How you can generate consistent energy and beauty with more body awareness.
Have you ever wondered how your energy and beauty are related? Have you noticed when you create one it automatically affects the other? You feel more energized when you feel beautiful and vice versa?
As a performance coach, I always remind my clients that they generate energy, it doesn't just show up one day at their door and ask to be invited in, and the same goes for our beauty. Before it becomes visible outwardly, we initiate beauty internally, would you agree?
In life there are different elements that can contribute to both your energy and beauty. To name a few - healthy food, a good workout, a solid run outside, words of affirmation from your friend, the way you think about yourself, your partner’s act of service, or a relaxing, healing touch - all of them have an impact on both the way you feel and the way you look.
There is however, one aspect that’s truly close to my heart and my professional background. It’s not often paid attention to yet it is vital to understand when we discuss beauty and energy.
Maybe you’ve been to a doctor to address your lack of energy and you were advised on “the latest and greatest injections or surgical techniques to help you feel energized and look young again.” The health industry - including medical doctors - are trained experts in their specific field. MDs may advise on your overall health guidelines or order surgery for a medical emergency, but a doctor who’s trained in your internal energy and the way you feel is hard to come by.
As you may know, doctors get their pay from insurance companies. Doctors have a vested interest to ensure that you get a service that fits inside the insurance reimbursement model. Insurance may cover your treatment, yet, whether or not you are actually helped or more importantly getting to the core of your fundamental needs, is a completely different story. Ever come away from a doctor’s appointment feeling like you didn’t even get to say what’s really wrong or that didn’t get what you needed?
And as you’re getting older, your body is showing other signs of aging still. Not just the signs that the world can see on your face and skin, but internally in your muscles and connective tissue, which have the powerful ability to affect and change you from the inside out. I want to share with you how that has a direct effect on your beauty and energy.
You are probably wondering what am I referring to, right? - Your essential structural balance.
If you ask most health professionals, they may say it means “having good or bad posture”, but the truth is; posture is only a portion of the support of your overall structure. Charles Poliquin, once recognized as one of the world’s most accomplished strength coaches, defined structural balance as, “A term … in reference to the absence of strength and mobility discrepancies between the left and right limbs of the body, between the front and back sides of the body, between the upper and lower sides of the body, as well as between the prime mover muscles and their associated stabilizing musculature.” [Mcnair, 2018]. In layman’s terms, structural balance means your body is balanced from left to right, top to bottom, front to back. There is an equal distribution of strength in your body’s pushing and pulling muscles. But strength is not everything.
Your body is held in place and moved by muscles. The only thing a muscle can do is move the two attachment points closer together. And to be more scientific for a second, like Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “every action must have an equal and opposite reaction”; for every muscle action there must be an opposing muscle pulling back. How does this apply to the muscles in your body?
When your brain sends a nerve impulse to a muscle telling it to contract, the antagonizing muscle must have enough elasticity to relax throughout the agonist muscle’s entire contraction length for full range of motion of the joint to be achieved. Obviously, if something goes wrong in your nervous system that does not allow the second muscle to relax, the contracting muscle cannot complete its contraction phase. This simple principle is present in a very complex manner as you walk, move, sit, stand and go about your daily activities. But let’s not complicate it here.
What’s important to know is that what’s surrounding your muscles and nerves and holding your body together, is a connective tissue called fascia.
For the purpose of this article, I’m not going to describe my personal injury in detail, the recovery progress, and my personal growth from it. Suffice it to say, this critical tissue, fascia, had a huge impact on my personal and professional life; the more I learned the more I had to help other people understand it. I’ve seen the same story in people of all walks of life: cycling between injury and recovery for years, sometimes people don’t have the tools to get the life and energy they once had back. Over and over its been made so clear to me that not enough attention gets paid to fascia and collagen in beauty, healing and preventing injuries. So for now, let’s go into what fascia is, why I emphasize it so much, and how giving it the attention it deserves can help you.
Fasciae (the plural of “fascia”) are bands or sheets of connective tissue - about 70% of which is made up of collagen - located beneath the skin that attach, stabilize, surround, and separate muscles and organs [Abd-Elgaliel and Tung 2013; Schleip et al., 2012].
