About That Aging Process

birthday picI turned fifty-two yesterday and I have to say I had a pretty glorious day. As usual I did whatever I pleased (it’s a nice life!) which included going on a field trip with my sons class and spending time with my wife and kids. We went for an awesome dinner—though I over-ate for the first time in a long time, and that wasn’t the best way to end the day.

On almost every level aging is going well. I feel pretty great for fifty-two though I don’t have much context for what feeling bad would be. Getting up and down off the floor is pretty smooth but I have been working on the fact that I lower down to the right every time and tend to plop the final six inches or so.

As a movement teacher I am making people get up and down off the floor repeatedly and this is an eye-opening experience. Some accomplish this in a smoother fashion than I, but the majority labor in some way or another, and many are much younger than me.

The other day I wrote about feeling pretty darn strong (stronger than ever even) and wondering when that shall begin to wane, but I am feeling the ravages of time in other ways. I wrote a while ago about getting a liver spot and now I have two.

In last year I have been reminded me of this line from a David Sedaris piece in the New Yorker:

 Yes, the washer on my penis has worn out, leaving me to dribble urine long after I’ve zipped my trousers back up.

The first time this happened to me I thought I must have prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate (which I don’t) but it turns out to be another fairly normal, if not oddly disturbing, aspect of aging.

My eyes started taking a turn for the worse at forty and that process has not slowed down. I had stellar eyesight my whole life and now need reading glasses for anything I look at.

Finally, for my whole life I carried certain things with me always. For the first forty years or so I had a pockets filled with keys, wallet and a book. In my forties that changed to keys, wallet and a phone. But in the last couple of years I added a handkerchief that I truly can’t leave home without.

This has something to do with my Bell’s palsy but in truth the handkerchief was always something I saw as an older generation thing that I didn’t need and associated with maturity of a sort.

So there you have it. I feel great at fifty-two though profoundly aware that sixty approaches and time is limited. What a trip.


Working Hard At Fifty-Two

working hardI have been meaning to write about the realities of aging for the last couple of weeks. Strange changes are happening, which actually ten years ago, starting with the need for reading glasses the day I turned forty.

That post will come but I’ll take a different approach this morning. Yesterday I had to help a friend move some boxes from a fifth floor walk-up: Heavy boxes down five flights in multiple trips.

It felt great. By the end I had a good sweat going, my legs we feeling it and I was thinking about the good night’s sleep I would get last night (which didn’t work out but what can you do?).

I hadn’t worked that hard in a long while and it felt great. The question I had an hour later was how long would I be able to do this? At sixty-two will I still be working hard and running up that last flight with as much energy as the first. What about at 72?

The changes I mentioned at the top, which I will get back to, don’t involve stamina and endurance. But won’t those start to go as well?

The aftermath of the work I did yesterday was a feeling of deep satisfaction that the effort I have put in for the last twenty years (as lazy as it has been in many ways) has paid off and I have body that I believe can handle some of the ravages of time.

But not all, and that is a very humbling feeling.

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Baseball Pitchers Should Not Lift Weights


A staggering one third of all pitchers in major league baseball have had what is known as tommy john surgery, a procedure that replaces a ligament in the inner elbow with a tendon from another part of the body (wrist, hamstring foot etc.).

One third! If I had to guess there are somewhere around 350 professional baseball pitchers (30 teams w/12 or 13 pitchers per team?) So we have over one hundred pitchers having had the surgery and it is now taken for granted that American baseball pitchers are going to blow out their elbows.

Prior to 1974 this surgery didn’t exist (Tommy John was a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who was the first to have this surgery performed) and it didn’t become ubiquitous until the late 90’s.

I am no expert on baseball mechanics but I have a pretty good read on mechanics in general and I am most amused to read how no one has a direct answer for why so many baseball pitchers elbows are popping, which is the precursor to the surgery.

Theories abound but no one actually knows why this is happening—which make me feel free to weigh in with my two cents. My favorite detail of this problem, as I was reading it, is that you have two very distinct camps telling you why this is happening to baseball pitchers.

One claims that elbows are popping because pitchers are throwing too many pitches. The other camp claims that pitchers throw too few pitches.

On the surface of things I would throw my lot in with those who think pitchers aren’t throwing enough.

As it turns out, over the last number of years the pitch count camp—they think pitchers threw too many pitches leading the ligament to wear out and snap—has won the day and their influence dominates the pitching philosophy of most teams.

