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How are those working out for you?

Post #2 in the “What I Did Last Summer” series:

JMT feet

“One of these things is not like the others…”

I’m not trying to get you to wear Vibram fivefingers shoes.

I am certainly not trying to convince anyone here that they are attractive.

I’m not even sure I love them as much as owning three pairs suggests.

But they are a darned good conversation starter in most situations, and especially on a High Sierra trail where a good, sturdy boot is considered a smart choice by most.

The two most common comments made by passing hikers?
“How about those Giants?” (said to my sister, in reference to her hat- we were in Northern California, after all) AND

“How are those working out for you?” (said to me, in reference to my shoes.)

I did try to mention, after saying I was quite happy with them,  that I have put in my time preparing my feet for this trip. I didn’t want anyone running out and buying these as their “hiking shoes” unless they were wearing them everywhere else, as well.

I was fairly confident starting out, as I’ve spent three years wearing minimalist shoes AND I’ve taken two much shorter and easier backpacking trips successfully wearing fivefingers. I did, however, bring an extra pair of shoes, just in case I needed something else (and to placate my dear mother, who was worried about me). After the second day, I realized my feet were pretty tired, and I wondered if this had been a good idea after all. Then I listened to my companions, and realized that everyone’s feet were tired. By the fourth day, there was quite a bit of blister care going on in the mornings and evenings, but not by me. By the last day, when nearly everyone had at least one blister, I was sort of amazed to find that my feet really were doing great, though tired, even after going 70 miles on a lot of rocky trail.

So, all in all, I’d say they worked out just fine.

Which wouldn’t amount to anything, because who cares what shoes you wear?  Except that I translate it to mean that my feet are getting healthier. Being able to do the miles, and the rocks, without a hard sole and supportive upper, means my feet are working the way they should. They’re stronger and more flexible, and consequently they are moving blood around through all of the tiny little muscles, feeding oxygen to the foot-cells. The nerves are sending messages to the brain, allowing me better balance.

So if this sounds inspiring, and you’d like to get your own feet in shape, either for a big hike or just for a healthier you, check out this post, this book, and this online foot course, or look for my next live, in-person foot course coming up in November!

They did it!

**And a big shout out to Peggy, who also wore minimalist shoes for The Whole Trip, but whose shoes were a bit more discreet and didn’t beg for attention like mine.

 

To the lighthouse!

I just got back from an amazing summer trip. There were so many fantastic parts to this trip, it’s overwhelming just to list them: a family backpack in Desolation Wilderness, a week on the Monterey Peninsula with one grandma, a week backpacking the John Muir Trail with 6 other incredible mamas (and without any of our kids!), a week at Lake Tahoe with the other grandma, and a week of camping on the Olympic Peninsula, while simultaneously attending a week of Restorative Exercise™ classes and activities with new and old friends. That’s at least 6 trips rolled up into one! I am one lucky duck.

Coming soon, you can look for a couple more posts featuring What I Did This Summer, but now I’m going to talk about just one day.

grass

It was the tail-end of the trip, the last day before the boys and I had to start making our way back to our home. In keeping with the tenets of Restorative Exercise,™ there was a walk planned, for anyone who had time. Not just any walk, but an 11-mile walk, out along a 5-mile sand spit to a lighthouse, and back. (There’s a half-mile trail just to get to the spit, for you math whizzes out there.)

I love walking, and I loved the idea of walking out on this relatively tiny strip of land that stretches five miles into the ocean, and I really loved the idea of doing it with a bunch of friends.

However. I had my kids with me, and they were going to have to go wherever I went. They are tough kids, but they simply had never walked 11 miles before, so I was not entirely sure how it would all go down. Our longest walk, at least that I had clocked, was about 5 miles. But I’ve been working on incorporating as much walking into our life as possible, and they are accustomed to walking for transportation. They know how I feel about the importance of walking. (Believe me, they know.) And they certainly don’t lack for energy, any day. So I was willing to give it a whirl. I figured, worst case, we don’t make it to the lighthouse and I end up carrying/bribing/enduring whining. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

So we talked it up. WOW, wouldn’t it be cool if you guys made it ALL THE WAY to the lighthouse? Can you IMAGINE how impressed everyone will be?? I will be SO PROUD! You can tell all your friends you walked ELEVEN MILES! On a TINY SAND SPIT!  You get the picture. I started this a couple months in advance, and used it as leverage when we were on “training walks.”

