MovNat has a very nice article on Squatting, Getting Down and Getting Up. If you read my January Column on Squatting, you may be interested in this piece. Click here.
NOTE: This article first appeared January 5, 2015, in the Vallarta Daily online newspaper (vallartadaily.com), as the third of a series of monthly columns I am writing on Intelligent Movement Forever. The next column is scheduled early February and I will also share it with you here.
Dear Daily Vallarta Readers and Movers,
In this January 2015 column, I am going to discuss the mostly lost art of squatting and how squatting is a great and healthy alternative to sitting in a chair or a couch. You may want to include reclaiming and embracing the squat in your New Year’s resolutions if you make them. It would definitely change your life and the way you move! I am very fond of squatting and squat while I am waiting in line, watching a sunset, working on my computer, watching TV and coaching my clients(!). It is part of my Crossfit practice. It has become one of my comfort positions. I am squatting (alternating with lotus position) in front of my computer as I write this column.
History and Benefits of Squatting
The squat is one of our most basic and fundamental movements, a full-body, compound movement. We squat to one degree or another whenever we sit down, get out of a chair, pick something up, or go to the bathroom. Young children instinctively go into a deep squat when they want to reach for something low and they often hold themselves in a stable squatting position to engage in play. Millions of adults, mostly in Asia, rest in a squatting position, instead of sitting in a chair. Across the globe, millions of people also squat to poop or urinate on “squat toilets.” Our paleo ancestors, used squatting as a means of performing work, eating meals, or resting.
When squatting, we fold at the hips and the knees and bring the butt toward the floor, keeping the spine straight and keeping our feet flat on the floor. The squat is a compound movement, a full body exercise that focuses on the hips, thighs, butt, hamstrings, and quads. It is a classic hip extension, which is a movement that is necessary to keep your body functioning at its optimum potential. When we squat down all the way, in the bottom position, we are in nature’s intended sitting position.
But chairs and seats in the industrialized world have contributed to the loss of this important functional movement by all but eliminating the need to squat in our daily lives. Instead of squatting, we sit in chairs for almost every activity: eating, reading, working, watching TV, going to movies, restaurants, or other entertainment. As a result, many of us have difficulty with full, deep squatting, and/or have very little opportunity to squat, because we are used to sitting and invited to sit for long periods of time. The new buzz in the healthy movement world is that “sitting is the new smoking,” because this sedentary, sitting lifestyle is linked to many of our modern diseases (diseases of captivity).The good news is that you can reclaim this fundamental movement and its benefits for health, mobility, and longevity, with awareness and a squatting practice, and I will show you how.
Benefits of Squatting
Because squatting is a fundamental compound movement, that works the whole body, the ability to squat is critical to our ability to move easily in everyday activity. Squatting engages the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles, which strengthens and tones the leg muscles. Squatting engages the butt muscles and help to strengthen, tighten and tone the glutes. It also strengthens the core. The abdominal and back muscles must be engaged during a squat in order to maintain balance. Squatting also increases flexibility in the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. Intelligent squatting is good for knees and low back, contrary to popular opinion. It improves digestion and elimination. A women’s health magazine tells readers that squats get rid of cellulite! It is a low-impact movement that can be done anytime, anywhere, without any equipment. Note: You can add weight after you get good at bodyweight squats, to get even stronger. The best place to learn techniques for loaded squats is at a Crossfit gym, where squats are taught as part of the Crossfit skill set.
How to Squat
A basic squat looks like this:
a. Stand in good posture with your legs shoulder width apart from heel to heel. Bring your toes out slightly wider than heels. A rule of thumb is toes out at 30º. Keep your heels on the floor.
b. Squat down by pushing your knees out to the side and pushing your hips back at the same time. Think of sitting on a toilet. Keep your upper body straight and your head neutral (look at a fixed point in front of you but keep the entire spine, including the cervical spine, in a straight line from top to bottom. Don’t bend forward (this will stress the knees).
c. Bend your knees until your break parallel, that is, your hip crease is lower than the top of your knees when looking from the side. If this is not possible, widen your heel stances, increase your toes out position and push your knees out harder.
d. Return to the starting position by reversing the steps for squatting down. Drive your hips up. Keep your chest up. Push your knees out. Come up to standing.
e. If you are doing squat repetitions, don’t pause at the bottom, use momentum to return to a starting position. Start with 10 repetitions. Improve your form with each repetition. Increase your repetitions as you continue your practice.
f. If you are doing a static squat, stay in the down position for an extended period of time, 5, 10, 20, 30 minutes, at least once a day. Very challenging for most!
g. You can vary this squat by moving into and out of a squat with hands on the back of a chair, on a counter, or on the wall.
h. You can warm up for a squatting practice with hip and knee openers. See suggestions below.
