My 3 Favorite Moves For a Strong Pregnancy

By: Dr. Stephanie Duffey • May 19, 2020

Friends, we’ve entered the third trimester and now, more than ever it’s important for me to support the growth of my little man through exercise. I thought it’d be fun to share my 3 favorite moves for a strong pregnancy for all the mama’s to be out there. But first a note about an old school myth that I’d like to crack…
 
There used to be a common misconception that exercising during pregnancy could be detrimental. Today, research points to the importance of physical activity for expectant mothers. Not only is it important for your baby’s growth, but it can alleviate some common discomforts of pregnancy and even help prepare your body for labor and delivery.
 
The key to a beneficial prenatal fitness routine is strength training. The hormones your body produces throughout your pregnancy can cause ligaments to expand and relax so to maintain strong muscles, stability and strength exercises are important. Plus, you need a strong pelvis to support your growing little one.
 
*Before you start an exercise program, be sure to check with your health care provider.

1. Bird Dog
Position yourself on your hands and knees with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Make sure your back is straight, not arched or sunken down. Engage your core and pelvic floor (aka perform a Kegel), then straighten out an arm and the opposite leg. Be sure to keep your low back and pelvis in neutral, don’t rotate! Return to starting position and alternate sides.
 
*Expert tip #1: You can check to make sure your back is straight by having someone place a yardstick along your spine. You should have contact with your back to the yardstick from the pelvis up to the mid back.
 
*Expert tip #2: You can place a 2 pound dumbbell parallel to your spine. Keep this dumbbell in place and don’t let it roll off your back when performing the exercise. That way you know you have excellent control!
Bird dog — westerville, oh — empower physio & wellness
​2. Hip Abduction Leg Lift
Lay on your side. Your hips should be slightly rolled forward and your top leg should be extended slightly behind you. Bend the bottom leg for support. Raise the top leg up in the air while keeping toes pointed forward or slightly downward. Lower and repeat. 
 
*Expert tip: Make sure your hips don’t roll back and that your top leg doesn’t come forward with toes pointed to the ceiling. This is your body cheating and using the front hip muscles (aka hip flexors) instead of the hip muscles (aka gluteus medius)!
Hip abduction leg lift — westerville, oh — empower physio & wellness
3. Squat
Stand with feel hip width apart. Engage your core and pelvic floor (aka perform a Kegel). With weight driven through the heels, squat down as if you are going to sit down in a chair. Your knees should stay in line with your toes, make sure they don’t fall inward towards each other. Return to standing and repeat.
 
*Expert tip: Keeping your weight in your heels engages the oh-so-important glute muscles!
Squat — westerville, oh — empower physio & wellness
Please remember that none of these exercises should be painful or cause any type of heaviness or discomfort in the pelvis! If they do, please stop immediately and contact a physical therapist or healthcare provider.
 
​Questions or comments? I’d love to chat with you!

8 Tips For Tight Hamstrings

Stephanie Duffey • Jul 06, 2020

Matthew lejune jmh6m6bkl6u unsplash 960w
As a physical therapist, I hear complaints all the time related to tight hamstrings. In fact, the hamstrings get a bad rap for always being the problem muscle, but if we take a closer look, you’ll find that your hamstring tightness may just be a symptom of another issue. Here, I’ll break down my top 8 tips for relieving tight hamstrings and preventing future pain in this muscle group.
 
1. Don’t be a sloucher. 
Poor posture can be a huge contributing factor for hamstring tightness. When you arch your back, you’re actually putting more strain on your hamstrings to help hold you in that position. Instead, focus on stacking your ribs over your pelvis. Your hamstrings will thank you!
 
2. Be a belly breather.
Being a belly breather goes hand in hand with keeping good posture. When you stand properly, your diaphragm works more effectively, enabling you to breathe better while creating stability and activation through the core. 
 
3. Keep your core strong.
When you stay mindful of your posture and breathe through your belly, you’re activating your core. In addition to following tips 1 and 2, it’s also important to specifically target the core as a muscle group. Tight hamstrings could be compensating for a weak core, so make core part of your weekly training routine. Here are some of my favorite exercises to work those abs (Plus bonus side effect: You’ll look great in your swimsuit!)
 
4. Keep your glutes strong.
Remember in tip 3 when I said that your hamstrings could be compensating for a weak core? The same is true with your glutes. The more you train the glutes and core, the better off your hamstrings will be. So share the love with other muscles groups. Download my Runner’s Prehab Guide for some of my favorite moves for strong glutes. (These are great exercises even if you don’t run!)
 
5. Don’t be a “sitter.”
This one’s for all my peeps with desk jobs. When you sit all day, you put your hamstrings in a shorter, tightened position. Take advantage of this quarantine and break up your day by going for short walks so you don’t get stiff. It’s also a great way to take a mental break!
 