And we did up the mileage on those daily walks. From about 3 miles a day average, often in 1-mile chunks, to a few of those 5-miles-straight walks. I was pretty darned pleased just about that! And I figured we had a good shot at success on the big day.

Our family backpack was great, and we did longer distances this year than we’ve done before, with only mild whining, persuading, and “energy pellet” distribution.  OK, I might be fudging a little on the energy pellets. They flowed pretty freely. Nothing like a little motivation (read: sugar) to get you up the trail… And actually, one boy mentioned on the trail that he liked camping better than backpacking; all of the fun and playtime without all the carrying of gear. So maybe there was more whining than I remember. But they did great, and summited their first peak!

There was plenty of walking the rest of the trip, too, to the beach, to the farmer’s market, to the park, etc. All good.

Then came the Hurricane Ridge hike for a clinic on uphill and downhill gait… AKA just a really pretty hike for the non-students who came along. Or, a loooooong hottttttttt tiiiiirinnnnnggg how-much-longerrrrrr? hike for my kids. Except that it was *not* long, it probably wasn’t more than a couple miles. Only two days before the adventure to the lighthouse, their reaction made me a little panicky. Really, guys?

Hurricane Ridge

But they were still excited about the big walk and so was I, so two days later off we went.

water both sides

And they did it, without even the slightest difficulty.

wading

Without a single whine.

Driftwood

In fact, when we got back to our campsite (we’d been walking from 9:00 am to 3:30pm- with a lunch break) they didn’t even pause to let me put down the backpack. They zoomed off to the playground to chase kids on bikes and swing and slide. Full speed ahead.

How about that?

So here are the factors that I think played a part in our wildly successful walk:

  • We had a real destination, AND it was an out-and-back hike, so once you get there, you have to get back.
  • It was a unique place in the world, not something we experience every day.
  • We were at sea level (we live at sea level) so altitude did not make us out-of-breath.
  • It was a lovely day, not hot, a little overcast.
  • We were on a super-awesome beach the whole time. Crabs, seals, jellyfish, sticks, rocks, bull kelp… never-ending entertainment.
  • We had an audience. Not that this is crucial, but I think it did help that there were plenty of people to impress.
  • I brought all kinds of clothes and food. (But no energy pellets!) For comfort along the way, and just in case we had to spend the night at the lighthouse… ha ha ha
  • And last but not least, it was something they’d known about and planned on for a long time, and that they wanted to accomplish. I had tried to present it as something they would choose to do. So they could brag. :)

jellyfish

So what this has taught me about my kids? They have plenty of energy. They are capable of walking/hiking/working/etc WAY more than I give them credit for. Their ability to accomplish a task is determined ENTIRELY BY THEIR MINDS.

tiny crab

Oh, hey.  I’m pretty sure that’s true about me, too.

Dungeness

Not really a new revelation, but certainly a good one to keep at the forefront of said mind.

sticks

There are days when I go for my walk mostly just because I know it’s good for me, not because I really want to. I don’t have really *motivating* locations for walks, here. Kids are less likely than adults to do something that’s not fun just because it’s good for them. So make it fun. Use the power of their mind to your (and their) benefit. It does take some work, because you just don’t always have a great beach with a lighthouse at the end of it, but it’s not impossible. Katy has one great idea for getting kids walking (click here), and an RES colleague, Susanne, has a bunch of ideas (click here)! If you think of more, share them here!

 

Why bolster?

I got some questions about bolsters after the tutorial. What do you do with it? Why do you want one?

There are lots of ways to use them, but the reason I reach for one most often is for sitting. I don’t sit on a couch or a chair in my house any more. That doesn’t mean I want to stand or lie down all the time. It also doesn’t mean that my body is flexible enough to sit comfortably on the floor, or in a way that’s not doing different damage than chair-sitting is.

I can sit cross-legged on the floor just fine, but when I do it’s hard to keep my back in “neutral,” or, with correct lumbar, thoracic, and cervical curvature. Mostly lumbar– if your lower back doesn’t have a lordotic curve, or curve towards your front, you aren’t in neutral. If you’re not in neutral, you’re putting stress on those vertebrae. Sitting on a bolster (or pillow or block or little stool) can help, until your hips have better range of motion, your hamstrings aren’t so tight, etc.

