Guest Blogger: Kai Leathers
Who Are We?
Many Buddhist traditions claim that there is no "self". That is an esoteric topic for another time, but I believe they are right in more ways than one. Modern science is (re)discovering that we are not just a single biological entity; instead, we must think of ourselves as a superorganism. This may sound like the beginning of a horror movie, but it is actually as mundane as a teaspoon of soil in your backyard (which averages between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria). It is quickly becoming common knowledge that humans cannot survive without a thriving diversity of microorganisms.
Even if you have not spent any significant amount of time in the world of holistic health or nutrition, you have probably heard the term "microbiome". Tons of research is revealing that we are not just Homo sapiens ("wise man"), but instead we are host to a huge collection of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, yeast and other fungi that scientists call the microbiome. Indeed, we are never alone. They live on and inside of us, and their lives are essential to the proper functioning of our body systems. In order to optimize health, we must not feed our singular selves, but we must instead feed our collective "superorganism" community - these microscopic colonies in our intestines, or gut. Globally, we are undergoing a sixth major extinction period, and some who study the human microbiome believe our gut bacteria are experiencing a similar extinction. They hypothesize that we may never be able to replace certain bacterial strains that we have lost.
Exercise and Gut Health
You may have cornered a stranger at a dinner party to explain the TED talk you recently watched, discussing ways to increase the diversity of your gut bacteria by changing your diet, but have you heard about how exercise also affects your gut microbiome? Researchers from Rutgers University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are showing that exercise also has an impact on the amount and type of bacteria in our gut. Experiments have been carried out on mice and humans. One human study looked at previously sedentary lean and obese individuals, and after 6 weeks of supervised cardiovascular exercise lasting a half our to an hour in duration, the composition of their gut microbiomes changed. Certain kinds of bacteria that produce a short chain fatty acid called butyrate, which is associated with positive gut health, increased in number. There was a difference between the concentrations of butyrate-producing bacteria in lean participants in comparison to the obese participants, so there is still more research to be done. These levels of bacteria also decreased after the participants returned to a sedentary lifestyle 6 weeks later, further establishing the link between exercise and the growth of positive species of bacteria.
There are many mechanisms that may contribute to the increase in butyrate-producing bacteria, but scientists are still not sure why the change takes place. This is one area where more research is being done. Possible mechanisms include altered gene expression of immune cells in gut tissue, changing the mucus composition of the gut, raising the core body temperature, which results in less blood flow to the intestines, or increasing the activity of bile acids and lactate levels.
Keep It Simple
Now that we have another reason to get moving, how do we incorporate this into our practice? A few times a week, you should try to really push your heart rate. Most people might turn to running or cycling, but you can turn any exercise into a "cardio" exercise.
One of the most underrated ways to increase your aerobic activity is getting up and down from the ground. In the video below, I demonstrate a MovNat-inspired exercise that is amazing in many ways. This exercise is particularly useful for establishing proprioception, balance, core strength, shoulder stability, and hip mobility. It is the essence of "functional" movement in my eyes because it can increase your athletic skill, or it can simply help you be more efficient at getting up from the ground.
Start on your back, then sit up and place one hand right next to your hip and pull the opposite heel in close to your butt. Lift your butt of the ground and pull the free knee under you as you come into a tripod position with your two feet and one hand. Push yourself to standing, then reverse the order to return to the ground. Once you master the movement try adding in a kick through or jumps into the transition, as seen in the video below. You will be surprised at how quickly your heart rate can spike after just a few reps of this exercise.
Try throwing in 5 minutes of this exercise in the middle or your normal cardio routine. For example, if you run, run for 10 minutes, then try a get-up for 5 minutes before going back into your run. You can also put this on the beginning of your run for a 5 minute warm-up or throw it on the end of your run for a 5 minute finisher to spike your heart rate before a cool-down and stretch.
This article is written by fellow Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine Graduate and Physical Therapy student, Kai Leathers, Asheville, NC.
In my freshman philosophy class, I remember learning that I must always define my terms. So what do I mean by a “sustainable movement practice”?
Sustainable is a word that is thrown around a lot lately, but what does it actually mean? It doesn’t just mean happy chickens and ethically-sourced ingredients. Sustainable is simply the quality of something that will last, something that can be maintained for a long time.
Movement is just what it sounds like, deliberately moving your whole body. Why did I not say exercise? While exercise is certainly important, I am talking about something more fundamental than exercise. A sustainable movement practice will be the foundation for whatever you do, whether it is formal exercise or just the way you move through the world in your job or at home.
