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.

luggage

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). 

laundryrack

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.

handtools

Movement for getting kids done

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

carrychild

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.

floordesk

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

The Inconvenience of Movement

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The July issue of Prevention Magazine featured a 12-page spread on Katy Bowman’s Nutritious Movement. I spent two years studying with Katy and in October 2015, I began working for her organization. While Nutritious Movement has had an influence on how I practice and teach yogasana, it’s greatest impact has been on my own personal life-driven movement practices.

I first heard Katy talk about the relationship between convenience and movement in the context of stacking her life. The idea is that convenience always equals less movement. Think about it. Taking an elevator instead of stairs is convenient but requires less movement. Tossing your clothes into the dryer instead of hanging them is convenient, but requires less movement. Parking close to your destination is convenient, but requires less movement. Driving one mile for a quick errand instead of walking is convenient, but requires less movement. Katy came to the realization many years ago that convenience was not convenient to her health and was in fact debilitating her.

Influenced by Nutritious Movement, I began to notice the big and small ways that choosing convenience robbed me of movement. One of the striking things I discovered was how often I am tempted to ask my partner to hand or bring me something instead of getting if for myself. I had no idea how precious I had become! So I began to intentionally choose movement over convenience. Every day, I am faced with countless decisions to either take a shortcut and “save steps” or to seek opportunities to increase my movement. For instance, at Costco, where I park at the farthest away space, instead of asking for a box, I have my purchased goods placed directly into my cart, which requires me to unload them one at a time into my car; and then several trips into my house. When I return my cart, it is not to the closest stall, but all the way back to the store. These are simple steps that don’t take much time and add up. 

In the Prevention Magazine article, Katy shares numerous ways she chooses movement. For instance, she places her everyday dishes in the lowest cabinets (under the counter) so that she has to squat each time she wants to get a glass, dish, or bowl.

I’ve compiled my own growing list of “inconveniences” that have added movement to my life that in aggregate over days, weeks, months, and years will provide incalculable benefits.

  1. I no longer own a couch or cozy living room furniture. When I wish to sit, I have to get down onto the floor, which is not convenient and requires me to mobilize ankles, knees, hips, and spine. It demands a combination of concentric and eccentric muscle actions to lower me down to the ground and bring me up to standing; and is a realistic test of strength to weight. The benefits of sitting on the floor go far beyond lowering down to and rising up from.
  2. I sleep on a three 3 inch pad on the floor. Again, because it requires me to get down onto the floor and back up again, I’ve added more movement and loads to my parts.
  3. I do quite a bit of computer work, so I had a standing work station built. Prior to making my living as a movement practitioner, I was a research librarian and spent 10+ hours a day sitting at my computer. Now, when I have to be at the computer for long stretches, I either stand or sit on the floor at a sit/squat desk. If you are standing for work, here are my top 25 movements at my standing work-station.
  4. One of the best changes I’ve made to my domicile is adding a squatting toilet. I use Nature’s Platform, which sits directly over my toilet. It provides more realistic squatting loads than that gimmicky foot stool called the Squatty Potty. Nature’s Platform differs from a true squat toilet in that you have to climb up onto it rather than lower to a squat from standing – the way you would do if you were toileting over a hole in the ground/floor, but once you are in a squat on the platform, the experience and benefits are much richer than using a foot stool to hike up your legs.
  5. Over a year ago, we downsized to one car and I walk as many of our errands now as I can. It does take some planning and there are far too many times that I don’t plan well and end up driving to errands that are walkable to save myself time. But I do try to think about where I need to go each week and how I can prioritize walking to get there.
  6. I grew up in Tennessee, where we had no shoes. Just kidding. We had shoes, but I chose not to wear them whenever I could get away with it – all the way up through college. Katy reawakened my love of barefoot living, causing my great neurotic shoe purge that while traumatic has been amazing for how, how much, and how much of my feet move.
  7. And I use my arms more. On my barefoot or minimally shod walks, I carry things in my hands and arms – like my day pack. Instead of using a cart at the grocery store, I carry two hand baskets (when they are available). Instead of using a motorized lawn mower, I use a non-motorized push mower and basic hand tools like clippers, loppers, and hand saws to trim what needs trimming around the garden and yard. Katy is a big advocate for hanging (like from monkey bars and tree branches), but I got bored with hanging, so I started rock climbing again.
datal

Michele, Datil, NM

If you are inspired to add more movement to your life, but you’ve been sedentary and would like to ease in slowly, I am certified by Nutritious Movement to teach the corrective exercises that Katy features in the Prevention Magazine article. These exercises will prepare your body for the loads required for squatting and getting on & off the floor with grace; adding more steps to get you to and beyond the recommended 10,000; and using your arms for lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, dragging, climbing, digging, chopping pounding, swinging, reaching mantling, scraping, ripping, hoisting, throwing, hauling, heaving and all those other wonderfully nutritious movements your upper body has been missing.

Namaste, Michele

 

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.

strawberryyogastill

Namaste, Michele

What is Squatting Good For?

