Six ways to add movement into your day.

Movement doesn’t have to be complex, take a long time or be difficult to make a difference!

Let’s be honest. Most of us spend our days sitting, and sitting, and sitting some more.

We sit so many places…
* for work – at a desk or piano
* to commute – on a train, a bus, in a car
* to eat all our meals – in a chair at a table
* to unwind at night – soft couches and chairs

If we move at all, we tend to do our 30-60 minutes of cardio/yoga/pilates/walking and call it enough. But our bodies crave more and there are 24 hours in a day. Let’s say you spend 8 hour sleeping, that leaves 16 hours where you can sneak it bits of movement.

In reality, we thrive on variety. We do well when we add in small movements throughout the day. These don’t have to be complicated, take a long time or super hard. Small doses of movements that keep your joints moving are great!

Here’s a list of movements that you can easily integrate into your day. As you read these, think about all the places you can do these movements – while brushing your teeth, drying your hair, standing at your desk, vocalizing, chopping vegetables, watching tv, taking snack requests from your children, half listening to a zoom call, etc.

  1. Roll your feet on a ball.
    You can use a tennis ball, yoga tune up ball or pinky ball. Roll it under your foot as though the ball is a vacuum and your foot is a carpet – you want to make sure the vacuum gets every part of the carpet! You are in control of how much pressure you step with, so if you want something gentle, keep the pressure light. If you want more sensation, step a little harder.

2. Stretch your calves.
Roll up a towel or yoga mat, or use a half foam roller. Place the ball of your foot on top of the rolled up item or roller and let your heel drop toward the floor. You can control the intensity of the stretch by the position of your foot that is NOT on the roller. Keep it behind the foot on the roller to keep the stretch minimal and step it parallel or beyond to increase – just make sure your hips don’t shift forward too!

3. Do a pushup.
I know, I know, pushups, ugh… but upper body strength is something we all need and honestly, it’s really challenging to move your entire body weight as opposed to lifting a 5 lb dumbell. So, to find success at this, start with a push up on the wall. Place your palms flat on the wall and step your feet back. Try bending your elbows and bringing your upper body toward the wall. As you get stronger, progress to a push up on a table, then a bench, then the floor. Try pushups on your knees too!

4. Hang from something.
Another great upper body move! You can hang a pull up bar in a doorway, or if you are tall enough and have door casings, you can just reach up with your fingers and hook them over the casing (if you’re a terrible housekeeper like me, things might be a wee bit dusty up there, so prepare yourself!). Keep your feet on the ground and begin by just bending your knees and letting your arms begin to take the weight of your body. If you are a parent or caregiver of small children, this is an excellent way you can move at a playground while your kids play too.

5. Squat.
Squatting is a great way to build strength in the lower body, all those big muscles that help ground us on stage. There are a million ways to squat and they are all viable. You don’t need to get yourself into a super deep, bum barely off the floor squat for there to be benefit. Play with a knee bend that goes out over your toes and then play with keeping your shins vertical – see how your body responds – feel your quads in the first one and your bum in the second one. Have a hard time keeping your shins vertical? Grab a door handle and use that for support while you squat. Try stepping your legs wider than shoulder width and turn your toes out 45 degrees and squat. Try getting into a squat and getting lighter on one foot to work towards a single leg squat. My point here? GET CREATIVE WITH IT!

6. Sit on the floor.
Let’s go back to all the places we sit – dining room chairs, desk chairs, piano benches, couches, overstuffed chairs, bucketed car seats, bar stools. When we sit in those situations we tend to stay in just one shape. When we sit on the floor, we are more apt to move around into new shapes – cross legged, z-sit, legs out straight, sit on your heels, an open V, and on and on – I’m sure you can think of other ways to sit when you are on the floor. As an added bonus when you sit on the floor you have to use more muscles to get up off of the floor. And you know what that means…more movement! Challenge yourself to watch tv while sitting on the floor, or take your laptop and put it on your coffee table and sit on the floor to use it.

If I had to add a 7th, it would be walking. Walk as much as you can. We are built to walk. Park a little farther away at the grocery store. Take a stroll around your neighborhood. Walk your kiddo partway or all the way to school. Walk around barefoot on grass, on sand, on gravel (build up your foot tolerance for that last one. Take a moment to contemplate all the places you walk in a day. Is there a way you could add in just a bit more walking?

