Something

Brilliant Friends!

Big changes come from small efforts over time. I’m finding that regular movement is very important.

What do I mean by movement? Mostly walking or pacing, sometimes jogging, and every once in a while sprinting. Shake things off, wiggle around, clap your hands in front and behind, jumping jacks, whatever. Watch me move between exercises. I look goofy!

Moving every day has incredible effects. I don’t have to stretch as often to be mobile. The knots that show up in stressful situations are fading. And naturally, moving is becoming easier and more natural. Believe it or not, I sometimes forget how to walk with a good posture, good steps, good breathing.

Even when I had a three times a week gym schedule, I wasn’t moving enough. Believe it or not, I was squatting three hundred pounds and I was still sedentary. Because I would drive to, and then from the gym. Most of my life was spent sitting. Sitting in the office, sitting in the car, sitting at the dining table, sitting on the couch. Even a quick jog would leave me breathing hard.

So, I decided to change my thinking about physical movement. I started doing something, sometimes a lot, most times medium, sometimes just a little, but every day.

Don’t underestimate the power of some movement every day. Believe in “something versus nothing”. Don’t fall for “all or nothing”. Take a walk. Go with someone if you can ask. Take your music or podcast. Try phone calls. As a bonus, I must suggest going barefoot. Something!

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Getting Down To The Bottom Of It

Can I fully squat?

It’s a simple question I ask myself every day. The answer tells me the capacity I have for movement and function. The depth and comfort of my squat tells me how comfortable my daily living is going to be. It tells me my capacity for the little emergencies and sudden movements required through life.

For example, walking can be uncomfortable when my upper quads, or hip flexors, are tight. That area gets stiff from a lot of sitting, particularly if I’m sitting in a chair (I prefer the ground). Walking is also affected by ankle mobility. If my calves are tight, stepping is going to be limited. My ankles aren’t going to be able to bend and flex in a smooth manner.

Just because of these two tight areas, I would need to compensate with other motions. When I have tight hip flexors, my instinct is to lean forward to avoid overstretching them. A forward leaning posture, however slight, will require reverse forces to stop a forward fall. This usually takes the form of arms swinging back more, or head tilting back, or reaction from the low back.

Tight ankles result in outward pointing feet. Since my ankles won’t freely bend to allow my foot to stay planted in a forward position, the shortcut is to turn the foot outward. This allows the ankle to stay stiff while the leg passes over the insole. It’s easier forward movement, but it compromises the rest of the leg mechanism.

The long term result? Outward toes, pronated feet, shins over insoles; knees turned out with body weight toward the inside; femurs rotated outward within the hip joint; ligaments, tendons, and musculature settled into misaligned positions. Joints get pressure in vulnerable spots. The skeletal system misaligned. Soft tissues end up shortened or lengthened and less functional.

One misstep, one sudden lunge out of the way of a car, a quick grab for my bag, or an unexpected weight, can result in a seemingly disproportionate injury. Why do people “throw out their backs”? It’s not because of some gargantuan task they were attempting. It’s usually from doing an ordinary task, something benign. The enormity comes from the long term build up of improper form that results in improper physiology.

But mobilizing is not about the fear of injury happening. I strive for wellness. I mobilize because I enjoy walking without limitation. I enjoy being able to take life’s surprises in stride without skipping a beat. I love that I can have this through my own simple work. Small daily actions keep me moving smoothly. With mobility I keep myself prepared. And I respond with ease when the dogs lunge for a squirrel.

Aside from the physical manifestations of being mobile, I also benefit in mind and spirit. It’s much easier to think deep, feel deep, and appreciate when I don’t have something tugging me at the back of my mind – or the back my body.

So, can you fully squat? If not, then mobilize. Little by little, every day. You will be able to.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

One Commonly Missed But Super Effective Stretch

I’m doing something different today. Below is the audio version of this letter. Let me know if this helps! Enjoy.

Calves.

Tight calves affect ankle mobility. That means that you will move with limited range in your ankles. When you walk, stand, or climb stairs, your ankles will not be able to fully flex the way they should. The design of your ankles enables forward and backward flexion of your shins above your foot. There’s also the lesser known ankle function, which is to let your shins rotate around in all directions on the horizontal plane.

