The movement secret most people don’t know

Mind Shift is a blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.


In a previous post, I talked about the importance of varying up your movement and the fact that most exercise programs only tap into a small subset of the movements your body is capable of (yes, even yoga). You can catch up on that post here.

Moving Without Moving

Today, I want to illustrate how it’s possible to be moving your body as a whole–for example, running or doing yoga–and still have parts of your body that are stuck or otherwise immobile.

The easiest example to look at is your feet. If you’re like most people, you wear shoes. A lot. And unless you’ve sought out shoes specifically designed to allow for more natural movement (“minimalist” or “barefoot” shoes), chances are your feet are hanging out in those shoes, all day every day, barely moving.

To use the words of biomechanist Katy Bowman, your feet have been cast in your shoes, like a broken leg held immobile by a cast.

Your foot has 33 joints–33! That’s a lot of movable parts. And yet, if our shoes have rigid soles that essentially turn the bottom of our foot into a plank of wood whose movement is restricted to hinging at the ankle, and/or our shoes have constricting toe boxes that prevent our toes from moving, most of those 33 joints aren’t being used. We have sedentary feet. (And our ankles are getting seriously overused.)

Why does this matter? Well, for so many reasons that I can’t enumerate them all here, but let me choose three, starting with the most obvious.

1. If your current movement capabilities allow you to move your body from A to B, and you’d like to hang onto this ability, your feet are vital. Without functioning feet, you can’t move yourself around without some sort of added support–cane, walker, chair, etc. So if you’d like to continue moving, take care of your feet.

2. Your feet affect your entire body, so if they’re out of whack, you’re out of whack. Here’s just one example: When you walk, your body relies on sensory information from the feet (among other inputs) to send messages to other parts of the body to help make walking efficient and functional. For instance, when the joints of your metatarsals (the long foot bones connected to your toes) and the tissues between them make contact with the ground, sensory receptors send a message to the quadriceps (front of the thigh) muscles, triggering those muscles to help absorb the forces of walking.

This helps us move without putting undue stress on our joints and tissues, while also allowing us to move with more efficiency (i.e. without expending more energy than necessary and feeling pooped out even by minimal exertion). Here’s the key, though: This communication between feet and quads is limited (and even eliminated) when our shoes prevent our feet from being able to naturally spread out over the terrain. No spread, no communication, less functional walking, more wear and tear on the body.

3. Our cells require movement to stay healthy, starting from our time in the womb (here’s one study demonstrating that reduced movement in utero leads to improper skeletal formation). In an earlier post, I talked about current recent connecting a lack of cellular movement with a host of diseases. Clearly, movement is extremely important, and not merely from a “staying fit” perspective; without movement, our cells die or otherwise go awry. Returning to the feet, if you’re moving about in stiff shoes, there are loads of cells in your feet that are still starving for movement.

It’s Not Just the Shoes

This stuckness can occur in other ways, without a physical constraint like rigid shoes. If you sit for hours at a time, you are casting your body into a specific position. Then, when you stand up and head to yoga after work, parts of your body casted by sitting might have difficulty moving, even in those twisty, bendy poses. What typically happens is the more movable areas have to pick up the slack and move even more, causing undue wear and tear and leading to injury, while allowing the stuck spots to stay stuck.

Here’s a little exercise to see what I mean. If you’re like most people in this culture, you spend a lot of time at a screen or in a car. Your shoulders are likely rounded forward, either a little or a lot, and this limits your shoulder’s ability to move freely.

Reach toward the ceiling with one arm. Now, notice how much your ribcage had to come along for the ride. If you focus on keeping your ribcage down, how much is your shoulder motion limited?

While your body might be different, 99.9% of the clients I see have some degree of forward rounding shoulders limiting their shoulder mobility, and as we talked about above, when one part can’t move well, other parts have to make up for. In this case, that’s demonstrated by the rib cage being hoisted up to compensate for the shoulder’s limitations.

