Archive for Health and Fitness
Releasing stress, tension or tightness with hip flexor stretches actually goes against how our nervous system can be rewired to ultimately get those tight hip flexors to naturally let go. An old reflex known as the startle reflex can actually keep hemming us in.
Lame hip flexor stretches…
Such as this one where many of us were taught and continue to do actually tighten the hamstrings. Look at how much tension we can create by pulling our heel to our buttocks. By moving the heel towards the buttocks, we are in effect contracting the hamstring although we are “trying” to stretch the hip flexor.
We’ve known for some time that when we stretch a contracted area such as the hip flexor, the brain will send a message back to the muscles retightening it since there is a program from the lower brain which has learned the set point.
In other words, say your hip flexor is tight. You pull it away as in the picture in order to lengthen it. Yet the program from the brain’s perspective is a 20% or so held tension level. When we “try” to lengthen it in the manner so many of us were taught, we “think” we are stretching and gaining length yet the brain remembers the set point and re-contracts back to the 20% or whatever held tension level.
Good news is… your hip flexor stretches are accomplished. The bad news is, you didn’t gain any length unless you’re forcing the tissues which then pulls on the tendons which don’t need any stretching.
So how do we counter this and use the brain to get the muscles to let go.
Back up those hip flexor stretches and get to know the startle reflex
The startle reflex is an old brain program so we can reflexively protect ourself by pulling in to ourself. When a shot gets fired or we’re startled, our muscles will go into a particular pattern which happens quickly.
If trauma or enough negative circumstances happen to us, we can adapt our muscles to “being” pulled in. We can have crow’s eyes, a tight jaw, tensed shoulders, a contracted belly, tight hip flexors and a tight groin and feet that’ll clutch to save us.
All well and good for a brief moment until the negative event passes. But what if our muscular system receives enough negative stress where for any number of reasons, it just can’t let go.
So what have we resorted to? Yep, those lame hip flexors stretches for instance which actually reinforce the pattern and truly do not let go.
You see, the one big muscle, the brain’s motor cortex can send information to the lower brain centers so the muscles get a new program. Unlike exercise which strengthens muscles and stretching which does not help us according to present day research – although there is still some debate on this. There is another way to release held tension levels which by the way is what we did as babies and young children.
When we were young, we pandiculated our muscles and movement system. In other words, we consciously tensed the tension pattern or tightness we felt and then the higher brain sent the information to the lower brain so the muscles would let go and be reprogrammed to lower tension levels. Thus setting the muscles free and we could move in our youthful ways.
The very same hip flexor stretches we are doing take us backwards rather than allowing for natural flexibility which the brain can handle. Fortunately we’ve systematized those youthful pandiculations and the system is known as somatics exercises where we use both our brain and body to reset the length of our muscles. The higher brain is used to both relax muscles back to lower tension levels and give them back their much needed function.
Do your hip flexor stretches do this for you?
Hip flexor stretches and the structural viewpoint
When we’re looked at from the structural viewpoint of being bent over, tight and held in position. Naturally we’ve been advised to gain length by the method of stretching muscles which does nothing in regards to its function.
Our muscles receive a message from the brain to contract while the opposite set of muscles ideally will lengthen and let go. How can they let go if they never receive the program to remind them of their function? Forcing the tissues into length is ill advised but of course some of you will still practice what goes against how our neurophysiology works.
Sitting too much can cause our hip flexors to remain tight and lose their function. Even our feelings and negative emotions impact our muscles. After all, we feel with our muscles and when we get depressed, don’t we feel like curling up or sitting down to hunker inwards. Our feeling and sense perceptions can take what appears to be our structure to places of where it is hanging out and maybe its learned to hang out there too long for own good.
The system of somatics exercises which works with the brain and muscles gives us the internal ability to change back the clock and refresh our movement system to its more youthful ways. We literally feel our way back to our comfortable senses. Movement is memory and we can enhance the brain’s motor cortex so that hip flexor stretches are not necessary.
Simple, easy movement done with our sensing by engaging those muscles and then letting them go with a deeper appreciation of our senses, allows the natural restoration and movement update to occur.