6. Remember the hammies in your strength routine.
Fun fact, tight muscles do NOT always equal strong muscles. If your hamstrings are tight, it could actually be a sign that you need to strengthen them. Try some of these moves for strong hamstrings.
 
7. Practice dynamic stretching before a workout
You’ve probably heard this before but it’s incredibly important to move while you stretch to prevent cramping and better protect your muscles. Try walking hips swings or some of these exercises to set yourself up for success before your workout.
 
8. Foam roll after a workout.
One of the best ways to release knots and trigger points is foam rolling. It’s an awesome recovery for your muscles after a run or workout and provides a deep release while preventing muscle tension and pain. Do your muscles a favor and show them some love after you make them work! Here’s my favorite foam roller.
 
Need help treating your tight hamstrings? Let’s chat!

Self-Care is Important: Here’s Why You Should Make It Part of Your Routine

By: Dr. Stephanie Duffey • Feb 10, 2020

 

A girl taking yoga — westerville, oh — empower physio & wellness
Have you ever heard the expression, “You can’t pour from an empty cup?” When I was taking a yoga class the other day, the teacher mentioned this when we were holding a stretching posture for a particularly long time. While I was uncomfortable, her words really resonated with me.
 
All-too-often, we don’t take the time to slow down and take care of ourselves. This is especially true when it comes to our fitness routines. A lot of people focus on the hard stuff, but the recovery time is equally important because that’s when your muscles rebuild from the intense workouts. There are actual chemical changes that happen in your body to help rebuild your muscles and if you skip out on slowing down, you’re not getting the maximum benefit from your workouts. Proper self-care reduces your risk of injury, helps you feel healthy and strong, and is great for overall mental health.
 
My key tip for showing yourself some love is to focus on recovery. This means getting enough sleep, fueling your body with nutritious food, staying hydrated, and incorporating stretching into the mix.
 
Remember, workouts don’t always have to be so intense, they can be enjoyable too. Listen to your body and if you aren’t feeling it, slow down and recognize that the recovery time will be better for you in the long run.
 
If you need a little inspiration, here are a few of my favorite ways to practice self-care:
  • Foam rolling
  • Slow yoga (yin and deep stretch)
  • Going on a walk
  • Writing in my gratitude journal
  • Going to bed early
  • Enjoying a massage 
  • Knitting and watching Say Yes to the Dress (guilty pleasures!!)
I hope this encourages you to find a productive way to slow down and nurture your body. Need help developing a self-care plan? Let’s chat!

Need New Running Shoes? Read This Post About Pronation First

By: Dr. Stephanie Duffey • Feb 17, 2020

Wearing a running shoes — westerville, oh — empower physio & wellness
If you’re a serious runner, you probably go through shoes pretty quickly (I know I do!) Or if it’s been a while since you’ve replaced your shoes (over 300-500 miles) it’s probably time to consider a new pair. But before you do, READ THIS POST! I’ll share my tips for identifying the right type of shoe for you based on the level of pronation in your feet.

WHAT IS PRONATION?

Let me start by saying, pronation is NOT a bad thing–it’s normal and it occurs when your foot absorbs shock as it makes contact with a surface. Pronation is essentially the natural process your arch follows from a lifted position, to a flattened position when you’re walking or running. When selecting the proper running shoe, you’ll want to pay close attention to your gait, which can show a pattern of neutral pronation, over-pronation, or supination (under-pronation).

OVER-PRONATION

Causes: Excessive, or over-pronation is when you pronate too much, too quickly, or stay in pronation for too long. This could happen naturally if you have flatter feet.
 
Symptoms: You could be experiencing tendinitis, shin splints, runner’s knee, or plantar fasciitis.
Shoe Recommendations: You’ll need a pronation control or stability shoe. The inner part of the shoe should have a thicker material to support you. You may consider brands like Brooks and 361. You can also try an insert for additional support (I like Powersteps), however don’t just jump to inserts right away. When your running or walking shoe is properly selected, it should give you enough support. 

UNDER-PRONATION

​Causes: Under-pronation, or supination occurs when you have a more rigid foot that isn’t absorbing shock as well as it could be. This could happen naturally if you have a higher arch.
 
Symptoms: You may be experiencing general joint aches and pains.
 
Shoe Recommendations: You’ll need a nice, cushiony shoe that’s shock-absorbent. You could explore New Balance, Hoka, and Mizuno shoe brands.

