Friday, June 25, 2010

Spine Health: The gauge of overall wellness, & why its important

~Doing a 'lil "triangle pose" with the "Bikram Yoga" crew before kayaking on the "Deschutes River"

"The spine should be as supple as a baby, as flexible as a willow tree..." ~Eastern Proverb

When you walk down the street, how many elderly people do you see hunched over as they move? Their shoulders rounded, their posture appearing uncomfortable? In our culture we seek chiropractors to help our spines "get aligned" or "adjusted." While this is a viable option, certainly, we must ask ourselves what our personal responsibility is to maintaining proper spine health. How can we best achieve this? Lets explore, first, the importance of the "staff of life," as the ancients referred to the spine. How does it affect our every movement, our sense of well being, and our emotional status?

We first can all attest to the fact that when we're experiencing pain our emotional well being is affected. It affects our state of mind, and how we feel throughout our day. When we look at the majority of musculo-skeletal complaints, we can typically trace them back to a spine that is in a state of dis-ease (& possibly has been for awhile). The way we walk, run & move about our day is all contingent upon an operable spine. One that is doing what its supposed to do, which is maintaining an upright, balanced posture, allowing the body to adapt to variances in surface change or environment (i.e. hills, pavement, gravel, sand, uneven surfaces, etc.).

In every culture around the world, spine health is emphasized in the health care system. I've had the opportunity to travel the globe, studying indigenous or traditional methods of medicine since 1994. My undergraduate degree was in Medical Anthropology. From yoga in India and Tibet, to Pilates in Germany, from capoeira in Brazil to Tai Chi in China, for centuries systems have been put into place to maintain the proper health of "the tree of life."

The spine, referenced as a tree, gives us the sense that if we nourish it with the same foundational principles, that it can bear fruit for many years to come. The question is how to go about doing this? While all of the above systems of spine health, from yoga to Tai Chi work, it will be the most effective if you find one that you know you'll be compliant with. It does little good, I tell my patients, to have a bottle of herbs on your shelf, if you do not take them. To find a system or methodology to maintain, with consistency, the well-being of your spine is the most vital.

There is a re-surgence in the running community of making note of postural alignment while running to prevent pain, and to give "the upper edge" in running performance. Concepts such as the "POSE Method," "Chi Running," "Barefoot Running" are all answering a call within us to evaluate the motion of injury-free running, and how we can affect this ourselves simply by the way we move. By "body sense-ing," as Danny Dreyer calls it, we can become in tune with the rhythm of the breath, how our feet touch the ground, and how it really all comes back to the postural alignment of the spine. Danny combines his knowledge of working with the ancient art of Tai Chi with his love of ultra-running in his book, "Chi Running." A fascinating read, weaving the principles of the east with the knowledge of the west.

Danny invites us to look at the notion of viewing nature: this includes watching the suppleness of the spine health of children at play, to the magnificence of a cheetah running. What do these things tell you about the flexibility of their spines, and how that affects the movement of the appendages?

A large majority of yoga asanas (poses) are named after animals: "the locust," "cobra," "downward dog," "cow pose," "the cat," etc. Various systems of Tai Chi & Qi Gong are named after animals. An example: "Soaring Crane Qi Gong." What is the meaning of this? Ancient rishis (sages) throughout time have observed that animals move fluidly, not with rigidity. Even when an animal is about to pounce on its prey, and is rigid in body, the sages say, "they're 1000 times more supple than a human being relaxed." The above poses or styles of movement from the east are to assist us in re-gaining the suppleness of our youth. Another example of reference to the state of suppleness that is exhibited by children in the system of yoga is the "child's pose." Again, the way children move is light as a feather. When they run, they run with lightness in their being, not a sense of gravity pulling on them.

The maintaining of proper spine health and alignment is not a one time thing. It is like tending to a garden. There is no end to it, and the joy is in the journey. When this is performed regularly, people need practitioners like myself less. Backs don't just "go out," injuries recover quickly, muscles are well-developed, and posture is maintained. I invite you to find a system of spine health, and treat it as the cog in the wheel to your exercise regime. The spokes coming out of the cog are additional activities which bring you joy: biking, hiking, climbing, surfing, dancing, running, skipping, jumping...

It is never a bad thing to have periodic "tune-ups" from a chiropractor that you trust. Particularly when one is very active. My chiropractor in Bend, Dr. Jason Kremer, said to me upon my last check-up: "Your spine is in such good health, I don't even know what to say, except for keep doing that yoga. There is no need to adjust anything." I was in and out of his office within 5 mins.

Eastern wisdom suggests, "When there's yin, you do yang. When yang is predominant you do yin." How does this seemingly esoteric advice apply to the concept of spine health? We walk upright and bend forward all day. To maintain perfect yin/yang balance, we must cultivate movements opposite in nature: a variety of backward bends, inversions such as hand/headstands, defying gravity like a bird.

