Friday, May 3, 2013

Blog has moved!

My blog has moved to my new website. To read my new blog post, just click here. To get blog posts into your inbox, just subscribe.

See ya.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What Shoes Kids Need

When our now 5 year old son started to walk, I proudly bought him his first pair of outside shoes. It was a fairly sturdy sneaker kind of shoe. A shoe pretty much like this one, just much smaller and not as pink:
You might recognize this shoe as a shoe most kids wear in day care or school - at least they do where I live.
Had I known what I know now, I would have looked for a shoe with a flexible sole, zero heel, zero toe spring (i.e.that upward slant on the sneaker in the pic) and enough space for the toes to spread - the kind of shoe my children wear now in and outside daycare. 

Why? Because a shoe on our feet is like big fat sturdy gloves on our hands. It immobilises. Overtime the many muscles that live in the foot atrophy (weaken) and that in turn has a negative impact on the overall health of the tissues in the foot. The nerves inside weak muscles are not good sensors of or responders to information - think tripping over objects or even over your own foot. Weak muscles are also poor stabilizers for the ankle and even impact the stability of knees and hips.

What makes the feet so special?

Out of the 206 bones we have in the body, 25% of those live in the feet - 26 bones and 33 joints in each foot. The same goes for muscles and nerves: 25% of our total live in the feet.
This amazing anatomy gives the foot the potential for 1001 little movements: Imagine walking barefoot through the forest and navigating the uneven terrain with big or small rocks, fallen tree branches and slippery slopes. Our feet are equipped with the ability to sense every little unevenness of this terrain and to deform to meet the changing shape of this environment. Nice!

Except that our feet spend their whole life inside shoes and hardly ever get the chance to put this amazing ability to use.

What shoes do to our feet

Shoes protect the feet from the environment but have the sorry side effect of putting somewhat of a cast around the foot. When it comes to shoes, we think the more stablity a shoe offers, the better for the foot. But we forget that we were given a ton of muscles and joints inside the foot and that its the job of skeletal muscle to move and stabilize joints. 

Let's go back to the imagery of the barefooted walk in the forest. Imagine you do it with your tight feet from a lifetime of shoe wearing. Your foot won't deform to meet the shape of a rock. You might trip over a branch or over your own foot. Without the many foot muscles working in sync, the ankle takes the brunt of the impact with every single step. Throw in some tightness of the calves (which we do have too from wearing shoes and sitting all the time) and the knee will hurt. Without restoring some foot mobility, the barefooted walk might do more harm than good.

I injured my foot last fall by missing the last step of our staircase. Turned out my foot had been slowly degenerating without me noticing it. Don't tell my mom but the shoes she bought us had lots of stability features but didn't foster the development of healthy feet. Obviously. So nice when you can blame your mom :)

Maintaining foot mobility in children - what to look for in a shoe

The sole of the shoe ...... should be flexible enough for the foot inside the shoe to deform to meet the shape of the environment while still offering enough protection from the environment. 

The heel of the shoe ... should be free of any kind of elevation as it brings the natural heel of the foot higher than the front of the foot. Even the smallest positive heel changes the geometry of the foot bones (how they relate to eachother) and therefore also impacts the alignment of bones in the legs, pelvis and spine. Alignment changes impact the muscles' ability to generate appropriate force. (You can read more about how heels impact your whole body alignment in my last blog post).

If you are after foot mobility for yourself or your child, the shoe should have zero heel. Sneakers do have a heel! Cute Mary Janes for girls also have a heel. A small heel for a child translates into a huge geometrical change!

The toe box ... is where the front of the foot is placed. It should be big enough for the toes to fit in easily without squishing. Toes should have enough room to spread and wiggle. The front of the foot should also not slant upwards as in the above picture of that sneaker, especially if the sole is stiff - the whole foot including the toes need to have contact with the ground.

The upper of the shoe ... is the material that makes the shoe. It shouldn't be too tight (the toes can't wiggle and move) or too loose. Flip flops or crocks worn without the strap at the heel offer a flimsy attachment to the foot and the toes have to grip hard to keep the shoe on - toe gripping does not lend itself at all to a natural gait pattern.