Preparing to Squat
If the basic squat (see above) seems to be unavailable to you, for any reason, you can prepare your body for successful future squatting with any movements that will open the joint spaces in the knees and hips. Here are a few moves that you can do almost anywhere that will help you get ready to squat. You can also do any or all of these moves as a warm up before a squatting practice.
1. Double Calf Stretch and Spine Stretch
a. Place your hands on the seat of a chair, or anything that allows you to place your hands low in front of you while you fold forward at the hips and keep a flat back.
b. Step both feet onto a thick rolled towel or yoga mat or a half round foam roller or a thin yoga brick, or a curb etc.
c. Line up the outside edges of your feet and straighten your knees all the way back, with your weight in your heels. You should be able to wiggle your toes.
d. Try to lift your tailbone up toward the ceiling without bending your knees.
e. Do this stretch several times a day, holding up to a minute
f. Everyday bonus. Place a yoga brick or a half round foam at the kitchen or bathroom sink and do single and double calf stretches while you wash dishes or brush your teeth. Hold on to a park bench or grocery card, step back and fold at the hips for a nice spine stretch
2. Supine Knee to Chest Hug and Ankle Circles
a. Lie on the floor with body aligned and legs extended.
b. Bend the right knee and bring it to your chest. Put your hands around the knee. Take a few breaths.
c. While you are here, make circle your right ankle, 10 circles clockwise and 10 circles counter clockwise.
d. Repeat on the other side.
e. Now hug both knees into the chest and take 6 abdominal breaths. Notice this knee to chest position is a squat in another (supine) orientation, so it is especially helpful in getting the body used to the squatting position.
f. Everyday bonus. Do this stretch in bed before you get up and before you go to sleep.
3. Seated #4 Stretch
a. Sit in a chair or on a bench.
b. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Try to lower the right knee to the same height as the right ankle.
c. Keep both butt cheeks on the seat. Untuck your pelvis.
d. Add movement and resistance to this stretch by placing your right hand on the right knee, and pressing the hand into the knee and the knee into the hand. Keeping the resistance in both directions, allow the knee to win and then allow the hand to win. Repeat 6-10 times.
e. If you have a hip or a knee replacement, only stretch the leg that has not been replaced.
f. Repeat on the other side.
g. Everyday bonus. While you are sitting anywhere, cross one ankle over the opposite knee, place hand on knee, and move and resist as above. You can also circle your ankles from a seated #4 stretch. Some bathroom counters or sinks are just the right height to allow you to to a standing #4 stretch on the counter or sink while you are washing your face or brushing your teeth.
a. Do not do this exercise with an artificial hip.
b. Lie on the floor supine and bring your legs up the wall.
c. Place the soles of the feet together and let the knees drop open to the sides.
d. The height of the legs above the floor indicates the tension in the groin and hips. Do not go further than is comfortable.
e. To add resistance and movement to this stretch, place the palms or the backs of the hands on the inside of the open knees. Do not use the hands to open the knees further. Instead create resistance between the knees and the hands and the hands and the knees. Keeping the resistance in both directions, allow the knees to win and then allow the hands to win.
5. Bridging with Feet in Dorsiflexion
a. Lie on the floor (supine) and prop your feet on the seat of a chair or a bench.
b. Dig your heels into the chair or bench with feet dorsiflexed.
c. Lift your hips up toward the ceiling or sky while you keep your hips, knees, and ankles parallel.
d. Keep, the knees, pelvis and ribs in one line. The glutes and abdominals are working hard.
e. Go up and down several more times. Take a breath between each round.
6. Hand Towel Knee Stretch
a. Sit in a chair or on a bench.
b. Roll up a small hand towel and place it behind your bent knee.
c. Squeeze the towel with your bent knee in order to stretch the area behind your knee. Contract and then relax. Repeat several times.
d. Switch to the other side.
e. This stretch can also be accomplished with original or classic Roll Model Therapy Balls in a tote.
f. Everyday bonus. Do this move while you are watching TV or a passenger in a car, bus, plane, or train.