OTHER TIPS

No matter what level of pronation you have, I recommend going to a shoe store where they watch you walk or run on a treadmill to see how your foot looks and feels in a shoe. Make sure you’re comfortable. When you find a shoe that you like, stick with it, but I’ll caution you to pay attention to the shoe production quality over time. Often, companies will switch up the production and this can definitely make a difference.
 
This post should help you find a running shoe that’s right for you! Need help identifying your foot type and what type of shoe would be best for you? Let’s chat!

The Pain Threshold: When Do I Slow Down, Stop, or Keep Going?

By: Dr. Stephanie Duffey • Dec 04, 2019

 

As a physical therapist, I’m often asked the question, “How do I know when I need to slow down, stop, or keep going?” It’s a valid question, and one that many people struggle to identify. It’s challenging to interpret what you’re feeling in your body, when you can push harder, and when you need to scale back. So, to keep things simple, I came up with a little something I like to call the stoplight method. Let’s break it down.

Green Light: When you’re operating at the green light level, you’re able to exercise with no aches and pains and you may even be looking for ways to intensify your workouts. If you’re a runner, you’d be able to maintain the current pace or distance that you’re following with no discomfort. This is where you want to be (but I know this isn’t always possible or realistic).

What to do: Maintain what you’re doing, or experiment with advancing to the next level. For runners, this means working toward a faster pace or increasing your mileage.

Yellow Light: Signs to look for if you’re approaching the yellow light include light soreness or achiness that persists for more than 24 hours after your run, a small limp when running (but not when walking), and slight swelling of your joints after a run.

What to do: Slow down a bit—this is your body telling you to back-off. Take a rest day and re-evaluate how you’re feeling. Try to recognize patterns. For example, maybe your knees start to hurt when it’s time to get new running shoes, so take a trip to the shoe store! Listen to your body and take action if there’s a behavior you need to change to feel better and enhance your performance.

Red Light: If you’re approaching the red light, you’re experiencing very sharp pain that stops you in your tracks. The pain is debilitating and you are unable to walk without a limp. You may be experiencing intense swelling in your joints and intense discomfort that doesn’t subside after 24 hours.

What to do: It’s time to consult an expert. You may be at risk of a stress fracture or other serious injury. While it’s challenging to seek help and cease physical activity, it’s important to be seen by an expert early, so your injury doesn’t intensify. You may also be able to recover more quickly if you get help for the problem earlier rather than later.

I hope my simple stoplight method helps you identify how to deal with the pain you may be experiencing in your body and the action steps you need to take to feel better.

Need help from an expert? Let’s chat!

Why I Use a Gratitude Journal

By: Dr. Stephanie Duffey • Aug 03, 2020

A sprig of green beside a gold pen and pink gratitude journal that says, "today i am grateful. "
Now it’s more important than ever to develop positive habits to get you through trying situations (umm… can you say global pandemic!?) That’s why I’m sharing how I practice gratitude daily. I began journaling about three years ago and have shifted to gratitude-focused journaling this past year. And let me tell you…it’s been LIFE-CHANGING! It’s completely altered my perspective and how I approach times of stress. Here are the four reasons why you should start using a gratitude journal:
1. When you focus on positivity this leaves no room for negativity in your brain. Seriously, I can attest to this! When you take the time to focus on the things going well in your life, you naturally become more positive. By writing down what you’re thankful for, it can make you even more optimistic because you are choosing to see more of the positivity in your life, while giving less power to negative emotions. You may have positive aspects of your life floating around in your subconscious, but writing them down makes them more real.
2. It causes you to look for things to be grateful for throughout the day. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle. Chances are, you’re in such a hurry that you’re losing sight of how much you enjoy your morning cup of coffee, or the beautiful weather outside, or lunch with a friend. When you’re searching for reasons to be grateful, you’re going to be more aware and you’ll manifest gratitude. Say for example, you’ve been thinking of buying a new car. All of a sudden, you start to notice that car all over the road. In reality, it’s been there all along but because you’re paying attention and seeking it out, you see it all around you.
3. It can keep stressful situations in perspective. I’m not suggesting that you can’t ever acknowledge stress. You should definitely take the time to process tough situations, but by focusing on the good, you’re more likely to see the positives. For example, the current pandemic has no doubt wreaked havoc. People have lost jobs, vacations and weddings have been canceled, and many of our favorite places have shut down until further notice. The silver lining though is that families have had more time than ever before to slow down and connect. Or maybe your work-from-home hours have given you the flexibility to start a new hobby or make more time for yourself. It’s all about perspective.
4. It helps form positive habits. When you’re consistently focused on gratitude, this is the default for your brain. The things you do frequently become a habit so you’ll start to form a positive mindset that’s engrained in how you approach a situation. I like to call it building an attitude of gratitude! Practice makes perfect but the more you seek out gratitude, the more natural it becomes.
I hope this encourages you to start your own practice of gratitude journaling. Here’s one of my favorite journals to get you started. Happy journaling!

