Picking Strawberries Stacked the Best Yoga Practice of My Life

Internationally renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman coined the phrase “stack your life.” Instead of making errands, movement, family/friend time, studying, entertainment, etc. discreet events, each taking up precious amounts of time, you perform these experiences together, essentially stacking your life. For instance, today my partner and I walked (movement/exercise, family time). Partway through our walk, we listened to a podcast (edu-tainment). Our walk had a task associated with it – dropping off an item at a friend’s house (errand done!, friend time); and a destination -our local coffee shop, where we studied, chatted, and enjoyed seeing several regulars (community, family, coffee time). Infused in a stacked life are often values held dear – decreasing an environmental footprint by not driving, being an observing presence in our neighborhood, adding to its vibrancy by our street presence, and supporting a local business and the community it gathers. Stacking our lives in this way is rich and rewarding and does not carry the weight of feeling like there is not time to get done what we need.

I recently spent two hours picking strawberries and found it to be a another perfect way to stack my life. I stacked family time, support of a local farm, share in a harvest, participation in the agricultural bounty of our valley, securing food, and the best yoga practice of my life. Yoga? Yes, yoga.

For two hours, I organically cycled through countless variations of malasana (squat), uttanasana (forward fold), virasana/vajrasana (sitting back on heels), bharadvajasana, Yin’s deer pose, lunges, sukhasana (seated cross legged), ustrasana (camel), snippets of surya namaskar (sun salutations), and asanas for which there may be no name.

Obviously, I didn’t capture this on video, but here is a 15 second re-enactment in time lapse.

And listen to Katy’s podcast on stacking your life. It’s been one of the most inspiring podcasts that I’ve listened to this year.


Namaste, Michele

Alphabet Feet

Our feet respond well to varied movements. I talked about this last year in my weird feet post. This is a spirited yogasana foot exercise mash-up that moves your foot and ankle through countless ranges of motion and is probably good for your neurobiology as well.

I taught this dynamic asana/exercise in my yoga class this morning. It’s kind of impossible for this not to devolve into silliness, so you might keep that in mind if you are a teacher using this in your class.


  1. Sit on the floor (could also be done in a chair) with your legs extended in front of you.
  2. Hand options: either place your hands alongside your hips to support you in sitting upright; or interlace your hands and press your palms away from you.
  3. Bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor in a pre-boat pose position.
  4. Lift your right foot off the floor.
  5. Using your best “handwriting,” slowly trace the letter A (print, cursive, all caps or small – doesn’t matter) in the air with your right foot, using your big toe as a marker. Move mainly at the ankle joint and less so at the knee and hip. Take a breath.
  6. Trace the letter B. Breathe in, breath out.
  7. Trace the letter C. Full breath cycle.
  8. Trace the entire alphabet, pausing a breath cycle between letters.

In my class, we traced A-M with the right foot, took a forward fold and then N-Z with the left foot, which for most of the class was the non-dominant foot and quite a bit more challenging.

I like doing this in boat pose with hand stretches because it allows more of my muscles to participate. Come up with your own variation and share it with me.

Here is my video of A-G.

Learn more exercises for your feet from my teacher renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman with these brilliant exercise videos that you can stream or download to view as often as you like for just $5 each!


Schoolhouse Series: Toes & Calves


Schoolhouse Series: Unduck Your Feet

Namaste, Michele


A modified raise, point, & curl for your toes

The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society recommends an exercise called Toe raise, toe point, toe curl, where you hold each position for 5 seconds, for 10 repetitions each foot. It looks like this: toeraisepointflex

It is promoted as an exercise to “strengthen toes and prevent foot discomfort.” While I think it has merit as a foot mobilizer, I’m not convinced that adaptive changes to strength occur because it is a passive exercise, relying on an external force – the floor – rather than an internal force – your muscles – to perform.

So, in addition to performing this exercise against the floor, I think you could move through these same positions, but dangling your foot just above the floor so that you are stretching and generating force in both your intrinsic and extrinsic musculature. In yoga, since we don’t use weights to provide resistance necessary to make strength adaptations to our tissues, we rely on something called maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), which is your maximum ability to contract muscle.