7. Kneady Knee Cap
a. Bend your knee in a lunged or seated position.
b. Use any size Roll Model Therapy Ball to gather the skin and superficial fascia above your kneecap (like opening up your upper eyelid) to create tautness in the deeper layers of the supra-patellar pouch (the pouch above your kneecap).
c. You can also use your fingers to do simple skin rolling/pulling in the same area.
d. Repeat on the other knee.
e. Everyday bonus. Do this move while you are watching TV or a passenger in a car, bus, plane, or train..
As I mentioned earlier, millions of people across the world, squat to go to the bathroom. And you may want to consider this too. Scientists say that your body is meant to be in a squatting position to properly eliminate stuff from your colon. The squatting position unkinks the bend between the rectum for easy elimination. Sitting on a Western toilet to defecate creates straining and constipation and inhibits complete elimination. In addition to your squatting practice, you may want to use a Squatty Potty or some other product built to support squatting while you defecate. (You still use a Western toilet.) Check it out. There is a lot of evidence to support this change in your bathroom behavior!
30-day IMF Squat Challenge
I invite you to join me in a 30-Day IMF Squat Challenge. If you join the challenge, you can start anytime in January or February of 2015 and choose to participate in any or all of three different ways:
(1) daily dynamic (air) squats,
(2) a daily static (long-held) squat, or
(3) random daily squatting at an unexpected time and/or in an unexpected location (at a meeting, watching the sunset, waiting for a bus, use your imagination).
The Challenge escalates over the 30 days as follows:
• Day 1-10: 10 reps of dynamic squats each day, 1 static squat for 10 minutes each day, and/or 3 random squats scattered throughout each day.
• Day 11-20: 20 reps of dynamic squats each day,1 static squat for 20 minutes each day, and/or 5 random squats scattered throughout each day.
• Day 21-30: 30 reps of dynamic squats each day, 1 statis squat for 30 minutes each day, and/or 7 random squats scattered through each day.
I have created a group FB page dedicated to the 30-Day IMF Squat Challenge. Let me know if you would like to join the 30-day IMF Squat Challenge FB Group and I will send you an invite to join the group so you share your experiences with other members. Use this Secret FB Group to introduce yourself, commit to the challenge, and describe your experience during the challenge. Please know that FB Group membership is not necessary to join the Challenge. You can participate in the Challenge as a private, personal activity of your own. The Challenge is designed to get you comfortable with squatting so you can make it a life-long habit. Happy squatting!
I hope the information I share in this column will inspire you to practice squatting, squat more often and enjoy it! Squatting is a basic functional move that is guaranteed to help you move better and move longer. Begin to squat and join the self-care health care revolution that is happening right here in Puerto Vallarta. You may even want to set up your home or office computer area, like I did, so it allows you an option for squatting in front of your computer. Please join me in the 30-day squat challenge, which can help you get started in your squatting practice.
I am also looking forward to seeing you at my Mobility Class on Thursday nights at 7 pm at Crossfit Vallarta (free to Crossfit members, 50 pesos for drop-ins). I am also available by appointment for private or semi-private sessions at my home Pilates/Fitness Studio in Versalles. Or invite me to come to your hotel, villa, condo, or apartment. Contact me at email@example.com for more information.
NOTE: For any of you body nerds or wanna-be body nerds, Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA, which I described in my November column, is offering a 52 week online EveryBody BioMechanics course starting the week of January 5, 2015. Check it out at http://myemail.constantcontact.com/52-Weeks-of-Biomechanics
Wishing Each and Everyone Intelligent Movement Forever and a Healthy, Happy New Year,
Note: This article was published December 2, 2014, in my column, Intelligent Movement Forever, which appears monthly in the Vallarta Daily News.
Last month, I discussed the biomechanics of moving, the body’s thirst for movement, diseases created by our tendency to move as little as possible, and the superfood benefits of walking on the uneven surfaces of Puerta Vallarta’s sidewalks, paths, streets, and beaches. I hope the information I presented got you moving more and walking more. Be sure to read the column if you haven’t already done so, because it tells you where I come from with regard to moving intelligently…forever.
