Clapham Osteopathy and Functional Movement

Follow Your Nose

Breath book coverIf you’ve visited us for treatment or training or even just followed our newsletter/blog with any regularity, you’ll know that proper breathing is a huge focus for us here at Backs Etc. Quite simply, breathing retraining is a game-changer. So we were very excited when we heard about James Nestor’s new book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. Being fans of his previous book Deep which centred around freediving, a book by Nestor focusing directly on the art of the breath sounded right up our alley. And, with one exception, it didn’t disappoint. Frustratingly, there was no mention of the role of breath in creating Intra-Abdominal Pressure, the foundation of core stability. But even with this omission, there is a wealth of great information, so definitely worth a read.

But this post isn’t just a book recommendation. Today we’d like to focus on one aspect of proper breathing technique that is discussed at great length in the book: nasal breathing.

If you’ve ever watched a baby breathing, you may have noticed that, barring any developmental issues or a cold, they will always be breathing in and out through their nose. This is instinctive and it is the way we are designed to breathe. Yet, so many of us seem to have lost this over the years, and the effects can actually be quite serious. Perhaps this is why the term “mouth breather” can be used as a pejorative, just as Mike does in Stranger Things.

Breath starts out with a bang. The first chapter is entitled The Worst Breathers in the Animal Kingdom, and you can probably guess who is being referred to. Spoiler alert: It’s us! If a vet or farmer come across an animal that is mouth breathing (except for a few that pant to reduce heat), that is a pretty good indication that the animal is sick, but humans mouth-breathe for years with no idea that something is wrong.

After learning about humanity’s poor breathing epidemic, Nestor and fellow pulmonaut (as those who have stumbled on the power of breathing are referred to) Anders Olsson embark on an experiment casting themselves as guinea pigs. For 10 days, the two men were forced to breathe solely through their mouths, even whilst eating, exercising and sleeping with earplugs wedged firmly in their noses. Phase 2 of the experiment had them repeat the exact same activities, but with nasal breathing as well as some specific breathing exercises. At the beginning, middle and end of the experiment, their blood gasses, inflammatory markers, hormone levels, sleep, pulmonary function, and more were thoroughly tested, and of course, they also documented how they felt throughout.

The results were pretty spectacular. With his nostrils blocked, Nestor’s snoring and sleep apnea events increased dramatically, his blood pressure spiked at an average of 13 points higher than usual, and indeed all of the markers tested indicated increased dysfunction, some quite seriously so, and these effects started almost immediately on around day 2 of the experiment. Anecdotally, though no less significant, he and Olsson felt simply awful, with Nestor describing the experience as being “trapped in some sad sitcom in which nobody laughs, a Groundhog Day of perpetual and unending misery”. Conversely, the 2nd phase of the experiment where the two men breathed exclusively through their noses, produced dramatic improvements in every marker tested, and consequently, they slept far better and felt energetic and mentally sharp.

So, why is nasal breathing so much better than mouth breathing, you may ask. The answers to this are so powerful and numerous that they could probably have their own book, but since you’ve stuck with us this long, we’ll give you a taste:

Nasal breathing produces nitric oxide. This is hugely important as this molecule plays an essential role in increasing circulation and delivering oxygen into cells. Immune function, weight, circulation, mood, and sexual function can all be heavily influenced by the amount of nitric oxide in the body. In fact, Viagra works by releasing nitric oxide into the bloodstream which opens the capillaries in the genitals and elsewhere. The effect of nitric oxide on the immune system is especially crucial during the pandemic we are currently experiencing, and some people theorise that proper breathing can make the difference between being mildly symptomatic and getting very sick if you are exposed to SARS COV-2. If you mouth-breathe you are completely missing out on the benefits of nitric oxide.

Nasal breathing filters the air. The nose is lined with cilia, tiny hairs that can trap potentially harmful particles which would otherwise enter the body. These cilia also help regulate the temperature of the air before so protecting the lungs, helping improve proper lung function. They also moisturise the air, which helps to reduce the risk of respiratory conditions. If you wake in the morning with a dry mouth that indicates that you have probably been mouth breathing during the night and so would benefit from taping your mouth at night as described in the book.

