Self-Help for Hammertoe Deformity

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Extension at the MPJ; flexion at the PIJ

Hammertoe deformity (sometimes written as hammer toe) is a condition of one or more of the lesser toes, characterized by extension of the metatarsophalangeal joints (MTPJ) and flexion of the proximal interphalangeal joints (PIJ). To find your MTP joints, lift your toes off the ground – it is that junction at the base of the toes. Lifting them off the floor puts them into extension. PIJ is the next joint along the toe, which in hammertoe deformity is often flexed or in the position of making a fist with your toes.  Sometimes the distal or last toe joints are also extended, which I could demonstrate by lifting the tip of the toe of my foot anatomical model.

Not only can hammertoes be painful, many who have them are self-conscious wearing sandals or going barefoot because of how their toes look.  If you have hammertoes or suspect that you developing them, here are some things you can do.

Evaluate and update your footwear

It is widely accepted that hammertoes are made worse by narrow shoes and high heels. I use italics because most of my clients don’t consider their narrow or high. Here is a simple test for narrow. Remove the insert from your shoe, stand on it, and spread your toes. If your toes spill over the sides, your shoe is too narrow. Period. The great majority of shoes have positive heels, which means the heel is at a higher elevation than the toe of the shoe. Technically, this is a high heel that changes your geometry and therefore your gait – thus where/how your land on your feet, when standing, walking, or running. Look for shoes that are zero drop, meaning there is no drop in elevation of the shoe from heel to toe.

Another ubiquitous shoe feature to avoid is toe spring – that perky lift at the toe area of a shoe. Toe spring is a feature meant to facilitate toe extension phase of walking/running. It is a necessary evil in most shoes because their stiffness undermines our natural ability to extend our toes in gait. The problem is that toe spring keeps your toes in constant extension, which is unnatural. You can see how constant extension would be unwanted in a condition like hammertoe deformity, where your toes are already prone to chronic contraction in extension. In the image below, you can see significant toe spring in the Altra  on the right (a shoe that otherwise has good features like a wide toe box and zero drop heel) compared to the shoe on the left from OESH – a woman owned company that makes anatomically- and biomechanically-informed shoes for women. Not only is there no toe spring, they also have zero drop heels and toe boxes wider than your typical shoe – all features to seek in a hammertoe-defying shoe.

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Toes spring in the shoe on the right

Shoes like flip flops, some sandals, clogs, slides, mules – any shoe that has a loosely attached upper and requires flexion through the first or proximal interphalangeal joint in order to keep them on your feet mimics and may reinforces problematic biomechanics of hammertoe deformity. Try walking in a pair clogs without scrunching your toes and you may find that you’ve kicked your shoe halfway across the room. If you are already experiencing hammertoes, you might consider decreasing the amount of time you spend in these types of shoes.

Train your toe flexing muscles

Some studies have shown a strength imbalance between toe extensors and toe flexors with extensors being stronger, pulling the MP joint into extension. It is thought that toe flexion at the first toe joint is in response to this imbalance. Natural Sports Podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan has a good video on this, where he shows passive stretching exercises. In addition to passive stretching, I suggest that you also add the following resistance stretching exercises as part of your everyday training.

Since it is thought that the MP joint is overly strong in extension, training greater strength in toe flexion is desired. From a seated position, cup your hand over your toes, curling your fingers over the tips of your toes to rest on the bottom side of your toes. Hold your toes firmly in place while attempting to curl your toes into a fist.

  • Variation 1 – completely resist flexion of your toes for up to 7 breaths.
  • Variation 2 – allow your toes to flex but against firm resistance – repeat up to 10 times.

Drop your toes

Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement, one of my teachers, is famous for saying “drop your ribs” to get her clients to pay attention to when they are thrusting their ribs forward thus shearing their vertebrae, chronically extending their spinal muscles, and undermining intra-abdominal pressure. I see a similar phenomenon in my clients with hammertoe deformity, where they are chronically lifting their toes. I usually see it in balancing exercises, ankle exercises, and in the wear and tear on the tops of their shoes.

