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.
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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!

FIND YOUR VOICE: NECK AND THROAT RELEASE

Most of us know that the way we move and the positions we acquire throughout our days have a direct impact on our overall health. For example, sitting for a duration of time on a regular basis will tighten your feet, legs and spine, slow down your digestion, increase your desire for sugar and create hypertension. But what about the emotional triggers, or the stored unresolved emotions that impact negatively upon posture? Feeling low after someone has put you down or remembering a sad time results in lowered eyes, drooped shoulders, closed chest (protecting the heart), decreased production of serotonin and oxytocin; feeling under pressure to meet a deadline or feeling scared causes the chin to jut forward,  the jaw to tense,  shoulders to rise, breath to shorten, adrenaline to race… all bringing you into a state of stress and heightened awareness.

Whether we are feeling these negative emotions right now, whether our body hasn’t released them from the past, or whether they are anticipating a future event, it is important that we become aware of our postural holding patterns and help unravel them. Doing this will not only bring structural benefits, but will also help release old emotional patterns that may be holding you back.

Below I have outlined some physical and emotional imbalances that are connected with tension in the neck and throat and below that I have outlined a few stretches that will help restore balance to the body and mind.

Physical ailments that are intrinsically connected to tension in the neck and throat:

  • chronic sore throat and other throat issues
  • thyroid imbalances
  • TMJ / jaw tension / teeth grinding
  • tension headaches
  • anxiety
  • carpal tunnel / tennis elbow

Emotional imbalances that are intrinsically connected to tension in the neck and throat:

  • our ability to speak our mind / truth and be heard
  • our ability to make decisions easily
  • our ability to feel confident in ourselves
  • our ability to restore our will power

STRETCH 1

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AIM: To release the tissues from the side of the neck to the top of the shoulder

CUES: Sit tall. Drop shoulders away from ears. Draw belly in. Press hand into the floor. Keep equal weight on both bum bones

REPS: Breathe and release into the stretch for no more than 30 seconds then repeat to the other side. Repeat tighter side

STRETCH 2

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AIM: To release the middle of the neck and tissues that run from the shoulder blade to the base of the skull

CUES: Sit tall. Gently squeeze shoulder blades towards each other. Draw belly in. Press hand into the floor. Gently lift head up and over to look at the opposite hip. Keep equal weight on both bum bones

REPS: Breathe and release into the stretch for no more than 30 seconds then repeat to the other side. Repeat tighter side

STRETCH 3

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AIM: To open the chest, front of neck, shoulders and arms. To compress/restrict the fluid flow between the shoulder blades so that when the position is released, the spine and skull is flushed with fresh fluid that replenishes the cells and carries away debris.

CUES: Sit tall. Squeeze shoulder blades together (and palms if possible!), reach arms away from your body. Circle the head.

REPS: Circle the head 3 times in one direction then repeat to the other side. Release and repeat twice more.

STRETCH 4

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AIM: To release and unwind the nerves that run down the arm from the neck

CUES: Sit tall. Gently squeeze shoulder blades towards each other. Draw belly in. Flex the wrist of the lengthened arm and gently turn the arm in and out.

REPS: Breathe and release into the stretch for no more than 30 seconds then repeat to the other side. Repeat tighter side

Repeat as above but with both arms outstretched – this is quite intense so only attempt it if you can safely breathe and release into it

LOVE YOUR FEET!

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How often do you consider, or even notice your feet? Maybe when they protest after being squashed into uncomfy shoes, or when you’ve been standing at a concert for a long time? Aside from these blaring incidents, most people totally neglect their feet, even though they are there for you always – feeling your way out of bed in the morning, and carrying you around throughout the day. I guarantee they don’t get half as much love as your face or hands… it’s time to give those feet some love!

