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

datal

 

 

 

 

Busting other yoga myths with biomechanics

Unlike some of the improbable myths that the gals over at Smarterbodies take on in their new ebook Exposing Yoga Myths, yoga teachers could be forgiven for their misconceptions about demands placed on joints and muscles in common balancing asanas. In fact, nobody was more surprised at what is actually happening than Dr. George Salem, lead researcher for the Yoga Empowers Senior Study (YESS). Dr. Salem is Director of the Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Research Laboratory, Director of the Human Anatomy Program, directs the Exercise and Aging Biomechanics research program; and is Associate Professor in the Division of Biokinesiology & Physical Therapy at the University of Southern California.

In the study that is the subject of this post, Dr. Salem and his team used standard biomechanical analysis (joint moments of force and EMG measurements of muscle activation patterns) to examine physical demands placed on older persons, average 70 years old, performing three common variations each of Vrksasana (Tree) and Uthitta Hasta padangustasana (single leg balance).  Here’s what they discovered.

Vrksasana (tree pose)

Because it can become confusing, use this key for translating beginner, intermediate, and advanced vrksasana. You can see a visual here.

  • beginner = toes of non-stance leg touching the floor; hands on wall
  • intermediate = only stance foot touches ground; hands on wall
  • advanced = only stance foot touches ground; no wall support

They hypothesized that the beginner variation, which was done with toes on the floor and heel against the inside of the shank (lower leg) of the stance leg and using a hand on the wall for support, would be the least physically demanding . The intermediate variation, which had the entirety of the foot on the stance shank, but still holding the wall, would be more physically demanding. The advanced variation, which was classic vrksasana, with foot on shank and no wall support would be the most physically demanding. They hypothesized that the increase in physical demands would be linear. They were wrong.

Progressing

What they found was that there was a large increase in demand going from tree with the toes on the ground and wall support (beginner tree) to tree with the foot off the ground and wall support (intermediate tree). And there was not much change at all between having or not having wall support, when only the stance foot was grounded. Providing wall support doesn’t lessen demand nearly as much as lifting the toes from the mat.  This suggests that more time may be needed practicing the beginner variation before transitioning to the intermediate variation. Because older persons have diminished strength and balance, reduced joint range of motion, and a greater prevalence of osteoarthritis, some variations of what are seemingly appropriate asanas may place them at risk for musculoskeletal and neurological pain and injury. And while increased muscle loading may improve strength and endurance, excessively high joint moments of force may lead to damaging loads to joint structures and exacerbate osteoarthritis and other pathological joint issues.

Recommendation: In working with older persons in vrksasana, when they are ready to progress from the beginning variation, have them keep their toes on the floor and move away from the wall, rather than having them lift their toes while staying at the wall.

Hip Strength

Another finding was that advanced tree and intermediate tree (both with non-stance foot off the ground) were nearly identical in the physical demands of the lateral hip musculature aka abductors aka gluteus medius. Thus, there appeared to be no adaptive benefit to stepping away from the wall, when you are already balancing on one leg (toes of non-stance leg not on the ground). Thus, for students who feel safer holding onto a wall, they are gaining as much improvement in strength and endurance as those not holding the wall. Strong abductors are associated with better balance and reduced fall risk.

Recommendation: Let your students know that holding onto the wall does not undermine hip strength and will  effectively assist them in achieving better balance, decrease fear of falling and performance anxiety in class, and build confidence. 

Knee Safety

A really important finding has implications for students with knee issues. Intermediate and advanced tree pose increases loading of joint structures. Unfortunately, such loading characteristics are associated with knee osteoarthritis and joint pain, thus could exacerbate preexisting conditions. Importantly, and in contrast to commonly held conceptions, the use of a wall for support during these variations of Vrksasana does not offer protection for the knee joint.

Recommendation: For senior students with existing knee problems, suggest they stick with the beginner version of Vrksasana.

Uthitta Hasta Padangustasana (single leg balance)

Follow this key, when visualizing the beginner, intermediate, and advanced variations of padangustasana. Here is a visual.

  • beginner = extended leg supported on blocks
  • intermediate = extended leg supported on chair
  • advanced = extended leg unsupported aka supported by the strength of the student

Progressing with Props…maybe not

Again, researchers were surprised, when their hypotheses were not supported. It turns out that extending your leg onto a chair is not much of a progression over stepping onto a stack of blocks, although it appears quite a bit more demanding. (I interject that there is likely more balance anxiety for some older students to place their leg on the higher chair.) The real progression comes with the advanced variation, which uses active mobility – you holding your own leg up. What is striking to me is that while the leg may be higher on the chair, the effort is larger in the advanced variation – even though the leg is barely off the ground (see link to visual) because the student is generating internal force (muscle force) rather than relying on external force (chair) to assume the posture. It matters how you get there. It matters how you stay there.

