Swing Your Arms!!

With the days getting longer and the temperatures getting a bit warmer, Spring has invited to me to start walking more.  I am a person who loves to stack things, so I have started walking to my weekly Yoga class.  I have to leave only about 15 minutes earlier than I usually do, and I get a nice 25 min walk there and back through my local parks.

Last week, I walked to class and it was fairly pleasant outside, but after class, the temps had fallen a bit.  I mention this because this lead me to put my hands in my pockets to keep them warm.  I noticed about 15 minutes into my walk that my mid-back was getting stiff and my neck and shoulders were a little achy.  I tried to think about what we had done in class that would have caused this to happen.  I thought “I just took a Yoga class.  I should feel awesome!” when I realized my hands had been in my pockets this whole time.

With my hands tucked into my coat pockets, my arms were unable to swing in their natural movement.

No swinging = no natural rotation of the spine = pain in my mid-back and shoulders.

When we don’t swing our arms when walking, we lose the subtle rotation of the spine that needs to happen for proper movement.  That rotational force needs to go somewhere, meaning we rotate too much at other places, including the low-back.  In my case, not only was I putting extra force through my low-back, but my mid-back and neck were also bracing against the rotational force that should have been happening.  Hence, the tight back and shoulders.

So the quick lesson of the day is Swing Your Arms!  And make sure you are swinging them with a whole-body movement.  None of this moving from the elbow BS (more on this later).

Play Day-to-Day

The world is a heavy place with a lot of responsibilities.  You have responsibilities to your family, to yourself, to your work, not to mention simple responsibilities like taking out the trash and washing the car.  It seems everyone right now is weighted down with this sense of responsibility.  I normally add to those responsibilities with solutions of how to take better care of your body, but today, lets take a breather.

Today, I want you to approach your day with a little more play.  This doesn’t mean you have to skip the office for the playground (but you should skip instead of walk), just add a sense of joy and lightness to your day.  I will even make this post brief so you don’t have to be so adult and READ, you can just DO!

Here are just few easy ways to bring some play to your day-to-day:

  • Play games – Busy at the supermarket?  See if you can duck and dodge your way through the crowd without bumping into anyone!
  • Notice what you like – The sky, the color of the car next to you, some ladies hat, the wagging tail of a dog.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.
  • Engage with strangers – When you lose the game in #1 and you bump a stranger, smile, laugh, make eye contact, or give them a compliment.  You can do this with people you don’t bump into (and probably get better results) as well.
  • Enjoy music – Sing or dance or just carry the tune in your head as you go about your daily errands.  When you notice someone belting out Whitney Houston in the car next to you, don’t you smile and think that person is having the BEST time!
  • Smile – Just cause.
  • Move – Exercise is great, but as adults, we have even taken the fun out of that.  Challenge yourself to skip, hop, crawl, chase (children and dogs are excellent playmates), instead of just going for a jog.
  • Laugh – At how much we take ourselves seriously when we have absolutely no control over anything.

Have a happy day my friends!  If you feel like it, let me know how you found play in the comments below!  Also, let your friends know so they can start playing too!

Injured? Resting Helps, But It Does Not Heal

How many times have you said or heard this sentence?

“I tweaked my (back, knee, shoulder, wrist, etc), but I’ll just give it a few days rest and it should be fine.”

I am here to be the bearer of bad news, it will not be fine.

Yes, in your twenties and maybe even early thirties, rest was a good go-to move.  You really did feel like you would rebound from an injury with a few (sometimes just 24 hours) days of rest.  Unfortunately, that is not the whole picture.  Without proper care, that injury from your twenties will come back to bite you in your forties.  I am not saying you should go out for a 5 mile run on your newly sprained ankle, I am just saying you need more than a binge watch on Netflix to help your body heal properly and to prevent future injury and pain from occurring.

When the body experiences trauma, whether it is a torn ligament like an ACL in the knee or maybe just a bad bruise from a hard fall, there is a repair process that immediately turns on and gets down to business.  Swelling occurs to help bring nutrients to the area to help speed up recovery of the tissue, bruising may occur as the blood starts to pool in the area, muscles and nerves may start to slightly shut down to help protect the area, and scar tissue starts to build to help make the area tough and resilient against future injury.  This is a fantastic auto response to injury.  We do absolutely nothing and our bodies just start healing.

Now there is much debate out there right now about the best way to “manage” our response system.  R.I.C.E. and Ibuprofen are now being replaced by a more “hands-off” method of letting the body swell and heal itself.  I don’t want to dive too deep into this discussion, but it is worth noting that there is some good research coming out that says we need to put the ice pack down and let our bodies do what they do.

