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How to reshape your movement practice during the winter months

15271885_10154778028474776_6318546513650062579_oIt’s winter here in California – as it is for the rest of the hemisphere. With winter, many of us feel challenged to move enough. And yes, we don’t have “real” winter here, but it’s “real” enough when I see my students spending less and less time outside walking and more and more time still and at home. Roland and I are also magnetically drawn to the fireplace, cup of tea in hand and no intention to go out after dinner….So if it’s bad for us down here, what about our students in colder place, like Canada?

What used to be a sunny and easy walk on the beach is now a wet trot in the rain. You can see me in the picture above, squatting in full winter gear, base layers and all, taking some pictures of birds in the rain just last week. So whether you are here in warmer climate or somewhere else, winter is asking for a few adjustments to routine.

Here are 5 ways to make your movement practice more winter friendly, or um, make your winter more movement friendly:

  1. Choose appropriate clothing for your outdoor activities. Yes, it’s cold out. But you can get your wool socks and shirts out and warm up. As soon as you get out the door and start walking, running, biking, your own heat will provide all you need to feel comfortable. It may be worth investing in a pair of fleece or wool leggings and undershirts, so you can enjoy freedom of movement without being weighted down. When you have the right gear, it’s easy to say yes to your morning walk. I cannot tell you what a huge difference my rain boots have made to my beach walks. They almost motivate me to get out there and play! The same goes for your indoor practice. If the ice cold floor of your studio is repelling your single leg balance – get those sticky toe-socks on and get moving.
  2. Change your focus. While walking, hanging, running, hiking and water sports may be the meat and potatoes of your summer movement routine, winter gives an invitation to go inside and see what’s to explore there. This is the perfect time for an indoor climbing gym, a new dance class, or a membership to movement classes, such as the ones offered by Katy Bowman at Nutritious Movement. Maybe you have been waiting a long time to start arial yoga, or indoor swim lessons….use this colder time to do it.
  3. Don’t be all black and white. Just because you aren’t getting the same amount of quality of walking ( I know for sure the slippery sidewalks of my homeland are no place to be walking in winter), that doesn’t mean some walking won’t be possible. Maybe a shorter walk in the city, yet a longer hike on the weekend through the snow, with all the trimmings – sledding, snowshoeing, snowman building, the cool forts only people who live in the snow can boast – there is so much to explore out that isn’t about covering the same distance that you do in the summer. You body loves variability and seasons unmistakably provide the circumstances where you can go with the flow.
  4. All day movement is all day movement, rain or shine. We talk about this in our sessions, and even in our latest book all the time – it’s not the small amount of time we spend exercising, it’s the all day movement that makes the biggest difference to our health! How you inhabit your daily environment makes all the difference. Are you in an office all day? Plan your movement breaks every 30 minutes – take a short stretch break or walk to get a glass of water or to connect with a colleague. If you are at home trade the couch for the floor, play with pets and kids and do more housework and home improvement projects. The winter months are perfect to clean out clutter from the garage, reorganize closets and cupboards, finish small paint projects…when you make it about movement the work load is suddenly lighter! Win-win!
  5. Catch up on quiet practices. Mindfulness practice, also known as meditation is becoming more and more popular and accepted throughout schools, companies and organizations. What was once a strange practice reserved for a few members of certain groups or beliefs is now widely accessible through books, apps, classes and retreats. Winter time is naturally a time to go in, move on the inside and store reserves and inspiration for the spring when you are ready to come out and carry out the new ideas and intentions with fresh insight and ample energy. Check out Headspace and Insight Timer for a way to start your practice today.

How do you mold your movement practice to fit the winter months? Comment below and let me know!

p.s. If you have been considering working with me in private, I have 2 spots for new students open in December and January. Shoot me an email at movewellstudio@gmail.com and grab 50$ off your initial assessment when you mention this blog post!

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Squatty Potty for beginners

I clearly remember the day the squatty potty became a part of our lives. I went to the bathroom, only to see a strange plastic piece in front of the toilet, with a note: “How about that for a sh**ty gift?”

