BEAT THE BLOAT: MOVEMENTS TO AID DIGESTION

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Given the standard diet, lack of physical activity and stress level of the general population, feelings of being bloated or constipated are an increasingly common complaint. It is so important that you visit the bathroom (for number twos!) at least once a day – ideally after each meal. If this isn’t the case and you’ve already worked on the obvious areas – taken out all processed food from your diet, increased your exercise, reduced your stress levels and optimised your sleep – then add these 5 easy movement patterns into your daily routine.

How these movements help digestion:

  • They stimulate fluid flow around the whole body, but in particular the gut. This helps stagnant food waste move speedily through your large intestine, meaning your stool won’t be dry and dehydrated from waiting in your bowel for so long
  • They encourage you to breathe! Increasing the depth of your breath and properly utilising all respiratory muscles regulates peristalsis or the wavelike movement that propels food through the gut. This means better nutrient absorption and quicker evacuation of digestive waste
  • They rebalance irregular tissue tension. Releasing tension in a tight lower back and the back of the legs allows the abdominal tissue to more readily engage which releases intra-abdomial pressure; addressing hunched shoulders and a compressed chest opens up the front of the body giving the gut far better space to go more smoothly about its business

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1) BELLY BREATHS

INSTRUCTIONS: Breathe in through the nose allowing the belly to fill, breathe out through the mouth allowing the belly to soften back towards the spine.

CUES: On the inhale, visualise filling your whole body with fresh, clean air; on the exhale sigh out old stale air and any emotions that are no longer serving you. Imagine breathing into the back, front and sides of the body – making space and releasing tension in every joint.

Breathe in for 5 counts, pause for 5 counts, breathe out for 5 counts – repeat for 1 minute.

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2) TWIST

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INSTRUCTIONS: Lie on your back with your legs bent and ‘glued’ to each other – beginners keep your feet on the floor, others take them up in the air, arms wide out to the sides. Exhale – take legs to one side and head to the opposite side, inhale – bring your legs and head back to centre, exhale – go to the opposite side.

CUES: Every time you exhale make sure you gently sink, wrap and lift your abdominals – your shirt should get baggier! Gently massage the spine into the floor as you go from side to side (i.e. no arching the back).

Take the legs from side to side for 1 full minute.

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3) PILATES SCISSORS

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INSTRUCTIONS:

Lie on your back, stretch both legs up in the air, curl upper body forward, exhale – pull one leg towards you and stretch the other one away, exhale – swap to other side, repeat.

CUES:

Really emphasise the exhale – you should hear the breath being blown out through your mouth and see your belly sinking back towards your spine. Keep shoulders soft and collarbones wide. Feel the middle to lower spine gently massaging into the floor, stretch open through the back of the leg that is pulled towards you and the front of the hip of the leg stretching away. Think of the reaching the crown of your head and your toes up to the ceiling – always think of making space throughout every joint, avoid compressing and tensing.

Scissor the legs for 30-60 seconds

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4) YOGA COBRA

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INSTRUCTIONS:

Lie on your front, forehead resting on the floor, arms bent hands at shoulder height, palms down. On an exhale gently roll your shoulders back, press lightly through your hands and pull your breast bone forward so that you lift your upper body away from the floor. Inhale to bring the spine back to the floor. Repeat.

CUES: Keep your abdominals drawn gently up towards your spine. Use your lower abs to gently tuck the pelvis under to avoid compressing into your lower back – do not squeeze your butt! This movement is about opening the chest wide and getting your upper back to move; you shouldn’t feel any discomfort in the lower back. 

Cobra for 30- 60 seconds

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5) THE MARVELLOUS MOVING CAT

All cues and tips here!

