Remember that time I stalked Katy Bowman at the Ancestral Health Symposium 2013?
Because she was in Atlanta? And this happened?
Namely, she is a) not beholden to corporate dollars, b) pragmatic, c) devoted to the application of science to real life, and d) funny as hell.
Once upon a time, another of my “stalkees,” Liz Wolfe was talking about something alignment-y. I can’t remember if it was on her blog, her podcast or Twitter. Anyhow, I social media’d her to tell her that all the answers she needed were available (and more!) at Katy’s site and that OMG Katy would make an amazing guest on the Balanced Bites podcast, of which Liz is a co-host.
Liz did, indeed, check out Katy’s work and, because she is a smart cookie, became a Katy-stalker, too. (We’re not alone. There are blog posts about this.)
And then, a few weeks ago, the Earth and the Moon aligned just so. The fairies danced and the mermaids leapt. And Katy Bowman was on the Balanced Bites podcast.
And it was awesome.
I urge you to listen or read it in its fabulous entirety but in case you don’t have the time, I thought I would provide you with some of the highlights. Those of you who take classes from me will hopefully start to understand the method behind my madness.
Liz asked Katy how she got into this whole biomechanics-applied-to-real-people gig. Then Katy said to Liz:
So, when I went to graduate school, I just started studying where disease comes from, and realizes that there was a whole lot of information about where disease comes from that is not mainstream, even though it is in the literature. So, there are all these people in labs and in, you know, huge libraries writing stuff down that I thought the public should know about their health, like, the way you position your foot when you walk affects the load in your knee that ends up leading to osteoarthritis. I was like, someone should tell people this, because I know 40 people who would be interested. Eventually, I just became that person.
We’re talking about the practical application of scientific information to everyday lives. If it sounds new and different, that’s because no one else is really doing it in this realm.
Liz said to Katy that one of the things that interests her about Katy’s work is that many issues that she (Liz) thinks of as being driven by nutrition, Katy adds this whole other element to them. Then Katy said to Liz:
So, you could, for example have… I like to use bone. I use bone a lot because bone seems to be where most people are schooled in enough to understand. You can have all of the perfect profile nutritionally of all of your minerals, all of your macro and micronutrients, you can take a population that’s got everything, but they will have really sucky bone density, if I can use a clinical term. … You don’t have a mechanical load precursor. So, you can be throwing excellent nutrition and do all this work of shopping and preparing all of your own food, but if you don’t have the loads that your cells need to do anything with the chemical signal, then you can’t have the robust health that you are after.
And then Katy said to Liz:
And so, movement… if I can do my job correctly over the next 20 to 30 years, I am hoping to entirely redefine movement at the level that nutrition is currently defined at with all of those variables, where people understand the nuances of loads and cellular outcomes and how your physical shape of your body, the literal physical shape of your body, correlates to the metaphorical shape of your body and how those are completely, you are completely malleable.
Whoa. Our bodies become what we do. For more on this, read Katy’s piece on going beyond the genome here. And if epigenetics interests you, read it now.
Then Liz and Katy start talking about making small changes first. Liz talks a bit about her homestead and how every effort has taken more time and required more work than she imagined. Then Katy said to Liz:
(Y)ou can’t make a sweeping change. A sweeping change to biology has a lot of damage that comes with it. … You are going to pay a biological tax. … Anytime you try to change a biological system it takes, you know, it takes a while to adapt and respond. But what I don’t want people to forget is the minute, the second, the nanosecond that you do anything different, you’ve already improved the situation. So, you don’t have to wait a long period of time for improvement, even though you would have to wait a long period of time, perhaps, to see the desired outcome that you have selected.
If you go from zero to sixty in 2.5 seconds, there will be ramifications.
Liz asked about the whole “sitting is the new smoking” thing and treadmill desks, which are all the rage in Paleo-blogger-land these days. Then Katy said to Liz:
So, what people missed with that research, including, you know, all the people who reported on it is, it’s not…the position of sitting, if you break down sitting, the term sitting just into geometrical position of the hips, the knees, and the ankles, so I always say, give yourself a body constellation. Put a star at all your major axes. That is your body constellation. And then look at how much time you actually spend in that same constellation. So, most people sit in the same constellation because we have so many bucket seats, and your couch or your favorite chair at home, the chair that you sit in to eat, the car that you drive in, and the desk that you use at work. It’s not the sitting. Meaning, there is nothing really wrong with that joint configuration. It’s the high frequency of that joint configuration. So, swapping that joint configuration for a new joint configuration will buy you some improvement, because it is a change. But, say we, as a culture or even as a country say, okay, eventually there are no more desks; everyone is going to stand. What you are going to find is a whole new set of injuries that come from standing all day in front of your computer. Because it’s not the position, it’s the high frequency, the high repetition of the same position. What you need is constantly varying joint configurations because that is what pumps and moves your blood around. That is what is singling the mechanoreceptors. Mechanoreceptors, which are the parts within the cells that sense the load, are very much like a sponge. So if you squeeze a sponge and then let it go that gives the cell, or the sponge in this case, a context of, it can measure how much you squeezed it, how fast you squeezed it, did you only partially squeeze it, or what not, and it converts that information about the squeeze, all the variables about the squeeze into what it is going to do, how it is going to alter its behavior. But, if I squeeze a sponge completely and then hold it within my hand, I am not longer able to load that cell, or that sponge, right?