ALERT! ALERT! Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA, which I featured in my first column, is posting a free 24-day-walking advent calendar with daily tidbits to support walking as a superfood for the body, starting December 1. You can join by clicking here
This month, I will discuss your body’s fascial connective tissue, which is the “soft-tissue scaffolding that links everything inside of you together,” the important role that fascia plays in how you move and how well you move, and how Jill Miller’s Roll Model Method, using a variety of Roll Model therapy balls, is part of the self-care healthcare revolution and can help you address the “issues in your tissues.” This column is informed and inspired by my many movement educator colleagues who are fascia nerds, including my Yoga Tune Up teacher, Jill Miller, and by Jill’s newly published book, The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobililty, and Live Better in Your Body. The Roll Model is first and foremost an encyclopedia of very practical and very effective Roll Model therapy ball sequences, but it also provides helpful background information on fascia, proprioception, anatomy, breath, nervous system, and posture. The WHY as well as the HOW.
Introduction to Fascia
Anatomy books have traditionally described our bodies as a muscular system and a skeletal system that worked together to move the body. But in very recently (past 5-7 years), movement scientists and fitness and anatomy experts have begun to recognize that fascia plays and has always played a very important role in movement function. Fascia is more than the “saran wrap” around the muscles. It is the organ system of stability and mechanoregulation. This raises important and exciting questions. Most injuries are soft-tissue (fascial) injuries, not muscle injuries. How do we treat and repair these injuries. There are 10 times more sensory nerve endings in fascia than in muscles, so proprioceptive stimulation must be aimed at fascia as well as muscles. And how do we work with and improve the health of our fascia now that we know the important role it plays in our movement function.
The Roll Model describes fascia this way: “Fascia is the fibrous and gelatinous bodywide web. It is a seam system that provides structure, protection, repair, and body sense. It is the interconnected soft-tissue scaffolding that gives your body form and shape. It links muscular proteins and other connective-tissue structures, such as bones, ligaments, and tendons.” This column is not going to say much more about fascia. If you are interested in digging deeper in that topic, you can use the Internet to increase your knowledge. And The Roll Model includes a very scholarly and friendly discussion of fascia.
Releasing Fascia using The Roll Model Method
On the other hand, please know that you do not have to become a fascia nerd or expert to benefit from treating and releasing your fascia. What I am going to say, based on my own experience and the experience of many others, is that Jill Miller’s Roll Model Method is one of the most effective, accessible ways for you to create healthy fascia and, in turn, improve your mobility and performance, reduce pain, prevent injuries, reduce stress held in your body, and generally address “the issues in your tissues.” Wherever you roll the Roll Model Therapy Balls roll, they impact your body’s fasciae (fascias). As Jill says, “When you roll with the balls, you induce local stretch into stiff and over-tightened tissues and improve the flow of their fluids. These taut tissues need your help in restoring their optimal positions. The balls are like little rubber scalpels that can reform you without incisions or stitches. The pressure and grip of the rubber helps you remodel yourself.”
The belly of the The Roll Model is eight chapters in and sets out Roll Method sequences for 18 body areas: core/torso, feet, ankle & lower leg, knees, thighs, hips & buttocks, pelvic funnel, lower back, upper back, rib cage, shoulder-rotator cuff, shoulder-elbow, forearms, fingers, hands & wrists, neck, head, face & jaw, front seam, back seam, and side seam. Each of the sequences uses one or more of the Roll Model Balls, (1) original Yoga Tune Up® balls, (2) Therapy Balls Plus, Alpha Balls, and the Coregeous Ball.
NOTE: You can purchase Roll Model Balls locally at Yoga Vallarta, Basilio Badillo 325, Old Town, Puerto Vallarta. You can also purchase them at www.therollmodel.com. If you do not have access to a Roll Model ball, you can substitute a tennis ball, which is easily available although it does not have the same grippy, pliable surface of the Roll Model balls that are especially designed for myofascial release.
Using the Role Model Method for the Feet
The Roll Model Method sequences for the feet use either one Original YTU ball or one Plus ball to roll the arch, inner arch, outer arch, heel, and ball of the foot. I am going to take you through the moves for the center arch and the transverse arch for your pleasure and benefit and to give you a peak at the Roll Model Method. I think that footwork on the Roll Model therapy balls is akin to walking on the unevern surfaces of the streets of Puerto Vallarta (see my column last month). Rolling the feet can help to prepare for or complement or even replace superfood walking that I described in Column 1. However, remember that variety is the spice of life, including the life of your movement practice, so you will probably want to do both.