I pay attention to this and remind my clients, ad nauseam,  to “drop your toes.” Eventually, they start noticing how they habitually contract their toe extensors and, problematically, how they use toe extension muscles more dominantly than the more appropriate muscle on the shin (tibialis anterior) when dorsiflexing an ankle.  I work with them to learn to relax their toes and the top of the foot with some specific ball and sensing exercises and to control toe extension in ankle ranges of motion.

Stretch your calves

Research shows that study participants with hammertoes also have less ankle dorsiflexion – the position of your ankle, when walking up a steep hill. In some cases, this could be due to soft tissue limitations in the calves. Thus daily calf stretching and strengthening may be beneficial. From the calf stretch pictured below, I like to slowly rise up onto the ball of my foot to full plantar flexion (standing in tippy toes) and very slowly lower down to eccentrically load my calf, meaning it gets stronger while it is stretching.

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Calf stretch

If your hammertoes reside in the Yakima Valley of Washington, you can find me at the clinic of Dr. Kara Lolley, where I help you move, move more, and move more of you.

Namaste, Michele

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Three things you can do for your feet today

As a yoga and movement teacher, I am concerned with feet and I see a lot of them. One characteristic that most of the feet I observe share is a crammed, congested appearance of the toes. When I witness this, I know that I am in the presence of feet that are shod (in shoes) much of the time and in shoes that are least like the shape of a foot with features intended to “support” their feet. At best, such feet are tired and sore at the end of the day or painful all day for some poor soles. These feet are developing bunions, nerve damage, degenerative changes, and other painful and potentially debilitating conditions. If you want to begin improving your feet today, do these three things.

1) Take off your shoes. The #1 best thing you can do for and with your feet is to walk barefoot outside on natural, non-groomed terrain. Walking barefoot places the parts of your foot – toes, arch, heel  – in an optimal, biomechanically pleasing relationship to each other. Walking and moving around barefooted strengthens the parts of your feet that need to be strong or stiff and improves mobility and flexibility in areas that need it. Walking barefoot affords your feet the best chance of achieving functional, healthy patterns of movement. In contrast,  as soon as you put on a shoe that changes the geometry of your foot, its parts and everything north of them are no longer working as they were designed.

But, before you go running out the door and into the woods naked and unshod, you must understand that if you’ve been wearing shoes most of the time, your feet are not conditioned for the requirements of hiking in the woods without shoes, much less walking out to the mailbox in your jammies & socks. I grew up in Tennessee, where we don’t wear shoes and I have been practicing yoga for over 15 years, thus have spent a lot of time barefoot. Yet, it took me a year of foot exercises and graded exposure to be able to hike outside barefoot as an adult. It could take you longer, but is truly worth the effort.

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Here is a 12 month progressive timeline to prepare your feet for more barefoot time. Adjust as needed for your feet and demands of your environment and season. Each month, start with minimal exposure to the new terrain – a few minutes, a few times per day and gradually increase duration and/or frequency.

Month 1: Start wearing thin soled slippers around your house for a few minutes at a time, a few times a day. Gradually increase duration and/or frequency.

Month 2: Start substituting thick socks for your slippers.

Month 3: Start spending barefoot time on carpeted areas of your home.

Month 4: Start making barefoot forays into your yard.

Month 5: Start spending barefoot time on linoleum in your house.

Month 6: Start spending barefoot time on mulched areas of your yard.

Month 7: Start spending barefoot time on wood floors in your house.

Month 8: Start spending barefoot time on asphalt/concrete.

Month 9: Start spending spending time on tile/stone flooring in your house.

Month 10: Start doing appropriate outdoor tasks barefoot – gardening, raking leaves, playing with the dog…

Month 11: Start taking walks in a park or on a hiking trail with varied terrain.

Month 12:  Start taking walks around your neighborhood, varying time spent on the edges of neighbor’s yards and on the street/sidewalks.

2) Wear these socks. Toe alignment socks are a perfect companion to more barefoot time. These socks position your toes into more natural alignment, providing gentle stretching to toes that have been crammed into shoes all day. They provide light traction (repositioning) for big toes that no longer lie straight and lesser toes that are trying to crawl on top of their mates.

Amazon sells several brands, like this one.

Flesser® Yoga Sports GYM Five Toe Separator Socks Alignment Pain Health Massage Socks (Pink)

Or, if you are in Yakima, you can save yourself the wait and shipping and buy them from me at Dr. Kara Lolley’s office. We are a reseller for the original foot alignment socks from My-Happy feet, pictured below.

