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A Treat for Your Feet

I’m getting ready to each a foot-care workshop today, and I thought I’d share with you the recipe for the sweet little lotion bars I’ll be giving out to the participants. At a foot workshop we do stretches and exercises and talk about habits and how we use our feet, but we also learn foot massage techniques. Some massage without lotion, and some with these bars. 

Finished mini bars

They’re astoundingly simply to make, and if you’re at all inclined to be a DIY-er these are a great place to start. I make pretty much all of the self-care products I use (I don’t use many) and these rank up at the top of my list of favorites.

You do need something to use as a mold. The simplest would be to use little paper cups as a disposable option, but if you’ll do this repeatedly then it’s worth getting a silicone mold. They’re not too expensive and I’ve been using the same ones for over 10 years. If you order ingredients from an online store that has everything (hello amazon) then you can get a mold at the same time.

Ingredients for lotion bar

So, brace yourself. Here is the tricky recipe:

1 part beeswax

1 part coconut oil

1 part shea butter OR cocoa butter (or mango butter, but I’ve never tried it) or some of each.

Melt them all together and pour into molds. DONE.

Was that too easy? Did I lose you?

equal parts beeswax, shea butter and coconut oil

 

Here’s more detail: I put mine into a recycled glass jar (this one came full of honey). 1 cup of each ingredient fills this quart jar 3/4 full. You could also use 1/2 cup of each, or 1/4 cup, in a smaller jar. You can also melt directly in a pot, and I honestly don’t see a problem using one of your regular cooking pots- all of these ingredients are edible and you can wash them out, but it does require really hot water and some work. And you might not want to wash any beeswax down the drain, in case it hardens somewhere down the line and creates a blockage. You’ve been warned.

put the jar into a pot of water and heat gently

Then put the jar into a pot of water, and heat the water gently until everything is melted. I stirred it occasionally with an old chopstick. (Try to avoid looking at the stovetop that needs cleaning.)

melted lotion bar ingredients

Once it looks completely melted, remove from heat and carefully remove the jar from the hot water. I let it cool just a bit, then add the oils.

Essential oils for smell and health

I like a blend of clove, lemon, eucalyptus, cinnamon and rosemary. How much you add depends on how strong you want the smell. For my 3-cup recipe, I added about 50 drops, but you can use quite a bit less. Choose your oils based on health benefits or just what you like. I would lay odds that you know someone somewhere who’d LOVE to tell you all about what oils to use…

(One of my favorite recipes is to use the cocoa butter instead of shea butter and peppermint oil. It smells like mint chocolate. Label these carefully because they look and smell good enough to eat!)

lotion bars cooling in the molds

Pour the mixture into your molds. I put the molds onto a baking sheet with a silicone liner on it because it makes spills really easy to clean up. You could also put them on some waxed paper or aluminum foil, or just be really careful with your pouring.

lotion bars setting up

Once they’ve set up, I’ll pop them in the refrigerator to make sure they get quite hard. In Texas, much of the year my kitchen is warm enough that the bars would stay pretty soft, and I’d prefer to have them very firm when taking them out of the molds and moving them into containers for storage.

At home I keep mine in glass jars, either in the refrigerator (because Texas) or in the room where they get used the most. For my students I packaged them up pretty. But don’t leave these in your car on a warm day, or on your dresser in a ray of sunlight. They will melt. They’d still be completely useful, just messy.

Once you have a few bars stashed away, treat yourself to a foot massage! Your feet are your foundation and I’ll bet they could use a little love. It doesn’t really matter what techniques you use, just move your foot all around, spread your toes, dig in to your arch… whatever feels good. And it doesn’t just FEEL good, it is DOING good for your body. This isn’t self-indulgence, it’s health care! (For that matter, don’t wait until you’ve made these bars to work on your feet. Grab some plain olive or coconut oil and start. Or go without oil. It’s all good!)

For some loving service to your family, give a foot rub to your partner or child or parent. You’ll both benefit!

Go forth and massage. The world will be better for it.

finished packages

 

 

Patience is a virtue

Are you aware of the furniture-free trend amongst health-minded folk?  Here’s the scoop: all of the conveniences of modern life are what’s seizing up our bodies. Chairs are particularly a problem simply because they’re ubiquitous. If you spend all your time in chairs and couches and cars, then your body will adapt to pretty much *only* being suited for chairs and couches and cars. That might be OK, until you need to pick something up off the floor and can’t bend over well, or actually fall and need to get yourself up off the floor. If you never get up and down from the floor, you may well lose the ability to do so, at least without undue strain. So, if the chairs and couches and cars that we love are actually harming us in the long run, maybe we shouldn’t be using them so much.

Problem is, if a couch is *there,* it’s likely to be used.

About three years ago I stopped using my couch. My husband mostly stopped using it, too, but he was insistent that we keep it, for various reasons. The biggest  reason being that we needed it for guests. I understand that not everyone wants to choose the floor, and that older people (read: our parents) might not be able to sit on the floor. However, our parents are here collectively about fourteen days per year. It doesn’t make sense to me to furnish our house for their benefit. If needed, I can haul some chairs out from the attic when they visit.

However, in an effort to be cooperative (and stay married) I decided that as long as I’m free to choose the floor for sitting, that’s good enough. After all, I’d be crazy-frustrated if, after my autonomous decision to get rid of the couch, husband made an autonomous decision to BUY A NEW ONE. Husband can make his own choices. The couch stayed.

