DANI: Hello! Thank you for joining us. My name is Dani Hemmat and I get to talk with Katy Bowman each and every show as she answers questions about alignment, health, biomechanics, and all the bits and pieces in between. Good morning, Katy!
KATY: Good morning.
DANI: What have you been up to today?
KATY: Well, I have, for the first time in the last couple of years, slept until 9:00 so not much. It’s almost 10:00 Pacific Standard Time where I am, so I haven’t done too much. I made breakfast. I’m stretching my calves now, and just kind of getting ready for the day.
DANI: Wow, you must feel like you have superpowers with that much sleep.
KATY: You know what it is? It’s almost more like super panic, you know? It’s like it’s a good thing – you want the sleep – but when you wake up this late…normally I’m a 5:30/6AM but the summers get a little…Oh, we had long light. As you know, you used to live up here in Washington. So the sun doesn’t even go down until closer to 10, so we were just up and we’ve been playing hard for 3 days. I took a 3-day work break and just kind of hung out with the kids outside all day. I’m working in the garden, and it’s just messed us up where we’re going to bed late and sleeping in and I don’t know if I can handle it – all this rest, and peace.
DANI: Ah, summertime! That’s so nice. Well, this is our first podcast –
D – Yay! So we’re going to talk about a few – well, we’re going to talk about one really important thing that I’ll start us off with. Every show, we’re going to start off with a question because it’s always fun to find out how other people live their lives, and the perspective that other people have. So I’m going to ask you a question.
DANI: Let’s see. Okay, here’s something I’d love to know. Do you have a favorite time of day to take a walk?
KATY: You know, I would say my favorite time for walking would probably be daybreak, dawn. I’m an actual early riser, so I don’t like to go out when it’s dark. I would say that just after the sun has started to come up, that’s my favorite time. To even clarify time from time of day – the time of year would be daybreak in autumn. You know, when you start getting the crunch of leaves under your feet and it’s still warm in the day but it’s starting to get chilly in the morning and you know you’ve got that chilly winter. That’s my ultimate, just being by myself and going out time. I’ll also say that I probably haven’t taken a walk in that way for 3 years now. [Dani laughs] But I also love dusk walks, although on my last walk I went out – it’s a lot easier for me to get an evening walk because I can put my kids to bed. They’re still young and because of the long light I can take a night walk after they go to sleep. At 7:30 I still have an hour and a half, but I ran into a coyote the last time while I was out walking by myself and that was kind of scary.
DANI: oh, but also kind of cool, wasn’t it?
KATY: Yeah, kind of cool, but also kind of scary because I was out by myself and I live out where there’s nothing and it was a big – it almost looked like a wolf –
DANI: Yeah, coyotes in Washington are way bigger than Montana coyotes.
KATY: Yeah, they’re big
DANI: It’s almost like they’re bred with German Shepherds or something. They’re just huge.
KATY: And elephants or something. They’re taller than me. It was fine – I was talking with my dad. I use my walking time, during the day, especially, to do my work. One of the things I recommend for people who work – which is almost everybody – that you get in the habit of doing your business calls while you’re walking because it’s such a great way to get more movement during the day. I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t be okay with, “you know, I’m out taking a desk break so I’m calling you right now so I can get some oxygen for thinking creatively through this call.” I was talking to my dad. My dad’s conversation time is kind of like my special time and so here we are, having this moment, this father-daughter moment, and he’s 85, and we’ll talk for an hour and then I was like, “oh my god, there’s a coyote!” and he’s like, “Quick, make yourself look big! Make a lot of noise!” and he was just so – such a dad! So I was walking, and there’s a silo and I was describing it to him because he’s an old farm boy. He says, “Never play in silos.” So, anyway, that was a total tangent – I just love my dad.
DANI: Let’s just wrap this tangent up: I’ve got to know why he said, “Don’t play in silos.” Now I’m curious.
KATY: Well, he said – it has something to do with the gases, with the fermentation gases. And he said that my brother and I – he’s Canadian, so they grew up in a bunch of Canadian silos, so I don’t know if this is Canada-specific, but I assume that decomposition gases are the same no matter what country you’re in. They just accumulate, so he and his brother when they were little kids were playing there and were made sick by the gases. I was like, “I promise you I’m not going to go play in any of these decrepit barn silos that I’m walking by, but I’m about to get attacked by a wolf, thank you very much!”