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3) Massage with a ball. I have most of my clients use a ball to massage their feet. If you come to see me with a shoulder problem, rest assured that I will craft a movement program that appropriately loads your shoulder and there is a good chance that I’ll have you roll your foot on a ball!   I prefer a racquet ball, although a tennis ball is OK too. I use a specific ball rolling protocol, when giving clients exercises for their feet. Here is one method from my protocol.

Stand with your feet pelvis width distance apart. Place the ball of one of your feet onto the racquet ball, keeping your heel in contact with the floor. Allow your weight to fully rest on the ball. If sensation is too much, shift some of your weight into the other leg. The motion you will make with your foot on the ball resembles the wiping motion that you would make with your hand if you were polishing a car or wiping a mirror. Slowly scrub the racquet ball side to side with the ball of your foot, as if you were trying to clean the floor with it  – a movement of foot abduction and adduction if you want to get technical. Remember to keep your heel down. This is a very slow motion. Eventually you should work the ball forward so that the scrubbing motion separates your toes as your foot moves the ball.

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Scrubbing with a tennis ball

May your feet be well. May your feet be happy. May your feet be free from suffering.

Namaste, Michele

What you believe about movement could make it better for you.

I read about this study not long after it was published and have had many occasions to remember it and tell it’s story, which goes something like this. A sample of 84 of hotel room attendants were divided into two groups. Group 1 participants were in the control group and were not given any special information and continued to perform their cleaning responsibilities as usual. Group 2, the informed group, were given the intervention, which was being told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General’s recommendations for an active lifestyle. On average, hotel room attendants clean 15 rooms a day – work that requires exerting activities like walking, bending, pushing, lifting, and carrying. They were provided with examples of how their work was actually exercise. Remember, subjects in the other group were not given this information.

Although actual cleaning behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. Results suggest the possibility that prior to the onset of the study, room attendants were not receiving the full benefits of their exercise because they were not aware that they were actually getting exercise.

The placebo effect is a favorable response to an intervention — a pill, a procedure, an activity — that doesn’t have a direct physiological effect. The classic example is when people enrolled in a study experience some improvement in their condition even though they were given fake pills that don’t contain any active ingredients. In the case of hotel attendants, beliefs and expectations elicited significant physiological improvements. Simply shifting their mindset to perceive their work as exercise improved their health. The placebo effect was in play.

What if you looked at all of your possible and actual movements in a given day as having potential health benefits?  I include possible movements because humans are inclined to choose convenience over movement. My movement teacher, internationally renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman, sees convenience as the problem. Start replacing the word, “convenient” with “takes less movement,” and you will find that’s how it translates most of the time.

If something is convenient, it means you made less physical movement. If it’s convenient to park close to your destination, it takes less movement. If its convenient to blow your leaves or snow rather than rake or shovel them, it means it you moved less or less of you moved. Even really small things, like the convenience of having your wife or husband hand or bring you something, means you didn’t move much. And less movement is not what most of us need.

If treating some work tasks as exercise has positive health aspects, why not also consider some movements made throughout your day as exercise?   This could be especially fruitful for those with sedentary jobs. Many of the movements that you make (or could make) just getting life done have the potential for maintaining or improving cardio respiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and neuromotor fitness.

How can you stack more movement into your life? For some great ideasI turned to the most passionate and creative people I know, when it comes to moving more. You should know that this group of movers are avid students of courses and writings of Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement. Some, including myself, have trained and certified with Katy as Restorative Exercise Specialists. Movements like walking, sitting on the floor, squatting, and dynamic core activities like carrying, hanging, and swinging feature prominently in our lives and for those of us, who are movement teachers, in our work with clients.

I share with you ideas for more movement that also provide fitness components necessary to be considered exercise – cardio, strength, flexibility, and neuromotor fitness. Your job is to move, move more, and move more of you in your life and contemplate how this movement is physiologically as beneficial as exercise plus it gets life done!

Movement for getting transportation & travel done

I have embraced things that I formerly thought of as inconvenient, uncomfortable, or risky, which mostly means walking everywhere, carrying, climbing, leaping, swinging, and not acting my age. I walk to and from work every day no matter the weather or what I need to carry (once I carried an armload of cherry wood that someone chopped down and said I could have).

