Healthy Posture, Healthy Body

Healthy posture is essential to our health, wellness, fitness, and flexibility. Not only does good posture make you look better, it makes you feel better. Besides, there are a multitude of health benefits that you can reap from practicing good posture. Consequently, there are a myriad of detrimental effects that can result from poor posture. Let’s start with the bad news so we can end on a high note.

“Poor posture” is typically associated with a slumped spine, rounded shoulders, and a forward head position. This posture makes us appear timid, tired, aged, and like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. I guess that’s something we can all relate to after the year we’ve just had, as well as the fact that we have literally been glued to our computers for work, school, social interaction, and even exercise classes.

But, the laundry list of potential health problems if we maintain this posture is even more frightening than 2020 was. They include loss of bone density which can lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis, impaired balance, falls, and bone fractures. Additional musculoskeletal problems include hip, knee, shoulder and neck pain, as well as joint dysfunction caused by the abnormal forces of gravity going through our skeleton. Heart problems, respiratory, and digestive disorders can occur from the increased pressure put on our internal organs. Yikes!

Now here’s the good news. Our spine and our skeleton are beautifully designed to direct the forces of gravity through our body in an easy and effortless manner. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t our muscles that hold us up and carry us through space–it is our skeleton. “Good posture” is typically associated with a straight spine, shoulders down and back, and a lifted head. This posture makes us appear strong, confident, energetic, and youthful, no matter how old we might be.

But here’s even better news. When you have good posture, you stand and walk more comfortably, and you have better balance, energy, and endurance. You stand taller, look longer and leaner (and who doesn’t want that?), and you breathe better. But here is the best news ever. When you have good posture, your core muscles automatically engage, making your abdominal muscles stronger, giving you a pathway or a roadmap to a flatter tummy and smaller waistline. But I’ll save that topic at another time.

So, think about your posture, and take steps to work on it, because healthy posture is a healthy body.

Excerpt from “Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond.” 

Effortless posture……finding your spine.

Good posture is effortless. No, this isn’t a typo; it’s the truth. And the key to effortless posture is to find a way to let your spine support you. Our spines are designed with natural curves that support us during all weight bearing activities. Unfortunately, sometimes our ideas about finding “good posture” causes us to try and change the natural curves of our spines. The result? Abnormal alignment, muscle imbalances, joint pain, and joint dysfunction.

So, how can we find the natural curves of our spine? By learning how to find the natural curves of our spines so that the force of gravity goes through our spine and our bones in a way that supports our skeleton and doesn’t strain our neck, back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. This simple movement exploration is an example of the movement lessons from my book, “Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond.” It’s important to move slowly, carefully, and with a spirit of interest and curiosity. In the “Forever Fit and Flexible Program,” there is no right or wrong, good or bad; just opportunities to learn.

1). Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your feet flat on the floor. Bring your attention to your sit bones (located under each buttock and called the ischials). Notice how your sit bones contact the chair. Notice the shape of your spine. Don’t change it, fix it, or make a judgment about it. Simply take a moment to sense the shape of your spine from the base of your pelvis to the top of your head.

2). Very, very slowly and gently begin to rock your pelvis forward and backward on the chair. You are moving from your pelvis, not your chest. Notice how you rock more forward on your sit bones, and then more backward on your sit bones. Do this several times, slowly, carefully, and with a sense of curiosity. Notice how the pressure of your sit bones change against your chair. Pause and rest.

3). Once again begin rocking your pelvis forward and backward. Slowly. Gently. Notice how you get shorter on the front of yourself and longer on the back of yourself as you rock backward on your sit bones. Notice how that changes when you go forward on your sit bones. Several times, slowly, gently. Notice how you breathe as you do this. Pause and rest.

4). Once again begin rocking your pelvis and notice when your sit bones pass through a spot where you feel like you can sit easily and comfortably. If you can sit without any effort your spine is supporting you. You have found effortless posture in sitting.

5). Slowly come to standing, and notice what it feels like to be in a standing position. Notice the shape of your spine. Walk around and notice the carriage of your head, the movement of your shoulders and the movement of your pelvis as you walk.

This simple but powerful movement exploration can help you find a renewed sense of ease, grace, youthfulness and elegance in your posture as well as all of your functional and recreational activities. Keep moving, be healthy!

Fit Tips to Help You Keep Moving

During the past six months we have all been stuck at home during the worst pandemic the world had experienced in over 100 years. But, while we were sheltering in place to stay safe, most of us got little to no exercise. And even though the restrictions are being lifted, a lot of us are squeamish about going back to the gym or the yoga studio just yet.

But here’s the good news–you don’t have to leave the house to stay on track with an exercise program. All you have to do is keep moving! Here are a few  fit tips that you can easily do at home to help keep you fit, healthy, and back on track.

1). Get on the ball.

If you don’t have one yet, get a large exercise ball. If you do have one, start using it. Just sitting and bouncing on the ball is a great way to improve your posture, balance, stimulate circulation and strengthen your low back and abdominal muscles. Just a few minutes a day on the ball can make a huge improvement in your strength and flexibility.