The problem is that in that time frame the number of injuries and surgeries has gone up.

Those who claim that pitchers need to throw more pitches talk about a body designed to perform if kept in the optimal shape which in their view means an endless number of repetitions to keep the engine humming.

As much as I agree with the too-few camp— that the body is designed to work without limitation if developed correctly— I don’t think this addresses the issue directly enough.

Where I differ from both camps is that I don’t see anyone talking about a different way to maintain that elasticity.

So here’s my two cents—the prevalence of the Tommy John surgeries that we see is due the rise of weightlifting programs over the last few decades. Athletes, baseball players particularly, were not bulked up when I was a kid, and while bulk might definitely serve hitters,  building muscles with too much tensile strength does not serve pitchers in the same way.

Weightlifting builds strength by creating shorter harder muscle which can limit the elasticity required to support the mechanics required of an arm throwing upwards of one hundred miles an hour.

It might be counter intuitive but baseball pitchers, from my perspective need a different kind of program to build muscles for pitching and that program does not include lifting weights.

So if any reader out there has a connection to a baseball team, tell them to get in touch with me. I am almost certain I can solve their problems.


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On Coffee

Coffee_Beans_ This article, It’s Official: Americans Should Drink More Coffee, is one of many of late that extol the virtues of coffee. This one I like particularly since it says that those two cups of day that I tend to have are not enough. The good stuff, according to the good researchers of the Nation’s Top Nutrition Panel (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee), doesn’t truly start flowing until the third cup.

There seems to be many different directions that I could take the next few paragraphs but I will choose to look at the bogeyman side of things.

The world drinks coffee and lots of it. Coffee was introduced in the United States in the 1600’s but didn’t really become the drink of choice until post Boston Tea Party, when we changed our national stripes and rejected our tea drinking past.

Coffee is said to have originated in Ethiopia and the apocryphal tale has it that a goat herder noticed some happy goats post bean drinking and a world-wide phenomenon was born.

But what really interests me is why it has been taken for granted for many years that coffee is bad for us. I grew up in a coffee drinking house, though I didn’t take up the drug until my twenties, and there was always the concept floating around that coffee wasn’t good for our health.

So the main upshot is that I am glad to not need to feel guilty if I reach for a third cup of the day.

What most interests me is how conventional wisdom (the CW) is created and then often turned on its head, though as often as not, conventional wisdom remains rooted in our psyche. I am not a big fan of the CW.

There are many things that fall into this once bad/now good category that should make people sit up and wonder about why they think the way they do.

Two of these items, or trend lines, would be cholesterol, and fat. At a certain moment, the CW decided that fat was bad and the world, or at least this part of the world, was turned on its head. I’m not sure when the CW decided eggs, one of the world’s true superfoods, were bad but they had a moment in the bad food spotlight.

Anyway the point of all of this is—color me wary of the pronouncements of the few who speak for the many.

All too often large majorities believe something that turns out to be not so true. How someone trusts their instincts in the face of these waves of popular sentiment is the stuff we are made of.


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The Gluteus Maximus and External Rotation

gluteus maximusThe gluteus maximus, our big butt muscle, is used and abused in every possible way. It is often called on to accomplish tasks that are outside its purview of extending the hip at the thigh. If you stand up from a chair or come up from a squat you are extending the thigh making the correct use of gluteus maximus.

Walking up an incline or a flight of stairs also engages the gluteus maximus in a way that serves us well.

What doesn’t do us a whole lot of good is engaging the gluteus maximus when it doesn’t need to be turned on. And another aspect of improper use of the gluteus maximus is engaging it too much when it should be turned out.

If you are standing well, your bones hold you up for the most part and most of your muscles are free to relax because of the positive support and weight transfer happening through your bones.

If you are standing poorly, which is almost everyone I meet, it is likely that your thighs are forward of your hips which takes the bones out of alignment and turns on gluteus maximus to help hold us up.

This is a major bummer for this essential muscle. And this type of overuse actually affects the muscles of the pelvis underlying the gluteus maximus—piriformis, and the other two gluteal muscles, medius and minimus.

As a yoga teacher, I teach a lot of bridge poses. A lot. They have so much to offer in terms of both strength and awareness building.

When a student goes up into bridge in a way I like the feet stay grounded to both the inner and outer foot, the inner thighs activate to draw the thighs in and down creating space in the pelvis for the spine to extend.

