Stick your butt out / Lead with your rumpus by Katie Getchell

Sarah G. wrote to ask whether I could say more about my statement in the previous post that I'd been "telling people to stick their butts out" more and more often.  As usual I'm not able to form a cogent (verbal) argument right at the moment, but for now I'll post this teaser for a longer video to come soon, which will hopefully explain some of what I mean.  

The instruction to "stick your butt out" might be lazy phrasing; however, I've found that as a cue for initiating movement it works perfectly to remind the bodymind to begin to hinge at the hips. In fact, it works better than more complex, biomechanical verbiage.  You may also think of it as "lead with your.....preferred vocabulary." Train yourself to Stick your Butt Out to just before a forward bend, a lift, a squat or crouch, and you will automatically lengthen the spine, the hamstrings, and the levers you have to work with, while de-compressing disks and relieving the shoulder girdle.

 

Where have you been? I was gone but now I'm back to talk about CHANGE by Katie Getchell


The intentions of the Spring Equinox - to launch a blog and converse with you about movement, dance, practice and body awareness - were like perfectly viable seeds that didn't get enough water. I fell off the path of writing into a side gully of deep introspection, work, solitary practice, and tons and tons of reading & listening (mainly other peoples' blogs and podcasts, and a few extremely nutrient-rich, dense, thrilling books that I'm still digesting and will tell you more about soon.)   Sorry. I'm back.

In the last months unexpected events and serendipitous encounters have put me face-to-face with my blind assumptions. I'll be writing more about these, but know that it involves dipping into a new layer of vulnerability. I'm asking my readers to write back, comment, ask, provoke, participate -- I don't want to be all alone here.

In the same way that my investigation of Stretching (which we used to take for granted as an essential prelude to movement) has led me to practically discard it, other physical and cognitive realms have also been turned on their head by the invitation to look closer and question my experience. These range from the rather technical questions (such as: how much ice is necessary for healing an injury?) to the very personal (such as: what is my emotional relationship to finances?).  

Some of the themes of the first half of 2017 for me have been:

- break trance
- do fewer things better
- try things in a radically new way, don't just tweak them
- slow the f down
- listen completely, with ears and body
- suspend the compulsion to act as a way of filling up the space of the unknown.  Antero Alli speaks so eloquently about how our nervous systems can only handle so much uncertainty before we become "anxious monkeys." I notice this so viscerally.
- have many auspicious and transforming encounters at exactly the right time with new people, thinkers, writers and ideas!!


so what's new:


In April I started earnestly working a new way in my bodywork practice, incorporating private movement work off the table with clients.  I've been doing this in addition to the Natural Human Movement classes, and it's a more focused way of paying attention to how individuals move in their daily lives. I learned that the group classes are sometimes intimidating or too accelerated for people. In parsing how I want to encourage their awareness, and changes in personal movement habits, I've been paying extra attention to my own habits, feeling like I definitely need to get rid of my couch, and I hear myself telling people to stick their butts out more than ever.

A most potent influence over the past 18 months has been the work of Esther Gokhale. The bummer about having so many great teachers to learn from is that sometimes they contradict each other, reveal false assumptions or no-longer-valid beliefs (see themes of 2017), and plunge me further into anxious monkey-mind.   Much of what Esther teaches rubs across or against some of my previous training, and forces me to do more direct investigation rather than take as Word the teachings of other people. But her work feels so deeply, immediately, intuitively right that I'm just going to go with that for now.

 

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In June I completed the fourth phase (and fifth year) of my 8Elements Datura Style Dance Training with Rachel Brice. You can read more about that here. It was not exactly an easy breeze through the finish line, but I've relished every moment. Though ostensibly a dance program, for me this course of study has more than anything been an encounter with myself and my relationship to learning, to practice, work, perseverance, and to the experiences of failure and success. I'm proud to have completed this milestone at last and to offer a new dance class format that hopefully brings forth as much as I can of my teacher Rachel's incredible trove of resources and practices.  