Nasal breathing can calm the mind. By stimulating parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nerve receptors, nasal breathing can reduce anxiety and improve our mood. It’s interesting to note that each nostril works independently. The right nostril stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and the left activates the parasympathetic nervous system. If there is an imbalance, alternate nostril breathing, such as that practised in certain yoga techniques, can be helpful.

Nasal breathing can improve facial structure. Nasal breathing allows for your tongue to rest on the roof of your mouth resulting in the proper development of the jaw, sinuses and teeth.  This is particularly critical in children for proper facial development. The tongue-up position also acts as an anterior support for the head, without which there is an increased likelihood of neck pain, headaches and a forward head posture.

Mouth breathing is dysfunctional. Amongst other issues, mouth breathing can increase blood pressure, create sleep disorders (including snoring and sleep apnea), and cause dental health issues and facial deformities. It also allows unfiltered, dry air to be delivered to our lungs increasing the risk and severity of respiratory infections.

Mouth breathing can make us dumber. A Japanese study showed that rats who were forced to mouth-breathe developed fewer brain cells and took twice as long to make their way through a maze than those who nose-breathed. Studies on humans also showed mouth breathing to potentially increase the risk of ADHD.

The scientific evidence is overwhelmingly clear that breathing through the nose can greatly affect our health and wellbeing. We should be able to nose-breathe during the day and night and even during exercise, yet so many of us seem to have lost the ability to do so. The good news is that pretty much everybody can relearn to breathe the way we were born to. Even if your nose often feels blocked, you can still learn to breathe correctly.  Breathing retraining plays a big role in the treatment and training we provide at Backs Etc. and can be done in-person or remotely. For a brief primer, check out our video here, and If you are interested in working with us directly to learn to breathe properly, please follow your nose and get in touch.

Coronavirus and your immune system

coronavirus and masked womanFour weeks into lockdown and we are well into our new routine here in Clapham: daily meditation and exercise followed by video calls with patients, a daily walk, and more time for study, reading etc.  We are also preparing for the possibility that we will contract COVID-19 at some time over the next year. We are approaching this as though we were training for a race or other athletic endeavour. We are not hoping to get it. However, with the reality of a vaccine being at least 18 months away, it seems unlikely and undesirable, considering the effects on the population’s mental, financial health that we can all stay on strict lockdown until then.  We, therefore, want to spend this time preparing our immune systems to be in the best possible shape to mount an effective response to the virus.

Although the knowledge of this pathogen is evolving from day to day, we know that there is a vast difference in the effect it has, with most people getting mild symptoms easily treated at home, but a few suffering very badly and needing intensive medical support. Why is there this difference? The answer is multifactorial and may relate to the amount of the pathogen they were exposed to i.e. viral load, which may explain the number of medical staff treating COVID-19 patients without adequate PPE that have succumbed. But the other factor is the response of the infected person’s immune system, which has a genetic component but is also related to a person’s current state of health and metabolic function.  Almost everyone who is getting seriously ill is suffering from an underlying condition or conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or obesity. It is known that all of these have a lifestyle component and are hitting people at increasingly early ages.  Therefore, there is much we can do whilst in lockdown to improve our health and immune systems.

In short, the things that you can do to improve your immune system response are also things that will improve your metabolic health and resilience. So here are some ideas split into three groups: nutrition, exercise, and psychological. Now, none of us is perfect, and doing all these things all the time may be too much, so we believe in the 80:20 rule, especially in lockdown: try and do as much as you can (80%), but don’t beat yourself up too much when you trip up (20%).

Nutrition – immune health starts in the gut!

  1. If you are overweight or obese, this is the time to try and tackle this problem as it really does increase your risk of a poor outcome with COVID-19. This is often related to insulin resistance.  If you want help with diet or exercise, Jack has a wealth of experience.

