Movement Mailbag, Podcast Ep. 4

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DANI: Hi, there. Katy’s on the road. She’s on a mini-world tour, helping to certify Restorative Exercise™ Specialists in different countries, and she’s also promoting her book, Move Your DNA. So I thought I would play one of our first recordings for you – the sound quality’s not that great, and I’m sure there’s plenty of bloopers, including my Chihuahua yapping in the background, but I thought it’d be kind of fun to play this for you. So, thanks again for listening and I hope you enjoy the show.

You’re listening to Katy Says, the podcast that helps you become Aligned and Well. Join us for conversations with Katy Bowman: biomechanist, creator and director of the Restorative Exercise™ Institute author, teacher, blogger, mother, and total body nerd. Understand the mechanical causes of modern ailments, learn how to fix them, and restore yourself to a more natural state of human movement. We hope you find the general information on biomechanics, movement, and alignment informative and helpful, but it is not intended to replace medical advice and shouldn’t be used as such. And now, your host: Dani Hemmat.

 DANI: Hi, welcome to Talk the Walk! I’m your host, Dani Hemmat of Move Your Body Better. Today, Katy Bowman is going to help us dig through the mailbag. Katy, thanks for being here.

KATY: Oh, the mail bag. You mean like, the boy bag, or the bag of letters?

DANI: I mean the Bag O’ Letters.

KATY: Oh. Okay.

DANI: And it’s a pretend bag of letters: it’s an electronic bag of letters but, you know, email bag doesn’t have the same mouth feel that mail bag does.


DANI: And mail bag, that’s a whole different show, girl. A whole different show.

KATY: We could do the whole show on the male bag also if you want.

DANI: This here’s a family program. Okay!

KATY: There would be no families without the male bag, I’ll just say.

DANI: There you go. And it is cremaster? Is that –

KATY: The cremaster muscle? Mm-hmm.

DANI: You know, I think that sounds like a nice dessert. It’s just the nicest name for a muscle.

KATY: I think it sounds like an appliance. Like the Cremaster 3000, blending it up. Making my green smoothie out of the Cremaster 3000.

DANI: Yeah, it is a tool for some for sure. Okay! All right. So. Let’s go into these questions – I have a whole stack. You want to just dive in headfirst and see where we surface?

KATY: Head first into the mail bag.

DANI: Into the mail bag, get your cremasters on. Okay! So this is a weird question. You may or may not know the answer to this but somebody asked it and I thought, yeah, I want to know that, too. What causes a joint to pop and crack?

KATY: Oh, jeez. I don’t know.

DANI: And I tell you why I would love to know this, because I tell my own kid to stop cracking his knuckles simply because my mother told me. She said it would cause arthritis, and that scared me straight. I quit popping my knuckles, but I kind of wonder, am I telling him to stop this for no reason? Do you have any idea, or do we have to go to a knuckle specialist to find this out?

KATY: I would say that – people ask me this more often than not. There’s different types of popping. There’s different types of noises. I think the question that I get the most often would be about the hip. A lot of people do this – my sister does it, too. She does this weird kind of arabesque thing and she’ll kick her leg back like a donkey, and it’ll cause her hip to pop, and she’s like, I can’t walk until I do that and after that her back and hips are better. Other people, as they’re moving their hip during exercises – say laying on the floor or doing a leg raise or something, they’ll hear a popping or cracking in the hip and in that case, that’s more of a snapping. So the snapping is more – I want to say it’s more better. It’s more better understood. Mostly because I’m a wordsmith. The snapping of a tendon over a bony prominence in the bone can happen quite a little bit, so that’s what’s usually happening with that type of joint noise. If you’ve got a lot of – you’ve either got too much tension in the tendon caused by too much tension in the muscle, or the position of the bone is such where the tendon is articulating over – bones aren’t super smooth. They have these bumps and lumps that we call bony prominences where sometimes those are inappropriately positioned so that the tendon is articulating over them, and that’s that kind of snapping, snapping of the hip that’s pretty common. When you’re talking about in your fingers, I mean I’ve always heard it explained that you’re forcing air out of the joint but I don’t know exactly how much air you have in the joint. I don’t know if it causes arthritis. It’s just one of those things where I don’t know. I don’t know how you would do research on it, and yeah. Maybe you should just go see a knuckle specialist.