At the airport, I hand carry my carry-on luggage through the terminal instead of rolling it – even carrying it up/down stairs instead of using escalators. And I never use the moving walkway.

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I always take the stairs rather than the elevator, even if its 30 flights!

I coordinate my errands so that I can park centrally and walk to each place.

I try to walk all errands under two miles.

If I can’t walk the entire way to my destination, I will drive part of it and park and walk the rest.

I carry my backpack in my arms instead of on my back and change up how I carry it every couple of minutes.

Whenever I go for a walk, I bring a trash bag and pick up garbage along the way, which gets me lots of squatting and stooping, some carrying, and a sense of doing good in the world.

Movement for getting house stuff done

Today I painted my kitchen ceiling, and I left the paint on the floor in the corner and every single time I needed to reload my brush, I climbed down the stool I was using and squatted down to the paint – it took longer than just staying up there with paint right there, but it was an inconveniently lovely movement experience- and the ceiling looks nice.

For grocery trips, I carry one or two hand baskets instead of using a cart.

At Costco, I decline a box so that I have to load and unload items individually to my car and house.

I often prep food in various positions on the floor, and I chop outside when weather permits.

I use a short handled broom instead of a long handled one. (Here is a fun video of Shannon of Purna Wellness doing just that, but there’s more to it. She conveys an important idea about how we often outsource our movement to tools that require us to move less). 

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I use a mortar and pestle to grind spices instead of a spice grinder.

I hang my laundry instead of throwing it in the dryer.

I installed hooks on the tops of the kitchen cabinets for coffee mugs & wine glasses so that every time I use one, I have to really reach for it.

I moved my silverware and favorite coffee cups to the lowest drawers so that i have to squat or stoop to get to them

I keep a lot of herbs in mason jars that I’ve put on top of my pantry cabinet so that I get to climb on the counter or stool in order to get them down.

Movement for getting outside stuff done

When I water my gardens and flower pots I fill two gallon jugs of water in the kitchen and carry them outside to the plants instead of watering with the hose. I make about 10 trips a day during the growing season. When I return to refill I look for different ways to get on the deck rather than always using the steps. e.g. : climb up the high end, butt plop on and swing legs up (challenging with a 70 lb dog who thinks you are playing) etc.

We haul wood up to the house from the woodpile (our sole source of heat) in a plastic sled, but now I often carry armloads of wood up the steps, in different configurations, rather than just dragging the sled up the stairs.

We retired all of our motorized lawn tools for hand tools. Instead of a weed whacker, we use hand clippers; instead of a leaf blower, we rake; instead of a snow blower, we shovel; instead of a rototiller, we double dig the garden beds; we still mow the lawn, with an old fashioned, human powered push mower.

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Movement for getting kids done

I carry my baby (now toddler) in my arms instead of on my back or in a stroller.

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I play on the playground equipment with my children several times a week  – monkey bars, ducking under, climbing over, running around. 

I park a few blocks away from my daughter’s school so we have to walk for drop-off/pick-up.

I let my kids lead our hikes. I have to (try to) do whatever they do – walk across logs, crawl under low-hanging branches, hang from high branches, step from stone to stone, carry a heavy rock or as many sticks as I can as far as I can, walk backwards, wade through streams, run up scree slopes, jump up on and down from boulders.

Movement for getting sedentary done

We got rid of our couch and purchased a low dining table. So we squat and sit multiple ways all day long.

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I switched my desk out for a floor desk with a cushion. We also now watch Netflix in the evening on the floor (in front of the couch, we just pull the cushions off) and I do hamstring stretches while I watch.

We keep the house cooler so all our bodies do more of the work heating us.

I have Metolius rock rings hanging in my car port, and I hang for a few seconds every time I get in and out of the car.

A portion of all screen time (computer, tv, etc.) or reading time has to be done either standing or sitting on the floor.

Please share your ideas for moving more and more of you.