What I want to focus on, is after the first 48 hours.  When your joint starts moving a little more, the pain has decreased a bit, and the swelling is starting to go down.  During this time, it is easy to “take time off” and give your joint a rest, but that will eventually lead you down a path of more injury.

Let’s use the ankle and the following scenario as an example.  Let’s say I was out hiking and I rolled my right ankle.  It hurts, but not so bad that I can’t get myself back to my car.  As I drive home, I can feel it throbbing a little, but I think a day on the couch will cost me less than a few hours at the ER.  I head home, prop it up, and let it “rest”.  As I am resting, my body is starting the repair process, supplying the injured area with nutrients and building my joint back up.  After a few days, I can walk pretty well, I still “feel it a little”, but I am going to work and probably go for another hike within the next few days.

First let’s talk about the joint itself.  My body’s repair system is going to try to “toughen up” the ankle joint.  While strength is great and can help that specific area from being re-injured, it is also going to inhibit the range of motion I have in my ankle.  I may not be able to flex or point my toes to the same degree I could before.  Some of my skeletal structure may have shifted when I injured the joint and is now being held in an inaccurate place by this new strength.  The rocking motion, side-to-side that my heel normally has is now limited, adding stress to the other soft tissue within the ankle joint and making the muscles, ligaments, and tendons more susceptible to injury.

Now, let’s move away from the joint and look at the impact this is having above and below the ankle.  Without proper range of motion in the heel, we will not have proper motion in the foot.  That’s 33 joints and over 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons that now have to change their “normal” to something that compensates for the new ankle range.  As we go above the ankle, we find that the knee, a hinge joint, now has a rotational force on it that was normally absorbed by the ankle, but can’t be any longer.  This new stress on the knee, puts new stress on the hip, which affects the back, and on, and on, and on.

Due to the “ankle bone is connected to the knee bone” feature of our bodies, it is important to not only rest our injuries, but rehab them to gain range of motion, proper alignment, and level strength.  We can start doing this pretty soon after injury, using pain as our guide.  Gentle movement or isometrics of the muscles surrounding the joint can help us start activating our nervous system and wake up our muscles.  It can also encourage blood flow to the area which will aide in healing.

So going back to the example of my sprained ankle, after the initial rest period of 24-48 hours, I could start moving it by just gently pointing and flexing my foot.  Then maybe I cautiously wander into some ankle circles.  I could use a band or even a wall to start turning on the muscles by moving my ankle in different motions.  This early intervention will not only speed up my healing, but also gives me the best chance of getting my joint back to “normal” and decreasing my chances of pain or injury in another part of the body due to compensation.

The point of the story is that if you have an injury, not acknowledging it or just leaving it alone, will not heal it.  You must be proactive in your care and start moving and activating the injured area as soon as you are able.  If you are not sure how to begin, find a physical therapist in your area that can help guide you.

Exercises For a Tight Neck and Shoulders

Do me a quick favor.  If you are reading this on your computer or your phone, take a quick second and press the top of your head towards to sky, make yourself as tall as possible, and level your chin.  Ok, now keep reading.  I would hate for my blog post about sore, cranky necks actually cause sore necks.  Nobody needs more pains in the neck.  Ok, I’ll stop…

In all seriousness, chronic stiff and sore necks and shoulders seems to be a thing people are just “putting up with” these days.  That feeling that you want to “pop” your neck or stretch it, or move it to release some tension.  We have all had it at one time.  If jobs and responsibilities allowed us to move more, allowed us to turn our heads to look at different things, allowed us to view things both up close and at a distance, allowed us to MOVE more, we could probably avoid it, but most of us don’t have that luxury.

So first, let’s understand your neck and shoulder pain.  For most people, the issue may not even start at the neck.  So all that pulling and popping and stretching you are doing up there, stop for a minute.  Most people’s necks are already hyper-mobile, the problem is not that they don’t move, but that they move too much.  You have probably heard of “Forward Head Posture”.  If you have it, your neck has moved a lot!  It is suppose to be sitting right on top of your shoulders, but you are able to move it way out in front!  Yes, that is sarcasm.

The position of your head sitting out in front of your shoulders acts as a big ol’ ball and chain on the muscles of the neck, the shoulders, and the upper back.  If you would like to understand it more, pick up something that weighs about 20lbs (kids, dogs, and bowling balls all work).  Now hold the weight close to your belly and feel the strain on your shoulder and back.  Not bad right?  Now straighten your arms and press it out in front of you about chest level.  Now we are talking.  Feel that pull on your shoulders, maybe a little twinge in your low back?  You neck pain is a product of the same mechanism.

