Monday, April 28, 2008

Unnoticeable, Undulation of the Week

Tiny movements activate the tiny muscles that support the spine. This advanced undulation can get you through a boring meeting or hours on the bleachers.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sit Down and Be Quiet . . . Not

When our kids were younger, my husband used to joke, “We spend the first year teaching them to walk and talk and the next four years to sit down and be quiet.” It’s a bad joke with serious implications for all of us. Like most parents, we were uncomfortable with our kids’ squirming and antics in public, so we urged stillness. Then I became a Structural Integrator and learned that stillness is the root of old-age aches and pains. I’ve been trying to counteract my earlier mistakes ever since by educating people about the benefits of movement.

The body is designed to move. Movement nourishes joint and cartilage, activates the lymph system, and even promotes effective digestion. With stillness, we starve our bodies of needed vitality. No wonder old age aches, and pains, stiffness, and stillness are synonymous.

Now I highly encourage wiggling to free the shoulder blades from the ribs, relieve stiffness in knuckles, and release sticky spots from the spine. You can undertake specific exercises like undulations or just pretend that you’re a five year old anxious for recess. (Aren’t you?)

I wish I had told my boys to avoid disturbing the people around them, to not be still, but make their movements small, almost unnoticeable. That would be a valuable skill, because their posture would be improved, their tissues nourished, and they could more easily sit through long meetings or their current college lectures.

Please feel encouraged—as encouraged as a baby taking your first steps—to stay active and vital. Spread the word, too.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tailbone Penmanship, Undulation of the Week

Writing the alphabet with your tail (Undulation #26) is a playful exercise to free the low back, sacrum, and pelvis. Done subtly, it can also affect the tailbone. You can do this on hands and knees as shown, or while seated (it’s especially fun on an exercise ball) or standing.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Problem with Kegels

Kegels aren’t bad exercise. However, most people's instruction in this important exercise has been limited, leaving many with a rudimentary understanding. The result is weakness in part of the pelvic floor or, worse yet, exercising the wrong muscles altogether. However, creating proper tone in this complex set of muscles is easier than most people realize. The ease of part of what’s confusing, but it can be corrected with good information. Keep reading for exercises that will get you on your way to improved bladder control, sexual satisfaction, and relaxation. (Please also refer to the previous post with important background information.)

The floor of the pelvis is made of small, tonic muscles, which are designed to make small, sustained contractions, not at all like the quads, which are designed for quick, fast movements. The first mistake people make it to try to contract the pelvic floor hard and fast, but that usually leads to using the buttocks or abdominals. Try it this way instead.

Sit down and put your fingers on your public bone and tail bone. Contract your pelvic floor. Do you feel the muscles under your hands moving? If so, you’re trying too hard. Relax. Contract more slowly and gently until you feel a contraction away from the seat, but not under your hands.

Six muscles make up the floor of the pelvic bowl. Most people don’t contract them equally, so Kegels strengthen some parts more than others. How can you tell? Try this.

Contract your pelvic floor and notice your pattern. Do you contract back to front, front to back, or some other way? Also, notice your pattern as you relax the muscles. If you contract back to front and let go front to back, the front part of the floor doesn’t get strengthened as much as the back. You can easily remedy the situation by contracting opposite of your normal pattern. Better yet, include variations such as contracting from your sit bones in toward the center (outside in) or radiate out to all four corners: tailbone, pubic bone, and sit bones (inside out). Remember to relax between each contraction.

The final misconception about the pelvic floor is that it needs to be tighter. That may be true for some portions, but chances are that parts are held in chronic tension. (They didn’t used to call me a tight you-know-what for nothing.) Constant tightness restricts breathing and sets up a cycle of whole body tension that ironically reduces the ability of the pelvic floor to contract when needed. Kegels should focus on relaxing the bottom of the core as much as strengthening.

