5 Ways to Move for Health With Align Method

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Katie: Hello, and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and I’m here today with Aaron Alexander who is a Manual Therapist and movement coach, who has worked with the world’s best athletes, celebrities and everyone in between to relieve pain, increase strength and optimize their movement. He hosts the top rated Align Podcast, which features the worlds thought leaders on all things movement and wellness.

He is the founder of the Align Method, an integrated approach to functional movement and self-care that has helped thousands of people to relieve pain and move optimally in daily life. He just released his first book, “The Align Method – Five Movement Principles for a Stronger Body, Sharper Mind, and Stress Proof Life”. It came out on December 24th and I highly recommend it. It’s a fascinating look at whole lot of easy ways you can improve your movement in day to day life. And he shows you how your posture and body alignment are tools that you can use for peak performance for approaching the world with a new sense of confidence and many other things. And in this episode we go deep on the mind body connection of movement, movement vs exercise, the real deal of high heels and if you should wear them or not and so much more. I know you will enjoy it as much as I did. Without further adieu, lets join Aaron. Aaron Alexander, welcome, thanks for being here!

Aaron: Thank you so much for having me. Having me back? Did we do this before? This is the second time? This is the second time. Thanks for having me back. I appreciate it.

Katie: Yea, absolutely. Last time was in your sauna and we got to do lots of cool things. This one is remote, not quite as fun. So excited to have you back.

Aaron: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate it.

Katie: Several reasons I wanted you back is that I wanted to mention you have an amazing book coming out that I got to read ahead of time that I highly recommend and will be linked in the show notes and is available anywhere books are sold. It builds on what we talked about in the first podcast and I wanted to go deeper on today. Which is, just how important movement is, we understand how important it is physically, but I don’t think people really fully grasp how important it is for every aspect of life, including mental and emotional health and relationships and truly everything. So, I would love to start hearing from you more of the mind body connection of movement and all the things you have found in your years of research.

Aaron: Yeah. Yeah. Well, so, I mean, I think that the research started very experientially of just feeling very insecure in my own body. And so that transitioned into just packing on as much muscle as I possibly could as a means of protection, kind of like self-validation and all of those things. Perhaps the story associated with that is like there was a sensation of feeling a bit unsafe. And then that translated into wanting to pack in my body and make my biological home feel as safe as possible. And from there, that led into lots of imbalance and then injuries and kinda like anxiety and chronic pain and things that I kind of just considered to be very normal. And, you know, if I would ask somebody else if they didn’t have like back pain all the time or, you know, knee pain or some kind of like just ongoing pain in their body and the answer was no, which was pretty rare to find, actually, I was, like, surprised because I just thought that was a part of life.

And so it was an interesting thing to get to witness how my environment shifted to then have a physiological translation, which was like, there’s a one-to-one connection of how we feel in ourselves, in our home, in our relationships, in our work, feeling like we’re on purpose in our lives and the way that we move in our physical bodies. And so that was a really fascinating experience for me to get to kind of watch from the inside. And then that was kind of 16 years ago was the beginning of like professionally paying attention to that. And then the book journey started, you know, a couple of years ago. And then there’s a lot more research of like, “Huh, what is all that?” And then the podcast was like five years ago and it’s just been an ongoing journey of kind of divulging, figuring out what the heck is going on with this whole mind-body connection. Now, we’re at the point of the book.

Katie: which I love. The book ties in so much of what you said so effortlessly. I’m curious as well, and you talk about this in the book, but what do feel people get wrong with movement?

Aaron: Well, one would be, so the way that we finished the book is essentially suggesting that people forget about the book. You know, like we have all of the principles and the fundamentals in there that any person would need to effectively operate their body in daily life, things that we never really get taught in grade school. You know, so physical education ought to be something that is a part infused into literally every classroom, not just PE where you’re like hucking kickballs at each other’s faces and, like, run around bases. Physical education is the way that you communicate yourself in any situation. You know, there’s the, I think we might have mentioned it before, but Albert Mehrabian is a UCLA professor that came up with a thing called the 55-38-7 principle back in the ’70s and essentially it was that 55% of our communication comes from body language and then 38% is the tonality of our voices, and then 7% is the words that we’re actually saying to each other.