There is a network of muscles that equally pull your neck forward, backward, and side-to-side.  When your head is forward, those muscles become off-balanced.  The muscles normally used to pull your head forward and down tend to get short and tight.  The muscles that normally pull your head back and up become long and stiff.  The side-to-side muscles don’t even know what to do, they are like children watching their parents argue.

The stiffness you normally feel in your neck and shoulders come from those muscles in the back that would normally pull your head back and up.  The most common response to these long, stiff muscles is to stretch them.  Here is the thing, they are already LONG.  They have been stretched day-in and day-out since your forward head posture started.  Stretching them will give you temporary relief, but it will not bring you any long-term benefits.  What we need to do is lengthen the deep muscles in the front of the neck as we strengthen the posterior muscles.

Ok, but why is your cervical spine moving so much?  Well, it is most likely because your thoracic spine is not moving at all.  Lack of fluidity in this mid-area of your back tends to make the segments above (neck) and below (low back pain anyone?) move too much.  This area tends to get stuck for a few reasons – excessive sitting, lack of core strength, tightness through the chest and diaphragm  – all of these can lead to stiffness in the thoracic spine.

So, when you start to address your neck pain, it is important for you to address the stiffness in your thoracic spine first.  If you only address your neck pain at the neck, it will come back time and time again.  The spine must move fluidly together, that is the basis of all good movement.

Below is a short exercise and stretching routine that will help you relieve your achy neck and shoulders.

*Please note – The exercises above are not medically prescribed.  Please check with your physician to check if the exercises are appropriate for you.

 

 

Class Review – September 2018

This year, one of the things I wanted to do is try new things in the fitness world.  I am always reading and researching and learning from the other therapists and trainers at my studio.  I also try to soak up as much knowledge as I can when talking to the great practitioners in my network, but I haven’t actually been out there to try what the other guys are doing in a while.

So I have committed to trying something new each month and to write a review about it.  By no means do I pretend that these are objective reviews.  Think of this as more my opinion as a fitness expert (it does say opinionated fitness guru in the title).  Also, there may be things I don’t like that you do.  I am not here to debate, just stating my thoughts because my name is in the url.

Outlaw Yoga

Last month I reviewed the Avita yoga class offered by Yoga Loft.  Now to the opposite end of the yoga spectrum, we find Outlaw Yoga.  This class is bold, fun, and moves quickly.  It is challenging and engaging, but really the hidden secret lies within Mark Stefanowski, Chief Outlaw.

Mark’s style is  a little “in-your-face”, mixed with a little “let’s play”, and a splash of “there is good in all of us” (and a heavy dose of profanity).  His yoga playlist contains everything from Johnny Cash to AC DC, and at one point in his class I think I could have twerked to some hip hop.  This mix of fun and challenge keeps you engaged and connects you to both the practice and your body.

Mark with the Bride and friends

I had taken Mark’s class a few years ago at one of the brewery classes he does to raise money and support the Give Back Yoga Foundation.  So I was excited when a friend of mine invited me to join her for a class with Mark on the morning of her wedding.  The atmosphere could not be beat as we met on a sunny, Colorado morning on a patio facing southwest with a view of the flatirons.

Mark started us off slowly, with an emphasis on our breath.  This lasted about 2 minutes before he turned up the volume, pumped up the music, and had us moving.  We warmed up quickly as he took us through a series of core movements from bicycles to planks.  All while listening to some sweet rock n’ roll.

The neat thing about Mark is, he is fun and exciting and gets you laughing, but he is also very good at teaching yoga.  I have never taken a yoga class before where I was moving so well with my breath.  I know every teacher talks about this, but because you are going to the beat of the music, it is easier to find a rhythm with your movement and your breath.  It is genius.

Outlaw Yoga is based on four principles :

1. Power – Work hard and be strong both on and off the mat.
2. Presence – Cultivate mindfulness in your practice and in life.
3. Boldness –  Be bold in everything you do.
4. Fun – Truly connect to yourself and the world around you to find joy.

The Bride learning to do a handstand with assistance from Mark.

Our class definitely hit all 4.  There were periods in the class where I was laughing hysterically, parts where I was very focused on my body and my position, and parts where I was pushed outside of my comfort zone (handstands are not my strong suite).   When class was over, I felt happy, inspired, and my body felt good.  It was a fantastic way to start the day.