Gluteus maximus working well facilitates this extending down toward the heels along with the hamstrings.

If the gluteus maximus works too much, which often happens when people lack the core tone to go up and stay up with ease, the legs are forced into external rotation, which is bad enough in bridge but when the same thing happens in wheel pose or other backbends, the sacroiliac joint and lower back are compromised.

And what fun is that?


Sunday Morning Music: Natalie Prass

A couple of weeks ago I put up Mathew E. White who I saw this past week in Brooklyn with a 30 piece band. It was a pretty great shwo. In that post I mentioned Natalie Prass and the Spacebomb label, so here is a cut off of her record.


Palpating the Fibularis Muscle

Last week I wrote post about the fibularis muscles formerly known as the peroneals. As I mentioned these are key muscles that tend to be underused or used incorrectly.

Walking and standing and doing yoga correctly employs these muscles as design and allows for a fully functioning body that is working on all cylinders.

When these muscles are tight or underused the body won’t be able to work as well as it should. For reasons I don’t understand these muscles don’t seem to be on the radar of most yoga teachers and bodyworkers (unless of course that is my incorrect assumption).

The video in this post offers a simple demonstration by palpating these muscles and then feeling them engage and disengage. It will hopefully offer insight into whether or not you are using these important muscles.

I have to add that I love that my son’s Thor Hammer is in the video.


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Use Your Whole Foot

Our amazing feet have twenty-six bones with thirty-three possible articulations and the more they move the merrier they will be; and the body above them will be happy as well.

The question is just how much of their feet most people are using.

The unfortunate answer is not so much.

foot    foot

If you look at the soles of your shoes you can see pretty clearly just how much of your foot you are using in the course of your shod day.  Here are a number of examples of shoes wear. Can you see the one pair that looks good.

These example cover a range of poor movement and standing patterns.

foot   foot

In an ideal situation, the sole of your shoes wear out at the outer heel and then across the whole ball of the foot from inside to outside.

In the pictures above and below, we have one instance of that while we get variations on the inability to get to the inner foot manifesting in every other image.

In yoga I see all of the same patterns manifesting in peoples feet. I feel that I can tell how someone’s shoes will wear out by the way the feet situate in yoga poses.

foot   foot

We want to use the whole foot in yoga and in life so start by feeling just how much of your foot you use in general.   What are your tendencies when walking, exercising, even sleeping.

Those thirty-three possible articulations are designed for movement but if you don’t enforce mobility onto them they will not move forever.

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They Looked Inside This Statue And Found…

buddha mummy

Reader Emily P. sent me this photo from an article that had been going around facebook. Her comment was:

This seems to have gone viral on FB, or at least on my page. Will you look at those misaligned shoulders! I imagine his pelvis was similarly misaligned, the result, naturally, of a tight psoas. It would seem the postural issues we struggle with today are not so modern.

My response was that even though I had seen the article that seemed to be everywhere for a minute, I hadn’t noticed the shoulders.

The body is thought to be the remains of Buddhist master Liuquan, who lived around 1100 AD. And the article also shared this fascinating image:

There is speculation that Liuquan engaged in the practice of self-mummification, a gruesome process where monks from certain traditions prepare themselves to not decay after death through a combination of diet and consumption of poisonous herbs and embalming fluid. This has yet to be confirmed, however.

Now that I am looking at the image differently, I see the forward roll of the left shoulder in the statue as well as the skeleton. It also seems that the bones or bones density on the two humeral bones seems totally different, and the left side of the rib cage is flat especially compared to the ribs on the right.

What do you see?

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Weekend Mashup: February 28th

Here is the weekend mashup, a collection of links of articles from the last week or two that didn’t make it into blog posts.

I realized that I tend to put up a lot of men doing their core thing so let’s start with a compilation of free running women.

I love archery. And I love historical novels which are often filled with takes of archers (knock,draw, loose) and recently watch an excellent Korean movie, The War Of The Arrows, that I highly reccommend.

I have been teaching this pose, Fallen Warrior, from Angela Farmer for many years and incorrectly calling it Dying Warrior. Whatever the name, I love the shape, and simply love the way Farmer moves in this and all of her videos.


weekend mashup

I like simple things that might give me relief. Learn to massage your ear.


Let’s finish with one of my favorite videos of all time. We used to watch this routine before class at my old yoga center. The good stuff begin at 1:00. And good stuff it truly is. For wahtever reason contortionists found a home, for a time, in 1940′s musicals.