Monday, June 2, 2014

Exercise Detox: Alignment Tune-Up

More than a year ago I took a sabbatical from running and my normal training intensity to back the hell off mentally and physically. My body was in need of some serious healing. I learned a lot from the experience and I've carried on with much of my exercise detox plan (Pilates, walking, restorative exercises) into my normal daily activity. Now, a year later, I was interested in finding out "where I stood." I felt I needed an alignment tune-up. I wanted to check in about a sore right knee pit and what more I could do to release my still too-tight shoulders.

For the assessment last year I Skyped with my best blog buddy Katy Bowman, who has made numerous guest appearances here over the years (click on the tag: Pelvic Floor Fitness). This time around I suggested I meet--in person--with a Katy-Bowman-trained Restorative Exercise Specialist near where I live. I discovered this possibility while communicating with one such RES, Beth Jensen, a coach for Moms on the Run. She, and my other local RES, Lindsay McCoy, a personal trainer and doula, connected to Katy and the Restorative Exercise Institute after reading about her right here on this blog.

I am so proud to have been the catalyst for furthering their alignment education and happy too, in a self-serving way, since the benefits of that education was coming around to benefit me with a coveted hands-on session.

First thing I wanted to know was how much tension I still had in my psoas. To review, the psoas muscles attach at the lower vertebrae in the back and reach around to attach at the hip flexors. Those who do a lot of sitting keep their psoas in a shortened position. Those who thrust their ribs call on their psoas to carry the load of their upper body, which is a lot more fatiguing than carrying the upper body over the pelvis. Think about moving a heavy box. Would you rather hold it close to your body or with your arms out straight in front of you? The latter would fatigue your arms rather quickly. Well, that's what I was doing to my psoas muscles All. The. Time. That fatigue causes tightness, that tightness snaps down on the spine and the hip flexors, where the psoas attach. Hello hip pain! Hello low-back pain!

To test my psoas length a year ago Katy had me back my pelvis over my ankles (me and lots of others keep our pelvis over our toes and when you have big feet like me that's a lot of distance). Then she had me bring my ribs back and down. This is when you feel like you're going to fall backward. In order not to do that you have to lean the upper body forward. How much you need to lean forward illustrates the tightness in the psoas. If my psoas were at the right length I could stand up straight. Here's where I was a year ago (all the greasy screen shots and Katy's diagnoses is in her post Mother Thruster):

After lots and lots of psoas releasing, stretching and reminding myself to push my hips back and bring my ribs down, today I look like this:

That's a huge improvement, also noted by no longer needing to take massive amounts of anti-inflammary meds or spend inordinate amounts of money on massages.

Then I asked about my knee. My right "knee pit" started hurting in December, but now only nags at me when in deep flexion, say a deep squat or Hero's pose in yoga. I've done all this correction, I moaned, plus I insisted I'm walking now with my feet straight and not pointing out like a duck. What gives?

That was an easy one for my RES Team. Lindsay and Beth got out a Sharpie and made two marks on the back of my knee to show me that while my feet knew what to do, my knees weren't lining up where they should go. In this photo below the outside of my feet are lined up parallel (not the inside as most of us typically do when standing with our feet "straight ahead.") But see how my knees point inward? Only one of the marks on the back of my knee is visible.

To get my knees pointing forward I must rotate my thighs outward. Now you can see the entire backside of my knee pits and both black lines.

But look at my feet. The hips are right, the legs are rotated, the knees are right, but the inside of my feet came right up off the floor. This, Lindsay and Beth said, reflects the tension in my feet. Even my feet are too tight! They suggested rolling my feet on a small ball. This is quite painful, by the way. Much like the pain while foam rolling your IT Band. But once the tension in my feet eases up, they said, I will be better able to keep that big toe on the floor and the knee discomfort should go away, too.

The knee pain had been getting better over the months and I realized it was because I was already practicing this through Katy's Balance Boot Camp, which I started in January. There is a lot of that rotating and pressing on a half BOSU (sometimes on one leg). Finally, with the help of my RES specialists, it all clicked. What I was learning to do with the rotating and pressing was what Katy had referred to in a former post when she said:
You love high-intensity, strenuous stuff but what you're missing is mindful, highly measurable nuanced motion. Think of a baby learning to do something with its hands -- how much they stare and focus and try. You're about to get all "baby" on your atrophied bits.

So more pelvic lists thinking hard about keeping my pelvis in neutral, rotating thigh, pressing ball of foot, activating outer hips. Baby, baby, baby...

And Beth showed me this stretch for my still-tight hip flexors, which don't allow a full stride behind me when I walk to better engage my otherwise lazy glutes. I like. To help open my chest, the RES specialists suggested I prop my thoracic spine on a half dome (but keep my ribs from popping up). Intense! So intense I feel my sinuses open when I do this.

Beth and Lindsay (and Baby June) were fantastic to work with. Beth, as an athlete and runner, works mostly with clients through Moms on the Run and as a Restorative Exercise-based personal trainer at Banyan Body Fit (find her on Facebook at Lindsay's company is Mamaligned where she is a doula, Hypnobabies educator, and Restorative Exercise-based personal trainer (find her on Facebook at Lindsay has seen how working with her doula clients not only improves their birth experience but helps with post-partum recovery. If only I knew then what I know now... Better late than never.

This alignment tune-up was just what I needed. I can go forward better informed, standing a little taller.

1 comment:

mama cat said...

I see two of my favorite people. Both looking great and both leading me too my next fit mission