Through my time with the 8Elements training, and especially this final phase of Teacher Training, I've been exposed to an array of methods and principles that are in essence about Being Effective and Reaching People (instead of leaving them behind, lost, confused, frustrated and unsatisfied which I have definitely done.) I'm looking forward to going back again and again to the wisdom of these resources for the rest of my life. Let me know if you want more specifics.

[Similarly, but not related to the dance community, my accidental discovery of this podcast has me pretty excited.  Warning, not safe for work. I'm actually very interested in having conversations about this. It has everything to do with using our speech in a deliberate way, and having communication with others via physical presence.]
 

As I shift my focus back to simple practice and return my primary energies to teaching, not performing, it sinks in that our dance troupe has decided to take a hiatus for an undetermined period of time ~ perhaps forever? This has brought so many issues to the surface. The breaking of a form that existed with continuity for most of 9 years has let me touch and taste Change in a more immediate, refreshing, panicky, nauseating, relieving, thankful, grieving way.   This is still rather astonishing so there isn't much more that I can write about this at the moment, but I will. I'm forever grateful for the many experiences of creativity, challenge and community that I shared with these incredibly talented women, and excited about the new faces showing up in my dance life.

Speaking of change, another life-altering thing has been the discovery of the work of Jean Claude Guimberteau.  He's a French plastic surgeon who has done extensive micro-endo-photography of fascia in the human body.  We Structural Integration Practitioners (aka Rolfers®; sorry for any copyright infringement but I'm trying to share information here) definitely work with mental and visual models in understanding the plasticity of the human form, and the ability of tissue to change.  For a long time our images of fascia came from cadavers.

Imagine when this image (standard dissection view of fascia)

gets replaced with a more magnified, alive-person perspective on the fascia in our bodies

Guimberteau's work reveals that fascia is, truly, "like drops of dew suspended in a 3-D spiderweb."  This enhanced knowing of just how fluid and motile we are affects not only manual therapy work but the work of living and being itself. Is my life a rather dry old piece of sinew that's going to need a lot of massage to soften it into another shape, or is it a delicate jelly-like network that can be influenced by the subtlest of intention?  But I digress.....  

Lastly, because it has everything to do with fluidity, I want to share one more person who has touched my life in a big way.  I love Rain Dove. Here is the video where I first encountered them, but there are many more interviews, blogs and posts about the amazing work they are doing in the world. And P.S. As a sign of my adaptability, this is the first time I've ever used the they/them pronoun like this, in defiance of my grammatical fixity. Old leathery fascia?

I've been gone for a while from this page because life was asking me to listen more than speak,  to study more than teach, to DO more than THINK, and do BE more than DO. The learning has come on numerous levels and hasn't always been comfortable.  The shifts and gifts feel bigger than ever. Anyone else having this kind of year so far? I started this blog with the Question & Answer format as a platform for conversation: send me your thoughts and ideas and let's continue the dialogue.

Is stretching important? Part One by Katie Getchell

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Question:

"Do I really need to stretch? I keep getting advice that I have to stretch properly before exercise. This really cuts into the already-limited free time in which I'm trying to fit more movement."

This question gets to the heart of a somewhat-heated debate within movement, fitness and performing arts communities.  After decades of expert insistence on stretching, some research is pointing to the fact that unskilled and excessive stretching can cause harm, especially the most-commonly practiced static stretching. Static stretching can tax tendons and ligaments, which directly destabilizes the joints.

Since static stretching is done with the body at rest instead of in a dynamic state of motion, like so many of our modern practices, it lacks holistic context and separates form and function into two different categories. When joint function becomes unrelated to muscle fiber length, we're courting trouble. ("Contextual fitness" is a phrase that's coming up more and more, and which relates to natural movement practices, but that is for another post.)

I would like you to consider that direct initiation of gentle and progressive movement, performed with awareness, can replace the stretching with which you were "preparing" for said movement.  They key is awareness.

In Part 2 of this answer I will address more specifically pathways to safe, joint-focused movement and share some useful keys to awareness.  What I offer here is simply my own opinion, based on personal experience and extended observation of clients and students. I urge you to read from some of the resources I've collected below, do some experiments and reach your own conclusions.