  2. Even if you are of normal weight you need to think about your diet and try to eat as healthily as possible.  Much of the immune system is in the gut lining, so if you are constantly bombarding this with too much sugar, alcohol and processed food, this puts the system on alert, starting the chronic inflammation which is the underlying factor in most lifestyle diseases.  So do try to eat real and nutrient-dense food to get sufficient micronutrients for the normal physiological function of your body.  We focus on unprocessed meat (including organ meats) and fish, with plenty of vegetables and a moderate amount of fruit and fermented dairy.

  3. There is also some evidence that industrial vegetable oils drive inflammation, so another reason to avoid processed foods which are full of these. Cook with butter, olive oil, coconut oil or animal fat.

  4. Many of us now have more time under lockdown to get into the habit of cooking meals from scratch. If you do want a comforting sugary treat, make it yourself from real ingredients.

  5. It is also important to support your microbiome, so we make sure to eat fermented foods such as kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut every day

  6. We have increased our use of supplements as an insurance policy, but supplementation is not a substitute for a nutrient-rich diet. We are currently using:

    1. Vitamin D

    2. Vitamin C

    3. Fermented cod liver oil

    4. Astragalus

    5. Turmeric

    6. Magnesium

    7. Zinc

  7. We also use intermittent fasting as this can boost immunity and enhance longevity via autophagy. We generally skip breakfast, resulting in a 12-16 hour intermittent fast, and since lockdown have added a weekly dinnertime to dinnertime (24 hour) fast.

  8. Don’t drink too much. Alcohol is not great for the immune system. Sometimes the reduction in stress from a glass of wine is more important, but don’t overdo it.

  9. Stop smoking – this shouldn’t need any explanation

Exercise 

Exercise has an effect on the immune system but it is a Goldilocks situation. Rather than HIIT or long runs, both of which can contribute to an inflammatory state that can suppress the immune system, focus on lower-intensity activities such as walking, mobility, breathwork, and bodyweight training.

Check out our new video where Jack puts Sue through a bodyweight training session, offering some ideas on how to improve your fitness without much space or proper gym equipment. Also don’t forget that Jack can help design you your own workout by video, or if pain is stopping you from exercising, both Sue and Joel are offering video calls to help you.

Psychological

Our mental state literally affects our physiology, and increased stress levels suppress our immune system, so we do need to try and keep fear under control at this difficult time:

  1. Breathing and or mindfulness. Check out the breathing video we featured in the last newsletter.  Diaphragmatic breathing can stimulate the spleen, the home of your immune cells.  It sits under the lower ribs on your left side so encouraging the movement here may improve its function.

  2. Limit consumption of news and social media. We do need to stay abreast of world developments, but ration it to maybe once a day, and try not to focus on the things that you can’t do anything about.  That fear and stress amp up your cortisol levels and suppress your immune system.

  3. Watch some comedy or put on some music and dance instead.

  4. If you are not in a vulnerable group, try not to obsess about contracting COVID-19, but do be concerned about not passing it on.

  5. Try some gratitude, even though the world is in a difficult situation, trying to focus on a few small good things can be really helpful for our state of mind, as without effort we do tend to focus on the negative.

  6. The Greek philosophy of stoicism, which advocates facing challenges with grace, humour and perspective may be of help.

  7. Maintain virtual contact with friends and family. We’ve been arranging a few ‘quarantini’ dates (remember the 80:20 rule for drinks) with friends near and far.

  8. Cold showers can give your immune system a boost, as well as wake you up!

  9. Sufficient sleep is a huge factor in immune function.  Some people find that lockdown is giving them the chance to sleep more as they are no longer ruled by the tyranny of the alarm and the commute, but for others, anxiety levels may be increased and make sleep harder.  It’s important to follow good sleep hygiene rules, and try to avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, and if you still need a little assistance try herbal remedies such as valerian, reishi mushrooms, magnesium or 5-HTP rather than sleeping pills, which don’t provide true restorative sleep and may leave you feeling knocked out the next day.

mona lisa with a mask

On Movement

“As kids, we move a lot without thinking, but as grown-ups, we think too much without moving.”