DANI: Yeah, hahaha.
DANI: So when you walk and do business, do you wear a headset so you can swing your arms, or do you vary what you do?
KATY: I got a headset that had a microphone. I didn’t even know those existed, like little ear buds but it has a microphone piece, and it totally changed my life. I can put my phone away and I can use my whole body – I’m not sitting there with my head flexed and my arm to my phone. I just got done writing a small addendum book, like a small e-book that goes with the bigger book all on standing workstations and alignment at the office. That was, again, my recommendation is I think that’s a big solution – I think a lot of us who work spend a lot of time on the phone. I mean, I don’t know if it’s a ton of time over an 8 hour day, but it’s certainly about an hour and if you just piece your calls together during that period of time, you can go out and get an extra hour of movement a day. I’ve done contract negotiations; I’ve done all sorts of major things while out walking. I just think it’s the way of the future. It’s a way out – it’s a way out of a box that you’re trapped in.
DANI: That’s really good advice. I like that. All right, well, since we’re talking about the book and whole body movement and everything, how about we talk about your – not your definition of alignment, but the definition of alignment that you’ve based your work on. There’s a lot of ways people use that word, ‘alignment,’ but I want to know how you use it in your work.
KATY: Well, I would say that as you probably know, you read a lot of my stuff. People use the words, ‘alignment’ and ‘posture’ interchangeably. Or they’ll use the word, ‘alignment’ meaning a better version of posture. Yes, you have postural guidelines, but alignment is more specific guidelines for posture. I don’t think there’s a wrong way to use it, but I think the way I use alignment – the word alignment – is similar to how a car mechanic would use the word alignment. So if you take – everyone drives a car – if you have, perhaps, dealt with the alignment of your car – when the alignment of your car is off, as you’re driving it’s pulling up to the right of the left and you’re having to impart some muscle work of your upper body to keep it going in a particular way. What makes alignment poor in terms of cars is not the position of pieces; it’s the forces that the position creates.
DANI: What do you mean by, ‘forces?’
KATY: Well, I mean that if you didn’t’ fix your car alignment; what would happen is that some of the materials that make up your car would wear down faster than others. The reason you get your car alignment fixed is that you don’t want to have to replace your tires prematurely, just one or two of them. Or your axles or your brakes or whatever – the result is the forces that are created by the position. The thing that you’re trying to fix is the set of forces that are created when the wheels move relative to the car and relative to the ground so there’s things outside of the structure of the car that go into calculating the forces that are created through alignment. It’s all about the ground and the wheel – I mean, I don’t even know car parts. I’m making up terms right now.
DANI: You’re on track so far.
KATY: Yeah, the things that the wheels go on.
KATY: But then you also have the rubber in the tires, and then there are those invisible things that create forces. The speed at which you drive. The terrain that you drive over. Those are other factors that change the experience of the car, and it’s the experience of the car that you’re trying to adjust through changing alignment. You’re trying to find the perfect orientation of parts so once you are moving in the way that you’re going to be moving – so car alignment changes based on the speed of the terrain. If you have a four wheel drive, your car alignment is going to be different than if you have a two wheel drive, because the mechanic is considering how to get the most out of your car for the way that you’re going to drive it. Or the way that the factory says it should be driven plus your personal preferences. If you’re a racecar driver and you make over a Subaru to be a rally car, it’s going to be different than if it was just that same structure of a car not driven as a rally car. All of those things change your alignment. So the point that I like to make with alignment is that alignment is about the forces that are created through the positioning once you’re moving. The way most people use alignment and posture has to do with the static arrangement of points. It’s probably that way because it’s a lot easier to evaluate position when things aren’t moving, but I like to just remind everyone that the reason that we’re doing – the reason we’re even considering how your structure is oriented has to do with the forces that are created once you’re moving. We are in an ergonomic time – we’re in a time where the science of ergonomics, which is specifically how you’re positioned at work – people spend most of their time sitting at work. Isn’t that a shocker? Isn’t that shocking?
DANI: You said something a couple months ago about ergonomics. Modern ergonomics was not so much about making things function well but keeping you at your desk longer
KATY: Yeah! Ergonomics are not the healthiest way to be. It’s not a list of parameters, like, “make sure your wrist isn’t broken when you’re typing on your keyboard and keep your head over your ears as you’re typing.” Those parameters are – that alignment is to keep you structurally sound if your only options were to sit still. It’s the best way to sit still, but the bigger picture as you pan out is that sitting still is not very good for your body. To keep looking for the best ergonomic solution is to miss the point entirely: the question we’re asking is how to get the heck out and away from the desk. Ergonomic is a very narrow perspective about one thing.
