Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Pelvic Debate – Spinal stability lying Down

arched, tucked, and neutral pelvic positions

arched, tucked, and neutral pelvic positions

To Tuck or not to tuck? That is the question.

And just like for Hamlet, there is no easy answer. It’s all in your relation to gravity, what movement you are performing, and what kind of weaknesses and spinal posture you have right now.

When performing exercises on your back that require spinal stabilization –  keeping the back still while moving the arms and legs – it is important to learn how to maintain a neutral pelvis and spine. We want to strengthen the natural alignment without force.

To find neutral pelvis, first learn how to isolate and move the pelvic bones by doing pelvic tilts.

pelvic tilt

Lying on the back with knees bent, draw the pelvic bones inward towards your nose, pressing the low back into the floor and slightly lifting the tailbone off the floor. This is called tucking under. Next, go the opposite direction, creating a tunnel or arch with the low back by drawing the pelvic bones downward towards the knees, tailbone connects to floor. This is called arching.

Neutral pelvis is the happy medium between this range of motion. The front two pelvic bones are pointing upward towards the ceiling, most likely creating a slight arch in the low back.The tailbone and the back of the rib cage remain heavy on the floor. To engage the abdominals in this neutral pelvis, imaging trying to zip up the last bit of zipper on your tightest pair of pants! The muscles between the pelvic bones should sink down, but the bones themselves should not move.

(Refer to the picture at the top of the post)

Exercising supine (lying on your back) maintaining neutral pelvis will strengthen and stabilize the spine, allowing the arms and legs to move around freely. Your abdominals gather towards the spine ( like a corset closing in on all sides of the waist, belly and back), but, don’t force down the belly by tucking under the pelvis. Often we confuse scooping the abdominals with tucking under the pelvis.  This will only create bad spinal stability habits in the long run, leading to overdeveloped hip flexor muscles, weak core, and an overstretched low back. The tuck under for stability when lying down will translate to a lordotic low back when standing, or what is called “sway back”.

image025fv3There are always exceptions to every rule. If your back is extremely weak or you have never exercised then modifications must be made. Prop up the pelvis with a small pillow or blanket roll to support weak back muscles when lying on the back. This elevation of the backside will create less pressure directly on the spine and allow you to feel the core muscles. In this case, DO work on keeping the low back heavy and the pelvis tucked under. Given the body’s change in relation to gravity and weakness of the muscles, this works best. As one gets stronger take the prop away and work in neutral pelvis.

Once you’ve found a neutral pelvis position, practice moving the arms and legs while maintaining the stable spinal column.

Look at the “dead bug” exercise in finding your fulcrum.

A good image to help create stabilization would be to imagine balancing a bowl of water ( or a glass of champagne, depending on your preference) on top of the pelvis, just below the navel and between the pelvic bones.

For a more difficult stability challenge, try balancing a tennis ball or golf ball on this same low point in the torso.

Good luck. Once you are able to maintain and understand a correct neutral position, it is surprising how fast one can strengthen their body from the center outward!

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Mind Body Medicine: A Good Laugh

This is a good place to start on a Monday, the most unfunny day of the week.

Science, Art, Religion and various realms of knowledge are slowly melding back together under one roof….the human experience. What we instinctively do, is often for the betterment of humankind and ourselves. Take Laughter. And then take these families here, for example…

tavin-awesomeness-lr

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Did you crack a smile?

Remember the old adage ” Laughter is the best medicine”?

Realizing this post bears a striking resemblance to mass fluff emails from well meaning relatives and coworkers.  Admit it. You’ve smiled at one of those emails before, even a little. At least one thing here should coerce a laugh, or at least create recognition to the benefit of having one.

…also keeping in mind a newly edited old adage “beauty, [and humor] is in the eye of the beholder”…

We live in such a cynical society. Just let go sometimes.

Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.

Shared laughter is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter and play adds joy, vitality, and resilience. And humor is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times.

pie area

Using humor and laughter in relationships allows you to:

  • Be more spontaneous. Humor gets you out of your head and away from your troubles.
  • Let go of defensiveness. Laughter helps you forget judgments, criticisms, and doubts.
  • Release inhibitions. Your fear of holding back and holding on are set aside.
  • Express your true feelings. Deeply felt emotions are allowed to rise to the surface.
kniggits5hw

  • Laughter dissolves distressing emotions. You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing.
  • Laughter helps you relax and recharge. It reduces stress and increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more.
  • Humor shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

OKAY ALREADY. So how do you start laughing more?