Preferably this is something you will do habitually, and that is where the practice part comes in. This practice involves being mindful of how your body feels, really paying attention, and continually refining the movements.
So what we are talking about here is a way to develop a better relationship with our bodies, and a lifestyle based around movement. Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to mindfulness meditation as a way of “tuning your instrument before taking it out on the road” - that instrument being your mind. This movement practice is the same thing, except that instead of tuning your mind, you are tuning your body. You are tuning and adjusting your body to maintain its use. If you want to continue doing the things you love for as long as possible, I believe it is imperative to have a sustainable movement practice.
I have come up with three principles to follow in order to develop such a practice:
1) move often
2) move through a full range of motion
3) pick an achievable amount of time.
1. MOVE OFTEN
Our bodies are made to move, and when they don’t, things go wrong. Many of our chronic diseases can be caused or exacerbated by too little movement - a sedentary lifestyle. Therefore, these diseases can be prevented or mediated by adopting a more active lifestyle. When most people think of exercise or an “active lifestyle” they may think they have to pick up jogging, or start lifting weights. While those would be great additions to your daily routine, that is not what I mean when I say be more active. It would even be too simple to say, “Sit less”, because it is not THAT we sit, but HOW we sit that causes so much dysfunction.
Too often, people tend to focus on their formal exercise practice - their time spent in the gym or in yoga class - but then they neglect all their other waking hours. What is more important is the cumulative amount of time that you engage in low level activity - how you sit, stand, and what you do for work, and how you spend your free time.
This is one of the most important concepts to remember: Our bodies get used to whatever position we put them in most often.
Think about how often you bend forward to pick something up or how often your head hangs down and forward to look at your phone or computer. The more often you repeat a movement pattern, the more efficient your nervous system and muscles get at carrying out that movement.
Now, think about all the different ways you can move your body right now, in whatever situation you find yourself in. Look up, look down. Look over your shoulder. Reach overhead. Bend backward. Twist. Stand on one leg. March in place. Roll on the floor.
When we move our bodies, rotate and twist our limbs and breathe, blood is channeled to the places where it normally flows less efficiently. Your joints (where a bone meets another bone) inherently get very poor circulation, but when we move, we lubricate those joints and feed them nutrients. Movement nourishes your joints and the lymphatic fluid gets circulated and helps with your immune system and when you breathe you pump fluid in and out of the discs in between your spinal column. So the more often you move, the better.
2. THROUGH A FULL RANGE OF MOTION
Each one of your joints, such as your elbow or your shoulder, has a certain range of motion that it is designed for. As babies and kids, our range of motion is at its fullest capacity. As we get older, our muscles become short and tight or long and weak, as they adapt to the environmental stresses we most frequently expose them to. This length-tension relationship between muscle groups has a huge effect on the way your joints function.
Everyone has heard the phrase, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This is absolutely true of your joint range of motion. Very few adults can drop into a deep squat with their butt close to their heels and still keep their heels on the floor. This is because they stopped doing this motion. We were all capable of doing it as a child, but years of sitting in chairs and couches caused us to lose this ability. The same holds true for other joints and movements. Fortunately you can regain much of your range of motion and maintain what range you already have.
3. PICK A TIME
So much about behavior change is developing good habits. In order to develop a new habit, you need consistency. I find that setting a ten minute timer is a good way to start. Ten minutes a day may not seem like much, but once you develop a daily practice, you will probably notice that your body starts to feel better. Oftentimes, ten minutes turns into twenty minutes, because moving feels good! You will be surprised at how quickly ten minutes goes by.
It is easy to overlook the seemingly small things that we do each day and believe that they are unimportant. Many people often have this mindset about their formal exercise practice. They think, “If I can’t do my 45- minute workout today then I might as well not exercise at all.” From my hours spent around patients in physical therapy and seeing my father recover from a spinal injury over the course of three years, I have learned that every minute and every activity adds up to something bigger.
4. TRY THIS
Set a 10 minute timer and just move your body through a full range of motion. Be creative with it, and don’t worry too much about that voice in your head saying, “Am I doing this right?” Emphasize moving your body in all directions and different planes of motion. Twist. Reach. Roll. Slow down. Notice the miracle of how you can move any part of your body just by your brain telling it to. Nobody taught you how to walk, your body just knew how to do it. We take it for granted every day. See your body for the work of art that it is. Explore the movements with curiosity.
Check out the video below for a few ideas of what I include in my practice and post questions in the comment section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we head into the last week of January, maybe still on our New Year’s diets (or not that’s ok too), I had a strong push to write about Food Choice Empowerment..or at least that’s what I like to call it.