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EXTRA HELPFUL TIPS

  • Sit upright when you’re eating! How can you expect your food to move through your system if you’re hunched forward over your plate squashing the life out of your guts? Sit tall, give your belly some space!
  • Wait an hour after eating to do these movements as you want your blood to go into your belly to get those intestinal contractions going, rather than into your heart and muscles
  • Avoid drinking at the same time as eating – save your sips for 30 minutes before, or an hour after eating to avoid diluting the digestive enzymes needed to help break down your food
  • Take probiotics after a meal or eat fermented foods with your meal to help balance out gut bacteria and encourage better breaking down and absorption of your food
  • Consider these emotional connections to constipation – “where are you holding on in your life and what would happen if you let go? What might happen to your work or relationships if you released control and let things happen spontaneously? What is needed for you to have a greater trust in the unknown?” Read more about the emotional / digestive connections in Deb Shapiro‘s Your Body Speaks Your Mind
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PRIMAL MOVEMENT 3: LUNGE

Push, squat, pull, lunge, bend, twist and gait are all movements intrinsically encoded into our bodies and contribute to our overall health and well-being. They demand strength and control and we MUST keep performing them despite the many modern conveniences that have us avoiding them. Unfortunately most of us can no longer execute these movements in a healthy way due to tension patterns, weakness, old injuries, poor co-ordination and a host of other factors. So it is of utmost importance that you not only understand why these movements are so important but also how to perform them in a safe and effective manner. There is no point in just battling through blindly. Take time to read this post, put yourself in front of a mirror and use these images to guide you.

In this post I will illustrate the third primal movement pattern: LUNGE(Click here to read Part 1 – PUSH and  here for Part 2 – SQUAT)

LUNGING

Lunges are another essential movement pattern that contributed to our successful nomadic roaming and evolutionary dominance thousands of years ago. Lunges are fundamental to everyday movement – they directly improve the performance of walking, running and climbing. With the amount of time we spend sitting in modern life (which creates weakness, illness and low energy levels) the lunge is one of the most effective movements to restore flexibility and strength in our hips, thighs and lower back – so get up and get moving!

Lunges are great for the whole body but are particularly beneficial for the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, abs and spine. Thus said they improve:

  • Posture
  • Metabolism
  • Control
  • Balance
  • Co-ordination
  • Symmetry between both sides of the body
  • Fat burning and muscle tone

HOW TO LUNGE

Start off simple with my first step below – static lunges. Move with mindful intention and attention: understand and allow your body to relearn how to lunge correctly. Once you have set the blueprint of a healthy lunge into your neuromuscular system then move onto the next steps.

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KEEPING READING UNTIL THE END FOR THE ALIGNMENT CUES

STEP 1: Static lunge

Begin standing with your hands on your hips or loose beside your body, take a big step forward and hold.

Point both feet, knees, hips and shoulders straight ahead. Have your spine absolutely upright as if you were standing. Eyes looking straight ahead. This is your beginning position:

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Bend your back leg aiming your knee straight down to the floor, straighten up the back leg a bit, bend again to the floor. Repeat x10, then repeat with the other leg in front.

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STEP 2: Walking lunges

Step one leg forward, bending both legs – push from the back foot and bring the back leg forward stepping straight into your next lunge. Repeat x10 on each side (you may need to walk around the room if you don’t have the space to walk in one long line)

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STEP 3: Swing-through lunges

Stepping forward and backward lunges. Step one leg forward into a lunge, take that same leg backwards and bend into a lunge, take the same leg forward and bend into a lunge. Repeat x10 then swap sides.

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STEP 4: Deep stretch lunges

Begin in a squat position with arms forward:

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Step one leg back, shooting the arms backwards and stretching the back leg. Bend the back leg and step it forward into the squat position again. Repeat alternating to each side x5.

x15

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CUES:

  • Connect your front foot firmly to the floor but have slightly more weight in the heel.
  • Spread the toes of your back foot and press through the floor to help bring you up and down (step 1) or forward and back (steps 2-5).
  • Point your knees over your second or third toes – never ever let the knee knock inwards/point over the big toe.
  • If your knees feel uncomfortable make the angle of your front leg be 90 degrees / have your heel under your knee as opposed to your toes
  • Keep your head on top of and in line with your pelvis – whether you’re upright (step 1-4) or on a diagonal forward (step 5)
  • Draw your abs into your spine and draw your head up towards the sky.
  • Keep your collarbones wide and shoulders wide.
  • Find the opposition between pressing your feet to the floor vs drawing your head to the sky – this contrast will help to maintain healthy space around all joints while also building strength throughout your body.
  • As you move think of being light, fluid and elastic – never heavy footed or compressing / sitting into your joints
  • If you want an added challenge perform all steps while holding light hand weights then advance to heavier weights or kettle bells.