DANI: Yeah, or you should just call my mom. You know.

KATY: Yeah, we could just ask your mom. Your mom should be on the show.

DANI: Well, we’ll see about that. Okay. So this is a question actually that a lot of people asked, and I’m curious about this – and I hope it’s not too big of a question for you, and if it is, just say so and we’ll throw it back in the mail bag and do it some other time. Scoliosis: what causes it? And is it reversible?

KATY: Scoliosis is an inappropriate curve in the spine, so you have natural curves in the spine. You’ve got the lumbar curve and the thoracic curve, and then you’ve got the cervical curve. There’s these natural curves, but scoliosis tends to be rotation, so the curves that are in your spine that are natural are in the front-to-back plane, the sagittal plane, meaning they’re either curling forward or curling back. But scoliosis isn’t a curve to the right or to the left, or sometimes it can also be in the transverse plane, which means if you’re sitting there right now listening, or standing there right now, listening, hopefully

DANI: I’m standing! And stretching my calves.

KATY: Very good, me, too! Oooh – you’re going for the points. So if you turn your chest, that would be a transverse rotation. You’ve got either – if you’ve got scoliosis, either your spine is bending to the right or to the left or it’s twisting, or it’s doing a combination of both. Scoliosis can go anywhere from super mild to severe. Back in the day, they used to brace – it’s more prevalent in women, in girls, it tends to come on around puberty. The tendency tends to be curved on the left side, or away from the left side. The curve is pretty standard.

DANI: I wonder why that is!

KATY: I have my theories, but I think we could do a whole entire show on scoliosis and I’d put them there.

DANI: Ok, we’ll put a pin in that one, then.

KATY: Well, don’t put a pin in scoliosis curves, you’d put a rod.

DANI: Okay, I’ll put a rod.

KATY: You would put a rod. Let’s put a pin in that mail bag. Ohhhhhh!

DANI: Oh, ho ho! That’s gonna make ya mighty unpopular there, lass.

KATY: That’s right.

DANI: Back to the curves.

KATY: Right, so we’ve got the curves. What causes it? It’s idiopathic, meaning they don’t know what causes it. Is it reversible? To a degree, corrective exercise is extremely important, and one thing I like to point out, and probably we can save the rest for a whole separate show on scoliosis – is that I do think a lot of people associate – I think it’s overly diagnosed. I do think that you can have – when you have curves and twists in your spine, it’s just called scoliosis. It’s not necessarily a disease. There’s no markers for a disease of scoliosis. So we don’t spend a lot of time doing very symmetrical things with our spine, and we also spend a lot of time not moving our spine, and then we also spend a lot of time in repetitive positioning. So if you imagine a lot of kids at a school desk, writing with their right hand, and how they’ve slumped over, it’s not a huge wonder why a lot of people end up with a musculo-skeletal patterning in their body of this spine going off to the side. You’ve trained your body to do so. So to that extent, is it reversible? Yes. You can definitely re-establish mobility and strength patterns so your muscles are able to hold your spine up. That’s always my biggest point of contention with things like diagnoses like these. It’s one thing to tell someone, “you have scoliosis,” and it’s another to fail to mention that they’ve – that it’s a completely normal outcome for how they’ve used their body over a period of time, and if they want to get better, instead of just trying to treat the curve they can look at their musculo-skeletal habits. So that’s what we do, right? As you know, of course, we look at how have you been using your body so that the curves and lumps and bumps that you’re experiencing in your body make total sense because that’s how physiological adaptation works.

DANI: Yeah. Did they ever at your school, when you were in grade school, do the scoliosis test? Where they would call you all out of your room, down to the gym or the cafeteria. That had to be one of the most terrifying things at grade school aside from, like, trying to climb the rope. I was always afraid that I’d be the one they’d say, “oh! Scoliosis.”