I wasn’t willing to let my kids make that choice for themselves, however. They’re not motivated by a desire to be healthy (yet), so of course in many cases they will choose what’s comfortable and fun right now over what’s good for them in the long run. (See also: candy over veggies, wheels over walking, screens over books [usually]). The safest bet is to create an environment where they don’t have to make choices (ie. don’t keep sweets in the house, use walking for transportation, get rid of the TV and lock the computer), and in this case that would require getting rid of the couch. Once it’s gone, they’d have to sit on the floor. No choice required. And I’m sure they wouldn’t MIND sitting on the floor if it was the only choice. We all spend plenty of time on the floor, anyway!

The problem remained, though, that not all the adults were in agreement. So I asked the kids to choose the floor. I mentioned (once or twice?) that the couch almost always made them sit on their tailbones. I pleaded with them to sit on the floor. I forbade them to sit on the couch. I *might have* shouted “GET ON THE FLOOR!” a couple (or a hundred) times…

And then it hit me. The couch actually isn’t something I’m willing to compromise on. This is my kids’ health (did you know the shape of your pelvis is determined largely by your movement- and lack of movement- while you’re growing?), and there is no defendable reason why we need a couch in our living room. It was a big lightbulb moment. I might have moved the couch right then, but I paused long enough to be rational… The kids and I were leaving for a long summer trip, and husband was staying home. I decided there was no need to make the switch immediately and that husband could keep the couch while we were gone. (I’ve always wondered just how much use it gets when I’m not around…) I didn’t even mention it to him. But, I left on the trip with 100% conviction that upon return, the couch was out.

Now, if you’d asked me three years ago if I’d been 100% certain I wanted the couch gone, I’d’ve said yes. I did. I did for three years, and whined and complained about it to sympathetic ears over and over. But it wasn’t until the lightbulb moment that I was ready to be confrontational about it. And guess what?

When I got home, the couch was gone.

IMG_1647

Plenty of “furniture,” but no couch!

 

(OK, not actually gone, but it wasn’t in the living room. It only moved about 10 feet, but it’s now behind a closed door in our otherwise boring guest room).

The husband moved it all of his own accord. He didn’t know my plans.

Or did he? I didn’t tell him, but I’m guessing that there was some energy out there that tipped him off. This happened once before- in fact I’m sure it’s happened more than that, but these two times I was keenly aware of it– when I hit my limit for tolerating school and was ready to insist we homeschool. As soon as I was prepared to stand my ground, I was met with NONE of the resistance that had marked all previous conversations. What changed? I’m sure there were myriad factors, but at least one was my own certitude that I wasn’t going to back down. That energy was out there.

Perhaps you are never faced with this dilemma, and always speak your mind with confidence, and get your way. In that case, great. You don’t need this post.

If, however, there’s something out there you want, and it isn’t quite happening yet, and you’re frustrated…. perhaps take a breath, and consider that the time isn’t right *yet.*

(Believe me I know how annoying it is to read that, if you’re dissatisfied with something and you’re sure NOW is the right time, because that’s how I felt about the couch for three years. Feel free to move along and figure it out some other way. Also, {insert wise words here about noticing what you’re afraid of and working on that…})

So, was I being patient? Or complacent? Possibly both, or neither. What definitely happened is that I gave him space to come around to the idea, and he did. My own journey along the way probably helped. And the result was what I wanted, without a fight. Once everyone’s ready, the details take care of themselves.

*Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t have removed the furniture a long time ago, had I been in charge of everything.

**I’d also like to say a quick word about hospitality. I live in the south now, and hospitality is taken pretty seriously down here. The idea that you do what you can to make other people feel comfortable is pervasive. But it isn’t really a big part of my personality, especially if it has anything to do with a subject I feel passionate about. I really don’t want to change my behavior just to fit in with your cultural norm. Husband, however, is much more inclined to “not rock the boat.” So it’s easy for me to rationalize getting rid of a couch that guests might appreciate having, but I can see how it would be much more difficult for him, regardless of how he personally felt about the couch.

*** All that said, please come visit. Our guest room now has a couch!

****Can you see the dark line between the two bookshelves in the photo? That’s where the top of the couch used to be. Years of accumulated footprints (because they don’t always sit on their sacrum, sometimes they “sit” on their head). Time to repaint, methinks…

Sweet without the Sugar

Today is the day before Valentine’s Day.

I know… the day of St. Valentine gets a pretty bad rap from a lot of people… too commercialized (I fully agree), too much pink and too many un-sustainable flowers (indisputably), too much sugar (holy cow),  and too exclusive– i.e. the holiday is for lovers and leaves out anyone not in a happy relationship. On that last count, I must respectfully dissent.

Back in college, and firmly in the camp of “those not in a happy relationship,” I was tired of not having anything to do on the heart holiday. The bookstore was doing free photographs for couples in a cute heart-embellished frame, and I *did* feel left out. So I grabbed my best friend (also single) and we went and got our picture taken. Then we went to the grocery store, bought a ton of supplies, and went home to bake an array of heart-shaped and chocolate cookies that would rival any bakery on February 14th. We packaged them up all fancy and took them around to all of our friends, single, coupled, or dubious. Then we bought a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and polished it off together.

EVERYONE was so happy to get those cookies. (Well, it’s hard not to love a plate of cookies…)

I realized that lots and lots of people don’t get enough love on Valentine’s Day. And of course I felt good dishing out some affection… so a new tradition was born.