Even though this muscle set is usually ignored, playful attention to the complexities and ease of movement will set a buoyant foundation for your health.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cat Cow, Undulation of the Week

This beginning undulation is similar to a traditional yoga pose. It's different though, because the focus is changed from how much range can be achieved to how smoothly the movement can flow through the spine. Mindfulness is brought to each step of the movement to bring fluidity to the discs between every vertebrae.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Exercises to Prevent Incontinence

Few things feel less graceful than wetting your pants. Unfortunately, 10% of Americans of all ages and more than 35% over age 65 suffer from urinary incontinence, which ranges from leakage when sneezing to total loss of bladder control. Most people can prevent pelvic floor dysfunction and minimize incontinence issues with the right type of exercise. This article gives you the basics and several good resources. A future article, "The Problem with Kegels," will provide more detailed information and exercises.

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles slung between the tailbone, sit bones, and pubic bone. Although it’s the base of the torso, the word “floor” is misleading for several reasons. A floor is usually flat and hard, but the pelvic floor works best when it can flex up and down like a kite in the breeze. Also, the muscles are interconnected and overlapping, more complicated than a layer of tile.

You can think of the pelvic diaphragm as the bottom and the breathing diaphragm as the top of a cylinder. If the bottom is loose and weak, the contents of the abdomen aren’t well supported, the core muscles remain flaccid, and the bladder doesn’t have good control. On the other hand, if the pelvic diaphragm is tense, breathing is restricted, constipation is likely, and it’s hard to control the bladder during forceful motions like sneezing or jumping.

Exercising the pelvic floor will improve its tone and your bladder control. Fortunately, you can strengthen and relax the group of muscles during everyday activities: while waiting in line at the grocery store, watching TV, or sitting at a desk.

One simple exercise is to use your pelvic floor to start every exhale. Simply contract between your sit bones (think of drawing all four corners of the kite together) to start the out breath. It’s a very small movement, less than a quarter inch from each corner. Then remember to relax the pelvic floor completely at the top of your inhale.

My favorite book of pelvic floor exercises is Pelvic Power by Eric Franklin. His imagery makes subtle exercises easy and is never boring. On Amazon at

This Canadian Women’s Health Network has an excellent website with comprehensive information about urinary incontinence. Check it out at You can also print their exercises at

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sideways Roll, Undulation of the Week

This intermediate undulation increases mobility in the hips to take pressure off the low back. Not only is rolling around beneficial for the spine, hips, and core muscles, it's also fun and energizing. (Please note that you might need to use pillows to limit the roll if you are tight or injured.) You can see a video of Sideways Roll on the website.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina

A brain surgeon or rocket scientist is usually considered top of the intellectual ladder, but not necessarily the most entertaining person in the world . . . until now, that is. Meet Dr. John Medina, a brain doctor who makes learning about the brain down-right amusing. As he’ll tell you, a lively environment—along with exercise—is what people need for good learning.

His Brain Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power. Movement is good not only for bones and muscles, but also produces proteins that “work like Miracle GrowÒ for your brain.” Other information from his book can help you maintain or improve your vitality:
§ Stress damages cognition.
§ We are capable of learning our entire lives.
§ Multi-tasking reduces effectiveness.
§ Sleep is good for you! Take a nap if you need to.
§ Stimulate your senses, sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, for a full experience of life. (In other words, this computer screen is lacking some components necessary for optimal brain function.)
§ And in the interests of full disclosure, pictures are better than bullet points. His video, “Death by Power Point,” is very funny.

You can experience Dr. Medina’s knowledge and wit on his website, This video from YouTube highlights the importance of activity.

I hope that some of his ideas become the norm: walking meetings, treadmill conference rooms, or moving workstations. We’d be more productive and more comfortable. I also like the contrast between playful children and working adults in the video. Perhaps what we really need is a game of dodge ball before lunch.

If you’re in Seattle, Dr. Medina will speak at the Seattle Town Center on Thursday, April 10, at 7:30 pm. The cost is $5.