Community

Got back or hip pain? Start with your feet first!

Two weeks ago, I had pushed my body to its limit.  Long runs, heavy lifting, intense yoga practice and a stressful week at work, I felt a deep pain in my joints, especially in my hip which was healing a stress fracture and a strain in the attachment at my greater trochanter. These injuries began to radiate throughout my hip (specifically in my sacroiliac joint – located in the pelvis by the sacrum) into my lower back. My yoga teacher, Ariel Karass, informed me after our private session that I needed to take at least 3 weeks off from physical activity. I’ve had more than my share of doctors, bodywork therapists, and fellow trainers tell me the same but his confirmation made my decision final.

During my week of rest (more mentally and physically challenging than I had expected), I worked with two massage therapists, a guided meditation teacher, and received chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture – all to help me heal. After collecting data from these brilliant professionals, there was one profound piece of information that hit the bull’s eye!

This was nothing new to me and something I often educate my students on yet I neglected to see this in myself…a simple pronation of my left foot. Pronation of the foot is when the heel angles inward and the arch collapses. Those with arches in their feet all have some form of pronation.  It depends how extreme the pronation that determines how the foot will strike the ground, how  the body will absorb the shock and where the bones and muscles will align as the foot lands. Runner’s World wrote a great article on the different types of pronation.

Regine Rousseau, massage therapist and pre-med student studying Orthopedic Surgery in Sports Medicine, performed alignment assessments before she began bodywork on me.
Try these on yourself!
– Pelvic tilt: Place 1 finger on the front boney knobs on each side of your hip. CHECK! Are your fingers lined up to form a straight line? Is one higher than the other? The one lower means that your pelvis is anteriorly rotated and the higher is posteriorly rotated.
– Slow walk: Take your time and consciously step one foot in front of the other when walking across a room. CHECK! Do your arches roll in? Does one hip drop down more than the other? Does your pelvis move front and back or side to side?
– External rotation of the legs: Lay on your back, make sure your legs are set hip width apart, flex both feet so they point straight up, then relax them.  CHECK! Does one leg roll out more than the other?

My results were YES to most of the above. But the problem was in the over-pronation of my left foot. It created a tightness in the entire foot that led to a chain reaction up the shin to the knee to the hip flexors and then finally to the lower back. Who would have thought that your feet would lead to hip pain. But when you think of it…it’s pretty obvious.

The foot is the foundation of our body’s structure and the first and last part of the body to touch the ground. Elasticity of the foot is crucial as every step demands a stretching of its muscles and attachments. As elasticity decreases, so do the biomechanics. Not only do the muscles need to be elastic but most importantly the fascia that encases these muscles. Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles, groups of muscles, and nerves (think of pantyhose or the casing around sausage). Fascia binds groups of muscles together so that others can slide smoothly over each other.  When there is tightness or adhesion in the fascia, limitations occur in movement creating a pulling effect on muscles and their insertions.

For example, in over-pronation of the foot, the arch is where the pulling stems from. Inside the structure of the arch is the insertion point of the tibia posterior (see image) which travels up the back of the shin bone and behind the tibialis anterior (the muscle right next to the shin bone). When the fascia of your feet (plantar fascia) become overworked or bounded, it can add more pressure and pulling of the tibia posterior which can affect the alignment of your knees into the hips and up the back.

Tibialis Posterior insertion in the foot

Tibialis Posterior insertion in the foot

This is when rolling of the foot or better known as Myofascial Release is the cure.  Myofascial Release has exploded in both the fitness and massage industry and now recognized as the most effective form of healthcare therapy and treatment of pain and dysfunction. There are 2 ways of MFR: passive (one is completely relaxed and work is done on them) or active (where resistance is applied such as foam rolling).

Let’s talk about active release. Grab a tennis ball or a massage ball (I love these!) (for more density, use a lacrosse ball) and begin by placing it on the arch of your foot. Slowly roll up and down the arch releasing the fascia. When you find a tender spot, stop and apply your body weight to release adhesions. Once tension releases, begin to roll up and down the foot (see anatomy). Make sure you get the outer blade, center, and the balls of the feet. This will release tension in your feet and help you find more elasticity and stability as you walk, run, and stand.

Anatomy of the Foot

Anatomy of the Foot. Note Fascia.

Strengthening the feet is just as important. Toe raises, toe taps, and resistance band work will strengthen the muscles of the feet and the lower leg helping to stabilize your stance, making your feet accountable for every step!

So the next time you’re feeling hip or back pain, look down at your feet. Pay attention to tightness and range of motion. Start by rolling your feet and then work your way up the leg to the hip. You will be surprised how those 2 little extremities can play a huge part in living a pain free life!

