Making Room for a Movement Practice

Making Room for a Movement Practice

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.

This post has moved. You can read it at Redfern Yoga.


Restrictive Clothing – What it Does to your Body

Restrictive Clothing – What it Does to your Body

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.
10425587_1 sisterhood of traveling pants

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

  • What Restrictive Clothing does to your bodyRestrictive 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


Letting Go: Autumn, Giving Thanks, and Breath Work

Letting Go: Autumn, Giving Thanks, and Breath Work

The season of Autumn is connected with the element of Metal in Chinese medicine and is related to letting go of things you no longer need: of ideas that are limiting, of regrets, old hurts, grief and a sense of loss.

The central organ associated with the Metal Element is the Lungs which control the flow of chi. Although breathing is an autonomous function, most of us breathe quite shallowly, using only the top third of the lungs. Taking full deep breaths, filling all the lungs, and fully exhaling is extremely beneficial. It is also a meditation practice, because doing breath work connects us with the moment; it is almost impossible to do while the mind is roaming. The word inspiration is connected with the Latin word ‘spiritus’ which means roughly life giving energy.

Letting Go with your Breath

Lungs take in and let go. We think of the Metal Element as a solid, un-moving structure, but metal is flexible; it can take almost any shape when it is in a molten shape and is also flexible to some extent in its solid form. The thoracic cavity is also flexible. It is a container that can change shape to become larger or smaller in volume. The bottom of the container is your diaphragm, the ribs and spine form the sides, and in between the ribs are the intercostal muscles.

Instead of letting go and breathing freely, most of us have patterns of constriction or holding on: in your shoulders, diaphragm, stomach and even your pelvic floor. Do your shoulders rise with your breath? Does your belly harden, or pouch out?  Do you breathe shallowly and hold your breath?

The shoulder girdle muscles and the stomach muscles are very important in breathing mechanics because they determine the mobility of your ribs and rib cage and how much your lungs can expand to take in air. If you only work on breathing exercises (through meditation or yoga) you may find there is some agitation and discomfort in your upper body, causing you to hold on even more, rather than relaxing and letting go.

Letting Go with your Belly

The first step to releasing your breath is to stop sucking in your stomach. If you aren’t sure whether you have stomach tension, try this simple exercise:

Come to your hands and knees on the floor (as if you were doing to do cow pose) and let your belly hang. Do not force your belly or your front ribs out. You are looking for a neutral spine and a neutral abdomen. Most people will not feel anything happen at first but if you can stay in this position you may feel a sudden release in your abdomen. Congratulations: you’ve just let go a lot of tension you didn’t know you were carrying.

To work on your shoulders and ribs try one of the Alignment Snacks by Nutritious Movement.

Shopping for Food to Get More Movement

Shopping for Food to Get More Movement

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.

2014-06-09-16My 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.



Train for your Standing Workstation.

Train for your Standing Workstation.

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.

Photography by Deborah Redfern - Movement Practice

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’.Ageless and Well Shoe Choices

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.Ageless and Well Shoe Choices

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. Chukka by Soft Star Shoes

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.

Deborah Redfern Corrective Exercises

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.


Ageless and Well Corrective Exercises

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.