We’ve all been there, at the receiving end of a glance or a complaint when we say “I can’t eat that I’m on X diet”...maybe even a SIGH!
Sometimes it’s a look of personal offense, an eye roll from being “difficult”, a smirk across the table because you’re being “that person” - and quite often it’s accompanied with a remark about why you’re wrong, or the diet you’re choosing to follow is flawed.
I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel ashamed, a nuisance, a pawn that this big bad diet is using to suck all the joy not out of myself but out of my friends and family - making this personal choice that much HARDER.
As nutritional therapy practitioners we’re always advocating to release shame around food. There are numerous reasons that range from disordered eating to hypochlorhydria that illustrate why shame around food is toxic.
TAKE BACK YOUR POWER!!
Instead of saying “I can’t eat this” begin to state clearly “I won’t eat this”. When you pause to think about it, that’s actually the truth. You’re choosing to stay away from certain foods because you deem it appropriate.
You are NOT a victim of a diet, in fact, you are using it as a tool to take steps towards a better, healthier, happier you! Be proud of that!
This all goes back to our perspective around dieting.
“Dieting” it’s a strange word - it’s restrictive, and sounds like it takes pleasure in stealing all my favorite foods away from me, it sounds like work...it even evokes horror in some people!
WHAT IF we called if FOOD CHOICE EMPOWERMENT?
It might sound a little woo, but stick with me.
WHAT IF we could tell ourselves (and inevitably the others that are going to concern themselves with our food choices) that we are taking time to focus on the way we nourish our body, food is our fuel after all:
we are empowering our bodies to heal, we are taking the steps towards self improvement, and we do this through being incredibly intentional about what we consume.
For example, “Although your apple pie with 3 scoops of napoleon ice cream and chocolate sauce looks delicious Grandma, and I’m grateful you made it for me, as I’ve tried to explain before - the refined foods really hurt me and no longer serve to nourish me so I’ve have decided not to eat them.”
A low fod-mapper myself, I get the most push back around onions and garlic. I get a lot of “your food must be so bland while you’re on this diet” - no Bertha it’s not (no offense to the Berthas out there). I choose not to eat these foods that ultimately ferment and disrupt my gastrointestinal peace. Of course I love onions, but not when I’ve noticed a pattern of discomfort when eating them. This is my choice and as my body stands right now, my life is happier without them.
And that OK!
Sometimes taking a break from your favorite foods will reveal a previously looked over discomfort and a new normal will become evident free of gas and bloating.
You might still get a look and maybe even a little push back, but when you say “I won’t” versus “I can’t because Complete 60 says so” - you’ve taken back your power! You’ll find that those around you will begin to listen and might even be intrigued to start their own journey to better health!
Standing strong and empowered, you will be less tempted to make hurtful choices (keeping you compliant longer) and you will become more in-tune to your body’s needs. At the same time, if you do eat something that doesn’t serve you, this empowerment movement has room for it! (Yay no shame!)
You chalk it up to a learning experience. Keep a note of what you ate and how it made you feel then move forward.
Slowly, you’ll create your own method of eating based on what truly nourishes YOU!
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
*Disclaimer: if a doctor or practitioner has placed you on a diet, please continue to follow their advice - however you can most certainly pursue it more empowered, talk with them about what this looks like for you*
Everybody wants to burn more calories. I don't think this desire is purely about losing weight and looking slim- I think it comes from an inherent need to feel competent and able. A healthy metabolism means that oxygen is delivered to cells efficiently so that we can respond to life's challenges with initiative and energy.
It's common knowledge that a sedentary lifestyle greatly impedes health- but this doesn't mean that you have to join a Crossfit gym or train for a triathlon to get fit. Incorporating a bit more movement into your day via small changes is all it really takes. I love doing 10 air squats every time I use the restroom or stretching my hips while my tea water boils.
If you really want to make your metabolism work for you: this 4 minute workout done 3 times a day can totally transform your life. Nitric oxide is a communication molecule stored in blood vessels that feeds your muscles. When you exercise, muscles need oxygen. Nitric oxide travels to those muscles, opening up blood vessels and increasing oxygen and nutrient delivery. We rebuild this nitric oxide every few hours, so we have the opportunity to release it throughout the day. This not only greatly improves our metabolism and fitness, but it tells the muscle, "It's time to grow, time to feed, time to breathe" (Zach Bush, MD).
You can find several variations of this exercise on line, but I really admire Dr. Zach Bush's take on it. Start with 10 reps and work up to 20 minutes. No weights necessary though you can certainly add them with time. These 4 exercises are designed to activation all the major muscle groups. Focus on speed and form and have fun!
Eileen Brantley & Amy Wright
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