To find out how you can readily use the brain’s infinite and more vast repertoire of regaining length and re-establishing control with the muscles, you can join me for an online live somatics exercise class (or get the replay) where you’ll learn a completely different set of hip flexor stretches.
You’ll learn how negative events and startling circumstances can cause us to cringe and what muscles we can use so those hip flexor stretches can be a thing of the out dated past.
When we reset the brain’s motor cortex, the muscles will function at higher levels and you’ll have an entirely new way which can seem counter-intuitive yet these type of hip flexor stretches “not” will lessen the stiffness, aches, tension and stress of holding on which our brains and body knows how to do.
When trauma happens, our brain and nervous system naturally takes our body into a reflexive protective pattern. It doesn’t have to take much, a simple fall or repeated falls if you engage in more rough and tumble activities such as soccer.
Does the brain and nervous system let us live with stiff, tight muscles?
When we bear our weight more on one side or one leg, we tend to stand a bit shifted. Even if we mouse more on one side, we can develop a habit of using our muscles more on one side of ourself and before we know it, those side muscles tend to be a bit stiffer & less flexible.
Some of us tend to be more laterally flexed. You’ll see this when a neck slightly bends more to one side or the spine has what we call scoliosis. Either the spine is off center, the hip can be elevated, we feel short waisted or we’ve been told we have a leg length discrepancy.
To let go of our holding, habitual, protective patterns which are being programmed into the brain and nervous system can be accomplished with a little neurological rewiring which somatics exercises provide.
Change the brain and nervous system with the mind and body
Far more encompassing that just a body approach. With somatics we are dealing with both mind and body and the relationship of the sensory motor system.
Wherever we are compromised, we take alternate routes neurologically which may be less than optimal yet serve to move us around as well as we can. These states are temporary and can become more fixed. We forget the feel of what youthful movement was like. This state can last for years or repeat itself in cycles when we can not overcome a niggling injury or have something reoccur more often than we’d like.
If the pathways of the brain and nervous system are clear, the lines of communication facilitate better overall movement and comfort. Moving with less effort leads us to states of graceful movement we can achieve through our very own self-corrective living process using the brain and nervous system.
If we end up dragging ourself around or into ourself or stumble and have lost our youthful coordinated ways. We’re only moments away from restoring more graceful and balanced movements. The brain and nervous system are set up waiting for us to use it to more positive means.
As we age, certain concerns like balance or breaking a hip come up. An animal survives when it can move well. As the human animal we can survive without moving well yet our animals teach us the way back to getting on track through the act of pandiculation which we’ve known for some time can bring our muscles to rest.
A mindful pandiculation uses both the brain and nervous system to reset ourself. Somatics exercises are a system of differentiated pandiculations to enhance our mobility and restore natural flexibility. By paying attention and using our conscious awareness, we raise our game of moving well for life.
Brain and nervous system class
Through the conscious use of our sensory motor system, we can undo that which has been our undoing for some time.
By adding depth and dimensions to our movements opens our proprioceptive ability. We can sense our joint position and self-adjust to more positive feelings. The brain and nervous system are effectively used.
Whereas other approaches focus on the body, we can use what the brain and body are exhibiting to use that information towards self-mastery and understanding our inherent nature to move well using the brain and nervous system.
Our very own keen senses can lead us towards the comfort we seek and the very one we can maintain as we age.
Please check out these somatics exercises classes for future enjoyment of your brain and nervous system as well both the mind and body to recapture those childlike feelings of moving well for life.
Your body and balance may seem elusive at times. Living with any number of compensations such as shoulders rolled inwards, discomforts in our chest or upper back, high stress levels, etc. can either throw us off track or continue to prevent us from reaching states of comfortable balance.
How can we restore our body and balance?
Listen to how our pain and discomforts can be our greatest teacher and what to do to overcome what gets in our way.
Did you catch the somatics tips which will let us regain comfort in our body and balance?
Somatics tips for the body and balance
Here are some everyday useful tips when you engage in easy movements such as somatics exercises.
• Move with the least effort
This often goes against many people’s idea of how to exercise, yet when we live in discomfort this naturally makes more sense. Even if we are active, we can pay attention to our movements by noticing our sense of effort rather than pushing with our efforts. This slight difference makes a big difference.
