Carving out a space for a movement practice in a smaller space can be a bit of a challenge. It would be great to have a dedicated movement practice space, but what I have is a living room. I want my place to feel ‘homey’, but I want some bare floor space too, without having to completely re-arrange furniture every time to lay out my props.
If I lived on my own, I’d probably be pretty much furniture-free, but I am not on my own and my job isn’t to convince my partner that furniture free is a better way to live. I also believe in balance and moderation; movement is a big part of my life but it is not the only part.
I believe the balance of my home would change I were to turn my living room, essentially, into a single purpose movement practice room. Peace, comfort, coziness and beauty are also important to me. I may sit on the floor during the day to study, but at night I want to cozy up on the sofa (with a throw over me) to watch a show, read a book, or crochet.
I’ve tried a number of configurations to optimize our space. Like many modern apartments, the eating area is a small square off the galley kitchen: so one thing I’ve tried is to put the dining table into the living room and use the dining room as an office work area. That actually created less movement space!
The Downsizing Procrastination
Granted, we could definitely do a little better furniture-wise: we have an extra chair and a love seat (the love seat is currently in the dining room) which actually works pretty well. The chair could and should go to new owners.
We both have things we really want to keep, things we think that some day we will use. For my husband it is his full size electric keyboard (it takes up a big potential free-wall space in the living room). For for me it is our electric fireplace. It is my comfort: it is not just about the heat (though that is my rationale) it is about the coziness of seeing a fireplace flame, even if it is electric. I am also the one who hangs on to the most books, and I have two bookshelves at the moment.
As I said, we could do better but I got tired of trying to make it all work. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? I noticed too, that this was much less of an issue when I worked a 9-5 outside the home. If we move, that will be the time to make these decisions at this point in our lives. It all works, for the most part. The next big move we are planning is back to full-timing in an RV, and like 15 years ago, the first time we did that – we will be downsizing.
Your Practice Needn’t be Confined to the Mat
But this article isn’t really about that. It is about carving out some physical space to move. It is about thinking about your needs, making what you have work. The endpoint is to remove some of the reasons that might be keeping you from your home practice.
What got me thinking about it is that earlier in the week I wanted to do a yoga series using a wall, only I don’t have any free wall space that doesn’t require moving a bunch of stuff. So, my legs up the wall became legs up the fireplace instead.
Later I wanted to do a bolstered restorative pose. I don’t have a traditional long bolster. We both have meditation cushions which require some finagling to make work so they tend to get forgotten. I do have a Thai Triangle Pillow, like these. A Triangle Pillow is a cotton filled sleeping mat that folds into a bolster shape. They come in different sizes, too. I bought this one primarily as a sleeping mat.
It is quite comfortable for sleeping on and because I keep in in my living room, it is something I don’t have to get out. All sorts of movement practices can be done on it such as supported poses for hips and shoulders. It also feels good to elevate my feet on the back.
Space for Props
The other thing I struggled with was where to keep my other props. I have yoga blocks, straps, Yoga Tune Up balls and my domes. They used to go in a large basket, jumbled together. Out of sight is out of mind, and I end up spending my precious movement practice time searching for my block. Now they are living in the shelves of my TV stand.
Use what you Have
On the other hand, we don’t really need specialized equipment for movement. I would argue that a yoga mat is really useful for a number of reasons, but there are alternatives for yoga blocks, domes, straps resistance bands and balls. They are convenient but there are things you have around the house that would also work. Take a scarf, or a length of ribbon and you have a strap. A pair of old tights can become a resistance band. Books can take the place of blocks, rolled up towels and blankets can become bolsters. I use my coffee table for a lot of poses.
Nothing stays the same (I wrote about this – read it here – in 2014 and we no longer have the furniture pieces I described) and no doubt this current arrangement will change too. Personally, I actually have to to schedule time to practice. If I don’t I will have dozens of other things I ‘have’ to do. I want a sustainable practice. Part of that means removing barriers to moving. Making it easier to practice makes one more step towards sustainable movement.
Wearing restrictive clothing is related to a host of health problems. A couple of weeks ago I posted on my Facebook page that I changed into another outfit before noon. There wasn’t anything wrong with what I had on, except I was in discomfort. There is a very good reason for it: wearing restrictive clothing around your waist (waistbands, belts, shape-wear) and rib cage can cause damage. Read more here.
I’ve become that person I said I would never be: the one who lives in pants with elastic waist bands. Here’s what is happening when you feel those ‘I can’t wait to get home and take off my bra’ moments.
Tight waists displace your internal organs.
- Restrictive clothing (and sucking in your belly) displaces your internal organs either upward or downward. This increases the pressure in your abdomen, and as a continual habit, the pressure can cause the tissue (fascia) that joins one group of muscles to another, to thin and tear. Upwards pressure displaces the stomach and intestines against the diaphragm. Downwards pressures pushes the intestines against the pelvic floor muscles, and in women against the uterus. Some of the complications of upward pressure are hiatal hernia, and downward pressure uterine, bladder and rectal prolapse and diastasis rectii.
