D: Hi, there! 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. Hey, Katy, how are you doing?
K: I’m good! How are you?
D: I’m doing well. I wanted to ask you: I know you like to eat. You like food, yeah?
K: Yes, I do!
D: Food is good. Do you garden? Do you grow anything?
K: We do. We have just moved into – the house that I’m living in, we moved in after the end of last summer. In our last place, mostly greens like kale and spinach and onions and herbs. I don’t do too much more than that because we travel. It’s often for naught because we can’t tend to the garden, especially – like, we’ll be gone 6 weeks this summer.
K: So that doesn’t really make for great gardening. But we have fruit trees, so I have cherry trees and four different kinds of plums. I have Italian plums and prune plums and apple trees. I definitely produce some good food calories, but the rest we just get from – we trade a lot. “Hey, we’ll take all your kids out for a 4 hour hike, and you can just give us some Swiss chard!” It works out pretty well.
D: Well, that’s a win-win.
K: Win-win for everybody.
D: So is this your first year with the fruit trees here?
K: Yeah, at the end of last year we had – we didn’t have cherries because we came in too late but we had a lot of plums and we had apples.
D: So you know about how much crows love fruit?
K: Yeah, and deer.
D: Excellent. Okay. We used to have a cherry tree and for 5 years we used to watch the cherries come and go overnight, until we finally got wise to it.
K: What did you have to do? How do you keep crows off of cherry trees?
D: Netting. A double-layer netting, which is problematic as the tree grows larger, because you have to get on a ladder with a stick and a bunch of people are involved. It’s kind of like Moby Dick. You’re trying to throw a net over this huge thing – this whale of a tree. But it’s gotta be done if you have crows and birds. It’s gotta be done.
K: That’s so interesting. We have four. My sisters have them, and she never mentions the crows. But she has her one kid who is like a crow – she will just find him up at 6AM eating all of the cherries off the ladder. He would just mow through them. The kid runs completely on produce. He has no affinity for processed food; he only wants to eat raw food that he’s foraged himself. He is the equivalent of the crow.
D: Yeah. Speaking of kids, when you were a kid, did you break any bones?
K: I broke a ceramic table once, but no. I never broke a bone. There’s 10 kids in my family and only 1 broken bone.
K: I know, and that was my older sister. I wasn’t born yet at the time – I’m #9 out of 10. My sister, Janet, is profoundly deaf and I have 6 brothers. Evidently, the story goes that they were trying to get her into the tree where they were playing, so they thought they would haul her up in a shopping cart, and then halfway up they dumped the shopping cart out and she fell out and broke her arm. But then they told her not to tell what had actually happened, so I don’t think it was until a couple years ago that they came clean to my dad that she didn’t fall off a bike, that they had dumped her out of a tree.
D: There’s a lot of coming clean later in your house. I know with that table story, you wrote about it in your book.
K: Yes, yes. Coming clean seems to be a rite of passage.
D: I agree.
K: Just wait until your kids come clean!
D: I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to know.
K: La la la la la!
D: Yeah, I’m going to look the other way. Well, I always wanted to break something because I was so jealous of the casts that kids got to wear. They got attention; they got out of carrying their books to classes. People drew smiley faces and hearts and once I even tried to break something so I could get a cast! Apparently I desperately needed attention.
K: What did you break? Or what did you try to break?
D: Well, I tried to break my thumb. It seemed like the least painful thing to do and I didn’t want to just jump out of a tree or anything like that. So I just kind of really pressed hard on my thumb and that didn’t work, so I kind of took a hammer to it and I just ended up with a sprained thumb and a big hospital bill and some very angry parents. But I never came clean. I guess I just did now. So, Mom, if you’re listening, I’m sorry about that. I just wanted the cast.
K: Wow. I have a whole different impression of you now, sitting in some garage trying to break your own thumb with a hammer. That takes – that’s some serious gumption.
D: I am a determined individual.
D: And I was not rewarded with anything. Nothing! Just the lesson. The lesson and maybe I’m a little bit smarter after that.
K: My goodness.
D: There’s all sorts of casts, though, not just the casts that people draw hearts and smiley faces on, right?
