“Stand up straight”, “don’t slouch”! Words of wisdom from mothers across continents, and right they are.
Whether you come to my MELT classes or are working with me one-on-one, the most often used phrases are ‘neutral pelvis’, ‘shoulders relaxed’, ‘good form’ and derivatives thereof. So why is good posture so important even if I disregard the fact that it looks a lot better?
A body in ideal alignment is a balanced body. The relationship in length between muscles is optimal, and movement is effortless because all the players know their role. The central nervous system is like a conductor, and just as in an orchestra, everybody must be well-tuned and know the score to create a harmonious performance.
If a body is out of alignment, then some parts have to work harder and still don’t get it done right. The result is that some parts wear out sooner than others, and this can start a pain cycle that only perpetuates the problems and adds to them. Even though medical science has given us replacement parts and perfected the techniques to implant them, we would do a lot better looking after ourselves as well as if we were our own car.
Did you ever hear of anybody, who would change the tires on their car, not get them balanced but then take the car out on a 1,000 mile road trip with heavy cargo and a hanger? Me neither.
When I start my MELT classes, I describe the position of ideal alignment, and just about everybody raises their hand when asked whether they felt discrepancies. Soon into the class, those discrepancies diminish and sometimes disappear altogether, and my students walk out straighter and often in less pain than when they walked in. After having taught MELT for almost 5 years now, I see permanent improvements after just a few months with regular MELTing.
Aren’t you worth it?
I have always loved ballet. Even though I never danced myself, classical ballet is my favorite dance art form; the more tutu the better. Living now in Raleigh, North Carolina, we have been so fortunate to having the professional Carolina Ballet since 1997. I had season tickets all those years, looking forward to every single performance.
Even the greater my pleasure when I recently had an opportunity to introduce some of the dancers to MELT.
While watching the performances and the performers, it was always quite obvious to me that all that grace that I admire so much is the result of rigorous training, and I was conscious of the fact that injuries are the inevitable by-product of such training.
Over the last 5 years of teaching MELT, I have seen enough of its beneficial results on many bodies that I knew that its positive effects could be felt equally by a professional dancer as by weekend warrior or somebody recovering after a hip or knee replacement surgery.
So it was not surprising to me on some level to hear the same comments about some of the MELT length exercises that I am used to hear from my more conventional class participants. The sensation of length beyond ordinary stretching which can only be described as ‘hurting so good’.
What I absolutely had to admire, though, was the amazing ability of the dancers to take my verbal instructions and translate them into body movement. Those familiar with MELT know that the greatest impact is often made by the smallest changes in body position, and those require a great deal of body awareness. And while this is hardly unexpected, it is nonetheless astounding to watch.
Is it possible that a neat person is not a NEAT person? Absolutely.
So what on earth am I talking about? Here is what the National Institute on Health has to say:
“Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting. Even trivial physical activities increase metabolic rate substantially and it is the cumulative impact of a multitude of exothermic actions that culminate in an individual's daily NEAT. It is, therefore, not surprising that NEAT explains a vast majority of an individual's non-resting energy needs. Epidemiological studies highlight the importance of culture in promoting and quashing NEAT. Agricultural and manual workers have high NEAT, whereas wealth and industrialization appear to decrease NEAT. Physiological studies demonstrate, intriguingly, that NEAT is modulated with changes in energy balance; NEAT increases with overfeeding and decreases with underfeeding. Thus, NEAT could be a critical component in how we maintain our body weight and/or develop obesity or lose weight. The mechanism that regulates NEAT is unknown. However, hypothalamic factors have been identified that specifically and directly increase NEAT in animals. By understanding how NEAT is regulated we may come to appreciate that spontaneous physical activity is not spontaneous at all but carefully programmed.”
So NEAT is all the moving we do when we are not formally exercising. Even for regular exercisers with 2 hours of exercise every day and 8 hours of sleep, that leaves 14 hours during which we can do nothing or a lot.
Based on information in an NASM publication, I developed a metabolic profile tracker that gives points per hour for activities. It gives -1 for sitting or lying down (except sleep; that gets a 0), 0 for standing, +1 for normal moving, +2 for a little strenuous activity such as housework or a light workout, +3 for strenuous activity such as intense gardening (riding lawnmower does not count) or a strenuous workout, and a +4 when you knock yourself out. It is very revealing to see the times when we hardly move at all. If you would like a copy of this form, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So now let’s all try to become a neat NEAT person!