- You can also get bladder and vaginal yeast infections (‘foundation’ compression under garments) and constipation.
These are the prop jeans from ‘The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants’. If only there were such a thing!
As a teen I lived in jeans: the real, non-stretchy ones. These days I rarely find a brand of jeans that fits the way they used to. What happened? Has the fit actually changed, were they always uncomfortable and has my tolerance level changed? Sadly, magic traveling pants do not, in fact, exist.
Most of today’s jeans have lycra in them, so they should fit better, right? But have you put on a pair of jeans with lycra in them and been shocked said pants now show every ripple, and cellulite you didn’t know you had? Now we are told we need to wear lycra undergarments to cover that up. Wearing something like Spanx now means instead of pressure around your waist, you have it all over your belly. Don’t trade in your stylish jeans that fit for underwear that is slowly strangling you from the inside out!
The pain is real.
- Tight waists restricts blood flow to your internal organs which means they get less oxygen, which means your tissues are starved and cells start dying off. This is what is causing the pain.
- The less blood supply you have, the less oxygen your organs get, and as a result you get poor lymphatic drainage. If your lymph is not draining it creates a back up of waste products, which creates more pain.
Tight bras affects your ability to breathe, and more.
You know those days when you come home and the first thing you do is take off your bra and get into PJs? That is your
- Restrictive clothing affects how you breathe (shallow), cause nerve damage, give you heartburn due to stomach being displaced.
I have acquired a very low tolerance for restrictive clothing and uncomfortable clothing. Now I am sympathetic to those people I said I’d never become.
If you think the discomfort from wearing binding clothes is a price you have to pay for fashion, you might want to rethink your priorities. I am less tolerant of uncomfortable clothing because I’m healthier and more tuned in to changes in my body as a result of not wearing constrictive pants. Through practicing Restorative Exercise I became aware that I was sucking in my belly almost all the time. Once you’ve felt a relaxed belly it is hard to go back to wearing constrictive clothing. It is just so freeing.
My advice? Go with the flow and let your belly be free. If it is to be a choice between fashion or killing off my own cells, so-long fashion, hello oxygen. And here is a source for some exercises that will get you back in tune with what a free body feels like. And here is a post I wrote on moving your rib cage.
Daily Movement Multivitamin DVD
When I was a kid my mother did a big grocery shop once a week. She made a plan of what we were going to eat for the week, and except for stocking up on milk, that was about it – she didn’t usually go back to the store for more. (Of course there were a lot of reasons for that.) When I started my own household, I thought this was the right way to shop – the most efficient, ‘proper’ way to shop – so that’s what I did, except it never really worked.
My husband comes from England where, growing up, his mother and grandmothers went to the green grocers for fruits and vegetables, the butcher shop for meat, the fish mongers for fish, and so on, getting what they needed daily from small specialty shops. Food was bought to be consumed on the same day – or within a few days. Although this changed when they moved to Canada, I think what you learn when you are young stays with you and he still likes doing the shopping like this – even more so now that we live in an urban environment where there are shops close by.
For decades we did the big weekly shopping because there wasn’t an alternative to walk to a store: we lived way out in the country. Walking to the store would have taken the whole day and we wouldn’t have been able to carry enough to make it work. Yet even when we moved into the city and had the opportunity to walk to the store, we still drove because it was our mind-set by then: a big weekly shop was just more efficient, we believed.
What changed was two things: not being self-employed anymore and having shops close enough to walk to. I soon found that working in an office Monday to Friday job left me with a lot of chores to do on the weekend, and doing a big weekly shop that left me tired and cranky wasn’t the way I wanted to spend my time. We’ve shifted gradually to picking up things as we need them: not daily because we don’t really need that, but several times a week. We also make shopping part of our weekend excursions by stopping at a market on our way somewhere else.
Getting Exercise while doing your Shopping
Here’s how daily shopping gives you more nutritious movement.
- First of all you get the extra walking just going to the store, whether you are making a separate trip from home or adding it onto your daily routine. If it is a separate trip, you of course get the extra walking to and from the store, but even if you are stopping into the supermarket on the way home from work, don’t discount those extra steps. I usually shop the outside aisles for raw ingredients, but often there will be one thing that takes me up and down the inner aisles. I’m covering a lot of the same ground a few times a week that I would have done weekly and it is extra!
- Secondly, I am only buying what I can carry (hopefully) but walking home with not only the weight of the groceries, but the size and shape of the items (the load) makes me use my body in a different way than I normally do. I use different muscles with more variation as I shift hands, carry with both arms, tuck things under my arms – just to get them home. Even more fun is carrying things without a bag! a(For more on this read It’s the Great Load Lesson, Charlie Brown, by Katy Bowman.)
- Compare the amount of work it is for your little shop to your big shop: with your little shop you probably have a hand cart or carry your items to the checkout, then you carrying your items home. In the big shop the wheeled shopping cart does the work, the items are bagged and wheeled to your car. There might be a bit more work to unload them and get them to your kitchen, but nowhere near the same movement nutrients as carrying things in your arms for a walk home.