Plantar Fasciitis: What the Heel?

By: Dr. Stephanie Duffey • Mar 02, 2020

 

​If you’re dealing with plantar fasciitis, you know how stubborn and tricky this ailment can be! In this post, I’ll break down the root causes and share my tips for managing the discomfort and eliminating the problem for good.

WHAT IS PLANTAR FASCIITIS?

You have a thick band of tissue called the plantar fascia, which stretches from the bottom part of the heel to the toes. This tissue is designed to give your foot extra stability, but sometimes it can get irritated. You may notice sharp and intense heel pain in one or both of your feet when you get up in the morning, or when you stand up and walk after sitting for a while. These are common signs that you may be experiencing plantar fasciitis.

WHAT’S THE CAUSE?

​The pain you’re experiencing is the result of irritation in the plantar fascia. But what’s causing this irritation? Likely, you have other areas in your body that are too tight, too loose, or too weak. This could be another area in the foot, leg, or even the core. Finding out why you’re experiencing this discomfort is the most challenging part and allows me as a physical therapist to play detective. It’s always my goal to get at the root cause of the issue to keep people out of pain long-term.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Other than identifying what caused the irritation in the first place, here are some of my other tips for managing plantar fasciitis:

  • Get a frozen plastic water bottle, freeze it, and roll your foot on it using moderate pressure a few times a day. This loosens the tissue and the ice cuts inflammation. You can also use a tennis or lacrosse ball.
  • Stretch your calves with the knee straight and then bent, or use a foam roller. Tightness and trigger points in the calf can be a contributing factor and refer pain to the heel so it’s extra important to stretch this area.
  • Stretch the plantar fascia by crossing the ankle over your knee and pulling your toes backward. This is a great way to loosen up the bottom of your foot
  • Get a supportivepronation-control shoe. Plantar fasciitis pain can come from excessive or quick pronation. Find a shoe that works for you and use inserts as a secondary supplement.
  • Try a night splint or sock that pulls the toes up to give a long duration stretch while you sleep. This can be uncomfortable so I recommend you build your way up. Start with a few hours and gradually work up to the whole night. It usually takes about 3 months to get the full benefit.
If you’re suffering from plantar fasciitis, my biggest piece of advice is to do something ASAP. The longer it’s irritated, the longer it takes to treat and calm down. Need help from an expert? Let’s chat!

8 Steps to Relieve and Prevent Back Pain

By: Dr. Stephanie Duffey • Mar 02, 2020
Experts estimate that up to 80% of the population will experience back pain at some time in their lives. While common among many people, back pain is NOT the norm and there are many steps you can take to relieve and prevent it from occurring. Today, I’ll break down 8 steps that I’ve implemented into my own life to help reduce back pain.
 
  1. Watch how you lift. Whether you’re lifting a squirming child or weights, be sure to lift with your legs, not your back. The quads and glutes are waaayyy stronger than your small back muscles, so be mindful.
  2. Take a posture check. How you sit (or stand) during the day is really important. Desk jobs in particular bring you forward and cause you to slump. Think of it this way: For every degree your head comes forward, your spine muscles have to work exponentially harder. Not sure what your posture looks like? Have a co-worker take a surprise picture of you sitting at your desk to get a good glimpse of your posture during the day.
  3. Use a lumbar roll, especially if you work at a desk or drive frequently. A lumbar roll is a squishy pillow that you can place behind your low back to create additional support. It also helps your posture when you’re seated. Here’s the one I use from Amazon.
  4.  Take a stress test. What repetitive motions do you do frequently exhibit throughout the day that cause aggravation? Maybe it’s reaching for something, picking up an infant, or some other movement. Make a tally of what’s causing irritation in your back on a daily basis.
  5. Strengthen your core correctly. By activating ALL the core muscles (not just the six-pack in the front) you take strain off your back. While strengthening your core isn’t the only way to resolve back pain, it certainly is a game-changer.
  6. Move your body. Incorporating movement into your daily routine can significantly reduce back pain. The next time you miss your workout, notice how you feel. Chances are, you’ll feel much better when the muscles are loose from working out.
  7. Stretch your hips, mid and upper back. Practice mobility work so you can move through these areas and you aren’t relying only on the mobility of your back alone.
  8. Use good pillow support when you’re sleeping. If you’re a belly-sleeper, you may try placing a pillow under your hips. You should also consider training yourself not to be a stomach-sleeper to take some of the pressure off of your back. If you’re a side-sleeper, put a pillow between your knees to keep your legs stacked. This helps take the twist out of the low back). Back sleepers should try placing a pillow under the knees for additional support.
 