• Breathe with your movement to restore your body and balance
Often times we’ll hold our breath unaware of how this is impacting our sense of effort or the actual effort taking place. By playing games with our breath we can feel the differences something so simple may make.
• We move as a system not as a muscle
The big muscle, the brain… sends messages to the muscles and receives back information in our sensory-motor feeback loop. When we become aware of how intimately involved our sense and level of effort is involved, we can improve our overall body and balance.
• Thoughts can affect our movement and impact our body and balance
As you do any exercise, think a thought while feeling what muscles contract in your body. Or play with an emotion and feel that as you move. Again, what are you muscles doing? To what degree can you sense muscles turning on or off?
• Comfort is king
Any small adjustment such as using a pad or pillow can alleviate any struggle we might find ourself when it comes to positioning ourself for a movement done on the ground. Even the slight adjustment of an angle may be the necessary thing to do so our body can be as comfortable at that moment we experience ourself in movement.
• An exercise can’t hurt us
If we do get in a pickle and we try to force our body, it will naturally react and pull itself back – and that might hurt. To learn how to navigate our internal terrain successfully is what is key so that “if” we bump into discomfort during any exercise or exertion, we can use that information to bring our body and balance back as quickly as possible. More often than not, our compensations and habits of movement get us to bump that pain switch on – even to the point of it becoming chronic. Ouch! In difficult times, use your ability to imagine the movement and it’s highly likely you won’t hurt yourself.
• Pain is our greatest teacher and gives us back our body and balance
In the practice of somatics exercises, we learn how to wield pain and discomfort to our advantage. Pain is merely a signal so that with a little practice, we begin to notch down the negative experience towards more comfort and pleasure.
Somatics Body and Balance Class
Would you like to feel how you can release the upper body and play with some lower body balancing?
You can join me online as we get ready for the Olympics in our Upper Body and Balance online class. You can join us live or get the replay.
You can do this as all you have to do is listen, follow along and feel how your body and balance will return comfortably with easy somatics exercises. The simple movement patterns we’ll play with may boggle the mind, but not the body.
We can restore our body and balance when we use the brain’s motor cortex and sensory-motor feedback loop in delightful, novel ways so please join us live or sign up to get the replay now.
When it comes to bare foot running, the Tarahumara have this unique human ability down pat. Is it possible that we could develop this same capability? Certainly they aren’t the only humans who use their body as it is designed.
Watch this video on bare foot running
Can you imagine what it is like to put your hands in glove liners and then wear gloves all day… and then use them?
This is what we are doing to our feet by wearing sock and shoes and not using them in the same way we use our hands and fingers. The ramifications of course move upwards into our knees, hips and spine and even our neck.
Aspire to bare foot running
Now to take our modern body which has become accustomed to socks and shoes and then radically make this shift will be like most things. We’ll have to learn to adapt or in this case, re-adapt to a more natural use of ourself.
Given that many people in modern day society live with any number of postural compensations, like an elevated hip, flexed or extended spine, etc. These type of compensations can continue even if we shift to bare foot running. We might still live with our discomforts yet we can change towards a comfortable use of ourself.
This is why shoe makers such as Vibram Five Fingers have a warning label on the time it may take to adapt to a different way of walking or running about.
Awhile back I made a video on somatics shoes. The first experience I had using a so-called bare foot running shoe. Well I wanted to do was jump up and down and relish in the delight in the lightness of the feet and the ability to sense the ground more acutely.
Bare foot running a proprioceptive experience
When we sense ourself with our proprioceptive ability. We can sense and feel the position of our joints with more awareness. This is what we’ve lost with our sock and shoe modern way.
By playing in the field of gravity, for instance with bare foot running, we can recover our lost healthy ways.
For some us though, we may need to de-compensate our postures and regain our natural ability of comfortable movement. Naturally, somatics exercises are here to remind us of how we can use our brain’s ability to reset muscle tension. We remember how to feel and adjust ourself back to comfortable levels so that if we decide bare foot running is something we want to try.
The transition becomes easy since we’re already playing with gravity and reacquainting ourself of our inherent proprioceptive abilities which have gone dormant.
