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2017 Personal Health Progress Report
Is movement work really worth all the time and effort? What can people get out of it? Where are the wins?
I’ve been thinking about all these questions recently as I continue with my own health journey. Also, it’s my birthday next week (hooray! I love birthdays!). I always like to spend some time reflecting on my life around this time of year.
So I’ve decided to create some transparency: today I’m going to share where I’m at in my body right now and what I have gained (and haven’t) since I started my movement journey. Hopefully this will be the first annual health report that I share – I’m already excited to look back on this next year and see more progress!
So really, why am I sharing this?
First, because I like to be real. I want you to know what’s working for me and what’s not so that you can get some data to help you make your own self-care decisions. I’m on a journey, just like everyone, and sometimes it’s 1 step forward, 2 steps back!
For body stuff, there aren’t any reliable benchmarks out there. Everyone’s body is different, and our culture likes to ‘fix’ things with pills and immobilization. There’s plenty of articles about how you can get a beach body online, but not a lot about how you can live better with better movement! Does it work? Does it sort of work? What can YOU expect?
Even though my body and my life aren’t the same as yours, I’m hoping that sharing about my progress can be good way to educate and (hopefully) inspire you about what’s possible!
I am really hoping this is inspiring for you and not discouraging. I wish I was 100% fixed and I’m not, but there’s also been a great deal of progress. So here’s where I’m at!
Where I’m Starting From
My body is both really strong and really hypermobile and prone to injuries. Overall I’m much healthier and in less pain than before I started movement work, but I have ongoing chronic issues that haven’t changed a lot as well. This is pretty typical of chronic issues – my progress is likely to be slow, especially since I still spend a lot of time at a computer and not in the natural world.
Before I started any movement work (4 years ago), I had chronic shin splints and plantar fasciitis and had been told that I would never be able to wear shoes without orthotics. I peed when I sneezed, ran and laughed. I had an impingement in my left shoulder that made it painful to lift my arm. I had chronic lower back tension and extremely sore, tight hip and glute muscles. ALL OF THIS IS GONE NOW.
However, I still have stuff that’s hanging around:
I have fairly serious jaw issues, if you count having no cartilage on one side to be serious, and I grind and clench my teeth like crazy. This means lots of headaches & neck pain, and ongoing insomnia. Last November I learned that I had a previously undiagnosed tongue tie that actually kind of explains EVERYTHING. Crazy.
Plus both my ulnar nerves (the funny bone nerves) are damaged (maybe from my hypermobile elbows) so my little and ring fingers are often numb when I wake in the night.
From an alignment point of view, my shoulders are displaced forward, as is my head and upper back. And I have a number of structural shifts through my pelvis, spine and ribs so I am not at all symmetrical (this is pretty common, most people are assymetrical – whether it seems to be related to issues or not seems to depend on the individual).
And I’ve had a really annoying foot problem for the last 3 years – it seems like something is hypermobile in my midfoot and it just doesn’t want to go away completely. It basically feels like an intermittent achy sprain, but in my foot not my ankle.
I now believe that my nagging issues are all fundamentally related to my tongue tie, as well as to years of falling off horses, bikes and snowboards.
What Does My Movement Practice Look Like?
So that you get a sense of the kind of time and effort I put into the changes I’ve created, here’s what I do in an average week.
3-4 hours of online movement classes from Katy Bowman – these are my favourite part of my exercise practice because I learn a lot and I always feel great at the end of a class. They are how I learn to “move better”. They also help me become a better teacher.
5+ hours of teaching group classes. This is much less effective for my body than when I practice on my own, but it certainly still counts. Private teaching involves much less of my own moving.
I walked an average of 11,993 steps a day (about 4.7 miles) last month. This is mostly on pavement and flat areas, because Toronto, but I do my best to off-road whenever I can. I wear several types of minimal shoes, including some with extra cushioning for days when my foot is sore.
I have built movement into my habits. I take frequent movement breaks, and I do stretches and move during interstitial moments like waiting for streetlights. I do a lot of foot work, hanging, crawling, hip strengthening, side bending, squatting and hip stretching. I don’t use furniture, as a general rule. This is how I “move more”, along with the walking and the career I have chosen specifically in order to allow myself more movement immersion.
