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How To Meditate Through Exercise

5-Best-Exercises-to-Do-withThis article from mindful.org brings to light something I have been loving, enjoying and sharing for years. Give the moment you live in the attention and you will begin to shift and feel better. The McCall  Method is built on the principle that every movement of every day is worth noticing. This article takes one area of life that many of us enjoy and says just be there and notice what is happening when you exercise and you will enjoy it MORE!”

There is so much we can notice when we are moving or not moving. (I call this “Doing Nothing Well”).A classic McCall Method moment is noticing where your hips are and asking the question is your spine lengthening up? Is your belly being like Buddha and relaxed? How are your arms and shoulders? Are they free and allowing gravity to drop them away from your ears comfortably? So many wonderful things to check in with and enjoy. I think the main reason yoga is effective is the inward focus and slowing down of movement more than the poses themselves. We have so many “poses” or postures in a day that can be noticed and help create the mindfulness we hunger for and enjoy when we give it a chance. I totally understand the love of listening to music when exercising. I never used to listen to music when I ran but during the past  few years I mix it up. (I love to break my own rules…isn’t that what rules are for …to be broken?)

When you notice where your body is and what it is doing in the moment from swimming to running to boxing (something I enjoy) you are ALL THERE. Research is showing what the article points out. If/when you mentally show up, you’re going to enjoy that moment so much more than just going through the motions. Mindfulness is the new buzz word and I like it. I’ve spent more than 25 years wanting folks to be interested in NOTICING the most simple movements and now it’s in vogue! I couldn’t be happier!

Being a physical therapist the word mindfulness was not really a go to phrase but the truth is it is the foundation of The McCall Method. The Balance Postures are just taking the most fundamental and basic movements and postures you live in, having you NOTICE them, relax in them and shift into a better place with them. This rebuilding of your posture opens up an internal awareness that is vast and so very useful in your life. This “undoing “of old postures and movement patterns that no longer serve you in turn opens you up to an intelligence in movement that has been there all the time.

 

Let Go and Get Tall

tallLet Go and Get Tall

Tension. We carry it in our bodies involuntarily AND voluntarily.
Today’s stress inflicts tension before we even know it. And we tense up because we’ve been told it’s good for us – ‘Tuck your butt under! Suck in your gut! Lift up your chest!’ The trouble is, all of these commands prevent you from enjoying a strong, tall, natural, relaxed posture.
Just relax and let go of your stomach and you’ll automatically begin to undo this tension. You can do it NOW, no matter where you are reading this. If you feel a bit dumpy when you let go of your gut, like your stomach is sticking out, then begin to change the shape of your belly by shifting your posture and stretching up the spine. By doing this simple move you will begin to shift your entire spine and this will result in a taller appearance as tension releases.
It’s the tension or what physical therapists call “guarding patterns” in the body that contributes to pain. This is also why it’s hard to stand up straight or get your head back over your shoulders. The body wants to pull you forward because of the habitual tension around your spine. That habit started a long time ago due to our lifestyle of computer sitting, texting and staring at our cell phones. To shift out of this it may feel odd at first because you may not feel like you’re doing much when you stretch up the spine. Over time as you repeat this you begin to notice when your slumping sets back in, your shoulders creep up to your ears and head shifts forward.
As you feel this old pattern return, you can STOP and Get Tall Again!

WATCH me give you examples here!

How to do it:
1. Let go of the stomach.
2. Press your head up into a something like a small towel or beany-bag.
3. You will feel the stomach area draw in from the upward stretch. Re-relax your chest and abdominal area and repeat the stretch again.
4. Now walk tall into your kitchen or wherever you need to go and notice the difference in how it feels to be aware of what is happening
INSIDE of you than OUTSIDE of you.
5. Do this daily and notice how your gut gets smaller by just shifting your structure and relaxing your body. You may notice that tension begins to melt away as well.