It’s never too early to start taking preventative measures to protect your back and it’s never too late to start living a pain free life! If you’re experiencing back pain and need help from a professional, let’s chat!

Nutrition Tips for Runners Who Want to Feel Good, Run Fast, and Recover Effectively

By: Dr. Stephanie Duffey • Apr 21, 2020

 

Sweet dish — westerville, oh — empower physio & wellness
As we gear up for the spring and summer, many of you are probably excited to capitalize on the warmer weather and increase your mileage. One of the best things you can do to feel great during your runs and promote effective recovery is to fuel your body with quality food. So, if you want to run better, recover faster, and feel AMAZING overall, I’m here to share my well-researched nutrition tips.
 
As you read through these tips, please be aware that this guidance is mainly for endurance athletes or folks running longer distances (between 45 minutes-1 hour). If you’re running for 30 minutes or less, the timing and precision of what you consume is a little more flexible. 
 
Before we get into the details of what and when you should eat for optimal performance, it’s important to understand the three types of fuel your body expends.

TYPES OF FUEL

1. Blood glucose is sugar found in your bloodstream and it’s the first source of energy your body burns because it’s highly accessible.
 
2. Glycogen is glucose in storage form and your body uses it when you’ve already tapped in to all of your blood glucose.
 
​3. Fat takes the longest to break down and is the last source of fuel your body uses.
 
Now that you understand how the body accesses what it stores, we can get into the fun stuff: The food groups!

FOOD GROUPS

1. Carbs give you immediate energy and are used right away (so if you’re a high-endurance athlete, just say no to Keto). 60-65% of your diet should consist of high-quality carbs, but be sure they’re low in fiber so you don’t activate your digestive system. Additionally, know the difference between simple and complex carbs. Simple carbs (found in sports drinks, chews and gels) give you the immediate energy you need right before a workout. Complex carbs (think bread and pasta) take a little longer to break down so eat these a few hours before your run.
 
2. b provides endurance energy and (despite popular belief) is actually a good thing. If you’ve been buying low fat versions of food at the store, this is a public service announcement to stop doing that! Low fat items strip out fat and replace it with sugar. Instead, focus on quality and get a mix of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
 
Examples: Saturated fat
  • Butter, coconut oil, red meat
  
Examples: Polyunsaturated fat:
  • Seeds, fish
 
Examples: Monounsaturated fat:
  • Avocado, nuts
 
3. Protein is not used to give you energy during long runs. Instead, it’s critical to recovery. When you lift or run, your muscles tear and reform as stronger muscles. The more intense your workout is, the more micro-tears in your muscles. Aim for 20 grams of protein between 20-40 minutes after a workout to rebuild your muscles and 60-65 grams of protein broken up throughout the day.
 
​Examples:
Fish, chicken, beans, eggs, protein powder, quinoa and barley

TIMING (AKA: WHAT TO EAT BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER A RUN)

Before
Before a run, fuel up on simple carbs low in fiber 30-60 minutes prior. You can also eat a big meal containing carbs the night before a morning run.
 
Some of my faves:
  • Toast with peanut butter and jelly
  • Banana and peanut butter sandwich
  • Oatmeal and fruit
  • Pretzels and hummus
  • Whole grain waffles and syrup
  • 1 cup of low fiber cereal with milk
  • Granola bar
During
Unless you’re running for a duration longer than 60 minutes, you don’t need to fuel up during your run. If you’re an endurance athlete running a marathon, you’ll want to consume approximately 15-30g of carbs every hour. But you need to figure out what works for you PRIOR to race day so there are no surprises.
 
Some of my faves:
  • Gels: honestly, I prefer chews over gels so I don’t have a go-to gel
  • Chews: Clif Bloks, Shaklee energy chews
  • Sports drinks: Shaklee hydrate, Nuun (skip the Gatorade and other drinks with high fructose corn syrup!)
After
Be sure you eat carbs and protein immediately after you finish your run, ideally within 30-40 minutes. If you wait, you significantly reduce the glycogen that gets put back into muscle storage. This can limit your endurance on your next run…no good. Glycogen stores in muscle are super important for distance running!
 
Some of my faves:
  • Shaklee protein shake with fruit (banana with chocolate protein is my go-to because of the potassium in bananas)
  • Chocolate milk
  • Fruit and cottage cheese
  • Trail mix
  • Energy bar with a good mix of carbs and protein
 
If you’re looking for some great recipes for runners, be sure to check out Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. ​ I’ve been loving this cookbook!

Embodied Peacemaking Process- Five Quick and Easy Exercises

Paul Linden, PhD

PaulLinden@aol.com • www.being-in-movement.com

Love without power is ineffective.
Power without love is brutality.