Funny Dog Costume

Laughter breeds creativity

  • Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter. Like laughter, it’s contagious. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.
  • Count your blessings. Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humor and laughter. When in a state of sadness, we have further to travel to get to humor and laughter.
  • When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”
  • Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily–both at themselves and at life’s absurdities–and who routinely find the humor in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious.
  • Bring humor into conversations. Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”

blades-of-glory

  • Watch a funny movie or TV show.
  • Go to a comedy club.
  • Seek out funny people.
  • Share a good joke or a funny story.
  • Check out your bookstore’s humor section.
  • Host game night with friends.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Go to a “laughter yoga” class.
  • Goof around with children.
  • Do something silly.
  • Make time for fun activities (e.g. bowling, miniature golfing, karaoke).

To Find out more about Laughing Yoga.

Big+Laughing+Buddha+Taichung-1

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go out of your way to have a hearty laugh at least once a day, preferably with someone else. Waka Waka!

storm troopers

storm troopers

Kind of funny, right?

Much of the bulleted information taken from Help Guide.org

Many of the awkward family photos from awkwardfamilyphotos.com

Several other photos were snagged from one of my favorite wordsmiths, Capitol J

Mix It Up – Pull together your own adventure team

gijoe_adventure_team_2006

You might not feel like GI Joe/Jane. Maybe somedays you look like Mr. T, but that’s besides the point…

You too can feel like one of the team…in your own urban non-cartoon kind of way.

I knew a group of coworkers who would come to my pilates class once in awhile. They had developed a plan where every week they took turns choosing an exercise activity. They mixed it up between spinning, pilates, yoga, walking, cycling, hiking, dancing, and on and on. The opportunities and inspirations are endless!

It’s a creative way to hang out with friends, get out of your comfort zone,  and try new things. Having a group means the onus is not always on you. Being a “team player” makes it easier to commit to keeping it up.

Don’t go much bigger than a group of 3 or 4, friends, couples, what have you, unless you have some very organized friends.

The laughter alone in trying new things is certain to put you in a better mood and enhance your creativity, if not burn a few extra calories along the way.

What are you waiting for? Remember, knowing is half the battle.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Choose Your Own Adventure

Hip and Leg Strain in Pilates

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So you’ve been doing pilates tapes and/or classes for awhile and are at a point where all you feel in many of the exercises are the legs and hips. You might get popping or snapping in the hips. Your lower back might be straining too. Why?

One reason might be that in a traditional pilates mat sequence the beginning exercises are mostly lying supine (on your back) with your legs in the air.

Most people start pilates because they have a weak set of core muscles they want to strengthen.

It is imperative to understand the core is NOT the belly. You cannot look down right now and see your core.

Yes. Your abdominals are part of the muscles that make up your body’s core, but so are many muscles of the torso, including overstretched back muscles, the shoulder stabilizing muscles, and even the back of the thighs, just below the buttocks. The core is more like a long corset wrapped around your entire midsection. Some of these muscles are over-developed, some are under-utilized. Pilates helps find core balance.

Your Core includes many muscles

There is no one perfect exercise that strengthens and stretches all of the core muscles at once.  We need to mix it up. The positioning should be moved around also. If you do all of your core exercises lying on the back with the legs extended upward, ultimately, your core will not be getting stronger. Your hip flexors, the muscles that lift the legs, will, however. If you have strained or tensed hip flexors and quads ( the front of the thighs), they will take over the movement and not allow your core to perform correctly. (The same is true for tense shoulders and neck muscles as well.) Tight hip flexors and gripping in the buttocks go hand in hand…as it were…and overtime can actually compress the low back vertebre and cause low back pain.

Here are a few ideas for finding your own core balance and getting out of leg straining:

#1. If you are feeling leg, hip and back tension in the first part of the traditional pilates mat exercises. SKIP THOSE EXERCISES. Not forever. Just for a few weeks. Focus on some of the countless other exercises that work your core more effectively for you.

Some alternative exercises for overall core strength can be done in their place, such as; forearm planks on a fit ball, careful back extensions, and roll downs against the wall.

#2. If you do the exercises that sometimes strain your legs and hips, keep to the modified versions with the knees bent. Focus on release of the buttocks and thigh tension. (tense and release those muscles a couple of times and they will relax much more easily).

#3. As your center becomes stronger, learn to lengthen and stretch the legs away from your core in the movements. This will release tension as well.

#4. When the legs are outstretched, work on turning out the thighs. This will help you engage the back of the thighs, which help you contract the pelvic floor, which helps you get out of the hip flexor tension…see how it’s a chain reaction!