Movement For Fun
3-5 hours of indoor rock climbing. This is my movement treat – Chris and I started climbing again last November and it’s just so darned fun! In terms of actual time spent climbing, this is probably closer to 1 hour.
2 hours of tongue exercises per week. Except I’ve kind of fallen off that wagon recently and I need to get back on it.
I don’t have a specific program for my own corrective exercises right now. Except the tongue exercises that I’m not doing. It would be a good experiment to add about 15-20 mins of targeted correctives per day. So I guess I found my birthday resolution!
Is This What You Should Be Doing?
Does this mean your movement practice should look like mine?
Absolutely not! It’s all about finding what works best for YOU, and what you’ll actually DO.
You get major benefits every single time you move more and move better.
So if all you ever do is an occasional calf stretch, you’re still doing something amazing.
It might not fix your *insert issue here*, but a chunk of cells will still be happier, and that’s what it’s all about! And also, it might fix your thing – you literally never know.
That said, the goal of the work I do is to change the shape of my body by adapting it to new movement patterns. That requires frequency, so I’m committed to adding as much movement as I can to my life, personally.
So first, the wins! I’ve experienced some major changes in my strength, skills and abilities this year. Here are the highlights.
I have way more control over my movement when I’m doing exercises and paying attention to it. My basic standing alignment is 99% there although I still sometimes thrust my hips forward a bit. My ribs relax down easily and I no longer hold tension in my belly.
In daily life, I’m more away of my movement habits more often, and I notice more things when they’re wonky.
In particular, I’ve realized that I constantly lift my shoulders towards my ears and thrust my chin forward. Now that I’ve noticed it, I’m working to let it go. Like right now! I also need to constantly remember to work on my external femoral rotation.
Walking, squatting, stabilizing, balancing and crawling – I’m way better at all of these than last year. My awareness of where my body is in space and my growing ability to sense movement in my body have majorly improved. My strength and ranges of motion have improved.
My tongue now lives in its Spot and I swallow correctly. My nose is almost never plugged up any more. I’ve switched to breathing almost exclusively through my nose and I no longer snore! So cool!
I’m no longer a belly breather! When I self-assess my relaxed breathing pattern, I’m using my ribs instead of my belly. That means less pressure on my pelvic floor and a more functional core. Speaking of which:
I can now identify when I’m using my deep core muscles reflexively, versus using my outer core muscles in a way that creates too much pelvic and abdominal pressure. I’ve noticed a significant imbalance between my left and my right sides, which I’m now working to balance out.
100% functional! It got to about 95% within a year or so of starting movement work but that last 5% is this year, since I really started work on my core and breathing.
I’m much stronger in my hip muscles than last year and have much better control. I have a greater sense of connection with my hips and glutes than ever before. My current challenge are working on pelvic listing with external rotation – I can list or rotate but not both, unless I hang on to a chair for balance. I also notice a lot of hip and knee instability when I climb stairs which comes from the same issue that’s holding back my pelvic listing. I’m doing a lot of foot mobilizing work to help with this.
I’ve noticed major improvements in what I can do with my feet recently. I’m very comfortable kneeling for extended periods, and I can comfortably walk on pebbles for a short distance (haven’t tried a longer one!). I have started doing many of my standing exercises with a small rock under my foot, and this has really helped them mobilize and strengthen. I haven’t had a whisper of plantar fasciitis or shin splints in years – both of which used to plague me.
Although I still have an ongoing foot issue, I can easily walk 15,000 steps a day on pavement without feeling like I’m making it worse – a big change from last year when I felt I had to limit my walking. No shin splints, no plantar fasciitis, no orthotics, and minimal shoes all the time.
A nagging occasional pain in my left shoulder has finally disappeared. I have increased range in the front of my chest and when lifting my arms overhead. My arms and hands are strong and I’ve been able to rock climb regularly on harder routes than ever before (solidly on 5’10”s and even a few 5’11”s). I strained a couple of fingers when we first started climbing last November but they’re now all better. I have improved range in flexion and more access to my lats than ever before.