Namaste, Michele

Moments, Arms, & Moment Arms

In a perspective article on scapular stabilization, the concepts of moments and moment arms came up. My fuzziest understanding is that they are related to rotation around a joint. And angles. And math. Usually, I ignore such words and cleave to the bigger picture. But scapulae are enticing black boxes to me and in the case of this article, moments and their arms seemed crucial to an understanding of the author’s theory of departure. This was the sentence that tossed me over the cliff: “Therefore, equal muscle forces are not mandatory – and could be clinically undesirable – because the muscles have different moment arms and thus different mechanical advantages for causing angular rotation in the joint.” I knew I needed help.

Historically, when I’ve tried to educate myself about biomechanical stuff (moments, arms, angles, etc.), my eyes glaze over and I hear this sound. Its hard to find someone writing about these biomechanical concepts in language that I can apply to my own understanding of yoga postures. So I reached out to my friend Christine McSween to help me understand. And that’s revisionist. Actually, Christine engaged with me in a Facebook group around this topic and we agreed to turn it into an educational interview for our group and the world.

Christine was drawn to the spiritual and mindfulness aspects of yoga in the beginning, but with further study she learned how amazing the physical body is along with a realization of the need for more education. With increased fervor, in 2015, she began pursuing a kinesiology degree at the University of Calgary with a focus in biomechanics. She teaches yin yoga, gentle yoga and Restorative Exercise.

Here is our conversation.

MM: I have a hazy understanding of a moment arm, but could not verbalize it well enough to get off the island. Can you give me the words?

CM: Can you let me know your definition first? I want to see what you’re working with!

MMI can’t! I don’t have my own words. My understanding is hazier than I thought. Sigh.

CM: I want to work through this a bit. Do you have a clearer understanding of a “moment” than the “moment arm”?

MM: Sadly, no. I clearly need a biomechanics lesson.

CM: Ok, I know where to start then!

CM: I’m going to draw a picture.

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CM: As you can see in the picture, we have isolated the bicep as the force that will lift the forearm (of course we know this is super simplified).

The force in the bicep creates a moment – or rotation about the elbow joint (or axis of rotation). Because the bicep is only 5 cm down the forearm, it needs to create a LOT of force to lift the forearm. This is because the mass of the forearm is also creating a moment about the elbow joint due to gravity.

MM: (interrupting): Could you say a moment is any rotation about a joint? Does that mean there are an infinite number of moments for a given joint?

CM: YES!

CM: Often in biomechanics we talk about “resultant moments” which is the resultant effect of all the moments about a joint. If the resultant moment is not zero (can be negative or positive), then we have a rotation or movement. I will say though, that the center of mass (COM) is a resultant force, since we know gravity impacts the whole arm

MM: First things first. Can you give me an example of a resultant moment being negative or zero with no rotation/movement? And what is the significance of COM being a resultant force.

CM: When a resultant moment is zero, you have an isometric contraction. There are moment’s occurring, but because they cancel out, the resultant moment is zero. This is how we first learn to calculate forces from moments in physics and biomechanics classes. We assume static equilibrium (no movement) to simplify the calculations.

In our case the system of interest is the forearm. If the forearm rotates towards the upper arm (counterclockwise), this is a positive moment. If the forearm rotates clockwise (extending the elbow), this is a negative moment. Of course, if we flipped our picture around, it would be the opposite.

We use a resultant force for the COM because otherwise we would have to calculate every cell’s mass and every cell’s moment arm, which would have us calculating for days, or weeks, or years. Not ideal! Instead, we can actually measure the weight of the whole forearm, and measure one moment arm to the COM of the forearm. Yay! Only one calculation.

MM: Let’s move on to moment arms.

CM: Now a moment arm is the perpendicular distance from the line of force application to the axis of rotation. Or…the moment arm is the distance from the elbow joint, to the attachment of the bicep, as it relates to the angle of the bicep.

MM: I prefer the latter. And would another moment arm be the distance from the elbow to the hand to account for the mass of the forearm?

CM: No, usually the moment arm is to the center of mass. So probably somewhere in the middle of the forearm. If the hand is holding a weight, then there is another moment arm to the hand.

MM: Let me get this straight. Using the picture above, one moment arm is from the elbow joint to where the bicep attaches on the forearm. Another moment arm is from the elbow joint to the center of mass of the forearm, which is likely near the center of the forearm – but this is only if nothing is being held in hand, I assume. Yet another moment arm would be from the elbow joint to a dumbbell, if one were being held. Eh?