Here's my rap:

It's possible, through mobilization of the joints, to "teach" the adjoining and related musculature to stretch appropriately, but the inverse is not true: just because we stretch our muscles does not mean that we are supporting healthy joint movement. Although muscle strains can be painful, damage to the joints is much more problematic and often longer-lasting.  Therefore, I want to make it clear that I always prioritize functional joint movement over muscle length and extensibility. 

What do I mean by joint movements "teaching" the musculature to stretch? Basically, this refers to the concept of proprioception (the neurological body-mind process of mapping one's position in space) and to the mechanisms through which the body responds to demands by growing new muscle cells and adjusting the contraction of those already in existence. Our bodies are shaped by our patterns of movement, which happen in full, three-dimensional context and are not static. The body adapts to the intensity, direction, duration and complexity of our movement by growing - among other things - new sarcomeres (the muscle fibers responsible for enabling "work"), new capillaries, new bone cells, new skin cells (callouses) and so on. This means that if you practice movement with awareness, (for example, not placing too heavy or rapid demands on your body) you gain the benefits of static stretching along with the full spectrum of other adaptations which stretching alone does not provide.  And, you do it in real time, while exercising, not in a separate category of movement. 

Let's say you wanted to stretch your posterior leg chain (calf and hamstring muscles) in preparation for a steep hike. Conventional wisdom might tell you to do a static stretch such as the one pictured here:

Not to pick on Marilyn, but, there are some problems here.  Do you see what's going on?  First, the all-important hip joint is not hingeing very deeply or functionally, but Marilyn is displacing that flexion into her upper back to "deepen the stretch." I see this stretch performed with a compensating flexed spine far more often than not. This can cause spinal compression and other issues. Second, should she succeed in cranking her torso all the way down to her legs, that doesn't guarantee that her legs (lovely as they are - I just really looked for the first time!) are adapted through use to climbing at an angle, or that her joints are both mobile and stable enough to support her body weight on inclined ground.  Third, what about this stretch teaches the neural network to provide the kind of balance needed on steep slopes?

This example might seem a little silly, but seriously: this type of stretching is considered normal and is performed by people who are a) "doing the right thing" by stretching b) in a hurry to get moving  c) lacking joint range of motion. This is not to demean forward bends or Marilyn's efforts, but simply to say that I believe a better movement you can do to adapt to a steep hike is this:

That's right, to prepare yourself to move, begin moving (with awareness) into the movement itself.  

In this photo we see many of the things that stretching may hope to accomplish: lengthening of the posterior chain (calf stretch, hip extension, engagement of hamstrings in a lengthened state) and hingeing at the hip rather than the upper back. In fact, we could say that she is stretching. Additionally, we can see hingeing at the ankle, as well as weight-bearing and alignment challenges that will both strengthen and inform the whole organism, contributing balance and coordination.  This is what I mean by the body in motion "teaching" itself.

I want to repeat that the key is really to support joint mobility, rather than to dismiss stretching or to say that it has no place. 

My answer to the person who asked me "do I really have to stretch first?" is to experiment with beginning your exercise / movement with a slow, gentle, deep, joint-focused version of the activity you want to do.  If little moments of stretching "intrude" (such as the calf stretch in the climbing example above,) savor them and make sure they are done in the context of whole-body movement, in gravity, and without an overly ambitious focus on muscle length. Report back!

Here are some resources for you to look at before we get to Part 2:

Some perspectives on intelligent stretching:
https://gokhalemethod.com/blog/62567

The Sock Doc, Steve Gangemi,  weighs in (and you can find other links to this topic on his website):
http://sock-doc.com/stop-stretching/

An audio version of this conversation:
https://www.liberatedbody.com/podcast/steve-gangemi-lbp-050

Sports Medicine paper: "....controversy remains about the best type of stretching for a particular goal or outcome."  Ask yourself whether you just want increased range of motion in an abstract situation, or the ability and adaptation to actually move well.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/
 

How do I get mentally unstuck? by Katie Getchell

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M sends the following question:

How do you get mentally "unstuck" when you have come to believe that your body is beyond repair - and therefore you are in a vicious circle ?

