Podcast from: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2015/03/move-your-dna/
[02:30] About Katy Bowman
[06:21] On Standing While Working
[10:48] Use of a Standing Mat
[13:32] On the Geometry of Vessels
[22:08] Why Katy is not a Fan of Core Activation
[29:20] Sucking In Your Stomach & Constipation
[31:58] Taking Care of the Eyes
[37:54] On Sleeping With Mattresses & Pillows
[43:21] On Kegels
[47:52] On Outdoor School
[56:34] End of the Podcast
Ben: Hey, it's Ben Greenfield here. Now occasionally in lieu of our normal, weekly, crazy Q&A podcast, I'll release a special interview that I find to be especially thought provoking, entertaining, educational and extremely compelling and unique. So today is one of those specific interviews. I hope you enjoy it, and there will be, of course because this is one of those special interview, no Q&A or news flashes or special announcements. 6However if you want to support this podcast, you can definitely do so by going over to the one website where I store everything that I've ever recommended for you to get to your goals as quickly and safely and effectively as possible, and that website is greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. So check out greenfieldfitnesssystems.com, it helps to support this show. And now onto today's interview.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast:
“You're putting in kinks into your hose, in your hips and in your knees, and these areas correlate to the highest areas of flack occurrence.” “You can think about less as I need to get my heart rate up as opposed to can I just break up my geometry.” “Not just looking away from your computer, but looking at something really, really far away.” “It becomes uncomfortable on the floor without a pillow. There's these natural signals to change position that are muted by seeping on pillows or mattresses.” “Hypertonicity of the pelvic floor is a very large problem in men and women right now.” “A lot of people are trying to work on constipation while they hold their stomach tight all the time which creates an upward force opposite to the direction of where the food's trying to go.”
Ben: Hey folks, it’s Ben Greenfield, and you may remember biomechanist Katy Bowman from the podcast episode we had a couple of years ago. It was really popular, the name of that podcast was “Making Biomechanics Fun: How to Fix Your Body, Align Your Posture and Look like a Million Bucks from Head to Toe”. Well Katy's back, she just wrote a new book called “Move Your DNA”, and I've got the dog-eared copy of it sitting right here in front of me because just like all of Katy's books and her blog which is over at katysays.com, she's always got some really interesting information that really goes against the grain a lot of the times which I love. She thinks outside of the box, and you're going to get to join in as I ask Katy about some of this out of the box information in today's episode. We're going to go everything from why sucking in your stomach might not be the best idea to why standing all day could be bad for you, what Katy's beef is with Kegel exercises and a lot more.
So as you're listening in, if you want to access Katy's book or any of the things that we talk about in the show notes, I'm going to put the show notes for you over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/moveyourdna. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/moveyourdna which also happens to be the title of the book by Katy, “Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health through Natural Movement”, and the photo on the front of this Katy. I got to ask you about the photo on the front of your book. It's somebody hunched over a campfire, is that you?
Katy: It's not me, no.
Ben: What's the idea behind that 'cause it's kind of weird on set?
Katy: Nor is she moving. She's sitting still, so what's with the person sitting still on the cover of the book about movement. But in the book itself, I explain the cover by talking about how if you're in the fitness world, you and I are teaching movement. You're coaching people through exercise. There's that level of movement, but then there's also this other level of movement where you yourself are being moved by the environments in which you dwell. So the example that I think is easiest for people to get is you're looking at a screen. Maybe you're looking at a screen right now, and it's probably 30 to 40 inches away from your face. Unless it's your phone, in case it's 10 inches from your face.
And so by you picking with your arm how far to hold your screen from your face, there's a response in the muscles in your eye that control the shape of your lens hat allow you to see something up close or not. That process is called accommodation, so your environment by staying in your house all the time, you are being moved. Your environment is moving you. It's moving all of your tiny parts, tiny muscles that aren't on any app about how to get strong or buff, but they are muscles still the same, and they are moving to accommodate for your habitat. So she's outside right now on the cover of the book, and even though she is still sitting in a squat, not running, she's not cycling, she's not doing a pull up or anything like that. She is being moved, she is moving in a different way because she's sitting there as opposed to in her house. The sensors in her ears are being moved 'cause she can hear bugs, and the muscles that change the pupil are being moved because she's sitting in front of a campfire instead of sitting in front of a screen. So that is movement still the same, and that's really the level that I think people need to start thinking about movement.
Ben: Yeah, movement is not just moving your muscles, or consciously moving your muscles. Well let's just jump in with a really popular form of movement that I know a lot of people seem to be obsessed with these days, and that's standing, standing workstations and I'm standing right now while we're talking, and people are all about standing and you have a part on the book on page 60 where you talk about how standing is the new sitting rather than sitting is the new smoking which is what everybody's saying of course, right? You say standing is the new sitting, so what's the problem with standing all day?
Katy: Well one, it’s still stillness. It is still stillness, and although the loads are better for you than sitting all day, they're really better for you because they’re different. They're not necessarily more nutritious. It's not a better static position, it's only better because it's different than how you have consumed stillness in the past. You have to use more muscle to do it, but one of the reasons that almost all of us have chairs at work, people listening to this, people who work all over the world, is because the bulk of movement used to be done standing in an industrial line, and so there are people who used to stand eight to ten hours a day, and they had very particular standing injuries, and so I just don't want people to forget that.