And so if there’s any incongruence between what my tone and my body language communicates to you, you will, 93% of the time, I would say it’s even more than that, trust my tone and my body language over the actual words that I say, you know? And so the way that we inhabit ourselves, is the language that we use in the book, is something that we can start to pay attention to 100% of the day. And as you do begin to pay attention to that and also having the education and feeling like almost like an authority in your own body, I think very few people really feel like they’re the boss of their own body. And yeah, I do know how to pick up that couch or I do know how to, you know, “Oh, we’re wrestling. Okay. I don’t feel unsafe. Like I’m going to blow out my back or my knee or something like that. Like I know how to navigate this terrain in such a way that I feel safe and strong and confident and autonomous in myself, my physical movement patterns,” you know. But we just don’t get those fundamental educational points like you would if you learned to, like, drive a car. You know, we go through classes of like a, “Here’s where the turning signal on the brights and here’s how you change your oil,” and all that.

For some strange, wacky reason, Western culture does not receive any form of education around how to operate the body. And it says exactly what the book is, it’s like it breaks all of that down. But yeah, I think that we, it’s interesting that we don’t pay enough attention to the way that we inhabit ourselves. I think because our attention is in large part pulled away from us into phones and tablets and computers and advertisements and TV and, you know, your attention is the most valuable commodity out there right now. You know, and so we think that, you know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Like we think that Instagram and Facebook and all that stuff is free. It is not free.

You know, you are paying in your conscious bandwidth. So any extra bandwidth that we have to operate on that we could be using to cultivate our mind and our body and making some beautiful project or creating community, any extra bandwidth that’s on the table, they’re looking for it and they’re trying to grab it any way they can. So if we could take some of that bandwidth back and put it into how we inhabit ourselves, it’s the beginning of like a, you know, a beautiful journey in your physical existence.

Katie: I love that. And I feel like your book is very much a user manual on how to use your body the right way. And you’re right – this is not taught. It’s kind of like parenting – there is no manual. You have to figure it out as you go – it’s trial by fire. And I love the idea of the 55% being our body language and then our toneality and then our words. Are there any specifics of how we can learn to be cognizant of our body language in ways that help us in relationships to communicate trust, for instance. Or to connect more deeply with people through our movement?

Aaron: Yeah, absolutely. Well, one… So, connecting more deeply with ourselves, I think, is kind of the first thing, and, you know, there was some research that we mentioned in the book of people washing dishes and just bringing more attention. There’s two groups. One group was, more attention was brought to, you know, the way they’re standing as they’re doing it and the warmth of the water on their hands and the bubbles and the sun shining through the window as they’re doing it. And the people that are, and then the other ones are not cued to just essentially pay attention. And the people that are queued to pay attention, they end up doing better on creativity tests and they end up reporting less stress. And because they’re taking their conscious bandwidth back and paying attention to the magic of this experience, this moment, i.e., like what your kids do all the time, you know, that’s why kids are our greatest teachers. You look down, you’re like, “How do they do it?” They are just totally immersed in whatever they’re doing. They’re…you know, they have a stick that’s a military man. And then it’s jumping out of a parachute and they’re like, “Wow,” like they’re really in their world. It’s so beautiful.

You know, and so just the simple act of paying attention, all of a sudden, it lowers stress levels and it makes you be a more creative adult or human being in general. If you are a less stressed, less anxious person, then all of a sudden, you have more attention to focus onto relationships, more attention to focus onto work. You know, or anything that you wanna be able to contain your fire hose of attention. You know, most of us have a bunch of holes throughout the hose. If we just start to bring that awareness back into what we’re doing in the moment, as simple as noticing the weight of the feet and they both, or the weight of both of my feet going into the ground, you know, or notice my breath into my lower back or into my abdomen or the side of my ribs. Notice the carriage of my shoulders and my breathing through my nose. Maybe doing a little extra exhalation because that helps activate more of that rest-digest side of the nervous system.