Hamstrings

In the advanced variation, co-contraction of the hamstrings and quadriceps occurs, stiffening the joint and increasing stability, however, this increased loading may exacerbate existing knee osteoarthritis symptoms.

Recommendation: For senior students with existing knee problems, suggest they stick with the beginner or intermediate variations of Vrksasana.

Ankles

This study found Padangustasana to be an excellent posture for improving plantar flexor (think rising up onto the ball of your feet) strength and performance, which is associated with balance and postural control, gait, and fall risk in older persons. However, it’s not until students are confidently performing this one legged balance that they appreciatively load the plantar flexor muscles.  This asana is also excellent for ankle inverter strength (think sole of the foot facing in towards the midline of your body), which, like strong plantar flexor muscles, is critical for balance but also in agility and walking proficiency.

Recommendation: encourage your appropriate older students to work towards the advanced variation o Uthitta Hasta Padangustasana for improving ankle strength and agility.

Conclusions

This study’s biomechanical insights provide evidence that can be used by yoga instructors, when selecting modifications for their older students.

Here are three points to remember:

  1. Posture variations that have long been considered introductory may actually induce higher demands at some joints and planes of motion, than pose variations considered advanced.
  2. Pose variations can produce forces that are in the opposite direction of those generated during the classical variation.
  3. Use of props, such as a wall, to reduce contraindicated joint loading may have little or no effect.

As a yoga and movement teacher, my biggest take away is that there are few well-designed studies in the area of biomechanical forces and yogasana. In fact, the authors’ state that this is the first study to quantify the physical demands of yoga pose variations, using biomechanical methodologies. I will continue to seek more research like this so that I can replace time-honored ideas about what I think or what I’ve been told might be happening in yoga with what is actually happening in yoga.

The Physical Demands of the Tree (Vriksasana) and One-Leg Balance (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana) Poses Performed by Seniors: A Biomechanical Examination. Sean S.-Y. Yu,  Man-Ying Wang,  Sachithra Samarawickrame,  Rami Hashish,  Leslie Kazadi,  Gail A. Greendale, and George J. Salem. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3437689/

Namaste, Michele

Who is this Katy Bowman and why is she such a disruptive technology?

I am studying to be a Restorative Exercise Specialist™ with Katy Bowman. Katy started out studying mathematics, switched to physics, and finally landed on biomechanics, which is the study of how mechanical principles (forces & loads) affect living structures like the human body. After completing her undergraduate degree in biomechanics, she worked for 10 years in the fitness industry as an instructor and trainer of many different exercise modalities. She then returned to school to complete a masters degree in biomechanical engineering, where she pursued her growing interest in cellular biomechanics. This mixing of her academic knowledge in geometry, physics, engineering, physiology, and anatomy with her experiential knowledge of fitness and movement psychology makes a powerful brew of whole body health and provokes a radical departure from fitness as we have known it. I am endlessly fascinated, mind-boggled, maddened, challenged, and always entertained by her brilliant, down to earth treatment of and conviction about whole body health and wellness. My studies with Katy have transformed my body, my yoga practice, my teaching, my house(!), and my movement choices in unexpected, enduring, completely satisfying ways.

I am excited to be in the review phase of this program and at a place, where I feel a bit more confident sharing my understanding of Restorative Exercise™  aka RE, which is not a movement program, but a living program that emphasizes all day, everyday, aligned, natural whole body movement. Topics in upcoming posts during this review phase will be about fitness/exercise, cardiovascular health, blood physics, muscle physiology, alignment points, movement nutrition, mechanotransduction, walking/gait, squatting, casting, breathing mechanics, osteoporosis,  and individual areas of the body – knees, hips, shoulders, etc.; oh, and feet of course!

**Because I work in the yoga world, I need to make a clarification. Restorative Exercise™ is not restorative yoga in any way, shape or form. The RE name is an unfortunate, confusing choice for those of us who also happen to be yoga instructors. Sigh.

Learn more about Katy Bowman and RE.

Namaste, Michele

Sleeping on a mattress is the new sitting

There are people out there that eschew the comforts of mattresses, choosing instead to sleep directly on the floor with minimal padding. I am one of them. Different sleeping surfaces create different loads to your body’s tissues. Loads experienced from a soft squishy mattress will be entirely different from loads experienced, when forces applied are from a firm mattress, futon, camping pad, or ground tarp. One can apply the analogy of footwear to sleeping surfaces. Heel height, toe box size, upper robustness, and sole rigidity/thickness can unnaturally load your feet to varying degrees. Shoes put unnatural forces on  your feet and among many other things (alignment, walking/standing surfaces, amount and repetitiveness of movement, etc.), are implicated in poor foot mobility, flexibility, and strength and in many foot maladies including plantar fasciitis, bunions, metatarsalgia, Morton’s neuroma, etc. The tissues of your shod feet would respond one way to constantly running on flat, unvarying, hard asphalt/concrete and another way completely to walking barefoot or minimally shod over natural terrain with its rocks, roots, divots, sand, water, prickles, grass, moss, sticks, and inclines. Your bed is the unnatural equivalent of a flat, hard surface for your feet with its attending maladies. Sleeping on a minimally padded floor or the naturally padded earth is like walking barefoot in nature, with its ensuing health benefits.