We've already gone through the standing injuries, and so yes, there are now sitting injuries, and then there where we had to sit better, but there are still sitting injuries adjusting to be associated with repeatedly sitting in a chair no matter how you do it. Whether it's ergonomically savvy or not, that what we really need to do is recognize that there is no optimal way to be still. That are goal should always be trying to move more. That being said, I am standing also as you are, but I am doing lots of subtle movements. Although my face is not really moving away from the microphone as we're talking, I'm still in front of my computer. I'm still accomplishing my work. I'm not really still in the way that I think a lot of people are using their standing workstations which is just standing in front of the computer and typing. I've got things going on under my feet. I have textures mats, and I'm shifting my weight. There's ways to move that are so small that if you can incorporate those, you don't have to leave your place of work to still be moving. So that's the direction. I'd like to see more dynamic workstations as opposed to standing workstations.
Ben: Yeah, and you said we've already gone through a period in time where we had standing injuries. What would some of those standing injuries be like? What are things that people should be aware of?
Katy: The biggest one I would say is varicosity, varicose veins. A lot of people think of it as a lower leg issue. It's like oh, it's a bulging vein, it's a cosmetic issue, but it really is a problem with your cardiovascular system. Your veins are part of your highly valuable cardiovascular system, so it is a bigger issue, and the varicosity is just an early warning sign that you get. The vein's return system is not working as it should, so that's why I like people moving with their lower legs a lot when they're standing.
Ben: Do you use compression gear, and I actually have recommended on this show before, doing yoga inversion poses, things like that to help with blood pooling in the legs?
Katy: Well that's one time, right? So with load, something else that I talk about in the book, load cycles are really what is driving the blood back up to your body if we're going to talk specifically about the lower legs. So any sort of inversion, putting your legs up awhile, compression gear that can create a one-time motion. The issue with varicosity is this repetitive downward loads, so even more that you would want to think about is how can I while I am standing and my blood is being pulled down under the gravitational load be doing something with my legs that causes it to pump back up, and so your venus return system depends heavily on muscular action which is active, not passive. So you can compress to keep fluid from coming down there, but that's not really working on the movement level itself meaning there's forces and contractions that should be driving it back for you. You want to try to get that as much as possible.
Ben: Okay. So do these standing mats, anti-fatigue mats, there's one called the Topo. I know this of kickstarter, and I've got one. I'm standing on it as well. It's this dense foam that moves underneath you. Are those things that will help with the varicosity problem?
Katy: Yeah, I think the cool thing about the Topo mat, I don't think they're actually out yet, but some of the research that they did is they had people stand on a real common anti-fatigue mat which could be a gel mat or could be a dense foamer whatever, it's flat. Topo added texture, so it actually has hills and bumps, and it's not symmetrical, and then they just put a force plate underneath both. And they found that people, just because of the texture itself were stimulated to move that texture itself might be an input that changes how muscles are firing.
And they did another cool study. I don't know, it's been about 10 years where they just took inserts in people's shoes that were textured. They had different textures like little tiny dots and little lines, and they had EMG on calf muscles, and just by someone standing or walking in a shoe with a teeny, tiny bit of texture was enough to create calf muscle use that was different from calf muscle use you find just in static standing, that the texture itself is deforming the joints in your foot and then of course you get a muscular response to that. So texture is key even if you're like I don't have a mat. Just go get some towels and wad them up underneath your feet. At least you'll be changing the incline of your angle, you're still getting your work done, but you'll be moving more.
Ben: What are you using right now?
Katy: I've got a half-foam cylinder, the half-tone that we use a lot, and I've got a bolster behind me that is 10 inches high, so I'll just stand on that with one leg, and I've got a cobblestone mat which is just something that you buy, and so I've just cycled through. I going to be her for an hour, that doesn't mean I have to stop moving to get it done, so I'm just fidgeting. While I'm talking, I'm moving my feet and my ankles. And of course, then your knees and your hips move as well, and your pelvis shifts and your core muscles fire to accommodate it, and it's tiny. It's not big fitness, endurance-type of motion, yet it's still essential.
Ben: Yeah, cobblestones sound very European too.
Katy: It is just saying it, and I saw people do a do-it-yourself where they get a tray, a thin, maybe two inch deep tray and they just fill rocks and sand from outside and bring it in and put it in front of their at home workstation if you like to work from home.
Ben: That's a good idea.
Ben: That's a good idea unless you have a cat. So you also talk about the idea behind arterial stiffening which we all think of as something that happens to your core and your arteries or something like that, but you get into the idea of how the geometry of your vessels could actually change when you, for example, are in a still position for most of the day. Can you explain what's happening there and why it could be a problem, for example, to be still all day and say go for a run or go to a weight training workout?
