Wellness/Health Blogging

Woman_waits_at_water_station_USAID_Kasia_McCormickLiz has been blogging on behalf of Esther Gokhale, founder of the Gokhale Method Institute, since April 2013.

Developing these  posts is a collaborative process. In most instances, Liz generates story ideas, discusses them with Esther during weekly Skype sessions, then sets about developing the posts, always writing in Esther’s voice. After researching content and identifying public domain images, Liz works up a first draft, then taps Esther for her subject matter expertise. Liz then fine-tunes the posts to reflect Esther’s input, and submits final drafts for insertion in the Gokhale Method’s Positive Stance e-newsletter, which boasts 90,000 followers.

While published versions of these posts can also be accessed via the Wellness/Health ‘Live’ Blogroll link, to the right, Liz features them here, because she is not the sole blogger for the Gokhale Method Institute; also, she prefers her original formatting.

One post, “Muscling Up,” was developed for a potential client seeking digital patient education.

 

Image Credit:
Woman waits at water station provided by USAID, 2012, Kasia McCormick, Wikimedia Commons

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Posture and power pitching

Why chimps don’t pitch in Major, Minor, or Little Leagues

Baseball season is well underway and the 2014 All Star Game will soon be upon us. As always, power and precision pitching will be key, which is one reason why not a single chimpanzee will find himself in either of the All Star Team rotations. Given that adult chimps are overall stronger than even the most powerful baseball players, how can it be that a chimp’s “fast” ball clocks in at only about 20 miles per hour, whereas today’s Major League pitchers routinely throw balls at 90-100 mph.

Major League pitchers routinely throw baseballs 100 miles per hour

Major League pitchers routinely throw baseballs 100 miles per hour

Why chimp strength doesn’t translate into throwing a fastball–and why relatively weak human beings are so much better at powerfully and accurately throwing–is a line of questioning anthropologist Neil T. Roach and a team of researchers set out to explore. Their findings–reported in Elastic energy storage in the shoulder and the evolution of high-speed throwing in Homo,” a study published last year in Nature, is what inspires today’s post. For a wonderfully engaging overview, take a look at this 2-minute video.

The ability to throw was necessary for our survival

Baseball pitching is akin to how our hominid ancestors threw weapons and, as noted in the video, because Homo erectus  was relatively weak and defenseless, the ability to throw with speed and accuracy was really key. Think about it: Without the clawed paws and fangs of saber-toothed cats and other fierce predators who shared our ancestors’ Pleistocene world, the ability to hurl objects with force and precision was necessary to their very survival.

If this Homo erectus couple in Daka, Africa felt compelled to throw the stones at their feet, they could

If this Homo erectus couple in Daka, Africa felt compelled to throw the stones at their feet, they could

 

The throwing ability of our closest cousin, the chimpanzee, is  limited by the chimp's high, forward-sloping shoulders, and arms that are less able to rotate and forward-extend

Stymied by high and forward-sloping shoulders and limited range of motion in shoulder and arm, our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, is anatomically ill-equipped to throw accurately and powerfully

While most humans today don't need to throw well in order to survive, this evolutionary advantage serves us well in many sports; note this Little Leaguer's externally rotated right shoulder

While most humans today don’t need to throw well in order to survive, this evolutionary advantage serves us well in many sports; note this Little Leaguer’s externally rotated right shoulder

Hurling weapons and running fast

John Shea, a paleoanthropologist at Stony Brook University who was not involved in the “elastic energy” study, but who conducts tool-use experiments in an attempt to reconstruct human behavior through the analysis of stone tools, believes that spears date back 400,000 years.

Externally rotated shoulders is one reason this aboriginal Kwat Kwat hunter in 1890s Australia was likely to spear his emu prey

Externally rotated shoulders is one reason this aboriginal Kwat Kwat hunter in 1890s Australia was likely to spear his emu prey

The ability to hurl a harpoon has helped Inuit hunters survive, although many now hunt with guns

The ability to hurl a harpoon has helped Inuit hunters survive, although many now hunt with guns

Shea also points out that Homo erectus was a good runner. “You put these things together and you have the primate equivalent of a fighter jet — something that can run for a long time, and has projectile weapons on board.” He also observes that while archaeologists have frequently found “hand-grenade-sized stones” along with skeletons from that era, new findings suggest that those stones may have been used by ancient humans as weapons to hunt and chase away other predators from their kill.