KATY: I do remember you had to bend forward and the school nurse, you know, highly trained in orthopedic assessment, would look at you and say, “Yes, you have scoliosis, now go get a brace.” A Judy Blume book – I was a big Judy Blume reader. Did you read Deenie?

 DANI: Yeah

KATY: Remember when she was put in a back brace? You know what, I really want to bring that book out of the archives and I think we should do a podcast on that – I don’t even know how to say it – I just remember reading it and feeling her dread, like, not only am I a teenager, I am a teenager in a brace underneath all of my clothes, through high school. And I’m broken, and I’m different, and just – relating to that because there isn’t a teenager who doesn’t feel like they’re in some sort of metaphorical cast or brace that everyone is looking at. But now, of course – that was in the ‘50s. That was written in the ‘50s, or Judy Blume, might have been a little bit later. Those were older books. They don’t do that anymore, because now they realize that what they used to do for scoliosis – and I’ve had a lot of clients who are in their 60s – and what they used to do, is if you had that tendency for scoliosis, they would put a rod through all of your vertebrae. A surgical rod.

DANI: Whoa.

KATY: And these women would come in, they’ve had a rod in their backs since they were teenage girls, and the emotional trauma associated with it – and of course, the rod didn’t do anything because for some reason, people don’t understand physics well enough to know that if you have a curve, and muscles to not support it, if you put a rod fusing all the parts together, now you’ve got a greater leverage and a greater curve prop.

DANI: I was going to say, the rod did do something. It messed up their lever system, bad.

KATY: It did. It didn’t help, and I think that there should be a Deenie support group. I’ve gotten to work with some amazing women who have really re-established the talk about, is scoliosis correctable? It’s certainly fixable. It depends on what you mean by, ‘correct,’ are you having a ballet dancing career with a perfect spine? No. But it does not have to be what it is. But yeah, everyone should go read Deenie. Everyone who has a teenager, or who is a teenager, should go get that book immediately because it will put you back into your place of going, ugh, I really didn’t like being 12 or 13 year old. But I want to say one more thing!

DANI: Yes.

KATY: In addition to the scoliosis test, we also got the lice test. Did you get the lice test, where they would come in with sticks and put them through your hair? If there was a lice outbreak, or was that just our school?

DANI: It did not happen in our school.

KATY: Where’d you go to school?

DANI: Lewistown, Montana.

KATY: Oh, Montana.

DANI: It’s too cold there for lice; I’ll be perfectly honest. In Washington, when I lived in Washington, some kid constantly had lice in our school, in my kids’ school. I was always putting tea tree oil in their hair when they went to school every day to protect them – which it did work. But in Montana, I never knew one child that had lice. Not one.

KATY: I had lice. I never had lice in elementary school, but I would love the test because it was basically like someone rubbing your head. So I’d be like, “I think my head is itchy!” and then I’d go to the school nurse and let them give me a head massage with those sticks, like pickup sticks. But I got lice in middle school – there was a girl with a slumber party who had it, and we all slept in a tent together, and then I went and was spending my summer in Oklahoma with my sister when we discovered that – I’ll just say that I had it, since I don’t have her permission to say that she had it, too. It was – sorry. Sorry.

DANI: And you know, there’s your next million dollars. Judy Blume never wrote a book – she wrote about menstruation, and she wrote about the scoliosis, but she never wrote a book about head lice in middle school, so I think right there if you decide to leave your field, write that book and we’ll call it, Katy.

 KATY: We’ll just call it, Katy.

DANI: She liked to read and she had head lice. But you’re so much more than that to us, and you know it. I’m going to ask you a question – you’ve probably been asked this, but I’m kind of curious about it. From my own experience, a lot of people revisit their lifetime alignment issues that we’re trying to change once we start the restorative exercise program. They revisit those issues while they’re sleeping at night – forward thrusting head, or rib thrusting. I’ve actually woken up thrusting my ribs, because it felt so uncomfortable and I’ve worked so hard on changing that. You know, curling their toes- have you ever heard of, would those subconscious habits abate over time as a person continues to do their exercises and changes their daily habits while they’re cognizant, or is there a particular protocol that a person could follow to help tune into those very unhelpful nighttime habits? Is that a really long question?