2).  Why weight? 

A resistance program will shape and tone your muscles. Invest in a set of light weights to use while sitting on your ball to strengthen the muscles of your arms, chest, upper back, and shoulders. You can use your weights in sitting and/or standing, but sitting on the ball challenges your balance, posture, and strengthens your core muscles even more.

3). Clean up your act.

While doing household chores, slow down and really focus on the quality of your movements as you work. The simple act of cleaning the house then turns into an opportunity to improve your gait, balance, strength, flexibility, posture, body awareness and body mechanics. It’s almost like a moving meditation practice.

4). Shake it up.

Nothing kills your enthusiasm for exercise like boredom. Now is the time to try that dance, yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi class you have been always meaning to try. Any of those will help balance your energy as well as your body. As an added benefit, you will learn movement patterns that you can easily practice at home to keep you fit and healthy.

5). The more the merrier.

Recruit a friend so you can encourage and support each other to stay focused on your goals to get fit and stay fit. It also helps to stick with a program if you have someone to be accountable to, and it makes working out a social experience as well as a physical one.

These are just a few suggestions. Just a few minutes of exercise each and every day can have a huge, positive impact on your strength, flexibility, overall health and fitness. Small, simple changes that you can implement at home can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. Use your imagination to see if you can find a way to design a program for yourself that is fun, playful, and interesting. That is the key to success, not just during the dark days of winter, but all year long as well. The possibilities are endless!

 

Episode 12: The Magic of Healing Through Movement

Movement is life, and movement can help you heal from pain, stress, anxiety, depression, and pretty much anything that is interfering with the quality of your life. On the other hand, we all have habits and patterns of moving that can create or add to our physical or emotional pain.

Knowledge is power, and so is lifelong learning. Keeping an open mind and learning about alternative health practices gives you the power to take control of your body and puts you in charge of your health rather than relinquishing it to someone else.

This episode outlines one of my favorite alternative modalities, one which I have studied extensively and eventually became certified in after four grueling years of study and training.

However, it was well worth the time, money, and effort invested. Yes, it’s that good. Learn a little bit about this method and discover how using your awareness, along with simple changes in your movement patterns can help you heal your life, in a natural, organic, and visceral way. After all, the human body has an incredible ability to heal itself.

As I said, knowledge is power. And so is the magic of movement. It will even restore your human dignity.

Walk Softly and Carry Big Sticks

Now that spring has finally sprung, many of us are dusting off our walking shoes and hiking boots to venture back out into the great outdoors. Nothing beats a good walking program or an exhilarating hike to keep us fit, healthy, on top of our game and on top of the world. Here is a simple and surprising tip to keep you moving and get the best results possible. Invest in a set of walking sticks.

No, I’m not kidding, and no, it’s not cheating. Although, in my martial arts training we had a saying, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” Completely different set of circumstances. But, I digress. Whether you are a walk-around-the-park kind of trekker, or if you prefer going deep into the forest or climbing high in the Rockies, there are multiple benefits of using walking sticks. Or hiking poles. Whatever you choose to call them.

Hiking poles (or walking sticks), can help your posture by keeping you more upright, with your chest lifted, your shoulders back, and your torso balanced over your hips. Not only does this help your posture, it takes pressure off of your knees, reducing the possibility of pain, stiffness, injuries, and eventually arthritis.

It’s also good for a healthy spine. Using the poles helps to simulate a “normal” gait pattern, meaning that your arms and legs are moving in opposition. This results in a gentle counter-rotation of your chest and pelvis, which is essential for a strong, flexible, and healthy spine.

The poles give you an upper body as well as a lower body workout. If you don’t believe me, give it a try and get back to me. You might be surprised. Also, since the poles help put you in better postural alignment, the forces of gravity are able to go through your legs in a harmonious way, working the backs of your legs as well as the front. You work your gluts (butt muscles), as well as your hamstrings, resulting in stronger legs, a more shapely derriere, and significantly less stress and strain on your knees at the same time. Score more for the poles!

The poles help you go the distance, giving you a longer workout as well as a more balanced one so you can go deeper into the woods or further up the trail to enjoy the great outdoors.

Finally, the little ninja in me couldn’t keep from including this last little tidbit. Having two big sticks in your hands can provide a handy dandy makeshift weapon when your walking in the woods (or in the park). You never know when you might run into an unexpected four-legged (or two-legged) threat. As we say in my martial arts class, everything’s a weapon. Besides, if you have one, chances are you won’t need one.

Happy hiking!

 

Time to Get On the Ball

When I was in grade school, our teachers used to tell us to “get on the ball!” It was a metaphor for get to work, stop slacking, quit fooling around (and having fun). Basically, time to get serious and grow up. Sheesh! What a bunch of kill joys!