NOTE: The images here are from The Roll Model and are provided by Tune Up Fitness Worldwide.
Feet Sequence for Center Arch and Transverse Arch
Check in with your body first by standing and hinging forward at the hips with a flat back, locking your hands on the floor, or a chair, or a wall, whichever is available to you without rounding your back. Hold this position for 2 to 3 breaths and then return to standing with a flat back. You will want to repeat this flat-back forward bend after you finish your movements, as well. This will provide you with a test-retest that will give you feedback on the results of your moves.
Arch Cross. Action 1.
Arch Cross. Action 2.
|CrossFiber your arch and plantar fascia by pivoting your ankle from side to side (invert and evert your ankle) 10 times. Attempt to smush the ball as you go back and forth.|
NOTE: CrossFiber is defined in the Glossary of Terms as: To manipulate a ball perpendicularly or obliquely to the line of pull of a myofascial structure. Myofascia refers to the actual familiar-named muscle structures with their associated interpenetrating fascias.
Toe Motion. Action 1.
Toe Motion. Action 2.
Repeat all of these actions on the other foot.
And then remember to end your practice by retesting with a flat-back forward bend after you have finished these movements and notice any changes in your body as a result of rolling the balls on the center arch and the transverse arch.
I hope that the information I have provided here has given you a new or increased enthusiasm about addressing the “issues in your tissues.” I hope that you are able to find a Roll Model therapy ball, or at least a tennis ball, so that you can try these sample moves for the feet. If you are interested in learning more about the Roll Model Method of fascial release, I hope you will join me at my Mobility for Performance class at Crossfit Vallarta, in Plaza Caracol across from McDonald’s, at 7 pm on Thursday evenings, starting Dec. 4, 2014. This weekly class will include a heavy dose of Therapy Ball work and I will provide the therapy balls for students at the class. Another way to get started or keeping to is to to schedule a private or semi-private session with me at my home Pilates/Fitness Studio in Versalles. Or invite me to come to your location. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Please join us in the self-care healthcare revolution that is happening right here in Puerto Vallarta. You are never too young and never too old to start. Your body will love you for it. Your DNA will change for the better. You will gain mobility, reduce and prevent pain, better performance, and reduce stress. Do your homework, and check in with me next month for more information and inspiration on how to move more and move better. Your life, your good health, and your longevity may depend on it.
Wishing You Intelligent Movement Forever,
Dear Website Visitor,
I am revising my website presence, with new information and a new name, www.intelligentmovementforever.com, to match my new business name, Intelligent Movement Forever . Lots of fun. Lots of challenges. We decided to go live while we are adding the finishing touches. Still to come, soon, a brand new logo. Watch for it! Please bare with us and be kind. Things are getting better and better.
May you Move with Intelligence Forever,
NOTE: This article first appeared November 4, 2014, in the Vallarta Daily online newspaper (vallartadaily.com), as the first of a series of monthly columns I am writing on Intelligent Movement Forever. The next column is scheduled December 1st and I will also share it with you here.
In my monthly column, Intelligent Movement Forever, I will be sharing some cutting edge information and ideas about human movement with the goal of helping you to move better and more often so that you can reap the healthy benefits of intelligent movement. I strongly believe that, armed with information, motivation, and an intelligent movement lifestyle, you and I can reverse injuries, aging, and certain diseases. Listo? Vámanos!
This first column is inspired and informed by Katy Bowman’s new book, Move Your DNA. Katy turns traditional beliefs about fitness and good health upside down. She studies the biomechanics of human movement and translates her findings into terms that we laymen can understand. Her research indicates that “modern” humans are suffering from our natural tendency to do as little as possible. Even those who exercise regularly are not spared.
We all live in small comfortable “cages” of minimal movement, like animals confined in a Many of our modern health issues, including, but not limited to, coronary heart disease, metabolic disorders, certain cancers, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, allergies, depression, obesity, hypertension, asthma, and gout, are linked to a natural tendency to do as little as possible. Decrease in movement is also associated with decreases in muscle size (atrophy), vascularization (capillaries), sensitivity in our proprioceptive system, and bone mass.