TUNE YOUR TRAINING: MOVE WITH MOTHER NATURE

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When I am feeling a little lost or out of tune with things I always trust in wise old mother nature to pave the way to better health, happiness, vitality, strength and well-being. She is of course the reigning force which embraces and connects all life cycles – humans, plants, animals, water, the sun, the moon, genetic expression, evolution, and so on. When we are all beautifully tuned and schynchronised everything moves and thrives with the least amount of effort. Unfortunately modern mankind confused sleeping and waking times and made poor non nourishing food choices. The resultant negative brain patterns then wreak havoc on a number of things including our ability to gauge what kind of exercise we should be taking and when. Sadly we have taken it to both extremes with people who train far too hard, fast and frequently, and people who sit all day and still fail to walk the escalators en route home.

It’s time to check in – is your exercise plan in sync with your hormonal cycle, the current season, your energy levels, emotional state, sleep patterns, as well as your eating patterns…? Below I have outlined a few of our main cycles to help get you back into mother natures arms.

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HORMONAL CYCLE which mimics the LUNA/MOON CYCLE

Men and post menopausal women still take note! as you too have hormonal and lunar influenced cycles, they’re just less pronounced.

Week 1: Follicular stage (menstruation has just ended)

Low levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone

Feeling energised

Workout: cardio / try something new

Week 2: Ovulatory phase (most fertile)

Spike in estrogen, testosterone and folicular stimulating hormone

Feeling really energised

Workout: strength training, high intensity/interval training

Week 3: Lutieal Phase (PMS)

Increase in progesteron, estrogen, testosterone in the first half of the week then all drop by the end of the week

Feeling slightly energised in the first half of the week, then decrease by the end of the week (two different feelings in one week)

Exercise: Yoga, Pilates, Gyrotonics – slow, deep, strong elasticated and focussed movements

Week 4: Menstruation

Low testosterone, estrogen and progesterone

Feeling low in energy, contemplative

Exercise: long gentle walks outdoors, gentle yoga, pilates and gyrotonic classes

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SEASONAL CYCLE which mimics our 24HR/ DAY CYCLE 

Season: Spring  

24hr cycle: it’s morning time! time to wake up and plan a new day! 

Spring is a time when energy rises from the earth, plants are growing upward and heat is rising.

During this season we can start to increase our outdoor activities with long spritely walks which may break into short spontaneous runs! Also add in some gentle dynamic movement classes – look up a primal movement class! or attend a flowing dance, Pilates, yoga or Gyrotonic class.

Season: Summer

24hr cycle: it’s the action part of our day! pay attention and get things done!

Summer is  a time for the sun to warm the the earth, for plants to flower and sprout and for energy to explode and uplift.

During this season we can be outdoors as much as possible! A lot of long distance walking and/or running interspersed with a few explosive interval or high intensity/weight training sessions.

Season: Autumn

24hr cycle: it’s time to cool down, slow our pace and contemplate the day

Autumn is a time for energy to return to the earth, to harvest and celebrate.

During this season we slow down a gear. Long, slow, gentle walks, runs, cycle rides outdoors. Iyenga yoga or choose a class that favours a lot of inward attention and focus.

Season: Winter 

24hr cycle: It’s time to rest! sleep and regenerate

Winter is the time for activity to go below ground level, all is a lot quieter and rested up above

During this season we take longer to warm up and we may feel tense from the cold so breath work becomes even more important when beginning your training. Short brisk walks outdoors and slow gentle runs with plenty of warm clothing layers. Choose classes that are paced evenly, are strong and build on intensity.

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All in all this post is an invitation to acknowledge the strong natural forces around you: to be aware of them and of how much they act like mirrors – we all have more influence on each others state of health and well-being than we realise!

PRIMAL MOVEMENT 2: SQUAT

Push, squat, pull, lunge, bend, twist and gait are all movements intrinsically encoded into our bodies and contribute to our overall health and well-being. They demand strength and control and we MUST keep performing them despite the many modern conveniences that have us avoiding them. Unfortunately most of us can no longer execute theses movements in a healthy way due to tension patterns, weakness, old injuries, poor co-ordination and so on. So it is of utmost importance that you not only understand why these movements are so important but also how to perform them in a safe and effective manner. There is no point in just battling through blindly. Take time to read this post, put yourself in front of a mirror and use these images to guide you.