KATY: Yes. It was a really long question, but it was a good and long question. Here’s what I think is happening: when you correct your alignment throughout the day, you’re forcing it, right? You’re consciously firing new patterns. It doesn’t mean that your old patterns were turned off. So when you’re dropping your ribs, you’re pulling your ribs down a lot of times but you haven’t necessarily stopped the muscle firing that’s holding them up. So it’s easy to correct and change your loads when you’re conscious, or when you’re consciously doing it, when you’re firing muscles. As soon as you go to bed, all your coping mechanisms are turned off and so you go right back – everything is just revealed. It’s not that you’re actively thrusting your ribs; you’ve been holding your body in that position for so long that your muscles have actually adapted to it. So it’s the shortness or the length of your body that has adjusted. I wrote a blog post called, “Muscle Oversimplified.” People should go read that, and we should link to it in the show notes for them so that they know that when you’ve held your body in one position for a long period of time, you’ve actually adjusted the mass of your muscles to make them physically longer or shorter. It’s not that your muscles are just one length and they’re behaving as longer or shorter muscles. They are, in fact, shorter or longer. So if you have some psoas tension or you’ve been thrusting your ribs for a long time, your spinal extensors could be shorter. You can’t correct that in a day by firing muscles that bring the ribs down, but you’re not really releasing the other side. When you go to bed, you’re not revisiting anything as much as you’re just not masking – you’re not compensating. You’re not firing a bunch of things. So what I’ve tried to do, and it’s been over a long period of time, is change the environment of where I sleep from the bed with the pillow to first without a pillow, and then eventually to the floor, so that the floor creates kind of an environment of traction, if you will, so that I can log some hours into the loads that restore my muscular length back to where it’s supposed to be. The actual mass. If you’re a head thruster throughout the day, you know, you’re looking at your computer or whatever you’re doing, and you go to bed and you put your head on a pillow, the pillow is an orthotic in a way that it continues the head thrusting position. So you can’t – while you’re at your computer you can fix – I just ramped my head up. You can slide your chin back and get some length but as soon as you stop ramping up, where does your head go? It goes back to where it was. But when you’re sleeping with a pillow, you are in fact practicing – you’re casting for 6-8 hours, depending on how long you’ve slept – back in that position. So it’s about slowly stripping away those devices that were part of – one of the reasons you became a head thruster in the first place was because you were on a pillow, right? You were on a pillow as a kid long before you ever had a head-thrusting problem. We’re molded to our bedding; not the other way around. Your bedding is part of the problem, if that makes sense.

DANI: Yeah. And you did a blog about pillow adapting – to life without a pillow.

KATY: I did, yeah.

DANI: That was good. How long did it take you to transition to a pillow-less lifestyle?

KATY: It probably took me a year, and as I said in the post – I believe the post is called, “your pillow is an orthotic.” It’s not about taking a pillow and then getting rid of it – it’s about looking at the height created by your pillow and then slowly bringing it down over time. In the same way you don’t go out to run 20 miles, you run a little bit and then you slowly get more adept – you bring your tissues along in terms of structural adaptation. You have to do the same thing. You’re not fit enough to sleep without your pillow. You’ll hurt yourself, in the same way as if you tried to do a pull-up right now, you’ll hurt yourself or you’ll be unable to do it. And so the same thing goes for the pillow. Over a year, I think, I brought down the height of my pillow, and then for a while I was sleeping on a folded up t-shirt, but now I’m perfectly fine on my side, even, with my head flexed all the way over to the ground. That’s a natural mobility; we drop our ear to our shoulder in yoga class and it never occurs to us that that should be something our head does all of the time. If you’re dropping your ear to your shoulder, it feels so good, that 47 seconds that I did it, twice a week. Imagine – it’s kind of like a natural restoration, sleeping. There’s some really great research on all the ways people sleep all over the world, and we are definitely outliers on our bed and pillows. It is not the normal human experience; it’s just what we do.