Essentially, fascia is the connective tissue that connects other connective tissue, and collagen play a massive role in this. 70% is a huge proportion, wouldn’t you say? In 2012, Robert Schleip and other fascia experts clearly defined what fascia is made up of: collagen, elastin, water, and “ground substance”. Again for the purpose of this writeup I won’t go into details of collagen, elastin, water and ground substance, but I highly recommend you read about it in the ebook on beauty and energy mentioned above.
You should know that to form fascia, and these connective tissues I am referring to above, collagen fibers must be closely packed into bundles and arranged in a wavy pattern in line with the direction of your muscle’s pull. If your fascia is healthy, it looks smooth and nicely organized, but if you are inactive or eat a lot of unhealthy, inflammation-causing foods, it can look tangled, knotted, and truly unattractive. As you can probably guess, the lower the quality of your food and movement, the less healthy your fascia becomes.
Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of it. Paying attention to what you eat and how you move can pay off in the long run for a part of your body that’s not all-that-obvious. And you would probably agree, nothing in life that matters is depthless.
Fascia has different layers of depth. It flows between the layers of your skin, your bones, ligaments, and tendons. It protects you from breaking, and it helps to prevent falling down in the first place. As each and every part of your body is connected with this soft tissue, we categorize groupings of fascia into “Fascia Lines,” or by what physical therapy master Tom Myers calls, “Anatomy Trains.”
We will talk about one specific fascia line in a moment to illustrate the power it has in your body and the way you feel and look. For now the thing to note is that each structural imbalance throws a wrench into the entire machine of your body, and that’s why it’s important to pay attention to the entire system’s structural balance from the ground up. Let me provide you with an example so you can visualize and understand why paying attention to one muscle or even one part of your body is not good enough, and how discomfort in one area of your body can have a negative impact on other parts of the body.
Let’s imagine you have discomfort in your lower back. You don’t know why, but lately every morning you’ve woken up with tightness and aching. A quick google search brought up WebMd telling you about sciatica or sacroIliac dysfunction, but you still don’t know how to fix the problem and decide to visit your MD. You leave the doctor’s office with some muscle relaxants and maybe if you are lucky you got a referral for physical therapy or for an MRI. The doctor didn’t ask--and you didn’t think it was relevant to mention--what you do for work, what your posture looks like and that the last two weeks you were working on your feet all day long shifting your weight unconsciously. Your right foot has been sensitive and sore, you’ve got tight muscles in your lower back, your feet are tender and swollen. It’s not necessarily easy to see how they are all connected.
You may be asking, why does one affect the other? Why didn’t the doctor catch it? This is why an examination/evaluation of structural balance from the ground up is so essential. That tenderness in your foot is likely the beginning stages of Plantar Fasciitis and it likely affects your entire body with every step. This is just one possibility, but it may surprise you that the cause can come from several different sources. Just stay with me, I promise we will get to the bottom of it one step at a time.
Injuries as simple as a broken toe, sprained ankle or plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the fascia on the bottom of the foot - a more in depth definition will come later) or as complex as broken bones or injuries requiring surgical repair cause an anomaly in the body. Our brain’s systemic response is usually to limit the motion at the nearest controllable joint; the ankle in our example. When the ankle cannot go through its entire range of motion, maybe due to a sprain or plantar fasciitis, your brain will automatically shorten the gait of that right leg to account for the lack of motion that the ankle can go through. And the injury is now affecting the foot and every muscle, tendon and bone grouped along the entire Superficial Back Line [Myers, 2011]. The Superficial Back Line (shown in the figure on the left) begins at the bottom of the toes with the Plantar Fascia and runs around the heel all the way up the back of your leg to the sacrum, continues up the entire back and neck over the head and ends at the eyebrow. Every muscle responsible for extending the body out of the fetal position to a full erect posture is included in and surrounded by fascia in this fascial line. And when one is affected, they all feel the repercussions.