Downward Dog, Safely

DOWNWARD FACING DOG Adho mukha śvānāsana
People love this pose. As one of the most popular yoga poses, down dog can pose some problems for your shoulders if you aren’t aware of where your weight is all the time. The way you approach and do down dog makes all the difference in the world on how much you will gain from it. Properly done, most of your weight in down dog should be centered in your hips and legs. For many folks, the weight often shifts to the shoulders, neck, elbows and hands, which can injure
and/or hurt these areas. This video shows you how to shift the weight back into your hips without creating unnecessary stress to your upper body.

Some tips to get the most out of your Dog:
1.Keep the natural arch in the low back the whole time.
2. Use blocks or a chair to elevate your hands so the weight of your body is more in your hips.
3. Keep your knees bent so that you don’t lose your arch in your lower spine.
4. Let your heels come up off the ground. This also helps prevent you from losing the arch in your spine or position of your hips.
5. Stretch back in to your hips away from your hands by focusing on your crotch stretching back and up.

Voluntary Movement Is Movement With A Purpose

Have you ever wondered why repetition makes a difficult task easier? Actions such as riding a bike or skiing down a mountain go from what is called a cortical level (the cortex of the brain or higher centers) to a less conscious level of the nervous system through repetition.1 1 Thank goodness, or it would take hours to get dressed every morning! When we realize that movement experiences shape our body that should be our clue to connect riding a bike, walking, jumping and skipping with bending at the sink to shave, getting out of a car or carrying out the trash: they are reflex and voluntary. Postural response is shaped by experience.

woman harvesting rice in field

Cultivation of rice / Paddy Field/ Bali, Indonesia

Daily movements are important since they require skill much as a great tennis serve or the freestyle performed by an Olympic swimmer requires skill. The trick is to get movement to stick so that it’s a “no brainer.” We do that by writing a motor engram, a template that takes us from frustration to freedom by saving a move in our long-term memory.2  We write the engram by practice, by repetition. Consider this. It takes 5,000 to 6,000 repetitions to retrain the muscles of our body to coordinate as they did when we were a child.3

Before you give up, realize that in one day you probably bend forward hundreds of times. In one day! This is what repetition brings:4  To net a basketball from any angle takes 1 million throws to reach peak skill. It takes 1.5 million stitches to be a fine hand knitter.

A baseball pitcher needs 1.6 million throws to be a Clayton Kershaw.
6Woman in the Garden

So what’s a few thousand bends? It’s all in your perspective. However, if you’re going to take the time to do your thousand repetitions, make sure you are tuned in to how you are bending to get the best results.

 

1 E. Kandel, J.H. Schwartz, and T.M. Jessell, Principles of Neutral Science, Appleton & Lange, Connecticut, 1991, p. 534

2 Ibid

3 O. Holten, H. P. Faugli, Medisink Treningsterapi, Illniversitetsforlaaet. 0608 Olso, Norway

4 F. J. Kottke, D. Halpern, J. K. M. Easton, A. T. Ozel, C. A. Burrill, The training coordination. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 1978, 59: 567-572. M. Trew and T. Everett (eds.), Human Movement, Churchill Livingstone Inc., New York, 1997, p. 43
Image 1 credit to Framepool. Image found at http://footage.framepool.com/en/shot/778815322-weeding-bending-paddy-field-cultivation-of-rice

The Small Stuff Matters

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An important way to prevent injury is to be more aware of basic physical stuff like standing, sitting, bending and “hanging out.” We often think back and knee pain etc. come “out of nowhere!” Rarely is that the way it actually happens. We just don’t notice small signs because these little interruptions of discomfort don’t hurt. They’re just annoying. But this is when we should take notice.

