Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: Brooke Thomas

Top Ten Things I read (and listened to) in 2014

I like reading.  (In another life, I'd be a librarian/PT/baker/dog whisperer.)  At the end of the year, writers and bloggers tend to make top ten (or 15 or 20) lists, so I'm here to offer you my top ten of what I read (or listened to) in 2014, in no particular order.  In some way or another, these all relate to music, movement, teaching, or general life experiences.


1.  Move Your DNA, by Katy Bowman- This book completely changes the way I think about natural movement, from how I sleep and what I wear to how I move throughout the day.  Although I own the book, I listened to this as an audiobook and had a great time.  Katy read it herself, and paced it so that you can listen and walk 20ish miles over the course of the whole audiobook (which I did).  If you want a primer on biomechanics without thinking about complex physics or calculus, this is a solid start!



2. The Liberated Body Podcast with Brooke Thomas- I love this podcast because Brooke is incredibly knowledgeable, and she interviews a huge range of people from Alexander and Feldenkrais teachers to manual therapists, science folks, and everything in between.  If you want to know more about a specific movement or manual practice (NKT, Yoga Tune Up, or even Katy Bowman, the author above) take a listen!

3.  The Roll Model by Jill Miller- Given that I love balls and I teach people how to do self-massage with balls, I highly recommend this book, end of story (thus the giveaway in the end of November).  Get a set of squishy balls, find a teacher, and/or get the book.  Change the way you relate to pain and work on trigger points in your upper back, neck, back, and shoulders on your own.


4.  The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Boy with Autism, by Naoki Higashida- I used to teach students diagnosed with autism, and this book tells a first person experience of that diagnosis.  Naoki is a teenager in Japan, and tells his own reasons for why he might do things differently than his classmates, and why some things are harder for him than for others.  It expanded my capacity to understand autism, and I highly recommend it, even if you aren't teaching someone with that diagnosis

5. Sad Dog Happy Dog: How Poor Posture Affects Your Child's Health by Kathleen Porter.  While this book deals with posture for children, it applies to grown ups as well!  This would be a great read for someone who teaches an instrument played seated, whether in ensemble or solo (piano/cello/harp).   If you've noticed your students' (or child's) poor posture and wondered what you could do to help them move better, this is definitely the book for you!


6.  The 28 Days Lighter Diet by Ellen Barrett and Kate Hanley.  This is a terrible title for what the book is about, which is really about female menstrual cycles and understanding how to support the hormonal fluctuations that occur.  It is not a fad weight loss book, nor is it a gluten-free/paleo/cleanse/whatever book, as the title suggests.  As someone with an endocrine issue, I highly recommend this, especially if you may have underactive thyroid, irregular hormonal issues, or menstrual issues and you want to learn more about what's really going on.

7. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.  Although this was published in 2013, I only got around to reading it this past summer.  As a female musician/educator, I often take the opportunities I've had for granted and this was a potent reminder that not everyone has the opportunity to have an education, to study music, or to work in a field of their choice.  She has an incredible story (and she's only 17!), and I think she's an incredibly inspiring young woman.


8.  The Trail Guide to Movement by Andrew Biel.  Almost every yoga teacher, movement teacher, or manual therapist has seen Biel's "Trail Guide to the Body," and now comes a companion text addressing kinesiology and movement.  It's an amazing book with clear and entertaining images, and a great resource for expanding knowledge or reference.

Image from the Trail Guide to Movement.

Image from the Trail Guide to Movement.

9.  Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.  This book is quite old in fact, and I first read it in college before I began meditating.  Thich Nhat Hanh is an incredible writer and explains that mindfulness is secular and can deepen your awareness and your experience of the present.  That applies to mundane tasks, but can also improve your capacity to practice, audition, and perform.  WIth the abundance of flashy technology and distractions everywhere, this is a great reminder to pay attention to whatever it is you are doing.

10.  Yes, Please by Amy Poehler.  Let me preface this by saying that I might not have loved this if I did not get the audiobook, but I did, and it was terrific, especially the bits with Patrick Stewart.  Many of the anecdotes and stories in this book relate to music and the crazy journey of self reflection and hard work that leads to success.  She has a few poignant chapters on body image, as well as an excellent finale on how cellular phones will take over the world (and us).  

That's all I can think of for now, so let's hope 2015 is as fruitful in learning, reading, and listening!

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Blogroll: What I'm Reading on the Internet

Rather than paraphrase some of the more interesting articles about sitting and its dangers, I figured it'd be easier to just make a list of some of my favorites.