So, what’s a body to do? Well, the simple answer is: Move more, and move more of you when you move.

A more nuanced answer might look like this:

  1. Move more. Get away from seeing movement only as exercise (read this post for tips), as this opens up countless opportunities to move throughout the day, and not just during “exercise” time. Squat down to get pots from the cupboard. Sit on the floor in various positions while watching Netflix instead of adopting one couch pose. Reach up and grab the doorway above your head, etc.
  2. Gradually start to uncast your body so that more of you is actually moving when you move. Two fantastic resources are Move Your DNA and Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman.

That last step contains two mini steps. To get more of you moving involves 1) transitioning away from things that are preventing you (or parts of you) from moving, such as poor footwear and hours sitting or standing in one position, and 2) using restorative exercises and bodywork to introduce movement back into areas that, even when freed from their constraints, don’t know how to move anymore.

Again, Bowman’s books mentioned above can help you on both counts (if you’re in CoMO, they’re available at our public library!), and her website is a fantastic resource as well.

Start where you are: What’s one way you can introduce movement to an under-moved part of you today?

Maybe you can slip off your shoes at work and wiggle your toes.

Place items that you reach for frequently behind you, introducing a rotation to the torso and shoulder movements that might not happen otherwise.

Pick one of the movements from this awesome list and work it into your day.

Have fun!

I can’t fix you.

Mind Shift is a blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.


One of my bodywork pet peeves is the concept of fixing someone. “Yep, I can fix your shoulder!” “Sure thing–lemme get in there and fix that knee.”

Nope. Not happening. Sorry, folks. 

Here’s why this concept drives me nuts: The way you feel in your body did not happen overnight. Yes, there are exceptions in the form of acute injuries, but even in many of those cases, the injury was made possible by overuse, weakness, or other patterns. The injury is often the straw on the camel’s back, but because it’s the event we’re most aware of, it takes the fall.

The idea of coming in for an hour of bodywork and fixing an issue that might be ten years (or more) in the making is…well, less than realistic.

In that case, what’s the use of bodywork?

I’m glad you asked.

I see bodywork as a powerful way to temporarily disrupt movement and postural patterns. Whether or not that disruption leads to lasting change and healing is up to you. 

While this disruption can happen in a number of ways, here’s a common example. Let’s say that you, like just about everyone else on the planet right now, has a forward-head posture:

Image Source: https://jivanchakra.com/2017/08/14/forward-head-posture/

I purposely chose this image because to most of us, the view on the left probably looks normal, while the one on the right might look forced and unnatural. That’s how common forward-head posture is these days–it’s the new “normal.”

The next image gives us a peek at just a few of the internal structures affected by this posture (in reality, it affects the entire body, head to toe).

Image source: https://learnmuscles.com/blog/2017/08/11/forward-head-posture/

The majority of my clients come in feeling at least some level of tension in the muscles shown above. I could work on those muscles for 90-minutes straight, but if the client hops off the table and goes back into forward-head posture, the tension won’t be far behind.

Any bodyworker who says they can “fix” this, without the active participation of the owner of the neck in question, is overly optimistic and/or misguided.

What bodywork can do is give you a powerful head start in changing patterns like the one above. If your head is constantly hanging out in front of your body, certain muscles (and fascia) are going to be chronically shortened, others will be chronically lengthened, muscles in either camp might be weak/inactive, and your brain/body holds these patterns as your default position.

Bodywork can help lengthen short muscles and stimulate the receptors of lengthened and/or inactive muscles, like a wake-up call to encourage those tissues to return to proper tone and action, all the while reeducating the brain/body that this new posture is safe to adopt (assuming the bodywork isn’t too deep, pushing too far, too fast).

Temporarily.

Bodywork creates a window of opportunity, but what happens in that window is up to you. Whether you return to former postural patterns or mindfully reinforce new ones is your choice.