D: Casts are meant to keep things from moving so that they can heal. But the kinds of casts that we’re going to talk about today are things that we do that prevent some or all of our body from moving. Got any theories on casts and why and what they are?
K: Well, I write a lot about being casted. So cast can imply the thing that you put on your arm, but it’s also, if someone’s an artist and they mold things. Any time you want something to retain its shape you put a cast on it. That’s what a cast – that’s what to cast means, is to set it in a particular shape. I use casts in – I use the concept of casts in trying to explain particular physical outcomes because immobilizing parts, no matter how the immobilization goes down, will result in a version of what happens when you’re in a physical cast in a break your arm/hearts kind of cast. You’re setting a joint range of motion to which the musculature adapts. It adapts by coming – it adapts by atrophying. Atrophy being both the reduction in thickness of a muscle – the muscle getting skinnier – but also in cases of muscles having to adjust its length to accommodate the new joint position, either becoming shorter or longer as the joint position dictates. It actually adds or takes away mass, which then affects the future range of motion of that body part. People who have ever been injured and there’s been a cast, when that cast comes off there’s been some sort of restoration process to get their muscles back. It takes a lot longer to get a muscle back then it does for it to go away in that cast. That’s because you’re casted 100% of the time, for the most part, but when you go to fix the muscle that was casted, the time that you’re working on fixing it is a lot less. It doesn’t take longer per se, it’s just that you’re working on it a lot less frequently once you’re out of the cast. You were working on shortening it all the time when you were in the cast, if that makes sense.
D: It does. If I don’t have a cast with hearts on it, what would be – what do you consider ways that we kind of inadvertently, kind of, cast our bodies?
K: Well, if you have a positive heeled shoe, and you wear one a lot or often. Casting in a non-traditional cast scenario has to do with the frequency in which you’ve altered joint position. So shoes – I like to start with the ankle and the foot; they’re extremely casted tissues. Your foot has set physical parameters or limitations that the muscles and the tissues then adjust to. It could be the lack of being able to spread your toes. It could also be the inability for your heel to come back down to the ground. A lot of people who have been wearing heels for so long that they can not wear them – if you’ve heard people say that, the phenomenon that they’re experiencing is that they’ve altered their geometry at the ankle so much that they’ve physically lost the structure necessary to stop pointing their toes, which is the joint range of motion in a heeled shoe.
D: Or when they say – I mean, I’ve had people say to me, “the flat shoe – that’s just uncomfortable. I don’t know why you think those are comfortable.” They’ve spent their whole life in a high heel.
K: Sure. It’s uncomfortable.
D: So it’s uncomfortable.
K: It is. They’re absolutely telling the truth, and they’re physiologically not – they don’t have the equipment to not wear a heeled shoe. There’s this whole therapeutic process that needs to happen. Again, it takes a really long time. Then there’s the – I think what I’m most fascinated by is the flat ground cast. So your ankle is extremely complex. There’s 3 joints that can deform as you walk over stones, and if you can imagine going out hiking, if you look at the surfaces that you’ll be walking over there’s no two surfaces alike. The pitch and the angle at which your ankle needs to deform are different every single place that you step in. So had you always been using that full range of motion, you would have maintained the tissue necessary to do so. But the flat ground itself is a cast in that it prevents you from doing any of those other things with your ankle while you’re walking. So we have to kind of broaden the notion of a cast, to anything that prevents motion. The flat ground is one of those things. Since we’ve been walking on flat, level ground almost every single step almost our entire life, your structures when you look at them anatomically – when we look at the structure of the ankle joint anatomically, in research we have to remind ourselves that what we’re looking at is a population that has been casted. You’re looking at a joint and tissue structure formed by a cast that we’ve inadvertently placed on our foot just by how we’ve set up our physical environment.
D: If somebody goes out and they walk every day, and they’re on a sidewalk, a city sidewalk, they’re doing this good thing. They’re walking and it’s really something to digest, thinking, “well, I’m walking, but I’m not getting that full range of motion that my ankle can do.”
K: Yeah, and not just the ankle, it’s your ankle, knees, and your hips.