But I sure wished that they meant it, literally. Because getting on the ball is a fantastic (and inexpensive) addition to any fitness program, or just simply to have some fun. In fact, it’s so much fun that you don’t feel like your doing any exercise at all. And, you can do it every day, all in the privacy of your own home. Just sitting on the ball for a few minutes each day can:

1). Improve posture, balance, core strength, and flexibility.

2). Increase blood flow, lymphatic flow, and environmental awareness.

3). Improve cognition, attention, and creativity.

4). Relieve stress, anxiety, and fatigue.

5). Make you feel like a kid again. (That one just happens to be my personal favorite).

Start by simply sitting on the ball. Once you are comfortable, you can add gentle rocking back and forth, and side to side. Start doing gentle bounces. You can even do an aerobic workout on the ball. Put on some music and go to town bouncing around. Or course, keeping safety in mind at all times. I even like doing light weights for my arms while sitting on the ball, because it gives me more bang for my buck. What can I say–I like multitasking.

If you are new to using an exercise ball (also called fit ball, Swiss ball, physio ball, Pilates ball), you might want to check in with a physical therapist to make sure you get the correct size and you know how to use it correctly and safely. But most of all, remember that exercise doesn’t have to be tedious. It can be fun and uplifting. It can even make you feel like a kid again. Without the nagging teachers.

Spring Into Fun Fit Tips

Spring has sprung. However, with the crazy weather we have all been experiencing across the country, it sure doesn’t seem like it. The relentless wind, rain, and snow can keep us locked indoors instead of getting out and enjoying our favorite activities. But, no worries–here are a few quick tips to keep you fit, healthy, and moving so you can be at your best when the sun comes out for good.

 

Bounce around for your health.

Having an exercise ball is a great tool to have at home no matter what the weather is like. Just sitting on the ball for a few minutes every day does wonders for your posture, balance, core strength, and flexibility. Adding gentle bouncing while sitting on the ball also adds the benefit of stimulating your nervous system, cardio-pulmonary system, and lymphatic system. It’s also great for your mental and emotional health, and it makes you feel like a kid again.

Why weight to feel great? 

For strengthening, sculpting, and toning, I recommend using light weights. Even 2 pound weights will give you the results you want as long as you are moving slowly and fully engaging your attention and awareness while using them. For example, when doing bicep curls, imagine the line and the shape of the muscle fibers. Concentrate on the movement of the muscle as you slowly bend and straighten your elbows. You can do an entire series of arm exercises in just a few minutes. To get more bang for your buck, do them while sitting on the ball.

Chairs aren’t just for sitting. 

Sit on the edge of a firm chair with armrests. Slowly push against the armrests with your hands, bringing yourself toward a standing position. You do not have to go all the way up. As a matter of fact, you don’t have to go very far before you feel your arms working. Very slowly, lower yourself back down. And I do mean slowly–no plopping back down. Make sure that you pull your shoulder blades down and together  as you move. This will strengthen and tone your upper back muscles as well as your arms at the same time.

Remember, it’s not about going to the gym 3 times/week. It’s about what you do each and every day that has a cumulative effect to keep you vibrant, fit, and healthy. Keep moving–be healthy!

Feldenkrais®: Science and Magic

I am passionate about science, especially neuroscience. If I hadn’t been accepted into a master’s degree program for physical therapy, I would have earned a master’s in neuroscience instead. However, I couldn’t see myself working in a lab all day. I’m more of a people person. Besides, if I had gone in that direction, I may never have discovered Feldenkrais.

I absolutely love the method, and I love being a practitioner. My greatest reward is witnessing the magic of this method as it helps my clients improve the quality of their lives. However, my greatest challenge as a Feldenkrais practitioner is trying to explain what Feldenkrais is, how it works, and why it is so effective.

Feldenkrais is not magic; it’s science, and is based on the scientific principle of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means that we are able to change and learn new things during the course of our entire lifetime. I don’t mean the kind of learning that we get from a book, or the kind of learning that we get from school. It’s the kind of learning that takes place deep in our nervous system, and it is more of a visceral, organic type of learning that changes our neural pathways, strengthens our neural connections, and actually grows more nerve tissue in our brain. How cool is that?

Feldenkrais uses the concept of neuroplasticity to access our nervous system in a very gentle but powerful way, through movement. Feldenkrais lessons gently interrupt current patterns and habits through movement explorations, thus allowing for new patterns to emerge. The learning and integration of new patterns are not limited to just movement, but include moving, sensing, thinking and feeling as well.

With Feldenkrais, you can eliminate aches and pains, improve your flexibility, posture, and balance. You can discover new ways of moving effortlessly and more efficiently. You will be able to improve your proficiency in all of your functional and recreational activities, regardless of your age and current level of function.

It does sound like magic, doesn’t it? It is, and it isn’t. It is the science of neuroplasticity, and the magic of our nervous system to discover our inner wisdom and realize our full potential. I don’t know about you, but it feels like magic to me. The magic of the Feldenkrais Method and the science of neuroplasticity.