The best advice I can give parents with toddlers that are just beginning to walk is to allow those little feet to develop naturally and to keep them barefoot as much as possible or in socks with rubber dots on the sole or in Robeez or Soft Star shoes. Many water shoes also fulfill the above criteria and come in all sizes and offer a cheap alternative and are readily available in stores come Spring and Summer. Those shoes also make great choices for daycare or school.

And the same shoe criteria apply to adult feet of course. For a resource guide for minimal shoes, click here. 

I quickly took a photo of some of summer/indoor shoes we have lying around:

The second best advice I can give is to take yourself and the kids to walk on natural ground to let the feet go through a variety of little motions. I let the kids walk on people's lawns in the summer when we go to the playground. How about barefooted walks on forest trails, beaches or at the very least in your own back yard.

And the third best advice has to do with the very fact that we don't live in a natural environment. Our streets are hard asphalt and the times we do go walking, on uneven terrain or not/in minimal shoes or not, is limited. Older children and adults can restore foot mobility with little exercises: spread the toes as wide as you can, try to lift one toe at a time, use your foot to pick up objects (marbles, socks, ect) and put them where they belong. I, for example, try to build a habit of using my feet to pick up clothes that lie on the floor. If I do it, my kids will eventually do it. I hope :)

To get more ideas for what you and your children can do with your feet and to be inspired by somebody who does everything with her feet read this post  by a fellow Restorative Exericse Specialist.

And if you live in Ottawa and you have foot pain or you would like to transition to minimal shoes or you have a child whose foot development you are worried about, call me to book a session. In addition to being a brandnew Restorative Exercise Specialist, I also certified as a Healthy Foot Practitioner last year. And so did Jillian from LiveAligned - another Ottawa resource.  

More reading: 
Dr Rossi, podiatrist articles:
Why shoes make 'normal' gait impossible
Footwear: the primary cause of foot disorders
Children's footwear: launching site for adults ills

Book: Katy Bowman Every Womans Guide To Foot Pain Relief

A collection of abstracts and links to online material can be found here.

'And those healthy little feet of your children - keep them strong as they are now by giving your boys and girls the right kind of shoes and by teaching them to walk like and Indian - with toes straight ahead.' a short article about foot health written by a life insurance company!!! and published in 1932 in National Geographic Magazine.

'Shoes make 'normal' gait impossible. How flaws in footwear affect this complex human function'. This is the title of one of a series of articles Dr Rossi, a podiatrist, wrote in 1981.

1. Optimum foot development occurs in the barefoot environment.
2. The primary role of shoes is to protect the foot from injury and infection.
3. Stiff and compressive footwear may cause deformity, weakness, and loss of mobility.
4. The term "corrective shoes" is a misnomer.
5. Shock absorption, load distribution, and elevation are valid indications for shoe modifications.
6. Shoe selection for children should be based on the barefoot model.
7. Physicians should avoid and discourage the commercialization and "media"-ization of footwear. Merchandising of the "corrective shoe" is harmful to the child, expensive for the family, and a discredit to the medical profession.
Staheli, LT Pediatrics [1991, 88(2):371-375]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mindful Standing

Last weekend I came back from certification week at the Restorative Exercise Institute. One day after I got home, my little 15 year old sister came to visit from Germany. As she came out of customs at the airport, I first saw her lovely happy face and then I saw her high heeled boots!!!!!! I managed to keep my mouth shut until the next day but then I couldn't restrain myself and she got the high heel talk!

The high heel talk goes a bit like this and really is all about basic geometry:
Imagine you are made of steel and you stand barefooted on the ground. You would be standing in a vertical line perpendicular to the ground. Now image you stood in shoes with a heel on. You would be leaning forward. In fact you would be falling on your face. 

Now, we are not made of steel but of living tissue with joints and muscles. Joints can distort and muscles can contract and pull you back to prevent you from falling. So, you think you stand pretty straight with your high heeled shoes on. Whats the big deal? 

While it doesn't necassarily look to you like you are pitched forward, every cell in your body knows you are. And especially your feet, knees, hip and spine. Not to mention the bone building receptors in your hips. And its not just stilettos. A regular running shoe easily has a 1/2inch (or more) heel.  So we are talking about positive heels more than high heels.