By all appearances, spring has finally sprung. Even though the winter in Raleigh, NC, can hardly be called severe when compared to some other parts of the nation but it seemed to go on longer that it ought to have.
After taking a nice long walk with my dog just in a T-shirt, I came home happy, thirsty …. and a little tanned. At this point in my life, a sun tan is no longer on my priority list and thus I felt that I needed to remind myself (and anybody who cares to read this) what the Skin Cancer Foundation has to say on the subject of the sun and the need for sunscreen:
“Use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher whenever you spend any time outdoors.
- This applies to all outdoor activities: athletics, shopping, picnicking, walking or jogging, gardening, even waiting for a bus.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply liberally and evenly to all exposed skin. The average adult in a bathing suit should use approximately one ounce of sunscreen per application. Not using enough will effectively reduce the product's SPF and the protection you get.
- Be sure to cover often-missed spots: lips, ears, around eyes, neck, scalp if hair is thinning, hands, and feet.
- Reapply at least every 2 hours, more often if some of the product may have been removed while swimming, sweating, or towel-drying.
- Choose a product that suits your skin and your activity. Sunscreens are available in lotion, gel, spray, cream, and stick forms. Some are labeled as water resistant, sweat proof, or especially for sports; as fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, or especially for sensitive skin or children.”
Raleigh has its major snow storm of two inches with some ice following, and we all did what one does under those circumstances: stay home and hope that the power does not go out and that it gets warmer soon.
Our hopes were realized, and we are now gingerly walking around the icy patches left in neighborhood streets while all major roads are clear. Bright sunshine and temperatures around 55⁰ are working away on the rest of the ice and snow.
Since I had an entire day off yesterday AND I also recently got a new computer. This was the perfect day to re-install, modify and generally get acquainted with the new operating system. It also meant that I did what most of my clients do all day long: sit at a computer.
I use an exercise ball as a chair, and that is the way for me. I have a hard time sitting still, and a ball clearly accommodates that need to move. So as I bounced and shifted, it meant that my pelvis and lower back were never locked in any one position. Slouching is also rather difficult on a ball which means that I was sitting pretty much in good posture. I prefer a desktop over a laptop so that my screen and the keyboard are the right height for me.
With all that good setup, I still felt a need to get up and walk around, do something else for a while and went to my studio to MELT a few times in the course of the day. So by the end of the day, I was no worse for wear. Today, I will return to my normal use of a computer.
It gave me an appreciation, though, of the challenges of many people who have to stay at their desk all day long and can only take short breaks. Here is a link to a very interesting illustration to the long-term health hazards of sitting all day long http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/.
Sitting is the new smoking.
Yesterday afternoon marked the first occurrence of a MELT Length and Strength small group class which was dedicated from the onset as such.
I had been wrestling with the question on how to implement such a format into a group setting. One-on-one is easy, and I had done that long enough. There are a few MELT Strength moves which I had interspersed into my regular class, and then there were those very few occasions when the number of participants was not too great, and they were all pro-MELTers so that I could introduce the greater challenges of MELT Strength.
But this haphazard way did not feel right. Particularly after coming back from a MELT Refresh course in New York last month, I was determined to make it work.
From here on out, I will teach this in a small group of four participants at my studio every Sunday at 4 PM. Being at my studio allows me to advise whether the prospective participant has the base knowledge to make it a good fit. It also allows me to get to everybody and make sure that they are doing it right.
Since MELT Strength is not about barbell pumping, muscle building hypertrophy of pecs and biceps but instead about the re-integration of intrinsic stabilizers of the hip, shoulder girdle and core, it is important not to allow compensatory patterns to take over the small desired movements of the targeted muscles. That’s the reason for the small group.
When I was young, I wore high heels – a lot. Fortunately, because of many recreational interests, I also wore regular shoes or tennis shoes (that’s what we called it then) very often and have not suffered the foot deformities that I see quite often and which are usually the result of fashion footwear. At this point, let’s not go into all the resulting misalignments of the rest of the body.
Even today, I can be seen in heels. Let’s face it: there are some outfits where a nice set of heels really completes the look. And as long as the function does not include a lot of walking or standing – why not?
With the latest re-emergence (note the closeness to “emergency”) of high heels and plateaus, it’s déjà vu all over again. Apparently with the clear goal of securing the income of future podiatrists, here she comes ……
Recently I was asked to assess the walking style in those heels. Well, it looked rather clunky, and I thought how to communicate a better way of navigate in those stilettos.