Do you have other simple movements you like to do throughout your day? Share in the comments so we can all learn from each other.

Why Singers need a movement practice.

One of the questions I hear most often from singers is, “Why do I need a movement practice?”

My simple answer is “because every activity is a whole body activity and singing is no exception.”

The slightly longer version is this:

Our bodies are tensegrity structures and that means we are held together through a series of compressions and tensions, pushes and pulls. When we push or pull on one part of the body via movement or singing, the entire rest of the body responds.

While we tend to learn about the body by breaking down systems and parts, the body does not work in individual systems and parts! It all works together, all the time. This is what is behind people saying “the whole body is your instrument.” I call it Vocal Interdependence.

We can assess how our body is in a static state through alignment, but the way we make lasting changes to how the body responds to the pushes and pulls is movement.

In the singing body we are especially interested in how the spine moves, how the shoulders and hips move, how they relate to each other as well as how well integrated the deep core is.

Every singer I’ve ever interacted with has patterns in the body that are a direct result of how we have and haven’t moved in our lives, in addition to the stresses and traumas we’ve experienced.

When it comes to the singing voice, we can do a lot by addressing vocal technique, but what about the issues that arise that aren’t solved by technique? I have found after working with hundreds of bodies over the last 20 years that when we address the entire instrument the voice changes too.

I made a reel on Instagram recently that gives you a quick and dirty example of this using a tensegrity structure. You can click here to view the reel.

I created the Singer Synergy Movement Class Series with the singer’s body in mind. This 9 week series is designed to create connections in the deepest layers of the torso, building strength and suppleness leading to better balance throughout your instrument.

Remind me that I like to move…

I know, it seems strange that I, the movement teacher needs reminding that I like to move, but there it is.

If I back up to my pre-parenting days I was a always a mover and I liked pushing myself – I ran 10Ks, worked out at the gym, challenged myself at yoga, skied and skated in the winter, played tennis and canoed in the summer. I never did any of it with any concern that I would injure myself. I might get sore for a few days but then I’d be fine.

More than the movement itself, was HOW THE MOVEMENT MADE ME FEEL. When I moved I felt strong, confident, capable and happy. The endorphins of exercise are very real my friends. It was also a place where I connected with other people, running with friends, seeing my community at yoga class…exercise was a part of my social network.

A little over 6 years ago my youngest was born. I emerged from that pregnancy and birth with some pretty significant, birth-related injuries. I suffered in a high level of pain for about a year before I began to get my body back on track.

It all began when I was was out for a walk at about 5 months pregnant. I felt something in the front, left side of my pelvis change, not in a good way, and every step I took was painful. Whenever I brought any of it up to my midwives they shrugged it off to the general aches and pains of pregnancy. In my heart I knew it was more than that, but I wasn’t one to push back against an expert (OH HOW THAT HAS CHANGED!) so I just kept soldiering along.

By the final month of the pregnancy, that went 7 days past my due date, I was barely able to walk. I’d stand up and wait for the shooting pains to pass through my left pelvis and then stagger walk where I needed to go, gritting my teeth with every step.

My alignment for most of the pregnancy was a mess and it showed up when I finally went to give birth, the baby was facing the wrong way. He was sunny side up. Fearing back labor for me, the midwives positioned me on my left side in the hospital bed.

The labor was fast, with me arriving at the hospital around midnight and him born around 6am. I was so focused on the labor that I didn’t really think about the fact that they had me lie on my left side, where my hurt pelvis was, with nothing but a thin hospital pillow under my head.

I went through the entire, labor and delivery with my head improperly aligned to the rest of my spine and given my history of a waterskiing accident that did a ton of damage to the soft tissue of my upper body as well as my cervical spine, that was the equivalent of a train wreck for my neck and back.

In the car ride home from the hospital, my entire back seized up. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t be upright without a crushing headache.  Something I’d never experienced before and hope never to again. I then suffered in my own cave of misery for 2 full weeks, on my back for most of them, because being upright in the car was not an option so I could not get back to see the midwives and I had a new primary care physician closer, but I’d never seen her because I hadn’t needed to go and a new patient appointment availability in that office was months away.