Of course, massage also just feels great, and that’s a wonderful reason to receive it. This feel-good factor isn’t anything to scoff at, even from the perspective I’ve taken in this post. Being free from pain, even for a short while, is another way to create that window of opportunity. Allowing your nervous system to experience a different relationship to a chronically wonky muscle or to your body as a whole is a potential game changer, if you take advantage of it.

Use bodywork as the amazing tool that it is–and heck, just come in because you want to let go of a stressful week and feel awesome–but please, don’t give your power away to me or anyone else. The key to your health and well being is you.

Are you missing important movement vitamins?

I recently read–and loved the crap out of–a book called Movement Matters by biomechanist Katy Bowman. When you’re done with this post, I highly recommend:

  1. Checking out her books.
  2. Checking out her blog and her podcast. (Bonus: Listening to the podcast while you move.)
  3. Checking out her videos. I bought Nutritious Movement for a Healthy Pelvis and it’s fab-u-lous.

But first, let’s talk about movement vitamins, a phrase I picked up from Bowman. Most of us are familiar with the idea of eating a variety of foods as a way to increase our chances of getting the diversity of macronutrients and the vitamins and minerals we need. If you only eat bananas, your body would be very sad. And by “sad” I mean “totally deficient in a whole bunch of super important nutrients that support life.”

In the same way, it’s possible to have a movement diet that is higher or lower on the diversity scale. Many of us think about movement mainly in the context of exercise (and possibly in the context of feeling bad that we’re not getting enough). So, as long as we’re hitting the gym a few times a week for an hour, or whatever our personal goal is, we can check movement off our list.

Bowman brings up two ideas that turn this thinking on its head. One, if you look at how much “couch potatoes” move versus how much regular exercisers move as a percentage of total time in a week, the numbers aren’t that different. Even if you’re working out an hour every single day, that’s still only 4% of your week spent moving.

And two, when we do work out we often stick to the same things. For me, that’s usually yoga and hiking. For you it might be biking. Or swimming. Or treadmilling. The point is, when we engage in pretty predictable movements, we’re moving pretty predictable parts of our body in pretty predictable ways, and this can lead to areas of our body that are rarely, if ever, moved.

Movement is a requirement for health, even down to the cellular level, so if, for example, you wear shoes that allow for very little foot movement, you now have areas of your foot–specific joints, for example, of which your foot has many–that pretty much never move. Same is true even if you’re walking around barefoot but you’re always walking on, say, asphalt or flat trails.

The point is, just like we can’t survive on a diet of bananas, our bodies need a diversity of movement, and all of the parts of our body, not just the predictable chunks, like our abs or our biceps, need a wide range of movement.

Now, when I learned this my first reaction was, well, hellwhat’s the point of exercising then? After my temper tantrum had run its course, though, I realized that there are many reasons to continue exercising (it feels great, I can do it with people I love and build community while I move, etc), and just as importantly, getting more movement vitamins doesn’t mean not exercising. It simply means looking at my entire day as an opportunity to move, not just the hour I spend in yoga class.

For example, I can squat while I read a blog post instead of sitting at my desk, I can do a silly walk around my apartment while I brush my teeth, I can climb a tree while I’m out hiking, I can hang from the monkey bars at the park–in short, I can consciously inject a variety of movements into my daily routine, in the same way that I consciously choose to eat more foods besides bananas.

I want to leave you with two takeaways:

    1. A blog post from Bowman, “13 Ways to Make Your Walk More Nutritious” that will help you up your movement diversity in simple ways.
    2. A super short (less than two minutes) video from Tom Myers, one of my bodywork idols, about the importance of varied movement:

Feeling Imbalanced? Try This.

My yoga teacher said something in class today that really made me think. We were prepping for standing bow pose, which looks like this (image source):

Before you get into the pose on the far right, it’s helpful to find your balance in various intermediate poses, like the ones on the left.

My teacher explained, “We often don’t take the time to first find our balance before asking our bodies to move.” Word.

On and off the mat, how often do we charge ahead before we’ve caught our breath or found our balance?

