How’s Your Sense of Smell?

sense of smell
Human olfactory system: 1- Olfactory bulb 2- Mitral cells 3- Bone 4- Nasal epithelium 5- Glomerulus 6- Olfactory receptor neurons

Cooking is one of my passions. As with many things in my life I am self-taught having undertaken a blitzkrieg education soon after I got married. While I have developed into a better than average cook, I have never been able to improve on a decidedly weak sense of smell.

Not smelling well means my taste buds also suffer as smell— the first of our senses to develop and functioning in utero—is responsible for seventy five percent of the impression a flavor has. While smell is our first sense to develop it isn’t everlasting. We smell best in our late twins and go downhill from there.

Smell is the most sensitive of our senses remaining in our memory for long periods. On the flip side our sense of smell gets acclimated to an environment quite quickly. The intensity of how you smell something when you first enter a room will soon dissipate.

Every person has a distinct smell sort of like a fingerprint except for twins who smell exactly alike, which is kind of cool and kind of weird. There can definitely a heightened emotional connection to smell, at least for me, because even though I don’t have a good sense of smell my father’s scent might the thing I remember most about him.

Smell also factors into many survival instincts in interesting ways. When it comes to furthering the species we are hard wired to find the smell of our parents as unattractive. We basically emit an anti-incest scent. This probably happens sometime around puberty when the first whiff of body odor often makes an appearance.

To be honest, not having an acute olfactory awareness can have its advantages, especially when you live in a one and a half bedroom apartment with a wife, two kids, two cats and a dog.


Sunday Morning Music: Liam Hayes and Plush

Liam Hayes is a songwriter from Chicago also known as Plush. His website it very succinct. Here is what the about page reports:

plush is liam hayes.  plush is a band.  liam hayes is plush.  liam hayes is a songwriter


Getting a Good Night’s Sleep with Constructive Rest


We have been looking into getting a new mattress. Our current one is about fifteen years old and has withstood my wife and I and a couple of years of each of our kids. We are open to anything but are currently looking at the Casper Mattress. It is an online company that has amazing reviews on their site.

Getting a good night’s sleep is a relative proposition. One person can be in bed for five hours and get better quality sleep than another person who is in bed for ten hours.

My daughter ostensibly sleeps better than my son. She is out from 8 to 7 and doesn’t move in between. My son goes to sleep at the same time, revolves around the bed constantly, gets up at least once in the night and then wakes up before his sister every day.

When I took them to a Chinese medicine doctor last year he unequivocally stated that she was exhausted and he was fine. And from empirical evidence I believed him.

There are many factors involved in sleeping well. Diet and nutrition play a big part. Consumption of electronic light can have an influence as well. Using your body—via exercise or because the work you do makes you move— over the course of the day is essential also.  What’s the point of recharging a battery that hasn’t been drained?

Another piece we can add to the puzzle is relaxation to facilitate a better night’s sleep. This might seem counter intuitive but creating the right space for your body and mind to fall asleep is of optimum value.

Enter Constructive Rest my favorite catch-all pose for all that ails us. At its heart Constructive Rest is a gravitational release of the psoas, my favorite muscle. The psoas is a powerful core muscle that is often involved with back, hip and groin pain usually due to unprocessed energy or trauma that is stuck in the body.

When it comes to sleep Constructive Rest has a great deal to offer outside of the psoas. It is relaxing for both the mind and the muscles. Some people can simply lie down on the bed, put their head on the pillow and fall asleep instantly. For others, there is an unwinding period that comes before any thought of falling asleep.

Even if you have no trouble falling asleep, I recommend doing fifteen to thirty minutes of Constructive Rest before bed. You can even do it on your mattress if need be. It is simple and effortless with no downside and the possibility of a lot of upside.

What’s Up With Liver Spots?

liver spotsAging gracefully is one of the main themes of my life and work and I am wondering how acquiring liver spots fits in with the graceful part.

Liver spots, or age spots, are almost always harmless though if vanity is an issue you might not be too happy. They have nothing to do with the liver though they might have been mistakenly associated with liver problems once upon a time; maybe because they are often liver colored.

Liver spots are most often associated with aging, occurring most often when we are over fifty, but can appear in people of any age. But as with many things with the body there is a good measure of debate. I am always fascinated when wading into territory where information ends with… cause ultimately unknown.

Melanin is a substance, or pigment, that gives the skin and hair (and the eyes) its natural color.  Our skin tans because the body produces melanin to protect the skin from ultra violet rays and skin damage from the sun. Liver spots seem to be best explained as melanin gone wild in particular spots.

