I am currently glued to my DVD player watching a series of 24 lectures by Robert Sapolsky Ph.D. about stress and its impact on the body. The ramifications are truly frightening; there is not a function in the body that is not negatively influenced by the mechanisms of stress. And what is even more notable is that most of the stress originates from thoughts and feelings that are far removed from the initial scenarios for which stress was designed.
The processes that happen when we are stressed are designed to get us ready for the proverbial ‘Flight or Fight’ response in matters of life and death. As a species, we are the only ones capable of conjuring up frightful scenarios to which we then promptly respond as if we were in actual physical danger.
And there are a lot of things that people get stressed about: the weather, the traffic, the boss, the colleagues, the favorite teach losing, global warming, people disputing global warming. Right now we have enough people stressed about the outcome of the presidential elections on either end of the political spectrum.
What has all of this to do with MELT?
One thing I love when I teach a MELT class is the complete silence at the end of the class. After an hour of MELTing, the participants seem entirely removed from all the worries of the world. The inward focus of MELT quiets the stress response, and the change is palpable in the room. Being able to break the stress cycle is important because it enables the body to return to the repair mode that comes along with improved sleep.
MELT is not a cure-all, particularly if people insist on getting stressed and prefer to keep their stress levels up. I have heard people talk quite proudly about their type A personality. We cannot protect people from themselves. But MELT is a great modality to improve where we have control, and that are our thoughts and our frame of mind.
Even though I teach classes at a wellness center, I do not work out there myself. The main reason is that there are many members who know me and like to talk to me. I love to talk to people but it does not make for a very effective workout.
Instead, I work out at my own studio where I have my own equipment, and the only distraction is my dog.
But the other day, I got some guest passes to another fitness club in town, and today I decided to go there just to see how I would like it. It was a very familiar location; years ago, I trained clients there for a short period of time. It had changed hands numerous times since but in many ways was still very much what I remembered.
As I walked in and presented my guest pass, I was immediately sized up as a potential member, and before I knew it, a very friendly young lady came out of nowhere willing to show me around. I marveled at her attire with dress and heels which did not seem to point to a fitness club. But she was perfectly happy to leave me alone when I told her that I really just wanted to work out.
As I meandered through the club, I made a mental note of the improvements in the technology of weight training machines. Remarkable as they are, I never took a shine to them and instead decided to entertain myself with a cable tower which pretty much allowed me to do anything I wanted to do (and which I could just as well have done at my studio where I have this apparatus). Next I spotted some balls and Bosus, great favorites of mine. My plans came to nothing, though, because the balls were soft as marshmallows. All the while I was there, music was playing, and it was not as much background as I would have liked it to be. Granted, my love for classical music makes me an outsider in fitness clubs. After having a really good time at the True Stretch, I left.
I realize how fortunate I am to have what I want right here in my basement, complete with dog and classical music playing in the background. Fitness clubs and wellness centers play an important role, and much good comes from them (as long as people use them).
But still….. for me, there is no place like home.
Well, after months of studying, I am now a newly minted ‘Corrective Exercise Specialist’. I signed up for this certification in July thinking that it would be easier than the fitness Nutrition Specialist certification that is also issued by NASM and which I had passed just weeks before.
BOY, WAS I WRONG!
It was not that I have learned new tricks but have added a lot to the arsenal that I already have. The NASM CES certification is great to sharpen skills of static and movement assessments, and in my very first assessment after this certification, I identified a compensation that would have escaped me before in the initial assessment.
I love the fact that I can now merge MELT and CES into one comprehensive package, and it is my expectation that I will be able to help my clients and class participants get on the path to better well-being and health even more effectively.
When I teach a MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique) class, I always begin by talking the participants through an assessment where I describe ideal alignment, and the participants are encouraged to evaluate by comparing their self-perception to the ideal. I recently had a question about this. Here it is:
“Why is it so important to be in ideal alignment?”
Sure, it looks look when somebody has good posture but that is not the main reason.
When we are in good alignment (i.e. have ideal posture), we have proper relationships within our musculoskeletal system and move the ease and efficiency. Even slight deviations compromise this efficiency. For example, if our head is a little forward, something in our body has to go backwards to maintain the center of gravity. Thus we have shortened a muscle somewhere and lengthened another to compensate. If we always return back to ideal posture, then those relationships are restored to their proper length but that usually does not happen.