From the moment you were born your feet have helped you navigate your way from the ground up to standing. It was the feedback you got through your feet that helped the baby you figure out how to roll from your back to your front, and it was your big toes that helped develop the essential communication between the arch of your feet, lower back and neck. Now you’re upright, your feet are your foundation – a ‘moving’ foundation that supports all the structures above – just considering the laws of physics it’s obvious why it’s so important that the feet be flexible, adjustable and strong. They also must be alert and sensitive to allow clear messaging to the brain and rest of the body about what is underfoot – a slippery surface/uneven surface/cold surface and so on…

As we well know, emotions are stored in the body’s tissues. Everything you have experienced in your life is felt through your whole body, they are not just memories in your brain. Think back to a memory when you were really embarrassed, or scared, or really super happy – I bet you have started to feel that emotion all over your body, and perhaps more concentrated in one part. The feet, like the knees, are said to carry the energy of your negative emotions. This is because the vibration of negative emotions is lower, heavier and more dense which causes these feelings to drop to the lowest points of your body. Inflammation here can show you’re nursing hurt feelings, while tension can show resentment. These characteristics aren’t something to fear but something to now be aware of so you can also help to work through and release as you go about your barefoot walking and new massaging techniques, which I will outline later on.

So what does the average adult do with their feet?

  • Shoves them into shoes that bind and restrict and reduce fluid flow throughout our system = blood and lymph stagnation, stiff joints and inelastic muscles.
  • Walks around on hard, unvarying surfaces = denying them the ability to explore their dexterity, potential for rolling, smooth and spring loaded movements
  • Sits them on the floor for the most of the day while staring at a screen = deactivating the nerve endings so dumbing down the communication to the rest of the body
  • Straps them into ‘high tech’ running shoes and runs on hard pavements or machines = impeding our natural gait by making us heel strike instead of forefoot strike (pushing off from the front of your foot makes use of our arch – our natural inbuilt spring). This shortens our Achilles tendons, calf muscles and puts undue pressure through the knees and spine

However: it’s not too late to show your feet some much love and affection!

  • GO BAREFOOT AT HOME  – allow your foot to spread and explore its full range of movement. This alone will help to mobilise and strengthen your whole body.
  • GO BAREFOOT OUTSIDE ON NATURAL TERRAIN  – having the soles of your feet make contact with the earth recharges the body with negatively charged free electrons. This is essentially earth energy which is crucial to the health of every cell in our body!
  • ALTERNATE YOUR SHOES  – so your feet don’t get sit in the same mould day in day out
  • SOAK YOUR FEET IN MAGNESIUM/EPSOM SALTS  – 100% natural muscle relaxant that also takes the acidity out of the body helping you feel way more chilled out, can also help with headaches, respiratory disorders, sluggish digestion and joint pain.
  • MASSAGE YOUR FEET  – with a tennis ball, or spiky massage ball, or with your own hands! Get to know your body and help it yourself! Doing this stimulates all sorts of important pressure points that respond to different parts of the body including organs, bones, muscles, nerves and so on. This is a key tenant of reflexology.


Some other useful exercises:

STRETCH YOUR FEET – alternate between 1 and 2 for 5 mins

1)  Sit on your heels with your toes pointing in the same direction as your nose – this stretches the sole of your feet and will help to open the back line of your body (the back of the legs, butt, spine and head)

2) Sit on your heels and the front of your feet so the toes are pointing backward – this stretches the front of the feet and will help open the front line of your body (front of the legs, belly, chest, neck and face)

USE YOUR FEET – our feet have amazing potential for movement, as much as our hands!

1) Pick things up with your feet – pencils, towels, clothes….

2) Point and flex your feet holding each one for 10 seconds

3) Spread your toes as far apart from each other as possible – try putting your fingers between your toes, right up close so webbing touches webbing!

4) Rise up and down on your toes for 1 minute each day

I promise that when you start moving and freeing up your feet, your whole body and state of being will feel and move in a healthier and happier way. It has taken a long time for your feet to be in the pattern they are now, so respect that good change takes time – go gently and slowly with these tips, and wait for the benefits to rise from the ground up!

Video: BEAUTIFUL PRACTICE

This portrays beautifully just how seamless and fluid movement can be! The woman’s practice clearly respects the body as a living, breathing whole, rather than something robotically controlled by the brain with individual moving parts. This balanced and respectful movement encourages clear communication pathways so moving becomes almost effortless – it is possible to be strong, flexible and sensitive! In fact, it is the merging of these qualities that allows the cat to feel its way over and around her body all the while staying totally zen.

As you move around today, even as you type, consider how interconnected you are. Thoughts, breath patterns, postures all have a bearing on yourself as a whole. Take a big breath into your belly, and as as you exhale notice your chest gently drop, your shoulders relax, your jaw soften, your head feel more open, your mind more calm. Repeat and enjoy.

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