While it is commonly taken for granted that liver spots can be attributed to over exposure to the sun, there is no proof of this beyond anecdotal evidence.  Most liver spots, though, do appear on the body parts—hands, arms, face—that get most natural exposure to the sun.

At fifty-one I have two liver spots—the first one showing up about three years ago and I am no sun worshipper. I am outside a lot because I walk a bunch but sitting in the sun has never been for me.

It is the aging piece of getting liver spots that fascinates me. I am not this body and all that but looking in a mirror at my fifty year old face— that has weathered some storms—acknowledging the aging process takes some self-kindness that I don’t always have.

They are not difficult to get removed if that is your approach to these things. Some people bathe their liver spots in lemon as a more natural approach than laser removal. But if you are like me you will probably let them move in and take up residence—following along on the wacky journey that my body is taking me through.

Diving Into the Soft Belly

who dies- soft belly meditation“Letting go of the resistance, of the fear, of the holding of hard belly.  Letting go of the grief and distrust.  Meeting them with mercy.  With loving kindness in soft belly.  Letting go.  Letting go of the hardness, breathing it out.”

These are words from the heart and mouth of Stephen Levine as captured in his Soft Belly meditation.

In the late 1990′s I did some volunteer work at the Jacob Perlow Hospice at Beth Israel hospital in New York. My first girlfriend had recently died after a fifteen year battle with HIV and I was interested in exploring the world of the death and dying community.

Stephen Levine, and his wife Ondrea, are the author of numerous books including Who Dies which had a major impact on me. After reading Who Dies I attended a couple of weekend workshops and other lectures by Stephen and Ondrea.

These were fairly mind blowing experiences for me. Five hundred people gathered to share stories about loved ones lost anywhere from six months to 85 years old.

The events invariably found with Stephen and Ondrea sitting on a stage as people related their stories. To almost each and every person Stephen said, “Five yourself, Have mercy on yourself” like a mantra.

Every time I was with them Stephen started things off with a guided soft belly meditation.

The first time I was put through this I couldn’t wait for it to end (At that point I was still fairly cool to oming in yoga classes). I would sit eyes half closed wondering what I had got myself into.

“Have mercy on you. Softening to the pain. Softening the holding. Breathing it out. Breathing in mercy. Breathing in healing. In soft belly. In merciful belly.”

Really??? This is what I came for.

By the end of that first weekend I couldn’t get enough of the soft belly. Give me some more of that soft belly.

I don’t use the words or phrase soft belly much but I feel that what I teach in yoga, as hard as the work might be, is to help people cultivate some concept of the soft belly.

Here is a link to a copy of the Soft Belly Meditation from Stephen Levine.

Why Do We Love To Lift The Front Of The Ribcage?

front of the rib cage
I think all of these ribcages are too elevated. What do you think?

The majority of people I meet interpret the instruction to stand up straight by lifting the front of the rib cage up and taking the shoulders backwards. I wonder where this began because from where I stand and teach absolutely no good comes from an elevation of the front of the ribcage.

It might seem counter intuitive but one of my main instructions, or wishes, is for the back of the body to lengthen in order to let the front of the body soften. From my perspective everyone is too long in the front of the body and too short in the back. This goes for the whole system but I tend to focus most on the space between the pelvis and the ribcage where this imbalance wreaks its greatest havoc.

When I begin my yoga classes I often start with a rap about lengthening the back of the spine to soften the front of the body. I think this is an interesting image. If I get proper extension at the back, the overextending front should release or shorten a little. Lengthening the back of the spine skyward should release tension at the front of the throat and ease the front of the ribcage downwards a bit freeing up access to a much deeper breath.

The idea of standing up straight implies a structure that would be equally straight at the front and its back. If you believe me that we tend to be tighter in the back of the body than the front it would make sense that finding even balance in extension would be difficult.

If you shorten the front without lengthening the back it is easy to create unwanted compression in the cavities of the trunk. Lengthening the back muscles is likely more difficult than shortening the muscles of the front which makes it a complicated project.

Softening the front of the ribcage is a project well worth undertaking but not a no-brainer. Bringing balance to a dynamic machine requires a conscious effort.

Sunday Morning Music: Kate Bush

Kate Bush is in the middle of a run of concerts at the Eventim Apollo theatre in London. It is the first time in thirty five years that she has played live and the shows are supposed to be off the charts amazing.

I couldn’t decide what song to put up so I went with the first song off the Dreaming from 1982, which was the first Kate Bush album that I bought.