Position 1, when done with your foot on the floor, is actually more like the heel off phase of gait, but in this floor-bound exercise, it passively loads your your toes, which is not enough to strengthen them. Alternately, when you dangle your foot, you can maximally contract your toe extensor muscles, making it more of a toe raise as the name implies.

Position 2, when performed against the external force of the floor,  is almost all concentric calf contractions without much happening in the toes, because the floor is doing the work of keeping them pointing. However, if you dangle your foot, not only are you still working your calf muscles, but now you must engage your plantar flexors (muscles that engage the sole of your foot) to hold the position and can calibrate the force to ~80% of your MVC, which is the ideal amount of contraction for tissue adaptation.


As you can now see, position 3 will also be stronger if you are not flexing your toes against the floor. While it would be possible to grind the top of your foot into the floor as a method of resistance, it would be terribly uncomfortable and that sensation would likely detract you from reaching 80% MVC.

I’ve come up with two variations of the more active exercise  – standing on the floor with the knee of my working foot bent; and standing on a yoga block with the knee of my working foot straight. My preference is the latter because it encourages me to pelvic list on the standing leg in order for the working foot to clear the floor. But I think either method would be fine.

Here is a video of the passive and active variations of this exercise.

Learn more exercises for your feet from my teacher renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman with these brilliant 30 minute exercise videos that you can stream or download to view as often as you like for just $5 each!


Schoolhouse Series: Toes & Calves


Schoolhouse Series: Unduck Your Feet


Namaste, Michele

Yoga Protocol for Balance for Poststroke Pilot Study

I read the full text of a few yoga studies each week. As a former research librarian with the current salary of a yoga teacher & blogger, I rely on free full-text sources, and when those are not available, I lean on former colleagues to help a girl out. Shh. Don’t tell.

This morning, I read the study “Poststroke balance improves with yoga: a pilot study,” which found significantly improved scores for balance in the study group receiving a group yoga intervention, with those who completed yoga even crossing the threshold of balance impairment and fall risk. “Because of improved balance, participants increasingly attempted new activities in different and more challenging environments and were aware of potential fall risk but grew confident in maintaining their balance.” Incredibly life changing for these participants and potentially for our stroke clients.

Granted the sample size was small (47), there were methodological gems with this study:

  • Participants were randomly assigned to the study & control groups
  • Two yoga groups and a wait-listed control group were included
  • Attrition/retention was reported

I am always curious to see which asanas are included in these studies, so that I can make more evidence-based choices for when I work with clients, who are dealing with similar health related issues. It is frustrating that many studies do not provide details on the yoga interventions used. But, to my delight, this inspiring study included in its publication an outline of it’s yoga protocol!

I hope you find it helpful as you craft your next balance-themed class or private session – whether or not your client base includes those who have experienced stroke.

Namaste, Michele

Move Your Toes Through Their Full Ranges of Motion

Try this exercise to bring greater mobility to your feet. It works their intrinsic musculature, which allows for flexion, extension, and abduction (spreading) of the toes. Because a big chunk of your day may be spent in shoes with toe boxes that are comfortable yet insidiously restrictive to these movements, you end up with achy feet that are also weak and may not move as well as you’d like.

Remember what happened the last time you removed your shoes after many hours of being shod. Did you immediately start flexing, extending, abducting aka wiggling your toes for the relief it brings? These are movements for which our feet have an evolutionary craving.  Unshod (or even minimally shod) on natural terrain, we would be engaging the intrinsic muscles of our feet in this way, whenever we walked.

But, since we are a shod society, we need to find ways to infuse such movements into our day.

Here is a great way to do this:

toelifts on block

Stand on yoga blocks, books, or anything that you can hang your toes over the edge. You want to be able to move your toes from neutral to full flexion to full extension and back. Be mindful that your medial (inner) ankles do not collapse in towards one another. With your toes hanging over the edges of the blocks, flex your toes down towards the floor then extend your toes up towards the ceiling. Alternate between flexing and extending until you have flexed and extended 10 times each.

Here’s a short video of this exercise.

Learn more exercises for your feet from my teacher renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman with these brilliant 30 minute exercise videos that you can stream or download to view as often as you like for just $5 each!