The positive heel talk always goes better with an illustration or two.

image adapted from Rossi:  1: barefoot, aligned stance;  2: displacement of body if body was rigid on 2'' heel, 3: adjustments of body on 2'' heel

At the Restorative Exercise Institute: demonstrating the body's displacement by approx. 1'' positive heel

My sister seems to listen to me because those boots have been untouched since she got the talk.
The next day I took a picture of her standing at our standing work station checking her facebook updates:

She looks alot like the person on the far right in the Rossi image above. Even without shoes on!

Can you see how her pelvis is pitched forward? And how big the curve in her lower back is from thrusting her rib cage forward and pulling her shoulders back? In this picture, her hips are over the front of her feet (see the red line?).

To stand in alignment, the red vertical line would need to go through her hips, knees and heels. Only then her joints would be weightbearing optimally and we could be talking about long-term foot, knee, hip and spinal health. And optimal bone generation in her still developing hips, legs and feet. And a  healthy pelvic floor for giving birth naturally one day. But she doesn't want to know about that yet :)

So, I showed her how to do calf stretches and the psoas release. The next day I taught her how to back up her hips so they are over her heel. She is a good learner:

Because her calves and hamstrings are so tight, her torso leans forward as a result of backing up her hips. That's ok. Because I told her I'll buy her new shoes (minimal shoes of course!) if she does calf stretches every day from now on and to also work on her standing alignment every time she is standing.

Eventually, she'll be able to get her torso back while standing with her hips over her heels.  

I'm going to be in Germany for the summer. The pressure is on :)

A few days later I asked her to check her facebook so I can take a picture. Obviously, she did it more mindfully knowing what she now knows. But I didn't give her any feedback. I just took the picture:

Not bad. I particularly like the look of her torso. There isn't as much tension in her upper back. 

The best part is that I noticed that she was standing more mindfully in general.

Can you see the blue calf stretching device? She has been using it every day. Because she wants new shoes more than healthy knees. Whatever... 

PS: Imagine you are not 15 years old but a mom carrying the extra load of a baby or toddler! I imagine you truly ARE interested in all that pelvic floor and core and knee and spinal health stuff. Your new daily fitness routine is to notice when you stand like this:

And to immediately correct yourself so you stand more like this: 
Then email or phone me to tell me how great you feel or to ask me questions or to book a session to learn more :)

And in any case, I highly recommend you read Katy Bowman's book called Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet. It could also be called Every Woman's Guide to Fixing your Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. It also lays out some first steps to a long-term fix of your mummy tummy. And I could go on and on and on.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

About Kangaroos and Fitness and 2013

It’s only 2 years ago that I started my own business and called it Kangaroo Fitness.

I was a social work graduate and a new mom and new Canadian with an entrepreunal spirit and newfound joy for teaching fitness classes for moms and moms-to-be.  With my Personal Trainer and Pre/Postnatal Fitness Specialist certification received, all I needed was a business name. It took me 5 minutes to come up with Kangaroo Fitness. Four and a half minutes searching the internet for ‚How to find a good business name‘ and the other 30 seconds to figure that a Kangaroo is both maternal and sporty and that Kangaroo and Fitness are two words that look pretty good next to eachother. Turned out that it wasn’t a bad choice. If you are ever in search of a business name, ask me :)

Except that I’m not so happy with it anymore. I still love the Kangaroo. More than ever actually. Did you know that a newborn kangaroo is about 2cm long and weighs less than 1 gram and is strong enough to crawl into its mothers pouch? Pretty cool.

I also read that the kangaroo got its name after Europeans asked the native Australians what that animal was called. They responded saying ‚I don’t understand‘ which sounds like ‚kangaroo‘ in their language. The Europeans thought this was the name of the animal and this is how the kangaroo got its name.

Kangaroo Fitness  - ‚i don’t understand‘ fitness. Funny. Because it is very much what I’ve been contemplating this past year. Fitness. What does it mean? I don’t get it. Or rather I think that we as a culture don’t get it. Have we been brainwashed by the fitness industry?

Fitness is defined as ‚being physically fit and healthy‘. To be ‚fit‘ means to be suitable to fulfill a particular role or task. That leaves room for a lot of interpretation. Good. The key words here are particular role or task.

Is it the task to be able to do 3 sets of  15 biceps curls with that followed by 25 push-ups?