So here are my favorite sitting positions, using my bolsters.

Tailor sit IMG_4348

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IMG_4352How do you use them?

 

Easy Squeezy Bolster Tutorial

Do you have a bolster? Do you need a bolster? Everybody needs a bolster!  A couple years ago I didn’t have any, nor did I know what I was missing. Now, however, I’m a bolster addict, so I thought I’d share a down-and-dirty way to get one for (pretty much) free.

harlequin

First you need to find an old blanket or quilt, preferably one from when you were 14 and thought the fuzzy-soft synthetic harlequin was the best thing ever. Any blanket will do, or maybe two thin blankets, or a few old towels. I’ve even done this with old sweatshirts, but they take more careful folding. Head to a thrift store if you don’t have any old blankets to use. Spread out your blanket to admire it. Get your dog to lay on one corner.

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Fold it into a rectangle. The short side of the rectangle is how long your bolster will be, so be sure your fabric will fit it. Tell your dog to pay close attention, as it’ll be his turn next.
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Roll up the rectangle, keeping it as smooth and even as possible, and tie in at least two places with string or strips of fabric. Hurry, the dog is getting bored.
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Place the rolled up blanket on your fabric. Extra points if you have an old pair of wrap-around pants that never really fit well or covered adequately but you kept them for years because you loved the fabric . You can cut them up to repurpose for your bolster!

IMG_4290

Roll the fabric around the blanket.

IMG_4291

Tie the ends with string or strips of fabric or leftover pieces of bias tape or a few strands of embroidery floss or yarn.

IMG_4292

If you have children around who might -not that this would ever happen- hold the bolster by one tail end and use it as a weapon, swinging it dangerously close to ceiling fans, lamps, glass photo frames, or other children, you might want to actually stitch these ends with heavyweight thread.

IMG_4293Voila.

If said children do use the bolsters as toys, you might also want to stitch down the entire length of the bolster where the fabric overlaps. A running stitch might be enough, or a whip stitch. Oddly enough, this design, even with plenty of fabric to wrap around twice, will not hold up to regular beatings. It’s great for a psoas release, though, or floor angels, or just sitting on while you type up a blog. What’s your favorite use for a bolster? Don’t mind the dog hair.

Click here for ideas on how to use your bolster!

Breathe deeply

I am looking forward to an amazing trip this summer. My sister turned 40 hit a major milestone birthday, and to commemorate the event she is planning a trip with her posse to hike part of the John Muir trail for a week. We *would* do the whole trail except for the time element, and the kids-left-behind element. (Just to be clear, we take our kids backpacking every year, too, but this will be the first time either of us have been on the trail doing bigger distances since kiddos were born.) So there is a lot of planning going into the trip, not least of which is getting the bodies ready- bodies that are older than the last time they were asked to suddenly take on a big change of lifestyle for a week.

Badass Kath

Certainly, we are all walking a lot and stretching a lot and getting as fit as we can. There is another concern for some, however, that I’d like to address from a Restorative Exercise™ perspective, and that is altitude sickness.

How might this be related to skeletal alignment? Altitude sickness is related to breathing, and breathing can be affected by tight muscles that pull the skeleton out of alignment, or keep it from moving the way it should.

A quick review: The symptoms of altitude sickness~ from headache, nausea, and disorientation, all the way up to edemas and death~ all result from inadequate oxygenation. Your body needs oxygen to live, we get that oxygen by breathing it in, and it’s more difficult to access that oxygen the higher up you go. There is enough oxygen to keep a person alive even way up high, evidenced by the sherpas who don’t use oxygen tanks while assisting climbers ascending Everest. The trick is to be able to get that oxygen from the air into your body, and that requires strong and efficient respiration.  Not everyone has the genes, the physiology, or the chemistry to climb high without feeling the effects, but improving your breathing mechanics can absolutely help increase the efficiency of your oxygenation. It could certainly make the difference between a headache and none at 14,000 feet.

Because breathing is so important to life, we have more than one mechanism for getting air into our lungs. There’s a time and a place for each, and they act as backups for each other. All methods increase the space in your chest, which creates a vacuum, which pulls air in. You can do that by letting your shoulders lift, by letting your belly expand, or by expanding your ribcage. Only one of these is optimal for long-term use, and gets the biggest quantity of air in without compromising any of your other body parts.