The only medication I ever take is Advil, and I hope to be able to stop that some day. I take it for headaches, which are less frequent for me these days, but they are not yet gone. Usually this means I take 2-3 Advils every 2-3 weeks these days.
Improved Strength & Control
What does improved strength and control really mean? Basically that I lurch around less.
Most of us actually have very little control over our movement, but this is hidden by the fact that the world holds us up. Only when we get on an unstable surface does our lack of control become obvious (this lack of control that causes a lot of wear and tear in our bodies. Plus when you move with control, you get more of the benefits of movement, because more of your muscles are working more of the time).
Here I have two videos of me climbing the infamous floating stairs at the Nutritious Movement Center in Sequim, Washington. The first was taken March, 2016, and the second is from May 2017, so they give you a pretty good idea of how my ability has improved over the last year.
Notice how in the first video I lean forward, my knees go further forward of my ankles, and I use speed – these are all strategies to make it easier to move forward. In the second I’m using a lot more of my back body – glutes and hamstrings, as well as the relationship between my front and back legs. I have to go much slower in order to access these muscles – you can’t change your movement patterns while moving fast, as a general rule. I’m still leaning forward a lot though – I still don’t have the strength to keep my upper body vertical when climbing.
New Things I’m Trying
The (Awesome, Amazing) ALF
As part of my journey to fix my breathing and airways, I recently got a device called an Advanced Lightweight Functional appliance. This is helping to remodel the bones of my face and palate, which should end up helping my jaw and my headaches. In the meantime, it’s already made some cool changes in the rest of my – my osteopath has been able to make adjustments that she never could before because I was too hypermobile. Now she says she has something to push against. So it’s early days but I’m pretty excited about this little device! Fingers crossed for the year to come!
Some Crazy Laser Therapy
So far I think it’s been helping my nerve issues a lot, has done nothing for my foot, and is probably helping my jaw but we haven’t done enough to notice a change so far. It’s interesting and weird, but I’m not totally sold.
Since Chris’ benefits pay for it, I figure the possibility that it can help to rebuild my cartilage and connective tissue is worth the (HIGH) time investment and spending time in a very allopathic medical setting.
It’s also helped Chris with a severely injured shoulder, so if you have chronic stuff (and benefits!) you might want to look into it. I don’t totally love it, but it clearly has lots of value for certain situations.
Also inspired by Norman Doidge and a fortuitous conversation with a family member, I’ve been exploring the world of Feldenkrais lessons over the last few months. I haven’t done as much as I’d like but I am loving them – they’re a really interesting way to experience my body. They are so different from the Restorative Exercise approach, and I’m enjoying exploring in this different way. I recommend checking out the free lessons at Twin Cities Feldenkrais if you’d like to try them for yourself.
Things That Aren’t Better (Yet)
I still get lots of them. Boo. However, I get far less neck pain than I used to. I’m looking forward to seeing if the ALF helps with this! My sleep is still quite broken as well.
I had my tongue tie released last November. I noticed relatively minor improvements and I still have lots of tension under my tongue. After further consultation with my dentist, we realized I have what’s called a posterior tie. This is harder to release, so I’m holding off for now until I can find the right practitioner to do it. I’m doing lots of tongue exercises in the meantime. Which are very, very boring after 6 months so just like everyone else, I don’t do my exercises as much as I should!
I hold a lot of tension in my facial muscles, my jaw, my throat and my upper back, shoulders and neck. Even when I consciously relax these muscles, the tension creeps back rapidly. I’m hoping the Feldenkrais work helps with this patterning!
My Stupid Foot Issue
I’m convinced that this is related to tightness in my mid-back and the alignment of my pelvis – or misalignment if you prefer – and many sprained ankles growing up. My pelvis typically is slightly twisted and one side rests higher than the other. I think this means that I walk in a wonky way that keeps reinjuring my foot. Although my foot isn’t very painful, I believe in listening to warning signs, and clearly something’s not working the way it should.
My Left Sacroiliac Joint
I never used to have SIJ stuff – this is new! I now notice that I have some tension and discomfort in my left lower back, which is trigged when I twist my ribs to the left. I also don’t have great hip extension in my left side and my right inner thigh is a lot tighter than my left (that pelvis alignment thing again).