In this post I will illustrate the second primal movement pattern: SQUAT(Click here to read part 1, PUSH)

Squatting is our natural sitting position – it should be easy and feel comfy! However, sitting for hours in chairs at work, in cars, on trains, in restaurants, and at home has us so inflexible and weak that we avoid extending the movement all the way to the floor because it’s feels too difficult – this is terrible! The more we avoid difficult movements the more ill, anxious and helpless we become. We need to be able to get up and down from the floor for so many reasons, even when we are elderly.

SQUATTING…

  • Uses almost all the muscles in the body, so is essential in improving athletic and sporting performance, and of course excellent for toning and weight-loss
  • Pumps fluids around the body which helps remove waste products and delivers fresh nutrition and better health to all tissues (muscles, organs, bones etc)
  • Stresses and stimulates the hormonal system, encouraging the body to find healthy chemical balances
  • When done correctly with the breath, squats can calm the nervous system and encourage parasympathetic activity. See this post for more info.
  • Helps regulate digestion. The full deep squat (explained later) helps you poop clean and easy as the thighs compress the lower abdomen (right thigh presses on the cecum and the left compresses the descending colon) and the rectum straightens and relaxes. So, excellent for those suffering from hernias, diverticulosis, pelvic organ prolapse, hemorrhoids and of course excellent in helping pregnant women prepare for a natural birth. sitting-vs-squatting
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HOW TO SQUAT

Follow these steps mindfully; each is beneficial so take your time making sure you master each one before moving to the next. There is absolutely nothing to benefit from doing a squat incorrectly.

STEP 1

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Begin standing; legs just wider than the outside of your hips, feet slightly turned out (30deg, line up the 3rd toe with the centre of the knee cap and centre of the hip) with arms long beside you.

Bend legs to what feels like half a squat for you, fold at the hips, spine stays straight just tips forward on an angle relative to how low you have bent your legs, take arms forward to shoulder height, palms facing each other. Press through the middle of the feet and heels to come back up to straight. Exhale through the mouth to go down, breathe in at the bottom, exhale to come back up.

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STEP 2

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Move into a deeper squat following the direction as above. Only go as deep as you can keep your heels connected and your knees pointing over your third toes.

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STEP 3

Add weights to step 2 – hold a swiss ball /OR 2-5 kg hand weights in each hand – slowly increase the weight. A bar bell would be ideal when the weight increases past 5kg in each hand.

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CUES:

  • Shoot your butt back as if you were about to hover over a toilet seat you don’t want to sit on!
  • Toes are connected but light – weight is more in your heels to help power from the back of your legs and butt and avoid loading the lower back, hips and knees
  • Aim knees over the third toes – NEVER let your feet and knees roll inwards, this is not functional and will only cause undue knee strain. When you gain more flexibility you can squat deeper.
  • Spine stays straight like a plank – it just goes from upright to forward on a diagonal.
  • Arms suck into the shoulder sockets and shoulder blades move down your back. NEVER lift your arms with only your upper back and neck muscles
  • Take your eyes from straight ahead when standing to the floor out in front of you when in the squat – keep the back of the neck long
  • Draw the abs gently towards your spine
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PRACTISE ALL THE TIME: THE BASIC PRIMAL RESTED SQUAT!

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This position is excellent for stretching out the legs and spine after standing for a long time or after a quick work out. Feet are flat on the floor,  tops of  thighs rest against the abdomen and hamstrings rest against the back of the lower legs (calves).

CUES: 
  • Pelvis naturally rolls and tucks under, spine is in a natural small forward bend
  • All parts of the feet are equally planted on the floor
  • Hips and knees are open around a 30deg angle
  • If you don’t have the flexibility for this then lift your heels and place your hands on a wall in front of you and gently rock forwards and backwards to tease the body and nervous system into slowly releasing closer to the floor. Stretching your feet and calf muscles will also help as will moving to more flat shoes with less of a heel.