It took a solid 18 months of work on my part to rehab my body to the point where I didn’t end every day with an agonizing tension headache. I tried physical therapy, but they never seemed to look at the whole me, so I would leave those appointments feeling physically worse than when I went in. Chiropractic and massage each helped in the moment, but they couldn’t tell me what to do to hold onto the release they helped my body find. I tried a trainer at the gym, but she was young and ill-equipped to handle a body that was hurting, and I never returned after my first session because she seemed to ignore all I told her and I was in pain when I left.

It took me finally deciding I was going to take what I knew about the body and figure it out. I HUNTED online before I found Katy Bowman’s work and together with what I already knew, I put my  core back together, shrinking my 3 finger diastasis to under 1, built better balance in my pelvis and addressed the imbalances in my shoulder girdle. I built a small set of very limited, in my opinion, things that I could do that would not make me hurt. Walking, functional movement and some swimming.

That’s a very long story way of saying I gained function, but never strength like I had before, and the memories of that time linger. In the 4+  years since I’ve used the demands of two kids, a job, a house, a dog and a husband to ignore the fact that while I desperately missed moving, I was terrified to try anything for fear of hurting the way I hurt for so long.

It makes me tear up just to write that. Because that loss of movement has come with a loss of happiness, a loss of community, a loss of feeling strong and capable.

I’ve periodically tried moving how I used to. We’ve played tennis a few times, I’ve hopped on the elliptical, but it wasn’t until yesterday when I went XC-skiing with my husband that I realized I go into every single movement session harboring a major fear that I’m going to hurt myself. The impact of 6 years ago is still lingering in my brain.

I’ve kept movement minimal to keep me functional and not allowed myself to see how much fear was driving the bus.

I could feel my body yesterday out on the trails, but I’m not in pain today. My pelvis is fine, my upper body is fine. My muscles feel used and I’m sure I’ll be sore, but in a good way, not in a close your eyes in a dark room and pray for the day to end kind of way. I want to make a big giant note of all that and remember that I LIKE TO MOVE.

2019 is my year of Community. I’ve scheduled in times into my calendar to go to the gym this winter. I’m working on owning that I not only have the tools to help others, I have them to help myself too so it’s ok to try things out. I know there’s community waiting for me when I re-enter into the world of moving the way I love.

I will need reminding that when I move the ways that I love, I feel happy, strong, capable, confident. That I can move and not hurt. So hold me to it, ok?

When exercise hurts: use movement

This post was inspired by an exchange I had on my facebook page.

I shared a post about foot problems being connected to hip issues and how something like an orthotic is not a good long term solution.

A reader responded regarding her feet, sharing that she wasn’t so sure about all that because she’s had a lifetime struggle with plantar fasciitis. We exchanged comments and her final comment really struck me.

She said, “some of my worst bouts with pf were in my most fit and lean days. Times when I was the most active….running marathons or doing triathalons, times when my muscles were the best conditioned…” She also shared that her best bet now is wearing birkenstocks because they provide support to her feet.

What this dear reader shared is something I suspect is true for SO many of us (me included).

Exercise can make you hurt.

When I was my “fittest”, I had the following issues (not all at once!): shin splints, tibia stress fracture, hip pointer, femoral patella syndrome, low back pain, neck pain, sacro-iliac pain, hot spots on the inside edges of my shoulder blades and a few other aches and pains.

I could run a 7 minute mile, finish a 10K, had a ‘strong core’ and do a handstand easy peasy in yoga.

But I hurt. Often. Constantly, in fact.

What I know now is my lifetime of growing in the shape of a chair, wearing shoes with a heel (yes, even those $150 running shoes that were fitted to me by a running specialist at the specialty running store), running as my preferred form of exercise – on pavement or a treadmill, and yoga that was done faster and less mindfully than it should have been were all contributing to those hurts.

By its nature, most exercise puts us in a repetitive joint movement pattern. In running, the leg comes forward (hip flexion) and the leg moves back (hip extension). We miss ad and ab-duction as well as rotation. When we are wearing shoes with any kind of a heel, we’ve got many misalignments, one of the biggest being the pelvis being ‘worn’ out in front of the ankles. This puts pressure on the mid-foot causing the fascia to separate front to back.  We repeat movements like this in swimming, on the elliptical or while biking.

None of this means running, biking, swimming etc are bad per se, but when you pay attention to variety in your movement patterns, they are probably pretty limited if you are simply exercising. When there’s a high frequency of repetitive joint patterning, that’s just a recipe for problems.