This quote comes Erwan Le Corre the founder of MovNat.  We all know that kids move: They play, they run, they jump, they crawl, they spin, they climb. They literally cannot stop moving until we manage to grind it out of them. This is a disaster.

Meanwhile, adults do the opposite. We sit around all the time. We go to the office and plunk down on our butts. We barely find the time to go to a gym in order to walk on a glorified hamster wheel and lift some heavy pieces of metal once or twice.

But we adults also simply spend too much time in our heads thinking and planning and never acting. And in doing so—in thinking without acting—we’re actually less cerebral. The person who thinks and acts is more in tune with their brain than the person who thinks and over-thinks and ruminates and over-ruminates.

Ours is a neuromuscular system. Brain and body are one. You can’t separate them. Can’t do it physically, can’t do it metaphorically. They are one.

Because “moving” isn’t just about exercise. It’s also essential for cognitive function and mood.  In evolutionary terms, the initial function of the brain was to allow creatures to move – thinking was the icing on the cake.  There is a type of sea squirt that, in adolescent form, pulses through the ocean looking for the perfect rock to settle on for the rest of its life.  Once found, it then autodigests its brain as it is no longer necessary, which seems to say something about the hazards of being a couch potato.

We all need to move often and well so that these patterns become ingrained in our nervous system, and that we do them intuitively. We should go for long walks as a habit. We should take the stairs rather than the elevator, and stand, rather than sit, on the tube not as a conscious decision but as an instinct. It is important to make an effort to build this structure into our society, especially as labour-saving devices are decreasing the absolute need to incorporate movement into our lives.  Therefore, it needs to be a conscious choice.

Exercise aside, there are loads of ways of incorporating more movement into our daily lives. Here are just a few:

  • Standing on one foot whilst brushing teeth. Also, try brushing with your non-dominant hand.
  • Stand on one leg to put on your socks.
  • Squat or half-kneel whilst doing things. Even sitting on the floor is better than folding ourselves into a chair, as we will naturally shift around a lot into different positions.
  • Practice different ways of standing up from lying down or seated.
  • Pick up things off the floor with your toes.
  • Do calf raises when washing dishes or other chores.
  • Get off the bus or train one stop early and walk the rest of the way.
  • Take the stairs or at least walk up the escalator.
  • If you arrive early to an appointment, walk around the block instead of sitting down and waiting.

Scottish Doctors Are Now Issuing Prescriptions to Go Hiking

person hikingBeing active out in nature can have positive benefits for both physical and mental health. And now some doctors in the Shetlands have begun issuing “nature prescriptions” as part of an initiative to address health issues without drugs. We love hiking, so this is one prescription we’d eagerly look forward to having filled and refilled!

 

Read the full article, Scottish Doctors Are Now Issuing Prescriptions to Go Hiking.

Marvelous Madagascar

We’re going to present something a little different for this post, highlighting something near and dear to us: travel. Last month we spent 2 ½ weeks in Madagascar, a well-deserved break, especially for Sue who has been working very hard of late!

For those of you who are unaware, Madagascar is a huge island, roughly the size of France, so there was no way we were going to see all of it in the amount of time we had. We were keen to do a variety of activities, though, including wildlife spotting, hiking, and chilling at the beach. Fortunately, Madagascar has plenty of options for all of these. With a couple of exceptions, we followed the classic RN7 route from the capital Antananarivo in the central plateau down to the southwestern coast. What really surprised us was the extreme variety of landscape in just this small section of the country. We took in lush rainforest, lunar landscapes, pine forests, and white sand beaches. Madagascar really does have something for everyone.

