all posts, eczema, women's health

on biomechanics and katy bowman

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Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

I’m combining all my other blogs’ content to this site. Please bear with me as I post older content.  🙂

I haven’t posted in a while because “times [but mostly things in my life] they are a-changing”. What I mean by that is that I have a bunch of exciting things I’m trying to get involved with that are still centered around my various beloved themes, including:

  • community
  • women’s health… and now, a throwback,
  • biomechanics!

Let me catch you up. Once upon a time I was a confused undergraduate trying to narrow down the vast world of supposed choices to figure out my next step post-college. I knew I had splashes of talent in various areas, but that I was also relatively unskilled overall in a whole larger host of things, making me not a great candidate for any job (at least that was the opinion I had of myself). I remember I came to a point where I narrowed the choice down to two respective options:

  1. go to graduate school for biomechanics. Specifically comparative (non-human) biomechanics, but with the desire to see if I could follow in the footsteps of those inspiring people who learn from nature and then connect that learning to something in the human world (e.g. the tensile strength of sharks’ skin as a model for bulletproof vests, or the boxfish’s shape as a model for the most aerodynamically stable (and ugly) car), or
  2. go to physical therapy school. Essentially PTs are the biomechanists of the medical world (so in this analogy an orthopedic surgeon would be more like a biomechanical engineer). This therapy path would allow me a more direct way to give back to the people and help others.

As you may know, I ultimately chose physical therapy, and then ended up leaving it about halfway through the program because the physical contact (manual therapy, measurements, etc) with patients was not conducive with my skin condition. This  ultimately made physical therapy less than an ideal career for me.

So then, the deluge. How am I full circling back to the idea of biomechanics (though not necessarily comparative this time)? Well, first I started working in the field of women’s health a little over two years ago, which has since led me to undertaking the process for a prenatal and postnatal coaching certification (I actually just finished this past week and am officially a certified prenatal and postnatal coach!). I am also tying that field of knowledge to a few other movement-related initiatives, including the current co-creation of a course for single mothers of color (but I’ll go into more on that when it’s further along). I also am in the process of figuring out if I have the time to set up and lead stroller/carrier friendly walks in a local nature reservation.

While in the midst of these various endeavors, I also ended up finding Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and movement educator known for her Nutritious Movement company, which builds on her nature-based movement ideologies/passions. She believes in modifying our every day human environments (along with many movements we do) to better promote health and wellness, because movement-optimized environments require us to move better by their very nature. An example she gives is not having a couch in your home. This then requires you to do more squats (if you end up sitting on the floor, or chairs of lower heights), and forces you to move your hip, knee, and ankle joints in greater ranges of motion. The no-couch life also facilitates less sitting time by virtue of there not being any comfy furniture to sit upon, thus increasing your NEAT which helps your body even at the cellular level.

As I delved more into her material, I realized I had found someone that encompassed that overlap in my interests that I didn’t know existed; she is not a practitioner of health or medicine therefore not subject to the insurance whims, nor is she just an academic  stuck talking only to other academics/writing scholarly papers while being removed from the direct societal implementation. Bowman also intersects nature with the manmade world, bridging the choice I was stuck between (loving the idea of physical rehabilitation and the like while having a passion for being involved in natural environments, but unsure of how to make either a thing). Even more excitingly, after some light searching I discovered she too has a masters (in health studies, while I’m health sciences, but close enough) so I know it’s possible to straddle the academic world even in a health-esque field while not being a PhD or MD.

This is endlessly inspiring to me because now I’m starting to think it isn’t impossible to focus on prenatal and postpartum women and work with them and their babies/ young children to create lifestyle changes and increase our movement, while doing it all in nature. Though I’m not fully sure of the direction I’m going to end up going to get it started, all in all, things are looking to be very promising in the near future.

I have also used Bowman as an entry into foot health (using her book Whole Body Barefoot), subsequently contemplating the health of my own feet on a more regular basis. Since I left the category of a nulliparous woman (a woman who has never given birth), I’ve been thinking about how my body alignment changed during pregnancy and how now I still often feel joint laxity and generally less in-tune with my body. This has resulted in me walking more duck-footed than I had previously. I am testing out her suggestions to improve my foot (and global postural) health presently, but honestly ,uch of her program is just good practice for regaining balance and better alignment generally (like doing calf stretches and one leg standing balance exercises). I’m already noticing that I am more able to abduct my pinky toes further since starting. My personal goal is to retrain my feet to be able to wear minimalist shoes (or shoes that alter the natural foot mechanics the least). This includes working my way to comfortably wearing shoes with no heel lift (which normal even sneakers and many types of sandals have).

Before that book, I also read Bowman’s book called Diastasis Recti: The Whole Body Solution to Abdominal Weakness and Separation. Though the content is obviously useful for postpartum moms, the condition of diastasis recti (DR) can impact men and nulliparous women too.

In this book Bowman talks about how our modern lifestyles put a lot more pressure (force) on our cavities (diaphragmatic, stomach, and pelvic) and so to combat that we need to make environmental changes in our lifestyle. This includes actions like sitting less in the day and returning to using our bodies to move more (rather than always having appliances and tools to help us).

The point isn’t to remove all modern conveniences entirely if it’s not possible in our lives, but to balance out those convenient factors so our bodies have a chance to regain better mobility and functional strength while we continue to go about our daily lives.

The most crucial exercise Bowman suggests as a takeaway from her book is better rib engagement. This is done by drawing our ribs down and back without just sucking in our stomachs. We need to get our ribcage muscles and joint attachments to be less stiff because it impacts our ability to use our arms in their full range, and can cause issues if we move our pelvises with our ribcages all the time. Anyway, the book is definitely worth checking out to hear Bowman explain all of this (she does a much much better job).

The last thing I read by Bowman was a paper she put out about Movement Ecology. She addresses movement in multiple avenues, highlighting how we as a species gravitate towards decreased movement, which means more than just decreased exercise. She investigates movement as a broader topic, looking at how our daily activities and the environment around us help move and change our bodies in multiple ways, including at the cellular level (e.g. literally deforming our cells as when we lay on an object and our cells flatten). It’s cool stuff!

The fun thing about Bowman’s work (and I’m just talking about the books/papers I referenced in this post, so foot health techniques, diastasis recti prevention, and movement ecology practices), you can already come up with a fairly comprehensive program for prenatal and postpartum mothers to help them stave off lifestyle-related aches and pains, and regain more function respectively, while building foundational blocks of strength and mobility. And that’s what I’ll be playing around with next with my own routines.

On a tangent, I wonder how much of the severity of my topical steroid withdrawal would be alleviated  if I moved more?

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