 * Thank you to those that helped me heal during my week of rest. I’m so thankful to have them as part of my Community.
Massage Therapists: Regine Rousseau + Amey Shue (Soho Sanctuary)
Chiropractor and Acupuncturist: Dr. Gabrielle Francis (The Herban Alchemist)
Guided Meditation: Alison Blake
Yoga Teacher: Ariel Karass (Ariel Karass)

A MUST on your list…Tulum!

Just returned from a fantastic vacation in Mexico visiting Tulum and Riviera Maya (for my brother’s wedding) and I have truly been transported. My favorite part of this vacation, other than my brother tying the knot, was going back to simplicity…in Tulum.

If you haven’t been already, please put it on your list and visit this one strip of jungle-meets-ocean lined with eco conscious lodging, boutiques, and restaurants. Where electricity and water is conserved and common hotel amenities are few, Tulum allows you to connect with the green of the earth and the sounds of the oceans.

Climbing the Coba Ruins and jumping into cenotes were some of the tourist activities we did but my favorite was visiting Yoga Shala and starting my day with yoga.

Road to Yoga Shala. Yoga Shala located on the right.

Road to Yoga Shala. Yoga Shala located on the right.

 

Where class was held at Yoga Shala

Downward Dog at Yoga Shala

In addition to class at Yoga Shala, I joined Sherry Sidoti’s retreat group with a morning yoga session that was held in a hut overlooking the ocean. I also had a chance to meditate on the beach, connecting my breath with each crash of a wave. What is better than that?

If you have a list of places to visit, definitely put Tulum on that list. Even if you’re not into yoga or enjoy the more pampering all-inclusive hotels, you will still appreciate how real and natural a tourist city can be kept.

* Sherry Sidoti and I did our teacher training program together at Sonic Yoga. I’m so proud to have Sherry as part of My Community. She is an amazing fitness and yoga teacher and has a studio in Martha’s Vineyard. Please check out her site at Fly Yoga. 

A Pursuit of Happiness

mybday

If I were to sum up this week, I’d say it in one word….GRATEFUL! My birthday was last week and on the actual day, I did the things that I loved and would make me happy (run in the park and a workout, hang with my dog, day at the spa, delicious meal, and time with my fiancee). The one thing that would have made it more perfect would be to spend time with my family and closest friends. The week was filled with gifts, dinners, messages of love and affection but most of all moments of retrospection and reflection.  And it really got me to think about life and the race we run every day in the ultimate pursuit of attaining happiness.

This weekend, I attended a workshop hosted by Kayleigh Pleas.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with Kayleigh a few years back as a fitness instructor. She has taken her fitness talents further and now is a nutrition and wellness coach. Her workshop is called the “How to Happiness” and basically breaks down the science of happiness and how your nervous and endocrine systems work together to produce an overall shift in your body.  Kayleigh’s research to support her teaching was extensive studying work from neuroscientist, Rick Hansen to social psychologist, Barbara Frederickson. She started her workshop with a positivity ratio quiz that measures your moments of contentment, gratitude, negativity, boredom, confidence, disgust and so many more emotions on a daily basis.  It’s amazing how many emotions we tap into daily.  This workshop teaches you how to be mindful of these emotions (especially the negative ones) and to turn them into positive happy ones.

I can’t say that I experience unhappiness as I generally have a positive outlook in life and am a happy-go-lucky person but will admit that living in NYC can wear that down.  There are times that I want to barrel through the crowds at the Times Square train station and see how many people I can knock over. Not good and from what I learned in Kayleigh’s workshop, this negative emotion sets off the wheels to create a turmoil of hormones (cortisol and dopamine) to whirl around my body creating stress and uneasiness.  I now bring awareness to those emotions once they arise and try to calm myself down before I react. But it takes practice.

Here are some things that I have taught myself to practice daily to remain calm and achieve happiness every NY minute of my day.

#1 Let Go! You can’t possibly be in control of every second in your life. Some things you just have to leave up to faith and fate. If you find yourself on a stalled train and you’re already running behind or if everything has gone wrong since the moment you stepped out your door, then just take a deep breath in and let it all go.  Once you start to stress or feel anxious, your hypothalamus (a small but very important part of your brain that links the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland) gears up to work. Your system then starts to secrete hormones through your system, your heart begins to pump faster, your digestive system stops during this time, and this cycle continues over and over again.  If you stress often and long enough, your physical and mental body will break. Know that every moment you stress or huff in frustration, the less control you have not only of the situation but for yourself as well.

#2 Work It Out! Now that Spring has finally arrived, take your workouts outside. I love to take my clients for a run to Central Park or Washington Square Park.  I use the park benches for step ups, push ups, tricep dips, and ab work. Find a set of stairs and use that for cardio. Take a resistance band with you and the exercises are endless. The benefits of exercise are hard to ignore. Physical activity gets your blood flowing smoothly (to help combat cardiovascular disease), delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues (improve muscle strength and endurance), help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep (to increase mental alertness), stimulates various brain chemicals (improving your mood leaving you feeling happier and more relaxed) and so much more.

