low back and spine. A BFM round inflatable pillow is an ideal travel companion! Place your pillow, a rolled up towel or sweater, or lumbar support behind your navel, just above your pelvis. This will support the natural arch of your lower back.
  2. Keep your knees in line with your hips! Sit with your knees and hips in line. Do not allow your knees to drift open, as that will force the top of your thighs to jam into your low back. Point your feet straight ahead, with your knees over your toes and your knees aligned with your hip sockets.
  3. Avoid rounding your shoulders! Put simply, don’t slouch. Rounded shoulders lead to neck pain, decreased breathing, disrupted digestion, lower back pain, and a host of other alignment issues, so use the lumbar support to balance your head and shoulders.
  • Hydrate and Nourish Your Body….

When you travel, it is easy to get into bad habits with readily available junk foods and not enough water on hand. If you don’t prepare, both mentally and logistically, you will find yourself tired, thirsty, and reaching for a Snickers or a Twinkie and a soda at a rest stop.

Plan. Pack healthy snacks. You know that airports and rest stops are full of salty, sugary, and fatty foods. These foods are inflammatory and will exacerbate your pain. To avoid getting caught in that trap, bring your own snacks. (It is also much less expensive!) Pack foods that are not only healthy but also delicious so that you are not tempted to stray off course!

Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water. First, drink as much as possible the day before you travel. Then on your trip, sip water slowly throughout your journey to help you maintain proper levels of hydration while not having to visit the restroom too often!

  • Move As Much As Possible!

Nothing is more important than getting up and stretching every 30 minutes or so. If you are driving and can’t stop that often, then when you do stop, spend a few minutes walking around and doing some simple stretches to lengthen the muscles that have been shortened by sitting.

Here are a few exercises to lengthen you out after you have been sitting in a car or airplane seat for too long!

  1. Overhead Arms with Twist
  2. Stationary Lunge
  3. Standing Quad Stretch
  4. Standing Hamstring Stretch (can do in the airplane bathroom!)
  5. Seated Bounce Ups

This sequence will lengthen the muscles that get the tightest from sitting. Use it at a rest stop or standing in the airplane aisle. Seated Bounce Ups can be done sitting at any time. They will keep your butt muscles active during long flights or road trips. When you arrive at your destination, wake up your body with movement. Skip the escalator to the baggage claim; take the stairs, instead.

For a more detailed travel menu, if you have questions, or if you would like to schedule a session, email me at anita@bodyfixmethod.com.

Safe travels my friends!

Anita

Here’s A Plan To Avoid Running Injuries

My friend Jim loves to run. He has been running since he was in grade school. He ran cross-country competitively in high school and college and has done his best to run 15-25 miles a week since his university days. His biggest issue isn’t time. He makes the time. Even bad weather has never stopped him. But injuries have.

Jim has been injured almost every year since I have known him. He’s holding up the national average for running injuries. Out of almost 12 million runners, male and female, over 50% are injured every year. That’s nearly 2 million stress fractures and 4 million sprains or strains!

Many of those injured quit running and try another form of exercise because they believe a new exercise routine won’t be so hard on their feet, ankles, knees, hips, low back, shoulders, and neck. They are missing the point, however. Running is not causing the injuries; it’s the runner and his form. Runners bring their form, their posture, and their misalignment to their new sport. As a result, their results in their new sports of cycling, tennis, or swimming won’t be any different.

With good running form, most injuries could be avoided. In theory, you can just go out and run. We are designed to do just that, and we did so for millennia. For thousands of years, we ran our quarry to exhaustion. Because weren’t bigger than most of the animals on the plains or in the forests, we had to outrun them as well as outwit them. Otherwise, we became dinner. Unfortunately, 21st century sitting and working has robbed us of that freedom. We can get it back, but we have to change our overall posture to be able to run without injury.

Running is not an inherently dangerous sport, yet the number of running injuries increases annually, and not because more people are running each year. The total number of runners in the US has stabilized but the injuries just keep coming. One out of two runners are injured each year. If you are one of them, please read on and follow through with what I am asking you to do.

Let’s start with the head and shoulders, as that’s what we see first. If we correct postural and alignment problems there, we’ll both look better and we’ll run injury-free. The standard postural condition of the 21st century is either a forward head, followed by rounded shoulders, or rounded shoulders and a chin jutting forward. Runners are not distinct from the human race, so most of us have these postural issues.

Sitting for hours on end is the primary cause. This is followed by our computer use and poor working conditions. And, finally, we have our streaming and smart phone addiction. The forward head and rounded shoulders condition changes our walking and running patterns dramatically. It punishes runners and athletes more aggressively because we are pushing the body by running, hitting the ground harder than just walking and stressing the joints much more than walking.

 

The first step in correcting a problem is to recognize that it’s there. Look in the mirror or ask a friend to take four standing photos of you in minimal clothing. You want to see where the joints line up – or don’t. We are designed so that our muscles contract to move the joints, and then extend to allow the joints to go back in line. If the muscles are too tight or too loose, they can’t get out of contracting, so the joints are stuck out of position. If your head is forward or your shoulders are rounded, the chest muscles are locked in contraction and the back muscles are pulled taut and unable to resist the forward tension. Most of the body’s joints won’t line up and good running form disappears.

Print the photos out and look at them, preferably with an honest, straight-talking friend. It may not be a pretty picture; it might be at odds with how you see yourself, but in this case, the pictures don’t lie. Don’t worry about it. The most important issue is running pain free, not stroking your ego. Focus on the fix.

Let’s assume that the rounded shoulders are way out of line. Tight chest muscles, a result of sitting and staring at a screen all day, are rounding your shoulders forward. This throws off your center of gravity, vital for running power and stability. The rounded shoulders also tense up your hip flexors and upper, mid, and lower back muscles, which takes the biggest back muscles (latissimus dorsi) out of any support function. This means only your joints are holding you up, and they can’t take the pounding on their own.

Let’s fix this. Here are five exercises that will get your shoulders back, and get you on the road to running injury free. Just do them everyday. No excuses.

Static or Resting Back

 

Static Back Pullovers

 

Upper Spinal Floor Twist

 

 

Lumbar Erector Stretch-One Leg

 

 

Standing Arm Circles-Wide Stance

 

 

 

These exercise aren’t hypothetical. They work. I do them everyday and at my age, many of my contemporaries are having a hard time walking, much less running 3-5 miles a day.

Your times will improve, your training will be more focused, and running will become fun again. Stay consistent with these exercises, and you will be a happy runner.

If you would like a copy of these exercises, fill out the Contact Form and we will send you a PDF of the program, with easy-to-follow pictures and directions. Do the work and run injury free. If you have questions or would like to schedule a one-on-one, email me at bill@bodyfixmethod.com.