My husband, a man of humor and love for health, had made the purchase for me. I tried to pretend no feedback was expected over the next few days. There isn’t much poop talk in our home – we have good poops and we aren’t obsessing with impoving them. How about sleep? Or productivity? Let’s talk about something that really needs improving.

Enough poop bragging. I was already sold on the squatty potty – I will take up any chance to move more! A couple extra squats per day – I was in. What I found in the next few days was that my time in the toilet became even faster and elimination felt even easier. I also enjoyed the nice workout for my hip joints. As my legs went up I also got an unexpected massage for my belly. See, when you are “squatting” instead of “sitting” to poo, the mechanics of it all look and feel very different. On the inside, muscles and organs are churning in a new, closer to their natural way.

Check out this fast-gone-viral video from Squatty Potty, which beautifully explains the action of the puborectalis muscle – one responsible for the anchoring of your poo pipes (picture here). You squat – you free up the pipes, you sit – you pinch them. Let the unicorn show you below…

Of course, I was excited we owned a squatty potty and that we were eliminating paleo style, so I was eager to share with my clients and friends. Many of them purchased one, only to come back and complain that they were uncomfortable getting in the “feet up” or “squat position”.

See, our bodies are shaped by the way we move, and if you haven’t been squatting multiple times a day, your squatting parts may be rusty. Doing some basic biomechanics observations, I found that most of my squatty potty averse clients were the ones with limited ankle dorsiflexion (the ability to flex the foot) and quite limited hip flexion (the ability to bring the knee to your chest). Add general lack of mobility through the spine, and you have a never-squat-to-poop scenario.

Here’s the pickle. The average person, pressed by urgency, won’t even stop to think about why they can’t get comfortable on the squatty potty. We live in a culture which has conditioned us to think like that. Today, people plan to get higher toilets as they get older, assuming their ability to squat will keep decreasing. We have it all backwards.

Want the truth?

  1. You can restore your ability to move at the ankles and hips in order to take a human poop. Your organ health depends on it. How about that for motivation?
  2. In order to restore your ability to squat, you need to first start mobilizing your ankles, hips and pelvis.
  3. In order for those small corrective exercises to work, you need to do them daily. You know, just like water works for you when you drink it daily.
  4. Exercises won’t work unless you also start to change the positions you habitually find yourself in (sitting in chair, sitting on couch, sitting in car).

 
 
Like anything simple, it takes some diligence and time, but every time you practice you will get a degree closer to your squat to poop natural design.

Here is the program that I put my aspiring squatty potty athletes on:

  1. They learn the calf stretch, kneeling hip flexion, and strap stretch to improve the mobility of the ankles, hips and knees. Then they use the baby squat and roll to stabilize the new positions.
  2. They sit on the floor – try the V sit, the indian style sit, the cross knee sit. That allows them to take time off chairs and couches – improving their hip mobility as they rest.
  3. I teach them to bolster the squatty potty. We find a comfortable height that their body is willing to bend to and start to use props to allow their body to adapt. See – between squatty potty and floor there are many levels that most people are already able to bend to. Little by little they are able to move their feet higher and get deeper hip flexion.

 

THE CORRECTIVES

 

THE FLOOR SITTING POSITIONS

 

BOLSTERING THE SQUATTY POTTY

Hooked yet? Start on your program to become a Squatty Potty athlete today 🙂 And let me know how you do!

To get a full introduction to this life changing tool, check out this video:


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Osteoporosis workshop take-aways

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bones in the wrist get weak when all we do is type…

Workshops are my favorite way to teach alignment content : between sharing personal stories and good laughs and helping each other out with exercise technique, the information quickly becomes a part of our movement systems and we leave ready to apply it and reap the benefits.

This particular Saturday the weather was extra gloomy so we were all glad to be inside, cozy and ready to stretch and move well.

We started by sharing what everyone knows about osteoporosis: some of the words that came up were: vitamin D, Calcium, weight-bearing, Diet, walking, kyphosis, age, genetics, sports, teenagers, estrogen, menopause.  I am sure you’ve heard those words and even read whole articles and books about them.

While I pride myself on having some of the smartest and brightest students, one common factor eludes everyone: nutrition is not enough, one has to move in specific ways in order to strengthen bones where bones need it. And no, weight bearing does not mean walking with weights in your hands.