We often stay in less than ideal alignment, and the result is that compensations become permanent. The detrimental effects are not immediately obvious, particularly when the deviations are slight. When we notice it a lot is when we have an injury which causes us to limp for a while or if we are immobilized in a cast. For one, it costs a great deal of effort to get from point A to B. And it usually does not take long, and we notice that other parts of our body begin to hurt. The lower back, for example, is often a victim of an ankle sprain.
It is my belief that bad posture often starts as a bad habit. Habitually carrying heavy objects on just one side (which includes small children on just one hip), sitting in front of the computer with the head jutting forward and slouching instead of sitting upright are just some examples.
So: what can you do about it? First, notice it. It’s half the battle. I am biased and believe that a MELT class is a great place to learn about your posture. But a skilled fitness professional can also help you identify imbalances and compensations and design a program that can address them.
And now: head up, shoulders back and abs tight – just as your mother always said!
Last Wednesday, I had another opportunity to talk to a group of massage therapy students. It was about one of my favorite subjects, MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique).
There are many professions, massage therapy being one of them, where the professionals have to rely on the effortless functioning of their bodies in order to pursue their careers. Sue Hitzman, the creator of the MELT method, is a manual therapist herself, and she developed the MELT hand treatment in response to her own problems from overworked hands.
Just looking at the effects of the MELT hand treatment itself, the benefits are great, whether people sit at their computers all day long or are in a profession where the use of hands is a main part of the job like massage therapy and hair styling or recreational activity such as arts and crafts. Taking just 10 minutes a few times a week can help maintain the health of the hands as well as have beneficial impact on structures higher up the arm lines like shoulders and necks.
I recently had the privilege to review a manuscript which tries to address the question which we are all asking: considering the well-known risks of not exercising and excess weight, why is it that we – as a nation – are getting more unfit and heavier at the same time.
To start with my punch-line; this may feel like a downer: I do not have the answer either.
The excuses are legend and rarely justified: no time, too tired, family first, and many others. It is usually not lack of knowledge. Many preface their excuses with a list of what they ‘should do’ before starting in on the ‘buts’.
It is not possible to scare people into healthier behavior; who wants the stick? And a carrot does not seem such an alluring option if you can carrot cake with frosting, maybe even à la mode.
I also watch with pharmaceutical advertising with concern. Controlling diabetes or hypertension with a pill makes the person still diabetic or hypertensive even if the blood work is good and the blood pressure reading is normal. Yet, somehow we have convinced ourselves that it is not there if we cannot see it.
For me, moving is about the freedom to do what I want. I love walking and am fortunate enough to have a faithful canine companion who shares my enthusiasm. I never thought of movement as exercise that I do apart from my life. Our bodies were designed to move, to push and to pull, to reach and to extend.
I know that many feel like I do. I also know that many more do not. I feel sorry for them because they are missing out on a sensation of well-being they have never known.
And even though we can only lead a horse to the water, we should still do it over and over again at the odd chance that it will drink one of these days.
30 years of IDEA … I have been part of the last 17 of it. I can say without exaggeration that the conferences I have attended have very much shaped what I do as a personal trainer. Being exposed to so many ways of looking at the body and being able to pick my own vantage point has made me the trainer I am today.
This IDEA was no different in offering opportunities to perspire while being inspired. There is something to be said for a conference when – as a trainer who prides herself on good posture – I could not wait for the last lecture of the day where I was able to slouch in a chair after having spent the entire day on the floor
There is no more doubt that the industry has indeed discovered fascia. Everybody talks about it but few do something for it. MELT is one example but another is ViPR training which uses a log reminiscent of the Scottish Highland Games to move it ever which way. As I watched and tried, I was reminded of my very colorful Haberman’s Sphere which I love to use as an illustration of the interconnectivity of fascia. I could just see it employed in extensibility and creating a gentle external force on the entire system.
While this stands out for me, there were many other interesting sessions. The one on protein research was informative. It appears to be of benefit to level the protein intake out during the course of the day even if the same total amount of protein is consumed. I also really enjoyed one about corrective shoulder exercises. Since I am the proud owner of two surgically altered shoulders, I had a primary interest in anything ‘shoulder’. During that session, I learned quite a few new things, and I am very anxious to throw myself into the study of the NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist curriculum from which that material derived.