DANI: I think of it as the best way to stay on a sinking ship.
DANI: What’s the best way for us to stay here while this sinks?
KATY: Right. And I think that there’s a certain defeatist attitude at that point – “well, we’re all going down, so I might as well go down with the best posture as possible.” So the reason I use ‘alignment’ mechanically is because there is no best way to stand or sit – those are problematic. If you have long periods of time in which you’re being still, the first thing to do is to change that. Now, I will amend that statement with: should you compare bouts of sitting still, there are better ways to sit still, especially if you’ve been sitting still in one particular way and have damaged the tissues based on that load profile. Just sitting differently is enough – it’s amazing how just that little pelvis adjustment when you’re sitting, to untuck your pelvis and get off your tailbone – that alone, were you to not change the frequency of which you sit, that adjustment for most people would bring about better health. So I don’t want to downplay the importance of adjusting your posture when you’re still. It’s just that I also don’t want to play into that narrow perspective which is that being our end goal: better stillness. I like to always bring back the broader perspective that we’re looking for, which is – let’s do both. Let’s optimize our periods of stillness and let’s reduce them at the same time. When we start moving, let’s understand that the way we have been still, the position in which we’ve been still for so long, is ingrained in our structure. Our tissues have adapted to that way that we’ve been sedentary, and we have to undo some of those adaptations. That’s where the corrective exercises come in. That’s why we’re doing – that’s why we have alignment points for objective measures for self-monitoring. Even if you don’t understand the forces, you can at least understand the difference in positions and can adjust them.
DANI: Speaking of being still, how about we do a stretch break?
KATY: Yes, that’s good.
DANI: One of the things that I first loved about reading your blog is that every time I read it, you gave me something to do. You gave me something to learn and it was great. So whatever you want; you can work in that pelvis tilt, whatever you want, but tell us: how can we stretch right now?
KATY: Okay, so if everyone just stands up – or even if you’re cemented to your chair, you can sit down and do this to. You’re going to reach your arms out to the right and left side, kind of like you’re making a T with your body. Your palms are down. Think about reaching your elbows away from you, creating traction. This is different than reaching your hands away from you; if you’re just reaching your fingertips away from you, you’ll end up creating forces that just straighten the elbow. And instead of straightening the elbow, I want to traction the upper arm out of the shoulder sockets. Think of stretching your elbows way out. If your nose was pointing due north, your arms would be pointing east and west. Then, look at your fingertips – I just turned my head – look at your fingertips, and pull your fingertips back towards your ears so that you’re giving “stop” hands. In sign language it’s stop or Diana Ross Stop In the Name of Love hands, you know what I’m talking about?
DANI: Yeah. I think of it as Han Solo in the garbage chute in the first Star Wars. Remember the garbage chute is closing? He had to put both hands out with his hands flat and his fingers up to the ceiling to keep the walls from closing in.
KATY: That’ll be great for all the Star Wars fans out there. So Han Solo hands/Diana Ross hands – pull your fingertips back towards you, and as you pull your fingertips towards you using the muscles in the hands (you’re not using any other body parts to do this, you’re just working the muscles on the tops of the wrists to extend the wrists back) you should feel a nerve stretch down your arms. As you’re reaching the elbows away and pulling the fingertips back, you should feel a nice stretch that goes through the palm of the hands up through the arms. This is my nerve stretch that I like to give people who work at a desk for a living. It’s the total opposite of bringing your arms back to type on the computer – type, type, type. Everything is in front of you and your shoulders are in this internally rotated position. So we’re going to reach out to the side again and pull your fingertips back.
DANI: That feels good; I must be doing this right.
KATY: There you go
DANI: I feel blood flowing and all sorts of stuff.
KATY: Make fists, and then you can release and you’re done. There you go.
DANI: Thank you!
KATY: That’s your tip of the day.
DANI: Thank you very much!
KATY: whispers: You’re welcome.
DANI: Okay, so back to it. The alignment conversation that we’re having. We’re talking about going beyond just the sitting still and fixing ourselves when we’re sitting still. The alignment points – that’s where I interrupted you. You were talking about alignment points, or maybe you want to jump forward into something else.