Katy: Well your arterial walls, they are moving too. They're constantly moving to accommodate fluctuations in intensity. So it's like a really beautiful water canal, you're trying to keep water flowing smoothly through the whole entire body as much as possible, but when you assume a particular geometry, so if some people think of sitting in terms of metabolic variables, like okay, so if I'm still, I'm just not putting out a lot of metabolic activity, but biomechanically, I look at position more in terms of geometry. So your venus and your arterial system, it goes from big tubes to smaller tubes to smaller tubes. That branching is not really arbitrary. That branching is maximizing the flow to keep it what we call laminar, a smooth flow, so you've got all these natural branches that allow movement of blood coming in from big tube splitting into two smaller tubes to make that transition smoothly, so that blood is flowing in the same direction.
Laminar flow is the opposite of turbulence. If you ever have been on an airplane, it's bumping around. What happens is the air in the sky is not all flowing in the same direction, and it's getting bumped and you're hitting it like skipping a rock, and so what happens is the airplane is yes, still moving forward, but it's also moving up and down while it's moving forward. So if you clotted the vectors of it, you would see that the airplane is moving in different directions. So you're blood yes, it's all moving forward, but if it starts going up and down, there are particles in it that we call blood cells and those can interact with the walls which are also cells. And so when you start having cells banging up against walls, then you start getting little tiny injuries, and those injuries are in the form of increasing the mass of the walls. We call it plaque, but I like to remind everyone that it's a defensive mechanism. It's a protective mechanism. Your plaque is the spot where your arterial wall is trying to take care of itself to beef up from the trauma that you're applying because when you sit, when you assume a repetitive geometry, let's just not make that sitting, but it is sitting for most of us. If you look at the way your hips bend and your knees bend repetitively, chronically, not just the day of your workout but the last 27 years leading up to your workout, you've been assuming the same position, so your stiffness of your arteries is in a way that protects you from what you do most often which is sitting.
So when you get up to then do something with endurance where you require a surge of blood, you're accelerating your blood, your walls of your blood vessels should be able to accommodate for that by changing their diameter because being able to change their diameter is one way to control their blood flow. But in order to be able to control their diameter, they need to be soft and malleable just like any other muscle, right. Any other muscle when you want to get into a position, it should be able to yield and it should have this flexibility if you will, but our walls of our blood vessels lose that because one, they don't open and close on a regular basis 'cause we don't do very much movement throughout a day and throughout a lifetime, and then you get up and do something high intensity, then you end up accelerating your blood turbulently. I'm not sure if that's a word, but you know what I mean. And then it ends up having a potential penalty associated with it. So I think that's probably a lot of the guidelines for things like high blood pressure come with trying to watch your intensity because there is this association between intensity and pre-existing cardiovascular condition because those cardiovascular conditions are an indication that your cardiovascular system mechanism isn't behaving as it's supposed to.
Ben: Okay, so for example, if we were sitting all day that could potentially take all these loops and all these branches of the blood vessels that you just described and essentially create almost areas of higher resistance where you're kinking those all day long in that seated position, and when that happens, you could get potential for example, increase blood pressure or even are you saying that might contribute to plaque buildup as well?
Katy: Yeah, I think of it this way. If you have a hallway in your house, and say most hallways are straight. If you roll a ball down a hallway, it's rolling down straight, straight, straight. Now imagine that someone puts a kink in your hallway, and you are still rolling the ball down as you always did, you're going to increase the number of times that ball interacts with the wall because there's a wall there now, and there shouldn't be. The area, the volume of your hallway didn't change. The only thing that changed was the position of it. So it you think of your corroded arteries on the right and left side of your neck and you think of them as tubes, and then you jut your head way forward towards your computer screen and you imagine that blood is still coming up from this area. You're putting in kinks into your hose and your hips and in your knees, and these areas correlate to the highest areas of plaque occurrence which is really interesting.
In the whole plaque discussion, it's always approached as things like how's your diet and how's your exercise in general that your diet and exercise have a systemic response on your body that is arthero-protective or that would keep plaque at bay. But again biomechanically, it's yes, but the whole fact that people accumulate plague in very specific areas, right side versus left side. Like everyone, when you have plaque, you don't have it everywhere. You have it in a few local places that that is huge red flag biomechanically of going what's the mechanism here? Because it's not laying down systemically.
Ben: Wow, okay basically anybody who's listening in who has an office job who's sitting for long periods of time should be making it a big point to get up and move which they've probably already heard, but now they've got all the more reason to do it 'cause you’re basically increasing your risk of having, for example, a heart attack or other issues if you're getting up and exercising hard at the end of a long day being sedentary like that.
Katy: Yeah, and I think that helps makes sense of more of why one bout of exercise doesn't mitigate the risk of sitting all day. That's the whole sitting is the new smoking. It's like hey, even people who exercise regularly, it's this whole long bout of being still or in a repetitive geometry that is the risk factor. So just get up every thirty minutes, think of it as breaking up your geometry. You could think of it less as I need to get my heart rate up for a little bit as opposed to can I just break up my geometry 'cause if you're at work, you're a lot more likely to break up your geometry which doesn't require special clothes or breaking a sweat or when you shower, but you can go you know what, I'm going to go for a two-minute walk, and this two-minute walk changed the hallways of my blood vessels in my knees and my hip and my head and my shoulder. Go and reach up a wall and just stretch out your body and then sit back down or stand up or sit in your chair cross legged or whatever. See if you can assume a different geometry when you are still because that is also breaking up your old geometry.