#5. If you feel popping in the hip socket on some of these back lying exercises, you have 2 options for getting it to stop. (1) Make the movements much smaller and focus on length in the leg rather than width of movement. (2) Squeeze the muscles around the hip to help hold things in place. The hip snapping often occurs in active women who have hip flexor imbalances…too much stretch on one end, too much tension in the other. This can get better if you work bit by bit.

Your ultimate goal is to create tension free, balanced movement. There should be no strain. It take a lot of practice, patience and concentration to move with ease in most areas of life. Slow down, relax and practice. Good luck!

Alternating arm and leg plank

Alternating arm and leg plank

Everyone Has a Story. What’s Yours?

garycoleman

I could tell you about the time Gary Coleman saved me from a night of tears, or how at age 6 I used to hang out with an elderly woman named Francis who (I think) ran a flower shop out of her garage, or how I managed to sell a comedy show ticket to Dr. Stephen Hawkins….but it’s more fun sometimes to listen. So, what’s your story? I know you have one….

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Nothing is truer. Life is fascinating, if not plain weird sometimes. We can learn so much from each other and unlock many a creative mind, if we just stop and listen to those around us.

Bur where to begin? A good start is looking to someone who keeps company with the strangest of truths…in various realms of reality…

Say, David Lynch, perhaps…

Lynch has sent a team out across the hidden cobwebbed corners of America in search of “true” American stories…underwhelming tales of hard work and struggles, dirty finger nails and well earned sighs as the screen door to the local bar slams behind…these stories are nostalgic before their time…these times have yet to be awarded a place, which Lynch is now beginning to clear.

I recommend meeting Barry in Fort Davis, TX to understand a good story from the wunderkammen of David Lynch.

A more national and interactive interview program is presented by Story Corps and sponsored by NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  A brilliant interview project with a mission to honor and celebrate lives through listening. You can tell your own story, or interview someone else for the Story Corp Project. Truly every story is unique.  Here are 2 of my favorites, although there are so many great stories, just click on the pictures to hear their stories:

Ronald Ruiz at Story Corp

Ronald Ruiz at Story Corp

Don "Moses" Lerman

Don "Moses" Lerman

You don’t need a public project to start your storytelling adventures.Write your story down. Tell it to someone else. Or better yet, interview someone near you. Learn more about them just because you want to know. Listen. It is surprising what you can learn about others, and simultaneously, discover about yourself.

SunsetStoryteller12

Just want to get away from it all

MABA in Augusta, MO

MABA in Augusta, MO

But can’t afford a spa?

Everyday we are logged on, synched up, plugged in, downloading, uploaded, online, tuned in, check out…deep inhale. News and information buzzes all around, lists of to dos pile up and become endlessly long…kids to camp, meetings to make, repair person to call,  doctor appointments to schedule…and throw in a couple loads of laundry while we’re at it.

Our lifestyles can easily become ridiculous. It’s all we can do sometimes to find those 15 minutes a day to give ourselves, let alone an hour for working out or yoga or whatever.

And let’s face it, a week away on a deserted island is a pipe dream. Even a weekend away at a spa somewhere for a little r & r is laughable.

What’s a stress case to do?

Consider the monastic getaway.

Hold up. Let’s stop and address all concerned – From those with a strong religious background, to the agnostic, and even aetheist friends – on a few important points here.

“Retreating” could offer the following:  1. Simple room and board to people of all backgrounds and denominations or lack there of. 2. complete solitude 3.peace and relaxation. 4. praying and/or meditation are optional and not required. 5. Schedules are not given. Your time is your own. 6. Usually costs are based on what you can donate or afford.

A monastic retreat offers perspective and balance…old school style.

Spirituality may or may not be something you aspire to, but there are few adverse to a little peace of mind and quiet away from the everyday rat race. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to run away for some solitude and self care. You may even learn something from those whose lives are lived simply and with such love for humanity.

There are monasteries, abbeys, and retreat houses throughout the US and the world. Here are a few samples:

Conception Abbey, Conception, MO

Mid America Buddhist Association, Augusta, MO

The Monastery of Christ in the Dessert in Abiqiu, NM

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Berkshire Hills of MA

Valermo Retreat, San Gabriel Mountains, Valyermo, CA

The Raj, Fairfield, IA ( This one is significantly more expensive, and yes it IS a spa, however it seemed important to showcase an ayurvedic option as well).

Christ in the Desert Monastery, Albiqu, NM

Christ in the Desert Monastery, Albiqu, NM