I enjoyed the workouts I signed up for. I started off with Pole Dancing (yes, you may trust your eyes) and have garnered a healthy respect for it. Very suitable for gymnasts and dancers – for everybody else I would suggest: if you want to get from one side of the pole to the other, just walk around it.
I also took a Yoga / Tai-Chi fusion class from my favorite instructor Lawrence Biscontini. He always makes me feel as if I can actually do that stuff. His radiant personality and in-depth knowledge combine for a wonderful experience.
Last I took a workout called 3 D Pilates using both a Bosu and a ballast ball. Since we have both at the studio, I will certainly include some of the exercises that I learned even though I will leave the parlor tricks alone.
In summary: Happy Birthday, IDEA. I am glad to be a part of it.
Newton’s first law: Every object continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless compelled to change that state by external forces acted upon it.
That may look like a bold statement from a personal trainer in the 21st century, and maybe Newton meant to have excluded humans from that statement. All things considering, I suggest a modification applicable to humans:
Karin’s first law: Every human continues in its state of rest, unless compelled to change that state by internal forces acted upon him/her.
As a personal trainer, people come to me to get guidance for exercise after they have already made up their minds that they want to exercise. Picking up that phone and crossing the threshold to my studio are often the biggest steps a person will make. All following steps are small in comparison.
We in the fitness industry are often lamenting that we are not reaching out enough to the sedentary population. The results of lack of exercise and bad eating habits are in plain sight. I do not know of anybody who is not aware that this is detrimental to your health.
So: what can we do?
Maybe we should consider what we should not do: stigmatize those whose appearance makes it obvious that they have made some unfortunate choices. Let’s declare a peace treaty on the ‘War on Obesity’ because they are not our enemies.
There is no external force that can make somebody do anything. Only internal motivation can accomplish that. And such internal motivation can grow much easier on a soil of understanding and compassion.
As of Sunday, June 10, 2012 I am the proud owner of the title ‘Fitness Nutrition Specialist’ which is a certification through NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine). As such, I can voice my opinion on food choices and vitamins and supplements with greater depth of knowledge than I could before. I have studied for several months, biting my way through a nutrition textbook of prodigious dimensions while having a few reminders of my organic chemistry class in school.
While the science of nutrition over the years has discovered just enormous amounts of knowledge of how the body works, there is still a lot that is not known yet.
Particularly when it comes to fruits and vegetables, there is simply more to any variety than is yet discovered. We know about fiber, the carbohydrates and the vitamins and minerals but there is a whole additional world called ‘phytochemicals’ which have the following definition according to Wikipedia:
Phytochemicals, chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants (phyto means "plant" in Greek), are responsible for color and organoleptic properties, such as the deep purple of blueberries and smell of garlic. The term is generally used to refer to those chemicals that may have biological significance but are not established as essential nutrients. Scientists estimate that there may be as many as 10,000 different phytochemicals having the potential to affect diseases such as cancer, stroke or metabolic syndrome. Although certain phytochemicals are available as dietary supplements, some scientists speculate that potential health benefits of phytochemicals may best derive from consumption of whole foods.
So: an apple a day keeps the doctor away after all.
We believe that we in our modern lives are under a lot of stress. Is that really true?
I was at a restaurant a few days ago when the waiter told us how an earlier customer had stressed him out (so much so that he had hopelessly bungled our order). I pointed out to him that this person was obviously in a very crappy state of mind but whereas the waiter only interacted with him for about 45 minutes, the customer had to live with himself for the rest of the day.
There are people that always see the glass half-full; other see it always half-empty. They both choose how they want to evaluate the same situation and walk away with different conclusions. I realize that there are circumstances when it is difficult to see the positive but they are rare. Most situations where we choose to get upset are trivial; I feel that only then do we hand power over to somebody else when they succeed in making us feel bad.
I believe that it is possible to practice to see the glass half-full. It is also possible to decide not to look at certain glasses at all.
I try to do as I say. I know that there are things I cannot change that upset me. I try not to expose myself to those, hence I watch TV rather little. It’s not sticking my head in the sand. My getting upset does not help anybody, my maintaining my positive frame of mind may impact those around me to adopt a more positive attitude themselves. And – who knows – that way I may be able to change the world after all.
Will you help me?