Enter Whole Body Alignment – the system that Restorative Exercise Specialists, like me, teach. It’s a very gentle way to reestablish relationships between muscles, joints and bones and allow the body to benefit from walking and other natural movement.

I’m sharing some of the most vital points we made during the session:

1. Stacking your body vertically and practicing whole body aligned walking is a great way to optimize bone loading without stress to the system. Spend as much of your sitting, standing and walking time vertically aligned – hip over ankles, chest over hips, head over shoulders.

2. It’s important to know your sites – for hip, wrist or spine (ribs) choose exercises appropriately. Walking will positively affect the whole body.

3. Eat plenty of veggies with your protein.

4. When you choose supplements look for one that contains K2 and D 3 alongside your Calcium/Magnesium. There are a number of K2/D3 combinations on the market you can take alongside your Calcium/Magnesium. Remember to count on food before supplements to get what you need.  For more information on vitamins and minerals, check Vitamin K2 interview with Kate Bleue

5. Practice your alignment exercises daily. Start with the calf stretch as you can do it anywhere and multiple times a day.

From how we stand to how we walk, to the types of shoes we choose, we have so much power to optimize our cellular health. The ladies who started with me last week are already moving better. Now waiting for those DEXA results to come back and rejoice!

have a great day and move well:

Galina


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Managing your day’s energy

This morning, one of my clients mentioned that she loves the exercises  I have prescribed for homework, but it seems like there is never a good time to do them.

”First I walk, then I come back and I am hungry, and then by the time I eat my snack and clean up, I am too tired to do anything else…”

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You can fit in exercise during your walk as well!

I proposed that we manage her essential exercises by splitting them in two short bouts of 15 minutes that she can do before her walk and later in the day, so she has a better chance of doing them.

As she left, I was thinking of my own routine. There are times during the day when I feel energized and I have 20 or 30 minutes to really apply myself to the harder exercises in my program, such as hanging, swinging, handstands, one leg balances. At other times all I can do is do twists on the floor and psoas release laying on my bolster.

Recognizing the type and amount of energy you have is a great self observation skill to develop, as it allows you to take care of yourself better, but it also lets your body adapt positively to the exercises and movement you have chosen.

So tomorrow, instead of doing an hour of your homework, why don’t you do the harder exercise when you have more desire to move and then leave the stretches and mat work for your afternoon tea time. Let me know how that worked and keep moving well!

Galya


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De-stress your holidays in advance

Isn’t it amazing that what’s supposed to make us happiest also makes us so tense? Decorating, choosing the perfect gifts, rushing to find a parking space, crowding at the movie theater? Even writing about it is making my inner self get all tangled up.

Sometimes we feel hard to express tension and frustration and we are physically unable to relax. At those times, I find that positioning the body in an essential psoas release is a great place to start.

Why the psoas and what is it? One of the most amazing illustrations I have seen of it is HERE. Even if you choose not to look at it, know it’s a pair of long loin shaped muscles that run from your lumbar spine forward and end up attaching to the inner thigh area. Those ginormous muscles have an amazing ability to link the upper and lower part of the body for movement, but are also powerful communicators of stress and tension in the body, and often alert us of stress and frustration, through back pain, pelvic pain or digestive issues.

The goal of this relaxation exercise is to ease the tension in your deep core and lumbar area. To set you for it, go ahead and fold a large blanket until you have it square to the thickness of a firm pillow. Place it on the ground and grab a small pillow.

Before you go into the release lay on your back and assess how tense or relaxed your body is. Check your chin position, the shape and contact of your shoulder blades on the floor, how far your spine is from the floor in its different segments, are the backs of your thighs relaxed on the floor or are they lifted off the floor, where is your pelvis and generally how relaxed on the floor or ”lifted off” the floor you feel.

To set up for the release place your shoulder blades on the folded blanket (or yoga bolster). Place the small pillow or yoga brick under your head so that your chin can drop down and relax. Place your arms at your sides palms up. From here you can assess the elevation of your ribcage – you can touch your ribs and see how far they are sticking up, out or to the side. Ideally the ridges of your ribs should be flush with the flesh of your abdominals and not visible at all.  Using your breath, gently breathe in and breathe out, allowing the chest to relax towards the ground and the low back to ease into an imaginable hammock.