PRIMAL MOVEMENT 1: PUSH

Our bodies are an amazingly organised network of  bones, muscles, fascia, ligaments, tendons, organs, nerves, liquid chemistry and so on. When exercising/moving we want to remember our understanding of how to access different parts of the body, but ultimately we want to connect the parts together to make the beautifully interconnected and synchronised system that is the body.

Every single inch of the body is essential in creating functional, efficient and athletic movement patterns. For example, you cannot gain functional abdominal strength without understanding how the arms connect into the torso, or what your big toes are doing while running! Considering this, it makes sense to practise and integrate the 7 main primal movement patterns that have helped us survive and evolve. Push, squat, pull, lunge, bend, twist and gait are all intrinsically encoded into our bodies, they emphasise overall strength and movement and are therefore hugely beneficial to our overall health and well-being.

In this post I will illustrate the first pattern: PUSH. This has become a very difficult movement for a lot of people to perform correctly due to tension and weakness held in the body from sitting postures, high stress levels and poor diet. As such, I have illustrated three steps to master before attempting a full push up – there is absolutely nothing to benefit from doing a push up incorrectly so I plead you to master the first three stages! It is not about the end goal – step one alone has numerous benefits.

1) ALL FOURS

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SET UP: Knees under hips, hip-width apart, hands under shoulders, shoulder-width apart.

CUES:

  • To help get the arm bones connecting well into the shoulder sockets and the shoulder blades well placed, bend your arms and point the elbows out to the sides, then turn the arms so the elbows point in towards your body, straighten the arms.
  • Arms suck into the shoulder sockets
  • Shoulder blades stay wide and gently draw away from your head
  • Spread your hands as wide as possible – the bigger the better! Imagine your hands are glued to the floor but everything else in your body is trying to stand up – this avoids collapsing towards the floor
  • Make sure head isn’t dropped – keep chin in towards the chest to lengthen the back of the neck, and lift the whole head up.
  • Think of the spine being pulled out through the crown of the head and out through the tail bone.
  • Hug and wrap the abdominals in and up!

2) ALL FOURS WITH KNEES RAISED

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SET UP:  All fours with knees raised a few inches away from the floor

CUES : Same as in 1)

3) PLANK

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SET UP: On all fours as above. Exhale – stretch one leg back, exhale – stretch the other leg back.

CUES:

  • Same as in 1) plus the following:
  • Keep the lower back and neck curves defined – think of sticking the butt up in the air to avoid collapsing the pelvis towards the floor and impacting the lower back, and think of reaching the back of the skull up towards the ceiling to avoid dropping the head
  • Keep sliding the breast bone forward and up vs. sliding arms and shoulder blades wide and backwards/down the spine
  • Hug and wrap the abdominals in and up!

4) PUSH UP

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SET UP: Start in plank position. Exhale to bend the arms, inhale to straighten the arms. Repeat 5-10 times

CUES:

  • All the cues as in 3) but with even greater emphasis
  • Hands slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Keep the spine level – the only things that move are the arms bending and straightening
  • Even as the arms bend keep pushing the floor away with the emphasis drawing up towards the ceiling
  • Hug and wrap the abdominals in and up!

JUST MOVE

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One of the best things we can do for our bodies is to MOVE. Sitting, standing or lying still for long periods of time is completely unnatural and essentially toxic. Think of how beautifully a young child moves – so perfectly in tune with their intrinsic movement patterns that have not yet been affected by modern life’s hindrance of our primal ways. They know what serves them –  wriggling, twisting, rolling, folding, squatting, moving in and away from the ground, moving fast when they need to and resting when the need to. They move effortlessly through all ranges of movement, massaging, strengthening and cleansing their bodies as they go about it.

When we move we stimulate and pump the fluids around our body that manage, feed and clean our organs, muscles, skin, nerves, hormones and bones. Our bodies are pretty much a liquid network, so when we thrive our tissues gently and rhythmically massage and slide against each other. Without movement, this life-giving liquid network becomes slow moving, murky and easily clogged. Muscle tissues stick to each other, joint mobility is restricted, organs are not fed or drained, negative emotions are stored and stress levels increase. We then feel tired, grumpy and probably start craving sugar, caffeine and carbs for a quick fix. Just imagine trying to walk around your house if you left stuff all over the floor, didn’t empty the bins for weeks, or water the plants! You may not be able to see inside your body to get immediate feedback on how it’s functioning, but I bet it’s giving you messages via other senses! Tune in!