Ben: Yeah, one of the things that I do, one rule that I actually follow during the day is I sit, but my rule is I only sit to eat or I sit to drive. Those are the two times I sit, and the rest of the time, my rule is I just have to find some other position to be in. But I do find that sitting to eat, whether it's sitting on the floor or sitting on a chair is relaxing, and then the rest of the day, I just don't sit. So that's my rule, only sit to eat.
You know, I want to get into some other things that you talk about in the book, Katy. You talk about core activation. You say core activation, s'mores activation, and it's kind of interesting 'cause we've all been led to believe that we should suck in our stomachs during the day to keep our abs activated, and that's a really good way to just passively train your core all day long and also look really good from the side or look really good posturely. Why are you not a fan of core activation?
Katy: Well I think my resistance to core activation is that it's a contrived motion, but I think even more specifically is that with loads to the body, they are supposed to fluctuate. So I think right now, we are reacting to huge amounts of stillness and bad posture and bad form and bad alignment and all those things by creating this perfect Utopian body position and muscle activation. It's very similar to wanting to replace sitting with standing. We want to replace abs that never contract with abs that are always contracted.
Forgetting that every motion that you do is actually a unique abdominal contraction, and if you break abdominal contraction down to more than just on or off, if you twist and if you're doing some gardening or if you're digging a hole, your rib cage rotates relative to your pelvis, and that is a different load if you're digging or if you're twisting, and that if you were moving in nature and you didn’t have any of the things that you had, the amount of work that would be done between your rib cage and your pelvis, what we call the core. The amount of work that would be done there would be much higher as would the variation of the type of work, and so biomechanically speaking because “Move Your DNA” is not just about loads. It's also about the genetic expression that is created by particular loads, and so that's what I'm most interested in is looking at the very specific cellular behaviors outside of loads that it is not natural to have your abs engaged in the way that we do it, right? Belly button to spine, that whole thing.
Ben: Suck in your stomach basically.
Katy: Yeah, that is one load, and that one load pushes on your organs in a particular way. You are a closed system. So if you have organs, everyone hopefully listening has their organs, you have your organs inside and you fire your TVA or pull your belly button to your spine or suck it in, those organs have to be displaced somewhere. So when you start doing it all the time, you have to go well what was happening to the stuff that was in there before it went under this particular load? And then if you think about it, you're got a highly repetitious displacement or pressure system, and anything repetitious comes with usually injury, so that's why we add variability to our workout. So that if we don't do the same thing over and over and over again breakdown these tissues, not train these other tissues, so everyone's hyper-vigilant about keeping their abdomen fixed, but they're doing it at an unnatural frequency and an unnatural position.
You being upright with your belly button to your spine creates a certain pattern that then when you go to do other biological things for a lot of people. Have babies and go to the bathroom, digest your food, your mechanical environment can affect these things because it'd be much more natural for you to be having your stomach relaxed a little bit. Here when you’re sitting and when you're transitioning, it should engage, and then when you talk really loud, it should engage more, but then it should soften back up, and we've just picked Stomach Activation 273. Set the dial and it just sits there all the time, and then your pelvic floor and your diaphragm and your abdominal contents and the tension in these muscles adapts unnaturally.
Ben: Okay so basically, in the same way that we should be moving all day and not just standing all day, we should be allowing our abs to stick out some of the time, to twist side to side for some of the time, to suck up some of the time but never just hold this flat ab position because that will create almost, is it like it gets stuck in that position? Do you create limited mobility? What happens physiologically or biomechanically when you're constantly sucking it in?
Katy: Well repetitive positioning causes adaptation, I think most people know, but the mechanism of adaptation, it might be a little confusing. So if you put on a shoe that has a heel on it, your muscles and your calf have to accommodate for that shoe, right? You're basically pointing your toes, so whatever happens when you point your toe, the calf muscle shorten happens when you also put a high heel on that cause chronic planar flexion. But when you do something chronically, at first your planar flexion, your pointing of your toe is just the muscle length overlapping and then you take the shoe off, and it goes back.
When you do something repetitively, eventually what happens is it's no longer muscle tissue overlapping shortening and then getting longer when you're done. You actually lose muscle mass in series, so the actual length, the number of sarcomeres in the chain of muscle gets less on one side and becomes longer on the other side, so you actually start playing with your mass distribution when you do something repetitively, and so a lot of people can't relax their abdomen, and also to clarify, there's a difference between sucking your stomach in and firing your TVA. So a lot of people will suck their stomach in when they think they are firing their TVA.
Ben: What's the TVA?
Katy: Transverse Abdominance, the transverse muscles that go when you're pulling your belly button toward your spine. The muscle that runs in a belt in that direction that people will fire that all the time to move their belly button in towards their spine, and then other people will actually take a breath in. Their belly button will move in because they've taken their diaphragm inside their body and lifted it up towards the heart and lungs, creating a vacuum which passively pulls the viscera and all your guts in your stomach up, and then that is what moves the belly button in. So there' a whole different way to get your stomach in, one that doesn't have to do anything with the stomach muscles at all, and for a lot of people, hiatal hernias is a huge deal where your gut's end up in your thoracic cavity. So that's not great, but it's also created. You create it yourself, you create a vacuum all the time by sucking in. That displaces things up, and eventually your guts end up where your lungs are, and you have to have surgery to pull it out.
