SMARTer bodies

Category: Everyday Life

Wearing Heels Can Change Your Feet and Your Walk

For those who have worn heels they know that it can be physically taxing.  We are finally glad to see in writing what we have been telling our clients for years: that the physical discomfort can extend to more than just pain in the feet and the legs, but also contributes to back pain, knee pain and hip issues.  A recent article in the New York Times is now helping to shed light on research that proves that wearing heels can also affect a person’s gait.  Here’s the gist:

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Poetry That Moves Us

This time of the year is supposed to allow us quality time with family and friends that is often in short supply the rest of the year.  But it can also be a challenging time that brings about a sense of inertia with the shorter days, long stretches of darkness and that melancholy that sometimes affects us as this chapter comes to an end and we get ready to welcome a New Year.

Well, here’s a video of spoken word to help remind you that whatever is coming your way meet life openly and enthusiastically.  This piece, Shake the Dust, by Anis Mojgani reflects our attitude when it comes to exploring the human body.  Just as we have often said, “MOVE!,” Anis is reminding us to shake things up and step head-on into the world with gusto.

Enjoy the poetry and be excited for what the New Year will bring:

Health Foods Sometimes Bad Foods

The blog, The Healthy Home Economist, recently posted about skim milk, soy, and agave nectar exposing the truth of these falsely promoted “health foods.”  They are in fact not good for you! Read about it here: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/2010/02/why-skim-milk-will-make-you-fat-and/

These are the kinds of articles that we feel there need to be more of. To us, the take home message of this blog was: use your brain. Don’t buy into something just because someone tells you that it is good for you. Use your own discrimination. False advertising is an epidemic of most media, but particularly overruns the internet.  One cannot take for granted the labels of “natural” and “healthy.”  What are the standards for natural and healthy? We know that certified organic products are regulated by the USDA, but did you know that the label “natural” is not regulated?  An article in the Chicago Tribune explains.

Also, studies and statistics refered to cannot always be taken at face value.  Our last blog post went to the heart of using critical thinking when reading study reports and findings.  Statistics can be presented in a skewed manner to support certain propoganda.  For instance, what if I took a poll in several different gyms and found that 65% of the people who were participating in yoga classes have had rotator cuff injuries. If I worded it a certain way, it could seem like yoga causes rotator cuff injuries. But there are more factors to consider. Maybe those students came to yoga to heal their injuries caused by something else (not saying that yoga would actually DO that). Maybe the person who took the poll was an attractive female and the only people who volunteered to answer the poll were heterosexual males (as rotator cuff injuries are again, “statistically” known to be more prevalent in men). Or maybe the poll was taken only in gyms used by retired professional athletes. The point is, one should be cautious when digesting the surface information regarding any study.  Take in the information with a healthy amount of skepticism. Ask critical quesitons like, who is writing this, funding this, and why. Get a second opinion; discuss the topic with a professional. Collect as many different opionions as possible from diversified sources, but don’t just trust one source for information regarding your health or wellbeing (unless that source is smarterbodies.com ….. just kidding).

When it comes to food, we use some very simple rules. The less steps that had to be taken from that food being harvested and getting to your mouth, the better. Farmer’s markets are an excellent way to access foods as they have been presented by Nature without any unnecessary processing. Take what you get there and make a lovely meal.  Eating unprocessed meals can actually be quite the lifestyle shift.  You’ll have to make time for cooking, which can feel impossible if you’re busy.  Even if you must rely on premade meals eat ones made up of whole foods that don’t list added sugars or preservatives.  This sounds challenging, but your body with thank you!

Yoga for Back Pain? Maybe

Last month The New York Times posted an article about yoga and stretching for “chronic low back pain”. It was based on a 26 week study of over 200 sufferers (the mean age was late 40s). The study concluded that a regular practice of yoga (3 or more times a week) or stretching improved the participants’ condition in over half of the population. While this is certainly fantastic news, and we believe that studies like this are essential in order to educate the general population about the infinite benefits of physical activity, there are a lot of generalizations here that we feel should be addressed.For one, what is stretching and what is yoga? Defining Yoga can bring up many conflicting idealogies and could be its own blog post. BUT what we can say here is that there are SO many different styles of yoga these days that saying you took a yoga class is like describing a car by the number of wheels it has (all cars have 4 wheels and are all therefore created equal, right?). Also, yoga is sometimes not just stretching. Some classes will have you holding deep stretches for long periods of time, some classes will have you flapping your arms around as fast as you can in 3 minutes, some classes will have you moving in and out of poses holding them for only one breath each, some classes focus on breath, some focus on handstands, etc. etc. The point is that it is important to consider what KIND of yoga you are doing and is that type of yoga beneficial for YOU!