We are more conditioned to pay attention and remain attracted to the intensity of a movement.  We think the more intense, the more is happening. These simpler movements don’t seem interesting and get pushed aside because we’re into more intense stimuli. The paradox is the subtleties like shifting your hips to be more centered when sitting or relaxing your chest and belly and stretching up from the back of you spine — ALL can have a great impact and grow to be not so subtle. There is less of the need to go out and seek more stimuli when you begin to feel or become more aware of the subtle movements inside of you. You become more comfortable. The seeking for more dramatic results needs to chill a little. Your awareness is being heightened when you become more sensitive to movements that can keep you from moving wrong over and over again. The McCall Method is built on this idea of noticing and increasing awareness around your daily movements and postures. The results are surprisingly satisfying. The more you pay attention to the small stuff the greater your chances of not being injured.

“Your” Yoga

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I like the article, Previously Untold Yoga History Sheds New Light, not only because it points out the difference between ancient and modern yoga, but it’s also a reminder to just be present in “your” yoga.

There is a facade around ancient yoga being practiced today and it’s contributing to injuries. We’re focusing in the wrong direction. Instead of concentrating on your connection to your body during yoga, we look too closely at the pose itself. First, many poses are unnatural and can force the spine and other joints out of their natural alignment. So why do those poses? That’s a great question we should ask ourselves. People often come to me feeling like they have failed because they can’t do certain poses. This is crazy thinking unless you want to star in Cirque Du Soleil. The question to ask is “Am I benefiting from this pose?” If you are, rest in it and feel its purpose. If not, just breathe and rest in another pose that helps you feel grounded.

It’s not easy to notice what is working and not working in your body as well as how to be present. So it’s easy and tempting to look at the teacher and others around us and try to be in their pose. As this article so wisely says “True yoga is found not in texts, but in the heart of the practitioner.”

Hinge At The Hips: Getting down to the ground and back up again easily

If asked, most of us will say we’re mobile. But when it’s time to get down on the ground to play with our little ones or pets, mobility may be a touch more challenging. Even just sitting on the floor may require a little more stretching and we may just hear a groan here or there as we move (especially when we get UP.)  Below are two videos that demonstrate how to easily get down on the floor and how to lift yourself back up.

My (almost 91-year-old) mother complained recently her balance has gotten worse, and at the same time her legs felt ‘heavy.’ She (correctly) saw the correlation between the two. She asked me how she can get up and down from the floor efficiently. Walking her (and all of you) through the process, the hips become the focus; think of them as a hinge. Sticking your butt out, not curving the spine and using the hands and arms more as balancing tools helped her quickly find comfort in the movement. After a few “down and back up” drills, she said her balance was better AND her legs were not heavy! That’s what I call real success.

If you feel your legs get tired quickly when walking it maybe you’re more “out of balance” than weak. Watch me getting down and back up, then try it with me a few times. I’m betting you’ll see and feel improvement in your body, just like my mom did.

Avoid Neck Trauma While Texting

How many texts do you think are sent out every day, hour, even every minute!? I have to admit, texting can present our bodies with some real challenges. But what exactly is the problem? Looking down? No. It’s the whole body that’s curving over the phone. That’s the bad news, but the good news is you can text all you want without trashing your body. Forget the C-curve body.
Think ‘angles.’“Angles” are your joints. We are designed to move very specifically    from our joints but when you are texting while you’re slumped over and your butt is tucked in, you are hanging and straining soft tissue like the muscles and ligaments in your neck and back. This creates all sorts of discomfort and damage to both soft tissue and joints.

Start with the hips. Sit or stand with your crotch directly under you. Yes, your butt probably will feel a little bit like it’s sticking out. Don’t strain your back, let the back and belly go. Just get your crotch or pubic bone directly under you. Now we can stack the spine and head so that looking down at your phone is easy on the body. When you look down at your phone you are designed to move from the base of your neck. You will feel like you are hinging from that bony bump at the base of your neck. That is the spinous process of C7. It will feel like a hinging type of motion. Don’t roll your shoulders forward as your face goes down toward your chest.

