Categories

Archives

Healing Injuries Counter Intuitively

Teaching yoga and working with people in pain to help with healing injuries is an amazing way to make a living. I get paid to play and learn. It is humbling and thrilling and scary all rolled up into one. Helping people process through chronic pain is quite the process. There aren’t always answers at the ready and I often have to think outside the box.

And I am often wrong, or not as effective as I‘d like to be. I recently ran into the sister of an old client who had been working through a series of injuries that left him unable to walk much and barely able to sit at a desk that he needed to be behind for twelve hours a day.

We worked together for a while and made some progress. His walk changed. His core tone improved. His pain diminished by about half. And that is where we parted ways.

When I ran into his sister and asked after him, she told me he was pain free and hiking mountains. Thrilled, I asked what precipitated that turns of events. She told he read John Sarno’s book Healing Back Pain.

Nothing makes me happier though this isn’t a post about John Sarno whose work I love.

There are all types of injury and pain and all different ways to approach healing injuries.

healing injuriesOver the summer I sprained my left ankle pretty badly and while it healed nicely there were still some lingering aches creeping in on occasion—which didn’t bother me much.

About a month ago I started running regularly again and four weeks later my ankle is stronger than ever. The first week was a bit tenous as I was reminded of unhappy ligaments that had been tweaked. The second week moved up into my fibularis (peroneal) muscles on the outer calf.

Now at week four everything feels rock solid and I am good to go.

Another story of healing that I rarely share with my students and clients goes back a ways to living in Carroll Gardens and running my dogs in Red Hook Park. One sunny day my dog Ollie decided to take me down when I wasn’t looking.

He ran full speed into my leg from the side knocking me off my feet and messing up both my knee and my ankle. Again time passed and I healed but there was a lingering misery in my acchilles tendon that wouldn’t go away.

Watching TV one night, for whatever reason, I decided I had had enough and a light bulb went off above my head. I got off the couch and started squatting with my feet together. It was slow going at first and I was on the verge of tears by the time I got down into the full squat but at the same time I instinctively felt that it could be good.

I was pain free a week later after the ache in the achilles had been with me for a couple of months.

This is not part of my recommended protocol. What I am willing to do is not always what I recommend to others when it comes to healing injuries. But it has worked for me a number of times in the past.

Who Needs to Tuck The Pelvis?

tucking the pelvisIn my humble opinion. Very few people have their pelvis’ aligned correctly. There are variations on how out of whack the pelvis tends to be but for the most part most people are inhabiting one poor position or another.

As a yoga teacher I basically teach to the general population because you never know what everyone in a class is dealing with in their own bodies. I am always looking diagnostically to get a read on what people are up against but you still you can only offer so much to an individual in a group.

The most prevalent pattern the I see is people who stand with their feet turned out and their thighs leaning forward which often pulls the pelvis into a tucked position.

So, to return to the question at the top—who needs to tuck the pelvis? – the simple answer is people who are pigeon toed, which means their feet have a natural tendency to turn in.

If your feet and therefore your legs tend to rotate inwardly it can easily put your pelvis into too great of an anterior tilt.

This should be a pretty easy thing to feel. Stand up in a posture that you would consider well aligned. Turn your feet out and for good measure let the thighs sink forward. Odds are good this is going to pull your pelvis forward and if not exactly into a tucked position it will be moving towards one.

Now do the opposite, turning your feet inward. If I had to guess this is going to push your pelvis back and up. If that is you it is likely that you will be well served if you tuck the pelvis a little.

While I do come across people like this, my lovely wife being one of them, they aren’t in the majority.

Here is a fairly easy way to know where you fall in this spectrum. How do you wear out your shoes?

The duck footed amongst us wear shoes out to the outside and the pigeon-toed don’t. Often pigeon toed people have a decent wear pattern at the front of the foot with the heel wearing too much in the middle. We would like to see wear at the outer heel and then across the whole ball of the foot with a slight emphasis on the mound of the big toe.

If you are duck footed and standing up straight it is likely that the weight falls to the outside of your shoes. If you are pigeon-toed your weight often falls through the inner foot (though not always).

Feel where you tend to live and then play with the alignment of your pelvis so that the weight falls evenly across the whole foot.

Have fun!

Why I don’t Teach Partner Exercises in Yoga

partner exercisesWhen I first began taking yoga partner exercises were all the rage. There were many ways for people to work together to go deeper into the practice.

To be honest I loved them. It was fun to work with other people. I was always confident that I knew what I was doing. And it felt good to help others and I wasn’t too wrapped up when others didn’t help me. It was all part of the practice.