In short, the human body is starving for the varied, frequent, whole-body movement patterns of the hunter-gatherer communities of yester year and the bulk of the scientific medical fitness community has dropped the ball by failing to recognize and address this important missing piece of good health and healthy living.
Movement Feeds Our DNA
Our DNA, which resides within our cells, needs to be fed by movement as much as it needs to be fed by healthy food. This information is likely to be relevant, if not revolutionary, to your lives and lifestyles, dear Puerto Vallarta readers. Ask yourself: Do I live in Puerto Vallarta because it allows me to slow down and move less? Relaxing in the tropics can be a good thing, but relaxing into a sedentary lifestyle in the tropics may be detrimental to the quality and longevity of your life.
Movement is not optional for you and me. Our cells need to be loaded (moved) in order to be healthy. If we don’t move, our cells don’t get fed. If our cells don’t get fed, they die. Katy describes the biomechanics and benefits of loading the cells in detail. Please pick up a copy of her book, Move Your DNA, available at and read it if you want to jump into the deep end of the pool on this subject.
Simply put, we, as homo sapiens, are meant to move in the way that we did as hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago. Today we need to find ways to move that can copy or imitate those paleo movement patterns. We need to rethink our “need” to be comfortable or stylish in chairs, sofas, pillows, and shoes, and other things that support non-movement patterns and faulty structural support, because they can be the source of many injuries and dis-eases. Cuidado! Our lack of movement is slowly suffocating us on a cellular level. Read on. Continua leyando.
Exercise v. Movement
Katy says we can start to radically improve our health by getting rid of the idea that movement is exercise. Exercise is movement, but movement is more than exercise. The movement that the human body needs for good health goes far beyond the weekly exercise class or running on the beach. Specialized movement, like bicycling or running or Crossfit or even a weekly Yoga or Pilates class, only feeds the cells of the muscles that you are using in that specific movement. It fails in variety. In fact, heavy use of your body in one particular pattern makes some tissues strong and leaves other tissues weaker, which can, of itself, lead to injury. The frequent consumption of varied movement is what our cells need most. Please do not let this information discourage you, dear reader. Let it give you the motivation you need to look at and gradually change your sedentary-to-moving ratio.
The amount of time that most of us allocate to what we call “exercise” is very small compared to the amount of time we are capable of moving our bodies, which is a hundred percent of the time. Going for a one-mile walk to strengthen your legs, burn some calories, and stretch your muscles is an example of exercise. Walking a mile to the store to pick something up for dinner is an example of movement. At this time, exercisers represent the movers in our culture, but looking more closely, we can see that exercisers themselves are sedentary most of the day when compared to hunter-gathering populations.
Katy’s book is an invitation for movers and non-movers alike to get outside the exercise box and look again at the frequency, variation, and quality of our everyday movement.
Walking, the New Superfood
An easy first step to a movement-based lifestyle is to start walking more and walking better. Walking uses a greater number of muscles (when done naturally) than most other activities, which means taking yourself for a walk is like taking your cells out to eat. This is an easy prescription for we who live in beautiful Puerto Vallarta, where walking is so readily available. If tropical heat is your issue, try walking early or late in the day, when temperatures are cooler. Here are some tips to make walking work for you and your cellular health.
Walk with Good Alignment
Walking is often touted as one of the easiest and safest kinds of exercise a human can do. But most people walk so inefficiently that their very gait pattern is contributing to their spine, knee, or bone problems. Don’t let this deter you from walking. But if you can make a few adjustments toward good alignment, you can change the way you walk and move so that you use more muscle, stabilize more joints, and create the necessary forces to deliver the oxygen and mechanical stimulation your cells need. Another of my movement heroes, Jill Miller, says it this way in her new book, The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body.“… If you do not exercise with good postural alignment, you will actually degrade the structures you’re trying to improve.” Stayed tune for more about Jill Miller in future columns.
Human alignment serves the same kind of purpose as car-wheel alignment. Good wheel alignment allows the individual parts of the vehicle the freedom to create the intended movements of the driver without causing damage to the vehicle. When wheel alignment is “off”, the behavior of one wheel can result in premature wear to itself or cause damage to the vehicle elsewhere. Your body works the same way, responding to chronic misalignment with premature and unnecessary wear and tear.