Schoolhouse Series: Toes & Calves


Schoolhouse Series: Unduck Your Feet

Namaste, Michele



Hot from the Inside: How Hot Yoga Heats Up 100% of Your Body Down to the Cellular Level and Puts You at Risk of Heat Stroke

The American Council on Exercise (ACE), self-identified as the largest non-profit health and fitness certification, education, and training organization in the world, just published a scorching report on the effects of Bikram yoga on core body temperatures.  Bikram-franchised studios teach trademarked Bikram Yoga, a 26 posture sequence with two breathing exercises in a room heated to 105° with 40-50% humidity for 90 min. Copycat studios teach this same sequence under the taglines of hot yoga, hot hatha, or hot 26 and under similar conditions of heat and humidity for a duration of 60-90 minutes. I have experience with one studio that regularly allowed its temperature to creep up towards 110° and 60% humidity.

Is hot yoga safe??

The obvious question has always been “is it safe to practice yoga in such extreme heat  and humidity?” Now we have an answer.  The study found that 60 minutes into a 90 min class, nearly half of the study’s participants had core temperatures over 103°. Core temperature is that of your insides including your blood, guts, and other organs. Outside of the context of a hot yoga experience, adults at 103° or 104° are heading to urgent care centers and emergency rooms.

According to Bikram Yoga’s founder, Bikram Choudhury: [Parenthetical use is Choudhury’s not mine. MM]:

“The room is kept at this temperature or more for the following:

  • Keeping the body from overheating (contrary to popular misconception) 
  • Protecting the muscles to allow for deeper stretching
  • Detoxing the body (open pores to let toxins out)
  • Thinning the blood to clear the circulatory system
  • Increasing heart rate for better cardiovascular workout
  • Improving strength by putting muscle tissue in optimal state for reorganization
  • Reorganize the lipids (fat) in the muscular structure”

How do you actually keep from overheating?

A lesson on thermoregulation is warranted. When you exercise, you generate energy, which is released as heat. Excess core heat, a complex result of muscle activation, is transported from your core to your skin, where it is lost to the environment via several methods – radiation, conduction, convection, and evaporation.

Radiation. When your body is hotter than your surroundings, which it almost always is, then a greater quantity of heat radiates from your body than to it. In a thermal comfortable room, about 60% of heat loss occurs as radiant heat.

Conduction. The transfer of heat from your body to an object, say your mat in yoga. In a normally heated room, 3% of heat loss occurs due to conduction.

Convection. Heat transfer via moving gas/liquid, which is almost always occurring. In a reasonably temperatured room, 15% of heat loss occurs via convection.

Evaporation. Heat loss that occurs through ventilation/diffusion and sweating. This accounts for 25% of heat loss in a comfortable environment.

Metabolic heat is transported to the skin while activation of sweat glands causes sweat to be secreted onto skin surface, promoting heat loss by evaporation of the water portion of sweat, which does not contain toxins, by the way.

Body cooling by radiation and convection, which is about 75% of heat loss, depends on a significant difference between your core temperature and the air around you. When that air exceeds 98.6°, heat exchange is reversed and your body now gains heat by radiation and convection instead of losing it. Read that sentence again.

Now you are left with only one mechanism to cool your core temperature – evaporation of your sweat. Sweat can only cool you if it is allowed to evaporate. When the surrounding air is dry, sweat readily evaporates, cooling your skin. However, if the humidity is high as it is in hot yoga studios, evaporation is impeded, resulting in sweat accumulating on your skin and insufficient cooling of your body. You now have no way to lower your core temperature other than leaving the room. Ironically, ignorantly, and inexplicably, many hot yoga studios discourage you from leaving the room and instead suggest you lie down on your mat, where you are now at the mercy of gaining more body heat from conduction of heat from your mat to your body. Double jeopardy for studios with floor heating systems. You are now in a position of experiencing a critical heat load and developing the mother of all heat illness – heat stroke.

If you have not experienced a hot yoga class, I cannot impress upon you enough how much sweating happens. Many participants are soaked and dripping with sweat before the end of the first breathing exercise at the start of class. When sweating becomes your last resort to cool your core temperature, it must be matched by water intake or dehydration occurs.  Ironically, ignorantly, and inexplicably, many hot yoga studios discourage drinking outside one or two sanctioned water breaks.