When I became a yoga teacher I also started teaching partner exercises quite often. There were a number of them that I loved particularly and we did them fairly regularly. Working with a partner can be incredibly beneficial as a learning tool and for the fun of being supported.

But then one night at a dinner party a friend who was not a teacher mentioned that she hated doing partner exercises in class.

When I asked her why I had enough reason never to teach partner exercises again.

Her two points were:

  • She was not a teacher and therefore did not feel comfortable trying to put people into poses or support them in them. She felt that she had no idea what she was supposed to do most of the time.
  • She didn’t always feel safe with her partner. If it was a stranger and a difficult assist she didn’t always feel comfortable that her partner knew what they were doing.

In the years since I have taught a very limited number of partner exercises. I have a couple that are truly unobtrusive and even those I rarely break out. It is my job above all else to make sure that everyone has a comfortable and safe experience if they come to my class.

I have learned so much on this yoga teaching journey. One of the main lessons is learning to repsect the wants and needs of others over those of my own.

To teach is to serve and that means serving everyone in the room so that they feel better after they leave than they did upon entering.

That isn’t always something the teacher can control but it’s worth trying.

A Dog is Your Core’s Best Friend

Active-Seniors-0015If you want to get strong in a natural and deep way I suggest getting a couple of unruly (not mean) dogs that pull you around every which way when you are walking them about. I have been doing that for the past twenty five years and I believe it has served me well.

Some people are stronger than others. Some people are born that way and some develop strength over the course of a lifetime. It is my deeply felt belief that it is good to be strong.

I was born fairly strong for whatever reason. I am fairly weak in comparison to so many of the people I have met and worked with over the years but it is all relative. It became apparent that I was pretty strong when I took my first job in construction at seventeen years old. I applied for a laborers gig from a Help Wanted ad showing up at a construction site on Thompson Street between Bleeker and Houston.

As it turns out, surprise surprise, I was the only Caucasian and the only applicant without a prison record. And I was half the size of everyone who showed up. The foreman laughed at me, said “Why not?” and asked me if I had ever used a jackhammer before.

While the first few days were truly viscous— jackhammering eight hours a day to put a twenty foot by twenty foot whole in the floor to make room for a central stairway that would lead to the section of the store below street level. But soon enough I was hauling rocks and lugging bags of cement and it was quickly apparent that the fact that I was half everyone’s size didn’t set me back much.

In the years since I have done more than my share of manual labor, loving the work and the exercise combination aspect of things but it has been a long time since I have had to put in a real days work and sometimes I think I suffer for it.

As a yoga and movement teacher I offer a strength based practice. My classes tend to work the core more than anything else trying to help people develop a balanced musculature that will serve them for a lifetime.

But one of the issues with yoga— that I have written about numerous times before— is its inherent lack of dynamism. It is a fairly linear and straightforward practice without any of the sudden start and stop kind of power inherent in most teams sports like hockey or basketball, or daily activities like living..

To that end I am always trying to help people find ways to get strong in a functional way that fits into their lifestyle.

If someone wants to develop upper body strength and a dynamic core I highly recommend getting two dogs between fifty and seventy pounds and don’t work too hard to train them.

Speaking from experience as I mentioned, there is nothing like trying to keep a couple of beasts in line in the pursuit of core tone.

It helps if they like chasing squirrels and cats. Imagine if you will, a lovely Brooklyn morning out with the dogs. You run into someone you know and are chatting amiably. Unbeknownst to you a cat has sauntered out of a garage into the driveway that you stand in front of.

You have no time to prepare as both dogs lunge at the same time doing their best to pull you off your feet. And guess what? If you aren’t somewhat strong they will. But if you are strong and they reach the end of their tether they will come flying back towards you on the rebound as your core solidifies around your trunk and your arm becomes an extension of your spine. As strong as they are, if you are up to the task they won’t be catching critters any time soon.

The feeling of two dogs lunging that way is pretty awesome and amazing. And feeling the power of an engaged core is pretty cool as well. Your brain goes into action to activate the necessary muscles before you are consciously aware of it, and you can witness the end result – you as immovable object— with a certain proud omniscience. Cool stuff.

To be honest I am fifty one and my days of big dogs are coming a close. We have one at the moment after his mate passed away a couple of years ago. The next batch of puppies will be of the smaller variety. But that is because I am fairly strong already.

If you are looking to build up some natural strength get a couple of big ornery dogs and go on some long walks.



