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The Trouble With Shoes

With snow forecast for New York this week, you might think of it as your big opportunity to walk the way your body was meant to-over your center.  All that slipping and sliding really forces us to be over the center of gravity, something that most shoes with heels discourage us from doing. Wearing shoes with heels, even most sneakers, tilt us forward as if we’re standing on a hill.  To keep from falling forward and tumbling down the hill inside our shoe, our natural tendency is for the hips to go forward, and chest to go back.  This helps us to balance.  It also creates a kind of collapse, since our hips aren’t under us and the chest is behind us.  It’s the All American posture and you won’t see it in anyone who walks around barefoot or in flat shoes.  Go to any Caribbean beach town where flip-flops and barefoot walking prevails if you need an example.

What this does…
Heels also tend to shorten the connective tissue of the calves and as a result the hip flexors, and when you’re standing with your hips shifted forward the upper hamstrings shorten which makes sitting difficult.  When the hamstrings are tight they pull the sitbones under which makes an upright posture while sitting impossible without strain.

Gentle exercises to try…
Full body arching and curling is a fantastic exercise to find a balance stance, especially the arching part.  Standing, try arching back, your tail back and up as if you have a 6 foot squirrel tail and you’re trying to touch the back of your head.  Really exagerate it.  When your head goes back shift your weight into your toes, this helps the sitbones to lift.  With your tail back, weight in the toes, breath deeply, spiraling the arms back to open the upper ribcage.  Inhaling is important because it opens the upper ribcage and supports the shoulders to rest more on the back.  When you exhale, let your body spring back to neutral leaving your hips back, tail lifted.  You should naturally find a less collapsed posture.

You can also go back and forth following the inhale with an exhale into the heels, rounding the shoulders, but make sure you end by inhaling and letting your body come back to neutral.

Another one…
Calf stretches are good with the knee bent and the hips back..  straiten and bend the knees with the hips back, to work different parts of the calves.  Be sure to put even pressure in the ball of the big toe as much as the pinky toe ball so your feet dont twist.   This will help the hips rest more back over the center of the feet.

Flip Flops…

If this article finds you escaping the New York winter someplace tropical heels probably aren’t your biggest worry right now, but flip-flops might be.

For many people flip-flops or thongs force the wearer to lift their toes or scrunch them up (which is kind of like pushing your toes down while you lift them) to keep the sandal on.   Walk down any street in New York in the Summer and you’ll see someone struggling to both hold their cell phone to their ear andbalance while they shuffle along in this year’s flip-flops.  Holding that floppy footwear on is tough work and it’s kind of like multitasking for the feet.

Your toes were designed to respond to the ground, and they have a much easier time doing so if they aren’t having to wrestle with your footwear at the same time.  Lifting your toes is something that most yoga teachers will ask you to do to find your arch.  This is a great thing in yoga because it aligns thebones of the foot.  If you tend to pronate, you probably have a little trouble finding the ball of your big toe and lifting your toes really helps to find that part of your foot without loosing the alignment of your ankle.

Unfortunately, all that toe lifting makes our ankles and arches stiff, and makes for a hard landing on the heel when we walk.  When we are walking we want the arch to flex like a spring.  The spring of the arch provides shock absorbsion for our bodies, but it can only happen when the foot is relaxed.  If this is you, try this.. Standing, try placing the outside of your heel down first, then the outside of your toes,then the big toe ball and then the inside of the heel.  When you press your toes down, you might notice that it’s easier to lengthen them out as you press down.  This is the action you’re looking for in flip flops, instead of scrunching, pressing down as you lengthen through the toes.

Easier walking…
This exercise can help whether you’re in shoes, barefoot or in sandals.  When you’re walking, try starting by standing over the center of your foot (all four corners with equal pressure) with your knees strait but soft, feet relaxed.  Once you’ve found this posture standing, begin to walk.   If you try this barefoot on a hardwood floor your walk should go from loud and pounding to almost silent.  This is because you are landing closer to the center of your foot, instead of the back of the heel.  How you start your walk will essentially determine how you end up moving.  If you start over your center, you’ll end up walking over your center.

While flip-flops aren’t the best for your feet, if you wear them, you’ll want to find ones with a tighter strap across the top of the foot for a snugger fit, or one that allows you to press your toes down to hold the sandal on.  Your toes shouldn’t have to do anything more than respond to the ground, don’t make them hold your sandals on too.