Add in coming to your exercise time having spent 8 hours sitting at a desk or in a classroom, you’re asking your joints aren’t to make major changes in shape that they aren’t so ready (and able) to make.

So, dear reader who had her worst bouts of plantar fasciitis when she was her most active and fit, I HEAR YOU, but I’m also not at all surprised.

The solution to our physical woes often isn’t to simply “get fitter”.

Though we do love a quick fix in our society and I’m all for spontaneous healing, most of us need to make shifts over a long period of time.

Identifying the problem may be simple (I’ve got plantar fasciitis), but the long term solution that restores your body to optimum function without the use of supportive aids, is rarely simple and quick (I need to assess: my habitual alignment pattern and how my leg bones move in my hip socket, how active are my medial glute muscles vs my hip flexors, then get the right parts moving well and THEN strengthen).

Those nagging aches and pains tell us what we are doing isn’t working. We need to find a new path. One that resolves the underlying mobility issues before addressing strength otherwise we are layering strength on top a mobility issue and that won’t make you feel better.

We all need to make a mental shift away from exercise and into that of movement. We need to begin to move more parts of our body and move them better – the tiny muscles in our feet and those bigger muscles in our pelvic region, change the shoes we wear and replace the idea of fit with the idea of function.

Can you still exercise? Absolutely. But, if it’s making you hurt, it’s time to stop and reassess, not stop and stick your body in a supportive chair, shoe or back brace and call it a day (or a lifetime).

Permission to Play!

If your life is anything like mine, you find yourself at a playground multiple times a week. Now that my kids are a bit older and not in need of me pushing them on the swing or constantly spotting them as they climb structures, I find myself at playgrounds feeling as though there’s nothing for me to do. I look around and I see other parents in the same state – and mostly they have their heads down, staring at their phones until a child cries or they hear “MOM” hollered from across the playground.

Since I hate feeling as though I’m doing nothing (I know, I know, I’m working on it), I decided that I would play too. My body is craving movement just as much as my kid’s bodies are and while I’m not going to try to jam myself into a swing anymore, there are plenty of ways adult bodies can benefit from playground structures too.

Sure, I get some looks from other parents, but mostly they are looks of curiosity.

If you find yourself outside at a playground, don’t spend the hour staring at your phone. Move your body, you’ll feel better, build strength and flexibility and maybe, just maybe, one day your core and upper body will be strong enough to swing all the way across the monkey bars with the same ease your 7 year old uses to accomplish the task.

Here are 4 ways you can play at the playground.

Play #1 Squatting

IMG_7573 Find a poll that you can hold and back yourself up until your arms are straight. Slowly lower yourself keeping your shins vertical, pelvis untucked, ribs in. Be sure your weight is in your heels. Press through your heels to come up on an exhale. Inhale and lower yourself down. Do 5-10.

Play # 2 Swing Set Pull Up

IMG_7917 Find the side pole of a swing set and hold it. Let your ribs be down (in neutral). Most swing set poles are at an angle, so don’t have your feet next to the pole, but instead imagine you dropped a line down from where your hand is holding the pole and have your feet close to that. Slowly lower yourself out until your arm is straight – keeping your body in line – your hips don’t sag out further than your shoulders (this takes some core and upper body work!). Then slowly pull yourself back up. Repeat on each side, 5-10 times.

Play #3 Hanging

IMG_7626 Not all playgrounds have monkey bars, but most have at least one bar you can hang from (even if it is low to the ground). Most adults (myself included) lack the upper body and core strength to do monkey bars, or to even hang with their feet off the ground. However, there is still lots of benefit to hanging and working towards building that strength. Just hold the bar, keep your shoulders down (no hunching your shoulders up by your ears) and slowly lower your body until you start to support your weight in your arms. Stay for a minute, come back and do it 3 times while you are at the playground.

Play #4

IMG_7921 Pelvic Listing. This move is all about activating the lateral hips, where we all seem to lack strength. You can stand on something or on the ground. If on the ground, shift your weight into one leg and think about sliding the hip of that leg toward the ground, far enough that the opposite foot clears the ground by an inch or so (don’t hike the leg using the muscles of that side, use the muscles of the hip of the standing leg). If you are standing on something, the opposite foot comes level with the standing foot by sliding the hip of the standing leg down – once you find the right action you will really feel this in your outer glute/hip area!