- You can combine picking up food with entertainment. I realized how far we’d come on the weekend when we walked to Granville Island and picked up some things in the market. It is about a 45 minute walk and a short ferry ride away, but we walked at least an extra hour around the market and shops, and we came home with a bag of bagels, a block of butter, some corn tortillas, salsa verde and smoked salt – without bags. Granville Island has gone plastic shopping bag free and we didn’t have any bags with us, so we carried it. (We did get a small bag for the butter – apparently they are 100% plastic free yet.) That’s a pretty different movement experience than buying a weeks’ (or more) worth of groceries and loading them into the car.
I suspect there will always be times when we drive to pick up things – because we have the option if we need or want it – but I am now firmly of the mindset that shopping more frequently is the way to go and if you can manage it, you will be doing your body a big favour.
Devices for turning your desk into a standing workstation are popular right now; I have one myself and it is so good to have the variation. But here is something you should know about standing work stations: your body might not be strong enough to stand and work all day. People who have to stand for work know what I’m talking about. About 7 years ago I got a job in a coffee shop and it was the most physically taxing thing I’ve done. It was much more demanding than teaching dance aerobics classes. That summer I had pain just about everywhere, but especially in my feet and calves.
Standing workstation on top of a bookcase.
Prolonged standing in a relatively small range of motion can give you pain in the knees, hips, lower back, shoulders and neck. Look at it another way: if you’ve trained your body to sit for a long time, starting from a young age, your body adapts to that position. If you don’t agree just consider that graduating from high school trains you to sit relatively still for 12-13 years. If you want to increase your range of motion, you will need to undo some of that adaptation without ‘challenging’ your adaption, which is what can happen when you try to work at a standing desk completely (or suddenly start working in a coffee shop) before your body is ready. In other words, to be able to use a standing workstation without pain, you need to train your body for it.
How to Become a Stand-to-Work Pro
Like with any other training, your gear is important. To become a standing-to-work winner critically examine what you are wearing on your feet. Consider these 3 points in your shoe choices: heel height, toe box, and flexibility.
# 1 Heel height ‘zero-rise’.
Ideally, zero rise (totally flat) shoes, but if you are used to wearing a heel and have heard about the benefits of going flat, it is better to transition into them gradually. Going to a totally flat shoe while moving to a standing workstation may be too drastic a move (but you can alternate between what you usually wear and a lower heel.)
# 2. A roomy toe box with no toe spring.
Ideally your shoe should have a toe box that is wide enough for you to spread your toes sideways and wiggle them up and down. You also want to look at how much toe spring the shoe has, because that can keep your toes flexed upwards. Both a narrow toe box and toe spring in your shoe may even be a cause of plantar faciitis. You will never see a toe spring in a pair of flip flops but you see them on some ballet flats. Does your shoe look like a banana? It has toe spring.
# 3 Flexible Sole.
Most shoes really act like a cast to keep your foot from moving around in your shoe but there are about a hundred muscles in your feet that do not get to move at all if your shoes are so rigid that they prevent natural movement. Do the flexibility test: can you twist your shoe from side to side? Can you bend your shoe at the ball of the foot?
Again, I want to stress that going directly to a ‘barefoot shoe’ may be too much, too soon. You may need more padding under your foot. I don’t own a pair of Lems shoes but I have heard they are very good for transitioning to a minimal shoe. You could also consider using an anti-fatigue mat under your workstation.
# 4. If you currently wear an orthotic device continue to use it as you adapt.
# 5. Don’t just stand there, at your standing workstation. Move around a bit, unlock your knees, stretch your calves, unclench and untuck. I keep a tennis ball close by and I roll it under my foot and use it to stretch my calves.
# 6. Finally, start out by standing for short periods of time, working up to 60 minutes of an 8 hour day. Gradually transition to longer periods of time standing.
Muscle lengthening and strengthening Exercises
You will probably need to undo your adaptation habits in order to stand to work (for longer periods) without pain. One result of sitting for long periods (either in a long session, or over your lifetime) is that the muscles on the back of the legs get shorter which requires the body to compensate in particular ways such as flattening the lumbar curve and tucking the tailbone.
Here are two Alignment Snacks from Nutritious Movement to take you through this series: Stretching the Standing Muscles and Walk This Way, Stand This Way. They can be purchased by clicking on the links below.
The Calf Stretch lengthens the calf muscles.
Stretching The Standing Muscles
Focus on stretching the standing muscles first. Props you need for this exercise series which targets the gastrocnemius, soleus and hamstrings, are a rolled up towel or yoga mat, a dome or even a book.
The Pelvic List strengthens the lateral hip muscles.
Walk This Way, Stand This Way
Your lateral hip muscles need strengthening (they are weak for most people.) In this series you will learn more about balance and strengthening your lateral hip muscles. You will also need a rolled up towel or yoga mat, dome or book for these exercises.