I hope this helps,


Ida Rolf Describes Structural Integration

Classic! I couldn’t describe the work better myself.  Below are two videos of the woman who created ‘Rolfing’ or Structural Integration, Ida P. Rolf.  Back in her day there was a lot more use of the metaphor of stacked blocks to describe the body and it’s alignment, though her understanding was incredibly nuanced.  I remember hearing Joseph Heller (created Hellerwork) tell a story about how they were at a restaurant and when a waiter walked in wearing a suit, she could pick out that his quadratus lumborum was short.  Amazing.


Balancing the Bandhas Through the Breath

In my last article about the breath, I wrote about the importance of contacting our inherent impulse to breath, and allowing ourselves to be breathed, rather than following an external or mental cue.  This exercise is no different, but it takes a little bit more refined focus and it builds off of the last exercise.

The Bandhas in Yoga, or “locks” (as in locks in a river) refer to the horizontal membranes of the body that provide containment and regulate the pressure of the different cavities of our bodies (our guts, lungs, heart and brains).

Where are they? 
The major diaphragms of the body are the respiratory diaphragm, the pelvic floor (muscles between your tailbone and pubic bone), the base of the throat, the base of the skull -at the level of the ear lobes (including the roof of the mouth and base of the eyes), the top of the head, and also the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.  The joints of the body are also diaphragms.

Why the Bandhas are important… 
When we are having trouble breathing, or our limbs are stiff or weak, it is often reflected by in how our breath moves through our bodies.  For example, if you puff up your chest you will notice that the base of your throat and your respiratory diaphragm have to tighten to retain the pressure in your ribs that allows you to puff up. These pressure regulators also have a dramatic effect on blood pressure, oxygen delivery to the cells, stress on the heart and overall health.  If they are too tight oxygenated blood isn’t able to reach the tissue and if they aren’t toned at all, there isn’t enough pressure to squeeze the blood back to the heart and we tend to feel sluggish. Balanced tone in the diaphragms leads to longer more balanced breathing and a lot less stress on the heart. When we are feeling our best, our diaphragms are gently pulsating between contraction and release to allow a smooth flow of energy through our bodies.

Ready to feel amazing? 
Lie on your back and notice your breath.  Allow your breath to come and go, without changing anything about it.  As you tune in, you may start to notice that when you inhale, all of the diaphragms naturally contract, and on the exhale, they all tend to release. Without changing anything about your breath, see if you can tune into the softening quality of the exhale.  As you begin to inhale see if you can continue to soften your diaphragms.  Since they all move together, you won’t actually have to focus on all of them to receive the benefits of this exercise.

At first see if you can bring your attention to just one or two at a time or try checking in with different diaphragms as you breath.  With practice, you will be able to open your attention to all of the diaphragms at once.  Just be sure you aren’t forcing your breath, either breathing harder or speeding your breath up or slowing it down.  Just let it flow naturally in response to the effects of your attention on the bandhas.

The overall effect of this exercise is that it will begin to feel as if your whole body is breathing, as if your lungs extend all the way from your fingers, to your toes and out to the top of your head, every cell expanding and contracting.  If this is easy, try the exercise sitting or standing. I hope you enjoy the experience.

A word of caution.
Big emotions can often come up when working with the breath.  If you begin to feel overwhelmed or even just light headed, take a break, this exercise should ideally make you feel more connected to yourself and more at ease.

Does Hellerwork Structural Integration Last?

I recently received this email from someone interested in the Hellerwork series. I often hear questions about whether Hellerwork can change the body in a lasting way, so it seemed worthwhile to post my response. If you’ve considered the Hellerwork series, but aren’t sure if the series will make a lasting difference in your body, this is for you.

Dear David -
I am considering seeking Hellerwork therapy but have couple of questions: How lasting are the effects from the 11 session Hellerwork protocol? I understand the concept of reshaping the muscle tissue and fascia – but isn’t my body essentially the by-product of my gentics? Meaning what I see is what I get – right? I have a hard time believing that any of the changes can be truly lasting without utilizing Hellerwork therapy through a practioner continually for the rest of my life – Yes call me pessimistic (many people do) but I do not want to set blind expectations on the 11 session protocol as a cure all.

Can the effects be maintained through specific exercises that I can employ after completing the 11 week therapy?


It’s a great question you’re asking, so I’m going to give you the long answer. A lot of people coming to me for the series have the same questions.

So to your question…
Yes, to some extent your body is a result of your genetics. Your genes determine what is possible for you to become. My feeling is that DNA is given far too much responsibility for shaping the human experience in our culture. One way to think of it is that the DNA in your cells is the book collection of your bodies library. It determines what information is available to be read, while you, and the forces acting on you as the library patron determine what gets read in the language of the body.