Throwing stones and balls may hold some primal attraction for 21st-century humans

Throwing stones and balls may hold some primal attraction for 21st-century humans

Adaptations that enable humans to pitch Major League ball

As you saw in the “Why chimps don’t play baseball” Nature video, above, Neil Roach and his team applied reflective markers to the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and waists of 20 college athletes, then used 3-D cameras to film the young men throwing baseballs at a target. Subsequent analysis of the footage showed that the sling-shot action of the shoulder, where criss-crossed ligaments and tendons store elastic energy as the athletes cock their throwing arms and prepare to pitch, is really crucial. Also really key is the subsequent release of this energy in the arm’s follow-through forward motion.

His shoulders well-positioned, his throwing arm fully extended, legendary pitcher Cy Young shows great range of motion as he prepares to release the ball

His shoulders well-positioned, his throwing arm fully extended, legendary pitcher Cy Young shows great range of motion as he prepares to release the ball

The researchers also highlighted anatomical adaptations that enable human beings to throw more powerfully than their chimp cousins:

  • Lateral organization of the scapula, or shoulder blades
  • Relatively long, mobile waists that permit greater rotation in the torso
  • Humeral torsion, a twist in the humerus, the bone of the upper arm

Of these adaptations, the organization of the shoulder blades is the most sensitive to posture shifts and Gokhale Method techniques. The front- and back-view composite illustrations below illustrate the differences between chimpanzee and human shoulders.

The human shoulder is on the left, the much higher and hunched-forward chimp shoulder is on the right

The human shoulder is on the left, the much higher and hunched-forward chimp shoulder is on the right

The flat-against-the-back human scapula is on the left; the upward-angling chimp scapula is on the right

The flat-against-the-back human scapula is on the left; the upward-angling chimp scapula is on the right

 

Poor posture undermines evolutionary advantages and predisposes us to injury

A lot of our postural distortions take us backward in time and undermine some of the anatomical and physiological advantages we have accrued over millennia. It’s also true that some of these advantages, if not supported by healthy usage, can expose us to injury. We can’t take these advantages for granted; human beings require cultural tending–healthy modeling and molding behaviors that are so fundamental to healthy posture. (Molding includes the material world–holding a child well, choosing a good office chair; modeling is visual.)

We need to support our evolutionary advantages with good posture, in part because cultural tending has degraded

We need to support our evolutionary advantages with good posture, in part because cultural tending has degraded

Bottom line: When we compromise our posture, we lose some of our evolutionary edge.

The shoulder roll

To zero in on just one example of “posture degradation” as it relates to the Gokhale Method, too many people today internally rotate their shoulders. This modern deterioration of posture results in the forward hunching that gives rise to the additional handicaps of contracted pectoral muscles and stiffness in the muscles between the ribs. Worst of all, internal rotation reduces healthy circulation through our arms, as well as our capacity to breathe!

As modeled in the video, the shoulder roll helps position shoulders back and down. This helps position the scapula flat against the back.

 

In humans, the shoulder blades lie flat against the back, rather than angling up, like a chimp's

In humans, the shoulder blades lie flat against the back, rather than angling up, like a chimp’s

 

Image and Video Credits:
Screen grab of Google image search for ‘MLB pitchers’; Homo erectus couple, Wikipedia;  Baby chimp in six consecutive stages of general excitement, Wikimedia Commons; Little League pitcher, Winesburg, Ohio, Wikimedia Commons, Kwat Kwat hunting emu from Tommy McCrae’s ‘Sketchbook of Aboriginal Activities,’ Wikimedia Commons; Inuit hunter, Wikipedia; Girl throwing stone, Wikimedia commons; Cy Young pitching, Wikipedia; screen grabs of human versus chimp shoulders and scapula, Neil Roach study; Gokhale Moment Shoulder Roll video, Gokhale Method Institute; Human scapula, Wikipedia

“Knee bone con-nect-ed to the…”?