What about stretching? According to this study, the stretching group “went to weekly stretching classes built around aerobic exercises, deep stretches and strengthening exercises focused on the trunk and leg muscles”. This distinction is also made later when the writer said that “her study looked specifically at deep stretching that is far more involved than the brief, light stretches most people do before or after a workout” These are important distinctions to point out because they were not just stretching. There was also strengthening involved. Depending on the cause of the back pain, stretching alone may not actually help. What can be said for certain is that if the people in this study were sedentary prior to the study (which the study does not specify), then almost ANY kind of lower impact activity would most likely make them feel better. But what about a case where the activity (or to be technical, the compensation patterns used by the practitioner in said activity) caused the pain? For example, what if someon’s yoga practice was hurting them?  These are all things to think about when evaluating the validity of such studies.

The real question here is… what the heck IS chronic low back pain? According to Wikipedia, chronic pain is pain that persists for longer than 6 months. According to the Mayoclinic, most people in the United States will complain about back pain at some point in their lives. Because it is such a major complaint, especially when it is chronic, and there doesn’t seem to be any one “cure all” method, articles such as this one can become very influential. The problem here lies in the generalizations. “Oh! I have chronic back pain, so I should do yoga!” seems like a reasonable conclusion to come to after reading such an article. But we feel that this is a place where critical thinking is key.

Even though it may be a common occurrence, if you have back pain that persists longer than 6 months the first step you should take is not take up yoga, it should be to go to a doctor. Some people will accept chronic aches and pains as a bi-product of aging, but any sensation of pain that you have is your body trying to bring your attention to something. A useful question to ask yourself is WHY do you have back pain? There are several physical ailments that could cause this: herniated discs, spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, bone growth, etc. All of these ailments are different from one another and require a different solution. To say that yoga or stretching could improve all of these conditions is an overstatement to say the least. Even if your physician does not find a physiological reason for your pain after testing, it is still imperative to investigate the cause of the pain. There is a cause, even if it does not show up on an MRI. Maybe you have an imbalance in your back erectors (muscles) versus your abdominal muscles, maybe you have a functional scoliosis, maybe you have tight hips which are causing you to compensate for movement in your trunk, maybe you have a tight diaphragm, maybe there is a digestive issue. etc. Again, each of these issues has a unique solution that needs to be addressed if the goal is to truly eliminate your back pain for good.

Billions of dollars a year are spent on quick fixes and trial and error “cure all” methods to back pain. Your health is certainly worth a financial investment, but instead of a quick fix, maybe a program that was designed for you would be a better solution. There are a plethora of physical therapists, acupuncturists,  or… you could try us! That’s kind of what we do!

The Holiday Rush

It’s the complaint heard every year.  It seems as if the retail industry is constantly pushing the Christmas (and every other consumer related big holiday) down our throats earlier and earlier each year. No joking, the day after Halloween I walked into my local CVS and discovered a winter wonderland, albeit made up of fake silver snow.  Wait!  What about Thanksgiving and the Fall?

This feeling of being rushed through the rest of the calendar year can drive us all a little batty.  Most stores you go into now are reminding you of the coming colder weather, the shorter days with less sun and the numerous purchases that must be made.  It’s no wonder that many of us find difficulty in being able to enjoy the fun and excitement that this time of the year used to bring most of us as children.

So how do you cope?  We’re asking you.  We talk about living in the present, being in the moment when practicing yoga.  It’s time to put your money where your practice is!  How do we find our internal grounding and centered stillness when everyone and everything around is rushing by so quickly?  How do we not get caught up and rushed along? Some suggest pausing to catch your breath, taking a moment to unclench tight jaws, and even physically slowing down.

I’ve noticed that I walk everywhere with my cell phone in my hand either texting, emailing, or talking.  This can be quite the hazzard in NYC!!!  Several times I’ve almost been hit by a car while walking across an intersection, not realizing I do NOT have the right of way.  I’m ashamed to admit it’s been several times.  Once should have been warning enough!  Now I make it a policy to put my cell phone away as long as I’m walking on the street and slow my breathing.  Taking that time to feel my lungs and appreciate what they are doing with every inhale and exhale is helping me to salvage my excitement about the coming holidays.

Share with us how you are salvaging your sanity and love for the present moment…even if you happen to be in Macy’s!