Why not give bare foot running a try and feel if there is any difference in how you run or even walk.
When we fall, our muscles go into certain protective trauma postures. We’ll go back inside of ourselves and stay there for some time until the trauma usually resolves itself. Sometimes it takes a little longer.
Can you release physical trauma?
What if we could use what nature has given us to release the protective holding of a physical trauma more quickly and confidently.
Releasing held trauma is something I know about since I realized I had been holding onto an incident which occurred while I was a young boy. Some 30 years of holding a pattern unconsciously kept me at bay – and I didn’t even know it. Until one day, I did a very specific maneuver and I was reminded of the event that I had long since forgotten yet recalled more from a conceptual level.
So here I was reliving it and at the same time “finally” letting go of it. The trauma which was held, let go. Sometimes we hold onto things more than necessary. Yikes.
Compensations such as legs which are internally rotated can be a bear to live with, though in time we can get used to moving ourself around even if we’re hung up a bit, too stiff or get used to living with too much tension.
Heck we might have even created such a held trauma pattern by having read mystery or suspense books for too long with our knees knocking. Maybe those scary mystery books led us into another type of mystery such as scoliosis, which we can’t resolve.
Scoliosis and Trauma
Many people who have been diagnosed with scoliosis or suspect they have, often compensate with a fairly typical trauma response. While each of us displays this uniquely with certain vertebrate being pulled in one direction, another or in multiple distortions away from a neutral posture.
We can safely release held trauma tension patterns. After all, it has been happening to us on an ongoing basis. Our bones are not fixed as some would have you believe. If that were true, how come your still walking? Well maybe you’re still expertly limping around.
Held trauma patterns can cause us to limp too long so we favor another body part and compensate that around the trauma. We can get very good at navigating around, get used to it… until the pains of a lifetime keep knocking on the door again and again.
Trauma Release Class
Each week I teach people how the brain can let go of tension patterns, even if we’ve lived unconsciously with them like many of us have.
This week I’m offering an online class on a trauma release for the legs & hips which are more internally rotated. You can see that by looking at knees which roll inwards or a hip which is higher than the other one… or when we feel short waisted these types of compensations can let go when our brain’s motor cortex releases chemicals of relaxation so we regain both function and are more relaxed to move comfortably about.
You can get the class live or purchase a replay and enjoy it many times over. All you have to do is listen and follow along. No worries, you’ll be able to talk with me either live or in the replay portal where I’ll help you out.
Please don’t hold onto that physical trauma anymore, we can simply let it go and your brain is just sitting there waiting to make it happen now.
When our back is a little out of whack, one of the keys to restoring comfortable movement lies in the simple differentiation of a very simple movement pattern.
Listen and follow along to this simple movement.
Somatics exercises are generally done in such a lazy, easy manner and surprisingly the rewards are better mobility, a return to natural flexibility and we feel renewed and more comfortable.
Simple differentiation to wake up both the brain and body
An easy movement such as the one in the audio recording is enough of a simple differentiation to wake-up the brain’s cerebrospinal fluid as we arise in the morning.
Healthy vertebrate animals wake-up their body and brain with simple movements which serves as their warm-up. Before we begin to exercise, we can do an easy simple differentiation or number of them varying the same theme, then we’re good to go like Fido.
If you’re in the unfortunate position of having to sit all day long for instance in the car, working and then sitting down to eat (unless of course you dare to stand up and eat for a change). No matter if you exercise, that may not be enough to change the known ill counter effects of sitting for too long.
Standing up is a simple differentiation which can help
You may have to plan on standing up every 20 minutes or so. You see, when you sit for too long, those muscles below the belt go to sleep and begin to be trained to be useless. No wonder we don’t walk as well or as much as we need since we’re basically training ourself to have muscles which no longer respond in a healthy manner.
Good news… just get up and stand, stand on one leg or walk around for a minute or so. Then you can sit back down. Even as I type a blog post such as this, I too am mindful of how sitting undermines us. This is why I often stand or kneel or sit in a different position, then change it and vary it afterwards.
If you’re gonna keep sitting, then at least fidget around or be mindful of how you can shift your spine around. All that tension we keep taking on, can be remedied with simple mindful movements to disperse, renew and refresh us.