"Is Sitting Killing Me?" by Alice Park, Time Magazine.  This awesome article addresses "NEAT: non-exercise activity thermogenesis," AKA. all the movement you do which is NOT exercise.  Stairs, walking to work, standing's time to get more movement into your life, not necessarily more exercise.


"Stretching Doesn't Work (The way you think it does)" by Brooke Thomas.  We talked about how stretching isn't going to make everything "longer" in your body.  Let's hear Brooke's excellent logic on how stretching really works.


"Walking is the Superfood of Fitness"   I'm a huge fan of walking, as many of you know.  You can skip a workout, but get in a walk.  If you do no other physical activity in your life, please walk.  It's incredibly important for you body.  Period.


"Thinking Outside the Classroom Chair," by Katy Bowman.  The problem with sitting is not only the frequency, but also that we sit the same way ALL the time.  What if you sit differently?  On the floor?  On a cushion?  Even on the couch?


"What Are We Doing in Asana," by Matthew Remski.  (AKA. WAWADIA).  As a yoga and movement teacher, I appreciate that Matthew is looking at the truth behind yoga's supposed therapeutic postures.  Not everything is as it seems, and even if you're an on again off again yoga person, it's a great project to peruse. 


If You Stretch A Muscle, You Lengthen It, Right? Wrong!

There are a great many myths perpetuated in the yoga and fitness world- one food will magically make you lose weight, you can spot tone areas of your body (6 quick moves for toned...), and that some miraculous pill will destroy belly fat, amongst others.  The worst offender, right now, is the myth that stretching actually physically lengthens muscle fibers.  (Quick, google stretching and see what you find!  "Increasing flexibility through stretching is one of the basic tenets of physical fitness." was a wikipedia find)

  How many classes/teachers have you been to where someone told you that you had tight hamstrings/shoulders/etc.?  And that you needed to lengthen them with stretching/yoga?  (I have been guilty of thinking and saying these things too!)  And to go with it, yoga often perpetuates the idea that the more frequently and intense you stretch something, the more open (lengthened) it will get.  In fact, it does not work this way at all!  I did not come up with this research, in fact, a yoga therapist/teacher/biomechanist did (Jules Mitchell!), and in studying the Science of Stretch, is challenging our conventional (and inaccurate) view of stretching.

Kino MacGregor has both feet behind her head.  Ouch!

Kino MacGregor has both feet behind her head.  Ouch!

Jules writes: "I understand this is a difficult concept to digest.  It is not what we learned in yoga teacher training.  We learned:
1. Stretch your hamstrings.
2. Make them longer.
3. Put your foot behind your head.

So how many of you have believed this same thing, either from yoga, pilates, or other disciplines?  I certainly believed it for a long time, and have only in the last year embraced the idea that being infinitely flexible is not actually a good thing for my tissues (nor is it a practical goal for most folks). 

So here's the deal- when you stretch a muscle, say your hamstrings (backs of legs) in yoga class, your restriction or lack of range is (mostly) not your short muscle fibers, it's your nervous system saying "This is not a range of motion we normally explore---Abort movement!!!!"  In the Liberated Body podcast last week, Jules said "Lack of range of motion is not really about lengthening. It’s much more an issue of tolerance. It’ s a use it or lose it thing. If you never work in that range of motion your body doesn’t understand it and doesn’t want to go there. So your nervous system limits your range of motion."

Please don't stretch your hammies this way.  It's terrible for your back and spinal discs!

Please don't stretch your hammies this way.  It's terrible for your back and spinal discs!

What!?? This goes contrary to everything I've heard in yoga classes in the last decade, but it makes sense.  (I also did recently ask the question, if I've been stretching my hamstrings for 7 years now, why has my range of motion barely changed?)Think about it- the places that we think of as tight are often our shoulders, hamstrings, and hips, but in your day to day life, when do you put those areas through full range of motion?  Even better, do you know what full range of motion might even entail?  This comes back to the idea of diverse movement as paramount, as opposed to strict stretching or exercise regiments.  Musicians often don't move enough (or exercise) which explains a limited range of motion in many joints (rather than short standing muscle length).  Brooke Thomas said (in response to the interview with Jules), "When flexibility is the issue for a person, stretching is not going to help. Moving frequently in more full ranges of motion and incrementally increasing the load is actually the answer."

Don't worry if this discovery leaves you with lots of questions like: how do I actually increase my range of motion?  Why do I feel tight?  Why do I feel better after yoga if I'm not actually lengthening anything?  How do I move frequently in full range of motion? More to come, but check out Jules Mitchell's game changing research (and this awesome interview with her, courtesy of the Liberated Body), especially if you're a science-y person!

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