My teacher, biomechanist Katy Bowman’s concept of casting comes into play with mattresses. She describes casts/casting as the habitat in which we dwell that prevents full use of our body. Obviously, shoes and flat walking surfaces are casts, because they keep us from using our intrinsic foot musculature and attaining full range of motion in the joints of our feet and ankles. A chair is a cast for anyone, who sits at a desk job for 9 hours a day, as it prevents your spine, hips, and knees from moving through their full ranges of motion and it keeps large chunks of your body inert and denervated. Bras are casts too. A mattress is one of your biggest, most insidious casts because of the amount of time that you spend there. Sleeping on a mattress is the new sitting. In the same way that there is no ideal sitting or standing position, there is no ideal sleeping position. Our bodies, over millions of years of evolution, adapted for full-body, natural, all day movement, not sitting, standing, or sleeping in casted positions. A modern bed is different from that for which our physiology is adapted. Hunting and gathering, which humans and human-like ancestors did for upwards of 3 million years, adapted our bodies to sleep on the ground. Sleeping on a mattress is a novel development. Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, in his brilliantly researched, illuminating book The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease considers that back pain could be a mismatch disease/injury because your soft and comfortable mattress may weaken your back. A mismatch disease/injury (back pain) occurs when human features were  adaptive in the environment in which they evolved (sleeping on the ground) but have become maladaptive in modern environments (use of a soft, cushy mattress).

The nature of a mattress, regardless of its firmness rating, is to conform to your body and its attending misalignments, a soft-cast of sorts meant to provide you with complete comfort. Always sleeping on something flat and squishy has altered the mobility and sensitivity of your parts. Your pillow may be an even worse orthotic than your mattress. It reinforces the head position that it creates, which is a head forward position that is implicated in shortening of muscles that run between the back of your skull and the first and second vertebrae in your neck. When these muscles are not able to return to their optimal resting lengths because they’ve been chronically tensioned by your pillow, joint degeneration and disc issues (in your neck!!) can occur.    A pillow prevents the very motion that you often do naturally when your neck feels tight or in yoga class, which is drop your ear toward your shoulder for a good neck stretch. If you were sleeping without a pillow, your neck would regularly go into this range of motion as your roll onto your side.

Sleeping directly on the earth with no or only natural padding is the gold standard – equivalent to barefoot walking in nature and still a luxury for some cultures around the world and a few hard-core westerners. The closest most people will come in their daily lives, however, will be sleeping on hard flat floors with minimal non-natural padding. All the same, the benefits over sleeping on a modern mattress with a pillow are significant. The forces of a minimally padded floor provide a variety of loads to your body’s tissue that don’t occur on soft-casting mattresses, because you move more without external resistance inherent in a body-conforming mattress. This results in greater ranges of motion for joints that are underused at best, or completely immobile on a mattress. The pressure of a hard surface provides a passive massage to your muscles each time you move, thereby causing mechanotransduction of your cells that facilitates circulation, electricity, and waste removal. In addition to facilitating your body’s natural geometry (positioning of your parts to each other and to the floor) and providing a nightly tissue regenerating massage, sleeping on the floor allows gravity to traction those parts of you, like your neck,  helping to restore your muscles to their optimal resting length. Just as sitting on the floor provides yin yoga style benefits of naturally stretching and tractioning muscles and connective tissues in your hips, sleeping on an unyielding surface is where natural neck stretching occurs. An additional benefit of floor sleeping is that it gives you at least one opportunity, and probably more, to get down onto the floor and up again.

If you go from sleeping on a bed one night to sleeping on the floor the next, without a transitional ramping down period, it’s going to be quite uncomfortable and may undermine your success. This could happen not because the floor is too hard, but because your body is “out of shape” for floor sleeping. You wouldn’t start a running program by doing a half-marathon. You would train by slowly increasing your miles, speed, and frequency, with plenty of rest days. Same with moving to the floor. If you exceed the boundaries of your tissues’ ability to adapt; and create loads that are more than what you body is used to, you may suffer. By transitioning slowly and systematically towards progressively more minimal sleeping surfaces, you will gradually load your tissues so that they can adapt to your new sleeping routine.