I have changed my relationship to sugar since then (sort of), and I try hard not to be an enabler for other people, too. (Nothing drives me more crazy than bringing my kids to a party where I know there will be nothing to eat but sugar…) So these days I send a lot of Valentine cards (homemade of course) and when I want to give a gift my default is to give a coupon book. (but I also go a little nutso around the house…)

Apple heartHeart Toastraspberry cocoa butterHeart lunchbox

Coupon books can be sort of cheesy. I used to think they were a lot like a cop-out gift. But now, in the age of too-much-stuff, I find them to be perfect. The Gift of Experience. The Gift of Time. Look, here’s something we can do together! Here’s some time that I will devote just to you.

AND (you knew this was coming) coupons are great for giving activities that will be movement-related! So, while a voucher for a movie night is a common option, how about making this year’s coupons for some Get-Up-And-Get-Moving fun?! Here are some suggestions, and by all means get creative with these:

Take a trip to the roller or ice skating rink

Have a bowling adventure

Find or create a walking tour of a historical district in your town

Rent kayaks and explore a new river/bayou/lake

Try paddle boarding (maybe wait for warmer weather for this one?)

Walk to a lake/meadow/park/friend’s house and have a picnic

Explore a new trail

Go camping

Lessons at a rock-climbing gym

Pay a visit to the bounce-house or trampoline place

And if you can’t escape the sugar, you could pair it with some movement… Walk or bike or skate to the ice cream parlor!

(Fill In The Blank) with an old favorite or something on your life list!

And let’s not forget, for those of you who *are* in a happy, non-platonic relationship, that there are some certain “natural movements” that are perfect coupon fodder. (nudge nudge wink wink say no more) IF you’re into that.

SO, in the spirit of last-minute-gifts, here’s a printable coupon-book-starter-kit. My Valentine to you. :)

Positively Aligned Valentine Coupons PDF

 

(click here for the PDF)

And if you want a little less cheese and a little more substance, check out this Valentine’s post from a couple years back.

Hope your day is full of love, WHATEVER THAT MEANS TO YOU!

Sweet Potatoes

My new favorite natural movement? Digging sweet potatoes.

I am fortunate to live in a place where I can garden year-round. (Of course, that depends on your perspective. I used to lament all the time the yard was buried under snow and I couldn’t grow anything. However, that did allow me to burst into spring with a ton of energy and be very enthusiastic all summer. Now, I have to pace myself… and I’m not always good at that…) So December here doesn’t mean frozen ground, it means it’s time to dig up the rows!

Last year was our first attempt at this plant. We got a surprising number considering the lack of effort, so we tried a bit harder this year. We had a bumper crop, which was very exciting to me. I love it when my garden not only provides good food for us, but that it’s something my kids gladly eat. 😉

Land Man Standing. But as awesome as chard is, my kids prefer sweet potatoes.

Land Man Standing. But as awesome as chard is, my kids prefer sweet potatoes.

 

The vines were everywhere. Poking out through the fence. Climbing up the bean poles. Trying to take over the cucumbers and loofahs. I just let them go, because, GO FOR IT GUYS! I take any enthusiasm I get from my garden.

But now it’s time to harvest, and I want to take full advantage of the bounty. Let no sweet potato lay unturned! But what that means is, a lot of careful digging. With your hands. In the ground. Perhaps the professionals have perfected some labor-saving technique for mass-harvesting, but why would you want to do that? We need to move anyway for our health, so might as well move while getting these orange beauties pantry-ready. That’s that much less exercise we’ll need to squeeze in some other time!

So, get down low, squat, kneel, bend… and then, dig, pry, pull, dig, and dig some more. The sweet potatoes grew in the well-mixed, enriched-with-compost, softer mounds we made for them. Awesome, they practically jump out of the ground when you pull the vine (at least the smaller ones do)! But they also grew in the paths between the rows, in the compacted, clay, hard dirt. Those little buggers require a LOT of work to get out of the ground.

The Bounty! And there's more where these came from...

The Bounty! And there’s more where these came from…

I don’t want to waste a single one! And the only way to know if you’ve gotten them all is to dig anywhere there was a vine. Thoroughly.  And that’s pretty much everywhere.

Lots of digging.

We’re pacing ourselves…

 

Be the change

A TED talk crossed my Facebook feed recently, discussing objectifying women’s bodies. I watched, because it’s a topic I’m concerned about and also one about which I can use more education. She made some good points, and ended the talk (somewhat) dramatically by wiping off her makeup while speaking about how we can aspire to a world in which women don’t need to spend an hour each morning doing their hair and makeup. (Her talk was not limited to hair and makeup, but this was her big finish.)

I fully agree that we shouldn’t need to wear face paint or be perfectly coiffed to be taken seriously in business or to be appealing socially. Certainly many women go without makeup and hairspray already, and are fine. But how many women au natural do you see on television or in magazines, or even in any position downtown or at the mall? Clearly, a norm still exists.

But I hardly believe that a war on makeup is the end-all-be-all for that norm. I couldn’t help but notice (of course I couldn’t) that the speaker taking off her makeup didn’t ALSO remove her high-heeled shoes. Or her tailored, low-cut top, for that matter. She was discussing how we are mentally and emotionally affected by the whole concept that we aren’t pretty enough as we are, and so need makeup (and skin and hair products and stylish clothes and shoes AND need to monitor our body position and suck in our gut and stick out our chests) to be fully acceptable and desirable. Which, of course, we are, and it takes quite a toll.

