Thursday, September 27, 2007

Consistency (and Variety, too)

I talked myself out of going to the gym on Monday. The treadmill and elliptical just don’t excite me, so it’s easy to find an excuse to avoid these labors. But my heart and lungs need the aerobic activity, and my mind could use the interruption from occupational thoughts.

I recently read an article by Cyndi Schoenhals, a personal trainer and fitness writer. She outlined the many benefits of staying consistent (healthier habits, more energy, mental alertness) and gave excellent suggestions for how to stick with it. You can read her article at

I circumvented the gym and was tempted to miss a day of exercise. After all, doesn’t watching Monday Night Football count for something? No, it doesn’t. I remembered Cyndi’s article, especially the part about having fitness goals, which helped me to remember mine. So I plugged in a new belly dance DVD and before long was breathing heavily (“thank-you,” said my heart) and enjoying myself at the same time.

The world presents us with many demands and choices, so it’s easy to get distracted from healthy behaviors. Consistency is the key to staying in shape, whether that’s staying true to a good diet or regular exercise. However, consistency doesn’t mean everything must be repetitive. After all, we don’t eat the same meal every day. Plus, we can injure ourselves when we engage in the same activity for too long. Variety is needed for the body as well as the spirit.

I’m glad I tried something new, but didn’t forfeit activity.

Next week, I’ll get on the elliptical and after a while will probably even find it pleasant. Afterwards, when I watch the Patriots and Bengals, I’ll feel that I’ve earned it by being staying true to healthy behaviors.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Exercise Strategies for Fibromyalgia

I’ve written an article about exercise, “Exercise Strategies that Work Like Magic” that has been published by Fibromyalgia Online ( The National Fibromyalgia Association offers many resources to help people with chronic pain (, including this free, online newsletter.

In summary, my article offers three pieces of advice for exercising:
1) Add warm-up and cool-down periods to each session of exercise. In addition, stretch at the end of a workout, when your muscles are warm. If you stretch when cold, you increase the risk of tearing your connective tissue.
2) Lower the intensity of exercise so you don’t push yourself too far.
3) Pay attention to your body and let your symptoms determine how much you do at a time.

It’s important to exercise regularly, even when you’re not feeling your best. These guidelines can help you whenever you feel less than 100% so you can stay active and avoid injury.

Many people with fibromyalgia go undiagnosed for years, so they live with muscle pain (particularly in multiple trigger points), ongoing fatigue, and sleep problems. However, more doctors are getting educated about this disease, making a quick diagnosis more likely. Also, there are specialty clinics, including the Fibromyalgia & Fatigue Center (, which offers a unique treatment methodology.

If you know someone who has the symptoms of fibromyalgia, let her know that there is help available. The National Fibromyalgia Association ( and The Arthritis Foundation ( both offer a range of services.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Opportunities to Learn Fluid Movement

I have scheduled several, upcoming undulation workshops so more people can learn about this movement so vital to good health. The organizations that are sponsoring the presentations have good information on their websites. It’s worth checking out a few of the links below.

Sept. 26, Wednesday, noon to 1:00 pm Sammamish Family YMCA, ( Free! “Fun Exercise to Nurture Your Back” A workshop in support of Active Aging Week sponsored by the International Council on Active Aging ( To register call 425-391-4840.

Oct. 3, Wednesday, 7:00 to 8:00 pm Cambridge Naturals, Free! “Relieve Stress and Ease Back Pain with Undulation” To sign up call 617-492-4452. Whether you live in Cambridge, Massachusetts or not, I encourage you to look at this community health store’s website, They have a great selection of recipes and health information.

Oct. 7, Sunday, 7:30 to 8:30 am International Association of Structural Integrators Symposium Boston, ( Open class for all registrants.

Oct. 15 - Nov. 1, Mondays, 1:00 to 2:00 pm Issaquah Senior Center, “Fountain of Youth with Fun Movement” Just $39 for four classes. Sign up through Bellevue Community College Explore program at (

Oct. 27, Saturday, 10:00 to 11:00 am I’ll be presenting at the Emerald City Writers Conference with New York Times bestselling author Stella Cameron ( at the Bellevue Hilton, “Creating Sensual Scenes with Undulation.” If you’re a writer, this conference offers a variety of good workshops and networking. The cost for the weekend is $249. Sign up at (