If you’re feeling sluggish, sad, grumpy or agitated, go for a walk, do a few stretches, put on your favourite music and dance! Choose whatever you most enjoy – sometimes that’s all you need to do to perk up.

EVERY DAY
MOVE any nice calm movement for at least 30 minutes
Walk / hike / cycle / play
WALK UP AN INCLINE for at least a 5 minutes throughout the day
Stairs / hills / sloped treadmill
STRETCH and wriggle around for at least 5 minutes a day
Squeeze your hands together behind your back / twist and bend from side to side / massage your neck and upper back / roll your feet on a tennis ball / circle your ankles – this stuff doesn’t seem like much but is effectively keeping your fluid network flowing with ease.

EVERY OTHER DAY
WEIGHT BEAR! any kind of weight bearing primal movement for 5 – 30 minutes
Lift heavy things / push / pull / squat / lunge / plank
For those of you with little kiddies to lift and carry, you’ll be doing this all day anyway!

ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK
MOVE QUICKLY! Push yourself with constant movement for 10-30 seconds, rest for 10-60 seconds and repeat x 4-8 times.
Sprints / dance / jumps / skipping / star jumps / running on the spot / football / tennis

ONCE A WEEK
MOVE FOR A DURATION at a steady pace for 30+ minutes
Run / hike / walk / cycle / dance

“We are born into bodies that are fluid and free. Yet for most of us, this state of grace is sadly short lived. Judgement, emotional wounds, fear and loss become stored deep inside our muscles and bones, leaving us with shoulders that sag, hips that are locked, arms that can’t reach out, hearts that beat behind a stone wall. When we move our bodies we shake up firmly rooted systems of thought, old patterns of behavior and emotional responses that just don’t work anymore. Rhythm, breath, music and movement become tools for seeing, then freeing, the habits that hold us back. When we free the body, the heart begins to open. When the body and the heart taste freedom, the mind won’t be far behind. And when we put the psyche into motion, it will start to heal itself.” ~ Gabrielle Roth

HOW TO SIT WELL!

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I have written time and time again about how we have not yet evolved to cope with the demands of modern living. There simply hasn’t been sufficient time and evolutionary pressure for us to manage the radical changes we have made to our diet, movement patterns, stress responses and living environments in the last few hundred years.

It is sad that in the Western world we are made to sit at desks from the moment our schooling years begin. The scientific research supporting just how important movement is for children’s development alone is astounding. I believe it is the lack of movement that causes humans to age far too quickly and lose their gross and fine motor skills. Movement not only gives us confidence, but is also a form of creativity and expression – all of which are being stifled by the fear-based human need to create order and control.

WHY SITTING IS BAD FOR US

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3 WAYS TO HELP HEAL BACK PAIN NATURALLY

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Back pain, particularly in the lower back, is one of the most common physical complaints. There are a number of factors specific to the individual, however there are some common threads running through each case that can be managed with my three-part protocol.

First and foremost it is important to recognise that your pain is there for a reason and is something that will not be remedied by long-term use of painkillers or other numbing agents. It is also important to note that most back pain is caused by muscle tension and imbalance rather than spinal problems. Thus, we need to bring awareness and understanding to the postural habits as well as emotional tensions that lie beneath the physical tension and be proactive in heeding our bodies needs.

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THREE PART PROTOCOL

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READING YOUR BODY’S POSTURE

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I recently wrote an Instagram post about how being super physically flexible isn’t necessarily always a good thing. In it, I wanted to express how there is an absolute connection and continuity between your physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual and environmental worlds.

Bringing awareness to our posture or physicality can tell us a lot about our approach to life – the way we respond to stress or threats, what kind of company we keep, how our upbringing was, why we experience certain illnesses, what habits we have, and so on. Thus, decoding and making positive changes to our posture will help optimize our quality of life and ability to thrive.

CUES YOU CAN GLEAN FROM YOUR BODY:

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