Sunday Morning Music: Puddles Pity Party

Sad clowns and Leonard Cohen go together perfectly. This song is haunting sung by anyone but throw a clown into the mix and the intensity is ratcheted up.

Puddles Pity Party is the work of Michael “Big Mike” Geier. Hallelujah is the work of Leonard Cohen.

After seeing this I found a Puddles Pity Party cover of Royals that is worth looking for.

Weekend Mashup: October 18th

Here is the Weekend Mashup: A collection of articles from the past week worth mentioning.

 

weekend mashuo

First up a TED talk on One More Reason to Get a Good NIght Sleep

 

weekend mashup

Here is a peer reviewed study about Scoliosis and the reducing its effects by doing poses on the weaker side only.

 

weekend mashup

Yet another reason why soda is the devil. The problem being that I love soda. How does one eat a slice of pizza without a Coke?

 

weekend mashup

How do your fingernails hold up? Eight Health warnings your fingernails might be seding you.

 

weekend mashup

Here is an article about sleep patterns, one of my favorite subjects. Would you want to sleep twice in a night?

Does The Body Change The Mind?

Amy Cuddy  Your body language shapes who you are   Talk Video   TED.comIt would be very easy to have a blog that simply put up TED talks on a daily basis. I try hard to avoid that but there are so many amazing TED talks that it can be difficult. This talk by Amy Cuddy is from 2012 and it is a beautiful piece of work. When I first saw it it had about 4 million views and it is now up to 20 million.

I have nothing to add except that it resonates with everything I am trying to do in the pursuit of teaching better posture. I just read someone who I truly respect say that you can’t teach someone to change their posture which I was genuinely surprised by. I just don’t buy it.

And not only do I think people can change their posture for the better, they can change their mind at the same time. As Amy Cuddy says, “Don’t fake it till you make it, fake it till you become it.”

And even though it is somewhat of a non sequitor I’ll throw is some lyrics by Morrissey. They aren’t particularly connected but Still Ill is one of my favorite songs and lyrics.

 

Still Ill- The Smiths

I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving
England is mine, it owes me a living
But ask me why and I’ll spit in your eye
Oh, ask me why and I’ll spit in your eye
But we cannot cling to the old dreams anymore
No, we cannot cling to those dreams

Does the body rule the mind
Or does the mind rule the body?
I dunno

Under the iron bridge we kissed
And although I ended up with sore lips
It just wasn’t like the old days anymore
No, it wasn’t like those days
Am I still ill?
Oh, am I still ill?

Does the body rule the mind
Or does the mind rule the body?
I dunno

Ask me why and I’ll die
Oh, ask me why and I’ll die
And if you must go to work tomorrow
Well, if I were you I wouldn’t bother
For there are brighter sides to life
And I should know because I’ve seen them
But not very often

Under the iron bridge we kissed
And although I ended up with sore lips
It just wasn’t like the old days anymore
No, it wasn’t like those days
Am I still ill?
Oh, am I still ill?

Songwriters
MARR, JOHNNY / MORRISSEY, STEVEN PATRICK

 

The Importance of Yoga Toes

yoga toes are essentialI can’t believe that I haven’t written before about Yoga Toes, an essential piece of long term foot care. I got my first and only pair of Yoga Toes over ten years ago. They are expensive but one pair is all you will ever need. At this point I wear them once a month or so but back in the day…

Aging gracefully is one of the main themes of my life and the quality of your feet go a long way to determine how gracefully you will age. The feet are the base of a rather precarious structure that requires a good deal of support from a solid base. There are twenty six bones in each foot making up a quarter of the bones in the body.

As a yoga teacher I see a lot of feet– it helps to love feet and be fascinated by them. I worked in a hospice a number of years back and those are some crazy feet to study. My sister referred to my father’s feet as hooves due to the way they swelled and thickened.

There are a number of arch systems in the body providing stability and effective weight transfer. The arches of the feet are the end of the line so to speak and the quality of the arches of our feet determine a great deal about how supportive our posture could be.

A lot of things can go wrong with our feet. Here is a short list from the Yoga Toes website:

  • Hammer Toes
  • Bunions
  • Claw Toes
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
  • Poor Circulation
  • Crossed or Overlapping Toes
  • Mallet Toes
  • Flat Feet

In my work the way we stand and walk can have a profound effect on all of these issues. For whatever reason people have these problems, I think poor mechanics and posture are always a contributing factor.

So while everyone should use Yoga Toes because they are very effective and an extremely useful tool in the war on aging poorly, they will not fix anything without your willingness to make some other changes as well.