The first five records all remain among my favorites and in the last week I have seriously gone down the Kate Bush rabbit hole via you tube. There are endless TV appearances, performances and interviews if one is so inclined. And I am embarassed sometimes about just how inclined I can be.

The Psoas, Forward Head Posture and the Scalene Muscles

scalene musclesThe scalene muscles are three paired muscles of differing lengths. They originate from the transverse process of the 2nd-7th cervical vertebrae (the neck), and insert on the first and second ribs.

They are three (sometimes four) muscles that act to flex, bend and rotate the neck depending on how they are working together and what part of the skeleton is fixed or moving.  If the ribcage doesn’t move, all three of the scalene muscles can bend the neck forward and sideways, and rotate it as well.

When the head and neck are held steady, the scalenus anterior and medius both elevate the first rib while the scalenus posterior elevates the second rib to assist in breathing and create more space in the thoracic cavity.

Forward head posture is endemic to our society. If you live and breathe the odds are you suffer from this postural problem. And if you do, the scalene muscles are part of the problem. Take some pictures of yourself, look in a mirror or try to stand with your back to the wall and get the entire back of your body (other than the lower back and the neck) to the wall. If your head doesn’t get there comfortably you have tight scalene muscles and forward head posture.Scalene Muscles

I can promise that you are not alone.

Forward head posture creates an imbalance between the muscles of the head neck and shoulders. The muscles in front of your neck tend to become over-extended while those at the back of the neck usually are short, tight and suffering.

When the scalenes and sternocleidomastoid (SCM) are pulled forward posturally, the erector spinea muscles, meant to elevate the spine are pulled forward as well, and lose their erectile capabilities.

Another part of the head and neck that is affected are the sub occipital muscles connecting the head to the top of the spine. These are the only muscles in the body with a connection to the spinal cord, and their ability to communicate with the spine is severely compromised by forward head posture and misaligned scalene muscles.

Most pains in the neck involve the scalene muscles to one degree or another. You can suffer from tight scalenes on one side of the neck as well. A dysfunctional psoas major (my favorite muscle) often creates a leg length discrepancy which can inhibit or shorten the entire side of the body, including and creating short tight scalenes.

The scalene muscles, along with the SCM are situated in a key spot in our anatomical structure and therefore can be involved with numerous nerve pain related problems. The nerves need space to flow in order to power the body and tight muscles often mess with the optimal flow of nervous energy.

The most critical aspect of misaligned scalene muscles occurs with the brachial plexus, a network of nerves that emanate from the spine, passing through the neck, on the way to innervate the arm. The brachial plexus’ route from the spine to the arm passes directly between scalenus anterior and scalenus medius. Short, tight or generally misaligned scalene muscles can impact the brachial plexus directly.

Scalene Muscles      Scalene Muscles

The list of problems that can be related to the brachial plexus is fairly long and while the scalene muscles might not be the exact cause they will always be related to head neck and shoulder issues of forward head posture. Carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, numb extremities are just a few options on a long menu of ailments.

The most effective way to bring relief to unhappy scalenes is to change the posture that lead to their suffering in the first place. Readers of the blog will not be surprised to read that finding this relief will not come from moving the head and neck, but by reorienting the pelvis so that it frees the spine to stack vertically and allows the head to sit comfortably on top of the vertebral column.

A well aligned spine with a free and happy psoas affords the body the best chance to work according to its design. Its design is pretty magical but it is not fulfilled through osmosis. We need to think about the way we walk and stand if we want our heads to sit on straight and our scalene muscles to be successfully aligned.

General Anesthesia and Geriatric Patients

patient-general-anesthesiaAt eighty four my mother is no longer living a high quality life. Over the last fifteen years a series of events, starting with a back surgery that did more harm than good, has led to a long slow slide towards a life split between bed and wheelchair.

She is comfortable, living at home in a lovely apartment with the help of an aide. She has her wits about her, sort of. Her body, and in turn her mind, has deteriorated slowly but surely so that someone who was once sharp as a tack, now has five questions at her disposal that are on an endless replay loop.

While I can point to a number of moments that led to her current state, today’s post is about general anesthesia and geriatric patients. The first back surgery did not serve my mother well as I believe that the surgeon must have nicked a nerve because all of her abductor muscles atrophied within a year or two of that initial surgery.

That began my mother’s journey towards a sedentary life. For a while after the surgery she developed a trendelenburg gait and was able to get around without assistance. Soon enough though, walking sticks (a type of crutch) were required. Those lasted a good amount of time.