When your core temperature reaches 104°, which happened to one of the study’s male participants (interestingly, male participants experienced significantly higher heat-induced heart rates and core temperatures), heat stroke becomes a real possibility. The Mayo Clinic defines heat stroke as “a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. This most serious form of heat injury, heatstroke can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher.” Heatstroke can result in a number of complications including permanent damage to your brain and other vital organs and/or death. Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death.

What should hot yoga studios and teachers do?

I know enough hot yogis to also know it is futile to preach to them about the risks of the practice they love, so I offer, instead, best practices for minimizing that risk.

The ACE study made several recommendations for improving safety of hot yoga classes.

  • Shorten classes to 60 minutes. Study participants began experiencing dangerous core temperatures at the 60 minute mark
  • Lower the room temperature
  • Encourage students to stay hydrated by reminding them to drink water throughout the class
  • Stress to students that toweling off sweat undermines evaporative cooling in an already gravely compromised evaporation system

I would go bolder and say:

Hot yoga studios should reject the Bikram heat/humidity standard and implement a temperature cap of 98.6°, which would hopefully keep core temperatures below the 104° heat stroke threshold.  Humidity levels should also be lowered to allow for more efficient evaporative heat loss. I would hope to see further research that explores a range of lower temperatures and humidities as well include a greater number of participants, including novices and those unacclimatized, and an active control group.

New students should be offered a shortened, modified class to allow them to acclimatize. This study used regular practitioners of Bikram Yoga, who were acclimatized to 90 min at  105°/40%. However it takes up to 14 days to fully acclimate to these excessive conditions.

Hot yoga studios should provide ongoing training to its staff and students on how to recognize heat illness and what to do about it.

Namaste, Michele







To all the shoes I’ve loved before

I haven’t written anything new on feet in quite a while – that’s about to change. On Feb. 6, I teach another free Foot Love Workshop for the Yoga Collective of Yakima. All week long, I’ll be re-blogging my favorite posts on feet.

Michele McGinnis

It’s time. It’s past time. We are moving to a smaller house in an act of intentional minimalist rebellion. I’ve been adding minimalist shoes to my closet over the last year, but have not reduced the total number of shoes residing there. To ease the ache of knowing that most of my pre-FootLove Yoga shoes will have to go, I revisit Katy Bowman’s Four Factor Shoe Evaluation (see chart below) to remind me why I make these tough decisions. When evaluating shoes, consider the four main features of a shoe and how and why they can be severely damaging. A feature that I did not systematically evaluate, but is present on over half of my shoes, is toe spring, that perky little incline at the toe end of a shoe. A toe spring bends the toes upward and over time deforms the foot, leading to foot problems, gait abnormalities, and…

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Foot Fetishes & Boobs – 2015 in Review

WordPress, the platform that hosts my blog, has a handy Stats section. Its like selfies for blogs. Enjoy some highlights from 2015.

Strangest search terms & phrases that resulted in my blog:

  • glitter graphics cavus doggy bag
  • yoga boobs
  • sleeping on floor prevents ancestors from helping
  • yogasan to toilet stop picture
  • bouncing breasts in burka
  • yoga pose mound clothing
  • large natural boobs in yoga tops
  • what do you call thrusting your body and shoulders at another person
  • bunion fetish 2015
  • footlove.com.au basic mixed fruits recipes
  • footlove with dogs
  • small boobs gym yoga
  • yoga poses gals feet picture feet

As you can see, I’m quite the shit in foot fetish circles. Likes are likes.

Views from Countries that I’ve never heard of:

  • St. Vincent & Grenadines
  • Timor-Leste
  • Mauritius
  • Mayotte
  • New Caledonia
  • Isle of Man
  • Turks & Caicos Islands
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Montenegro
  • Cape Verde
  • Benin
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Suriname

I’ve always been spectacularly stupid about geography. I am otherly abled.