Ben: Can you explain, by the way, how this can be also linked to constipation?
Katy: Yeah, well stuff's trying to move down. Stuff is trying to move down and out, and the movement of your abdominal muscles is part of that system that gets things down. You don't live in a vacuum, so your intestines are inside of a pressurized cavity that you can change the pressure based on what you do with your muscles and how you sit or don't and how much you move or don't, so a lot of people are trying to work on constipation while unbeknownst to them, they hold their stomach tight all the time which creates an upward force. It creates a force opposite to the direction of where the food's trying to go, so you yourself can keep your food static in your gut. Isn't that crazy?
Ben: That is really crazy, especially for all the people who exercise a bunch take a pride in a flat stomach, always sucking in their stomach. There's a reason they walk around looking like they're constipated. Interesting.
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Ben: Okay, so you also, I want to talk about a few of the other really interesting things that you get into, and one of the things that you talk about because I've always heard that it's a good idea when you're staring at a computer, staring at a screen like you were talking about earlier to just stop and take breaks to look away, but you talk about why that really might not be enough when it comes to taking care of your eyes especially if you're a computer person. Can you explain?
Katy: Yeah, so near work is the research term for things like looking at your computer or reading or playing an instrument or knitting or whatever you're doing with your eyes repetitively that's again, 30 inches away from your face. So the recommendation is you need to take a computer break. Look away from your computer and whatever, and that's fine. However that does not automatically work out the muscles of the eye. Because if you look away, if everyone looks away from their computer for a minute, chances are you look away to something that is still only four to five feet away from your face, meaning the muscles that control the shape of your eye lens don't really get a big of a release as much as you think. It's like if you pull a bicep curl all the way up, it's like saying you're going to relax your biceps by dropping them one inch down, and then you go back to the computer and pull them back up.
So what I suggest would be the equivalent to letting your arms all the way down after a bicep curl, and that would be not just looking away from your computer but looking at something really, really far away trying to look at something that was a quarter or a half mile away. Try to look out a window and see the farthest possible thing that you can, and in doing so, you will release the full contraction that is created in your eye to look at things up close.
Ben: What if you're inside and the farthest thing away is 20 feet?
Katy: Well try to get to a window, and I realize that not everyone has a long distance view, but at least a few times a day, you should be looking at something really, really far away, and if you're not by a window, then I suggest moving your desk if you can to look at something far away. It's distant dependent. It has nothing to do with anything else besides how far it is between the object that you were looking at and your eyeball.
Ben: Have you ever experimented with, there's something called the Bates Method out there, there's also a newer version of that called the Vision Gym, and it's just a series of eye charts and exercises you can do for example with a pencil. Convergence and diversion exercises for all the muscles around the eye, how you ever messed around with or seen any of that stuff?
Katy: I haven't. I've seen a lot of it. There's a lot of new stuff popping up, and a lot of people have been working on this for a long period of time of working with like you got to take off your glasses and your contact lenses and holding up something that you can focus on right at your field of vision, whatever distance. For me it would be three inches from my face 'cause I'm horribly myopic, and then you just start pulling it away and then refocus there. And you just spend days working on just the perimeter. I've started taking walks without any sort of supported vision in areas where I know the terrain well enough to know where I'm going, and that seems to help. It helped with things like eye headaches. I'm not measuring my vision with any regularity right now, so I don't now, but I've had other people say that they have actually had measured from their optometrist improvement in vision just by doing those types of things.
Ben: Wow, so about how often do you think it would be a good idea to just take a break and look away?
Katy: At least every 30 minutes. Pair it with getting up out of your chair, I guess if you can, but there's some new apps that will darken your screen for you. You can set a timer, and it'll put your screen dark for a second. It's like you need to take a two-minute break, and you get to set the frequency and the message. For me, it's just hard for me to break away from a project without some sort of external reminder. I'm good about the walking, I'm not so good about the looking. My eyes consume everything, but with that, it's just the computer's darkening, and I just go look out a window. And even if you're on a walk or outside, take a peek, pun intended, to see how far you actually are looking in front of you because you go outside, and this is one of the reasons why with outdoor vision, people who go outside on a regular basis, it seems to be protective for myopia. Myopia's become very prevalent. I think it's 80% in Asian countries now where there used to be one or two kids with glasses, and it elementary school now, it's 80%. It's a big deal, and they know being outside is protective, and they are thinking Vitamin D, but they just keep eliminating all those factors, but we go outside and we tend to not look that far away because we always look close, right?
It's the same thing with working out, it's the same thing with how much mobility you have in your hamstrings and your chest. If you only use a little bit of motion, you just go back there repetitively, so you have to have a strategy, and look away. If you're running, if you're out for a walk or whatever, riding on your bike, look farther into the distance because that is using a different muscle, or your same muscle in a different way.