Why Won’t My Neck Relax!

Why Won’t My Neck Relax!

You may feel that sometimes, no matter how much you try to stretch your neck there is no relief.  One of the ways in which this may manifest is if you lay down on the floor without a pillow and it feels like you have work to release.  Maybe your chin juts towards the ceiling.  Maybe your neck feels “crunchy” in the back.  So what do you need to do? Instinctually, you may react to the tightness with attempts to stretch the necks muscles more.

But this situation presents an important lesson that we will touch upon again and again in this blog and in our work:

There is a difference between Stretch and Release.  Stretch does NOT always equal Release!

What if the neck muscles that feel tight are actually overstretched and you are not perceiving the sensation correctly?  To further illuminate, take an internal body scan and see if you can sense if you have very tight pectoral muscles.  This may be a result of sitting at a computer for many hours, reading at a desk, or just holding bad posture.  The chronically contracted muscles on the front of your body are constantly pulling and forcing the back muscles to stretch to their maximum capacity.  The tight sensations in the back are muscles screaming for release not more stretch.

Try working on the pecs with body work, massage, or gently stretching them…whatever works best for you to open those muscles.  Now try actually using the muscles in the back body by contracting the postural muscles.  Lie down and squeeze the scapula together by contracting the muscles in between.  See how far down you can take that squeeze.  This may be difficult, because you are lying down.  But, try alternating squeezing the muscles and releasing the contraction.  Doing this, after opening the pecs, can begin to rebalance your posture and equalize the work of the front and back muscles.  In other words, you will open your tight pecs and give release/relief to the overly stretched back muscles.  Once you’ve alternated the squeeze and release of the postural muscles 3 – 5 times lie down on the floor and see if you feel a difference in your previously “tight” neck.  Is it easier to release your head to the ground with out a pillow?  Do you have an easier time tucking your chin back and keeping it there?

Try this and give us your feedback!

Thirstea Cafe in NYC Rocks!…or Bubbles

Yesterday I (meaning Melissa, the tea-obsessed one, remember?)  had the pleasure of trying bubble tea in a wonderful little spot known as Thirstea Cafe.  This cafe is a must!  Nestled in the East Village Thirstea has a zen-like interior that is simple and clean, making it a perfect set up for the many teas they have stocked to seem like they are ready to jump off the shelves…and leap into your bags.

My man wanted to do something nice for our anniversary and found a google offer for Thirstea.  You might be thinking that this all well and good for tea collectors. But Elie (usually not a tea fan) can attest to the fact that their bubble teas are amongst the best we’ve had and he’s ready to go back.  So please, please, PLEASE do yourselves a favor and after you’ve had a yoga practice (like how I slipped that in there?) go and get refreshed.  I suggest the Jasmine Green Bubble tea,  so lightly sweetened.  Also bought some of their matcha. Not to mention the owners, Helen and Wynn, are super nice.  No reason not to go.

Check out the sweet pic they took of us and posted on their blog.

 

Great Stress Reliever…Books

I found myself on the busy and noisy streets of New York, which usually I love, but not today.  Usually, I’m pretty good at just letting the noise and intensity wash over me.  Today, though, was more of a challenge.  In the midst of the external cacophony and my internal mounting chaos I walked by a bookstore.  Didn’t have to think twice before I just ducked right in.

The smell, the quiet, and the piles of books allowed me to let go and instantly calmed my overstimulated nerves.  I must have spent 40 minutes inside.  Without buying a thing I walked out feeling renewed. Books have always been an important part of my daily life.  I know there are many others that feel the same.  They provide an escape and allow for the senses (touch, sight and smell) to be completely absorbed in the moment.  Reading really does have a transformative affect. (Like Yoga anyone?)

My suggestion:  Next time your feeling stressed, if you can, walk into a bookstore.  Take your time looking and being fascinated by every new story and subject that surrounds you.  The most important part:  DON’T BUY ANYTHING!  Let this be an experience that allows you to disengage with the outside world.  If the focus then becomes about acquiring something new that can interrupt your ability to connect with your internal self.  Try it!

If you happen to by in NYC check out:

Strand Book Store.  The Most famous used bookstore in NYC.

McNally Jackson Books.  This Soho bookstore always has amazing displays and author signings.

Mercer Street Books.  Located on Mercer St. next to the Angelika Film Center, one can spend hours looking through the shelves for hidden and very cheap treasures.

 Please share some of your favorite spots, wherever they are.