HOWEVER.  I’d like to call attention to what the clothes and shoes do to us physically.

(Beauty products affect us physically, too, of course,  mostly from a chemical perspective, but that’s a post for someone else to write.)

The high heel discussion has been fleshed out over and over, and simply the pain of wearing them should be reason enough NOT TO. Here’s the short version: tipping your foundation (your feet) up by 20, 40, or 60 degrees forces the rest of your body to compensate with ankle, knee, hip and vertebral joints picking up the slack to keep the rest of you vertical. The muscular tension patterns that result can be devastating, from your foot muscles clear up to your neck. Migraines, anyone? There is absolutely NO health benefit to wearing heeled shoes, from your cushiony athletic shoes and basic men’s dress shoes to your comfortable clogs and stunning stilettos. (Disclaimer: If you currently wear only stilettos, then YES, of course there’s a health benefit to switching to clogs.)

Have you read about the people who are amputating their little toe so as to better fit into fashionable shoes? Or those who are injecting toxins into their feet to dull the pain? And people say that foot binding is a thing of the past….

So we wear them why? Because of style and expectation. And this isn’t *just* about women’s bodies being sexualized! It’s simply what the fashion world dictates.

What about clothes, though? What physical harm would a low-cut shirt possibly cause (other than to the classy guy who inadvertently walks into a wall while staring)? Well, it might change the way the wearer picks up the pencil she dropped. Instead of bending over with straight legs, getting a good hamstring stretch and flexion of the hips, one might sort of kneel, putting a lot of strain on your knees, to keep your shirt from gaping and exposing your whole front.

Are her pants so tight she can't squat to get down to kid levee?

Are her pants so tight she can’t squat to get down to kid level?

We talk a lot about how cultural norms keep us from squatting correctly, because “sticking our butts out” isn’t acceptable. But even if you didn’t care one whit about others’ opinions, the skinny jeans you’re wearing might actually prevent you from getting into a decent squat. Heck, they might prevent you from simply sitting in a chair without slouching way back. Tight and short skirts require extremely delicate movements to maintain modesty. In some skirts it’s nearly impossible to sit down without exposing yourself. And what about the need to keep legs pressed together or crossed due to skirts?

The skirt arranged itself so that it's not actually showing anything in this picture... which doesn't always happen!

The skirt arranged itself so that it’s not actually showing anything in this picture… but that doesn’t always happen!

 

Maybe you’re not inclined to wear a super-short skirt, or even skinny jeans. But is there ANY skirt you’d feel comfortable squatting in? I bought a few “skorts” so that I could wear a skirt and not have to worry too much about flashing anyone, but guess what? I’m somewhat uneasy sitting cross-legged, or squatting, or doing anything that would ordinarily be uncool in a skirt, simply because no one else knows it’s a skort… so my behavior is based on what I think other people are expecting, not what’s actually technically acceptable.

See how high that skirt rides when I do a forward bend? Good thing I'm wearing shorts underneath...

See how high that skirt rides when I do a forward bend? Good thing I’m wearing shorts underneath…

In very real ways our clothes actually prevent- either physically, or by demanding modesty- the natural movement that our bodies need so badly. I feel like I have bought in to the natural movement movement about as thoroughly as I can. I have shifted my environment (my house and yard) and my lifestyle around to better facilitate getting the movement I need. I have exchanged all of my positive-heeled (and cute) footwear for minimalist, barefoot shoes. I have all but stopped wearing anything that physically restricts my movement (goodbye jeans, hello yoga pants). Frankly, I’m lucky in that I was never much interested in clothes or fashion, so the transition wasn’t too hard for me. The fact remains that there are cultural standards for “appropriate clothing” for any given situation, and many women feel like heels are required for business or formal attire.  Just as they feel like makeup is required, and that yoga pants aren’t really appropriate for the office.  Can you blame them? How can we make that shift?

My awesome colleague Jillian doesn't hesitate to move how she needs to move... regardless of clothing.

My awesome colleague Jillian doesn’t hesitate to move how she needs to move… regardless of which clothing she’s wearing.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

That phrase is used for loftier goals than these, but it absolutely applies here. If you think people should be able to wear health-promoting clothing and shoes in any setting, then start doing it. Whenever and wherever possible. Healthy doesn’t have to mean ugly, or even casual. You might have to look harder to find choices that you’ll find acceptable, but it’s worth the hunt. Remember basic economics: the more demand for unrestrictive, attractive clothing, the more the industry will supply it. Also remember that huge clothing companies are not the whole industry– try looking at local, handmade stuff, or look on Etsy.com. More expensive, yes, but so is healthcare when you can no longer bend over to pick up your pencil…

Cats don't have to worry about clothes affecting their movement. Cats stretch a lot, too. Be the cat.

Cats don’t have to worry about clothes affecting their movement. Cats stretch a lot, too. Be the cat.

is it spring where you live?

Gardening as Back Breaker

Gardening as Back Breaker

If you’re in the northern hemisphere, you might be in the process of planting a garden. I love gardening (mostly) but mine has gotten the better of me lately, and the weed situation, combined with the completely out-of-character weather, means I have just been planting the last couple of weeks.

(Usually I try to have all tomatoes and peppers in the ground by the first of March. Don’t tell my former neighbors that I didn’t even come close this year. Or that I had to buy all my seedlings. Shhhhh. Terry, if you’re reading this close your eyes.)

