I’ve spent a good chunk of the last few months immersed in the nerdy-licious science of biomechanics. Naturally, I have developed an enormous girlcrush on Katy Bowman, the “master of science” who dared to challenge the Kegels that be. A number of years ago this sassy scientist wrote her thesis on protocols for the pelvic floor, and she determined based on both research outcomes and mechanics of the pelvis that (in isolation) Kegels don’t do squat. In fact, they do FAR less than squat because they may simply create tension in the pelvic floor instead of strength. She determined that what we need is SQUAT and we need A LOT of SQUAT! (Currently 80% of the western world will suffer from some form of pelvic floor disorder in their lifetime...)
But being a legit scientist, she didn’t just tell people to squat a lot. She explained that modern western life has made proper squatting incredibly difficult. All that right-angle couch sitting, and desk sitting, and car sitting… Before we can get to an optimal squat, we have to realign our bodies, starting at the feet. We have to align our feet perpendicularly, and train our ankles, and lengthen our tight shortened calf muscles, and keep our shins vertical (!), and use our now lazy booty muscles instead of just our quads. We need to keep our pelvis anteriorly tilted, maintaining healthy lumbar curvature so that our tailbone is reaching up(ish) and not pointing between our feet. In short, there is no in short. Katy Bowman’s proper squat is in the details, and there are many; the preparatory squats are basically utkatasana on ‘roids. According to lady Katy it can take a year of solid preparation for many people to really get down.
Power Vinyasa isn't the only hard. Slowing down is hard. Micromovements are hard. J. Brown wrote a post about this a few weeks back calling for a Slow Yoga Revolution and I loved it. One, because it’s really hard to actually do yoga when you are flailing your limbs about choreographically. But even more so because getting into the core instead of just performing fast Simon Says style yoga geometry is actually harder on every level. We can do a great deal of fakery with the outer body that keeps us from having to delve more deeply into our core musculature, mindset, or emotional states. But it’s much harder to fake micromovement; it is much harder to fake SLOW. Microyoga requires our presence and attention in a very real way, because there is no dance to do. No one will see it. It’s like a tree falling or one hand clapping. The only person aware of you is you, and that magnifying lens can be very strong and very yogic, if you let it be.
You know what is harder than slow yoga? Changing your habits. It’s much easier to go to yoga class a few times a week than it is to get into the daily grind of avoiding lazy habits. Yet habits are where the body is made and broken. Take the habit of sitting on your tailbone instead of your sits bones/ischial tuberosities. Our modern lives are generally set up for us to fail at this. Cushy couches curl our spines and compress our sacrums, and the habit of leaning back into the lumbar spine is a hard one to break. Our hamstrings tighten over a lifetime of sitting with our legs at right angles, perpetuating the cycle in a positive feedback loop of alignment doom. The sacrum moves anteriorly as we push on it, creating slack in the pelvic floor and leading to disorder. Now you need more yoga to try and work on those hamstrings, which are pulling at your back, and more squats for your pelvic floor.
But what if instead of rolling out our yoga mats, we kept them rolled up under our bums every day and sat up off those tailbones? What if instead of choosing the fluffy couch, we sat on the floor more often or built a standing desk? How else could we change our daily habits? How can we re-make our lives and our culture to support vitality?
Ayurveda is a big fan of health-supportive daily habits or dinacharya. This is probably because the vaidyas were aware of the profound effect that small daily actions have on our lives. It’s strangely easier for many of us to go on a crash diet, to go to exercise class, or to go on a meditation retreat than it is to take 5 minutes to regularly relax and find our breath, to reconsider dietary excesses, or to adjust our alignment. I counsel massage clients regularly on the necessity of making their workspaces ergonomic, of not working on their laptops while in bed, of not wearing high heels because their spines and knees are suffering needlessly. But it’s hard. They want me to rub out their crimes and sins against the body... but no one can undo in one hour a week what they spend 12 hours a day working at. I can only hope that they believe me when I give them the hard truth. This is the real stuff, the warrior sh*t, the battle against the “tamasic (unconscious) tide”, as my friend Daren says.
A big piece of the quandary is that most people are still very attached to being “normal”. I watched a morning news segment where Katy Bowman was talking about minimalist footwear and the effects of even a small heel on the body. The host chuckled and said “but how do I get a date in those vibrams?” Katy replied smartly, “I guess it depends on who you want to date.”
Our bodies exist within straightjackets of culture and “normalcy”. When I was studying physical theater in San Francisco I got really tuned in to these postural masks. Our city culture asks for our complicity in this linear march. It asks that we move predictably, and without any hint of the fluid body or animal within us. It asks us to renounce organic functionality in favor of constriction: bras, belts, ties, and heels must be worn to remind us of this bondage. Above all it requires that we reject emotion, because the one thing that we are never allowed to be is fully embodied, wild, spiraling, emotional creatures. Those who deviate from the marching orders are written off as crazies, devalued, and avoided unless they can monetize their "freak flag" with their art.
Perhaps one of the seeds of this pelvic floor disorder epidemic comes out of the puritanical cultural idea that good girls should always move with their legs close together, tuck their tail bones, and never sway their hips or draw attention to their backsides. A good indicator of pelvic floor disorder is actually “flat butt”, or underdeveloped glutes, tucked tailbone/posterior pelvic orientation and reduced lumbar curvature.
Until the recent booty fetish, “nice” women have been hiding their booties and tucking their tailbones with an almost religious fervor. News flash! White women CAN have butts, folks. They just happen to often be really underdeveloped because of all of that tucking and gluteal deactivation that is perpetuated by religion and culture and modeled by parents (and facilitated by mirror neurons). Isn’t it amazing to consider how thoughts become our bodies?
In order to reclaim the health of our pelvic floor, we are going to have to reclaim our booties, or as my friend, the visionary space activator Binahkaye Joy says: we need to liberate the booty. This is not about sexual fetish; it's all about SELF-CARE. Embracing the health of our backsides helps to keep our core fired and takes some of the load off the psoas. Squats that emphasize glute activation increase the strength of the pelvic floor and help keep the sacrum in alignment. For the health of our pelvic organs, our metabolism, and our elimination, building the booty is a high priority! That doesn’t even get into how important it is for labor and birth....but let’s save that for another time.
For now, I leave you with this. Turn on your best bootyshakin’ music, take a hike in the hills, go slow, and change a habit that could literally change the course of your life. Give yourself permission to be your wild bootylicious self.