Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review: Align for Life

A structural integration (SI) series is a profound experience, like a journey to a fascinating locale. When taking a trip, it’s useful to have a guide who can help you explore and understand the territory. For anyone who is going through, has been through, or is thinking about a SI series, Align for Life by Dan Bienenfeld is a trusted companion that will enrich your experience.

The first 45 pages of this book provide an overview of the series, giving preparation for your expedition into self-discovery. Then there is a session-by-session elucidation of the alignment issues, movement lessons, and emotional awareness.

It’s impossible to include every promising movement lesson in a 75 or 90-minute session. Align for Life provides the depth of multiple movement lessons and the bonus of self bodywork techniques that further empower the client to independently get results. I am reminded of something significant every time I open this book. For example, I just remembered to release my own pecs (that’s pectoralis majors) in six breaths.

Our relationship to our bodies is as entwined as our fascial network. It may be difficult to investigate the many facets of interconnection during a session, but this book is a resource for self-exploration. Here’s an example from the section on session two.
Try out the following perspectives so that you feel the sensations and how
your structure shifts.
Walking on egg shells
Standing in fear
Standing alone
Standing up for myself

Sometimes my clients say, “I want to take you home with me.” I’m sure they don’t want another mouth to feed, but what they would like is a reminder to stay “in line.” Dan Bienenfeld is a human movement and potential expert. I highly recommend that you take his book home with you. You’ll be empowered to be integrated and aligned for life.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Flip Flop Fiasco

It's August and finally warm in Seattle. Flip flops are out in numbers, ruining feet left and right. Much to the chagrin of my clients, I can't help but give a lecture whenever I see flip flops. (I do restrain myself in public and try to turn a blind eye to the foot destruction walking by me.)

People look at me in disbelief, down at their presumably-innocent flip flops then back at me as if I'm joking or crazy. What could be the harm in those so comfortable, flexible plastic pads? Give me a minute to tell you how flimsy footwear not only is bad for your feet, but also for your breathing, your hips, and general state of tension.

If a shoe is not held on your foot by a strap around the heel, your foot or toes must grip so the sole continues along the ground with your foot. "I don't feel any gripping," most people tell me. That's because your feet are so used to that level of tension, it seems normal. After my feet were released in a Structural Integration session, I could feel how much muscular effort it took to hold on flimsy shoes.

Flip flops symbolize laid-back relaxation. Ironically, wearing them creates the opposite effect in your body. Gripping feet and toes cause tension in the pelvic floor, which signals the body to stay on alert and creates shallow breathing. An inflexible foot limits movement in the hip above and adds pressure in the hip joint.

It's too bad that we just can't run around barefoot. That's what's best. Flip flops feel the closest to barefoot, hence their popularity. In reality though, they start a chain reaction of tension that builds up and compromises the entire body.

While I recommend throwing away all flip flops (sorry landfills!), I realize they can be handy to walk to the pool or to keep freshly polished toenails from scuffing. Just don't wear them all day. Or if you do, be prepared to release the tension they cause.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Doing Dishes Can Be Hard on Your Health

Yard work is often the cause of back injuries, but house work can be just as dangerous. Take the dishes for example. There are four different ways you can hurt your back doing dishes. Learn how to prevent these “on the non-paying job” injuries and the subsequent, aggravating pain that seems to come from nowhere.

Dishes Vulnerability #1
When you lean forward with arms in the sink, you’re asking your latissimus dorsi to work when it’s stretched and that makes it weak. If you stay too long in that position, you risk straining the muscle or having your connective tissue harden around it. Take frequent breaks to step away from the sink and undulate for several seconds, especially after lifting heavy pots or anything medium-sized filled with water.

Unloading the dishwasher can be just as dangerous as doing dishes by hand. Even though it’s not as static as standing at a sink, there’s more bending forward involved, especially when taking dishes out of the bottom rack, which poses two risks.

Dishes Vulnerability #2
The ligaments that hold your vertebrae together can stretch only a tiny bit. When the spine bends for extended periods, the ligaments can get microtears, which are extremely painful. The answer is to counterbalance the stretch on the back of the spine with control in the front of the body. When you engage your transverse abdominis (the inner corset as described by New Rules of Posture author Mary Bond), you add strength to the muscles and ligaments around your spine. Learn how to engage your transverse abdominis in this article.

Dishes Vulnerability #3
Just as hazardous as bending forward is standing back up. Many people bend forward at the hips, but arch the low back to return upright. This puts tremendous pressure on the spinal discs. The most functional way is to connect to your feet and use your legs and hip to stand up rather than depending on the back muscles. If you have problems with this, hold onto to your tush when you bend over to remind yourself to engage your glutes.

Dishes Vulnerability #4
Putting dishes away in lower cabinets often requires unique bending and twisting that rivals the most advanced yoga pose. This can cause in a crick in the neck, shoulder or back. The answer is to squat down rather than bending over. It’s also a good idea to use two hands rather than one to keep the body in better alignment.

Protect yourself from the hazards of doing the dishes with careful attention to good body mechanics. Not only will you avoid unexpected and unnecessary injuries, you will develop the habit of using your core every day.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Exercise of the Month: Engage Your Core Through Your Feet

Everyone knows that exercising your core is important, but finding the elusive core isn't easy. How do you know when you're strengthening your core or if you're working on something else? This simple exercise will show you if you are on target or missing the mark.

  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 up the back of your legs and hips. This is the chain of muscles that most people use most often, and it's not the core.
  4. Push with the balls of your feet and notice how the line of force travels through the inside of your legs and up the front of your hips and spine. This is getting closer to the core.
  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.

Now that you've found your core, notice how you can engage it through your feet in many activities. You can use your core in something as simple as sitting in a chair (notice where the weight is in your feet) or in various exercises like Pilates and weight-lifting. This is also the foundation to the Relax & Flow Undulation.