Of course, the big something, probably what the country is most famous for, is the lemur. Madagascar is the only country in the world where you can find lemurs in the wild, over 100 different species of them, in fact. We managed to see only about 10 of these species, but certainly didn’t feel hard done by, as the ones we did spot were plentiful, beautiful and fascinating. Some of the coolest lemurs we encountered were the Indris, or Indri Indri, as they are known locally. They brought the concept of the dawn chorus to a new level, with their haunting cries  – described as a cross between a whale and a car alarm – being heard for miles. (Check out a video here) Fortunately, due to the time difference, we were getting up early anyway! Some of the other species we spotted were black and white ruffed lemur, mouse lemur, sifaka, bamboo lemur, and of course the ringtailed lemur. Some of these were shy and hung out high in the trees, whilst others such as the ringtails were quite happy to walk right up to us, even with babies clinging to their backs.

chameleon

 

Lemurs are not the only fauna that Madagascar is famous for. The country is also home to about half the world’s 150 or so species of chameleons. In our humble opinion, these are the coolest lizards out there, with their bulging eyes, zygodactyl (good word, eh?) feet, and beautiful colours. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the chameleon, however, is its tongue. On average, a chameleon’s tongue is roughly twice the length of its body. In humans, that would be a tongue about 10 to 12 feet long! And it’s not just big. A chameleon’s tongue can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a hundredth of a second! Pretty impressive stuff. (See it in action here)

On the subject of guides, everywhere we went we seemed to wind up with more of these than anticipated. In addition to a driver and guide taking us around the country, every national park we visited supplied a local guide and sometimes an animal spotter or two as well. We came to realise that this is the Malagasy attempt to spread the wealth around. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and is largely a tip-based economy, so the more helpful bodies foisted upon tourists, the more money potentially makes it into the local economy. At first, we were a little put off by the number of people who seemed to be ‘assigned’ to us at every stop (as we are typically avidly independent travelers), but we soon realised the deal and settled into the routine. It just meant calculating a lot more tips. That said, salaries there are so low in Madagascar that even a Euro or two is a huge amount of money for many of the people, so ultimately it was still relatively inexpensive.We always try to include some hiking in our holidays, and this was no exception. We spent several days in Andringitra National Park, well-known for its spectacular mountainous scenery. There, we summited Pic Boby, the country’s 2nd highest (and highest-climbable) mountain. One of the highlights was drinking ‘rum arrange’ (the local hooch infused with various fruits or other aromatics, in this case, ginger) whilst soaking in the singing and dancing performances of our surprisingly-large posse of cooks, porters, and guides.

feetMoney is so scarce that many of the poorer people can’t even afford shoes. Being somewhat barefoot-obsessed, we found ourselves marveling at the ease with which these shoeless people went around their daily business. In particular, the runners of the two-wheeled rickshaws known as pousse-pousse, found in many Malagasy cities. We quickly noticed that none of the pousse-pousse pullers wore shoes. Even pounding up and down paved city streets all day long, the feet of these guys looked really healthy. Not a bunion to be seen! This should be a lesson to all of us. Whilst we don’t necessarily advocate going barefoot around the streets of London, getting out of our ‘foot coffins’ as much as possible could potentially do us a world of good.

Despite a lack of money, the Malagasy people seem to place a high emphasis on good food. Even though the typical local cuisine is reasonably basic – meat or fish and rice – it is generally well-prepared and tasty. Add to the mix the fact that the country was once a French colony, and you have a recipe (pun intended) for yet another great feature of the country: yummy food! Little did we know before arriving in Madagascar that French staples such as steak au poivre, crepes, foie gras, and duck confit would be gracing our plates so frequently. We ate plenty of the local dishes as well, our favourite being a stew of eel and pork served with (of course) lots of rice. The local wine we sampled was nothing to write home about, but the beer was cheap and tasty!

As is the case in so many developing economies, the poverty of Madagascar can be heartbreaking. At times it took great effort not to dole out coins, pens or trinkets to the frequent child beggars, some of whom were barely old enough to walk, yet still had their hands out for bonbons or cadeaux. But we believe a better way is to donate to charities that can help the people in a more sustainable manner.  Upon returning to London, we identified PSI as a reputable and efficiently-run charity whose stated  goal is to ‘make it easier for people in the developing world to lead healthier lives and plan the families they desire.’ Please feel free to join us in donating here. Then do yourself a favour and get yourself to Madagascar. You won’t regret it!
The Backs Etc Team

Jack and Sue

 

Why It’s Good To Be A Slacker

‘Eat a balanced diet’. ‘Ensure a good work-life balance’. Balance your budget’. Notice a trend here? Balance seems to be considered a pretty important thing. Indeed it is, and perhaps nowhere as important as its role within our bodies. Without it, many of our basic motor functions get pretty damn difficult. Just ask anyone who’s suffered from Labyrinthitis, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or Ménière’s Disease.