Before you walk, or as you walk, (1) line up the feet so they look more like the tires on your car when you are driving forward; (2) try to keep the position of your pelvis even and neutral, neither tilted forward nor backward; (3) drop your ribcage so that the lowest, most forward bony protrusion of your ribs is stacked vertically over the highest bony protrusions on the front of the pelvis, (4) keep the thumbs facing forward and swing your arms if that seems natural. These tips will get you started and we will talk more about good postural alignment in future columns.
Vary Distance, Frequency, Surface and Grade
How often and how long should you walk? Here variation and frequency is key. Walking 3 miles each morning is good, but it is less beneficial than shorter walks through the day, which feeds the cells smaller amounts of movement (loaded) throughout the day. A walking program that includes both very long and very short works, will also increase the cellular benefits. Short walks can be created by parking at the far end of the parking lot or a few blocks away from your destination. When moving is your object, parking is never a problem!
We modern humans spent most of our time walking over artificially level, flat surfaces, which creates a repetitive environment for the foot. This means that our beautifully complex feet, ankles, knees, and hips are prevented from moving fully. As you choose your walking program, remember that the more the foot can move and deform over a surface, the less the ankle is forced to do the work of the foot. The more ups and downs in your walking surface, the more variation in ankle, knee, and hip use, pelvic positioning, the greater variance in muscles used throughout the body.
The terrain that you are walking on will vary by grade (uphill, downhill, in between) and by surface (rough, slippery, bumpy, rocky, etc). Every unique combination of grade and surface results in a particular physical stimulation to your DNA. The single, repetitive pattern of walking in a mall or even taking the same walk every day, same distance, same terrain, should be thought of as a repetitive-stress injury, too much of a good thing.
The good news for those of us who live in Puerto Vallarta is that we live in an environment where the terrain and surface for walking is variable. The sidewalks here are uneven and allow and even require walkers to step up and step down and step down and step up. We are often able to walk on cobblestones and even the cobblestones vary! See discussion below regarding walking on Puerto Vallarta cobblestones in minimal shoes or with barefeet.
Wear Minimal Footwear
Most of us wear shoes all day long and those shoes usually have a heel, sometimes a very high heel and sometimes a very low on. Even “flats” and tennis shoes have a rise in the heel. Anytime the shoes you are wearing have a heel, your ankle stays slightly plantarflexed (with toes pointed). If you wear flip-flop or slide-on shoes, your foot is required to grip to keep them on your foot, creating bent, fused toe joints. Years of wearing shoes has left all of us with significant atrophies in the muscles of the toes and the muscles between the bones of the foot (which are the arch-shapers) as well as a (semi-) permanent shortening of the Achilles’ tendon and calf muscle group. The interaction between the foot and footwear is so complex, Katy has written an entire book on the subject: Every Woman’s Guide to Healthy Feet (2011).
We are blessed by the many opportunities for walking on uneven and changing surfaces in Puerto Vallarta. You can buy a cobblestone mat if you want to but, in Puerto Vallarta, you don’t have too. Find and walk on the many cobblestone walks here. Walking on cobblestones a few times daily with barefeet (preferred) or minimal shoes (to protect from debri) provides stimulation to the foot musculature that in turn adapts by becoming stronger and better able to handle these forces for longer periods of time. I try to walk in barefeet or minimal shoes on the various cobblestones and other stones on the sidewalks of Puerto Vallarta and I can feel the stimulation to and improvement in my foot muscles. However, if you are inspired to try this, transition gradually with brief walks and minimal shoes before you move to a barefoot experience.
There are many corrective movements for feet and ankles, including foot bone mobilization with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls, that are delicious and effective, and helpful to cobblestone and other walking. I will discuss and describe them in a future column. Stay tuned!
I hope the information I have shared with you in this column will help you see movement from a new perspective and inspire you to move as much as you can as often as you can and in as many different ways as you can. Begin by walking with good alignment with a variety of surfaces and grades. Examine the shoes you are wearing. Do they have a rise that creates a repetitive stress injury in your feet and ankles? Can you shop for a minimal shoe instead? Or start spending some time walking in bare feet?
Remember, walking is a superfood for your cells. And it is available in many flavors in Puerto Vallarta. Take advantage of this, do your homework, and check in with me next month for more information and inspiration on how to move more and move better. Your life, your good health, and your longevity may depend on it.
Wishing You Intelligent Movement Forever,