Ben: Yeah, there's a bunch of apps out there. Some of the ones I know of are Protect Your Vision is one. There's also one called Work Rave, Timeout is another, but if you just go to the app store, the app store might not be the best place to do it. You know what I'll do? I'll try and find some links for the show notes for people who want to download some of these apps that you're talking about. Those can be useful if you just don't want to remember to look away. Okay, cool.
So a few other things I want to ask you about, you talk about how you're not a fan of pillows, and I got to say. I recently got a really nice mattress, a really, really nice mattress, and I love it. I'm just sleeping like a freaking baby, and then I read your book, and I got a little bit guilty. I'm like am I just being too nice to my body during the night and not allowing it to build up toughness because I'm sleeping on this super soft memory foam mattress. Can you explain your take on the whole mattress pillow thing?
Katy: Well again, it's limiting motion, motion that is biologically necessary. So in the same way, there is nothing wrong with sitting in a chair. The problem is sitting in the chair all the time. There's nothing wrong with a pillow or a mattress, it's just the exclusive use of it, and then it's the inability to not use it. A lot of people when they go to camp or they go to a hotel and they sleep in a mattress or with a pillow that's not there, they're wrecked. Their bodies totally wrecked, they have no ability to accommodate these tiny subtle shifts in ranges of motion that come from a different mattress and a different pillow. So it's just that, you hate to say it. You're not really strong enough to sleep in any way different in the same way that you can't really lift weights or do a move or some sort of exercise that you haven't done before. It's the law of specificity on a very, very small scale, on the scale that you wouldn't really apply it too automatically because it's like I'm just lying there. What's the difference?
Well imagine if you were laying on the ground, the pressure and the way that gravity would be interacting with all of your cells and how you would not assume a repetitive geometry so easily if it weren't for the giant bits of cotton that we sleep in that if you were like animals, that we are like other animals that we have and that we see, you would shift your position more often because it becomes uncomfortable on the floor without a pillow, and tit becomes, there's these natural signals to change position that are muted by sleeping on pillows or mattresses. So I hate to say that I'm not a fan because I love sitting and sleeping on fluffy things, it's just my body feels better for not doing it, and it took a while to get there.
Ben: So do you not use a mattress at all?
Katy: No, we have pads on the floor. They’re about two inches of foam, and I don't use a pillow anymore, but it was a long process, and I found actually that I was unable to sleep with the pillow. So once I became unable to sleep with one and of course it became my thing, it's like okay, I need to maintain the mobility to have one. And so I think if people are listening and they're going there's no way I can do that, just get three different pillows and start cross training in an easy way. Keep your pillow, but introduce small mobilities by not always using the same pillow, not always sleeping on the same side of the bed, not always sleeping in the same bed which is not easy if you have kids. For some reason, you just start swapping beds and now you're just falling asleep in someone else's bed, moving around and use. If you have a guest bedroom, sleep in that sometimes because every mattress has a different load, and so cross train that way.
Ben: That is one thing I notices since I got the softer memory foam mattresses. Even my guest room mattress is a little bit more firm and hard, and I'll go down there and sleep sometimes and I notice it, but I also camp and I lay on the ground all the time doing Turkish Get Ups, and I do the Spartan races where I'm crawling through barbed wire for a hundred yards, and so I think I probably expose my body to enough fluctuation or wear. I personally don't. Let me put it this way, I'm not that guilty about sleeping on the soft mattress, but I could see how if you were living a typical Westernized lifestyle of comfort that that would just be one more thing that piles a little bit more lack of movement into the equation.
Katy: Yeah, it's just one more thing that suddenly limits how you move. I call them casts, right? You're just being cast into lots of different ways, but it's real easy to still stay comfortable and just start introducing small loads or just lay on the floor, and if you don't want to get rid of your bed, then just make sure you're spending 15 to 20 minutes laying on something really hard. There's so many different ways to take this information and utilize it that you really can't fail.
Ben: Have you ever lay down on a BioMat or have you heard of BioMat before?
Katy: No, what's a BioMat?
Ben: It's like this mat that's covered with this amethyst and turmoiling crystals, and it plugs into this still that releases infrared light, so it's more but it's incredibly hard. It's hard to sleep for the night on one, but I have one of those in my office and I lay down on my stomach and on my side sometimes when I'm working on this BioMat which is cool 'cause it heats you up at the same time, but it's extremely hard. It's like being on a pile of rocks.
Katy: My equivalent is the LegoMat which is just when a whole bunch of Legos end up under your sleeping mattress.
Ben: Well the difference is the BioMat is a thousand times more expensive than something like that. Okay so anyways, the Kegels. You talk about the Great Kegel Debate and your thoughts about Kegels. Can you explain why it is that you are not a fan of Kegels?
Katy: Well so Kegels is that pelvic floor contraction, so it's the same argument over and over again, just applied to a different body part. Your pelvic floor does many, many things. Your pelvic floor should be doing many different types of contractions. The loads to your pelvic floor should vary based on all of the different things that you're doing, getting up and down off of the floor, squatting, walking thousands of miles a year and jumping and carrying baby weight and all of these things that your pelvic floor should be doing. But because we don't do any movement, then we have come up with this kind of treatment for well then fake movements.