Nov. 3 or 4 Alive! Expo, Seattle Center. “Relieve Muscle Soreness with Undulation.” This two-day health and wellness fair features local and national natural product companies, alternative practitioners, chiropractors, health food retailers and community non-profit organizations showcasing information about their products and services. Tickets, which give you access to all booths and many speakers, are $10 on line or only $5 at Super Supplement locations. Get more information at

Nov. 10, Saturday, 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. If you’re a massage therapist who often works on muscles around the spine, you can benefit from this Continuing Education Workshop at Advanced Training Connections in Kent. “Undulation: A Tool to Improve Bodywork for the Spine.” 8 hours of continuing education credit. Sign up at

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Other 90%

Conventional wisdom tells us that we use only 10% of our brain capacity. Whenever I watch elite athletes, it occurs to me that most of us use only 10% of our physical capacity, while well-rounded athletes and yogis approach their full physical potential. Most of us desire to use more of our brains as we get older. Ironically, we usually desire to use less of our bodies.

The last time my husband, Michael, and I visited a park with playground equipment, he encouraged me to climb on the monkey bars. While I’ve never had much arm strength, I used to be able to “monkey around” for about five minutes. Now I loose my grip after ten seconds. I wouldn’t be able to save myself from falling off of a building or cliff like the heroines in the movies do.

And then there are the things that I can do, but I go out of my way not to. I would rather walk than run and ride than walk. I would rather clean the floor with a mop rather than a scrub brush. I like to skip, but limit how much I do to avoid odd glances.

In the park, Michael and I played on the swings. Now there’s an activity that I love to do, but I don’t swing often. I feel silly, as though swings are only for children. That’s too bad, because swinging is a great activity to build fluidity. It’s easy. It involves the entire body in a coordinated movement. It evokes emotion. All are components of fluid movement.

I remember when I stopped swinging. In the sixth grade, I considered it too childish, just like recess. I thought that women did not play. That was my first step into disowning my body. The second was in adolescence when I became acutely aware of how my body did not measure up to my standards.

After more than 25 years of dis-owning my body, I have spent the last seven years reclaiming it. Hellerwork was the first step for me. It helped me to reconnect and rediscover parts of myself that I had forgotten. I carry on with Hellerwork, yoga, bellydance, and other types of bodywork that peel away the layers that I hide under.

I always wanted to be able to do a handstand from a back bend and to do the splits. I’ve given myself five years to accomplish these goals, hopefully enough time to work into it without injuring myself. I expect to use more of that missing 90% by the time I’m 50 and even more when I’m 60.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Core Exercise

I recently went to a Core Yoga class offered by my chiropractor, Jill Massengill, D.C. ( As I was driving to her studio, I wondered if it would be a “hard core” or “real core” type of class. Most people think that working the core should be strenuous (as in this slide show from the Mayo Clinic, but actually core muscles contract subtly. Feeling them is more an experience of turning down intensity rather than revving it up. I wasn’t surprised, but I was pleased, when Dr. Jill helped us slow down and sink into subtle sensation so that we could activate the real core.

The core consists of four muscle groups: 1) the diaphragm, 2) pelvic floor, 3) transverse abdominus, and 4) multifidi. They act like a cylinder to stabilize the low back and abdominal cavity. The diaphragm is the top of the cylinder, the pelvic floor the bottom, and the transverse abdominus and multifidi make the circle part.

Unlike muscles that get worked at the gym, the core is designed to work slowly and for an extended period of time. That’s why many people fail to find or develop their cores when using the exercises like the ones from the Mayo Clinic—and the first 25 Google entries I found.

After much searching, I found an article by Susie Hately-Aldous that describes the incongruity between what people think a core exercise should do and what the core actually is. You can read it at:

I gave up my search before I could find a good core exercise for you from the internet. Here’s one that I teach my clients:
Engage Your Core by Using Your Feet, Part 1
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet comfortably close to your buttocks.
2. Push down through your feet to push yourself “up,” as if you were getting “taller.”
3. Push with your heels only and notice how the line of force travels through your back.
4. Push with the balls of your feet and notice how the line of force travels through your front.
5. Push equally with the balls of your feet and your heels. Notice how much is on the inside and how much is on the outside arches.
6. Push evenly with your heels and balls with 60% weight on the inside arch, 40% outside.
7. Also try experimenting to find the push that travels up through your spine the most.

This is much easier than what most expect from a core exercise. But since so many of us are disconnected from our cores, we have to start by tuning into it.