I think that as I’ve increased my walking distances without enough improvement to my walking mechanics, I’ve created some irritation. I’m expecting this to improve over the next year as me, the ALF and my osteopath continue to work on it. And as I do more lunges! I will add that I hate these lunges, which is almost certainly a sign that I should do them more!
So Is My Hard Work Worth It?
Thanks to my movement practice, I’m much stronger, more aware and more able every single year. I’m building skills and awareness and increasing my ability to move with deliberation and control. My body feels really good most of the time! I enjoy 99% of the exercises and movement work I do, which makes it easy to enjoy.
It’s cool feeling my tongue, swallowing and breathing change as well, it feels great – as though I have greater stability and support in my head and upper body. Probably because I do!
I also feel really good about how I’ve arranged my life around movement. I have built lots of regular movement habits – such as daily walks, lots of squatting, and sitting on the floor – which I know are nourishing my body on a daily basis.
I’m incredibly comfortable sleeping on a thin mat on the floor, as well. I’ve also become adept at working more movement into daily activities.
These changes are less about ‘fixing’ things and more about knowing that my current and future health are well nourished because of the regular movement that’s now part of my daily life.
Also, my partner Chris is participating in most of these changes. I feel great knowing that his body, too, is benefitting from the frequent movement input that we gained by changing our living environment.
I’m Able To Do More
Even though I have ongoing ‘stuff’, none of it prevents me from doing things. In fact I hiked 22 miles on the Kalalau Trail with a fully loaded backpack in barefoot shoes when we were in Kauai this February. I could not have done that even 2 years ago without serious pain. One of my life goals is to spend some serious time doing long distance hikes, and for a while I feared that my foot issues would stop me. Now, I’m confident that I’ll be able to tackle the PCT some day, which is my dream hike!
My Path Is Getting Clearer Each Year
I also understand my issues better every year, and that the path to working on them is more clear as well. Will they ever go away? It’s impossible to say. I’m refining my movement practice all the time, and I work with great manual practitioners, so I am hopeful! But even if they don’t completely disappear, I love how the rest of me is feeling. Strong, able, and optimistic!
Katy has said that she finds that her progress is wholistic. That is, as she works on some parts of her body, other parts that don’t initially seem related improve their function. So I’m looking forward to the results of another year of work – this is only four years of better movement after 38 years of normal North American whatever, so there’s obviously a long way to go!
So, Is My Hard Work Worth It?
For me, the answer is absolutely yes. And I can’t wait to check in here again next year to report back!
Now Here’s How You Can Take Action
If you’re feeling inspired by my story, here are a few ideas on how you can take a baby step and add more movement to your life RIGHT NOW.
» It’s summer! Take advantage of the gorgeous weather and longer hours of sunlight and go for some extra walks. I recommend enjoying this with a friend or a great audiobook – the latest one I ‘read’ is called Suggestible You, by Erik Vance, and it was SUPER interesting!!
» Amp up your walk by choosing a natural surface every time you can. Maybe take off your shoes and enjoy it in bare feet, as long as you are suitably cautious. If your feet don’t love this, try my free healthy foot course to get them into better shape.
» Make some fun outdoor weekend plans. Chris and I are mostly working on home repairs for the summer but we still have 4 camping/hiking trips planned so we can enjoy the awesomeness.
» Pick 1-3 exercises from my blog and do them every day for the rest of June. Then try a new one (or three) in July.
» Try a virtual class! The Alignment Snacks classes are only 20-30 minutes long and they’re FUN and super inexpensive.
» Watering your garden? Try using a watering can instead of a hose and feel your core kick in hard! Make sure you switch the hand that’s carrying regularly.
» Spend some time reflecting. Is your body as healthy and able as you’d like it to be? If not, what’s something you could do in 2 minutes a day that would help it along? Now, go ahead and do it!
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Petra is a movement educator and personal trainer with a passion for helping people find greater ease, joy and health in their bodies. She believes that better movement can help every body – and she’s always happy to chat about it. When she’s not teaching, you’ll probably find her hanging out on a set of monkey bars.