CM: You bet! Just remember the moment arm is in relation to the angle of the applied force. If the forearm is at 90 degrees (like in our picture), then the moment arm would be length from the elbow to the dumbbell. However; this will not be the case if the forearm is at an angle. The applied force is no longer perpendicular.

CM: An example of how awesome our body is with creating more efficiency is our beautiful patella!

MM: What is/are the moment arms in this animation?

CM: When there is no rock, there is a very tiny angle between the elastic and the stick, which leads to a very tiny moment arm. So more force is needed for rotation. When there is a rock, the angle is much larger, leading to a larger moment arm, so less force is needed for the same amount of rotation.

MM: We are looking at the angle between the “femur” and the “patella,” yes?

CM: No, the patella and the tibia. The femur isn’t within our “system of interest” in this case.

MM: Dammit.

MM: Ok, so we have the force of the muscle and an external force like gravity or a weight creating individual moment arms. Are these opposing forces? Are there others?

CM: They aren’t quite opposing forces, as they are opposing moments. The bicep is creating a positive moment, while the COM, and a weight in the hand would be producing negative moments. This concept might be more simple if you think about a balanced teeter totter. On either side of the fulcrum you have equal forces in the same direction. BUT the moment arms are opposing, creating opposite moments. Does that make sense? Because our bodies are so wonderfully complex, you could add as many forces as you like, or make it is complicated as you like. And this is why resultant moments are used so frequently. When you add everything together, all the moments and forces, what will happen?

MM: I’m hoping that is a rhetorical question! I suppose it would determine if and how movement happens around a given joint or all joints….

MM: I’m guessing that moment arms are more straightforward, when we are talking about hinge joints like elbows, right? But more complex if we are talking about, say, the scapula?

CM: It would still be the same process, but yes, more difficult to quantify merely because the moment arm would be so small, because of the angles involved.

MM: Wouldn’t there be multiple forces applied to a scapula since it has multiple muscular attachments, moves in multiple planes, and is involved in multiple joints? What is the relationship ship between multiple moment arms and movement in a joint as complex as the shoulder complex?

CM: Simply, this complex structure allows for almost infinite variability in movement. Which logically, makes sense. If our shoulders are “less stable” to allow for more movement, it would make sense to have a variety of options in order to make those movements happen.

MM: So what? Who cares? How is this useful information for a movement practitioner?

CM: Understanding moments and forces allows us to be creative with our cueing and provides a greater understanding of alignment. Plus, we can see how anatomy impacts our biomechanics. In my 21 Day Biomechanics Challenge , I will be using my friend and I as an example. 

MM: I thought it might be illuminating to bring in a yoga pose for you to identify forces and moment arms. I give a shout out to this Yoga Stick Figure from Justine Aldersey-Williams. I’ve been using her clever illustrations in my teaching materials for several years now. You can download over 200 images from her Etsy store for just $5.

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Image: Justine Aldersey-Williams

MM: Let’s take one of these arrows that you’ve drawn on the figure and tell me what’s going on.

CM: Consider this a static triangle, so the sum of all the moments equals zero. And we want to know the effect of placing the hand on the ground/leg or block vs. having it hover. To remain static, how would the resultant forces of the back leg and obliques change? If the hand is hovering, the resultant forces in the leg and obliques would have to increase to prevent the torso from rotating clockwise towards the ground. When the hand is pressing against something, it provides an opposing force that will rotate the torso counterclockwise, and the resultant forces in the back leg will be smaller. You can try this yourself by practicing both situations. What takes more effort?

MM: That’s fantastic!

MM: I have one final question. If we are biotensegrity systems (and not lever systems) with fascia deeply and exquisitely  investing our connective tissues, how should this interconnectivity influence how we think about moments and moment arms in movement?

CM: This is a question I have been struggling with for a couple years now, trying to put my thoughts to words. I must emphasize that my answer to this question will probably evolve over time as I learn more.

Although yes, we are not built like traditional buildings, and are amazingly adaptable tension systems made for mobility, this does not negate the importance of traditional biomechanics. Neither system is wrong, they are just different models, or filters by which we can understand the physical world.

And I think you can combine these models. If you take a tensegrity structure, and expose it to an external force, a moment may still be created. That entire structure might rotate. Or deform. Or translate. There are a number of options.