The latest statistics prove that cardiovascular health is best maintained for longevity when inversions are done on a regular basis, thereby providing "additional assistance" to the heart to move blood more readily towards the brain. In addition to cardiovascular health, studies also prove that "brain power," cognitive thinking skills & memory is improved by the above mentioned movements. This has been said in the east for thousands of years. Assist the body in pumping blood and lymph more efficiently through proper spine health, and you will be rewarded with a long, happy, and healthy life.

~Rehearsing prior to a bellydancing performance, Oct. '09

"The spine is the key to all. Maintain it well, and chiropractors will come to you." ~Bikram Choudry

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Karma Yoga: Turning Action Into Benefit For Others

“In Karma-yoga no effort is ever lost, and there is no harm. Even a little practice of this discipline protects one from great fear [of birth and death].” ~Bhagavad Gita

"Suck My Kiss," 10a, "Smith Rock," Terrebonne, OR.

In Sanskrit, the literal translation of the word "karma" is action. The word "yoga," also a Sanskrit term, means "to yoke, or to become one with." Therefore, the two words, "Karma Yoga," indicate that right action leads to a "yoking" with, or a union with the Divine, or the inner self.

Throughout the week I read the blogs, posts, & "tweets" of athletes the world over. The ones that have left an impression in my mind are the ones who take their given sport of choice, and choose to benefit others through their action. The first person that comes to mind when I think of the practice of karma yoga, or taking an action and turning it into benefit for others, is my dear friend Lisa Shannon (see the link to her blog, "A Thousand Sisters" below). She has taken a beloved action (trail-running), and has used it to benefit thousands of women in the war-torn country of Congo (DRC). She was named "Runner's World" philanthropist runner of the year. Her epic story, of how right action (karma yoga) was reached in her life through pounding the mud-beaten "Wildwood Trail" in Forest Park (Portland, OR.) can be read about on her website at: www.runforcongowomen.org

When the notion of climbing entered my life, I was instantly drawn to it. It was a metaphor for not only seeing the earth from a bird's eye-view, but also it provided a lense with which to view my inner world; to see what heights I could reach inside myself. Climbing continues to provide me with the opportunity to conquer my fears, push my mental abilities, and see the world from a new perspective. I feel the breeze that the birds feel on their face from on high. I hear the stories of the people on the path below me. I wonder, how may I use this modality, this practice, as a way of benefitting others...of creating right action in my life?

This Thurs., June 10th is my birthday. Normally, I embrace any excuse to have a celebration or a party. I enjoy laughter, and the sense of comaraderie I feel at social gatherings. However, this year, I decided to use my birthday as a way to incite myself to think beyond the typical birthday theme. I wanted to combine elements in my life that I love most: climbing, non-profit work, and raising money for a cause bigger than myself.

This year, over the weekend, I'll be "Climbing For Life." "Climb For Life" is to ovarian cancer what "Race For The Cure" is to breast cancer awareness. I will be wearing my grandmother's name, Jo Ellen Barton, on my back as I climb. Although Grandma Barton passed of cervical cancer, she nonetheless will be present in my heart during the event. She lived a life of mental toughness. She raised 4 children on a houseboat in the middle of the icy waters of Alaska. She hunted dinner for her children, learned how to fly a bush plane to search for her pilot husband in the arctic storms, and become an avid runner in her later years. She ran along her beloved beach trail, up to 10 miles a day before she passed at age 55. I honor her, and all other women and families who have been affected by reproductive cancer of any kind (ovarian, cervical, uterine, etc.) I'm honored to be climbing at this event with such climbing masters as Jason Kehl and Olivia Hsu. I look forward to spending time with them on the rock for this great cause.

I'd like to take the time to thank the following businesses for supporting and/or donating to my climb this weekend (be it through donation or product):

-Dr. K.E. Edmisten, N.D., L.Ac., Newport, OR.
-Mario Riquelme, Attorney At Law, Bend, OR.
-Amy Mendenhall, L.Ac., M.Ac.O.M., Portland, OR.
-"PGC Building + Design", Bend, OR.
-"FootZone", Bend, OR.
-Kerri Duncan of "Holistic 4 Pet," Portland, OR.
-Bonnie Povolny, L.Ac., M.Ac.O.M., Portland, OR.
-"Emerald Smoothie," Bend, OR.
-"Oregon CrossFit," Bend, OR.
-"Redpoint Climbers Supply," Terrebonne, OR.
-Misako Yamamoto, L.Ac., M.Ac.O.M., Portland, OR.
-Dr. Jason Kremer, D.C., Bend, OR.
-Dr. Lisa Shaver, N.D., L.Ac., Portland, OR.

***Thank You For Your Generosity, & For Being A Part Of My Fundraising Climb***

10c crack, "Meadow Camp," Bend, OR.