#3 Work on Meditating. I am a yogi but I am far from being a guru in meditation. It is one of the hardest things to do.  But I make sure I find brief moments of mindful meditation. On my train commute, between sessions, walking to get my lunch are all moments that I take for meditation.  Meditation doesn’t only have to be seated in lotus pose on a yoga mat with your eyes closed. It’s what you make of it but most important is to clear your mind of everything but one thing. Neuroscientists have found that meditation shifts brain activity to different areas of the cortex. This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety.

I’ve recently started a new meditation where I close my eyes and focus on the noises that surround me.  I don’t force myself to hear them but allow the noises to travel in one ear and out the other. It’s surprisingly calming and helps me to focus on this one thing – other than having to sit and meditate.  Try it!

#4 Express Gratitude! We all know what we want in life and may have an expectation where we should be in life. Since I just had a birthday, I started to think of these expectations (a baby, owning a home, my own business, a certain amount in my bank account, etc.) that I almost lost track of what I do have. When I start to count my blessings, I automatically feel at ease. Being grateful helps your well being. Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough point out the benefits of expressing gratitude as ranging from better physical health to improved mental alertness. We forget about how much we do have: our health, love from our family and friends, and to simply be alive.  Take some time today and think of these simple things and be truly grateful for all that you do have.

#5 Stay Connected! In this day in age, when you think of staying connected, you think Facebook, Twitter, email or text to keep in touch with others.  But I’m talking about a real connection.  And that means to pick up the phone and call, meet with your friends, laugh with your family, and even as simple as making eye contact with a stranger. I love this article in the NY Times, Your Phone vs Your Heart. The more attuned you are with others, the healthier you become.  Try smiling or saying good morning to a stranger. You will be surprised how this simple act will brighten that moment. And consider the impact you may have on this stranger.

These are nothing new but these small actions can make a huge impact in your days and your overall health. Attaining happiness is very possible…it just takes a little bit of awareness and lots of practice. Thanks Kayleigh for bringing this to my attention again!

*I’m happy to have Kayleigh Pleas a part of my Community. Visit her site for upcoming “How to Happiness” workshops.

What doesn’t Dr. Gabrielle Francis do?

It has taken me almost 8 years to find one…and now I have found her!  Holistic physician, chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncturist, and naturopath, Dr. Gabrielle Francis is a “one and only”. Currently I see her monthly for massage, acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments.  She is truly talented and extremely effective in her sessions.

Chiropractic practice is known for its controversy.  Through its history, it’s been named quakery, mystical and known for fraud in the healthcare profession. Health care industry say that chiropractic adjustments and spinal manipulations may cause disability, death, or major complications to the spine.  There are several chiropractors that hold water to these accusations. Some snap and crack your joints in less than 5 minutes without any preparation.  Some lay 7-10 patients on beds lined up in a small room and hardly touch you but say that their energy is adjusting your spine from within.  I’ve experience both and will say that these doctors commit a crime.  Charging over $200 per session for 15 minutes of your time while possibly causing misalignment and more pain in your body.

It’s a pretty scary line to walk on – entrusting your body in someone’s hands, knowing that they have the opportunity to change it for the the good or bad.  It’s just like working with a fitness trainer or body work specialist.  You have hopes that you will be safe and they’re not going to injure you or put your body in a state of pain or disability. At least with a trainer or massage therapist, you will feel discomfort and make a choice to not continue.  But with a chiropractor, your body lies in their hands (literally) before they twist and pop you.

When you exercise, you want your body to move in full range of motion.  When it’s limited, your muscles will grab on your bones and joints, begin to pull in other areas and compensation occurs.  So before you begin any exercise, you want to make sure your body is warm and your muscles are stretched and released. Dr. Francis begins her sessions by checking my alignment, she then props my hips up on wedges and waits until they set in proper alignment (my pelvis is a bit torqued from an old injury) .  She then works on tight muscles in my glutes, back, trapezius with massage to warm and prep my body for her adjustments.

Adjustments, when done properly, can reset your body’s alignment. Let’s use an example we all do daily: sitting at the computer in poor posture.  Most desks are not set up ergonomically so the most common posture would be a protracted head (image below).

forward-head-posture-man

In this posture, known as cervical kyphosis,  your cervical spine is overloaded forcing your upper back and neck muscles to work so much harder than they should.  Your spine begins to mold itself into this position. The forward weight of your head compresses the nerves in the base of your skull into your upper spine causing headaches, respiratory issues and possibly leading to psychological and mental disorders.  Who would have thought sitting at a desk can create these health issues?