Can you sing “Dem Dry Bones“? If you don’t know the spiritual by name, I bet you can intone at least some of the lyrics:

…the foot bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone, the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone…

Josephine Baker dances the Charleston

Josephine Baker dances the Charleston

Beyond the direct structural connection between the “knee bone,” or patella, and the “thigh bone,” or femur, is another connection that will be of particular interest to athletes and other individuals afflicted with or susceptible to patellar femoral pain syndrome (PFPS), a disorder often referred to as “runner’s knee.” And this is the connection between the knee and the gluteus medius, the muscles situated above and toward the outer sides of the much larger gluteus maximus muscles.

The knee bone is 'connected' to the gluteus medius

The knee bone is ‘connected’ to the gluteus medius

If you read my Samba Your Way to Beautiful Glutes post or joined my Samba webinar in October, you’ll know how to locate these paired muscles, and you’ll appreciate at least some of what they do.

How to locate the gluteus medius

How to locate the gluteus medius

Gluteus medius muscles, pelvic anteversion, and knee health

According to modern conventional wisdom, it’s considered normal for young children to have inward-turning knees, which are expected to straighten out by about age 7. What I’ve observed in village Africa and other nonindustrial cultures is that because children are carried on their caregivers’ hips and backs, children’s legs are externally rotated from the very youngest ages.

This Burkina baby was patterned to externally rotate his legs as he was carried on his mother's back

This Burkina baby was patterned to externally rotate his legs as he was carried on his mother’s back

In contrast, in the US and other modern industrial cultures, the  internal rotation of the legs is often maintained into adulthood.

Internally rotated legs are common in modern industrial cultures, even in adulthood

Internally rotated legs are common in modern industrial cultures, even in adulthood

Because the gluteus medius muscles are external leg rotators, strengthening these muscles can counter internal leg rotation, helping  the kneecaps to align and track better. (To check the tracking of your patella, sit down, place your palm over one of your knees, and then flex your leg to feel and follow the triangular kneecap glide up and down along the end of your femur.)

Strong gluteus medius muscles are important because people whose “glute mēds” are underdeveloped are at increased risk of knee and other lower-limb injuries, including patellafemoral pain syndrome. Preventing PFPS, or managing its painful symptoms if the problem has already occurred, are just a couple of reasons why–when you stand, walk, and run–you want to use your glute meds and externally rotate your legs. 

In addition to promoting knee health, external leg rotation facilitates an anteverted pelvic position and a well-stacked spine

In addition to promoting knee health, external leg rotation facilitates an anteverted pelvic position and a well-stacked spine

Gluteal muscle activity and patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)

If you’ve ever felt a dull, aching pain under or around your kneecap where it connects with the lower end of your femur, you may have experienced patellar femoral pain, especially if the pain occurred when you were sitting for a long stretch of time with your knees bent, or you were kneeling, squatting, or walking up or down stairs.

Votive_relief_Asklepios

Knee pain is nothing new; this Greek votive relief for the cure of an injured knee dates back to 100-200 AD

And, if you have been diagnosed with PFPS, you’re not alone. Gluteal Muscle Activity and Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome–A Systematic Review, which was published earlier this year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, confirms the connection between the knee and the gluteus medius. By synthesizing electromyography (EMG) measurements of the gluteus medius muscles during a range of functional tasks as reported in 10 case-controlled studies, all of which evaluated EMG activity of the gluteus medius, the authors strove to elucidate the relationship between gluteal muscle activity and PFPS. Among their observations and conclusions:

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome is one of the most common presentations to sports medicine practitioners; of 2500 presentations to sports medicine clinics 25% of all injuries were PFPS
  • Individuals with PFPS exhibit reduced gluteus medius and gluteus maximus muscle strength
  • Growing evidence supports the efficacy of gluteal muscle strengthening for PFPS and gluteal-muscle strengthening programs have been associated with positive clinical outcomes
In a nutshell, if you have good strength in your gluteus medius muscles, your knees will be in better shape.

In a nutshell, if you have good strength in your gluteus medius muscles, your knees will be in better shape.

Walking is connected to healthy knees

Think about it: Walking is something most of us do a lot, although according to the 2010 study Pedometer-Measured Physical Activity and Health Behaviors in US Adultsthe 5,117 steps Americans typically take each day are not enough–and in fact represent thousands fewer steps than those taken by our counterparts in Australia (9,695 steps), Switzerland (9,650 steps), and Japan (7,168 steps). But even if  we step just 5,000 times a day, if we engage our gluteus medius muscles with each step, that’s still a lot of repetitions to help “re-architecture” our legs and minimize the risk of PFPS. 

