Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Special: Scary Inventions

While I strive to be cheery and upbeat here, considering the present holiday I feel it appropriate to mention a few scary things related to fitness.  Reader discretion is advised.

Nautilus Machines and Other Mechanical Marvels
In ancient times people exercised by picking up rocks and swinging on vines, and they were very fit.  Then fancy scientific exercise machines were invented, with pulleys and gears and a padded seat on which to rest, and everyone got weak and flabby.  Fortunately kettlebells and Olympic Rings(and TRX) have been invented, based on prehistoric cave drawings, and fitness is again possible.

The Remote Control
People think that television is a problem, but really it's the remote. Think about it- before the remote, when someone channel surfed, it was jump up, run to the TV, change the channel, run back to the laz-y boy, stretch out. Repeat.  It was like doing Turkish get-ups or burpees with a sprint in the middle.

Von Mies Chair
The Von Mies chair is the best example of a way of sitting, and indeed an entire style, which has wreaked havoc on our postures.  Instead of maintaining the natural tilt of the pelvis and normal curves of the spine, the Von Mies chair rounds the body into an unhealthy lump, giving one the appearance of being crushed under an unbearable load, or perhaps employment as a Notre Dame bell ringer.
Photo grabbed from Vicens on

Deep Fryer
Isn't normal frying is bad enough?

Vitamin Pill
The vitamin pill is the enabler for separating nutrition and food.  Instead of eating healthful food, eat whatever you want, and then take a vitamin, right?  Even when the importance of nutrition is acknowledged, the attempted "solution" is to add vitamins into manufactured food products, rather than to choose and promote actual food with its natural nutritional goodness.

The Drive-Through
Heaven forbid someone should have to walk from their car into the fast food station for their deep fried food-like products.  The drive-through makes it possible for the indolent to procure and consume mass quantities of grease and sugar without ever leaving the comfort their automotive nests and standing upright.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Excellent Book Combining Anatomy and Yoga

Yogabody: Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Asana, by Judith Hansen Lasater, Ph.D., P.T. is an immensely informative book that gracefully combines rigorous anatomical theory with yoga teaching and practice. Instead of merely relating a series of yoga positions and the muscles involved, Yogabody covers different regions of the body in clinical detail, discussing the anatomical structure and kinesiology and how they apply to yoga teaching. The book thoroughly illustrates the anatomical structures being discussed, with details such as the ligaments surrounding a joint and the individual features of a bone.

Lasater's expertise as a physical therapist is clear from the depth of her writing about the human body, and her knowledge of therapeutic yoga shows in her discussion of how to apply the anatomical concepts to teaching yoga.
"There is a simple way to tell the difference between a structural and a functional scoliosis. Have your student stand in Tadasana and then bend forward. She should not try to stretch out in Uttanasana but rather just hang forward. Now stand behind her and observe her back. If she has a functional scoliosis , the stretch will result in the soft tissue releasing, and her back will look even from side to side. If she has a structural scoliosis, it will be more apparent that one side of her rib cage is higher than the other."
Yogabody: Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Asana, p. 76
Here we see that the information given is useful to many bodywork and fitness professionals besides yoga teachers, but that some yoga terminology may need to be looked up. Overall though, a lack of familiarity with yoga terms, mostly asana(the yoga poses) names, should not be problem. Do note that the specific terms given are in Sanskrit, so even if you know what Down Dog is, you may not recognize the pose when called Adho Mukha Svanasana.

The anatomy and kineseology come first, then asanas are used to show how the concepts apply to yoga practice. An experiential example is given of the movement of the head of the femur in the acetabulum:
"Ask your student to lie down on her mat for Supta Padangusthasana [figure shown]. First observe as she raises her straight leg up to an angle of 90 degrees. Many students raise the leg with an action that appears as if they are lifting the whole femur at once. Watch this action several times. Now suggest that she lift her femur in a different way: have her imagine that the head of her femur is descending just as she begins the action, in order to allow the rest of the femur to lift. It is as if the femoral head rolls down, back, and out as she raises the thigh and leg up. This way of thinking about the action is more in harmony with what the head of the femur actually does in the movement. Instead, most students just pick up the whole lower extremity and lift it. This way of moving does not allow for the femoral head to move deep into the joint for a mechanically sound movement with increased congruence. This type of movement does not follow the concave-convex law for this joint."
Yogabody: Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Asana, p. 107

If you teach yoga or are a dedicated student, the contents will you give an awareness and clinical foundation of why certain asana alignments are optimal, based on the structure of the body. If you aren't a yogi, but want to expand your knowledge of applied anatomy, you will still find Yogabody informative, and you may also gain an appreciation for the potential of yoga.

