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The Alignment of the Thumb

alignment of the thumb     alignment of the thumb

A few weeks ago I wrote about the life changing adjustment that moved my pinky finger in line with the outer edge of the palm. Shifting my pinky finger about a half of an inch supports my head neck and shoulders any time I am weight bearing through the arms.

More interesting that how effective this change is, is the fact that I never thought of doing it before, nor had it been taught to me. And teaching it rather obsessively for the last couple of months has been equally interesting.

Some students hear something once and the next time they come to class the pinky’s have a new alignment. Some students take a while longer and I am still waiting on a few to take up the challenge.

Of course I could be wrong and they resistant ones correct but that’s the fun part isn’t it?

Today I’d like to talk about a similar adjustment that I have made with my thumb. The pictures above are my old hand position and my new hand position. They feel radically different.

I teach experientially as often as I can. The is some value to my endless blathering but if I can show you a way to feel something I usually think it is more effective. In the post and video about the pinky (links above) I used the palpation of the triceps muscle to illustrate the difference between the two different pinky positions.

For the thumb we can use the exercise in the video below that I use to teach about the ideal engagement of the hand. Unfortunately the video—which I will be remaking—shows you the wrong way to spread the finger though it offers the correct way to engage the fingers to the midline.

What you want to try is rolling the finger nails to the midline as I do in the video using the two different hand positions in the pictures at the top.

The difference to me is palpable. Put your free hand over the forearm of the hand on the floor or mat and feel the different ways the muscles of the forearm reacts to the engagement of the fingers.




Where Did Your Butt Go?

butt   butt   butt

We have a major problem in our modern world. Butts, the big gluteus maximus muscle that resides on our backsides, have disappeared from too many of our citizens. The question is where did they go, or, were they never here to begin with.

Have you ever seen a baby with a flat butt? I don’t think so. They don’t tend to have a flat anything being the cute puddles of joy that they are. The truth is in most baby pictures you can see a well-defined butt.

So really, where did our butts go?

Obviously this isn’t an issue for everyone. There are obviously well endowed butts ambling along out there but if you or yours resemble the people in the pictures at the top it might be time for a little investigation about how a new bigger butt might be developed.

The butt, gluteus maximus needs to be big and strong. It should fill in your pants. That is the simplest way to describe it. The space between the belt and the hamstring in your pants should be full to exploding with a supple gluteus maximus.

The gluteus maximus is a terribly important muscle. It is the muscle that stood us up from four legs to two legs pulling, along with the hamstrings, the pelvis up to a new upright position. If you have pets, they don’t have the big bubble of gluteus maximus that we do.

The gluteus maximus is an extensor muscle that also acts on the IT band and helps to adduct (pull out) and externally rotate the leg.

But (t) it isn’t doing or helping with any of these things if it is a withered husk lost in the folds of unfilled dungarees.

Long In The Front And Short In The Back

long in the front and short in the backIt is no secret to readers of the blog that I think everyone leans back slightly, if not more so. The most typical modern posture from my perspective is a lower body that leans forward and an upper body that lean backwards.

I think that the meaning backwards occurs from the base of the rib cage to the top of the sacrum. We tend to lean backwards slightly compressing the lower spine. If I am correct in this perception it means that people that fill this profile with be shorter in the space between the pelvis and the rib cage at the back of the body and longer in this space area at the front of the body.

Short doesn’t always mean tight. Some people who are leaning habitually backwards can simply straighten up (even though it will feel like leaning forward) and the muscles, even though they have been living short, will happily move into a new alignment.

This individual would tend towards looser muscles but some folks have a seriously tight musculature. So while some people who I stand up in my image of straight can stay that way, others who tend toward tighter muscles, will get pulled backwards again within seconds.

What this means is that everyone will have a different experience when it comes to changing this relationship; easy for some, not so much for others.

But as will all things postural and perceptive you have to take a good long look (or feel) at yourself to see if this is your pattern.

Even though I think this long in the front and short in the back pattern is fairly universal, no one thinks that is their story before I bring it to their attention.

So for the next few days check in with your natural standing posture and try to become aware of the balance or lack thereof between the lower belly and the lower back.

If you start to believe me that we tend to be too long in the front and short in the back, then you need to come up with a plan to bring better balance to the space between the pelvis and the ribcage.



Sunday Morning Music: The Fat White Family

At 51 years old I have seen my share of things. But seeing The Fat White Family live last weekend I was introduced to yet a new experience.

When the show began two of the band members were shirtless. After the first song another took his short off. During the second song the lead singer, Lias Soudi, began playing with his junk in a rather aggressive manner.

At the end of that song his pants came off. Following another song with his hand down his underwear, the offending garment came off and he was naked for all the world to see.

And he remained that way for the rest of the set. And his penis was a prop. It was his version of Roger Daltry spinning the microphone, except it was a penis.

And the thing of it is, it was a negative distraction. I was loving the show. Their music is dark and unpleasant but I was mesmerized and in the groove, and the penis took me away from all that. For a good ten minutes. Which was a bummer.

I thought it was a great show. The record isn’t easy or necessarily fun to listen to but it packs a certain power.

So while naked seems to be part of the stage show and it made me laugh out loud, the art would have been better with the junk left home to roost. Though to be fair there is context for the naked within the lyrics it just didn’t make it better for me.

I look forward to seeing them again and hope they remain clothed for the sake of the tunes.

Weekend Mashup: October 25th

Here is the weekend mashup for the week of October 24th.

First up is a crazy video about:What Snake Venom does to Blood.

 

19ten-well-buddhism-slide-P34Y-tmagArticle

Here is a very sweet piece on The Meaning of Life about the influence of meditation with a focus on Jack Kornfeld, the founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center. The piece was written by Tim Wu who should have been our Lt. Governor.

 

King Tut

The Real Face of King Tut is about computer scans that have determined what the boy king looked like. I think I was thirteen when the first King Tut exhibit came to the Metropolitan Museum. It just blew me away at the time. Back when such things were still possible,

 

A Dad Filmed A Time Lapse Of His Daughter Learning To Walk And It's Absolutely Heartwarming

Here is a link to a wonderful video a baby progressing to take her first steps. I don’t love the finger walking but what can you do, it is a beautiful piece.

Let’s finish with an insane workout video. I can’t help it that I get off vicariously on the strneght of others. This one is truly out there.

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.