Summary:
Pros:  Fun, challenging, and unexpected.  Gets you outside of your head and your comfort zone.
Cons: For some, this class could be too much.  It moves quickly and there are some very challenging poses.

Daily Health Checklist

In times of high stress, it is easy to get out of our daily routines.  It is easy for us to feel overwhelmed and defeated, to lose our way, and just feel a sense of “making it through”.  We seem to only have the energy and the focus to get the day-to-day tasks done and our ability to care for ourselves starts to fall to the wayside.  However, it is during these time of high stress that we most desperately need our good habits.  We need sleep and good food to help us regain our strength and energy.  We need a plan we can blindly follow till we right the ship and feel like ourselves again.

I have been there, folks.

Last week, I was reading an article on the importance of a checklist.  The reporter had interviewed a doctor about a recent surgery that had gone bad.  The doctor was able to save the patient’s life, pumping the patient’s heart with his own hands.

“But skill and brainpower were not the reason Mr. Hagerman survived.  (Dr.) Gawande says what actually saved his patient’s life was a plan the surgical team had made before they began the surgery. This plan wasn’t grand or complicated. In fact, it was a humble checklist.”

Pilots, doctors, fireman and other high-stress occupations use (humble) checklists all the time so they can follow a plan even under the most difficult situations.  If these work when something goes wrong while fighting a fire, I am sure I can get one to work for me when my life is crazy.

So, I created my own checklist.  A daily list of reminders that is not too demanding, easy to follow, and allows me to keep my health and self-care a priority as life gets crazy.  Download the following checklist for the next time your life gets overwhelming and be prepared.  Health doesn’t have to be “grand or complicated”.  In our busy lives, simple and easy is the way to go.

Download Your Daily Health Checklist Here

 

Class Review – August 2018

This year, one of the things I wanted to do is try new things in the fitness world.  I am always reading and researching and learning from the other therapists and trainers at my studio.  I also try to soak up as much knowledge as I can when talking to the great practitioners in my network, but I haven’t actually been out there to try what the other guys are doing in a while.

So I have committed to trying something new each month and to write a review about it.  By no means do I pretend that these are objective reviews.  Think of this as more my opinion as a fitness expert (it does say opinionated fitness guru in the title).  Also, there may be things I don’t like that you do.  I am not here to debate, just stating my thoughts because my name is in the url.

Yoga Loft, Gunbarrel – Avita Yoga

I have known for a while now that the folks over at Yoga Loft are almost as obsessed with alignment and good form as we are at my studio, Koa Fit.  A lot of my private clients also attend classes at Yoga Loft, so I have been hearing about this studio for a couple of years.  In full disclosure, I did take the Kaiut class at the Yoga Loft in Boulder about a year ago, but since that time, they have change things up a bit and started teaching Avita.

Since their 2nd location and newest studio is a only about a mile from where I live, I figured it was the perfect place for me to start taking some yoga classes.  I dabble with a yoga practice.  I have an online membership with Gaia and like to start some of my mornings with their shorter classes, but I have never regularly practiced.  I like the idea of “live” classes.  It is nice to be in a space built for the purpose of yoga instead of pushing furniture aside to make room for your mat.

The new location is, of course, new and beautiful.  It is bright and full of light when you enter.  Our check-in process was a little bumpy.  It seems our instructor wasn’t totally familiar with the software and it took a while to get everything processed through.  Even though this was a bit unorganized, everyone who helped did so with a good attitude and a smile.

The actual yoga studio has a great, soft floor.  For the Avita class, you do not bring your own mat, they provide the mat and additional props.  Everything is set up prior to you walking in, you just have to choose your spot.  The atmosphere is quiet and calming, really nice after a full day of work.   I immediately laid down on my back, propped my head up with a bolster, and fully relaxed.

Our instructor started the class on our stomachs, with our heads turned to one side.  We spent a few minutes at each side, allowing our necks to relax into the rotation.  We then flipped onto our back and proceeded to add some shoulder opening to the neck rotation.  We moved our way from head-to-toe, coming into a standing balance pose as our last “work” pose.  Each pose built upon the last one and was precise and well-cued.

The class moves very slow (I affectionately call the class “Laying Around Yoga”).  It moves slower than any other yoga I have ever done – yes, slower than a Yin class.  I enjoy the slowness both for what it does for my mental state and because it allows me to soften into the position we are holding.  However, I know there are people out there where this would not work.  In my class, I could tell there were a few people who came ready to move and were a little stunned at the pace of the class.