The pelvis serves as our postural foundation, and one of the keystones for healthy postures is to allow the pelvis to be anteverted. When your pelvis is anteverted and your “behind is out behind you,” then the whole pack of muscles that includes the hamstrings, the gluteus maximus, and the gluteus medias can work to advantage, strengthening themselves, inducing circulation in the appropriate places, and bearing stress.

Ancient coin features Apollo (with anteverted pelvis!)

Ancient coin from Caulonia features Apollo with anteverted (ie, tipped forward) pelvis

Beyond this, the relationship between external leg rotation, pelvic anteversion, and the action of the gluteus medius is cyclic. In order for the gluteus medius to be in a position of mechanical advantage, some degree of pelvic anteversion is required. And, if we are to believe the observations summarized in the British Journal of Sports Medicine review, strong gluteus medius action relates to a diminished risk of PFPS.

Eadweard Muybridge's 'human male walking' demonstrates strong gluteal action in the rear leg

Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘human male walking’ demonstrates strong gluteal action in the rear leg

 

Muybridge_Strong_Gluteus_Medius_Action

The interconnectedness between external leg rotation, pelvic anteversion, and strong gluteus medius action is beautifully illustrated in the detail of Muybridge’s “animal locomotion” photo and “film” above.

“Dem Dry Bones”

Bottom line, the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone, but it’s also connected to the gluteus medius, and this is a fairly direct connection because these paired muscles externally rotate the legs.

Finally–not just because the lyrics are right on point with this lesson, but because he plays and sings so artfully and with such a great sense of fun–I hope you’ll listen to Fats Waller’s wonderful take on “Dem Dry Bones.”

 

Image Credits:
Josephine Baker Dances the Charleston, Wikimedia Commons
The Bath, Charles Degas, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
How to Locate the Gluteus Medius, Esther Gokhale
Burkina Baby, Esther Gokhale
X-ray of “Knock Knee,” Biomed Central, Wikipedia
The Spinal Cord, Bruce Blaus, Wikimedia Commons
Greek Votive Relief Knee Injury, Marie-Lan Nguyen, Blacas Collection, Wikimedia Commons
Female Jogger, Mike Baird, Creative Commons
Human Male Walking (animation), Eadweard Muybridge, Wikimedia Commons
Animal Locomotion, Eadward Muybridge, Wikimedia Commons
Ancient Coin from Caulonia: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc, Wikimedia Commons

On a Columnar Self—

To my eye, the two women featured just below–the vibrant young mother I photographed in Burkina Faso and the powerhouse poet Emily Dickinson in Amherst, Massachusetts–have qualities in common. Do you see what I see?

Burkino Faso woman hangs clothes out to dry at communal well

Burkino Faso woman hangs clothes out to dry at communal well

American poet Emily Dickinson sits with posies in a parlor

American poet Emily Dickinson sits with posies in a parlor

Although separated by oceans and ancestors and more than a century of time, both young women model exquisite posture that would serve anyone well, whether she is writing poetry in the seclusion of a candle-lit bedroom in New England, or washing and hanging clothes out to dry in sun-drenched West Africa.

Posture, poetry, power

Because I see poetry in healthy posture and find inspiration in the powerful poems of Emily Dickinson, I will connect some disparate dots and weigh in on the fundamental strengths of the poet’s posture, as captured in the 1847 daguerreotype of her at about age 16,  just above.

Also, because some believe the woman in the patterned dress, below left, to be the poet at age 28 or 29, I will comment on her very similar posture, as well.

As an aside, because it makes a compelling case that the woman seated above left could be the reclusive poet, please take a look at this silent 30-second video created with advanced Photoshop layering techniques.

Beyond the facial similarities, another characteristic the two figures share is expansive and powerful posture. Postural similarities don’t hold up as an argument in favor of identifying the poet in her late twenties, however, simply because pretty much everyone sat well at that time.