Conflict is commonly approached as mental, emotional, spiritual, political,  cultural and historical in nature. However, the body’s responses are crucial and are often ignored. Self-regulation on the body level must be a part of the peace process.

The five exercises detailed below are based on my 49 years of practice of Aikido  (a nonviolent Japanese martial art) and body awareness work. The five are the simplest, easiest and most broadly useful exercises I have developed (my books and videos describe many more). The exercises are concrete, specific, and reliable. They are not philosophy. They are physiology.

They are simple enough that people can learn them easily and even teach them to others right away. Applying the exercises in conflict resolution and peacemaking is simple enough that people can use them effectively right away.

MOVEMENT RIDDLES
As a preparation for the five exercises, I use thePicture1following movement riddles to grab people’s attention and get across some key concepts. I have a student stand in a strong forward-stride stance, and I explain that I want him to resist me when I push on his shoulders. I ask whether the person has any physical or psychological issues which would make that unsafe. I ask him to lean into me a bit and make it very hard for me to move him. The demonstration is much more startling when I work with somebody much bigger and stronger than I. Then I ask the client to raise his eyebrows, and immediately I can easily push him toward his rear. Why? The answer is very simple. Raising the eyebrows is part of the fear/startle reflex, and another part is leaning back to get away from the object of fear. When one part of the startle response is done in the body, the rest of the response fires off too – even though there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Another riddle: The student stands in the same stance as before, resisting my push on his shoulders. This time I have the person say something friendly to me and note what happens in his body. Usually there is no effect. Then I have him say something unfriendly and insulting. Almost always the immediate effect of saying something negative is that I can push him back fairly easily. Why? The body responds to unfriendliness and unkindness by contracting, and that interferes with fluid use of the body to achieve effective balance and movement.

A third riddle: Many people use anger as a source of power. Push on the student’s shoulders as in the second riddle. But this time have the student think of something that makes him angry. See whether that creates more stability and strength or less. Most people will experience less balance and less strength when they are angry as compared to when they are calm and kind.

A fourth riddle: Stand in front of a student and grasp his wrist. Now pull him toward you. The student’s task is to not be pulled toward you. Most people brace their posture and resist the pull. That is, of course, one strategy for succeeding at doing what was asked for. However, that strategy, though effective, takes a lot of hard work. I suggest that they simply walk forward. People realize that they understood the instruction to mean “Don’t move forward.” However , the instruction actually was to not be PULLED forward, and the easiest way to do this is to walk forward—and take over the movement. This riddle is about taking a different perspective and how that opens up new options for dealing with difficult situations.

I have found a number of somatic riddles, and they all hinge on taking a different perspective in some fashion. The point is that the body is where peace can be observed and practiced in a clear and concrete way, if you have the tools. These three riddles point to the fact mind and body are the same thing. And they also point to the fact that the optimal way of functioning is based on the integration of power and love.

Picture2

DISTRESS RESPONSE
Emotions are physical actions in the body. Feelings are what those actions “taste” like to the person who is doing them.When we are threatened or challenged or hurt, we contract or collapse our posture, breathing, and attention— as the picture of the woman being touched shows. That is the distress response, and it is usually experienced as feelings such as fear, anger, helplessness or numbness.

These powerful physical responses hijack the rational mind and compassionate heart and move our thinking and acting toward oppositional and violent ways of dealing with the challenges we face. Being hurt or hurting someone often leads to dehumanization of the other person and of oneself too, and out of this comes more prejudice and more distress.

When the distress response gets locked into the body, that is the trauma state. You should be aware that in any group of 25 people or so, there are likely to be 1 or 2 survivors of child abuse or other trauma, and body awareness exercises sometimes can throw people into painful emotional states that they had been suppressing. These five peacemaking exercises are also effective for empowerment in trauma recovery work. However, working with trauma is more delicate and requires broader skills and understanding. If someone drops into trauma recall as you teach embodied peacemaking, keep breathing and stay relaxed and steady, and you will find a way to steady the person. Then refer them to a qualified professional.

FIVE EXERCISES

Just as you cannot dig a hole in the water, you cannot stop doing a particular behavior. Instead, you have to start doing an incompatible and more useful behavior. The opposite of and antidote to the physical state of smallness is a state of centered expansiveness. This state of calm alertness and compassionate power moves our thinking and acting toward empathic, assertive and peaceful ways of handling conflicts. And living in the present with compassionate power breaks the chains that bind people to their past trauma.

RELAXED CORE: Let your tongue hang softly in your mouth. Most people will feel that this relaxes the muscles around the neck and shoulders.