But even without suffering from one of those disorders, many of us struggle with poor balance. Our ability to balance is a combination of sight, vestibular (ear canals) and proprioception (our body’s ability to know where it is in space, even with our eyes closed). As we get older, our proprioceptive and vestibular systems decline, along with reflexes and coordination, resulting in diminished balance control. This is why so many elderly people fall down and break their hips or other bones. And that is one slippery slope we’d like to avoid!

So how to do that? Train your balance and coordination of course. The trusty old phrase ‘use it or lose it!’ applies here, I’m afraid. But the good news is that there are far more fun ways to train your balance than just standing on one foot. The brilliant folks at GMB recommend a programme consisting of jump spins, walking around with eyes closed (but shins beware!), as well as more advanced hand balancing techniques.

Here at Backs Etc., our training programmes often contain floor-based exercises that require a degree of balance control, as well as balance-challenging resistance exercises like single leg deadlifts and Bulgarian split squats. But one great tool that we’ve only recently started using is the slackline.

Jack on a slackline

Similar to a tightrope, the slackline is stretched between two trees or other anchor points with the aim being to balance and walk along it. Unlike a tightrope, though, the slackline is a flat webbing, usually around 2 inches wide, making it easier to learn than a traditional tightrope. As the name implies, the slackline is not tensioned as tight as a tightrope. Because of this, the line moves up and down and side to side as you walk on it. The real skill then is to anticipate these slight movements of the line and move your body to compensate for them, improving your balance and core strength. Anybody first attempting to balance on a slackline will experience a violent shuddering back and forth of the line. This is due to the brain trying frantically to overcorrect the sideways motion of the line. This is similar to the way a driver may oversteer the opposite direction when skidding, causing a car to spin out of control. Fortunately, slacklining is much safer than driving!

So, besides improving our motor control and balance, what are some of the other benefits of slacklining?

It’s a full body workout. I mentioned core strength earlier, but slacklining requires the complete use of your entire body, engaging all your muscles and focus to prevent you from falling off the line.

It can boost memory function. A 2011 study in the scientific journal Hippocampus said, “slacklining led to an increase in the structural and functional plasticity of the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for navigation and memory”.

It can improve your posture, help you jump higher, and improve lower-limb rehabilitation.

It’s inexpensive. You can buy a good quality slackline for £30-£40.

It’s portable. Take it to the park and stretch it between two trees.

It’s fun! (need I say more?)

It’s worth noting that slacklining is pretty challenging. I’ve been using ours for about a month or so and I’m still pretty bad. But I notice little improvements regularly, and that feels nice. It’s also encouraging knowing that every time I step on it, I’m making positive changes for my body and mind. Being a slacker has never felt so good!

 

Channelling Our Original Strength

OS logoI recently spent a weekend in the Midlands on the floor rocking, rolling and crawling. No, I wasn’t just suffering from too many pints of lager. Rather I was participating in two workshops, Pressing Reset and Becoming Bulletproof run by the folks at Original Strength. OS describe themselves as ‘a human movement education company teaching health and fitness professionals around the world to Press RESET.  By teaching how to help people move the way we were designed to move, we can help them restore reflexive strength and stability.  When we have our reflexive strength, we have a solid foundation enabling us to live life better.’ What this entails is going back to how we originally developed our strength and motor control as babies and young children, teaching our adult minds and bodies how to reset poor motor patterns and allow us to perform physically (and mentally) as we should be able to.