Or is it the motherly role to lift and carry a toddler without getting a back spasm when turning over to grab the diaper bag? Is it to run a marathon or is it to be able to run after your kids every day without leaking urine? Is it to get through some insane workout once or twice a week or is it to be able to enjoy a nice long hike in the woods without having foot pain the next day?

And how about being pregnant and not have pelvic or lower back pain? To have a smooth vaginal birth without blowing through your pelvic floor or abdominal muscles? To have birthed children and not say that the babies have ruined your body? To be 30, 40, 50, 60 years old and not have any of the ailments that seem to come with age in our culture? Or how about being able to squat in order to pee in the woods (everybody has to do this at least once a year, yes?) and not fall over or pee on your shoes in the process?

How about being able to stand for more than 5 minutes without leaning against a wall or table or without tucking your tailbone under or bending a knee and hiking one of your hips up? Or how about being able to do this for more than 5 seconds?

You could be ‚fit‘ in terms of being able to get through a tough workout. You could even be ‚fit‘ in terms of looking the part. But do all your body parts move effortlessly and are all your body parts healthy?

I contemplated changing my business name because I don’t offer ‚fitness‘ anymore and I want this to be clear to everybody.  But then I really like Kangaroo Fitness and I still want to attract people who subscribe to the fitness paradigm and introduce another way of thinking about our body and what it should be able to do. It works for the people who committ. A client of mine who was really into working out and believed that more is better recently wrote in a testimonial that she learned to 'work out smarter not harder'. Her back pain dissappeared and her diastasis recti closed. And she didn't do crazy amounts of exercises every day. A bit of education on body mechanics and a willingness to commit to using her body for movement and using her body for mindful and aligned movements. Just the way our bodies were designed to be moved, really. 

So, I'll keep the word 'fitness' in the name. Because I want more clients like her :)

I’m working on a new website and I’ll have a new logo and the new tagline will be something like this:

Kangaroo Fitness – Aligning Fitness With Natural Movement. Or maybe not. Because the word natural movement is loaded with preconceived ideas too. I'm not telling everybody to take off their shoes and go barefoot running. Just saying. So maybe its going to be: Kangaroo Fitness - Aligning Fitness With Everyday Movement. What do you think?

I’m excited about 2013 and grateful for all the ups and downs that helped me get to where I am right now.  And thanks to YOU reading my blog!

PS: Here is a challenge!

'Work out' by just standing in alignment every time you are standing.
Read this post about proper stance from my teacher and biomechanist Katy Bowman and follow the instructions:

Let me know how this feels. And if you want an extra challenge, stand in this aligned stance while holding your baby or toddler or shopping bags! No need to go to the gym!

Cheers to an aligned and healthy 2013!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Core Alignment

Bethany Learn's from Fit 2 Be Studio asked me to write something for her blog after she read my belly blues blog post from a few weeks ago. This is what I wrote and what was published on her blog last week. It's about time that I put it up on my own blog - slightly edited. Its a bit on the longer side but it has lots of picture! Here goes:

As you may know, I have a special interest in all things core and I am sought out by mostly women who want to restore their midsections. I am very conscious of the fact that women's self esteem often depends on how happy they feel about their bodies and that the women who come to me put their trust in me to help them. It is my responsibility to keep learning so I get better at my work and to help my clients be in control of their bodies and their health. Luckily for me, its a very fulfilling responsiblity. I find this stuff fascinating.

Anyway, my learning took on a new level of excitement for me when I started taking Katy Bowman’s (biomechanist) Whole Body Alignment course at the Restorative Exercise Institute. And the exciting part about it is that in those  4+ hour covering the core, I didn’t learn a bunch of abdominal exercises but instead I began to understand the relationship between functioning (or non-functioning abdominal muscles) and the alignment of the bones to which the abdominal muscles attach to - the rib cage and the pelvis - and how therefore alignment work can rehab 'broken' abdominals. 

So if your abdominal muscles are split in the middle (diastasis recti) or you’re *just* wider in the waist than in the hips, it’s worth having a look at how you carry your pelvis and rib cage through space. Because alignment of those body parts has a dramatic effect on how the abdominal muscles can do their work. 