M, thank you for asking. I think that your experience reflects most people's greatest obstacle to movement.

I'm going to address the mentally-stuck part of your situation.  I don't know your particular physical history, so leaving open the question of whether your body is actually "beyond repair," I want to affirm that there's a lot of pleasure and health to be found in the process of investigation.  For most of us, unless we were unfortunate to suffer permanent illness, injury or disability, more movement is always possible.  

Anaïs Nin said, "We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are."

Right now, you see your body "as you are." In your own words, you're in a stuck place, and your beliefs about your body are keeping you in a negative cycle. The unmoving, painful body lives with the stuck mind, and together they reinforce a vicious circle of hopelessness. 

Becoming mentally unstuck starts with the decision to make small, manageable and consistent changes in your movement habits. As your body starts to move, it powerfully affects the "as you are" part of the equation.  The amazing interpenetration of mind and body will become vividly obvious when you use the physical realm to dismantle the stuck mental realm. The mind that's seeing things as unchangeable starts to mutate when its fleshiness receives what it needs.

The hardest part is breaking inertia. You just need some momentum. Once you make way for the momentum, it will build and give you the energy to make many transformations. I need to say it again: The HARDEST part is breaking inertia.  If your mind and body are enjoying their stagnancy, they'll give you a thousand clever justifications to continue it, but you have to cheerfully ignore these. Practice care and awareness as you choose new habits - but commit to them, and move from the place in you that asked the question, the part that is sincerely tired of being stuck.

There's no movement too small or too brief or too insignificant to start breaking the cycle. It's important, especially at first, to make the changes manageable, so that you can fold them into your life without feeling the backlash of dread or self-sacrifice or defeat.  I'm not talking about going to the gym, taking up a yoga practice, beginning to run miles or lift weights. I'm talking about gently, very gently, but with unwavering firmness, taking hold of opportunities to break out of the comfort zones that limit your body's movement.

Walk a little longer or a little farther. Sit on the floor instead of in a soft chair. Sit less in general. Go outside after dark and explore the winter streets, instead of being at home by the television.  Stop and use as stretching places the trees, the railings and doorways in your environment. Carry more things instead of wheeling or driving them. Choose the steeper path. Take stairs instead of escalators or elevators. In your daily tasks, squat down, reach up, extend out. Use hand kitchen tools instead of electric ones. Carry little ones in arms instead of in a carrier or stroller, even for a few minutes. Make a decision to spend a weekend exploring a new place in nature instead of tending to the list of things you "have to do" at home (stagnation justification alert!)  Move more, even if it's doing toe lifts instead of just standing at the stove. It's actually that silly but true. This is the start. It's the trickle that breaks the dam. 

(I can think of no better examples of generating the momentum that breaks vicious cycles, or of movement repairing the body, than the stories of Ben Pobjoy and Arthur Boorman, so check out these links. I'm pretty sure that Arthur thought he was broken and beyond repair, but when he challenged that idea unbelievable things happened.)

Gradually your reference point, the "as you are" that's mentally stuck, will change as the body gets fresh nourishment from increased oxygenation, circulation, nervous system stimulation, pressure and movement through the joints. From these your body gets a renewed message to heal itself. Esther Gokhale teaches that blood is the best healer, and that anything we can do to promote its flow brings immense benefit to our well-being.  If stasis is your habit, then simply look for novel movement patterns and you'll probably be on the right track. 

There are hundreds of small choices before us each day: we have to consciously notice those that beguile us with convenience and comfort while robbing us of the movement our bodies need. The paradox is that we have to keep a kind attitude towards ourselves while being absolutely ruthless in our resolve to notice what's holding us back. 

The body is beyond repair only when you're beyond movement : it actually depends on movement to relay and enact the messages of cell regeneration. 
The demands you place on your body are, in essence, its instructions to remake itself: so commit to placing some new demands (however small they seem) on your body and it will surprise you with its capacity for regeneration and vitality.