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You can lay and breathe in this position for as long as you like, preferably for at least 10 minutes. Most people who experience back tension and digestive distress want to spend even longer. I personally have had many days when I relaxed in this position for 30 to 45 minutes at a time and got up very relaxed and refreshed.

The great thing about getting unnecessary tension out of your neck and low back area is that the new state of your muscles communicates back to your mind that there is a new calmer version of you emerging from the relaxation. Your thoughts start to flow better, creative block gets broken, numerous aches and pains subside and go away.

Once done with your release, lay back flat on the floor to assess what changes have occurred in your system – are your shoulders closer to the floor, is your ribcage more relaxed, can you feel that space under your low back decreased?

December can be a crazy month, but there is something you can do – participate in making it less crazy by taking your own tension out of your way and going about your day with peace and flow.

Move well and happy Holidays!

Galina

 


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A new way to use your chair

Most people sit on chairs, and never think that they can be a useful tool to get healthy.

A lof of health complaints can be blamed on a chair – anything from hip and low back pain, to problems with digestion and breathing, concentration and productivity.

The 90/90 position that chairs, couches and cars put us in cause chronic tension and shortening in all anatomical lines of the body, but the back line takes the biggest beating – from your plantar fascia, through the calves, hamstrings, low back – to the upper back, neck and temples, your body tightens, oxygen delivery worsens, tissues suffer and stiffen and when you get up from your chair or go and try to work out, your low back, hips, knees and feet may start to scream.

To make it worse, many people wear shoes that cause additional stiffening of the back line – any positive heel, a few mm to a few inches, can make matters worse. If you are into sports, sitting is fatal to performance, as it worsens your ability to store elastic energy, making jumping, and even sprinting and running, poor. Any bending forward movements that require hinging at the hip, are affected and movement patterns become dysfunctional and painful, leading to injury and long breaks from training.

How about other complaints like constipation, indigestion, pelvic pain, incontinence, breathing difficulties or inability to concentrate? Sitting may be involved here as well.

How about the ladies, who want to have a nice round shape to their glutes? Impossible if you are sitting on them all day. In my Neurokinetic Therapy ™ work, I often find the glutes unable to perform, and the calves extremely stiff and unable to yield to a stretch.

To undo some of the damage of sitting, I am offering you two super simple versions of the ”double calf stretch”. You can do it anywhere and make your chair a weapon of health instead of a weapon of destruction.

Double calf stretch for beginners

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Stand in front of a chair. Place your feet at hip width. Point your feet straight forward with the outside edges of your feet straight. That means that the outside of your foot will be parallel to the edge of your yoga mat. Straighten your knees. Start to slowly bend forward at the hips, making sure your low back stays neutral. Only go as far as you can move your tailbone up without flexing your low back. Support your hands on the chair. You will feel a stretch in your calves, the backs of your knees, your hamstrings or your glutes – everyone feels a different stretch. Hold for a minute and repeat 2-3 times.

For an extra challenge: check with the tension in your quads by relaxing your knee caps.  You should be able to drop them loose during the stretch. Next, externally rotate your femurs so that the backs of your knees are pointing straight back. This may lift your arches.  How about that?

Double calf stretch for the advanced user

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Use a mirror to make sure that you can do the above version of the stretch so well that your tailbone is parallel to the floor. If you can do that it’s time to add a level of excitement to the stretch. This time you will step on a rolled up towel or half dome and place the balls of your feet on top and the outside edges of your feet straight at hip width. This will ensure a deeper stretch. Again, keep the knees straight as you bend forward at the hips, keeping the low back neutral. Hold for a minute and repeat 2-3 times.

For an extra challenge: check with the tension in your quads by relaxing your knee caps.  You should be able to drop them loose during the stretch. Next, externally rotate your femurs so that the backs of your knees are pointing straight back. This may lift your arches and place more weight on the outside of the feet.  You are welcome!

Move well and see you soon!

Galya