By refreshing the spine, we can continually renew our muscles throughout the day, especially when they get amped up with too much tension. At the same time, we improve the function of the brain by taking a mind-body break or giving ourself a full-brainer of movement done with awareness.
A class on simple differentiation
After all life is movement and movement becomes easier when we can do a simple differentiation with the central part of ourself, our spine.
Renewing a simple way to move our spine, refreshes our movement system from the inside out. Practicing this periodically throughout the course of the day will let us rest easier at night so we can get a good night’s sleep and not wake up stiff or aching.
Please join me this week for a simple differentiation class which can make all the difference to having a comfortable spine for life. Refresh that spine so it can be renewed and you’ll feel regenerated. All it takes is a simple differentiation.
Did you know that a little mindful foot work could help our troubled feet and knees? I’m not talking about fancy foot work either. More like what preceded our baby steps as we developed our intelligence.
Remember the little piggie that went to market? Could that type of movement help us?
Do you have sensitive feet, the ones which don’t like to walk over stones or rocks. Ouch! I remember those days as a kid. Now past the half-century mark, I relish how supple good foot work feels.
Foot Work for All Ages
As children we did some very interesting foot work. We loved to pull on our toes. Little did we know we were in a very receptive state of learning and coordinating the little piggies so we could get to a market with our own feet.
These days many of us simply drive to the market and keep our poor painful feet wedged in shoes all day long. Can’t imagine how life would be if we were all to wear glove liners and mittens all day. What would happen to the function of our hands if we did the same?
What are we doing to our feet? That fleet foot work we used to have is a long distance memory as we have aged and bottled up those poor lowly feet.
Now we’re left with mangled toes, foot pain, orthotics, and the search for the right kind of shoe. While shoes have certainly advanced, did our foot work remain in the dust.
Do we really need an orthotic? Maybe we could do some foot work and remember to move well once again.
Foot Work, Handiwork is it the same?
Most likely you can still fold your hands. So try this. Lie on your back, and take your hands behind your head and interlace your fingers. Then once you’ve settled in, switch the position of your fingers and hold your hands the other way.
For some of you, that’ll be no problem and then for some us that could feel strange, awkward as if someone else is holding our hands.
Our habits which we groove in over time are necessary. We may forget small differences help us use our self a little bit differently so we don’t wear our self out as fast. Slight adjustments and little differences lets the brain thrive. It thrives on subtle differences to renew us.
As we readjust to a newness, we change both our body and brain. Now try doing the same with your toes. Yes, try and fold those toes together. Whadya mean you can’t reach down there anymore?
Maybe this is where some of you are now at. Others of you really had to work it to even get the toes to wedge together.
Awhile back I made a video on some foot work. Try this move if you haven’t given it a try. For those of you who did, did you keep working it so this type of foot work is now improved and easy.
That type of footwork can come in handy to change the function of the feet and even the knees so you can walk more comfortably.
Another Foot Work Class
Many times I’ve taught foot work movements to soccer players which had them laughing about how what appears simple isn’t as easy as thought. Though with a little practice, our movement system remembers to move and improve.
We can rekindle the feelings of childlike movement which felt good and free since we have a sensory-motor feedback loop which allows us to reset and readjust tension levels.
We can get back in this loop so our balance improves, our feet feel lighter and our knees can lose their aches simply through subtle readjustments to move us to higher levels of coordination and integration so we manage those formerly painful stones and rocks.
You can join me for an hour’s worth of foot work in our online class where you can have immediate access where you’ll learn to free up the feet, lower legs and knees so you can dance and move easily again.
In the meantime, just go ahead and pull those toes so your foot work doesn’t get left behind.
Pains in the shoulder, stiffness, weakness and even pain while sleeping on the side can be lessened with a simple set of exercises for rotator cuff. Over time, the situation can become chronic or if you’ve had surgery, it may be necessary to keep the shoulder functional.
The rotator cuff area allows us to both internally and externally rotate our shoulders while also letting us move the shoulder away, out and up to the side.
A Different Set of Exercises for Rotator Cuff
Normally both stretching and strengthening exercises are recommended by doctors, and orthopedists. Physical therapists will have you follow this protocol.