KATY: Well, yeah, we’re going to have to jump forward because I have absolutely no recollection of what we were talking about before.
DANI: Me neither, and I have all of this blood flow to my brain and shoulders now after that stretch, so I feel like going out for a walk!
KATY: Let’s just dance!
DANI: It’s podcast dance. All right. Well, so – alignment. I’ve heard people in a gym say, “your alignment when you’re doing this move.” It might be a squat or whatever. They equate alignment and form.
KATY: Yeah. I would say that alignment is being used as – like, posture is the relative position of parts. The end. This is your posture. Form, also, has that implication of orientation of parts. However, form, like alignment has that – let me go back a little bit. Alignment – the definition of alignment includes the term itself means the optimal way of doing something, where posture – if you want to talk about good posture you add the word “good” onto it because posture just means position. There is a good posture and there is a bad posture and the difference between good and bad would be based on whatever your parameters were. Culturally, there’s a good or bad posture. Form: if I’m working on my form in the gym – like if you’re doing a squat and they say, “your form needs improvement,” the implication I think would be that there is something that exercise is after that you’re not hitting right now. Sometimes what makes something good or bad in terms of form in an exercise is not always fleshed out really well. So shoulders back would be a good example of where the understanding of form or posture or even alignment has been a little bit muddled. We’ve got a lot of people pulling their shoulders back because we want our gleno-humeral joints (your gleno-humeral joint would be your shoulder joint; if you wore epaulets as a uniform, where that little doily over the shoulders would go.)
KATY: Ball and socket. It’s the ball and socket of the shoulder. So we move our shoulder joints so that they line up with our ears, and we’re like, okay, that’s good posture or good form or whatever. But that can be poor alignment if the way that you got your shoulder joints to line up with your ears pulled your shoulder blades closer – too close to the spine. Now, you’ve messed with the forces in the muscles between the spine and the scapula, or the shoulder blades. To correct one problem you’ve created another. So that would be not very good alignment, because alignment is about the system – the entire system and how the system performs as a whole. Alignment is making sure that the activity in one area of the system isn’t causing degrading in another. So you wouldn’t want your mechanic to go, “well, I got the tires all lined up this particular way, and the tires look great. Unfortunately, the way that they’re lined up right here isn’t going to work well with the speeds between 35 and 55. So when you drive between 35 and 55 you’re going to wear your tires out.”
DANI: Well, nobody would go for that.
KATY: No! No! Well, here in Washington there are a lot of people – I live in a retirement community in Washington, coming from basically the L.A. area of California where it’s just a completely different driving thing going on. I appreciate it. Anyway, that was a tangent. But with alignment, you consider 100% of the body all of the time, and also the end goal. So my alignment parameters are about long-term biological function. Someone who has performance goals would have a different alignment.
DANI: It would be cool if as many people – I mean, I bet that people think about alignment as far as performance goals as much as they think about their car alignment. You never really do it unless something’s gone wonky and your car is bouncing up and down or you hear a scrape or something rubbing and it’s kind of the same deal; hey, my knee doesn’t work anymore! How’d that happen?
KATY: Yeah. And I would say that again it’s always back to semantics – how you use the term “performance.” When I use the term, “performance” just then, I meant some sort of contest, where you’re trying to go faster or harder or longer and you’re looking for a short-term payoff even if it’s at the expense of biological performance. So biological performance: we’re talking about what are the things that the human body should be doing for moving the species forward? That’s really the baseline. Can you procreate? Can you deliver your babies? Can you get – I mean, some people can’t even have sex – that’s an issue for a lot of people, where their machinery is not doing that process well. Walking. Can’t walk without pain, can’t stand without pain, can’t breathe without pain – can’t breathe! I mean, when you start listing what are all the essentials?
DANI: You need those for survival of the species, to do that.
KATY: Digestion. Yeah! If you can’t eat, can’t digest your food, can’t breathe, can’t, can’t can’t – and a lot of people can’t, can’t, can’t as I just listed basic things. But they can do exercise really well at a competitive level. We, as a culture, keep looking to how we can perform fitness-wise, exercise-wise, and are completely ignoring all these biological “can’ts” around it. So that’s not my perspective. My perspective is not about you as an exerciser. It’s about you as a human being. How well are you being or doing your human activities? A lot of people sacrifice their human activities for this fitness-performance type thing. And that’s fine, but I think a lot of people are doing it without realizing that’ they’re doing it.