In correcting this, setting up your desk is the first step to avoid having to poke your head forward to look at the screen.  The next step is awareness and trying to retract your head (give yourself a double chin) which relaxes the neck muscles and straightens out your spine. Consistent stretching of your neck and upper back muscles help to release tension and bring your head back to alignment. Chiropractic adjustments will help to fast forward the reversal of this posture.

I’ve been spending more time in front of my computer so I was beginning to develop slight cervical kyphosis. Dr. Francis would massage all the tight muscles in my traps, up my neck and all the way to the base of my skull to prep for a neck adjustment. This particular adjustment unnerves me and she knows this. One wrong move can misalign your spine and create all sorts of issues from disability to possible death.  She relaxes me with breathing queues and assures me with full explanation of how she is setting my body up so that her adjustment will release only needs to and with minimal force.  Once it’s done, it is the most relaxing feeling.  I automatically breathe better and feel this openness in my neck. A symphony of cracks (nitrogen released in the joints) occur and we can all agree that that sound is release alone. She proceeds through my body and when I finally stand up, it’s a whole new me.

She informs me that I’m now moving in a different posture. So taking time in this new posture is important and not doing anything that will disrupt it’s adaptation to new placement is key. She sends me on my way with a neck traction block so I can do my homework until my next visit with her.

Dr. Francis’ holistic approach in medicine runs parallel with my beliefs and I can’t wait to explore all the ways she will teach me about the healing power of nature and how to work in harmony with my body. Her 17 years of medical education has taken her worldwide and back to NYC offering a unique approach to medicine and healing.

* I’m proud to have Dr. Gabrielle Francis a part of my Community.
Please visit her site at The Herban Alchemist.

 

One way to start the new year!

Four of my students and I recently completed Dr. Frank Lipman’s Cleanse, a 2 week detox program that resets and recharges your system. It’s my 4th time completing Cleanse and I just can’t say enough. I absolutely stand behind this product and love it!

Cleanse

I’ve tried several other cleanses (Master Cleanse, BluePrint Cleanse, Cooler Cleanse) and I’m just not up for starving, suffering, and dreaming about when I can put a solid piece of food in my mouth. For someone who is physically active and relies on being alert and energetic, juice cleanses just don’t cut it. Most juice cleanses can deprive your body of essential vitamins and nutrients.  Yes, your body will get more than enough of your daily fruit and vegetable intake but what about your fat and protein? Without protein, your body can’t build or rebuild muscle. A lack of fat doesn’t allow your body to function properly or absorb the necessary fat soluble vitamins that help to keep your skin and hair healthy. Plus juice cleanses will leave you lethargic, sluggish, and pretty much useless for the duration.  It’s just not healthy especially for New Yorkers that require focus and strength to make it through the day.

This is the main reason I love Cleanse. A strict but very realistic diet is built around a 3 shake a day program. The diet consists of foods that are gluten, dairy, processed sugar, alcohol and caffeine FREE.  There are some foods that are acidic (tomatoes, oranges, pineapples) and high in sugar (grapes, strawberries) that are to avoid as these foods would disrupt the cleansing process your gut goes through.  But overall you can eat delicious meals using the cleanest foods and still flush and detox your system.  Digestive enzymes are taken after lunch and dinner which help to break down those solids. Snacks are allowed through out the day and glutamine pills are there should you crash sugar withdrawal. What is better than that?

The first week is tough since your body is going through withdrawals and pretty much adapting to a new eating routine.  But second week is the break through.  Your energy level kicks in first thing in the am and lasts all day, your skin glows, you feel lighter (more than likely you’ve lost a few pounds), and the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment is what rides you out till the end.  Of course, there will be times when you want to cheat but it really boils down to your will power and how determined you are to stick through it.  Besides it is only 2 weeks of your life.

Most of my clients have done the Cleanse before and love it.  Most have lost anywhere from 5-8lbs and a few have lost 10-15lbs.  But it’s not about the weight loss.  It’s about learning a new way to eat.  Through the Cleanse diet, your awareness to food and what really makes up the food we put in our mouths is invaluable. Your grocery shopping experience is never the same. The more you understand the Cleanse and what it does for your system, the more you will want to do it, eventually you will only want to put the cleanest foods in your body. It’s a chain reaction that is simply good for you.

I plan on doing it again before my brother’s wedding and again for my wedding (YAY!).  I may not have that much to cleanse since my diet is pretty clean (90% of the time) but it’s still a great way for me to reset.  So ask yourself…

Are you dragging through your day? Do you look in the mirror and feel drab? Is your belly always bloated or achey after meals? Have you gotten sick more than 3x this season or have chronic allergies or aches in your body? Do you want to shed those last few pounds that you just can’t work off? If you answer yes to most, then this Cleanse is exactly what you need. If it makes you feel and look good…then why not?

*I’m proud to have Dr. Lipman a part of my Community.  

Check out his site at Be Well by Dr. Frank Lipman.