They may want you stretch after doing a reach up the wall or have you strengthen in between the shoulders. While the idea is good, we can go about it in a more intelligent fashion and manner so that the muscles lose their restriction and regain their function.
Instead of the heresy of stretching, we can pandiculate the tight, restrictive areas so those areas regain both both function and remain limber.
Somatics exercises for rotator cuff, on the other hand, use the process of pandiculation to regain mobility and give us back our function so that we can comfortably move the shoulder area back and forth and up and out to the side in this case.
A Diversity of Exercises for Rotator Cuff
With a number of stretches and strengthening exercises for rotator cuff, you learn to hold things for a period of time or do numbers of repetitions.
With somatics, we target the brain’s motor cortex. It can reset the muscles so they “remember” their function. This higher level of intelligence doesn’t require the physical strain that most people endure, instead we use our awareness of the quality of the movement. We can sense the connections we use when we move our shoulders about. This gives us a better range.
Exercises target muscles where intelligent movement takes care of the movement system which includes more muscles since we are of one piece. One integrated movement system, rather than the parts, which allows for greater cohesion and more effortless movement in general.
This gentler yet highly intelligent approach, gives us the ability to create more options to move despite the very ones we’ve guarded against or haven’t done on account of the binds holding things together.
Exercises for Rotator Cuff Class
A diversity of movement lets the brain thrive too. By going cortical, the brain creates more cells, it releases chemicals of relaxation, and we restore and recover naturally rather than forcing, straining or pushing our way through it.
“Being” with our movement system is another tack or way to move more comfortably about. To be free and regain our strength is simple.
You can join us in this week’s somatics class: Diversify Your Movement Portfolio – Exercises for Rotator Cuff. You may join us either online, by phone or get the replay.
In the little over an hour class, you’ll learn a number of different ways and movement patterns to experience how simple somatics is and yet how much power you can have.
The diversity found in the exercises for rotator cuff class will give you plenty of intelligent ammo to keep the shoulders and more, happy for life.
I didn’t exactly make the Hall of Fame, yet I managed somehow to survive the nearly 20 years of fibromyalgia (chronic pain) and make the Wall of Fame at the University of Texas.
The Wall of Fame houses the pictures of students who won various intramural sports competitions.
Little did we know we were headed for the Wall of Fame
Back in ’79, amidst the days of unrest of the Iran hostage crisis, the last 11 guys who didn’t make the soccer team formed an intramural team.
We beat our fellow University of Texas club soccer team in the semis and played against a raucous crowd of Middle Eastern students in the finals. We had to go to a penalty shoot-out to win the coveted burnt orange t-shirt.
University of Texas Wall of Fame T-shirt
The celebration lead to my dorm room where there happened to be a very large bottle of spirits that we managed to finish off early in the morning. Somehow I made it through the 3 final exams the next day. Ah, to be young again.
My playing days got interrupted with what at the time seemed to be mysterious chronic pains. Eventually, the diagnosis of fibromyalgia gave me something to wrap my mind around during that nearly 2 decade struggle.
Fortunately I came out of it and learned very valuable lessons to pass onto others.
The University recently sent a Wall of Fame t-shirt commemorating our efforts. In a box, I discovered I had the original t-shirt we won in ’79.
Wall of Fame Moves
In those days, I was taught to stretch. It was something I never liked to do even though I would go for nearly 2 hours per day during my bouts of chronic stiffness and pain. Fibromyalgia was a 24/7 event.
Years later, I became a Hanna Somatic Educator and gave up my stretching ways and learned about the marvelous ways we can reset our muscles through the natural process of a pandiculation.
This simple reset brings our muscles to rest, lets us lose our stiffness, decreases tension and by magic, releases our physical pain.
There is really no magic about it. All it takes is 3 simple steps. Done with a gentle, easy conscious awareness. Our brain will reset muscles back to rest for comfortable movement.
Please join me either by phone or online this week as I offer some Wall of Fame moves where you’ll learn to release the inner leg muscles (groin), chest, diaphragm, and waist.
As we get older, we can move with greater ease. Life doesn’t have to be a struggle, at least this Wall of Fame individual knows it to be true and so can you.