Capping off November with gratitude for having a body that is vital enough to plank and for friends that challenge me to use my body fortitude in fun and innovative ways. A big shout out of thanks to my movement motivational buddy Alexandra Ellis - check out her awesome sauce website here - for boosting my body tenacity these last few days! These are just a few images of the planking I did throughout Thanksgiving week. Challenging my stability and strength in creative forms was a great reminder to set the "move different ways" bar high, no matter what time of the year it may be. I hope sharing this fun friendship gifted challenge motivates you to keep on moving outside, inside and from all sides!
The last few days I have been moving, a lot. Not in the traditional sense of the word, but in ways that go beyond my own physical maneuvering. I am currently assisting my mentor, Jill Miller, through a week of Yoga Tune Up® Level 1 Teacher Training at Yogaworks in Tarzana, CA. During this process of being a YTU assistant I have been continuously amazed at how genuinely moving this experience is.
Yoga Tune Up® offers tools to understand how you are moving in your body, what is making it move, which areas you are uncovering and discovering so that you may move better, and why you move the way you do (or don't). Level 1 trainees become acutely aware of their unique movement patterns, habits and nuances. Of course it makes perfect sense for a movement professional to immerse herself into movement learning, but during this intensive training many more parts of the body get moved as well... and when those other parts are stirred, the ones we aren't prepared for, that's when unqualified authentic learning happens.
As a YTU trainee in 2013, it was an utter brain-blasting experience for me to be given opportunities to feel my way in, out and through movement practices. I was given an incredibly safe playground to learn anatomical mapping, movement directions, and corrective exercise techniques so that I could feel better in my body. The voice in my head that for years said things like, "This pose just doesn't feel quite right" or "Nope, I don't want to take it to my edge, it hurts" or - and this was the toughest one to reckon with - "I have places in my body that don't feel good when they move any longer" was finally heard and getting the answers it was seeking. I was literally climbing my way out of confusion and pain, and I was doing it by MOVING my body through heightened awareness.
Diving deeply into this kind of personal locomotion awareness cannot be done with muscles and bones alone, it takes a brilliant somatic teacher to lead her students to and through a brand new appreciation of body consciousness. This time around I am an assistant to the amazing teacher, Jill, and I have been completely MOVED from the outside in - again, even more deeply as an assistant to the work and its students, than as a trainee. To me, that is the best kind of movement, when it penetrates all layers of learning.
One of the demographic groups that can positively benefit from Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball use is the running community. It is clear to me how beneficial rolling is to this class of high impact, hard hitting, repetitive movers since I am fully appreciating great restoration from using the YTU balls on my occasional runner tissues. Short distance, competitive, and ultra runners can all gain many perks from the self-message techniques performed with the YTU balls. Heck, everyone can benefit! But, let’s step into how runners can uniquely use the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls that align with particular qualities of the sport they so enjoy.
The running community definitely has stretching on its radar. Calf stretch, runner’s lunge, and hamstring lengtheners all come to mind, but are those muscles really primed for stretching? After miles of a repetitive activity held in one position which draws the body forward, shortens muscles, pulls on joints, and can produce gripping and knots in many muscular areas, the balls can provide a tool for achieving some tissue balance, or homeostasis, to the body so that it is better prepared to recover. The therapy balls offer ways to roll out the knots in, and return length to, muscles so that they are primed for stretching. The YTU therapy balls create soft tissue commotion and shearing, which in turn offers myofascial release to connective fibers. This tissue friction stimulates hydration in the fascial layers and encourages release of muscular tension allowing for restoration, and supporting a return to enhanced performance.
A common theme in the running world is use of the foam roller. It’s not that the foam roller is bad, per se, but the grippy, pliable, rubbery surface of the YTU balls is much more forgiving to soft tissues than a hard, unyielding foam roller. More notably, the therapy balls are far more effective at penetrating the superficial layers and “digging into” fascia. Additionally, the cumbersome mass of the foam roller doesn’t make it easy to pop in a bag for events that are traveled to, lug to parks or trails, or use during post run sessions at the computer. (Yes, you can use your therapy balls under your feet while at your standing or, eek, sitting desk!) The biggest “ah-ha” for me is rolling the IT band with the YTU balls, not a foam roller. With the small, spongy, malleable therapy balls, it is possible to get in and really cause some cross-friction and separation of connective tissue layers in the thick iliotibial band and its neighboring vastus lateralis muscle. The foam roller with its solid, inflexible surface provides more of a sledgehammer approach to self-care, as compared to the focused precision possible with the moldable YTU balls.
