One of my great joys in life is discovering a new teacher who opens my eyes to something I’ve hitherto overlooked, or just not fully grasped.
Katy Bowman is my current teacher-crush. She’s a bio-mechanist which means she focuses on the mechanics of the human body; how we humans move and how our movements affect our health and how we function. It’s a black hole area that’s been largely overlooked. We know we need fresh air, clean water and nutritious food for optimum health, but most of us don’t realise that movement is also vital. It’s not a cherry-on-top-optional-if-I-can-squeeze-it-in-that’d-be-great-health measure. It’s essential. Our DNA expects us to move in specific ways to function optimally, and most of us aren’t getting nearly enough movement.
Our Sedentary Culture
We did not evolve over thousands of years to sit at desks for 35-40 hours a week, plus extra hours sitting in cars, plus extra hours sitting for leisure time. If you do an hour of exercise a day, by most modern standards you’d be lumped in the ‘pretty fit and healthy’ category. But one hour of exercise does not make up for 23 hours of sedentarism.
She actually compares exercise to vitamin pills. It’s not the same to eat junk all day and then take a range of pills to cover the essential nutrients we need as it is to eat a healthy, well balanced diet. Exercising for an hour a day, often in the same repetitive way e.g. jogging, cycling etc….is not the same as moving your body frequently and in many different ways throughout the day, thus giving your body all the nutritious movements it needs.
Diseases of Captivity
Our bodies signal the fact that we need movement in order to be healthy by sending us signals of ‘movement hunger’. As we age, the number of years spent sedentary and repeating the same restricted range of movements (largely sitting in chairs!) compound to create problems. Back ache, dodgy knees, an ache here, a niggle there. In many cases these are signals of ‘movement hunger’. Our bodies are being starved of the nutritious movements they need to thrive.
One example she gives is regarding just how important movement is in helping fresh oxygen reach every cell in our body. If our cells don’t receive oxygen, they die. We think of the heart as being the organ responsible for pumping blood; getting oxygen in and around and waste back out. The reality is that the heart isn’t designed to bear this weight alone. Through moving lots we assist the heart greatly and ensure each cell receives the nutrients it needs. She suggests that one of the reasons for higher rates of heart disease is mechanical. We’re not moving as we evolved to (i.e. lots!) which is placing a new (in evolutionary terms) burden on our heart to do all the work of pumping blood around our system.
To make this point clearer she uses the analogy of the orca in captivity. It’s common for a captive whale to suffer from a collapsed fin. This is because it evolved to swim long distances and dive deep under the ocean water. This natural movement ensures its fin stays upright. In captivity, however, we see a different mechanical environment. Whales swim around in small circles and spend much more time above water. The droopy fin is a disease of captivity.
How many of our common ailments and health issues are diseases of our own captivity? We’re domesticated and live in incredible comfort, which ironically has led to discomfort as the capacity of our bodies has shrunk to fit the tiny range of movement we routinely use.
Top Tips To Restore Health Through Natural Movements
So what to do? It’s not about exercising more, but moving more in day-to-day living. You’ve probably heard the saying “it’s not what you do once in awhile that matters but what you do every day”. Well it’s not what you do for 30-60 minutes a day (i.e. exercising) but how you use your body for the remaining 23 hours as well.
Let’s start with our foundation, it affects everything above it.
We spend most of our time with our feet in sensory deprivation chambers i.e. shoes. Although our feet have hundreds and hundreds of muscles and the potential to move in myriad ways, we have become accustomed to walking and standing on flat, smooth surfaces, mostly in shoes.
To add more movement we can simply go barefoot more frequently, indoors first and then if you’re feeling daring outside in the garden too. Outdoors barefoot gives you the added benefits of earthing. Find some interesting stones to walk over, if you dare. It’s all great stimulation for your feet, although it mightn’t feel like it!
A tennis ball or massage ball is a great way to slowly break up the monotonous block of foot that we’ve created and start to get some movement back into our foundations. No special technique, just get rolling and try to cover each part of your foot, imagine your mowing the lawn 🙂
Another top tip is simply to walk, walk, walk: use them feet to walk. Our hunter gatherer ancestors were walking around a thousand miles a year, which is about 2.75 miles a day. It’s better to vary how much you walk so that some days you walk more and some days less, but if you’re not walking enough then aiming for 2.75 miles a day isn’t a bad place to start.
I got myself a basic pedometer so I could start to track my movement. You don’t have to spend a fortune, I bought one for£20 which works great. It’s linked to an app on my phone so I can see week-by-week and month-by-month how much I’m moving. I find this brings out the competitive nature in me and encourages me to walk more to get my ‘score’ up nice and high 🙂
It’s the new smoking apparently. It’s not sitting per se that’s the issue, but the fact that it usually represents being in a single position for many hours a day.
Sitting in chairs repetitively tightens up our hips, but there’s more than one way to sit. Consider sitting on the floor sometimes. We’re addicted to comfort and have a natural tendency to do as little as possible, to conserve energy. But our environment these days make this far too easy, which ends up making us uncomfortable as we get stiffer and physically weaker with age.