Gardening is often used as an example of great exercise. It certainly requires more movement than many other household tasks… like doing the taxes.  But instead of exercise, let’s think of it as movement. A great opportunity for lots of movement.

The movement I’m getting in the photo above will result in a lot of back pain. Ugh.

Gardening as Hamstring Stretch

Gardening as Hamstring Stretch

With some modification and mindfulness, I can be stretching my hamstrings (and protecting my spine) instead. Win!

Of course, for many of us (me included) it can be difficult to actually reach the ground that way…

Gardening as Hip Opener

Gardening as Hip Opener

… which brings me to the squat as a lovely option. Using glutes and hamstrings and core and STILL protecting my spine (mostly)…

but perhaps not being able to hold this position for very very long.   Alternating frequently is a good option. Or…

Gardening as Sustainable Movement

Gardening as Sustainable Movement

There’s always the compromise: Some knee bend with a nice neutral spine… and I can even sort of support myself with my elbows on my knees for an extra cheat. (Notice the knees stacked over the heels and the butt sticking way out- and the ribs NOT thrusting forward-  it’s the beginnings of a squat, but more sustainable with my current strength.)

And finally, when I need a break from all of the above,

Gardening as... real life.

Gardening as… real life.

But of course even this gets tiring. So it’s all about the frequent position change. Which makes it all more like movement, anyway. Besides, I have to keep carrying giant piles of weeds away.

Don’t have a garden, but you want to get in on some of this great movement? Come on over to my house! I’m happy to share! 😉

Sort of sad that you can’t even really tell in these photos that this is a garden, and not just a random patch of ground. Sigh. Back to work. Happy Spring!

 

A Mile is Not a Mile is Not a Mile

Training yourself to walk 10 miles a day is great. It doesn’t, however, mean that you’ll be able to easily walk 10 miles a day in an entirely different environment. Which is fine! But it’s something to consider when you’re planning a trip…

Ever since becoming a follower of Katy Bowman, I have worked on increasing my daily walking. I’ve always been a walker, as I come from a long line of walkers… My grandfather famously refused to subscribe to the daily newspaper, choosing instead to walk, every morning, to the newsstand to buy one. My mother routinely walks her errands downtown, used to walk to work, and (now, in retirement) has several “walking dates” per week with different friends. I used to be told I walked fast, and my theory was that it came from trying to keep up with my mom in my childhood!

(I don’t walk quite so quickly any more, partly due to my change in style- from a leaning-forward-actually-falling-and-catching-myself-power-walk to a more upright, more aligned, more mindful stroll. But my form is not actually what this post is about.)

Dawn under Whitney

I happen to live, at the moment, in a place where walking is not exactly encouraged. I live in a rural residential area, where there are no sidewalks, cars speed by AND there are no destinations within a few hours walking distance worth walking towards.  Also, it’s hot. The fact that most people drive everywhere here is evidenced by the plethora of drive-throughs for any and every type of business. So, I have absolutely come to terms with walking just for the sake of walking, for those reasons. And I do, around my neighborhood. Walking as transportation to get somewhere just isn’t much of an option here.

So, since I’m walking just for the sake of getting my 5 miles per day, I tend to pay attention to the lengths of my walks. This, of course, is made so easy by the little pocket computer I keep with me called my smartphone. There are plenty of apps out there that will tell me how far (and how fast) I’ve just walked (or run or biked, etc.). There are also plenty of non-phone devices that will give you a good idea of distance, as well, such as step monitors or GPS units or super fancy disguised-as-a-bracelet things like this one.

Now those are some switchbacks.

Now those are some switchbacks.

Because I’ve been tracking my walks for some time now, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on estimating distances when walking. Partly it’s how much time it takes, partly it’s visual, and some of it isn’t really quantifiable but I’d consider an educated guess.

However.

All of this recent experience judging distance has been in completely flat territory. Rockless territory (unless you count the crushed concrete roads). Also, most of my walking is with essentially no burden to carry. (My kids are big enough to walk entirely unassisted! Hooray!)

So during the planning stages of my (sort of) recent backpack trip, I was aware of the mileage for each day, and it all seemed very reasonable… even taking into account that I’m 15 years older than the last time I did a trip of this scope. 8 to 11 miles per day isn’t bad. I mean, a 10-mile walk around home can take me three hours. All day seemed like plenty of time.

We came through that tiny notch.

We came through that low point wayyyyyy back there. Actually only about three miles back there…   seriously??

What we all learned (and of course we all knew this already, on some level) is that a mile is not a mile. A mile, at sea level, on flat ground, with no pack, is nothing like a mile at elevation, going steeply uphill, wearing 40 pounds. That’s obvious. But I was truly shocked, considering my recent practice at estimating mileage, at how UNable I was to have any idea how far we had been hiking most days. And at how LONG it took us to go 10 miles! (All day. It took us all of a very long day, although there were some pauses… and swimming breaks…)

Which just goes to show that 15 years is a long time to be away from a favorite pastime. And that just because it was no big deal when you were 25 doesn’t mean it’s still no big deal…. even if you don’t *feel* that much older. 

It also helps illustrate how differently our bodies have to move when there’s different terrain around. Walking on a trail isn’t the same as walking on a paved road, and hunting around for a campsite where there is no trail isn’t the same as walking on the trail. Different muscles are being used, different foot angles, even different brain cells- because you pay a lot more attention to where your feet are placed when there isn’t a path for them.