Depending on the nature of your feet you might want to rip the Yoga Toes off within minutes of putting them on. They are big and thick and move your toes where they want them, which is into the correct position.

Even if you have fairly sever bunions the Yoga Toes will get your big toes to line up correctly. The likely won’t stay there when the Yoga Toes come off but it is possible that they can arrest their further progress.

Original YogaToes – Small Sapphire Blue: Toe Stretcher & Separator. Fight Bunions, Hammer Toes, Foot Pain & More!




Three Options For Sitting at Your Desk

sitting at your deskSitting at your desk shouldn’t be how how you spend the majority of your time. But maybe it is and that’s just the way it is going to be. If that is the case, figuring out how to physically get by in a modern world where the deck is stacked against our bodies is a worthwhile pursuit.
Pick your poison—car seats, kitchen chairs, office chairs, couches— not one of these accoutrements are designed to connect a human being to healthy living.
B
ut many of us love to do things involving all of these objects. I know I do. I love driving but I have yet to sit in a car that was made for me to sit in it.

If you are sitting at your desk as you read this are you slumped in your office chair like I am?  I spend a great deal of time in front of my computer and it would be nice to think that because I teach posture I always maintain good posture but this isn’t the case. Out of every hour in front of the machine I probably sit well for about ten minutes, give or take.

Moving on, the couch and me have a long and loving relationship as well, etc etc.

So how are we going to resolve the conundrum of how debilitating the implements of work and play can be and our need to make extensive use of these implements.

For todays post we’ll look at life spent sitting at your desk.

If you are going to spend the day at a computer why not mix it up and use three different approaches to your working life.

  • A chair
  • A Ball
  • A standing desk

A desk chair is a fine thing to use. A good desk chair is better to use than a bad desk chair but it is all relative as a chair will not force you to sit correctly. That is up to you.

sitting at your desk

 

At this moment I am sitting in my extremely high end Herman Miller Aeron Chair. This is “the” chair. Voted the Chair of the Millennium (I kid you not), and is a fixture in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

And yet, my desktop is in the shop so I am using a laptop on my desk and the monitor is almost a foot lower than my other monitor so my head is a mess tilting down to see what I am writing. My butt is no where near the back of the chair so my lumbar is taking no advantage of the wonderful lumbar support. One foot is up on my desk as the other sits on the floor.

It might be a great chair but there is nothing great about the way I am sitting in it. But for a third of my working day maybe I could get away with it.

sitting at your desk

An inflated exercise ball is a great option to offset a chair. I used to have one that sat in a stand on wheels and actually had a back but I found it to be too solid and would invariably end up leaning into the back. Once I got rid of the stand I loved the free moving ball.

Finally, the newfangled thing is standing desks which I am instinctively a fan of. The problem with a standing desk is similar to the chair issue. If you don’t stand well a standing desk will end be being as bad or worse than an office chair.

sitting at your desk

While standing desks tend to run towards the expensive, I have a client who created a very effective one with $30 worth of goods from Ikea. It might be worth giving it a try.

Spending some time each day in each of these options strikes me as a smart way to spend your day. Two sessions with each option in rotation could keep your body moving and shifting enough so as too minimize the effects of sitting in one position all day long.



Fallen Warrior That I Have Been Calling Dying Warrior

Here is a video of Angela Farmer doing one of her main poses Fallen Warrior. I have been teaching variations on this shape for years and have been mistakenly calling it dying warrior. Oh well.

Call it dying warrior or fallen warrior, whichever works for you, but either way it is a killer pose. I usually use it in the middle of sequences involving the IT Band and Tensor Fasciae Latae. I’ll make a video of my own about this at some point because I teach it slightly differently but I love her approach especially the piece about the long  lower back as you move into the pose.

The beginning of fallen warrior the way I teach it is an exploration of how your muscles are programmed to work. From downward dog I ask students to take their legs, while straight, out to the side. The instruction is to go sideways not backwards but invariably the leg gets pulled backwards.

For me this is a perfect example of an overly active or dominant gluteus maximus doing the work for everything else in the surrounding area. We work a similar pattern from tadasana often with the same results. Tell your brain to move your leg sideways and you can usually watch it move slightly backwards.

Fallen warrior or dying warrior (that will have to remain my name for the pose, I can’t help it) works on a lot of levels and my favorite moment in the shape is when I am in the plankish position with leg leg out to the side and the hips about a foot off of the ground. This is where I get my work done. Even though I would like to think that I am fairly twisty, I am fairly shut down once I get my pelvis on the ground.