Tim Anderson, one of the founders of OS, is someone whose videos I have watched on YouTube for a couple of years now, so I was pleased that he was running the course. He is a warm, passionate instructor with a gentle southern drawl, and made the weekend extremely enjoyable and informative. He began by introducing the concept of reflexive strength, one of the key components of the system. He describes this as the body’s ability to anticipate and respond to movement before and as it happens and stability and mobility in harmony with one another.

The focus of the first day’s workshop is what Tim refers to as ‘pressing reset’, essentially engaging the original operating system preprogrammed inside every individual’s nervous system. Engaging this can be likened to pressing the reset button on a video game, rebooting (or refreshing) the central nervous system to build new neural connections, restore old ones, and make existing ones more efficient. The result is a healthier brain and nervous system which leads to a healthier body able to utilise the mobility, stability and strength it is designed for.

According to the OS philosophy, there are five big resets:

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing
  2. Head Control
  3. Rolling
  4. Rocking
  5. Crawling (or other contralateral, midline crossing movements)

Those of you familiar with the work we do at Backs Etc will know that we already incorporate these into our therapy and training programmes, so this course was a natural fit for me.

Proper breathing is where it all begins as, without a stable core, our brains will not allow our bodies to achieve the stability and mobility they are capable of, so the initial portion of the workshop is focused on developing good nasal diaphragmatic breathing techniques in a variety of positions.

We then moved on to the oh-so-important vestibular system. The OS system focuses on mastering head control to reset and strengthen this, so we did a number of head flexion, extension and rotational exercises, again in a variety of positions, supine, prone and quadruped.

The third big reset, rolling, is a fun one. Rolling is the beginning of the human gait cycle, and helps connecting the opposite shoulders to the opposite hips. There is also a lot of head control involved, bringing the vestibular system into the equation. There are a variety of different rolling patterns, some forward to back, but most moving laterally, driven by either the upper or lower body.

Then it was time to rock out. Rocking on hands and knees is a primal movement pattern that helps children build strength, mobility and posture. By modifying foot position we can also use rocking to improve our ankle mobility, or start on our elbows instead of hands to further mobilise the thoracic spine and build upper body strength.

crawlingThe last big reset, which ultimately ties everything together, is crawling. There are a myriad of variations of crawling, all effective in improving contralateral coordination, developing neural connections and building strength. We started with variations on the classic dying bug and bird dog exercises, progressing to commando crawling, hands and knees crawling, and ultimately leopard crawling (sometimes referred to as bear crawling or beast crawling in other methods). People who haven’t tried crawling may not realise what a tremendous workout it can be. Crawling across the length of the gym floor as slow as we possibly could, for 5 minutes, left every participant in the workshop huffing, puffing and sweating profusely. I routinely train my clients to crawl in a box pattern (forwards, sideways, backward and sideways the other direction) for two minutes, which often feels like an entire workout compressed into a tiny period of time. Good stuff!

The workshop on the second day, Becoming Bulletproof, was designed to take these resets we learned and advance them in ways that make them more fun, more challenging and incorporate various other fitness tools that we may have at our disposal. For instance, lifting one’s knees off the ground whilst rocking really fires up the lower body musculature and provides a great little full body workout.

Variations on crawling including axis crawling, a brilliant exercise one can do in a hotel room, for instance, that requires no space or equipment; crawling sideways with the feet pressed up against a wall is an awesome core burner that again requires no equipment. If you do have access to some gym gear, you can try exercises such as crawling pulling a chain or kettlebell.

We also played around with battling ropes and upside-down kettlebell carries, both tremendous workouts. One of the wackiest exercises we performed involved using a cup to scoop water out of one bucket and use it to fill another, all whilst holding a plank or elevated crawling position, showing that exercise does not need to be boring or mindless. In fact, putting play and fun into fitness was one of the big messages of this course.filling a bucket

And fun it was. Hard, too! I had major DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) for days after the weekend, even in places that I don’t normally feel it.