Diastasis recti and a bit of anatomy

All of the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques and transversus abdominis) attach to the pelvis and rib cage. The deepest layer, the transversus abdominis, also attaches to the spine. They all ultimately attach to strings of connective tissue (linea alba and 2 linea semilunaris) in front of our abdomen. Katy Bowman refers to it as 3 abdominal raphe with raphe just meaning ‚seam‘.
Now, if the muscles didn’t connect to this collagen containing seam in front but to a nice long bone instead, we would all have toned abs but obviously it would also make living our life and growing a new life much more complicated.

So we were equipped with this raphe which, IF held in the right position and under the right amount of tension, can be as strong as bone and can thus be a solid attachement point for the abdominal muscles.

When there is a gap between the muscle (diastasis recti) it means that the raphe isn’t bone-like anymore because it has lost its shape and therefore its tensile strength.  It is no longer under the right amount of tension to offer the abdominal musces a solid attachment point from which to move and generate force.

The raphe attach to the sternum and the pelvis which is why the position of the rib cage and pelvis really matters when it comes to the tensile strength of this funky part of our body. When the attachment points of any muscle are in the right place, the muscle can get to work in its intended plane of motion, it gets to be at its intended length and, with regular use, can develop its intended strength. Pretty cool.

Neutral Alignment of Pelvis

When sitting or standing the neutral position for the pelvis is when the ASIS is in a vertical line over the pubic bone. A neutral pelvis is key for the abdominal muscles to be aligned. Let's find it:

Sit down how you would normally sit. Are you slouching? Are you maybe sitting on your tailbone? Can you not make out a curve in your lower back? Tilt forward so you are coming off your tailbone until you are sitting on your ‚sitting bones‘ (ischial tuberosity) and you get a curve in your lower back. Your pubic bone is no longer in front of you but stacked underneath your 'hip bones' (ASIS).

Just like this:


And absolutely not like this: 

Just to practice finding neutral pelvis, you can rock back and forth and always find the point where you are in neutral. Notice how this feels like.
Once you got this, notice how maybe some or a lot of that movement comes from your upper body. Are you thrusting your rib cage forward? Maybe you even feel some pressure in your mid-back? Try to relax your upper back without losing your neutral pelvis and see if you can align your rib cage over the pelvis.

When I do it, it looks like this:

What you see is my hyper kyphosis which is exposed now that I align my rib cage with my pelvis. You can’t see this but I could feel my abdominal muscles turn on immediately. The hyper kyphosis is another issue altogether.  This photo just shows you how much I need to round my upper back to get my ribs down and in alignment with the pelvis.  How about you?

My favorite part

Now, I show you how I look when I lie on my back and how my abs respond to some alignment changes.

Disclaimer: In any of the above and below photos, my belly is relaxed. I am not sucking it in nor am I consciously contracting my TvA (deepest abdominal muscle) by pulling it towards the spine. What you see is how my abdominal muscles respond to a change in alignment!

Look at my pelvis in this picture. The white dots show you where my ASIS and pubic bone are – now in a horizontal line where they should be. 

My pelvis is neutral (even though my pubic bone white point looks a little higher in the photo – maybe not perfectly neutral after all but you get the idea).

Check out the dodgy black cross on my lowest real rib: it should be in line with the other white dots. But it isn’t.

When you do it at home and you don't have a camera and white dots like me, you can tell if your rib cage is too far forward when

a) your lowest ribs are visibly sticking out,
b) you are able to slip your fingers under your rib cage or
c) your bra line or where your bra line would be is not touching the floor.

So, if you are doing leg lifts or leg slides from here, bolster your head and shoulders so that your rib cage comes closer to the floor and thus can be more in line with the pelvis. Like me in the next photo.

You never want to look like this when you get ready to do abdominal exercises on your back:

This is far far far away from a neutral pelvis. This is a tucked or posterially tilted pelvis.  You can see how my pubic bone white dot is higher than my ASIS.

It’s easy to imagine that the 3 raphe that go from my sternum down to the pubic bone are far from taut and bone-like. You can also really see my ribs sticking out. My abdominal muscles cannot fire properly in this crappy alignment. You do not want to start doing leg slides or leg lifts in this alignment!

The even better part

So now you know that the ribs should be flush with the abdomen for the lowest real rib is in line with the ASIS and pubic bone. No ribs that are sticking out. Yes? Yes.

In this photo I lift my head and shoulder off the floor to lower by rib cage down so it can be in line with my neutral pelvis.