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I instructed variations of Malasana or full squatting in my yoga class last night. We followed these with what is often described as a supine squat aka Ananda Balasana aka Happy Baby pose. A student asked me to remind her why squatting is good and why in that supine variation. I replied with just one of many reasons why frequent squatting is not only good, but necessary – it keeps your pelvic floor appropriately toned and at its optimal length to support the weight of your pelvic and abdominal organs; and to efficiently regulate the opening and closing of your elimination and sex muscles. When these functions are malfunctioning, incontinence and organ prolapse occur.

Picture the muscles of your pelvic floor like a hammock between your pubis (pubic bone) and sacrum (lowest section of spine). That hammock needs a certain amount of tautness to serve its functions. Such tautness is achieved when the sacrum is a certain length from the pubis. We do many things in life that shorten the distance between the pubis and sacrum, causing slack in the pelvic floor hammock. The human body will not allow  muscles to remain slack, but instead will take up this slack by contracting or shortening the slacking muscles. A hypertonic pelvic floor muscle is a weak muscle.  If you, like many people, habitually tuck your tailbone under as a conscious or subconscious postural choice; if you are a butt squeezer/clencher for “fitness” reasons; if you’re a yogi who drops your tailbone at the drop of a cue; if you sit more on your tailbone than your sitting bones in your car or on cushioned furniture – couches, love seats, easy chairs, recliners, futons, etc. – then you are moving your sacrum/coccyx forward into your pelvic area and shortening its length from your pubis. Over time, the result of this positioning of your sacrum in relation to your pubis will cause your pelvic floor to malfunction.

There are two simple but not necessarily easy ways to bring your pelvic floor back to the right length. First, change how you position your skeleton by creating a neutral pelvis, using bony markers as guidance. Line up your pubic symphysis (the prominent bony center of your pubis where the two halves of your pelvis meet) with your pelvic bones aka anterior superior iliac spines (ASIS) evenly in the frontal plane. I describe how it looks in three orientations:

  • When standing with these bones even in the frontal plane, if you pressed your pelvis against a wall, your pubis and ASIS would both be touching the wall. If your pubis touched first, then you are posteriorly tilting your pelvis and moving your sacrum deeper into the pelvic cavity. You are butt tucking.
  • When supine, you could lay a board on your pelvis and, assuming your could move the flesh out of the way, all three bony markers would be flush to the board. If only your pubis is touching, then you are tucking your butt and will also notice that this results in a flattening of your lower spine against the floor.
  • When prone, the three bony markers will be pressing evenly into the floor. If your pubis is pressing more than your pelvic bones, then you have moved your sacrum/coccyx forward.

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This image, borrowed from my teacher Katy Bowman, shows a side view of the pelvis. The orange line represents the wall, board, or floor in the above examples. You can see how the pelvic bone and the pubis are positioned in relationship to each other in the frontal plane. You can also imagine how a butt tuck would send the tailbone deeper into pelvic space, causing the pubis to push forward of the ASIS. This would shorten the pelvic hammock.

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In this image, also borrowed from KB by way of Leonardo da Vinci, shows a neutral pelvis in relation of the rest of the lower skeleton. Note how the lower of the orange dots at the front of the pelvis would come forward if this skeleton were to tuck its butt, taking these bone markers out of neutral alignment.

The second way to optimize the length of your pelvic floor muscles is the increase the strength of your gluteal muscles. Because of how/where your glutes attach to your pelvis, these muscles, when they are strong and fully innervated, will keep your sacrum pulled back out of your pelvis maintaining proper pelvic floor muscle tone and length – provided you are not undermining them by tucking your butt or posteriorly tilting your pelvis.

Frequent squatting – multiple times per day, throughout your day – will train your sacrum to stay where it belongs and will strengthen your gluteal muscles. How can you add more squatting to your day?

  • The best way I know is to build or install a squatting platform over your toilet. I installed Nature’s Platform in my bathroom and now I squat  a minimum of how many times per day that I eliminate.

    Nature's Platform

    Nature’s Platform

  • I use a standing work station to write & study and take frequent squatting breaks, in addition to my bathroom squatting breaks
  • Squat to perform household tasks – even if it’s just for a minute. I bring the cutting board onto the kitchen floor and squat when I chop veggies; I squat  when folding clothes; I squat when pulling weeds; I squat when I’m sitting on the floor reading.
  • Add squats to your yoga practice or fitness routine

There are lots of variations in squatting and i do them all. If I am going into malasana or full bathrooming-type squat (not on my squatting platform because the back of the toilet inhibits this), I try to keep my shins vertical to the ground, my spine in neutral, and my tail untucked for as long as I can, but at some point as I get lower to the ground, my tail will tuck. If I am not going into a full squat, I work on the vertical shins, neutral spine, and really use my gluts to power lowering into and rising out of the squat.

Malasana or bathrooming squat

Malasana or bathrooming squat

Butt building squat

Butt building squat

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Back to my student last night and Happy Baby, which appears like a supine squat, but is technically not a squat at all. Most yogis get it wrong in terms of the bony markers discussed above. Most posteriorly tilt their pelves, tuck their coccyges – which in the supine orientation would present as lifting the tailbone off of the ground, and flatten their lower backs. To achieve some of the benefits of the squat and as a good way to train your body away from this malalignment in prone postures, try to keep your tailbone down and your pubis and ASIS even in the frontal plane. I find it is easier to achieve this one leg at a time as in half happy baby pose.

Namaste, Michele