Feel free to share your favorite core exercise.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Importance of Fun

What turns exercise—which everyone needs to maintain their health—into a “want to do” rather than a “have to do?”

The answer is fun. If something is enjoyable, you will want to do it often. What did you love to do as a kid? Hopscotch? The Hokey-Pokey? Baseball? Imagine the feeling of looking forward to exercise, of wanting to do it more than anything else on your list.

Here’s a fun undulation to try. This is really good for your low back and hips.

Tailbone Penmanship
§ Get on your hands and knees.
§ Pretend your tailbone is a laser pointer that sends a beam of red light to the floor between your ankles.
§ Draw a cursive letter “a” with your laser pointer. Take your time and smooth out the curves.
§ Coordinate the movement of your spine so it responds to your gyrations.
§ Go through the alphabet from “a” to “z.” (Stop at any time if your back hurts.) Try to initiate most of the movement from your pelvis, rather than your legs, so your hips swivel on your thigh bones and nudge your spine from side to side.
§ Stop when it’s not fun anymore or if your back gets sore.
§ Then lie on your back with your knees bent and give your spine a minute to rest.

If you try it, please post a comment to let others know how it affected your body.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Brainless Movement

Can the body move without the brain telling it what to do?
Conventional wisdom tells us that our brains control all functions of the body. We lift our finger because a nerve impulse from our brain tells the finger to lift. As a result, it may be difficult for you to believe that your body can initiate its own movements.

I remember when we did the first “let your body move like it wants to” exercise in my Hellerwork training. We lied on the floor and listened to music with the instruction to let our bodies move on their own. I thought that they were nuts, since I knew that my body could only work how my brain told it to.

After 20 minutes of telling my brain to disengage, my left shoulder started to twitch a tiny bit. “That’s interesting,” I thought and continued to tell my brain to let my body do its own thing for a while. My shoulder twitched off and on until the end of the exercise 10 minutes later. When I got up, my shoulder felt wonderful.

I have not been able to duplicate that twitch with conscious movement. My shoulder knew it needed to let go of some tension, but my brain didn’t know how to make that happen. Consider this: your body knows exactly where it’s stuck and what is in its best interests.

The benefits of letting the body direct movement are:

§ Takes pressure off the body to perform, which takes pressure off of injured tissues.
§ Allows the body’s wisdom to heal itself.
§ Adds variety—and therefore youthfulness—to movements.
§ It’s a form of relaxing meditation (after you learn to do it).

Find ways to let your body ask for what it needs. You can try dancing, floating in water, and especially undulation. The slower you go, the more likely you can hear your body’s requests.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Going to Harvard to Study Fascia

Being able to stroll through the courtyards and the hallowed, ivy-covered buildings of learning is only one reason I’m excited to attend the Fascia Research Congress at Harvard University October 5-6. This conference is the first ever meeting of fascia researchers from around the world! Muscles, nerves, and bones have received all the research attention; fascia, despite its importance, has been ignored until recently.

What is fascia and how does it benefit your body?
1. Fascia (also known as connective tissue) is the matrix that maintains the body’s shape.
2. It provides the basis for movement, giving muscles the ability to glide along each other.
3. Serving as a protective barrier, it envelopes each muscle, bone, organ, and blood vessel. (Did you know that varicose veins are caused by weakening of the connective tissue around veins?)
4. Cells, such as macrophages, live in fascia and these cells clean out foreign elements and assist in healing.
5. Fascia is also the conduit for cellular interchange, making it possible for nutrients and wastes to get to the correct destination.

Fascia and connective tissue are the realm of structural integrators such as myself. Manipulating fascia is what makes our work so profoundly effective. Healthy fascia is moist and slippery—like fresh gelatin. Unhealthy fascia is sticky and dense. Here are tips for you to take care of your own fascia:

§ Pay attention to your alignment. This helps in regular activities, like walking and sitting, but it’s even more effective during more strenuous activity. For example, when you stretch your hamstrings, keep your knees and toes straight to stretch the entire muscle group.
§ And when you stretch, don’t go too far. Overstretching creates tears within the tissue that gets repaired with less flexible scar tissue.
§ Stop exercise when you get fatigued so your tissues don’t get clogged with waste products.
§ Stretch after exercising when your muscles are warm and when the effect of lining up connective tissue fibers is more productive.
§ Nutrition and water are also vital to connective tissue health. A good diet with plenty of liquids is vital to all parts of your body.