Oftentimes, when we find ourselves feeling imbalanced, whether that be physically, emotionally, or otherwise, we immediately seek to rectify it by any means available. Imbalance triggers fear of the unknown–we’re not sure where we stand, and we don’t like it. We might also feel ashamed that we’re not perfectly poised, so we try to rush on to step five to cover up the fact that we’re not on sure footing with step one yet.

It’s tempting to think we can just skip the foundation and bypass straight to the happy ending with rainbows and cupcakes, but getting up close and personal with the areas where we feel imbalanced has so much to teach us.

Here’s an example. Since graduating from massage school, I’ve been working to develop new skills in areas beyond the scope of my school program, and recently, I hit a wall with my self-study. I felt like my efforts weren’t having an appreciable impact on my skills and I was feeling discouraged, which led to less confidence in sessions and procrastinating with my studies.

Enter, this book:

I was reading it for an entirely different reason–not to improve my massage skills–but about halfway through a chapter on visual processing, I felt inspired to start drawing, and I decided to use my massage study ennui as the focus. Woah, baby, am I ever glad I did.

A stack of paper and a crowd of jaunty little stick figures later, I realized that I had a knowledge gap that was draining away my motivation: Specifically, I have a lot of massage facts, techniques, and other information in my brain, but I sometimes struggle with knowing when to use what, which then leads to sticking with the same old tried and true out of fear.

This became clear while I was mapping out a list of resources for each study area and, if you look in the bottom right corner, I was left with nothing but a big ol’ question mark for the “know when to apply” section:

I then asked my husband, who’s a paramedic, “How in the world do you take all of your medical knowledge and know what to apply when?” He immediately replied, “Oh, there’s the something-something protocol. They drill it into us in school.”

A protocol. Duh. Surprisingly, we’d never learned anything like that in school, so my knowledge gap makes sense.

What does this have to do with imbalance? Well, one of the things preventing me from seeing this gap (and thus being able to address it) was my fear of truly looking imbalance in the face because I was afraid of what I might find. Some of my ego’s many distractions to stall me from getting curious about the imbalance included:

  • Shame: “You should already know this. What’s wrong with you?”
  • Perfectionism: “You need to know how to do all of this perfectly…by tomorrow.” Hello, overwhelm (followed immediately by defensive procrastination).
  • Denial: “You’re overreacting. You just need to be more confident.”
  • Bravado: “Whatever! We’ve got this! We don’t need to study!”
  • And on and on it went.

It can be hard for me to admit that I don’t know something in areas that I really care about (my massage practice being a prime example), and being in a wobbly state of imbalance is a painful reminder of the gap between where I am and where I want to be. But…it’s also so much more than that. Imbalance is an invitation to slow down, take stock, and see where your foundation might be missing a brick or two so you can take the time to fill the gaps and pave the way for a more stable future.

I’m happy to report that, even though my ego was convinced exploring my imbalance was a recipe for utter annihilation, instead I now have a clear game plan for my studies, which creates a snowball effect of positive results and increased motivation. And bonus, I now know that my ego sometimes uses shame to wall off knowledge gaps, so when I’m feeling ashamed about something, I can open up a giant can of self-compassion and get curious.

When we get curious about areas where we’re feeling a little shaky (or a lot), we’re slowing down and saying to ourselves, “What you’re feeling matters. This shaky feeling, this off-kilter sensation–it matters. I’m listening. How can I help?”

And, hand in hand with our imbalance, we find our way home.

One wobbly yet curious step at a time.

Breaking the Grip of Perfectionism Through Yoga

In yoga, as in life, it’s easy to get tangled up in the net of perfection. We see someone in the “fullest expression” of a yoga pose, and this becomes our end goal. Anything short of achieving this end goal is viewed as merely a way station to getting there.

But where, exactly, are we getting to? If we really stop and think, is it realistic to assume that once we’re finally able to get our leg over our head into bendy-pretzel pose, then, for real this time, we’ll be complete?