To illustrate this, say you are standing on one foot. If a giant hand came down out of the sky and grab you by the shoulders, it should be able to move you around like a joystick without your foot moving at all. Your ankle should be able to let your shin rotate on it in this way. Feel free to stand and experiment with this concept.

When my ankles are restricted I walked funny. I land too heavily on my heels, and I feel like my steps are too short. This usually happens in the morning, after a long day of walking. My tissue gets tight if I don’t mobilize it at night before bed.

Tight ankles also give me trouble squatting. My feet tend to splay out, instead of staying in their initial forward position. This is because my ankles aren’t letting my shins rotate freely. Rather, my shins are causing my feet to pull out as I descend to the bottom of the squat.

In the ideal state, ankles are smoothly rotating joints between the shins and feet. They allow your foot to stay planted on the ground, while the rest of your leg bends. When you squat, your foot is in position the entire time. As you lower, and your knees pull out, your shins will tilt slightly outward. With mobile ankles, your feet will stay planted and you will build up torque for the upward push. This results in a powerful stand, jump, or lift.

When walking, your mobile ankles will also allow your feet to stay where you placed them. You will be able to touch down your heel, blade, ball, and toes in a forward position. As your body glides forward, your foot will be able to stay in place, and your leg will rotate inward as it ends up behind you.

Compare this to a stiff-ankled walk, where your foot can’t stay planted, and your stepping leg actually rotates outward as it ends up behind you. You’ll see the duck-footed walk with tight ankles, usually accompanied by tight upper quadriceps. It’s usually easier to walk with toes pointing outward when your legs are all stiff in this manner.

So what’s the problem with duck-footed walking? Long term, it leads to pronated feet, super inflexible ankles, agitated knees, tight quads, and tight hips. The moment you need to lift something heavy, leap to catch a falling object, or miss a step on the sidewalk, can result in a pulled muscle, ligament, or tendon. Happens all the time.

Short term, you have ineffective movement. Your body design gives you better propulsion and strength with straight feet, smooth ankles, correctly aligned knees, and supple quads and hips. This will pass on love to your spine and shoulders, which depend in large part on the lower portion of your body for proper mechanics. After all, when you walk, jump, bend, or lift, the ground is your source of push. And your feet, through your ankles, are your direct relationship to that ground.

Mobilize your ankles with calf stretches. Two minutes on each foot should be good, once a day. You can catch me on Snapchat doing some of this in the evenings. Please let me know if this helps!

Live powerfully,

Steve

Snapchat The Brilliant Beast Blog.jpg

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Descend Like A Panther

A very random, but hopefully useful, bit on movement. Stairs.

I take the subway everyday in Seoul. Train boarding platforms are two or three, sometimes up to six floors underground. So there’s a lot of staircases.

Most of them are automated, AKA the escalator. Some of them are not. So everyone who takes the rail here has lots of time on stairs.

Going up the stairs is obviously the dreaded part for many people. It’s hard, it’s hot in the summer, and there’s hundreds of people crowded against each other. But in a physiological sense, going up is usually the same every time. It’s like doing a bunch of one-legged squats. Going down is the tricky part.

I noticed that sometimes going down stairs is easy and effortless. It feels like I’m gliding down. I’m quick and quiet and smooth, like Bagheera. And then other times, it’s choppy. My feet are stomping, my body is jarring, and I can’t seem to get in a good rhythm. I’m the Tin Man before Dorothy pumps oil into his joints. So what’s the deal?

It’s all about centering. I wrote you about staying close to the center, in a meta sense. This is the physical counterpart to that. Whether we stand, squat, or deadlift, we’ve got to stay close to our center of gravity and balance for optimal movement. When we’re walking, running, or going down stairs, though, we have to keep that center just ahead of us.

Take walking, for example. Try to walk slowly with a perfectly upright posture. Head above shoulders above hips above feet. Try to speed up the walk a bit. You’ll start to feel awkward. If you’ve ever dreamed of running through invisible molasses, it’s kind of like that. Hard to propel yourself forward.