Our environment is so uniform most of the time. We talk about how sitting is killing us, because we’re holding ourselves in the same position all the time everywhere: at our desk, in our car, at the table, on the couch. So the solution is to stand up more, walk more, move more. But if our movement is always always always the same, we could do better. Most of the time,  it’s up to us to create the variables.

IMG_5317

So if you don’t have hills where you live, you’re missing out on a whole bunch of walking variables.  *I* am missing out on those variables, because it’s flatflatflat where I live right now. But there’s one park where I can go climb up some man-made hills, and I do go there now and then, just for the opportunity to climb and descend.  Do you live where it’s very steep everywhere? Do you long for flat stretches of walking?

But even taking the ascent and descent out of it, can you vary the terrain you’re walking upon? Find some sand, or rocks, or even just un-manicured grassy areas, to challenge your ankles and feet and brain a little bit? When you visit a park or a recreation area, can you stray off the trail and wander for a while? Any amount of challenge you can give your body is helpful. Carrying stuff? Change up the way you carry. Always throwing a backpack on is easy and allows for better arm swing, but try carrying your items in arms now and then. Carrying your kids? Make them walk! (If they can.) You might not get as far as fast, but they’ll be getting more movement and you can practice your carefully aligned walk. When they’re done, pick them up and go further. (I am well aware this isn’t as easy as I’m making it sound. I’ve been there and done that. But it’s worth doing!)

Walking daily is great. Walking five miles is fantastic. But walking in all kinds of ways and weathers and challenging yourself is even better. Mix it up whenever you can!

 

 

I am not a LEGO guy

My son recently created a LEGO masterpiece that included several little “guys” (hard to determine gender when all the pieces get interchanged freely…) doing a Restorative Exercise™ class. I would like to put forth the hypothesis that this was the first-ever LEGO Restorative Exercise™ gathering, but feel free to correct me if you have evidence otherwise. The guys were all positioned with one leg held out in front of them a bit- as if they’re about to take a step. However, this positioning brought up some issues for me. After all, I’ve learned quite a bit about gait and what’s optimal vs. what most of us actually do, and lifting one leg in front of you is NOT what I’d encourage. They ought to be practicing their pelvic list! It’s all the LEGO guys can do, however. They don’t have quite as many joints as a real person.

Lego RE

Yellow guy in front is having an issue with his elbows… or maybe it’s his shoulders?

If you look at an average guy, you can see they seem to have pretty great alignment when standing. Everything stacks up straight, no hyperkyphosis, no head held out in front of them, no pelvis pushed forward or ribs thrusted out. Their elbow pits are even facing forward! When standing up, they can hit all 25 points of alignment set out by Katy Bowman.  Good job, guys.

Alien Guy is demonstrating Lego Hip Extension.

Alien Guy is demonstrating LEGO Hip Extension.

They look good, but they’re a little stiff, no? More specifically, they don’t have the “strength” to (among other things) pelvic list– the motion of tilting your pelvis so that one foot lifts up off the floor with both legs straight. To be fair, they don’t have the right kind of hip joint to pelvic list, but I’m trying to make a point. Which is: Just because you can get your body into a specific position does not mean you have achieved Alignment. 

Gasp! 

Standing with my ear over my shoulder over my hip over my knee over my ankle isn’t Alignment? Well, it is and it isn’t. Those are (part of) a set of points we are shooting for when standing. But. The real goal is to have muscles and joints that MOVE the way they’re supposed to, and if you have those, then when you stand straight you’ll have the aforementioned alignment points. But just muscling yourself into a position (See?  I… can…. stand… like…. THIS…!!)   doesn’t create Alignment.

He's a bit frustrated...

He’s a bit frustrated…
No pelvic movement. Lack of lateral hip musculature? Maybe designer (rather than operator) error in his case.

If you are straining anything to get into that position, it’s not great alignment.

If you’re straining, there’s probably muscle tightness, or weakness, or an unyielding muscle, somewhere. Which means that, all the “posture” in the world isn’t going to make those tight, weak, stubborn muscles healthier. They need to be able to move.

So the stretches and exercises I teach as a Restorative Exercise Specialist™ are specifically designed to help coax those tight, weak, stubborn muscles into movement. And I’d be happy to show you some, if you come to a class or schedule a private session!

And if you don’t have the time or resources or location to make that possible, try one of Katy Bowman’s Alignment Snacks (click here!), which are half-hour classes each with a target muscle group. My current favorite is “Balance Using Lateral Hips,” which is exactly what these LEGO guys need. I guess we do have something in common.

**And before anyone accuses me of belittling LEGO guys, please know: Their alignment is perfect for who they are. I love LEGO guys. No criticism intended. 😉

Book Review! “Alignment Matters” by Katy Bowman

Alignment Matters: The First Five Years of Katy Says

Get a load of that alignment!

Get a load of that alignment!

(To just find out about the actual book, skip the first 8 paragraphs…)

We can be very clear from the start that, as a graduate of the Restorative Exercise Institute, of which Katy Bowman is the founder, I will not be entirely unbiased in the review of Katy’s latest book. I knew before I received it that it was going to be good. In fact, I had already read all of the material in the book before I ever had a copy in my hands… Which brings me to the beginning of this story.

I found Katy’s blog, KatySays.com, while searching for answers to my questions about my body and health and healing. I had found many other blogs and websites, and had spent a fair amount of money buying books and DVDs and the like, trying to find the information I needed.

When I discovered KatySays.com, it was clear to me that I had found the answers; I just needed to read enough to get the information from the blog posts into my brain. And all of her information was just there for the taking!

And so I read. At the time, I had a desktop computer, set up at a standing workstation* in the office, away from the living room. The time that I had to read was, most often, in the evenings, after the kids had gone to bed. That was also the only time I had to see my husband, and so I didn’t really want to be standing in front of a screen in another room. I wanted to be on the couch (horror!) next to him. But, no laptop or smartphone or tablet. Thus, I would complain: “I wish all of these posts were in a book I could just take with me everywhere!”  Just ask my husband. He’ll testify.

Then, aside from the inconvenience of my computer setup, I found it annoying and challenging to keep track of which posts I had read and which I hadn’t. After seeing a few posts, I had taken myself back to the beginning of the blog and was reading through the archives, in chronological order, from the first post. I had to remember which month I was in, and which of the titles I’d already visited. I know, you’re thinking “oh, poor poor baby!” But this information for me was like bacon for a starving dog- I couldn’t get enough, and anything that slowed me down was Highly Annoying.

Fast forward almost five years. I’ve read every post, old and new, at least twice. I’m certified in Katy’s alignment program. I teach her exercises. And still I refer back to old blog posts frequently, both for myself and to share information with friends and clients.  The electronic version has it’s benefits: the search function and the categories are helpful. Also, it’s free. Free is great. But if you’ve caught the alignment bug, you’ll probably agree that a price tag of about twenty bucks is totally worth having that blog at your literal fingertips.

Actually, one of the reasons I love this book so much is that I can give it to people who HAVEN’T caught the alignment bug! You know, because a really in-depth book about something you don’t have much interest in is a Great Gift Idea! Much easier than constantly sending links to your friend, or husband, or parent, and never knowing if they read them or not. So, friends and relatives reading this, you’ve been warned. :)

Quote on back

But back to my story. I feel quite vindicated, now that MY idea has finally come to fruition. The book is the entirety of the first five years of KatySays. (As it says in “About This Book,” it’s every post- the good and the bad!) I can now read while lounging on a bolster,  during takeoff and landing, or while standing outside (not) watching my kids chase chickens. I can patiently ignore my husband during our evenings together, while sitting right next to him (on the floor!)! And improving my health all the while!

In all seriousness, though, this book is amazing and worth getting. You may never read it cover to cover (Then again, you might. I did.), but you’ll reference it over and over. And it’s not chronological, it’s organized into general body sections and systems, which makes it great for concentrating your attention on one area. If you have a friend with pelvic floor disorder, you can lend her the book and just say “read that whole chapter.” It will give her (or you) a deeper understanding of what’s going on, rather than just a quick explanation on one aspect. Or if you’re trying to explain to your husband why cardio exercise might not be the best way to spend your time, you can re-read the chapter titled Cardiovascular System to brush up on all the specifics. There’s even a chapter on Motivation- When You Need A Kick In The Pants. Because who doesn’t, sometimes?

If you’re not already a follower of Katy’s blog, you can easily see for yourself if you’re going to like the book. Just go read a few entries on KatySays.  She’s easy to follow, and (best of all) laugh-out-loud entertaining. Katy has two primary strengths as a writer: she’s brilliant, and she knows how to explain things to those of us who aren’t. Which isn’t to say she dumbs anything down— well, actually, she does because she has to, but— and this is important— not too much. She pulls the reader along into better understanding, without leaving out the important stuff.

There is SO MUCH information packed into this book. It is 447 pages long. But the information is pre-packaged into little bite-sized portions. Perfect for a mom who only has 3 minutes at a time to read, or for reading on your breaks at work, or (dare I say it?) for bathroom reading?** It’s a great format for digesting a whole bunch of new information without going into overload.

You can turn to page 94 to learn why Australia is pertinent to conversations regarding your pelvic floor. Or visit page 167 to learn why you should have an egg-hole in your armpit. And on page 242 you can listen in to a conversation between bone and muscle. There are countless photos (and descriptions) of  exercises that will help your body get healthier, as well as some gratuitous cute baby pictures. SO much good stuff.

And if you’re already a Katy Disciple and want a good chuckle, look at the copyright page at the first entry for the Library of Congress cataloging information. I’d like to find the person who wrote that and refer them to the first paragraph on page 14.

BONUS!! For reading all the way through this, I’m giving away a copy of Alignment Matters on my Facebook page! If you’d like to get this book into your hands, head on over there and leave me a comment. Newsletter subscribers have an email option, as well, if you’re not a facebooker.

My recommendation: Get this book. If you don’t want to, then just head over to KatySays.com and read it all there. READ AND BE ENLIGHTENED AND ALIGNED!

 

She tells it like it is.

She tells it like it is.

* Yes, I had stopped sitting in front of my computer long before I heard that “sitting is the new smoking,” or had started getting rid of my household furniture. It was my own method for stopping myself from sitting mindlessly in front of the screen, web-surfing, slouching. I figured if I were standing, at least I would be more conscious of how much time was passing, and wouldn’t get sucked in quite so deeply. At home alone with two small children all day, the internet was a tempting seductress, distracting me from both my children and the work that needed to be done. My plan worked, and then I was so pleased with myself when everyone started recommending standing workstations for health reasons!

** TMI Alert!! I will advise that if you are using any sort of footstool or squatting-toilet-simulator (like the Squatty Potty) that reading on the hopper isn’t advisable. Your legs go numb much more quickly… And I do recommend using some such device, so maybe this book isn’t cut out to be a bathroom reader…

Re-Wilding your body

Re-wilding your body

It looks like we’re doing modern dance.