I am a defender of the slow.  Even in my training I am always slowing people down.  When you are looking to break down compensation patterns and retrain your movements, slow is where it is at.  It allows you to make micro movements and adjust your regular compensation as you move through so you can train your body how to move correctly.  Also, sometimes your body doesn’t want to “let go” when you move fast, making it hard for you to perform a movement correctly.

Summary:

Pros: A great class to unwind the body and the mind.  Allows you to “feel” your body and slowly move into certain spaces.

Cons: The new studio’s schedule is a bit limited with the availability of classes and the instructor/front desk people seem to need a little more training on the software.  My guess is both things will improve as the studio matures.

Save Time and Stack Your Life

Recently, a client of mine came in for a session and just looked beat-down.  I asked him what was going on and he explained that deadlines at work had caused him and his team to work long hours, miss summer vacations and weekend trips, and basically rescheduled their lives.  He felt overwhelmed and stuck.  There was no time to exercise or take care of his personal life.  His energy was so low that by the time he did get home, he had nothing left to give to his family.

It seems most of us are having a hard time squeezing in all we want to do in the short 24 hours we get each day, myself included.  There just isn’t enough time to get it all done, so we end up prioritizing and letting things slip to the back-burner while we feel a lack of accomplishment at the end of the day.  This can’t be the best way to go through life, but what are the options?  Let me introduce you to the idea of Stacking.

“I aspire to achieve the efficiency of a worker honeybee.  A worker honeybee has one of those jobs with all-day movement packaged in.  The work necessary to meet it’s personal needs for food and movement and to perform it’s particular job on behalf of its community are happening simultaneously.” – Katy Bowman

I was first introduced to the idea of Stacking when I read Katy Bowman’s book, Movement Matters.  She describes, much better than I can, how we humans have lost our natural way and started to separate and segment our lives.  At one point in our existence we needed to forage for food (exercise + grocery shopping), build shelters (learning + problem solving), and we usually did these things with a community or tribe (socialization + babysitting).  In our modern world, all of these needed parts of our lives have been divided out, leaving us with no time to spare.

While it is unrealistic for a lot of us to start growing or foraging our food by tomorrow, we can apply the principles of Stacking to our everyday lives.  In the simplest of terms, we can find a way to accomplish two things at once.  I am not talking about checking your emails while you are eating breakfast.  I am talking about changing your mindset so that you are actually doing less but fulfilling your needs more.

“Multi-tasking involves trying to accomplish many discrete tasks at once.  Stacking your life involves the search for fewer tasks that meet multiple needs, which often requires that you’re clear on what your needs actually are.” – Katy Bowman

Assuming we already have shelter and sleeping pretty much requires that you are only sleeping, let’s look at some of our other basic daily needs:

  • Food
  • Exercise
  • Transportation
  • Family/Friend Time – Childcare, dog care, parent care, etc.
  • Employment
  • Play

Now, I am a person that always goes for the low-hanging fruit first.  I am a believer that small accomplishments are the only step-stools that will get you to the large accomplishments in life.  So let’s start easy…

Let’s look at the idea of a “play-date”.  It is the epitome of Stacking.  Parent’s socializing, children playing.  However, what if we could also do a play-date on our bikes?  Or at the park?  Now we have stacked socialization, childcare, and exercise in one.  Now, why don’t you all bike down to the local fruit stand?  OMG – Socialization, childcare, exercise, transportation, and grocery shopping all in one!

Now, I know this is not as easy as it sounds, but you will be surprised at how many options there are to Stack your life if you just start getting into the mindset.  Opportunities will arise without a lot of work.  Let’s go back to my client that I mentioned at the beginning…

During our session, this same client mentioned he would be traveling to California on business and he was even more overwhelmed by the idea that he would lose more time to work.  I mentioned to him to look for ways he could make his day better.  So, I asked him what CA had that CO does not.  Easy answer – the Ocean.  We decided he could rent a bike to get him from his hotel to his work each day, taking a longer way home that would go by the beach.  Just the thought of getting a little play and exercise into his day, seemed to relieve some tension in his shoulders.

One little adjustment in our days can completely change our attitude.  That change in attitude has an exponential effect on our perspective, our approach to our lives and our interactions with others.  Bottom line, stop getting less and doing more and get more by doing less.

“Thinking differently is a process not so distinct from learning to move your arm or leg in a particular way to get a muscle to grow; your thoughts shape your choices.” – Katy Bowman