KATY: I think that there are plenty of people who do realize it, and that’s awesome. But there’s a lot of people who are confused as all get-out because they’ve associated or have been told – that what they’re doing for their fitness-y thing is what gives them the biological well-being, and that’s just not the case. And so that’s what I do.
KATY: What I do, what I do.
DANI: And speaking of what you do, you’ve talked about eye breaks a lot lately. What’s an eye break?
KATY: An eye break is when you karate chop three boards with your eyeballs. No, just kidding.
DANI: Excellent! I will get the wood.
DANI: You get the cinder blocks.
KATY: an eye break is – just as – there are lots of muscles that we consider but I would say that if we were to give everyone a list, even exercise-y people, even well-trained body people and told them to make a list of important muscles, it would probably have at max 50 muscles listed on it. We only think of our big boys. But when it comes to health-making and biology –
DANI: Or as they’re called, the “glamour muscles.”
KATY: that’s right, that’s right.
DANI: Quadriceps, biceps.
KATY: Yeah, is there anything besides biceps? Hamstrings? I don’t know!
DANI: Mirror muscles
KATY: You’ve got ciliary muscles that move your lens in your eye that allows you to see close and see far away. It’s not a muscle that you have control over in a somatic type way, meaning you can’t release and shorten it. I would say that there’s probably some people who spend a lot of time getting control over their smooth muscles that could, so we’ll just add that. In general, what changes the tension within the muscles of the eye is the distance at which you’re looking at things. So if you choose – it’s somatic in this way – that if you choose to always be inside, you’re choosing to never relax those muscles in the eye. So in order to exercise those muscles in a different way, you have to go outside and look at something far away. So that’s what we’re going to do right now – you’re going to take a break, either pause this, or if you’re walking around outside, stop looking at things that are five to 30 feet away from you and look at something that is 100-300 feet away from you. Just by doing that, you just used the muscles in your eyes in a different way. You just cross-trained your eyes. It’s really important that people take breaks from looking at their computer screen and looking at the book that they’re always reading.
DANI: So say I’m at the Empire State Building on the 43rd floor and there’s no way my boss is going to let me go outside and look, what can I do when I’m at my desk?
KATY: Look out a window.
KATY: Look out a window. You don’t have to be outside; you just have to give your eyes something else to focus on that is at a distance. If you don’t have a window, you need to figure out how to get one. Even if it’s just walking over to a window, and then bonus, you stood up! But you do need to release – I mean, imagine casting your arms. If you casted your arms, how good it would feel to drop your arms. What if you were never able to drop your arms? That’s what your eyeballs feel like most of the time. It’s just that you’ve been doing it since you were a little, little kid and you have no idea what it’s like to just, ahhhh, relax those tension patterns. So do that, and then come back.
DANI: Excellent. Well, actually, that is our time for today! So don’t go outside yet, because we’re all going to go outside together. How do you think you’re going to get some movement in today? I know you just got up.
KATY: I just got up and what I try to do before – I have a whole list of projects.
DANI: Which, by the way, you’re lovely to talk to when you just got up. I’m not nearly as coherent, so I expected a lot less from you today. Good job.
KATY: I like to breed that perception that you’re always going to get less from me, so I’ll always deliver. Just expect that I’m setting the bar really low.
KATY: I’m going to go outside, just for 5 or 6 minutes before I have a lot of work to sit down and do. I’m going to go walk to check the mailbox, even though it’s Monday and I know there’s nothing in there because we don’t get mail on Sunday. I have a hula-hoop that a very lovely person gave me a long time ago – you, do you remember?
DANI: Oh, excellent!
KATY: Do you remember when you gave me a hula-hoop?
DANI: I do! I’m glad you still have that.
KATY: I’ll go hula-hoop out in the sunshine and look far away at the trees and take a few breaths before sitting down. If I just went from doing this talk with you to doing another one I would notice that I’d have a headache by hour 3, so I do need some outside time, so that’s what I’ll do.
DANI: Excellent, well, this was super fun today. Thank you.
KATY: Thank you!
DANI: Well, have fun! And your hula-hoop! We’ll talk soon.
KATY: All right, thanks, Dani.
DANI: Bye bye