The transition to walker and electric scooter took a while longer but as of now my mother splits her time between a bed, wheelchair and electric scooter.

My father died four years ago and that took a major toll on my mother’s spirit. After fifty-six wonderfully dysfunctional years she lost her best friend and in many ways her prime reason for living.

All of this backstory is leading towards her current state of being which was influenced in large part by a hip replacement surgery, and general anesthesia, she underwent three years ago.

Walking into the hospital after the hip replacement was an experience I won’t soon forget. Her room was empty and I was guided to the cafeteria where I found my mother with her head lolling to the side and her mouth hanging open in an oval that she didn’t seem capable of closing.

It didn’t take long for me to get home and learn about postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD), a condition commonly found after surgery especially in geriatric patients.

The rest unfortunately is history. My brother, sister and I have watched my once vibrant mother slide into a confused and almost vacant state. It is both heartbreaking and a wake-up call/ warning sign about what the future holds for myself, my siblings and my wife and children.

It isn’t that we shouldn’t trust doctors but we shouldn’t trust doctors blindly. Had I done my due diligence I don’t think my mother would have undergone the hip surgery in her eighties that required general anesthesia. In the end the surgery helped her pain but not her brain.

 Here are a few links to articles and studies on the subject of general anesthesia and the elederly:

How a general anaesthetic could harm your memory for life: Research finds that three quarters of older patients develop memory loss after surgery

Anaesthesia and cognitive disturbance in the elderly

General Anesthesia Can Make The Elderly 15% More Likely To Develop Alzheimer’s Disease

The Rectus Femoris and Lower Back Pain

rectus femoris and lower back painA muscle that does not get its notorious due when it comes to lower back pain is the rectus femoris, one of the four quadriceps muscles.  All of the quadriceps muscles –vastus lateralis, medialis, intermedius and the rectus femoris—extend the knee, but rectus femoris, the only one that connects to the pelvis, also flexes the hip.

The rectus femoris muscle is related to lower back pain due to poor posture. Bad standing habits invariably include the leg bones sinking forward of the pelvis pushing into the tendon of the rectus femoris.

When people talk about hip flexor issues that are common in yoga, the gym and life, I believe they are most often talking about stress in the tendon of rectus femoris. These problems usually manifest at the top of the thigh where it connects to the hip. When you attempt an action, no matter what muscles are supposed to do the work, the rectus femoris takes over, engaging, with the tendon popping like a steel cable being pulled taut (It is crazy to watch this happen!).

Our bones are meant to hold us up and ligaments hold the bones together. The muscles, some of which do help with posture, are meant to move the bones. If the bones are poorly aligned muscles work overtime to support the skeleton when they shouldn’t have to.

When the leg bones sink or lean forward of the pelvis, the upper body usually leans backwards to compensate. This lengthens the front of the body and shortens the back of the body. This is the first and foremost issue I am working with in my CoreWalking Program.

Good posture relates to an alignment of the bones that bears and transfers weight through the skeleton with as little extra effort as possible. The bones sit one on top of the other (relatively) and muscles with balanced tone support the good alignment of the bones.

Poor posture means misaligned bones have got to be held up with additional forces— muscles, ligaments, and tendons and fascia—that will suffer in taking on work outside of their pay grades.

rectus femoris and lower back painA main problem with indecent orientation of the bones is the ligaments holding the bones together can get over stretched, or be habituated in a poor skeletal position. This is happening with the iliofemoral ligament that connects the leg to the hip socket and underlays the rectus femoris.

And depending on the individual, the more the legs move forward the more the trunk leans backwards increasing the stress on both the iliofemoral ligament and the rectus femoris muscle making it harder if not impossible to properly align the spine.

There are three essential joints that we are looking at here. The two iliofemoral joints where the legs meet the pelvis and the lumbosacral joint where the lower spine meets the sacrum.

rectus femoris and lower back pain rectus femoris and lower back pain   rectus femoris and lower back pain

The lumbosacral joint is where so much back pain begins and degeneration occurs in large part due to the misalignment of the two iliofemoral joints. If these two hip joints are as messed up as I suggest, there is no way for the bottom lumbar vertebrae (L5) to sit well on top of the sacral plate.

Changing our posture, which can have an amazing effect on lower back pain, has to start by getting the legs to fall directly under the hips sockets and pelvis. Allowing the rectus femoris to live free of tension due to poor posture can also free the lumbar spine to sit directly on top of the sacrum allowing the space for movement and stability up and down the spine.