Post #3 in the What I Did Last Summer series.

As I’ve mentioned, this summer I was ever-so-fortunate enough to have been invited on a backpacking trip on a portion of the John Muir Trail. We’d been planning it for 10 months, and a trip like this, without children, with so many cool people, seemed so unlikely to actually come together, that we were all a little nervous. Would the trip live up to our expectations? Would something go wrong? Would our bodies be able to keep the promises our mouths had made?

We needn’t have worried. It was amazing. In fact, the word I’ve been tossing around in reference to that trip is “charmed.”

re-wilding your body

I’ll title this “Calf stretch near water”

It wasn’t without challenges, but we were able to overcome and the trip was all the more satisfying for them.

It would seem like a backpacking trip is about as close to “natural movement” as we can get these days. Lots and lots of walking, plenty of getting up and down off the ground, lifting, squatting…  Just a more natural lifestyle, period.  No WiFi, electricity, cars, phones, or any other distractions besides the company of your friends and the desire to move forward. The stress that you leave behind is immeasurable. The noise alone… having nothing but a splashing stream and birdsong with your breakfast? Peace. (After you turn off the loudest backpacking stove on the planet, that is.)

So we should all go backpacking to de-stress, right?

re-wilding your body

“Psoas on sleeping bag”

Well, maybe yes and maybe no. Personal preferences aside, lots of folks aren’t physically prepared for a backpacking trip. It may be natural movement, but if it’s not what you do every day, it’s not normal for you, and therefore your body might not be able to just jump in and hike, squat, lift, etc. without suffering some consequences.

I’m not just talking about fitness. Your muscles or your heart can be very “strong” and yet still not ready for this particular set of tasks. You might be capable of running a marathon, but pounding down a rocky trail for 4 miles and 3,000 (vertical) feet could still bust your knee. Especially with 40 pounds of gear on your back. (That part? The pack? Maybe not so natural. If we were hunting and gathering we wouldn’t need to carry a bear box and 18 pounds of food. And if we were allowed to build fires we might not need the stove and fuel. Then there’s the water filter, first aid kit, camera, and extra socks. I’m not leaving my sleeping bag behind, though.) Our bodies can do what we train them to do, so if you want to go backpacking, you practice carrying heavier loads and going up and down steep terrain and maybe you even train your lungs to try to get more oxygen. If, however, you’re loading all these new skills onto a body that is stiff and tight, or maybe hyper-mobile (or, most likely, a combination of the two), you’re doing inadvertent damage. The damage might not even be noticeable in the short term, but it’s there and affecting your body daily.

So before you even start the training to be able to climb the mountain (hint: at 14,000 feet it doesn’t matter how much training you did… you’re gasping), you need to get your body ready. Natural movement is FANTASTIC, but our bodies are so un-natural at this point that you need a “pre-training program.”  Restorative Exercise™ is that program. It will help get your body back to the point at which it can begin to move naturally. This can take years, but I’m not suggesting you stop everything until you’re perfect. We’ve gotta live, right?  However, every little bit helps.  So of course the intrepid backpacking team did a little Restorative Exercise™ along the way. (We also did it because I thought it would be really fun to have some exercise photos with such an amazing backdrop. And, we’d brought along our personal professional photographer. Thanks, Jote!!)

 

"Sunlight on Piriformis"

“Sunlight on Piriformis”

I saw this Ted Talk the other day about how changing just one (seemingly) little thing within an ecosystem can have far-reaching, and quite surprising, effects. We need to protect our livestock? Take away one predator, and not just prey populations but even the path of the river (and a hundred other things) changes. The speaker was a proponent of trying to re-introduce, or at least protect, some of the things we’ve removed from environments, in order to “re-wild” the earth, and allow the so-carefully-balanced ecosystems to return to previous, healthier,  states.

It’s the same with our bodies. Taking away one simple movement, in the name of convenience, or being “more civilized,” can (will) have a huge impact on our health. No more squatting, because we have toilets, tables and chairs? Now our glutes are underdeveloped, which affects our sacrum, which affects our lateral hip musculature, which affects the rotation of our femurs, which affects… everything else. In order to find our way back to healthier, more pain-free, less injury-prone bodies, we need to re-introduce a few key  movements, and let them work their magic on the rest of our body’s ecosystem. Not just 20 squats a day, but starting with the ability to squat in alignment. Not just walking 5 miles a day, but looking at the correct gait pattern. Re-wilding our bodies can start with a calf stretch. Who knows where that might lead? Less tension in a shoulder? No more pain in your back?

re-wilding your body

Seriously. This could be
performance art.

So introduce a new movement to your body today. You don’t have to start with a backpacking trip. Even something tiny, like brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, will challenge your muscles.  Or maybe you’re ready for something bigger, like laying on the floor to read to your kids, instead of lounging on the couch. Then, a next step could be to buy one of Katy’s Alignment Snacks to learn how to stretch just one part of your body. Work on that for a while and really let it become part of your body’s knowledge before moving on. You could really go crazy and get one-on-one help  from a Restorative Exercise Specialist™ near you.

Maybe a 4-month backpacking trip isn’t your idea of bliss, but it’s hard to argue with wanting a healthier body. Re-wilding doesn’t have to mean giving up *all* of your creature comforts. Start small, and reap the benefits.

re-wilding your body

 

 

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