This is a killer move not to be mistaken with a crunch! All my abdominal muscles are turned on.
Alignment matters big time!

If you want to try it yourself, make sure it doesn’t look like this:

Can you see the bulge or ‚bread loaf‘ grow out of my belly? My ribs are down but my pubic bone is no longer in line with the ASIS.  My pelvis is not in its neutral alignment. My abdominal muscle are not contracting in their intended plane of motion.

But even when you are in neutral pelvis, you can get the bulge. So watch your body.  What you see  is the recti muscle taking over. If you have diastasis recti, your belly would kind of make a tent-shape appearance which you want to AVOID and do more of the basic TvA contraction exercises and releases before moving on to the more advanced stuff.

Important final note: Much much more important than doing a bunch of abdominal exercises every day, is to start noticing where you carry your rib cage and pelvis when you stand, sit and walk around and to correct it into neutral. And to reduce sitting and put more standing and walking into your day. A healthy and functioning body comes from using it properly throughout the day.

Recommended links from Katy Bowman's blog:
Are You A Rib Thruster?
Neutral Pelvis.
Exercising vs Natural Movement

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tight Calves And The Pelvic Floor

For over a year now I’ve been studying with the Restorative Exericse Institute. Before I decided to go for the Whole Body Alignment course this Spring, I took the NoMoreKegels course which is all about pelvic floor health. I learned about the effect of our footwear and posture on the alignment of the pelvis and how this in turn effects the pelvic floor muscles. I also learned specific exercises to restore pelvic floor function. And one of the most fundamental of those restorative exercises is the calf stretch.

The CALF STRETCH? For my PELVIC FLOOR? Yep. It all begins with tight calf muscles. (Well, it all begins in the feet but that shall be another blog post.)

The calf muscle group is made up of the gastrocnemius, soleus and the plantaris. They all attach to the heel of our foot. The soleus attaches below the knee at the tibia. And the large gastrocnemius and the much much smaller, but oh so sensitive, plantaris attach above the knee at the femur.
Muscle always contracts from attachment point to attachment point. Which means that what goes on with the attachment points, i.e. how the bones are aligned, matters a great deal to what goes on with the muscle.

For example, when I wear a shoe with a positive heel, the natural heel of my foot where my calf muscles are attached to, is brought closer to the knee.
As a result the muscle is put in a shortened position. If the muscles are chronically held in this position because I’m in my positive heeled shoes all day, well, then they stay in this shortened position.

A chronically shortened muscle is a tight muscle. And a tight muscle isn’t very good at receiving or pumping blood and lymph and also doesn’t communicate well with the spinal cord. In short, a tight muscle isn‘t a strong, force generating muscle.

Another example is the posture of constant knee flexion. Check out any person running or walking on the street. They all have their knees bent. And then look at all the people sitting around. They also have their knees bent (surprise!).

Because the gastrocnemius and plantaris muscle attach above the knee, any kind of knee bending action puts slack in those muscles. Muscles can’t stay slack because then they have no force generating power so the muscle fibers simply adjust and shorten themselves. Now they can work again.  But because the knees are in flexion all day long (sitting, sleeping, walking with bent knees) the calf muscle is chronically shortened. And a short muscle is a tight muscle is a weak muscle  …

This constant knee flexion is one culprit for the pelvic floor problem. But to understand this, we have to welcome the hamstring group into the discussion.

The hamstring muscles all attach to the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) as well as to the pelvis. Knee flexion causes slack in the hamstring muscles. The hamstring muscles get short and tight. And these shortened hamstring muscles are pulling and tucking on the pelvis causing the pelvis to be out of neutral (posterior pelvic tilt). Which then in turn puts slack in all the pelvic floor muscles causing the pelvic floor muscle to adjust and shorten.

And a short, tight, weak pelvic floor muscle isn’t very good at holding up the pelvic organs. A short, tight, weak pelvic floor muscle is also not very good at expelling babies. WOW!