K: And it’s your pelvis, which means that it’s also your lower back. So it’s a whole body cast; it’s just a lot easier to understand if we only talk about the ankle. But yes, you are how you move, and you have to – as I’ve talked about before, with the notion of natural movement versus an unnatural movement scenario, you have to keep referring back to the biggest picture, which is that we have a cage – a metaphorical cage – that is setting parameters about which parts of us get to move or not. We always need to remember that that’s what we’re looking at when we look at modern humans. We’re not looking at human structure as much as caged human structure. A casted human structure.
D: Casted human structure. Okay, so aside from level ground, or flat ground, like sidewalks and cement and stuff, and shoes – what other kind of casting can we do? Or do we do?
K: We’ve been casted by chairs. Chairs – the seats. We talk about sitting being a problem, but it’s not the stillness, necessarily. The stillness is a separate problem from the fact that the stillness is always happening in the same geometric formation that then causes structural adaptations to that geometrical formation. The hip flexion and the knee flexion and the pelvic tilting which is then the articulation of the lumbar spine – all of those become casted, and when we get up and out of our chair, those adaptations don’t just go away if we’re up and about for an hour vs. the rest of the time that we’re not and we’re in this casted position. We slowly adapt to what we do most frequently, and what you do most frequently is sit in a chair. So the chair is another one, and you have to remember that we’ve been in chairs since we were four or five for most of us, which means that during the period of time in which you did most of your growing, you also did most of your sitting. Probably more so for this generation than for our generation, or my generation. We broke up a lot of the sitting with more vigorous motion – but now, with the age of technology – I put this in Move Your DNA because I found the statistic mind-blowing. Canadians are really good at their public health monitoring, so the data shows that the average Canadian teenager walks 11 minutes a day.
D: Wow. Wow. Wow.
K: Eleven minutes.
D: That is mind-blowing.
K: It is.
D: Kind of disturbing, along with the mind-blowing.
K: Just quantifying stuff makes it so much more clear for sure. I like to convert the ‘moving around for an hour is still only 4% of your day’ so what are you doing the other 96%? But you have to cut off the sleep time – what are you doing the rest of your waking hours? It’s non-moving. So you have to look at what – if you’re still during that period of time, can you get out of the cast? You can still be still and get your work done, but can you sit or stand differently because then that will decrease the effect of the cast that you most frequent, which is probably your chair in front of your computer.
D: Well, even standing – I have a standing workstation in front of my computer that I use 99% of the time. But even standing, I find I can’t just stand there. I have to shift. I have to hold one leg up behind me, or rest one leg. I kind of shift my weight back and forth, because any sort of static situation I start to get aggravated in. I can’t – I watched Godzilla last night in the movie theater, and my daughter kept saying, “Do you have to go to the bathroom?” because I just can’t stay in one position for very long. I get very aggravated.
K: Yeah, that’s kind of like, once you take your shoes off – once you take positive heeled shoes off and discontinue wearing those, and then you put on a heeled shoe for some rare occasion, it feels like a giant wedge. It’s all up your butt, your low back’s all jacked up. Once you become a more habitual mover, you become aware of all the sensations that come with being still, which before, because they were most frequent, were kind of – they’re taken out of the part of your brain that’s monitoring. Anything that’s the same, repetitively, your mind stops bringing it to your attention, because it’s like, you already signaled this this many times and nothing’s changed, so we’re going to stop utilizing energy, because there’s obviously some reason for you to be in this position. Only when you stop the habit do you become aware of all that you were sensing before that your mind conveniently removed for you to have to deliberate on. It’s kind of like when you give up sugar, you realize how sweet everything tastes afterwards.
D: Yeah. Yeah!
K: It tastes exactly the same before, but what’s different is the way you process it. You process unique and novel things differently than you process repetitive inputs.
D: It’s true. I’m actually on week 2 of giving up sugar. I had some ketchup the other night and it felt like pouring Hershey’s syrup down my throat. I was like, “whoa, there’s so much sugar in ketchup!”
K: You don’t even realize it.
D: No, not at all. In fact, everything is savory when you have sugar in your diet and you have something like that, it’s a savory sensation. When you remove it, you pick out all the sweet.
K: I’ll just put a heap of brown sugar here on my burger.
D: Okay, so we’ve got chairs, shoes, flat and level ground. What other kind of things do you think cast us?