Here’s another example you might relate to: when you have an injury to your left ankle lets say, and you start to favor your opposite leg, your fascia is rearranged over a short period of time, weeks or months, and successive layers of tissue build up around that adaption. We call that a limp. It is no more difficult to rearrange the tissue, over weeks or months (11 weeks in the Hellerwork series) to undo that adaption and balance your weight over both legs. The Hellerwork series is a systematic process designed to undo the majority of those injuries and your compensations for them in a short period of time. After the series, many things can happen that change your body both to create possibilities for greater movement or to make movement more difficult. But whatever happens in your life after your series, the balance created by your Hellerwork experience will help you to have a greater capacity to deal with whatever comes your way. It’s like setting back the clock. Will it last forever? Of course not, and neither will you. Life happens to us and through us. We respond to our experience in ways that shape us daily. Can it change your life? Most definitely.

I’m sure you have some postural habits you’d like to undo but that feel hopelessly ingrained. There are plenty of kids in my neighborhood who adopt a limp to look tough and to some extent we all change our posture to express ourselves in a certain way. Hellerwork is primarily an educational experience. I can’t take your postural habits away from you, but what I can do is give you options for how to move with more ease, realign your connective tissue to support more ease and help you to become more aware of how the way you carry yourself effects how you feel and even think.

After that, the choice is yours about what you do with this opening. It’s like having a new set of tools for your body and having to chose between a new craftsman or that old rusty wrench with the threads stripped off. You might be used to using the old wrench out of habit, but then there’s that unfamiliar, but silky smooth new socket set you could try out too. I like to think the movement exercises we’ll work on are kind of like that new socket set.

This will sound even stranger, but the real magic often happens after the series is over. Ida Rolf often said, “The body continues to Rolf itself.” I’ve seen many of my clients continue to grow towards better alignment after the series is over. They had no further input other than the changes they made in their lives as a result of the series and it’s as if their bodies are taking a cue from the work and continuing to reshape themselves. If you are open to Hellerwork creating change in your body and in your experience, it will improve your life in ways that will far surpass your expectations, but that is up to you.

Ultimately, all of this is meaningless as a mental exercise. The only way to know whether this work will benefit you or not is to experience a session. I hope that answered your questions and let me know when you’re ready to take the first step.



Great Posture In Four Easy Steps

A friend of mine who is a writer asked for advice to prevent the aches and pains of sitting at a desk for long hours. Often times those knots we get in our backs are related to posture. Here’s a little experiment you can try while sitting at a desk, without the stress of trying to sit up straight. Most people think of posture as something you have to strain to do, but if you have to work to sit up, as soon as you think about something else, you’re likely to start slouching again. For this reason, good posture has to be relaxed for it to last.

1. Sit forward on your chair with the weight on the flesh in front of your sit bones with your feet on the ground. Leave your arms by your sides for the rest of this exercise. Your legs are about 1/3 of your body weight, so don’t let all that weight go into your seat, let it rest on your feet. See if you can get your knees lower than your hips with your feet still on the floor. You may need to raise your chair or use a cushion.

If you can’t do that and still sit at your desk comfortably, try bringing one leg back, so that one foot is in front of the other. You’ll notice that it’s immediately easier to sit more forward over your sit bones.

2. Now see if you can let your lower back and belly relax. Try rocking forward and back with one hand on your back and the other on your belly to find the most relaxed position. If this is difficult, most likely your knees aren’t low enough. This is especially true if you have tight hamstrings.

3. Let your head fall back so that you’re looking up and breath into the top of your ribs and throat. You should start to feel your upper ribs lift and open a little. Keep the back bend happening in your upper chest and not your lower back. Notice your breath expanding upwards.

4. Finally, leaving your jaw and neck relaxed, let your head float back up on top of your spine. Take a deep breath in your new posture and try looking around the room.

Notice how this new way of sitting feels. It’s okay to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable, but you shouldn’t feel muscle tension. If your back or hips feel tight, again try raising your seat, or try the back bend again and be sure not to use your muscles to pull yourself into balance. Good posture should be relaxed. If you feel vulnerable, try practicing somewhere you feel safe. If you feel upright and balanced, congratulations, you’re doing something right. Also don’t expect to be able to maintain this balance for long periods at first. Think of it as akin to restarting your computer. Things just work better if you do it now and again.