So, if you must, try it this way: because heels force the pelvic into an anterior tilt, imagine pushing the tailbone down towards the floor, thus normalizing the excessive arch in the lower back. At the same time, lift your ribcage up a little, and the gait looks a lot better.
One more thing: carry a pair of comfy shoes as back-up.
It’s that time of the year again when the question arises whether or not to make New Year’s resolutions. I always do (and I won’t tell you what they are), and some I manage to keep, and others may need to be transferred to this year’s list.
To me, a new year always feels like a new notebook. The first page so pristine, the entire book not yet marked with stains. My best hand-writing was on that first page, and it (pretty much) stayed that way until I made the first mistake. After that, all bets were off, and I continued writing in my (now) old notebook until it was time to get a new one, and the process started all over again.
And this is what happens with resolutions all too often. We are able to stick with them pretty well until we mess up. Rather than acknowledging the lapse, we throw our hands up in the air, give up, and never get back on track.
Changing behaviors in particular is very difficult. But we will never get really good at it unless we continue to practice, practice, practice. There are tons of self-help books out there trying to assist with behavior change. They all work – of we use the advice in them and do what they suggest. Whether is it about losing weight, stopping smoking, starting an exercise program or any other thing that requires us to do things differently from the way we have grown accustomed to.
Some may say that they don’t even bother to make resolutions. That’s okay.
I do. I like to reflect on myself and my outlook on life. The more quiet time during the holidays gives me a great opportunity to do that. Then I make my list and put it in a place where I see it often. And now it’s time to open the new page.
I spent three days in New York last week. The occasion was an opportunity to take a refresher course with Sue Hitzmann on the MELT Length and Strength techniques.
I have been a MELT instructor for four years and have seen how this method can transform people’s wellbeing. I have also made every effort to educate myself on the underlying science of MELT. MELT is a funny kind of technique. It’s really simple in appearance but the reasoning beneath the simple veneer is profound. Even though I took every course Sue offered and also did not miss any opportunity of catching her at the conferences, I often lamented the fact that I never had a chance to take her classes and see her in action. Her refresh course in New York offered a marvelous opportunity.
MELT is still an evolving technique even as the foundation remained the same. Spending three days to review and re-learn enabled me to catch up on latest methods of teaching, deepen my understanding of some techniques, and even revise some errors in comprehension that I recognized. I came away feeling very well-grounded in the theory and practice of MELT and eager to apply what I have learned so that my clients and students can benefit.
I also walked away with an even greater appreciation of the depth of knowledge that Sue Hitzmann, the creator of MELT, has of the human body and its functioning. Her ability to translate her understanding of the body and the techniques she uses as a neuromuscular therapist into a comprehensive method which can even be taught in a class setting is nothing short of astounding. She is one of the smartest people I have ever known and I feel truly privileged to be one of her instructors. By creating MELT and teaching others to use it, she has touched already thousands of people and has made their lives better. What an accomplishment!
This week I started a new project. I am now a Walking Instructor and have partnered up with the company Humana by reaching out to the inactive and promoting better health by starting a walking program.
What has attracted me to this opportunity is that Humana offers this to everybody, member of their company or not. The participants receive really nice step counters that can be uploaded to a computer program and allows tracking of walking activities as well as other forms of exercise.
I am a great proponent of walking as exercise. It is one of my personal favorites, and I cannot think of many things I’d rather do than go for a walk with my dog.
Having the opportunity to reach out to people who would not contact a personal trainer and may not be members of a health club is a unique opportunity to interact with the great majority of inactive people.
Walking is something everybody can (and usually has to) do, and there are studies after studies confirming the benefits of it. But is has bedeviled the fitness industry for long on how to reach the inactive. You can lasso them and make them do things, no matter how beneficial it may be. And even with this program, they still have to take a bit of initiative and go to Humana and pick up a step counter.
On the day of the program launch, a fair number of people showed up and listened to me as I talked … and talked … and talked ….. I must have said something right because many of them showed up for the first day of the actual walking program and completed the first round of walks with me.
In order to keep things a little more interesting, I add some exercises to the walk which may be balance and flexibility, agility and interval training. I am often called ‘posture police’ by my clients, and I consider this a batch of honor as I pontificate about the importance of good posture as much as I can. And now I have another group of unsuspecting victims with my groups of walkers.
Will all of them stay with the program? It would be nice but probably not. However, I remind myself of the famous story with the starfish: I know that I made a difference to that one.