K: I think the muscles in people’s eyes are extremely casted by the distance they have from their computer screen. Your muscles have a full range of motion – like in your arms and your legs – and so do the muscles in your eyes. Looking far away vs. really close up is created by the degree in which your ciliary muscles in your eyes are contracting or relaxing, right? We don’t cross train our eyes very well. We don’t spend the equivalent time looking over the range of distances, which would be using our eyes in a constantly varied way. Instead, everything that we look at is either – I don’t know how far your computer screen is – Ok, I’m putting my arms down; so whatever the distance is between your typing position – 2 feet? Either your eyes are looking at something 2 feet or maybe at the greatest distance, you look across your house and it’s 20 feet or 30 feet, depending on your house. That’s the extent that you work those muscles. That’s a narrow range of motion, so your eyes adapt to that and then they lose the ability to see far away – really far away – which requires a certain relaxation. In the same way that it’s challenging to get your psoas to relax, or your calf muscles to relax to accommodate non-heeled shoes, it becomes difficult to relax your eyes to see real, real far away because you just don’t practice that range of motion. So I’ve been really conscientious of that one, especially spending so much time writing. I’ve never sat – even when I was in graduate school doing a thesis – I never wrote as much as I have in the last 4 or 5 months. I could just feel the tension in the rest of my face; first my eyes go and then everything else tenses around it. Just taking myself out and away to look as far away as I can really helps soften. It helps me hit these other ranges of motion. It’s like taking the cast off; it’s moving the parameters that having nothing far away to look at sets on eye muscles.
D: Yeah, I guess that’s – since you started talking about that I started looking wildly around the room, trying to not look at my computer screen. There’s also – do you know that program, Time Out?
D: You can get it – it’s a free app on the computer. You can actually set it so it just stops your computer for a second so you’re forced to look around and take a break from it. Otherwise, I would just stare and stare and stare. With reading, what do you do? You and I both read a lot – you can only have it a certain distance from your eye. Do you just practice stopping and looking around? Reading can be very engrossing, as can writing. How do you take those breaks for yourself?
K: Well –
D: What signals you?
K: I’ve actually had to go a step farther which is to just stop reading so much and switching to things like audio books because while the content of books is amazing for part of me, it’s debilitating to other parts of me. So in recognizing my more habitual, sedentary patterns, reading being one of those, I had to find a way to satisfy my enjoyment of consuming ideas while consuming other aspects of nature. I’ve reduced my reading time by switching over to audiobooks, which I love and which I have a whole new appreciation for because I can relax my eyes. Even if I just want to stay sedentary – stay in bed at the end of the day, I don’t have to utilize my eyes. It creates a different physiological response to that book than it was before. That’s the kind of breaks. Also, I set a minimum in the same way you set limits to television for your kids, to reading, because it’s hard to say what is good or what is not good: it all depends on your perspective.
K: There’s gotta be a point, if you’re having physical distress because of the total quantity that you’re inert, or when you’re reading it’s not just that you’re inert but you’re busy contracting your eyes, that you find a balance. Just finding a bigger balance. I mean, if you want to look away.
D: Always a challenge.
K: Always a challenge.
D: Always a challenge. Well, and…let’s talk about Spanx, baby! What do you think about that kind of stuff that compresses your body, like a bra? There’s all different kinds of underwear; there’s your basic loosey-goosey stuff, especially if you’re like me and you haven’t gone and bought underwear in a long time. Or there’s really tight compression stuff – stuff that holds us in, bras that hold us up, like underwire or something like that. Is that something that can affect – because as far as movement, my boobs are going to be there whether or not they’re being held up, right? Or does that affect them?
K: I would say it affects them. I would say that underwear is more of a complex argument, so I’ll let people read about it in the book. There’s a whole section on underwear. Men and women, and then going beyond just underwear to belts and Spanx, compressive garments, and it all is geometry altering. It all is load altering. Your boobs are going to be there, as you mentioned, or if someone wears tighty-whiteys, your balls are going to be there, regardless. That does not mean that it’s the same mechanical environment with or without those casts. Casting meaning that it’s preventing the full range of motion of your hanging and swinging bits.