In conclusion, I found the OS training to be a great addition to the toolset we already use here at Backs Etc. We are huge supporters of what we call primal therapy and training in systems such as Original Strength, DNS, Animal Flow and Immaculate Dissection. If you’d like to learn more and/or start channeling your inner baby, get in touch. Let’s work together to help you reclaim your original strength!

 

Jack

Hormesis: The Good Stress

Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Or was it Conan the Barbarian? Either way, there is certainly some truth to the statement. One such way actually involves stress. Now, with good reason, we are constantly warned about the dangers of stress, both physical and psychological. Stress has been shown to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. However, the intent of this post is not to warn you about the dangers of stress – you are probably already well aware of them. Rather, we’d like to focus on a very particular kind of stress – a good stress – called hormesis.

Whereas the chronic stress from our jobs, lack of sleep, bills, antagonistic relationships, poor diet, etc. will break you down, certain low-level stressors can actually make you physically stronger, boost your immune system, improve your mood, and more. Some of these hormetic stressors are probably already very familiar to you, including such staples as exercise, sunlight, fasting, exposure to extreme heat or cold, and even certain foods. The key to hormetic stress is that it needs to come in small(er) amounts. For example, plunging into arctic water for a long period of time will ultimately probably kill you. But a cold bath or shower can actually stimulate your immune system, making you healthier. Similarly, exposure to extreme heat for a prolonged period can lead to dehydration and other issues, whereas a 20 minute sauna session can produce loads of beneficial effects, physical and mental. For a more detailed and scientific analysis of this, check out Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s article, Hyperthermic Conditioning’s Role In Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, and Neurogenesis.

weightsAnother very familiar example of hormetic stress is exercise, in particular strength training. A challenging weights workout increases levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. Done in the right amount, ie not over-training, this provides a relatively low and manageable dose of muscle injury. Your body responds to this microtrauma by building new muscle fibres as well as repairing the slightly-damaged ones. Regular exercise improves your body’s ability to rebuild, making you stronger and healthier. But the key to this is not overdoing it, and ensuring proper rest and recovery between workouts. If recovery isn’t adequate, the hormetic stress becomes chronic stress and the body can’t cope with the damage. This is why so many people who insist on training super-hard too frequently often wind up feeling ‘broken.’

Fasting, especially intermittent fasting, is another hormetic stressor. Skipping meals provokes a great hormetic stress response. Additionally, fasting triggers autophagy, a process in which cells clean themselves up, getting rid of damaged or junk cells that could potentially become cancerous. Again, though, this needs to be approached correctly, as calorie deprivation combined with gruelling exercise, sleep deprivation or other chronic stress can do more harm than good. So once again, don’t over do it! Notice a trend? Dr. Jason Fung is one of the world’s foremost experts on fasting. You can check out interviews with him here and here. Even better, buy his book, The Complete Guide to Fasting. We’ve read it, and highly recommend it.

Certain foods also promote hormesis. You’ve almost certainly heard about foods rich in antioxidants. Well, antioxidants are actually hormetic stressors, which is why they are so good for you. Colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as bitter foods, tend to be high in antioxidants, so having a good amount of these types of foods in your diet can be very beneficial. Check out this article on antioxidants for more info. Some of the most popular “superfoods” – blueberries, dark chocolate, turmeric, red wine, green tea, broccoli –  contain hormetic compounds that activate adaptive stress response pathways, improving our health. But of course, moderation is still key. You certainly don’t want to go on an ‘all chocolate and wine’ diet, no matter how appealing that may sound.

Believe it or not, sunlight is even a hormetic stressor. Getting regular, small amounts of sun exposure can help reduce skin cancer and improve vitamin D levels. But again, overdoing it can have the opposite effect, so don’t get sunburnt!

In conclusion, it’s critical to note the difference between chronic stress and hormetic stress. In almost all instances, too much of a good thing can have the opposite of the desired effect. Too often we push ourselves too hard – the ‘just do it!’ and ‘no pain, no gain!’ mentality. Conversely, not having enough hormetic stressors does not enable us to develop as we should. Here at Backs Etc., we believe that balance is the key to health, fitness, and happiness, so do challenge yourself, but do it wisely.