Top 10 Most popular blog posts:

  1. Sweat is 99% Water, 1% Natural Stuff and 0% Toxins
  2. Busting other yoga myths with biomechanics
  3. Yoga and bone density – another myth?
  4. My Top 25 Movements at My Standing Work Station
  5. Sleeping on a mattress is the new sitting
  6. Your Flat Feet are Exhausting
  7. Bras, the Burkas of the Western World
  8. The King is dead. Long live the king.
  9. To all the shoes I’ve loved before
  10. Strong At Any Length

Namaste, Michele

How High is Your Wall?

In an earlier post on boobs, I mentioned upper body movements that are missing in the lives of many – pushing, digging, lifting, carrying, prying, hoisting, pulling, throwing, reaching, hanging, climbing, pounding, peeling, swinging, ripping, and dragging.  Because we have not regularly done most of these things for most of our lives, we have relatively weak upper bodies that fatigue easily and are prone to stress injuries. Baseline strength to weight ratio is bleak in many of us. Visualize the following scenario to see how your upper body would fare. Then go out and find some walls. Or better yet, rock faces, boulders, and trees.

Imagine that you are approaching a series of smooth concrete walls that you have to go over because there is no way to go under or around them.

The first wall is is only as high as your mid shin. Easy, you step on or over it and you’ll be on your way.

The next wall is higher, but only about knee high. Pretty easy. You step on or over it. However, you may have to turn sideways and take some of the load into your hip to step down because that damn knee.

The next wall is mid-thigh height. Can  you step up onto it and jump down on the other side? Or maybe you have to straddle it or sit on it and swing your legs around. Or maybe a combination of sitting and straddling.

The next wall gets interesting. It’s hip height. Can you still step up on? Can you do it with either leg leading? Do you sit and swing your legs? Straddle and schmear your junk?

The next wall is waist high. Can you hoist yourself up onto the wall?  Do you use momentum or slow muscle control? Do you have to jump down to the other side or can you lower yourself down face forward, controlling your descent with the strength of your  back and triceps?

The next wall is chest high. Have you ever mantled? Mantling is an intermediate level move used in rock climbing, where you press or push the mass of your pelvis high enough to be able to get a foot onto the same ledge so that you can stand up. Its not dissimilar to how your might press or push yourself up and out of a swimming pool. Can you get that foot up or do you make that classic beginning-climber move of mantling only until you can get one or both knees up, literally crawling onto the ledge, in the poorest of form. Can you mantle this wall? How do you get down? Can you envision lowering yourself down, backwards, by only eccentric action of your arms?

The next wall is as tall as you. If you were unable to mantle on the previous wall, the outlook is grim, because now you will have to pull yourself up high enough to change the orientation of your hands so that you can mantle. If you are a climber, now is a good time to throw a heel hook. Are you strong enough in your hands, wrists, forearms, shoulder girdle, and core to pull up the weight you are carrying? What would you do if you turned around and a mountain lion was there ready to pounce? While still unlikely, it is ever more conceivable that a concrete retaining wall and a mountain lion would be in such proximity.

The final wall is as tall as your fully reaching hands.

How high is the wall that shows you your boundaries? How high is the wall that stops you?

How high is your wall?

Namaste, Michele






Yoga and bone density – another myth?

Raise your hand if you believe that yoga promotes bone health and helps prevent osteoporosis. Keep your hand raised if you think research has shown this to be true. Hold that hand high if you’ve read this research. Look Ma, no hands.  In fact, there are no randomized, controlled trials to support claims of many yoga teachers, including me, that practicing yoga promotes healthy bones and prevents osteoporosis. We don’t actually know yogasana’s effect on bone mineral density nor has anyone studied how much force specific yoga postures generate, which is thought to be important to bone density  – until now.

Exercise benefits bones in two ways. 1) Ground reaction force (GRF) is the ground pushing back back into a body with equal force. For example, walking has a GRF of 1 to 1.5  times your body weight. Running is 3-4 X body weight. When you are standing or walking in alignment, gravity compresses bones of your spine, pelvis, and lower extremities, which respond to these loads by laying down more minerals, thus increasing bone density   2) Muscle contractions load bones, again signaling them to lay down more minerals, thus increasing bone density. This bone mineral density (BMD) is used as a measurement of bone health. Research shows that both high and low impact exercise increases BMD in the spine and femoral neck, which are the areas most studied. In non-seated, non-supine yoga postures, one to four of your limbs support your body against gravity. Force is generated as you move into, hold, and move out of postures; and as you shift weight between your extremities. The nature of yoga suggests that it is a low-impact exercise that uses the body’s own resistance to generate force, but very few studies even measure GRF in exercise and none in yoga – until now.