DANI: So are you on the floor yet? Are you with kids or are you still in a bed?
KATY: No, I’m on the floor, and I still co-sleep with my daughter most of the time and she sleeps way better on the floor. And that’s not – we don’t sleep on tile. Although I did when I went to Ventura to do a certification week for the Restorative Exercise Specialists and the house we stayed in had a hardwood floor, and like a rug over it. And then what we do is we lay down a couple thin blankets with a mattress pad. You know, like the cover that goes over the mattress with elastic. We’ll throw that down and a couple blankets and a sheet with whatever I need on top to stay warm, and that works great for me. I actually now feel really bad when I sleep on a mattress with a pillow. The equivalent experience to how I feel after sleeping on a cushy surface is probably similar to how people feel when they sleep in a hotel bed or go camping. When you abruptly meet something that’s different than what you’re physiology’s adapted for, I get headaches, I get neck pain the next day because instead of stretching – you know, the floor’s kind of like massage. It’s pressure. It does the very thing you go to a bodyworker for. Push on the parts that hurt so they stop hurting. I just did that 8 hours a day for free.

DANI: For free. You just worked it into your schedule.

KATY: You like how I just worked in that I sleep 8 hours a night, and I’m totally not sleeping 8 hours a night. That’s a lie.

DANI: Yeah, not alignment related, but what – how much, on average, do you sleep?

KATY: Well, I try to – in a most perfect world – my best sleeping is going to bed at 9 or 9:30 and waking up about 5. And that works best for my family, because I can work from 5-7:30. I do a lot of my writing during that time, and I’m not cutting into anyone else’s day. And in Washington, I’m pretty far up north. We get a lot of extra light, so I’ll actually get an hour of movement in, too. I’ll do a little bit of writing and head out and go walk a few miles before anyone gets up, which I believe is the secret to the mother. I never know. You know, I’m a new mom. I have an almost 3 year old and an almost 1.5 year old, and I’ve struggled, I would say, for the last year trying to figure out where’s my life supposed to fit in, to my new life? Where’s my old life trying to fit into my new life? I’m slowly realizing that that doesn’t happen, but I do realize that those early morning hours are great, but as my friend Penelope has said, going to bed early is sleeping in on the other side, and it’s really hard to see going to bed early – because your kids go to bed, and you’re like, I haven’t gotten to do anything by myself.

DANI: Yeah, you need to decompress.

KATY: You do! And what I found I was doing, though, was almost falling asleep, putting them to sleep. And then getting up, waking myself up, making some tea, and having some snacks so that I can decompress watching two episodes of West Wing, which is my crack. It’s like a total mind turnoff. I love West Wing. And you know, I would stretch, I would do all my bodywork at night. But I’m a nightmare during that time. My mind doesn’t really work after 4PM, so what I have just started doing is instead of waking myself back up, I go to bed with my kids and I don’t need that last snack, I’m not watching West Wing anymore, which is totally fine because crack is bad, and then I get up at 5 and I have exactly what I’m looking for which was 2-3 hours of uninterrupted time when I’m at my peak. And my husband’s an Ayurvedic practitioner, and for my constitution, for someone who is how I am, that timeframe according to him, and 10,000 years, is really the best operating period for my body. And my son is the same way. My daughter is not. She’s like my husband, where they would like to sleep in until 8:30 and go to bed at 10:30.

DANI: Interesting.

KATY: Their minds work well at night, and Finn and I are like, good night! We turned off at 6:30! Time for us to go to bed.

DANI: Yep. I always did my college studying in the morning and my writing in the morning because that’s when my brain fires best, too.

KATY: When do you go to bed, what’s your bed schedule like?

DANI: I go to bed at 9:30 or 10, and I get up at 5. I have a kid that is just like me, so he gets up at 5:30 or 6, so I’m never alone. That alone time window is small. Very small.