For the sake of your structural balance, you should know that the Superficial Back Line must be balanced by the Superficial Front Line (shown on the right) as well as the Lateral and Spiral Fascia lines that exist. Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains (what I refer to here as the fascia lines) describes the function of anatomy trains best,
The ‘-itis’ (also known swelling) is located in the Plantar Fascia (thus the name Plantar Fasci’itis’) of the foot, but the source is often those muscles behind the knee which reach around the heel to the plantar fascia, but the source of why the plantar fascia is maintaining that irritation might be behind the knee, might be at the hamstring attachments, might be at the sacroiliac joint, and honest might be from the suboccipital muscles under the skull. It is sometimes that drive which is creating a pull which is transferred through myofascial force transmission down this line all the way to the plantar fascia. Just because the -itis is in one place, that doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t somewhere else. These Fascia lines are one way to look at how something might be connected to some other place. [Myers, 2011]
Plantar Fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain. It involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes (plantar fascia).
You can’t let that stop you from your busy day to day, so you walk on it anyways. Sometimes the pain decreases as the fascia is stretched, but usually it returns with long bouts of standing or walking, so we continue, one gait shorter than the other for days and weeks or months at a time. Now the left leg is working overtime (strengthening and lengthen the muscles of the left hip) to keep us moving at a normal pace causing the muscles in the right hip to tighten and weaken. With the left and right balance thrown off at the hips, the pelvic girdle is pulled out of alignment, causing stress at the Sacro-Iliac (SI) Joint forcing the lumbar spine to conform to the new normal or stress. This battle of conformity will work its way up the body to the cervical spine and into the spinal cord if something isn’t done to return the body to a balanced point. Sometimes that "something" is nothing more than a good night's rest. If the muscular imbalance does not return to normal within a reasonable length of time, hands on treatment will probably be needed. And that key, hands-on touch can help you to move effectively from the ground up. To move with grace and to feel energized requires the ability to connect with yourself, which I call body awareness.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO YOUR ENERGY LEVEL, YOUR BEAUTY, AND YOUR OVERALL HEALTH?
When even one pair of muscles is out of balance, not even counting the numerous subsequent muscle groups being pushed out of balance, your body works overtime to compensate. At its most basic level, this means you might be spending more energy at all times, resting or active. Imbalances will also create an increased workload on the nervous system to perform each movement pattern or to even sit comfortably at rest. Your brain automatically searches for the path of least resistance, so movement becomes difficult, erratic or eliminated altogether. Temporary changes in gait or posture that compensate for an imbalance in your structure can become permanent if not addressed. In order to avoid pain and further injury, it may feel natural to handle these changes with a less active and more sedentary lifestyle. The choices you make every day of what to put in your body, and what you put your body through, directly impact how energized you show up in the world mentally and physically.
And then there’s Time. Compounding the effects that external forces and your internal structural balance have on your health and energy is time. We are all on the clock. Your age, the time you spend on earth, and how long you are affected by its gravity, impacts your body’s structural balance whether you like it or not. Every second of every day, your body experiences the downward force of gravity. When you drop an object off a rooftop, its speed gets faster and faster until it runs into something else to oppose its motion (ie. the ground). That same acceleration of gravity multiplied by every ounce of your body weight creates a substantial force that impacts your joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and vertebral discs. At rest and in motion. Day after day, year after year. Regardless of your activity level or attempt to counteract the effects of gravity, it remains a constant.
Now take into account your posture. As a major slice of the structural balance pie, it is important to maintain throughout your life. Poor posture can become more and more difficult to control and recover from as you age. This excerpt from The Fitness Journal provides some evidence for the effect that posture can have on good health:
Edmond et al. (2005), in a rather large study of 444 women (aged 72–96) who were part of the famous Framingham Study (a heart disease study originally composed of adults aged 30–62 from Framingham, Massachusetts), observed a number of limitations associated with (not caused by) poor posture. They included difficulty standing in one place for about 15 minutes; difficulty stooping, crouching and kneeling; difficulty getting in and out of a car; difficulty walking; difficulty putting on socks; difficulty reaching or extending arms above shoulder level; difficulty writing; and difficulty handling small objects. As observed by the authors, age-related musculoskeletal problems (e.g., osteoporosis) surely contributed to these findings. The two most notable limitations associated with declining posture, according to Edmond and colleagues, were difficulties pushing and pulling a large object, such as a living room chair.
