Articles by ST founder Kit Laughlin[Find all of Kit Laughlin’s articles to do with back pain at OvercomeBackPain.info]
Unlocking the Yoga Poses, or what stops you doing a pose perfectly?
Originally prepared for Australian Yoga Life magazine
This note provides a deeper look into how the Stretch Therapy system can help the keen yogi to improve her postures.
In this article I will consider what real, physical limits might stop someone from doing a technically perfect Adho Mukha Svanasana, or down-facing dog pose. Many beginning yogis struggle to do this pose well; most generally and in most schools, the pose is said to be done well when both heels are held on the floor, the inside edges of feet parallel and the knees held straight, the whole spine gently extended from the hip joints and that line continued by the arms and, in the final stage, the face, or top of the head rests on the floor.
Being able to position the body in this way requires multiple capacities: ankle and calf muscle flexibility, the sciatic nerve needs to glide along its full length (more on this later), sufficient hamstring length to allow a significant degree of anterior pelvic tilt while all posterior line muscles and fascia of the hips and lower legs are under strong stretch, and enough strength in the arms, shoulders, and trunk to hold the desired shape against these forces. The beginner’s body has many ways to avoid these requirements: the heels may lift off the floor, the knees may bend, the hamstrings may limit anterior pelvic tilt (with the result that the lower back flexes, instead of extending slightly) and the shoulders may not flex enough to allow the desired line (the shoulder angle will be ‘closed’ rather than open, the position of the arms continuing the visual line of the spine). And there simply may not be enough strength in the trunk to hold the middle and upper back straight against the calf and hamstring forces that are trying to flex the spine, let alone the gentle whole-spine extension that aesthetics require. Let’s look at each of these restrictions in turn.
Staying agile and pain free as you age
Published in “The Retiree”, Autumn 2011 edition
As a culture, we are obsessed with our body’s appearance, and it’s not possible to open a magazine without seeing articles on obesity, how to lose weight, and a bewildering variety of dietary regimens that are presented and seem to contradict one another (high fibre, high protein, high carb, and high fat diets – and all backed up by science, too, apparently).
Yet an even more life-threatening condition threatens the middle-aged and elderly daily: the insidious loss of strength and balance that can make many ordinary activities potentially life-threatening events. And we know that osteopini, or osteoporosis (significant loss of bone mass) are on the increase too, which means that any fall can have very serious consequences.
How can I improve my golf?
Of all the many skills you need to have to be good at golf, few are as important as a good swing. And the main aspects of a good swing are repeatability and power. Let us analyse these terms to find out how one might go about improving them.
Being able to precisely repeat one swing after another is essential to improving your game; without this, correction of faults and improvement are difficult indeed. What does this mean, though, exactly? The main aspect of repeatability is a combined physical and mental sense called proprioception, often called the ‘sixth sense’ by anatomists. This sense is the awareness of the parts of our body in time and space; together with the middle ear, proprioception tells us in minute detail what is going on in our body at any given time in terms of patterns of tension, and changes to this base state over any given time gives us our sense of movement and our memory of the feeling of movements.
When we replay a golf swing in our mind to assess its effectiveness, it is proprioception we rely on to tell us whether we hooked or sliced the shot, and tells us where in the chain of muscles (and movements) the problem originated. This sense has been heavily researched over recent years by neurobiologists the world over for what it can tell us about how we remember and experience certain aspects of being alive, and consciousness itself. As far as golf is concerned however, all we need to know is that this sixth sense can be enhanced enormously using simple techniques. Proprioception relies on receptors in the muscle spindles and tendons. Richly supplied with nerves, these organs tell the brain what states are being experienced. But to tell it in this conventional way is to miss a most important point: the brain doesn’t exist only in your head; it is in fact diffused throughout the body via its nervous system.
What makes a good massage good?
The first time an expert massage therapist lays his or her hands on you, you know immediately whether they know what they are doing; or to put it another way, whether it is going to be a good massage. How does the body (or you) know this subtle thing so quickly? The answer lies in understanding the elusive qualities of pressure and rhythm, and what these qualities communicate throughout the body. In this note, I am going to explore this concept, and try to give you a different way of thinking about this most ancient of therapies.
The downside of the high heel
The average person’s most common problems are (in order of likelihood) tight necks, tight upper/middle back, and sore lower backs. Some of the causes of these problems are well known, but in this note I would like to consider a possible cause of all of these problems, and one that is more likely to be suffered by women rather than men (but you never can tell!) Everyone knows just how sore the feet will be after a night of dancing in elegant stiletto heels, but is that the only negative aspect of wearing high heels? Recent research from the University of Hong Kong suggests that the medium and long term effects of high heels may be more far-reaching than anyone has suspected so far, and is very likely to contribute to common musculo-skeletal problems.
Maintaining the scholar
As post-graduate students, you will have listened to lecturers or Professors talking about how to manage the complex of tasks that is a Masters or Ph.D. degree. This includes fundamental suggestions about how to manage your supervisor (including becoming aware of your own responsibilities), basic advice about the structural differences in science and arts theses, suggested time frames for when to end the research phase and begin the writing-up phase and so on. All this is helpful, even if only as a means to thinking anew about these problems. And suggestions made (to overseas students, especially) in regards to attending writing courses, if taken, will ease the burden of the writing-up phase enormously. If you are not a natural writer (by this I mean someone who thinks in sentences and paragraphs, and has no problems in envisaging the larger structure into which this will all fit) then please avail yourself of this service. It is often argued that attending to the details of the writing craft is the surest way to hone your thinking skills – and my experience in writing a couple of books and editing quite a few theses strongly supports this position.
Do you want to diet? Don't!
In this article, I consider alterations to one’s ordinary eating routine as a means of getting the muscle weight to fat weight ratio that you want (not “How to lose weight!”) and, in particular, I compare various approaches to eating as a means to this end.
Excess fat vs “overweight” distinction
We are all tired of hearing that a huge and growing fraction of the Australian and American public are classified as “obese”. You can’t open a newspaper or magazine without reading about this ‘crisis’, and I am sure everyone had a laugh about the very recently-published research that (amazingly!) claimed to have shown a link between hours spent in front of the television, and propensity to being overweight. “Overweight”, of course, properly means that one is carrying excess body fat, and that needs to be said clearly at the outset. I will have more to say on this below, but one’s body weight is an entirely different matter. If you assess your overall condition by the bathroom scales alone, you need to know that if you lose 10 kilograms the chances are half of that weight will be muscle – which you can ill afford to lose – and about half is fat. In this article, I want to consider alterations to one’s ordinary eating routine as a means of getting the muscle weight to fat weight ratio that you want (not “How to lose weight!”) and, in particular, I want to compare various approaches to eating as a means to this end. What you will not find here is any explicit form of calorie counting, or the word “diet” – except insofar as it applies to the concept “combinations of food”.
Chapter from Stretching & Pregnancy, 2001/2016
Some basic concepts
It is helpful to begin with some terms commonly used in discussing nutrition. This will be of assistance in understanding the recommendations contained in the rest of the chapter.
The components of food can be classified into three broad categories of macronutrients. These are protein, fat, and carbohydrate. All contain micronutrients. These are vitamins and minerals.
The energy content of food is now measured in kilojoules. Energy content used to be measured in kilocalories – commonly called, simply, Calories (with a capital C). One Calorie equals approximately 4.2 kilojoules.