K: There are potential consequences for that, and of course, I’ll refer you to the book for that part. I’ll end by saying that, yes! And I posted a thing on the Facebook page – some of the more recent literature about those types of compressive garments, including a belt. People don’t think of a belt as a compressive garment, but it’s putting pressure all of the time to your trunk, and the digestive issues and the pelvic issues that come from playing with those pressures.
D: That’s why you’ll only find me in elastic waist pants. There, I’ve said it. I’ve constructed both my careers around being able to just wear yoga pants all the time.
K: Yeah, I don’t even have any formed – I don’t have any restrictive clothing anymore because it’s not worth it. It’s just like we were talking about how you feel the stillness, or you feel the heel under your shoe. I can feel the limitations of clothing that doesn’t move with my body. It’s like being in a straightjacket. So just over the last 10 years, I don’t have anything left. I have one pair of jeans and they’re totally baggy and stretchy, like my camping jeans. Other than that, everything is Lycra, baby.
D: Yep, I’m with you.
K: It’s not really Lycra – it’s not really Lycra. It’s just all flexible.
D: Flexible. Elastic and flexible. Yeah, I also have one pair of jeans, and they’re loose and baggy and that’s just the way I like ‘em.
D: Well, what about on a bigger scale, maybe just being inside or – yeah. Is being inside a cast? Or is – sitting in our chair is, sitting and watching TV on the couch can cast our bodies, but what about living from car to house to office to store to car to house?
K: Yeah. I mean, being inside and I’ll break down being inside into two different categories: being inside of a structure is casting. It’s setting the limitations of your physical responses to things like temperature and wind and other sensory inputs that have mechanical responses. People lose the ability to deal with hot and cold which are physical responses of shunting blood and dissipating heat as needed, or using your horripilation, which is a fancy word for Goosebumps, to move hairs, to trap air to warm it so you have a pocket of warmth around the body. All of these are movements – they’re small movements, but they’re metabolism-expending functions. All of those have musculature that adapts to it being used, or not, so in that way, being inside of a structure is affecting the forces that you create with your muscles. Then there’s – we could probably end the show with talking about being inside of a culture. Being the cast – feeling that our decisions – that our spectrum of decisions that are available to us are casted so to speak by what’s accepted socially. If you know what I mean.
D: I do know what you mean. Sometimes I just have to think about it because it makes me shift my way of thinking about it. I just have to digest what you just said. That was good!
D: Casted. So many different ways to be casted.
D: Well, how are you going to get outside today?
K: I’m going to use my two legs to walk outside and I’m going to do some hiking later on, and then I’ve been doing a lot of swimming lately. Swimming is – I think I mentioned before, maybe in a different show – I love swimming. Swimming like depth diving and really moving in a non-repetitive way. Not going in swimming stroke-stroke-stroke-stroke.
D: You’re not doing laps.
K: No, no, no, no. Free diving and pretending that I’m a seal. I pretend that I’m a seal now. It’s something I’ve done my entire life, but before I would pretend I was a mermaid – including binding my ankles together with a ring, and pretending I was a mermaid for hours in the pool. I’ve kind of started doing that again. Our kids are at swim lessons and we’ve got some great lakes that we’re headed to for some travels for work this summer. That’s how I will be getting my movement, and also to the post office. I try to walk to the post office for work every day to blend movement into my actual work production. So that’s what I’ll be doing. How about you?
D: That sounds good. I am going to plant some seedlings out in my garden. I’ve been growing them inside, and I was going to plant them and right before I was about to plant them, my neighbor said, “did you hear about the hail storm that’s coming our way?” and sure enough, golf ball sized hail hit a half hour later and broke windows in our house.
D: Yeah, I’m not kidding – it was huge. Like nothing you’ve ever – it’s like we were under a military assault in our old 1900s house, and I was so happy that he said that because all these tender cucumber and pea shoots that I’ve been growing and tending would just be dead.
K: Pummeled. Pummeled to death.
D: Pummeled, yep. So now is the day that they get to see the sunshine for reals.
K: So do you.
D: Yes. Well, thank you so much. I hope you have an awesome time swimming today, and I will talk to you later.
K: All right, Dani, have fun in the garden!
D: Thanks, bye bye.