Liz kind of said, “Mm-hmm.” Then Katy said to Liz:
You have to agitate. You have to release it, and then do something with it again. So mechanoreceptors need to be refreshed.
Neither sitting nor standing per se is good or bad. It’s that our bodies aren’t challenged in a variety of different ways and with varying loads all day as they were designed to be that’s getting us into trouble.
This led to a conversation about the idea of “natural movement.” Then Katy said to Liz:
So natural movements would be, you know, you could create a list of everything that the human does naturally. Its like, okay, we climb, you know, climb a tree. We can run, we can walk, we can squat, we can, you know, jump or whatever. These are all natural. Where you could come up with a list of unnatural movements. You know, you can walk on a treadmill, you can, you know, push a dumbbell over your head, or whatever. You can make that list, you can separate that. But natural movements, with an “s” is not the same thing as natural movement, which is, it is done in the order or the frequency that you would find it in nature. So a squat is a natural movement, but doing 200 consecutive squats would not be Natural Movement, like capital N capital M. A squat is just one movement teased out, but the order in which it is done affects the outcome that you would get. … Like, you would get a different outcome were you to squat you know 7 or 8 times throughout a day as opposed to squatting you know 20 times in a row. Or even if you took the same number and did it in a row versus spread out through the day, the cellular experience is different because the period of refreshment in between load affects the organization of the cells.
It’s not just about what movement you do. It’s also about how frequently you do (or don’t do) it.
This led to a conversation about “exercise.” Then Katy said to Liz:
So, you know, when you talk about exercise, I have a big semantic explanation of the difference between movement and exercise. Exercise is but a small bubble within the Venn diagram of movement, which a much larger bubble around exercise, and so doing something as an exercise, it already kind of lends itself to a problem in terms of frequency of load. So, I don’t exercise. But at the same time, of course I exercise. … But, I would say that semantically, I make a conscious choice not to exercise.
You cannot neglect the basic movement demands of your body and then expect a subset of movement, i.e., exercise, to keep you pain and disease-free.
And just to hammer that point home, Katy said to Liz:
There is nothing that you can do over a period of an hour or 70 minutes every single day. Even if you did it every single day, like what’s that, 60 minutes times 7, yeah, you know, less than 500 minutes a week, you are adapting to what you do 10,080 minutes a week.
Liz eventually got to some questions from Facebook that folks had for Katy and one involved kids. Then Katy said to Liz:
And a lot of times we are kind of teaching them how to not move very much by the environment that we create for them. Whether we are doing it on purpose or not. So, walking is the thing that I recommend getting your kids to do as soon as possible, and I find that carrying them in arms instead of devices; of course using devices, you know, like straps and Ergos and Mobys and all that stuff, you use them when it is necessary, but it is about the frequency. You know, some people are like, what about a jolly jump, or what about this. There’s nothing inherently bad or wrong about any device, it’s about the frequency. I think that a lot of the devices come with a; this is a superior position for which your child should be developed, its like ergonomically better. Its like, you know, if you do it this way, this affects their hip joints, and if you do it this way its better for their spine. But that’s really kind of that old, ergonomic mentality. You have to remember that ergonomics is a science that is based on keeping people in one position for a long period of time. What is the best way to be positioned if I am to be positioned and fixed for a long period of time? So that foundational premise is already kind of incorrect. There is no superior way to be positioned that is better than any other way; the whole problem is being positioned in one single way. So, carrying or using a device or cycling through devices is most helpful because then you are getting that refreshment of mechanosensors. You are not restricting a child’s movement, right? If you are carrying a kid, and the kid wants to turn around, or get up, or change arms, you are going to naturally switch them because they are kicking or moving. You just interfere less with their natural impetus to move without anything. Of course, again, it’s not easy.