Of course not. Because life will continue on even after we’ve mastered bendy-pretzel pose. We’ll still have bills to pay and dentist appointments. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield’s book title captures this well: “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.”

But if we’re not reaching for perfection, what then? How do we approach yoga, and life, without the endless drive to attain some imagined end goal?

Attachment to Form

About a year ago, I was struggling with fear over starting a new business, because I was worried it might take away from my first business, which I still loved and had no intention of closing. My guides gave me a useful tool to help explore this fear and to transform it: the idea of attachment to form.

They explained that everything we perceive in the manifest world (i.e. the things we can perceive through our five senses) is a temporary form–our bodies, our jobs, that rock over there, my business that I was so afraid of ruining. Energy flows through these forms and is temporarily housed in these forms. As physical beings, it’s often easier for us to perceive the forms than it is for us to perceive the energy within them, just in the same way that it’s probably easier for you to feel your skin than your aura.

What this means is that we’re predisposed to thinking that reality consists of the form and the form alone. It’s harder for us to see that, even when the form passes away, the energy still exists, available to enliven another form. And thus, we get really, really attached to particular forms. For example, with my business, I was really attached to a specific form of experiencing the energy that was temporarily housed in my current business, and I was afraid that if that form changed, I’d lose my connection to this energy. In truth, the things that I love about my business can be experienced in a multitude of forms if I am open to that possibility.

When we become overly attached to specific forms, we often blind ourselves to the possibility of experiencing that energy in any other way, but by working on the fear and attachment, we liberate ourselves and see that we can experience that energy over here and over here…and over there, too.

What’s this got to do with yoga?

If we shift our thinking, we can see that physical yoga poses are forms. They are temporary forms in which energy can be experienced. Let’s think of down dog for a moment and pretend that the “ideal” version of the pose looks something like this (image from YogaJournal.com):

Think of this image like the container of the pose. You are not restricted, however, to only experiencing the energy flowing through this pose by achieving a posture that looks exactly like that. If you use the pose as a way to explore energy, perhaps your energy flows into your legs and you notice that you want to bend your knees. Or maybe you want to lift your heels off the mat. Or you want to feel the elongation of your spine but instead you want to drop down and do it on your mat, in child’s pose.

All of these are ways to experience the energy flowing through you in relationship to the container or temporary form of down dog. Your pose might not look anything like the one above and yet you’re experiencing that energy just beautifully, thank you very much.

When we release the belief that the ideal in our mind is the end goal and instead treat it merely as inspiration to explore, we don’t force our body into poses that might be doing more harm than good based on our unique anatomy and physiology. We don’t force ourselves into a variation of a pose simply because we were able to do it yesterday. Or because the person next to us in class is doing it. Or because the photo we saw in Yoga Journal looks so freakin’ cool.

We use the forms of yoga poses to have a conversation with our body, to learn what our energy feels like when it’s flowing this way or that, and it’s hard to hear the conversation when we’re busy shouting over it with our ideas of what the perfect pose looks like and the fear that we’re not doing it right.

Yoga can be a time to practice letting go of our habitual ways of relating to the world, a time to release the fear that if we’re not perfect, we’re unworthy. To experiment with variations of a pose and finding that even when it doesn’t match the ideal in our mind, hey, look at that–the world didn’t explode. We’re still fine.

Or it can be a time to reinforce the habits we exhibit in the world. We can use our practice to force and strive, to struggle and berate ourselves for not being perfect.

We have a choice. And no matter what we chose yesterday or five minutes ago, we have the power to choose differently in each present moment.

If you’re forcing your body into pretzel bend, even though you can feel a tweak in your lower back and you can’t remember the last time you breathed, choose now to pause. Breathe in softness and self-acceptance. Breathe out fear. Breathe in love.

Listen to your body. What’s your spine saying to you in this pose? Your knees? Your heart?

Remember what it feels like for movement to be fun and exploratory. We all did it naturally as kids and we can get it back–one breath, one pose at a time.

#perfectionIsBoring

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