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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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Are you on your feet all day and what can you do about it?

Saturday was foot day.

At 7 a.m. we joined our lovely friend and Restorative Exercise ™ colleague for a foot health class – she was presenting to a group of nurses during a yearly conference. The room was filled with lovely dedicated women, who spend their days lifting patients, helping them do self-care, distributing medications, or running around sleek hospital hallways.

As I looked down at the flat feet, the bunions, the hammertoes, the tired knees, the chronically tight low backs and asymmetrical shoulders, I couldn’t help but admire these women’s dedication and heart for others and also wonder how can we best help them be well, so they can assist others in their healing while staying in the best shape they can.

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In about an hour Samantha presented some basic foot and lower body care exercises: a calf stretch, a top of the foot stretch, a double hamstring and calf stretch and some basic rules on standing, foot position and weight distribution. Just an hour of us walking around the crowd, adjusting bodies, helping with alignment and awareness of positioning opened a whole new world to the nurses. They couldn’t believe how simple yet powerful these small stretches were.

Just today, I received an email from one of them that read:

” Thank you so much for your valuable help with the “Ouch” movement presentation. It was wonderful. So, by the end of the day, my back was better. Today, I did all that you taught and my hammies are much looser ,pain much better. 🙂 I actually can cough without a muscle spasm.  Fairly miraculous!!! Right now, I am trying my best to keep my upper back and neck in alignment. You all are angels.”

RES family

The angels mentioned above

If you too have a standing job where you need to wear shoes, you may find that your feet, hips, and back have been trying to communicate to you, through fatigue, pain, discomfort, swelling, pulling and restricting, that maybe you need to move in that area a bit more. When you have a physical job that leaves you drained at the end of the day, you may want to crash on the couch just to feel your brain drain. For some people, it may take daily jogging or pushing themselves at the gym, just to clear their heads. Unfortunately, neither very hard physical exercise, not complete inactivity can restore health through blood flow and muscle relaxation to the areas that need your tender love and attention.

Enter a few exercises that you can do throughout your day to improve your overall physical condition, starting from the feet, ankles and lower legs. Your body can only be as good as your base, and once the shoe falls off your foot you can really start to feel how much room for improvement there is.

Do these throughout your day, not as one big bout of effort and let me know how you feel!

toe handshake

toe handshake

As you can see from the picture, you can even do this one as a passenger in a car – it also makes the person behind the wheel jealous 🙂 Any time – during a break, take your shoe off, and place one foot over the opposite side knee. Use your opposite hand (left foot – right hand and vise versa) to interlace the fingers between the toes and to create a gentle stretch between the toes – this allows the muscles that get squished by shoes and bearing your weight forward all day long to get a chance to stretch and breathe, and ultimately, to give your brain a better idea of your position in space and what muscles need to work to move you forward or keep you in place efficiently without causing dysfunction, and unnatural wear and tear. Hold for 30-60 seconds and do on both feet anytime you can.

calf stretch

calf stretch

To perform a calf stretch, fold up a towel in a roll and place on the ground. Place the right foot at the left end of the towel and walk your other foot forward until you feel a stretch in your right calf. Keep the foot straight and make sure that your upper body is not twisting. Hold for 60 seconds several times throughout the day. I’ve seen this stretch miraculously relieve low back pain, neck stiffness, and restore balance with walking. Frequency is key, so do it as often as you can.

top of the foot stretch

top of the foot stretch

This one, very much like the calf stretch, opens the neglected joints at the front of the ankle – because of footwear and lack of natural movement, we often end up with stiffness that affects our gait, squatting and freedom with running or jumping. It’s really easy to set up for it and you need no props. Just place your feet straight at hip width. Take one leg behind you and curl the toes under so that the front of the ankle opens. Keep the heel behind the ankle – often with stiffness and lack of muscle yield you will see the heel try to roll away or toward the center of the body. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat throughout the day. Find it too hard? Sit in a chair and try it that way – your body weight will be less on the stretching ankle, making it possible to do.

hamstring and calf stretch

hamstring and calf stretch

Place your feet at hip width on the two ends of the rolled up towel. That means that the outside of your foot will be parallel. 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. Stay in this position for about a minute, making sure you can breathe and keep the legs straight. Allow the hamstrings and the calves to relax. For a version of this exercise using a chair you can read my chair blog post, here.

In addition to practicing these simple movements, you can also start to think of the surfaces you walk on – at work, just like these nurses, most of us meet just flat and sleek ground – we are not only casted by the shoes, but we are also prisoners of the flat surfaces that don’t let the 33 joints in our feet move, “breathe” and work like nature intended. When you are planning your relaxation time, build in some trails, beach time, or just walking on grass or gravel with shoes that are flexible enough to allow the bones and joints of the foot to move. Isn’t it crazy that in our off time we are in a flat gym, on a flat treadmill, or elliptical trainer, never allowing the feet to get a full range of stimulation.

Have questions about how to take better care of your feet and align your whole body – shoot me an email at movewellstudio@gmail.com and I would love to get back to you and help you with books, resources and advice! Until then, move well and see you around – hopefully on some grass, rock and gravel!

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p.s. Wondering why our whole day was a foot day? After we left the presentation we walked the famers market, two grocery stores, taught a 5 hour cooking class, all on our feet and then did tons of organizing and clean up when we got home. Today, I’ve been stretching and rolling my feet since I woke up and I already feel much better – but oh my – being on your feet all day is definitely a feet (get it?) of strength 🙂


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What is Restorative Exercise™?

I met Katy Strahan a few months ago when she called me for a consultation. We had a really long phone conversation and I was amazed to find that we had a lot in common -our adoption of ancestral diets, love for fermented foods, a drive to achieve better movement quality, a desire to educate people about their full  life potential! Working with Kathy was an amazing experience, because she lost her eyesight when she was only 2 years old. Now 50 years later, she is extremely active, has an online following of thousands of people who want to live a healthy life and is a daily inspiration to all of us who like to see that a life with limits can be lived limitlessly!

Kathy interviewed me about my work and was kind to share the recording with me.  I think this audio is a great way to get introduced to Restorative Exercise ™.  I share why whole body movement is important, how to make time for it and how exercise may not be enough for health and longevity! Enjoy!