In the first study of its kind, Sylvia Wilcox, a yoga teacher and lead researcher, measured GRF for 28 weight bearing Hatha yoga poses in a study published in 2012 in the International Journal of Exercise. Her research team used parameters from the only known previous study that divided exercises into either high-impact or low-impact GRF, where high impact was equal to or greater than 2 times body weight and low impact was less than two times body weight.

My favorite part of the study is a table that lists GRF measurements for a sample of the 28 poses studied. But, I wanted to see them all, so I located the lead author’s Master’s thesis that did indeed report GRF for all 28 asanas. The intention of this study was not to compare asanas and rank/recommend those with the greatest potential for bone building, as tempting as that may be for someone like me scanning the list. It’s main purpose was to obtain ground reaction force data from common yoga postures to see how their generated forces compare to activities like running, walking, dancing, jumping jacks, etc. As expected, Wilcox’s study was able to define yoga as a low-impact practice in terms of measured GRF.  In fact, yoga measures lower forces than any activities measured in previous studies.

Age, Weight, & Gender and Force Generation

Analysis showed no significant differences between test participants due to weight or age. For five of the 28 postures, there were significant differences between men and women explained by differences in centers of mass between the sexes. For postures connecting upper & lower body to the ground (think plank) force through the arms is greater for men than women because men’s center of mass is concentrated on the upper-body; conversely, force through the feet is greater for women than for men, because women’s center of mass is in the pelvis. In virabhadrasana/crescent, as part of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), as subjects transitioned from Adho Mukha Svanasana (downdog) men generated more force in the front leg than women. It was theorized, based on researchers’ observations that because many of the males used momentum to swing the back leg forward into the lunge that they landed with greater force as opposed to the slower, more steady transition by female participants.

Upper Extremities and Force Generation

Almost nothing is written about low-impacts generated through the upper extremities. Where as handsprings done by gymnasts measure forces at 3 x body weight, yoga’s chataranga, updog, and pincha myurasana generate forces less than 1 x body weight, with only plank and crow generating maximum vertical forces of 1.08 and 1.05 body weight respectively. The researchers designed a small six month intervention with one non-yoga exercise that produced a similar range of forces in the upper extremities as those in the yoga study. In the intervention, changes in bone mineral content were recorded. It is entirely possible to replicate the magnitude, rate, and frequency of such impact forces using yoga postures instead of the non-yoga exercise as performed in the intervention study, thus showing that yoga may influence bone mineral density.

Can You Optimize Your Yoga Practice for Increased Bone Mineral Density?

Wilcox observes that in prior animal studies, low impact exercise with rest intervals produced similar bone building results as high-impact forces. If these findings apply to humans, could Hatha yoga, which is an excellent specimen of low impact applied loads with rest intervals between postures, be sufficient to stimulate bone cells in practitioners? Remember, no study, including this one, has attempted to show that yoga does or does not increase bone mineral density. However, it is known that resistance training in the form of concentric and eccentric loading of muscles, not only increases tendon stiffness that makes them stronger and able to withstand greater loads, but is also osteogenic, or bone mineral producing.  You can make your own yoga practice potentially more osteogenic by finding opportunities to turn static, passive stretches into dynamic postures that explore active mobility, use your own body as resistance, and include isometric, concentric, and eccentric muscle work so that you are generating force at all ranges of motion. I go into more detail about these methods in an earlier blog post, called Strong at Any Length.

If you want to play now, check out these free video shorts (less than 3 min each) that demonstrate how to potentially bone up your asanas.

Uttanasana Strong

Natarajasana Strong

Figure 4 Strong

Malasana Strong

Don’t Cheat Your Twist

Hamstring Training with Partner

Hamstring Training without Partner

Ustrasana Prep

Squatting on a Block

Oh, and if you are interested in learning about other unsubstantiated yoga claims and myths, check out the hard hitting new e-book Exposing Yoga Myths from the gals over at Smarterbodies.

Namaste, Michele