I think people can assume that this model will destroy the old, but there is not much evidence for that at this time. Biomechanics researchers understand that the body is not a bunch of simple levers. Load is distributed throughout the structure – like tensegrity! But this doesn’t mean that classical biomechanics has no place. Especially when we are starting to learn these concepts. As you study further into biomechanics, you must take into account our biology – how biological tissues respond to forces.

Muscles DO produce force to cause rotation. So we need both models to understand what’s happening in the body as we move. Levers exist, and yet we are this system of tension and compression. As we lift the forearm, not only the muscles such as the bicep, and brachialis lift the forearm, but the triceps create tension and can also contribute eccentric forces, while muscles in the shoulder and chest create stability.

The biotensegrity model informs classical biomechanics, and helps us question our assumptions, but it does not negate the model. If I may quote Jules Mitchell, “Such theories provide a foundation for forward and radical thinking, but are prone to become “buzzwords” which dilute scientific understanding among the mainstream.”

So, why does this stuff matter? The article that started this conversation shows a fantastic combination of questioning classical biomechanics, and informing it with the biotensegrity model. But the basic elements of moments and forces don’t disappear. We still need to understand these concepts to help us move forward.

“The key point is that stability is context specific, depending on the system and the task being performed.” I think this statement could be applicable to many other areas of the body.


And there you have it. A big thank you to Christine for her generous time in taking complex biomechanical concepts and explaining them in the concept of yoga.

Yoga for Perimenopause

From time to time, I share postures included in published yoga research. I’ve used such lists to inform my own sequencing, both in group classes and when working privately with clients. Today’s share is a list of asanas that were included in a yoga protocol for a study of perimenopausal women. I’m not providing analysis or evaluation of the research, just the poses. In this study, 216 women were assigned to either a yoga group or an exercise group. The intervention was practiced for 45 minutes every day for 12 weeks.

Perimenopausal women have been shown to have increased blood sugar levels and may be at higher risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome. It should go without saying that perimenopause is a stressful physiological state in women. Thus, the study measured blood sugar and stress hormone levels before the intervention period and again, after 12 weeks of intervention.

The study found yoga to be as beneficial or better than exercise at improving fasting blood sugar and stress hormone levels, with participants reporting calming effects of yoga practice and a general feeling of wellness.

And here, as promised, are the postures practiced in the yoga group. I’ve provided a visual of each asana using Yoga Stick Figures from Justine Aldersey-Williams. I’ve been using her clever illustrations in my teaching materials for several years now. You can download over 200 images from her Etsy store for just $5. Inconsistencies in naming & spelling of yogasana across yoga styles & teachers is to be expected, but these illustrations capture the basic shape of each pose. You’re welcome!

Asanas & approximate time held

Swastikasana (auspicious pose) 2 min

siddhasana

Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) 2 min

virasana

Suptavajrasana (reclined Thunderbolt Pose) 2 min

supta-virasana

Tadasana (Mountain pose) 2 min

tadasana

Trikonasana (Triangle pose) 2 min

trikonasana

Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose) 2 min

parsvakonasana

Paschimottasana (seated forward bend) 2 min

paschimottanasana

Purvatanasana (seated back arch) 2 min

purvottanasana

Janushirshana (head to the knee pose) 2 min

janusirsasana

Pavanamuktaasana (wind relieving pose) 2 min

apanasana

Bhujangasana (cobra pose) 2 min

bhujangasana

Shalabhasana (locust pose) 2 min

salabhasana

Dhanurasana (bow pose) 2 min

dhanurasana
Vakrasana (twisted pose) 2 min

marichyasana

Padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend) 2 min

pras_padottanasana
Shavasana (corpse pose) 5 min

savasana

Pranayama(breathing exercises)

Anuloma-viloma (alternative nostril) 5 min

Suryabhedana (right nostril) 5 min

Sheetali (through tongue) 2 min

Bhramari (honey bee sound during exhalation) 2 min

Namaste, Michele

More Exercises for Pronated or Flat Feet

I contend that barefooting is the best and most natural way to have strong, mobile, and healthy feet. But it takes time to transition to an unshod or minimally shod lifestyle and not everyone wants that. So, I make a point to keep up with and share biomechanics- and physical therapy-informed clinical research on foot health. In the past, I’ve suggested you add the short foot exercise for arch strengthening to your foot health protocol. I use it regularly with my clients and in my FootLove Workshops.