Since your organs are not busy accelerating up and down on your pelvic floor in a varied way, since you never really vary up the position of your hips 'cause your pelvic floor is going to attach the top of your femurs, the top of your leg bones, and since we don't sit on the floor cross legged with any real frequency and since we're not getting up and down off of the floor a hundred times a day, and just because we don't squat to go to the bathroom, your pelvic floor is basically this inert hunk of muscle. And then it's not circulating well, it's not responding well because you do nothing with it, and then you start doing the equivalent to sit ups for the pelvic floor which is contract and release, contract and release. I liked how you called it. What'd you call it, the Kegel Beef?
Ben: Yeah, your beef with Kegel.
Katy: My Kegel Beef, my beef with the Kegel is not so much that the Kegel is… well it is a little bit that the Kegel is problematic, but for a different reason. It's that it's not a replacement for all of the things that the pelvic floor should be doing, and right now, it's plotted as the ultimate exercise for your pelvic floor. It's like your pelvic floor doesn't need an exercise, your pelvic floor needs to be used through movement. The isolated exercise of your pelvic floor outside any sort of context of movement, doing it while you're sitting there in your chair is to jut not see the larger picture which is you are so still. Your pelvic floor is doing nothing.
Now the second piece is that what happens to the pelvic floor when you only do one type of motion with the pelvic floor, big squeezes and releases, big squeezes and releases, when it has a full spectrum of other things that it should be doing is that you then get this adaptation to these big squeezes. And hypertonicity of the pelvic floor is a very large problem in men and women right now that's been on the rise and causes years of discomfort, hundreds of thousands of dollars of not more in surgeries. Men have problems with their prostate only to find out after five years of investigating and poking and prodding their prostate and being in chronic pain that it was simply a two-type pelvic floor. Meanwhile, someone's been giving them Kegels for their pelvic floor to help out with their prostate that the Kegel itself can exacerbate this very prevalent problem, so I think it's just that. It's just that it's a non-specific exercise given to everyone like it’s Vitamin C that everyone should just be taking. If you want a strong pelvic floor, you should just do it instead of going your pelvic floor should be a lot stronger and more supple and more dynamic and also have a lot more varied types of motions to it.
Ben: You know what my secret is, Katy? For strength on the pelvic floor is when I do deadlifts. If you stand tall on the top of the deadlift and you push your hips forward just a little bit after you've picked something heavy of the ground, it's impossible to not fire every single muscle in your pelvis in your pelvic floor, and I do deadlifts a couple of times a week. Every time I do them when I get to the top of the deadlift, I stand as tall as possible, I push my chest out and I squeeze my butt, and that just contracts everything in that pelvic floor. So that's my trick.
Katy: All right.
Ben: Okay, so I want to ask you also in the time that we have left about your kids 'cause you've got kids, and from what I understand, you're using some cool child rearing methods with them as far as exposing them not only to the wide variety of movement patterns we've talked about like not using pillows and doing lots of standing and things of that nature, but their education is also a little bit unique as well. Can you talk about what you're doing with your kids as far as education?
Katy: Yeah, so they're young, right? They're only two and three. My three year old's almost close to four, so they go to outdoor school. Outdoor school's probably the most radical education decision that we made because you want your kids to have all of these things that come with education. But at the same time, I know through all my own academic work and research that putting them inside for hunks of time is really for all of us is where our sedentary habits started and where our physical health started to decline when basing the bulk of our life around a chair. So we were fortunate enough to have an option of an outdoor preschool, it's a one hundred percent outside, there's no building, all weather besides real extreme thunder. I don't think they go out in thunderstorms, and they don't go more than three below or something like that, but it's that. It's moving all day, its fresh air, it's natural movement.
Ben: What kind of stuff are they doing? Just exploring the wilderness all day in school?
Katy: They are.
Ben: And you just drop them off and leave and they go off with the teacher out into the wilderness?
Katy: Yeah, it's a real school, so I think it's no more than three kids to a teacher, and I would say probably the bias of the school is it's a science school in that, but it is still child based learning which I think is a buzzword. There's no workbooks in the school, there's no pencils, they're not doing anything like that, but yeah. If I go on a hike with my son, he'll tell me the names of all the trees, all the plants. He's like this is edible, that's not edible, and can you see the difference between the two of this is if you don't see this little X on this berry, you can't eat that, but these are so loud. We can eat up to this many berries. You can make tea with that, structure building, so it's math. It's all of the things that you want the kids to learn to have them fit into education whatever that means, but in a way that is totally practical and functional and still aligned with what I want for their health. And so it's just that, how to get over streams, we got to build a bridge. They have the physical labor of moving stuff over. They're not sitting and building with Legos where they get those engineering principles but without the movement, so they get buff and I love it. It's great.
Ben: So is this a K through 12 type of school?
Katy: The one here is not. There are more science outdoor schools popping up in the United States. They're very big in Europe, I think it's called Forest Kinder. I think it started in Germany, and it's been there for 20 years, and the one that just started up here, I was on the board for, and it's at the end of its first year and it's just preschool through first grade. So three through six.
Ben: Wow, interesting, so what would be the best place for people if people want to go look at what your kids were doing or they wanted to go to the best website to learn more about this, what's a good resource?