Another terrific benefit of sharing the Yoga Tune Up® balls with runners is rolling the tissues of the upper back, shoulders and chest areas. Many runners have no idea what their favorite fitness pastime is doing to their bodies above the waist, that is, until they experience self-massage on their upper bodies. Chronically lengthened upper back muscles and internally rotated chest tissues, coupled with the repetitive pumping motion of the arms fueled by the shoulder joints, makes for a supreme slate of body parts that need to be reset, reopened and restored. The YTU balls can bring the runner greater awareness to these often unattended places and offer myofascial release to these upper body areas for soothing, self-care recovery.
Check back soon for a Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball rolling exercises I most often share with the running community, the “Calf & Hammie Smash.” This YTU technique is time efficient and super effective for runners and for anyone who kneads to regain balance in tissues with issues.
Ahh, it’s summer time, and during the warmer months of the year we tend to go barefoot more often. That’s good news for the bones, muscles and tendons in our feet because, being shoeless, they’ll get the chance to spread and feel the ground beneath them!
In my last blog post I wrote about the flexor digitorum longus (FDL) and how it plays a major role in the gripping action of the toes. A thin muscle that begins at the tibia, it thickens as it extends down the length of the calf. The FDL then passes through the ankle and reaches the sole of the foot where it splits into four tendons, each connecting to one of the 2nd through 5th toes. If your toes have been constricted in tight fitting shoes, the muscles and tendons that support them need flexibility and strengthening exercises to awaken them so they are ready for barefoot walking. Likewise, it’s important to invest dedicated time in spreading the metatarsals of the feet as they are often also compressed in cramped toe boxes of shoes.
In preparation for putting your best barefoot forward, roll Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls on the bottom of the feet to revive the FDL and activate the other muscles surrounding it. Using a back-and-forth stripping action, roll the balls from the heel to the ball of the foot. This encourages widening of the metatarsals and much needed increase in blood flow to the plantar fascia area, which runs along the underside the FDL.
Now primed for movement, practice the Yoga Tune Up® Toe Separation Exercise that Jill Miller demonstrates here to articulate the bones and joints in your metatarsals and phalanges. These are also terrific techniques for flip-flop feet as the gripping muscles of all five toes will be especially happy with this restorative attention!
**Note, you may also read a version of this blog on Yoga Dork here **
Want to get a grip? Then grab a pair of the most popular kind of minimalist shoes, flip-flops, and put them on your feet. Now walk, and feel the flexors of your ankles and toes grip, literally. Meet your flexor digitorum longus. Entombed deep to the gastrocnemius and soleus in the lower leg, the flexor digitorum longus flexes the second through fifth toes, inverts the foot, and aids in plantar flexion of the ankle.
Originating in the middle of the posterior surface of the tibia and traveling down the leg inserting in the distal phalanges of the second through fifth toes, the flexor digitorum longus (FDL) is one of three ankle and toes flexors. Along with the tibialis posterior and the flexor halluces longus (FHL), the other foot flexors, this narrow muscle is a primary player in tiptoeing, navigating rocky trails and picking up small objects off the floor with the toes.
When wearing loose fitting flip type shoes that do not connect to your foot, the FDL has to work extra hard, along with the FHL, to hold the shoe in place so you don’t flop, I mean fall. The gripping of the FDL can result in a change in normal dorsiflexion during the swing phase of the gait cycle. The over-emphasized flexing action on the bottom of the foot can have detrimental effects on the gait cycle of the sandal wearer. It can lead to pain in the heel, in the metatarsophalangeal and interphalangeal joints, in the plantar fascia, and may also cause discomfort up the anterior and lateral side of the lower leg, reaching all the way up through the IT band. Mainly, as we are focusing on the flexor digitorum longus, this slim muscle has to do a heck of a lot of overtime when the action of toe flexion is called upon so intensely.
Though the warmer months are rapidly approaching, switch out the flip-flops for footwear that connects to your feet and save your flexor digitorum longus for hiking in the woods, walking barefoot in the rain, and for some of your favorite standing balanced yoga poses like Half Moon and Tree Pose. Get a real grip and ditch the flips!