Lean slightly forward, and you feel the balance shift forward. It’s a natural thing we do. When we run it’s more extreme. And when we go down stairs, it’s also the same. But I seem to have trouble with this every once in a while. And when I look around, I see a lot of people with the same issue: stompy, jarring, awkward movement down the stairs.

It’s probably because we don’t have much practice on stairs. I started to pay attention to my body as I descended into the stations. If I leaned forward with my upper body and kept my head in line with my spine, I noticed things got more natural. My steps were timed better, I was landing with the ball of my foot rather than the heel, and I was able to engage into the next step down more easily. The panther was back.

When I forgot this, if I was tired, or distracted, I would find myself sloppily crashing down again. Feet slapping against the steps, hips jarring, and timing all off. If I examined myself, I would find my head and shoulders too far back, as if I were still walking on flat ground. Readjusting to lean slightly forward not only fixed my mechanics, it also caused me to be mentally engaged with the task of going downstairs. Being present to our movement is just as important as being physically strong or nimble.

And this last part is important to the long game. We know about the geriatric population being prone to falls. Well, guess what. We are all part of the geriatric population, now or later. I think younger people are just lucky that they are slightly more nimble, slightly quicker and avoid disasters when they aren’t paying attention. We all have the opportunity to develop better movement skills.

Be mindful of your body mechanics the next time you approach a staircase. No matter how big or small it is, make each step smooth and quiet. Take each step down with intention. This counts for sidewalk curbs as well. When crossing the street, make that first step off the curb with focus. Our attention to the smallest things scales to the biggest things in life.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Evolution of a Barefoot Walker

You walk out into the warm evening breeze. The urban air reaches your nose, scents of frying food, smog, and asphalt dancing with your senses. You examine the concrete savannah that is home, and take a few steps along the pale, neatly sectioned squares of sidewalk. Rubber sandal meets ground and you slowly stride forward. You’ve been wearing shoes your whole life. It’s just an extension of your postmodern body.

Suddenly, you have a desire to know what it’s like to shed the secondary skins of your feet. You slip your feet out of your sandals, bend to pick them up, and proceed to walk. The gritty texture of cement sparks millions of tingling sensations through your foot to your brain. Your ankles satisfyingly stretch. The back of your head tickles with the burst of sensation washing over your mind. And with the first few steps you realize that there are a few things to figure out.

First of all, what to do about your heels? Suddenly there’s so much stimulation and impact. The way you walk with shoes is to stomp on them, because that big cushion lets you. Bare, your heels don’t want that stomping. Neither does your ringing skull or jarred knees.

Okay, so you start to go lighter on the heels. Then you start to feel your insoles uncomfortably contacting the ground, which makes your feet turn inwards. That in turn causes your knees to buckle slightly, which just doesn’t seem right. Now you consciously put effort into keeping the contact outwards toward the blades of your feet. Oh, that’s a lot of foot mechanics right there.

And now that your steps are starting to roll on the outward edges of your feet, the ball and toes get the ground in a specific order. The side of your pinky toe gets a very small, but significant, head start on the ground ahead of your big toe side. How interesting. Who would’ve thought that toes touch the ground at different times?

Are your feet pointing forward now? If they aren’t, if they’re splayed out to the sides, it gets difficult to walk efficiently barefoot. Because your feet want to roll the ground out to the edges, and angled outward your insoles keep rolling down instead. Eventually, you figure it’s easier to point the toes forward.

And when your big toes touch down, the biggest surprise of all. There’s an irresistible reflex to grip down on the floor with that end of your foot, give a good push, and propel yourself forward. You get so into this natural feeling of springiness, locomotion, the ground, that you go further than you planned. And suddenly your feet start to get sore. You realize you now have to go back the same distance you came. And that’s going to hurt.

You’ve come to realize your current physical limit of walking. But you’re smart, and you brought your sandals along just in case. It’s gonna take a couple of days to recover from the soreness, but there’s no turning back. Barefoot, you are something else.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Things to read:

We stomp a lot harder in shoes than we would barefoot.

The forces on our joints is altered and magnified with shoes.

The heel and toe designs of dress shoes and heels completely disfigured our feet and posture.

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily