workspaces that work

What helps you be healthy, happy, and productive when you need to be in the zone— whether that’s at your job, in your creative workspace, or somewhere else? Many of us spend a ton of time working at our desks— almost as much overall as we spend in bed, sometimes. And as with sleep, work goes better if we get the environment right.

For me, a big piece is being able to move around. I fidget, shift position, stand, sit, stretch, cross/uncross my legs, squat, sit on the floor, sit in half-lotus on my office chair. . . as I’ve heard Kelly Starrett Say, the best position is the next position. While I’m all about the ergonomics experts who will adjust your mouse and your monitor and whatnot, I think the best solution is generally to avoid spending too much time in one position to begin with. Variations on office furniture that help this? Sitting on something like a ball instead of a chair, a standing/adjustable desk, a treadmill/bike desk, stools/footrests, and my personal favorite— the headset, so you can take calls while moving around.

What else? Continue reading

It’s the iliopsoas, stupid!

What do low back pain, knee problems, poor pelvic alignment, hip popping, and weak glute muscles have in common? Besides the fact that all of these things suck and they are common complaints in my clinic. . . read on.

illustration of iliopsoas musclesThe iliopsoas (the p is silent) muscles run from the lumbar vertebrae (lower back) and interior of the ilium (hip/pelvis bones) to the inside of the femur (thigh bone). There are actually two muscles that make up this group: the psoas major (origin at T12-L5 vertebrae) and the iliacus (origin at iliac fossa of ilium). They are generally considered together, and they generally act together and insert together at the lesser trochanter of the femur. Phew. Ok. Why should you care about these little dudes?

Mirror muscles, they are not. Because they’re located deep to other structures, it’s not easy to see and feel them, so many people aren’t even aware that they’re there until something goes awry. But they are critically important to function and performance. The iliopsoas mucles are major hip flexors, pulling the thigh up to the abdomen, and stabilizers of the trunk and pelvis. They get major action with movements like running and cycling, or the constant external rotation of things like ballet, but they can also get weak and tight from sitting in a chair for long periods of time. Think about where those muscles go and what your position is doing to them. Sitting followed by hard training? That sounds like a perfect storm. No wonder they are often troublemakers!

What happens when things aren’t right in iliopsoas land? Sometimes it’s hip-specific problems like:

  • snapping hip syndrome, thought to be related to iliopsoas tendinitis or tendinosis
  • Iliopsoas bursitis, painful inflammation of the cuishioning fluid sacs
  • iliopsoas syndrome- pain and stiffness that can travel to the abdomen, butt, groin, lower back, hip, and thigh

But the trouble can also be more insidious. Continue reading

Running on a Hot Day: Why Bother?

There are lots of tips out there for how to surive running in the heat— basically, go early or late, hydrate appropriately, wear light clothing, run slower. But if you’re not training for a hot race (Badwater? what are you, nuts?), why bother?

Well, there are likely physiological benefits, so if you care about that sort of thing, or you’re looking for a performance goal, keep reading. Training in the heat can potentially improve VO2 max, blood plasma volume, sweat rate, and skeletal muscle force— and this translates into cooler conditions. Neat!

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Basic Human Maintenance 101

I got an email about classes at my local REI the other day (desert hiking with your dog? yes please!), and among the offerings was bike maintenance. This got me thinking about something I read not long ago:

Kelly Starrett says all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. He’s right! I prefer this way of thinking about it to the ubiquitous “self care”— not that that’s wrong, but it’s been sort of distorted to mean, like, taking bubble baths when you’re stressed out. For me, maintenance is more about getting the basics under control day-to-day.

Dr. Starrett was talking about the tissues of the body. Spend time every day finding the areas that need attention— spots that are a little tight, a little tender, not quite as supple as you’d like—  and work on them for 10 or 15 minutes. Do this daily, and you can prevent a lot of major problems in your musculoskeletal system. This just makes sense! Little things are easy to fix. Little things that you don’t fix turn into big things.

What else can you do as maintenance on your human self? What little things can you do every day to head off major life fails?

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Getting healthier– how to start if you don’t think you can start.

So many people feel lousy most of the time. And don’t know how to fix it. It’s easy to feel like wellness just a hobby for the privileged. Aside from the Gwyneth Paltrow crowd surrounded by juice bars and jade eggs, even just the idea of taking time and energy to focus on basic wellness can be a challenge for many of us. While we might think of the CEOs as busy people who can’t find time for good food and exercise, no one works harder than shift workers,  minimum-wage (or less) workers supporting families, folks with more than one job. (And yes, there are health risks associated with being poor). Feeling crappy is a problem facing all kinds of people. It’s not always as simple as joining a gym, hiring a trainer, signing up for a meal delivery service. The reality is that some folks’ lives are challenging in ways others don’t have to think about.

I was thinking about this when I stopped at a Circle K on my way home from work yesterday. Continue reading

The joys of being a beginner

For many of us, the older we get, the less we do new things. We might learn a new hobby in college, but after that, it kind of levels off. If we’ve always been into running, we might still run. If we’re into sci fi, we read more sci fi. We already know what we like, goes the thinking, so we’re good. Why spend the effort to learn an entirely new thing? Isn’t being a raw beginner frustrating and difficult and just kind of not worth it? I find the opposite is true— being a beginner is freeing, and, dare I say, fun?

In zen Buddhism, there’s a concept called shoshin, or “Beginner’s Mind.” Continue reading