Katy: I think if you just google Forest Kindergarten, Forest Preschools, they are everywhere. I live in Washington State, and they are abundant here, but they're also in Minnesota and places where you would go there's no way its safe for people to be outside. People have been outside for eons, you just need to know how to do it safely, and they've done all the literature on it. And so what I find most interesting now, since I'm a biomechanist, I'm just really interested in the mechanome which is all of the mechanical stuff that affects the genome, and maybe in the last few years, there's been all this stuff about being outside on a regular basis, how good it is for your immunity. We think that if you're sick, you should stay inside and stay warm, and they're like you really need fresh air.
You need to be moving outside. Light activity is actually really great for you immune system, so I'm now working through NASA's assessment for all the risks for space travel, space light travel. What happens to humans? Humans don't last very long in space. They have to come back because they get very ill, and what most people know about it is they get low bone density, their spine changed shape a little bit because of the gravitational difference in such an extreme environment. But in this report which is this year, that mechanical environment is affecting your immune system.
The actual immunity, your body's response to microbes and antibiotics changes based on the gravitational load, so that's huge. That's huge because so much of our immunity is always put to that chemical. Biochemistry, and it's now that we understand really that everything has this movement component to it and that we really do depend on gravity, then your position that you assume for the day, how much you move. All of that is going to matter down to infectious disease which is what this NASA report was about is they are responding differently to infectious disease up in space, and I was like that is huge, huge stuff. So we stay outside and move as much as possible.
Ben: Yeah, wow. Cool, I'll put a link to any resources I can find on the Forest Kindergarten thing. I'm in Washington State too, Katy. I don't know if you knew that. I'm over on the east side in Spokane, Washington, but I live on ten acres out on the forest out here, and so when my kids get home from their school which is actually on a hundred and twenty acre campus. They're outside all day or a lot of the day anyways. When they get home, it's more of home forest. It's not kindergarten, they're in first grade, but I'm right on the same page with you as far as getting kids outside goes.
Katy: And I think parents listening, we live in this beautiful natural area, but I think as a parent, I think it’s okay to talk to your… in most preschools, a lot of preschools or kindergartens or even regular traditional K through 12 schools have campuses, and you can inquire. Is there any way to skip seated circle time and just do those 20 minutes outside? It doesn't have to be all day outside. Again, it's just like is there any way to get 15 more minutes or 20 more minutes especially for the younger kids who don't have. They're not doing academic testing where that's the school's resistance as we got to get the kids to pass the tests.
Ben: Right, interesting. Well this could be a whole other podcast in of itself, so obviously there's a ton of stuff for folks to dig into here. I'd say the biggest things are move all day instead of just standing would be a big one. Definitely don't go for a run whether you've been sitting on an airplane for the past twelve hours or whether you've just been staying in your office, don't go out and exercise hard and be sedentary all day and expect not for there to be ramifications Don't suck in your stomach all the time, especially if you're constipated. Take occasional computer break, and especially make sure you stare at things really, really far away. Consider sleeping occasionally on things other than your mattress although I am way, way on the fence about getting rid of my mattress, period, and then be careful with Kegel exercises. Do things that contract your pelvic floor. Not in isolation, but rather in combination with other muscles working, and get your kids outside. So I think that's a lot for people to work with.
Katy: Yeah, we covered a lot of stuff when you list it like that.
Ben: We did, so check out Katy's book “Move Your DNA”, go to the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/moveyourdna, and I'll put a bunch of resources, the stuff we talked about like Forest Kindergarten and anti-fatigue mats and Katy's book and everything else, and Katy, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Katy: Thanks for having me back, it was great.
Ben: Alright, cool folks. Well this is Ben Greenfield and Katy Bowman signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.
Woo boy. Talk about shattering the myths of movement.
From sucking in your stomach, to the problem with standing workstation to why Kegel exercises aren't all that great, my guest Katy Bowman author of the book “Move Your DNA” joins me in this podcast episode to introduce some very controversial thoughts on the way we move our bodies, including:
-Why standing is the new sitting, and the problem with standing all day…
-Why could be a big heart attack issue to sit for awhile then go for a run…
-Why Katy says “core activation-schmore activation” and why sucking in your stomach could be bad for you…
-When it comes to your eyes, why it isn't enough to just take occasional computer breaks and go outside…
-Why Katy isn't a fan of pillows…
-Why Kegel exercises could be creating some seriously big problems for men and women's pelvic floor…
-Why Katy's kids go to “outdoors school”…
Katy first appeared on the podcast episode Making Biomechanics Fun: How to Fix Your Body, Align Your Posture and Look Like a Million Bucks From Head To Toe. Her new book “Move Your DNA” explains the science behind our need for natural movement – right down to the cellular level. It examines the vast difference between the movements in a typical hunter-gatherer’s life and the movements in our own lives
Move Your DNA shows the many problems with our fixation on exercise over all-day movement, and how very much out of nature our bodies are living in this movement-drought culture, we restrict our bodies in chairs and shoes and cars for the vast majority of our lives. The book contains the corrective exercises, habit modifications, and simple lifestyle changes you need to make in order to free yourself from disease and pain and discover your most healthy, thriving, natural, reflex-driven bodies.
Resources we talk about in this episode:
–Move Your DNA book