Let your shoulders and your armpits hang loose and notice the effect on the rest of your body. Let your belly plop loose. Let your legs hang on the ground. When you breathe, where is the movement in your body? Up into your chest perhaps? That is fear/startle breathing. As you inhale, let your belly expand. Your chest should also expand as you inhale, and the focus of the breathing movement will be on relaxing/expanding the belly. Most people find this very calming.

SMILING HEART: Everyone has something or someone that makes them happy inside —perhaps a friend, a child, a flower, a piece of music. Stand with your eyes closed, and spend a moment thinking about whatever it is that makes you smile inside. What hap-
pens in your body? Most people experience a softening and warmth in their chest, and a freeing up in their entire body.

Can you use your image while you are in a conflict to keep your body stabilized in the feeling of compassion? That would alter your relationship to your opponent. Can you stay anchored in this feeling even when thinking about difficulties in your life?

SHINING: Imagine that you are a star or a firefly or a light bulb. What do you do? You shine. Feel every inch (or centimeter) of your skin glowing outward, as you shine in every direction—as far out as you wish. How does that feel? Most people experience this as spacious and calm.

Some people find it easier to imagine something tangible to reach their awareness toward. A popular image is that of reaching toward Picture3slices of pizza.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture4POWER SITTING: Power is necessary to allow
us to function in a loving and peaceful manner. Love without power is weak and ineffective. And of course power without love is brutal and destructive. The development of power starts with postural stability.

Stand in front of a chair, and get ready to sit down – but in a new way. With each hand, touch your hip joints. Not the hip bones – which are the top edge of the pelvis, but the hip joints – which are in the fold where the legs bend. Imagining a line from the hip joints to the tailbone, push your tailbone back and down along that line. This will lean your torso forward, but not too much. It will take you down to a sitting position. This way of sitting down creates a posture that is very strong yet without effort (see the photo). Most people feel calm, alert, and dignified in this posture.

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POWER WALKING: There is a standing equivalent of the sitting posture. Walk around barefoot, pay attention to how your legs and feet make your body move forward across the floor. Many people swing a leg forward, and the weight of the leg drags their body forward. Some people put a foot on the floor out in front of them and then pull themselves forward with it. Some people feel that when their foot is behind them, they push themselves forward with it. Stand with your feet together, and jump up in the air. To jump up, you push down. To walk forward most efficiently, you push to the rear with the back leg. A simple way to experience this is to have a partner grasp your belt from behind you. Your partner should pull back and offer moderate resistance to your walking. You will experience that the only way to move forward is to push backwards with the rear leg. People generally experience that when they walk with this awareness of the down/back thrust of the feet, their walk becomes more erect, clearer and more energetic. It is mechanically more efficient and powerful, and it is also much more psychologically confident and alert.

APPLICATIONS

How would you use this body awareness process in managing a conflict? Identifying the emotions as body actions, you could ask, “Where in my body am I doing something? And what am I doing there?” And once you identify what and where the emotions are, you can manage them and break their hold on you. It will not itself be the solution to the conflict, but it will enable you to think and act more freely and come up with a solution if one is possible.

Body-based self-regulation (Embodied Peacemaking) enables people to control their fear and anger and act in peaceful, healthy ways. Deliberately widening and opening yourself in the midst of conflict allows a cooperative peace process to begin unfolding. If you stay centered, you will not see the other person as an enemy or feel the urge to hurt him/her. Deliberately opening when you want to contract or collapse weakens the physical habits within you and lets you live in a centered strong civilized place. Even though this process often works for people right away, regular practice of somatic centering will make it easier to stay centered when a conflict arises.

If the conflict involves a physical attack, though it is counterintuitive, being kind and generous will free your body so that you can fight more effectively – if fighting is the only choice. In the usual verbal disputes, body-based self-regulation enables people to stay focused on the substance of the dispute and not get distracted by the emotions that are stirred up by the dispute. Beyond that, if you notice that your emotions are hijacking the dispute and preventing calm, respectful dialoging, you could ask for a 5-minute body awareness and breathing break.

THROWING TISSUES: A PRACTICE ATTACK

How can we get a practical handle on what conflict is and what its physical effects are? What we need to begin the investigation is a small piece of violence. If it is safe and small-scale, it will not cause unbearable stress, and it will be safe enough to
study. But it must be real enough to arouse a response in you, or it will be not be worth studying.

Ask your partner to stand about six or eight feet away (about two meters) from you and throw balled up tissues at you. Most people find that this mostly symbolic gesture does arouse some fear, but since the “attack” is minimal, so is the fear.

Calibration is important. The exercise must be matched to the student. In working with people who don’t feel much, it is often necessary to increase the stimulus intensity so that they get a response large enough for them to notice. I might wet the tissue so it hits with a soggy and palpable thud. Or I might throw pillows instead of tissues.