Soooooooooo, if you have plantar fasciitis or heel pain or crampy, tingly, tired legs or knee pain or pelvic pain or if  you are leaking urine when doing jumping jacks or you have back pain or you were told you have have a hypertonic pelvic floor or prolapse or prostate problems, there are many things you can do right now to get better. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Stretch your calves and click this to read and see how.
2) Assess your shoe wear. If you wear really high heels, get into a smaller heel. And if you wear running shoes with a bit of a heel, consider getting a truly zero heel shoe. (Here is a list for minimal or ‚barefoot‘ shoes)
3)Increase barefoot time
4)Get out of the chair every 20 minutes and stretch your calves.
5)Get the Every Woman's Essential Body kit from the Restorative Exercise Institute (and I don't benefit from this recommendation in any way other than the fact that I was the source that led you to some amazing and cheap self help tools and knowledge)
6)You could even take the NoMoreKegels course yourself.
8)If you are in Ottawa, come to class or book a private session

PS: I can't let you go without saying this:
The abdominal muscles attach to the pelvis .... calf stretch anyone?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Belly Blues And What To Do About It

For many women the belly is a problem zone laden with negative emotions. Maybe you feel totally disconnected from this area of your body. Maybe the look of your belly in the mirror triggers a sense of hopelessness and depression.

So what do you do? You suck it in. You might suck it in to hide it. You might suck it in because you think this is what „engaging the core“ is all about. Well, sucking in your belly is disrupting the normal pressure in your abdomen  and has nothing to do with contracting your deepest abdominal muscles.

You CAN re-connect with your belly again. Over time you can even flatten it so you like looking in the mirror again.  All you need to do is get the muscles to work again. And the first step is letting it go!  Release your belly. Let it be as big as it wants to be. The hardest thing of all. But now the muscle isn’t “stuck“ anymore and it can actually contract.

Getting ready to contract the deep abdominal muscle (transversus abdominis aka TvA) correctly

How you position your pelvis and rib cage really matters to the proper functioning of your TvA  – after all the muscle attaches to large portions of both. Check it out on this image from Gray's Anatomy.

How should the pelvis be aligned?
Your ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine) and your pubic bone should be in a vertical line when standing or sitting. It will give you a nice curvature in your lower back. To find your ASIS you can just put your hands in your groin area and then walk them up until you can palpate the part of your iliac spine that most protrudes. Or maybe it makes more sense if I tell you to put your hands on your hips and find the point that protrudes in front.

So when you are sitting it should look like this.

Now that you are sitting in neutral pelvis, relax your belly and check in with your rib cage. Do you feel a strain in your upper back? Are you thrusting your rib cage forward? Try to relax your rib cage back and lower it down so it starts to align with your neutral pelvis. Relax your belly again. And breathe.

Some cues for you:
Take air in through your nose and let the air fill your rib cage.
If you notice your shoulders coming up to your ears when breathing, focus on sending the breath into the lower half of your rib cage.
Exhale through your mouth.
Take your time.
Your belly stays relaxed the whole time.

Once you get the hang of it and this feels natural, you can start doing some TvA contraction exercises.

Contracting the TvA
The TvA wraps around our waist like a girdle and contracts like one. Pretty cool.
So.... inhale again and now as you exhale through your mouth you draw your belly button towards the spine. Maintain the neutral position of your pelvis as you do this.
Also make sure that your rib cage is not thrusting forward.
Let your belly relax after each contraction and check in with your pelvis and rib cage and re-set if necessary.

How many? It's up to you. More doesn't necessarily mean faster results. Focus on maintaining neutral pelvis and dropping the rib cage as you go throughout the day and when doing the exercise. And ... relax your belly. Now that you know how to contract the TvA properly you can hopefully see that your habit of sucking in your belly has nothing to do with contracting your abdominals.

PS: One day you don't even have to think about contracting your abs, they will do it for you. Like they are supposed to. If only we used our bodies the way we should. Our habit of excessive sitting is not exactly helping. The exercise shown is a good starting point - since we sit all the time, we might as well sit properly and wake up our core. When you're done with it, get out of the chair, do a calf stretch, put a pair of really flat and comfy shoes on and go for a walk. It will help with the belly blues!

PSS: A quote from Katy Bowman, biomechanist, about core strength.
Core strength does not mean abdominal exercises! It is the ability to stabilize the bones in the upper body, rotate the torso with proper spinal curvature, and maintain pelvic position while sitting, standing, and exercising! It’s the ability to control the bladder, stabilize the ligaments of the knees with the lower abdominal wall, and breathe correctly while doing all of these!