Everything you own that makes life more comfy, the sofa, bed, etc…is actually taking the work from your body and making you less physically able to cope. You don’t have to get rid of your furniture, but consider sitting on the floor sometimes.
The floor is less comfortable so you’ll naturally find yourself moving around more frequently and in different ways. Plus you’ll open up those hips passively without having to go to yoga (although I still recommend going to yoga, obviously 😉 )
Another bonus is that you’ll maintain the capacity needed to get yourself down to the floor and back up again easily. If you’re not sitting on the ground regularly then you won’t know you’ve lost this capacity until it’s gone. It always strikes me how nimble the elderly are in countries where sitting on the ground and squatting is a normal daily movement versus here where decades of sitting in chairs mean our elderly end up struggling to get in and out of a chair, never mind the floor! Use it or lose it. You’ve been warned.
Computer hands anyone? Mobile phone hands? It’s all tippy-tappy on various devices and not a whole lot else. Generally. Here are some movements Katy prescribes.
Bring the backs of your hands together for reverse prayer. Press your hands down away from you but only as far as you can go while keeping the backs of your hands and all fingers and thumbs together.
Pull your fingers back for the opposite of computer hands. I also like to do this one on hands and knees with my fingers pointed back towards my knees, I slowly peel my hands from the floor stretching along the length of my palm and fingers.
Arms and shoulderS
All the slumping forwards that’s part of modern living, and using our arms within limited ranges i.e. right in front of us, means most of us can benefit from opening the shoulders and arms up and back.
The angel is a nice simple movement. If you can lie on a bolster or some pillows and then circle the arms up and overhead, reaching towards the ground behind you.
A reclined twist is another simple and effective move to open into the upper back, shoulders and chest. From reclining, draw your left knee into your chest and pull it across the body like a lever to the right. Reach your left arm up and circle back. Let the left shoulder melt towards the ground behind you. Yummy, this is definitely nutritious. This is my current wind-down pose for the end of the day
Hanging is another great movement that lets your
body experience a different load. Start by hanging sideways like the picture shows. Next lamp-post you see, OK? From here we can progress to monkey bars and swinging. All this to look forward to!
Other nutritious movements
- Notice any tendency to clench your jaw. Throughout the day bring awareness to your jaw and release it by letting your bottom teeth relax away from your top.
- Notice any overexertion of the eye muscles. Again, throughout the day bring your awareness to your eyes and soften your gaze. If you stare at a computer for much of the day take regular breaks to look into the distance, or up at the sky when you get a chance – this uses different muscles so you’re not constantly holding the same contraction.
- Look at the devices you use to make life easier and experiment going without them. An example is brooms and mops. These devices allow us to stand and clean the floor where previously we would have been down, either squatting or on hands and knees, moving around much more. I’ve been getting down to clean the floor and it’s actually been an easy transition. Plus you can really get stuck in when you’re closer to the ground 🙂
- This is going to seem a bit out there, but Katy also talks about our mattresses and pillows as being ‘subversive immobilising devices issued at birth’. Hold on tight, I’m going to unpack this one a little more. Using big fluffy pillows and super comfy and soft mattresses causes our bodies to adapt to need those things. Then you go camping and sleep on a different terrain and your body feels like it’s fallen out of a sky-scrapper over night! Have you ever had a massage or done some yoga only to discover some sore or sticky spots in your body? The question is, why didn’t you know about these until someone started prodding you? Katy says “sleeping on a mattress dampens the pressure to your body. The cumulative effect of sleeping every night on a giant squishy surface is that it keeps you blind to the fact that parts of your body have become so immobile and inflamed that being touched hurts. If you’ve gone to the massage therapist and found relief from the application of pressure over time, consider the compound effect of getting “worked on” by the floor every night”. I’ve inadvertently been doing this sort of cross-training since baby Lila came along. I’ve been camping out on the floor in the spare bedroom for the last seven months. At first I thought this was terrible for my body but my body has adapted and I’m noww more comfortable on the floor!! I think this warrants more investigation and a separate blog post!
- Just get outdoors. It’s so good for us in so many ways and in ways we don’t fully understand. The effect of sunlight, of UV rays (did you know they decrease risk factors for inflammatory demyelinating diseases like MS?), the good vibes the trees and plants give off, the effects of touching the ground (earthing again!) even the sounds of the natural world compared to the sounds of our devices and cars beep beeping constantly.
So there you have a few tips from Katy Bowman, the legend! I’ll leave you with one more quote from my favourite lady of the moment:
“Our zoo-like environment is not necessarily invalid, but it implies that there’s nothing we can do about our captivity or that we’ve agreed to staying in our cage of comforts. We have the key to unlock the door and move our DNA to a new environment whenever we choose to. What are you waiting for?”
How will you move your DNA today?
If you’re into podcasts definitely check out her Katy Says Podcast https://nutritiousmovement.com/podcasts/
If you’re not into podcasts, you’re missing out. Get listening while you move about more!
If you want to know more definitely read her book Move Your DNA.