On the other hand, I often have people tell me that even throwing a tissue at them feels too intrusive and violent. In that case, standing back farther so that the tissue doesn’t reach them, makes the “attack” even more minimal. Or it may be necessary to do just the movement of throwing the tissue without a tissue at all. Perhaps turning around and throwing the tissue in the wrong direction will help. Or just talking about throwing a tissue, but not moving to do so at all.

The point is to adjust the intensity of the “violence” in this exercise so that it is tolerable and safe for you to examine. For most people that means revising the attack downward in intensity.

Once you have chosen your preferred attack, have your partner attack you and notice what happens in response to the attack. What do you feel? What do you do? What do you want to do?

There are a number of common reactions to the attack with the tissue. People being hit often experience surprise or fear. They may feel invaded and invalidated. Frequently they tense themselves to resist the strike and the feelings it produces. Some people giggle uncontrollably or treat the attack as a game. Many people get angry and wish to hit back. People may freeze in panic, and some people go into a state of shock or dissociation.

Most people talk about feelings and mental states. They are surprised, angry, afraid and so on. They want to escape or fight back. However, a very different way of paying attention to yourself is possible. Notice the details of your muscle tone, breathing, body alignment, and the rhythms and qualities of movement. Where in your body do you feel significant changes? What are you feeling in those locations? Rather than speaking in mental terms— about feelings, thoughts and emotions—it can be very productive to speak in body- based language.

By paying attention to the physical details of your responses, you will begin to see more deeply into the ways you handle conflict. And learning to notice what you do is the first step in changing and improving what you do. Notice what you do in your throat, belly and pelvis. What happens in your chest and back? Notice what you do in your face and head. Notice what you do with your arms/hands and legs/feet. What happens to your breathing? Is there anything else to pay attention to?

Most people realize that they tighten up when they are attacked. They may clench their shoulders or harden their chests. They most likely tense or stop their breathing. They may lean back or lean forward, but it is a tense movement. Sometimes this tension is fear, and people shrink away from the attack. Sometimes this tension is anger, and people lean forward and wish to hit back. Do you do any of these things? Do you also do something else? Many people find that they get limp as a response to being hit. Their breathing
and muscles sag; or they look away and space out, simply waiting for the hitting to be over. They may feel their awareness shrink down to a point or slide away into the distance. Many people find that they experience both rigidity and limpness simultaneously in different areas of the body.

Some people find the role of the attacker far more difficult than the role of the victim, but we will focus on the responses of the person being attacked. However, one idea might make the attacker role easier for you. It will help to remember that your attack is a gift to your partner. By being concerned and benevolent enough to attack your partner, you are allowing them the opportunity to develop self-awareness skills. Without your gracious cooperation, they would not be able to learn these skills, and when they faced real challenges in their lives they would be completely unprepared.

The common denominator in responses of tensing or getting limp is the process of getting smaller. Fear and anger narrow us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. However, softening and opening the body is the antidote to contraction or collapse.

FURTHER PRACTICE
How can you go further in learning and using Embodied Peacemaking? Daily practice of the for exercises described here will take you a long way.

You could also work through the exercises in one or another of my books or videos, which are available on my website. You could form a study group to have partners to practice with. Unfortunately life brings many conflicts and many traumas, so
there will be no shortage of opportunities for practice.

 

PAUL LINDEN, Ph.D. is a somatic educator, a martial artist, and an author. He is the developer of Being In Movement® mindbody education. He has a B.A. in Philosophy and a Ph.D. in Physical Education, and is an authorized instructor of the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education. He has been practicing and teaching Aikido since 1969 and holds a sixth degree black belt in Aikido as well as a first degree black belt in Karate. His work involves the application of body and movement awareness education to such topics as stress management, conflict resolution, computer ergonomics, music or sports performance, and trauma recovery.

Some of Paul Linden’s books and videos

Embodied Peacemaking —Five Easy Exercises. 8 page handout. Free download.

Reach Out: Body Awareness Training for Peacemaking—Five Easy Lessons. 46 pages.
Free download.

Embodied Peacemaking: Body Awareness, Self-Regulation and Conflict Resolution. 164
pages.

Teaching Children Embodied Peacemaking: Body Awareness, Self-Regulation & Conflict
Resolution. 70 pages

Feeling Aikido: Body Awareness Training as a Foundation for Aikido Practice. 300 pages.
Winning is Healing: Body Awareness and Empowerment for Abuse Survivors. 410 pages.

Embodying Power and Love: Body Awareness & Self-Regulation. 10 hour video
Talking with the Body: Body Awareness Methods for Professionals. 9 hour video

Downloadable from www.being-in-movement.com