Here is another foot exercise to consider for pronated and flat feet and hallux valgus – the condition that leads to bunions. The Toe Spreading Exercise is easy to do. I suggest you do it standing, but you could also do it seated with your hips and knees flexed to 90 degrees. I use a yoga mat under my feet for comfort.

  1. Stand with your feet pelvis width distance apart and facing forward.
  2. Spread the toes on your right foot as far apart as you can. If you are unable to spread your toes on your own, reach down with your hand and help to spread them.
  3. Raise your heel
  4. Over a slow count to 5, lower your heel to the ground.
  5. Hold in that position for 5 seconds
  6. Relax the foot
  7. Some protocols have you repeating this up to 100 times! But you might just want to start with 5 or 10 reps. Repeat with your left foot.

A recent study suggests that along with the toe spreading exercises,  you also strengthen your gluteus maximus, commonly referred to as your butt. Your big butt muscle is responsible for externally rotating your hip joint, and a strong one is thought to alter alignment of the lower extremity, thus reducing foot pronation. The authors found that the exercise most effective for a strong butt is performed in a prone position (lying face down) by slightly lifting the knee while maintaining the hip joint in external rotation and the knee joint at 90° flexion.

I bring this exercise into the yoga world as a unique modification of salabhasana aka locust pose. Or, you could think of it as a hybrid between locust and bow poses. The study protocol called for 3 sets of 20 repetitions of single leg lifts. I think you could explore fewer reps of double legs and longer holds.

Namaste, Michele

Why I Walk to Work

Most days I walk to work, in my case a yoga studio. Round trip, its ~3 miles. I don’t speed walk or carry hand weights or pump my arms. I simply walk. It’s one of the big ways that I stack my life around movement. Here is why you might consider walking to work.

Walking to work doesn’t require you to add gasoline or miles to your car and for that trip, your car-bon footprint is nil.

Walking to work can be your workout for the day, which means you won’t have to set aside time later to exercise. If you want to add more movement, plan to add some errands to your walk. Yesterday, I dropped off some items at the postoffice and then added an additional 2 miles to pick up something from the fabric shop.

If you pass by your favorite coffee shop, you can go inside and maybe run into a friend or have social time with the barristas. Whenever I do, Here Comes a Regular, by the band The Replacements plays in my head and I leave feeling happy and connected.

When you walk to work, you interact with neighbors and strangers, who are out mowing lawns, getting the paper, or walking their dogs. You begin to grow your extended community.

When you walk to work, people notice and it plants a seed. The fact that I walk to work has not been lost on my students or other yoga teachers. I regularly hear from people I know, “hey, was that you I saw walking down Yakima Ave.?” You never know, when or where those seeds will grow.

Speaking seeds growing, when you walk to work you really get to enjoy your neighbors’ gardens and how they change with the seasons. And, if you are stealth, you can graze on berries or plunder small starts for your own garden. Or, better yet,  just ask. I find most people are happy to share their garden bounties.

I often listen to podcasts, while walking, from smart movement and somatic thinkers. These are three of my favorites: Liberated BodyYoga & Beyond, and Katy Says. Listening to an educational podcast, while walking to work or walking to do errands is great way to stack your life around movement.

Walking to work replaces sitting in a vehicle with moving your body. One hour of exercise at the beginning, middle, or end of your day cannot not undo the harm done by too much sitting. Sitting in car, sitting at work, sitting for meals, sitting on the couch, sitting at your home computer. In fact, a cardiovascular expert from a consensus panel of the American Heart Association says “Regardless of how much physical activity someone gets, prolonged sedentary time could negatively impact the health of your heart and blood vessels.” I recently wrote an article that details other ways that you can replace sedentary with movement.

My wife and I often join each other on our respective walks to work. This stacks movement around family time.

I remove my shoes for sections of my walk to work, which is part of my foot health protocol. Barefooting is ultimately the best way you can improve strength, mobility, and health of your feet.

walk_yellow

If you come up with other benefits of walking to work, please drop me a line.

Namaste, Michele