I would love to take one of Lasater's workshops, even though I'm not a yoga teacher(yet). In the meantime, I hope any teacher I have a class with already has.

Food tip
As the local fruit season concludes, I look for a substitute for my morning cereal. The winner is steamed sweet potato chunks. Colorful, sweet, and soft, they are perfect with my muesli mix and soy milk. As an important bonus, they are exceptionally nutritious.  Sweet potatoes usually go into my soup as a contrast to the spicy things, and, best of all, my famous sweet potato ginger cookies. I will have a batch of those for clients next week(book at Positive Massage now!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lactic Acid Myth

The New York Times today contains the story "Is the Exercise Cool-Down Really Necessary?" which refutes the idea of cooling down after exercise. Notice this one part:

"The idea of the cool-down seems to have originated with a popular theory — now known to be wrong — that muscles become sore after exercise because they accumulate lactic acid. In fact, lactic acid is a fuel. It’s good to generate lactic acid, it’s a normal part of exercise, and it has nothing to do with muscle soreness. But the lactic acid theory led to the notion that by slowly reducing the intensity of your workout you can give lactic acid a chance to dissipate.

Yet, Dr. Foster said, even though scientists know the lactic acid theory is wrong, it remains entrenched in the public’s mind.

“It’s an idea we can’t get rid of,” he said."

It's an idea often heard in the bodywork world as well. Many people, including sadly many massage therapists, continue to believe and sell the idea that massage after exercise is important to flush lactic acid from muscles. Typically this is considered part of Sports Massage.

Here is a good article in Massage Magazine written in 2001 on Sports Massage & Recovery Time: Re-examining the Role of Lactic Acid

"For years, many massage therapists have been taught that lactic acid can and should be flushed from the muscles of athletes after intense activity. This truism has been passed on to clients who have also accepted it as fact. Both therapist and client thus have established and perpetuated a mutual belief system that purging of lactic acid is not only necessary, but also efficiently accomplished with the assistance of massage. Some beliefs die hard. This one and others related to lactic acid have been holding their own, not only in some massage schools and practices, but also in the community at large, despite emerging research to the contrary."

So, is there a benefit to massage after exercise?

Absolutely! There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence supporting the practice. While the success of Sports Massage may have been incorrectly attributed to lactic acid removal, it still shows substantial benefit to many people. But why?

My thoughts are that the benefit comes from two things. First, exercise and competition create stress, which massage helps to relax. Nothing like trying to outrun the pack, or holding a hundred pounds of iron over your head, to create stress. Second, the exercise can create hypertonic(tight) muscles or fibers within the muscle that manual pressure, stretching, and neuromuscular techniques may loosen. Note that both intense massage, IE Deep Tissue(also this blog post), just like intense exercise, can cause stress and tissue damage, therefore the more intense the exercise the less intense the massage should be.

The myth of "flushing lactic acid" with massage has been refuted for years, yet I still hear it, and in Googling for other good articles to reference I immediately saw massage providers promoting it. Certainly seek massage after your workout or competition, but be wary of therapists or spas who either don't understand, or knowingly propagate, the lactic acid myth.

Palo Alto survives horrible storm!
The Bay Area had its first winter storm, and the news makes it sound like we were nearly annihilated. Well... I grew up in Ohio, and folks here don't know what a storm is, let alone winter. A light rain at 65 degrees with a 20 mph wind gust does NOT count as a "winter storm." So don't bother sending that care package, except for the really tasty bits.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Posture Shown to Affect Confidence

New research shows that the way a person sits affects their feeling of confidence in their thoughts:

"Researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job.
On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept these written-down feelings about their own qualifications.
The results show how our body posture can affect not only what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University."
"The end result of this was that when students wrote positive thoughts about themselves, they rated themselves more highly when in the upright than the slouched posture because the upright posture led to confidence in the positive thoughts.

However, when students wrote negative thoughts about themselves, they rated themselves more negatively in the upright than the slouched posture because the upright posture led to more confidence in their negative thoughts."
Ohio State University. "Body Posture Affects Confidence In Your Own Thoughts, Study Finds." ScienceDaily 5 October 2009.

Again we see the interconnection between mind and body. Just as feeling confident gives us better posture, better posture makes us more confident.

A wonderful comment I've heard occasionally from clients after their massage is "I feel taller!" What does that do to their confidence in themselves, and how does does it affect others' perception of them? It's all good, as the saying goes.