Katy Bowman writes about transitioning away from a mattress. I’ve distilled her suggestions, and added a few of my own. You’ve been sleeping on a mattress all of your life, so take time – weeks, months – to transition to the floor.

Try these steps:

  •  remove pillow topper from your current mattress
  • place mattress directly on ground (yes, removing box springs changes the forces of a mattress)
  • replace mattress with futon
  • replace futon with a thick rug/carpeting and some blankets
  • remove the blankets one at a time
  • replace carpeting with Tatami mat (Japanese sleeping mat)

You can follow a similar transition pattern for your pillow, going from thick and dense to thin and feathery to a folded towel, etc.

My story is a classic case of do as I say, not as I do. I transitioned, in one night, from a dense, squishy, memory-foam type mattress to two stacked blankets folded lengthwise on top of a hardwood floor with no pillow. The first 5 nights I experienced distressing this-is-why-i-haven’t-camped-in-10-years aches and discomforts. I moved around a lot to get comfortable and I was awakened every time I shifted in my sleep and reminded of how hard the floor felt. I suspected maybe I was making a big mistake – until I got up that first morning. Even though I had felt uncomfortable while I was on the floor, when I got up, there was NO stiffness to be found. I popped right out of “bed” and was completely mobile, buoyant, and fully alert. So I kept at it another five nights and noticed that I was beginning to feel more comfortable – less intentional position changing, less awakening when I shifted in my sleep, less sensitivity to the hardness. At about two weeks, I returned to the bed one night to see how that would feel. Immediately, what I call my “restless shoulder syndrome” returned. All night long, I was back to moving my arms over my head and back to my sides again and again to find comfort, but never finding it. Sleeping on my sides, I experienced that familiar ache in my shoulder joints. When I slept on my back, I discovered the mattress rounded my shoulders forward into an unnatural internal rotation, causing tingling and an unbearable urge to change position. When I became too uncomfortable, I would flop over onto my belly, but then my neck joined the chorus of discontent. Finally, in the early hours of dawn, I crawled back onto the floor and unbelievable relief and knew, immediately, viscerally, that I would never sleep on a mattress again. Over the next three months, there were occasional nights where my bony pelvis and tailbone would dig into the floor. At one point, I was beginning to experience a pressure sore on my tailbone. So that night, I reached for the faux sheep’s skin pad that used to extend my floor bed for Jolie the dog, when she wanted to co-sleep with me. Even though I had clearly experienced a decline in status from my partner and our other two dogs, who continued to sleep on the bed, Jolie is loyal and likes to snuggle, so I had placed that pad next to my floor bed for her. Anyway, on that night, while she was up with the higher-ranking members of our pack, I slid her pad under my hips and immediately transformed my bed. This addition of ¼ inch padding when squished, was enough to eliminate any further bony discomfort.  While I am perfectly delighted with the quality and comfort of my floor bed, I would prefer to sleep with my partner, thus I am making a more permanent floor bed for us out of stacked wool blankets that will be tufted together into a 2 inch thick sleeping pad, with inspiration from Pinterest and the DIY Internet people. I’ll post images when it is complete.

Here is a picture of where I currently sleep. It is comprised of a pendleton-like wool blanket and a standard comforter, both folded length-wise, and topped with Jolie the dog’s faux sheep skin pad.

My Floor Bed

My Floor Bed

And this is what happens when you invite us to sleep over at your house.

Kim's Dad's house

Kim’s Dad’s house

I’ve done some cursory searches of the scientific research literature – enough to tell you that there are few studies on sleep surfaces and almost nothing on ground/floor sleeping in the  anthropological, biomechanical, or medical literature. However, what I have read is interesting and I will share in a follow-up to this post.

Namaste, Michele

How to Build a Bunion – Part 1

For those who participated in the PNWU Run For Your Life 5K Run Health Fair, you may want to consider your foot alignment and how a foot turnout while running can contribute to the painful condition of a bunion.

Michele McGinnis

A bunion, aka Hallux Valgus, is the most common foot deformity in adults. It presents as a lateral protrusion of the big toe joint. Inflammation with reddening and swelling, pain, and numbness are often present. In more severe cases, the toe deviates medially toward the other toes, sometimes going completely sideways and moving under them. Bunions impair weight bearing and balance, increase the risk of falling, and worsen physical performance and quality of daily life.

If you are sitting, stand up, walk across the room, come back and remain standing. Really, do this before you read further or you might influence the results.

Now, look at your feet. Do they look like this?

Feet definitely not pointing straight ahead. Feet definitely not pointing straight ahead.

Most do. So what, you might ask? Why does it matter? I counter with a question. Would you want these wheels on your car? I didn’t think so. Our feet, like…

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