 

Lifting your shoulders (scalene breathing) creates compression in your cervical spine.

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Belly breathing increases pressure on your pelvic floor and doesn’t help lift and separate your vertebrae like a breath should.

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Breathing by using the muscles in between each rib to torsionally rotate them and “expand” your ribcage is what you want. Torsional breathing.

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It sounds cool, too. Torsional.

But how do you change how you breathe? That’s a pretty involuntary habit, generally. You will need to give it some conscious thought as often as possible (meditation, anyone?), but it’s also helpful to lengthen the muscles of the shoulder girdle, and mobilize the whole thoracic area, so that your body is more physically capable of letting the ribs do their thing. Doing some stretches and exercises daily will allow your body to move the way it needs to for torsional breathing.

To be clear, it would take months of diligent work to make significant strides in oxygenation. But every little bit helps, and there are lots of other benefits of improving your breathing mechanics. Torsional breathing will help restore bone density in ribs, and when your whole torso is operating more optimally it stabilizes the spine and protects the lower back. All worthy goals, both for long-term *and* for hiking carrying heavy loads!

Now for some links: Here is one post with a breathing exercise and a good stretch to help your thoracic mobility. Here’s another post, by the same amazing physical therapist and Restorative Exercise Specialist™ Susan McLaughlin, with excellent shoulder girdle exercises that will also help open up your ribcage. Your shoulders are a big part of this equation, and here’s a good exercise from Katy herself for tight shoulders (we all have them!). Finally, my all-time-favorite shoulder exercise, demonstrated beautifully by another colleague, Jillian Nicol (the second video in the post, but they’re both very important!). Don’t forget hanging and swinging as a powerful tool, as well!

And one more to try:

Thoracic stretch

Place your hands on a table, counter, back of a chair, tree, or wall. Back your feet away until you can bend forward with your arms straight. Let your hips move backwards and feel the stretch across your shoulders. Ahhhhhh… Now take a deep breath and feel your ribcage grow and open…

Here’s to oxygenation and happy hiking!

Alignment Haiku #11- Feet

Have you seen the clip?

Girl using chopsticks with toes.

Amazing digits.

 

 

Standing, walking, feet

Your foundation for your life

Treat them with respect

 

 

Your feet have amazing capacity, but we lock them up in shoes and they atrophy and languish. Give them some real work to do! In this post, Katy links to a short segment she did on television with some great foot exercises. Great information for your feet! And if you’d like more in-depth instruction, come take my 4-week Healthy Foot class. It starts May 1st!

Alignment Haiku #10- Guts

Dandelion greens

Fresh, in season, good for me.

Are they what I need?

 

Call it instinct, or

maybe it’s a gut feeling

Your body is wise.

Not a Dandelion

 

Sometimes we need to shut off our brain and listen to our body. Try it when you’re deciding what to eat for your next meal!

Alignment Haiku #9- Just Keep Swimming

Body needs to move

Sweltering Texas heat wave

Submerge to survive

 

Much time in water

Helps me to survive summer

Bones need weight bearing

What you love to do

What your body needs to do

Might be different

 

There are lots of reasons to exercise, and it’s a good idea to evaluate your specific goals and how your specific exercise meets those goals. Here is a walk-through of evaluating swimming as an exercise program AND as a fun activity.

Alignment Haiku #8- Driving

Alignment in cars

Is difficult to achieve

How to sit up straight?

 

Driving less is best

Shall I move to a small town?

Short term strategies…

 

Click here for a couple of great ideas about making your car time more alignment-friendly. Good photos, too. And some funny ones.

Alignment Haiku #7- OM

Align your body

Mindful exercise galore

What about your mind?

 

 

Purple flowers

Being “in alignment” can have many meanings, depending on your perspective. Skeletal alignment is the primary focus of this blog, but a big part of my life is also working on aligning other parts of me. One of those parts is my mind. Meditation is helpful, and the myriad stressors in everyone’s lives these days suggest that we all ought to be meditating. Sometimes meditation can help you see more clearly. Here is one method, that doesn’t involve simply sitting. Give it a try!

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