KATY: You have to start getting up at 3.

DANI: Yeah. And go to bed at 4 in the afternoon. They can just feed themselves dinner. They’re fine. Okay, so I have just two more questions. They’re totally not alignment related, but they’re very curious. What’s your favorite book to read to your kids at night?

KATY: That’s a good question. I get a lot of stuff from the library, so I change it up quite a bit. I don’t know if I have a favorite – I have a favorite, favorite book. We’ve been doing Spanish word books. The older one, who is almost 3, he’s very – he likes questions and answers. He likes work. Again, he’s like me in that way where he doesn’t enjoy doing something for the doing of it, it’s more about the learning or the very structured end result of gaining something. So I try to avoid reading anything where there’s a lot of questions or answers because his mind will just not shut off that way. I recently have been reading, My Father’s Dragon – do you remember those books? Again, they’re from like the 50s and I remember checking them. I’m totally nostalgic when it comes to books. I’m a total book geek—fiend—nerd. I read everything in both my public and school library before I was 9 years old and my mom sent me to school with the Clan of the Cave Bear when I was in second grade, and the teacher was like, “I don’t think this is appropriate for you!” and it’s like, well, my mom’s the one that gave it to me! So I’ve been reading My Father’s Dragon and it’s very simple story. I mean, it’s really for a 7 or 8 year old, and I’ve been reading that because he falls asleep. And then my daughter, she still just likes the simple board books. That’s a really long answer to say that it changes all the time.

DANI: And what was your favorite bedtime book when you were just a wee Katy bee?

KATY: Clan of the Cave Bear. No, just kidding. I don’t really remember any books from that part of my childhood. I remember all the stuff that I read later, but my most distinct memory is reading a lot of Trixie Belden when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade and – again from the 50s – I have a bias towards books from the 50s. She was a pre-Nancy Drew. She was a little bit younger than Nancy Drew, but kind of the same thing. And I remember one time staying up and reading – it was like 3AM and I was hiding under my covers and I have super thick glasses, and I had already taken my glasses off, and I was holding the book 1” from my face, and I was laying on my side. I have this technique of reading which I still use today, which I actually put my face on the book, because that’s how bad my vision is and I don’t want to wear my glasses because it hurts to lay down, with the side pieces, you know? So I’d opened the book so I could lay my face on one cheek and I’d have the rest of the pages one inch from my eye, and then I’d have to hold the book when I was reading the other side, and I would do that until 3 in the morning and then I would beg out of school the next day. “I’m sick!” I’d rub my face and my cheeks really hard to pretend I had a fever. “I can’t go to school! I want to stay home and read!” I had a serious, serious reading problem.

DANI: Yeah, I did, too. I was the kid with the flashlight under the bed and I would turn it off when I’d hear my mom come close, her steps in the hallway. She wouldn’t know – like I was sneaking drugs or something. No! It was just a book. Just a book. So.

KATY: Books are crack!

DANI: Books are crack, too.

KATY: Just say no. When you’re faking – I was faking illness. Faking disease. I’m pretty sure that’s the sign of an addict. And for kids who want to fake a quick fever for moms who just touch them on the head and go, you’re really hot, go back to your room: all you have to do is use friction. See, I was a biomechanist even back then. I would rub my cheeks, rub my hands really hard on my forehead and my cheeks to get the burn going, and then I would immediately go to her and have her feel my face. That’s who you’re listening to, folks. That’s who you’re taking advice from.

DANI: Did you ever fess up to her?



KATY: Oh god.

DANI: I hope she doesn’t listen to this show, then. That would be terrible. Well, thank you! You know, we didn’t even scrape the surface of our mail bag today, but

KATY: Nice! Good one!

DANI: Yep, yep. But there’s a lot more questions. Thank you so much for your time.

KATY: Thanks, Dani, I appreciate it.

DANI: I hope you have a great day.

KATY: Yeah, you, too.

DANI: Thanks, bye bye.

KATY: Bye!

Show Notes:

Muscle, An Oversimplified Model

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