If we are going to be serious about this whole movement thing, we need to cast a critical eye towards our interactions with our babies and children. Are we allowing their bodies to move in a variety of ways and frequencies?
Then Liz asked specifically about treadmills. Then Katy said to Liz:
(I)f you had always been walking on the ground, for example, requires what is called a posterior push off. Meaning, you fire in series, your glutes, your hamstrings. You get a lengthening that happens to particular muscles, and you get a shortening that happens to particular muscles. And since all those muscles are connected to lots of different things, all of those actions that happen when you are walking over ground affects something else in the body, and not always musculoskeletally, meaning that part of the mechanism of keeping your organs up inside your body requires this overground posterior push off of walking. When you get on a treadmill, because of how the machinery is designed to make walking feasible in place, it reverses this natural mechanism. Meaning that even though the limbs are doing something that looks kind of similar, what is happening on the cellular level is reversed. So, you are actually firing muscles in the opposing direction. And so, the net effect of tensions and what gets circulated and what levers get triggered are not the same in treadmill walking as overground walking.
Biomechanically, walking on a treadmill is not the same as walking on the ground. And there are consequences that follow from those differences.
Liz asked a great basic question: What is the pelvic floor and why does Katy talk about it so much? Then Katy said to Liz:
Well, you know, the pelvic floor is the bottom. You don’t actually have a bottom of your trunk, right. You’ve got a big hole in your pelvis. If you put your two hands together, and make like the letter C and a backwards C and put them together, you’ve got this hole there, in your skeleton, and the only thing that is closing that hole, for both men and women, is their pelvic floor. So the pelvic floor, we have to simplify it to talk about it, but it is extremely complex. It runs front to back, it runs from the front of your pubic bone, it attaches to your tailbone. It goes out to the right and to the left and attaches to the tops of the heads of your femur. So a pelvic floor problem, when you have an issue with what the pelvic floor is doing, it can manifest itself in so many different ways. It can be digestion, it can be things specifically of what you think in your pelvis, like your sexual organs, men and women reproduction, anything of the whole pelvic girdle, sacroiliac pain, you know that low back pain, and also issues of the hip and psoas. If your hip is clicking, if you are having spasms in your psoas, if you have like labral tears, like all of these things are affected by a pelvic floor that is not doing what it is supposed to be doing. And what it is supposed to be doing in its most simple sentence is responding appropriately to the loads that you create. It is not supposed to be this super strong, tight muscle that is gripping all of the time. It is supposed to be flexible and supple like all of your other muscles, only its work is pretty continuous as long as you are upright, and it is supposed to be adapting and strengthening, and it has a particularly nuanced way of connecting to everything where … The pelvic floor is one of those muscle groups that is not easily corrected by gravity. So I use the example of your bicep; you know, when you pick something up with your arm, you don’t have to have conscious control over your tricep to put something back down, right. So gravity really lends us to not having to think about moving lots of things back. You can slowly let your arm back down via gravity; gravity provides that kind of impetus or that signal, to be like, “aren’t you tired of holding it up here? Why don’t you put that back down.” And so you are able to lower it. But the pelvic floor does not have that relationship with gravity because of the way it is oriented, so the pelvic floor really depends on natural movement to keep its natural health up. And so, in a society that has almost no natural movements or movement, it is taking the greatest beating. And with it, is organ prolapse and prostate cancer, and you know any pelvic floor disorder, general incontinence, painful periods, and infertility, or the inability to deliver vaginally. I mean, all of these things that are basically the essence of who we are as a species are under the gun because of our lack of natural movement. Because this pelvic floor depends so much on it because it can’t use gravity in the way that everything else does. That is kind of why I write so much about the pelvis. Because, 80% of the population of men and women have a problem with it. And, I see a lot of times a lot of these pelvic issues being explained nutritionally.
Your pelvic floor matters.
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So there you have it. Morsels of absolute amazingness from Balanced Bites podcast #106 with Katy Bowman. But really? Go and listen to the whole thing. Because the text version just doesn’t do it justice.
Oh, and I totally forgot one of my favorite Liz quotes:
I have to give a quick hat-tip to Kristine Rudolph from Exploring Wellness at http://kristinerudolph.com/ for making me aware of Katy’s work. I had no idea what I was missing. And of course, now, I have a new habit of just pouring over everything alignment, posture, and movement related.
Liz, if you’re coming to Atlanta for the Weston A. Price International Conference in November, I am so stalking you, too.
(Find this and other great posts at Nourishing Joy’s Monday blog carnival here.)