Edmond et al. argue that this data is clear evidence that health professionals need to be proactive in developing interventions to minimize postural deviations and limitations. Britnell et al. (2005) propose that exercise programs need to focus on improving muscular fitness, balance, agility, range of motion and coordination for older clients. They specifically note that strength and agility training has been shown to meaningfully reduce the risk of falling in older women. [Fowler, 2011]
As mentioned before, when a pair or group of muscles become structurally imbalanced,greater strain is placed on your nervous system and you end up wasting energy. A poor thoracic spine posture is often associated with a head or shoulder position that’s too far forward (think of how your middle and upper back kinks when your neck cranes forward); a poor pelvic posture is often related to the position of your feet (look at how your pelvis tilts forward (posterior pelvic tilt) when your feet are splayed out or “duck-footed”). These common imbalances add severe stress and strain to your body.
If your head (on average weighing 10-11 pounds) rests too far forward, all of the muscles and ligaments in your neck and upper back will stretch under the pressure and strain to pull your head back to rest. In Figure 4 below, you can see how a forward head posture adds weight and strain on the neck muscles. To counteract the weight shift, your brain will automatically roll the pelvis backwards, adding additional strain on the muscles around the hips and lower back. Left in this position for long enough, every muscle and ligament along the posterior chain from the head to the foot and the bones in your neck and lower back and the cartilage between each vertebrae will begin to permanently change. In Figure 3 [Fowler, 2011], you can see spinal differences between a healthy posture and various examples of poor posture. Look closely, and you can see the angles of each spine vertebrae changing along with the pelvic rotation forward and backwards. It might be hard to imagine, but most of us can slouch into this position and remain there for 8-10 hours per day. While focusing on our jobs, we fail to pay attention to our posture and find ourselves sitting in the “slumping” positions in Figure 3 and Figure 5. The pelvis is tilted backwards and the head forward. Hours and hours of this position per day have an effect on our gait while we’re standing, walking and running. As your bones and soft tissue become used to that bad posture position, it remains there while we exercise. One misalignment can have catastrophically negative impacts on your overall health and energy if left unchecked.
Now let’s talk about what happens when you move. Your posture while in motion (either running or walking) will influence your gait and cause the force on your feet, ankles and knees to increase tremendously. The most common problem I see in runners is tightness of the hip flexors, but we can thank hours of sitting at our desks for this dysfunction. While running, the single most important motion is your body’s ability to flex at the hip (while keeping the spine in a neutral position.) Hip flexor tightness pulls your spine into more of an arch also known as lordosis. See in Figure 6, the position of the female's hips relative to her shoulders. Lordosis while running places your hips in a more flexed position during gait, and prevents us from swinging the legs behind us properly during push off. Instead of maintaining a neutral pelvic position and extending your hip, you wind up extending your back. The second most important motion while running is your hip’s ability to extend. Unlike hip flexion, extension of the hips is propelled by the strength of the gluteus muscles (the big muscles of your buttocks, “glutes” for short).As I mentioned in the beginning, when there’s a limit around a joint, both the agonist and antagonist muscles are affected. After sitting in a slumped posture, the hip flexors shorten and tighten, and at the same time the static lengthening and weakening of the opposite muscle groups also becomes an issue. As your running speed increases, the proportion of force you produce at the hip must also increases. Unfortunately, most runners can't even tell the difference between moving their back or their hip, much less isolating their glutes. Maintaining the hip flexor’s full range of motion is important, but equally important is maximizing glute strength in order to get your hip behind you and to propel you forward during push off.
HOW DOES POSTURE AFFECT YOUR LIFESTYLE?
“ In our Organs echoes our Emotions”
If left unchecked, the effects of time and gravity begin to change our posture. As discussed, our bodies spend years adapting our muscles and bones to structural imbalances. Tendons stretch, muscles ache from over working and bones begin to compress, but can’t that be fixed? How does that affect my lifestyle? The truth is, the time spent with bad posture can end up compressing all of your organs at the same time and changes the functionality of your organs, your outward appearance and confidence, and your mood and personality. Studies have shown that organs play a larger role than simply pumping blood through your body, digesting food, filtering liquids etc. They have secondary characteristics that come together to make, You. All our organs are connected to our emotions psychosomatically. Think about it. When you feel sad, does your foot hurt? When you feel anger, does your shoulder react by aching? No. Each organ is connected to specific emotions and they react depending on the intensity, severity, and duration of the stress they encounter. How?