When you roll or curve your spine, you’re hanging out on your soft tissue and straining it. When you focus specifically on moving from your joints, you’ll become so much more comfortable and relaxed. At first, these changes will feel strange. You’ve probably lost some range of motion, especially in the back of your neck, so when you switch from slumped to stacked, stretching could feel uncomfortable until you get used to your new posture. Each joint in our body has its own specific muscles and ligaments designed to take and move a load.  But slumping and not stacking overloads certain joints with too much strain. Your focus always needs to be on relaxing and moving your bones so these muscles can do their job without injury.

Don’t treat your body like a hammock, but like a chair. Let it sit you up.

Begin Again

Often people come to me with back pain and they realize after a few sessions (or maybe even sooner) that the way that they are moving in the day is creating much of their back pain. This is the problem and the answer. It can be exciting at first knowing by moving better there is a way out of this boxed in lifestyle of limited movement and pain. Also the idea of possible freedom that comes with letting go of the fear of the back “breaking down” i.e. riding on planes or in cars or sitting in meetings and the excitement of being back in the game of golf. Then there is the realization that re-learning how to move is a big lifestyle change. For some who are born disciplinarians this is an easy task but for many it looks dreadfully daunting.

Sharon Salzberg*, a mediation teacher uses a wonderful phrase when she teaches meditation to help when the mind wonders off to “begin again”, bringing the mind back to the breath or what ever was the focus. This begin again is the secret to really enjoying the process of learning. By seeing that we are not “failing” when we have to start over again and again, but we are in the process and in the moment. This perspective can help with gaining the ability to focus, relax and enjoy the process of change.

Where to start:

  1. It’s good to start with movements or postures that you really want/ need to change and you will experience the greatest results the quickest.
  2. Pick something you do a lot. If your life demands a lot of sitting, focus on getting in and out of the chair in a more balanced way and sitting more balanced since you are going to do it anyway.

If you take small steps and realize that by changing one movement, like sitting, will automatically begin to change the way you stand- which will change the way you bend- and change the way you walk.For further instruction or assistance with this and other pain relieving movements, give me a call or send me an email and we can connect and move forward together.

*I was recently introduced to Sharon Salzberg’s work and thoughts through my new favorite app, 10% Happier with Dan Harris. Sharon is the New York Times best-selling author of Real Happiness, along with eight other inspiring books. She is among some of the most respected meditation teachers and speakers in the United States. For more mediation teachings and inspiration check out 10% Happier.

Our Body Loves One Moment At A Time

Winter is not over here in Bend. Friday night a good bit of snow fell so it is time to get the blower and shovel out. I realized I really enjoy doing things most people think are inconvenient. Clearing the driveway of snow is one of those things. I have forgotten what it’s like to be uncomfortable or to even hurt when doing daily chores. I spend a lot of time helping people out of pain so that these “inconveniences “ are not a problem. But I never really tell them how comfortable and enjoyable simple tasks can be when your body moves well.  It’s really comfortable for me to bend over and pick up the laundry, and pushing the blower up my steep driveway is a fun challenge because in those little moments I am really in my body and not in my head.

We spend so much time looking forward to things like skiing, running and working out but “check out” when going from sitting to standing or walking across the room or standing in line at the grocery store. This ignoring creates tension that we don’t even know is there except for a sense of tightness in the shoulders or hips which becomes our new normal. Sometimes these discomforts lead to an injury but often it just becomes labeled as “old age” or blamed on an old sports injury. I can remember when I first felt a huge relief of tension in my body with sitting. I learned how to lean back in a chair (Recline is Devine in my book). There was a comfort level I cannot describe. I had not felt that relaxed sitting since I was a child, my neck felt free of tension. This was the beginning of a journey to a “new normal” that was without tension and based in relaxation. We have become a society that wants to eliminate or “hire out” these fundamental activities or inconveniences. We want to get them out of the way so we can get to better or more important things. I have found the opposite is true. The “being in the moment” cliche has real meaning and truth when it comes to the health of our body. It’s our minds that are in rebellion to this fact. What I have learned from my own body and helping others for so many years is that these simple movements and daily chores we do all the time are the foundation to feeling relaxed, grounded, and strong.