Healthy posture, a 19th-century norm

Let’s consider postural elements captured in both portraits. 
Expansive, powerful posture is characteristic of both (cropped) portraits

Expansive, powerful posture is characteristic of both (cropped) portraits

From head to wrist, here’s what particularly strikes me:
  • Emily’s chin angles down naturally and her neck is elongated. One indicator of this is that the tragus, the little bump in the middle of the external ear, is positioned above the tip of her nose. This has nothing to do with the length of Emily’s nose, it’s all about the angle of her head influencing the architecture of her neck.
  • Neck lengthening is beneficial because it decompresses spinal disks and nerves and resets the baseline length of long back muscles, which reduces muscle pain.
Healthy orientation of the head and an elongated neck characterizes the posture of all of the women, above

Healthy orientation of the head and an elongated neck characterizes the posture of all of the women, above

  • Seated with siblings, below left, Emily at age 8 or 9 models the same healthy posture as  shown in the daguerreotype(s).
The Dickinson children painted by O. A. Bullard circa 1840; Emily is on the left

The Dickinson children painted by O. A. Bullard circa 1840; Emily is on the left

  • In the daguerreotype(s) and the oil portrait, there’s a lot of separation between Emily’s shoulders and her ears. Her shoulders are relaxed and downward-sloping, which indicates that her rotator cuff muscles are not clenched and pulling her shoulders close into her body.
The distance between Emily's ears and shoulders is great; her shoulders are relaxed

The distance between Emily’s ears and shoulders is great; her shoulders are relaxed

  • Instead, her arms hang wide, as indicated by the significant gap between her body and her arms. And, though she holds flowers in front of her, there isn’t unnecessary strain anywhere in her body.
  • Emily’s spine is wonderfully elongated, especially in the 1847 daguerreotype, and her body is both upright and relaxed. Because her shoulders remain back, her chest is open and available for optimal breathing.
  • I can’t see Emily’s “behind,” but the physics of such “adequate, erect -” posture dictate what I call “the building-block stack,” and I have to deduce that her behind is in fact behind her and her pelvis well-settled.
Tai-Chi-fashion, Emily maintains her wrists intact

Tai-Chi-fashion, Emily maintains her wrists intact

  • Finally, in both daguerreotypes, the line of the wrist is not broken and the hands are relaxed.

On a Columnar Self— and I Choose, just a Crown–

Because no post featuring Emily Dickinson would be complete without including some of her poetry, I’ll share two favorites.

“On a Columnar Self-” particularly resonates, because I recognize and identify with the subject. The poem reminds me of the time I first sat comfortably. The feeling was very much as if a window had just been opened. I also had the strong awareness that everything I needed was right there, and everything else life brought would be a bonus. I had no further needs because I felt so much delight and self-sufficiency. And that’s some of what Emily describes so compellingly in this poem:

On a Columnar Self—
How ample to rely
In Tumult—or Extremity—
How good the Certainty

That Lever cannot pry—
And Wedge cannot divide
Conviction—That Granitic Base—
Though none be on our side—

Suffice Us—for a Crowd—
Ourself—and Rectitude—
And that Assembly—not far off
From furthest Spirit—God—

 

Caryatid of Erechteion, a literal example of "a Columnar Self"

Caryatid of Erechteion, a literal example of “a Columnar Self”

All the women shown above are regal and self-possessed. They set the bar for us to rise up to our best selves, and, in so doing, call up this second favorite Dickinson poem:

I’m ceded—I’ve stopped being Theirs—
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I’ve finished threading—too—

Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace—
Unto supremest name—
Called to my Full—The Crescent dropped—
Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.

My second Rank—too small the first—
Crowned—Crowing—on my Father’s breast—
A half unconscious Queen—
But this time—Adequate—Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown—

Image Credits:
Burkina Faso woman at communal well, Esther Gokhale
1847 daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, William C. North, original held at Amherst College, Wikimedia Commons
Unverified daguerreotype ca 1859 that might show Emily Dickinson with Kate Scott Turner, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Wikimedia Commons
Head orientation and elongated neck illustration, Gokhale Method
A New Emily Dickinson Emerges, video by North 100, uploaded from YouTube
The Dickinson Children ca. 1840, O. A. Bullard, From the Dickinson Room at Houghton Library, Harvard, Wikimedia
Photo of postcard of Caryatid of the Erechtheion, Athens, Benaki Museum Photographic Archives, 1932-1939