Upledger Enterprises (2007)describes each organ and how they play a role in our character. To name a few: the Heart pumps blood and keeps oxygen flowing to your body, but it also helps you feel attachment, remorse, guilt, hatred, jealousy and trust. It allows you the fear of being unloved, abandoned or judged and gives you style and flair and the need to be flattered and rewarded. The Stomach and the Intestines give you a sense of social stature. The spleen gives you the power of extroversion, ambition, self image and seduction or the impotence of poor self-esteem, fear of failure, stress, overreactions and sadness. The Liver, Kidneys and Bladder show us routine, bad moods, fits of anger and depression. They contribute importance to control, submission and avoiding conflict while maintaining the need to lead and surpass oneself.
Other holistic medical systems agree in their emphasis on the connection between your internal organs and your emotions. Traditional Eastern Medicine practices of China, Korea, Japan, and others have been used to treat the whole spectrum of ailments for thousands of years. Recent integration of Traditional Eastern Medicine practices have spurred interest in many East Asian practices like Acupuncture and Chinese herbs, and the past few decades has seen an explosion of research interest in this field. One of the fundamental tenets used in diagnosing patients in Traditional Chinese Medicine is the “Five Elements Theory”. The five elements take generalized characteristics of five different organ systems—lungs, spleen, liver heart, and kidney—and link them with emotional tendencies. Insomnia, depression, restlessness, and fatigue are associated with a heart imbalance. Emotions like anger, a hot temper, and irritability pair up with liver imbalance. Brooding, overthinking, and worry line up with the spleen system. Even though the organ systems of Traditional Eastern Medicines don’t exactly match anatomical organs, rigorous clinical studies done within the framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine validate over and over the mind-body connection (Lam and Soh-Leong 2004)
The evidence to support how our movement affects our emotions which in turn affects our hormones and internal organs exists in conventional Western medicine as well. Yoga and body-meditation are routinely used to lower the inflammation that causes chronic fatigue in patients relieving treatment for cancer (Greenlee et al. 2017). Stress reduction techniques have been shown to be effective for preventing inflammatory flare-ups in people living with inflammatory bowel diseases (Ballau and Keefer 2017). Tai Chi—a physical practice that pairs mindfulness with movement—has a large body of science to support its use for reducing the risk of falls, regulating the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. an overactive fight-or flight response), and a variety of autoimmune conditions (O’toole et al 2018). Synthesizing all of this research, it becomes apparent that no matter what medical system you adhere to, the way you move affects the way you feel, the way you feel affects your health, and when you have your health in hand, beauty is less than a step away.
When examining these emotions and their responses more in depth, you can see how our moods and personality can be changed by damage, pressure or sub-optimal efficiency of even just one organ. Pablo Brinol et al. studied the effects of poor (slouching) posture vs. good posture while writing thoughts of one’s self. He and his team “...predicted and found that the effect of the direction of thoughts (positive/negative) on self‐related attitudes was significantly greater when participants wrote their thoughts in the confident than in the doubtful posture. These postures did not influence the number or quality of thoughts listed, but did have an impact on the confidence with which people held their thoughts” [Brinol, 2009]. This goes to show that the intrinsic response to our outward appearance gives us a feeling of self worth and beauty, and that response defines how we are perceived by the world.
Have you ever heard the term “Beauty comes from within”? I think whoever came up with that phrase was talking about structural balance. For women, if your goal is to outlast time, you have to pay just as much attention to your upper middle back (your thoracic spine) and building a strong and stable posture just as you would to your face and your skin. If the health of your skin and bony structures of your body are controlled by other organs and muscles and fascia, why not focus on your structural balance to help keep them healthy first?
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Upledger Enterprises, 2007. All Rights Reserved