You know, so we’re always in control of what’s happening in this autonomic nervous system of ours, which is like, it’s auto, it happens without us, but we have the power and the control to augment our environment, which then in turn affects this autonomic nervous system of ours. So it’s not nearly as autonomic as I think we would like to believe. Like we actually have more control of ourselves than what we think. You know, so first step to being able to have deeper connection with others, which is kind of the original question, I think, is just to start to pay attention. And then once you start to pay attention, then that gathers up enough bandwidth to be able to put into relationships and have deeper connections.

Katie: That makes sense. And you also talk about, and you’re a great example of this for anyone that follows you on Instagram, the difference between movement and exercise. And I want to talk about this a little more. Because I think people sit all day or stand at a standing desk all day or do a particular thing all day and then make sure they get to the gym to exercise for maybe 30 minutes or an hour and hope that’s kind of enough. I would love for you to break down the difference between actually integrating movement in a holistic way into your life vs just the importance of exercise.

Aaron: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s what the book is about, is how do we start to make our whole life be fitness and be yoga and be dance and be martial arts. And like you, like in West Africa and all throughout Africa, I think, in large part, you know, it’s more common for it to be believed that like, no, you’re like, you’re always singing. You know, like you’re always dancing. There’s not, “Okay, cool, I’m doing the, I’m in choir, I’m officially singing.” It’s like, you know, every time you communicate with somebody, you are singing a song, you know, and you are literally tuning that person’s nervous system based off of the tone of your voice and your body language and etc. You know, so with fitness, and it’s the same thing with dance. You know, when you’re dancing with somebody on the dance floor, you know, there’s certain moves that you can do to invoke a certain sensation in your partner or partners and there’s certain other moves that you could do to, you know, go another direction.

And so it’s the same thing as we’re communicating to each other, we’re literally dancing to each other. You know, that’s like if you start to draw back a little bit and observe one’s life for more of that perspective of like, “Huh, this is like, I’m like in a musical,” it is like a big song and dance that we’re doing, you know? And so if you could start to pay attention to that and allow your dance to spill outside of the dance hall and go more into your life, then you can start to pay attention to, like, some of the things we mentioned, pay attention to your breath, which we have a whole chapter breaking down exactly what that means and how to do that and why it matters.

There’s another chapter on the value of beginning to hinge from your hips. You know, so as you are… The common tendency for many people from, like, a, even if it’s just like a superficial vain perspective is this kind of ugly, rolled forward shoulders and forward head posture and kind of like hyperkyphotic hunchback spine type thing. My knees drop in the middle into that valgus position, it just, the body feels kind of flat. In the book, we refer to that as the mopey archetype. We break down five different postural archetypes and their personality translation of what that is in there, the way they think and feel.

You know, but if you start to pay attention to the way that we’re moving on a momentary basis and say as you are washing those same dishes we mentioned before, what if as I’m doing that, I start to kind of let my booty go back a little bit? I hinge my hips a little bit, I get a little bit of length through my spine. I kind of pulled the shoulders back just a pinch and let my, that elongation through my cervical spine so my chin comes back, and all of a sudden, I’m practicing this strong, upright, creative, confident, winning pattern.

And then when I’m finished with those dishes, all of a sudden, I show up to my wife or husband differently. I show up to my kids differently. I show up to that phone call differently because I’ve been practicing being in my body as a winner. I’ve been practicing being in my body as someone that I love and someone that’s worth eating better food and someone that’s worth better relationships and, you know, someone that really matters in the world as opposed to practicing a slumpy, collapsed, depressive, “depressive” in the literal translation of “depressed,” which is to bring down, posture. And then when I get on that phone call or I meet up with my kids or I, you know, go out for that date, I have to unwind that with quickness in order to get back into a place of feeling confident, I have to show up as my best self. And that’s a broken system.

As long as that’s the system that we’re operating in, we’re gonna have, like, our foot on the gas and the brake the whole time and it’s this continued yo-yo effect. If I feel like crap, I will, “Okay. I feel better. I’m a winner and I feel like crap. Okay. I’m feeling better.” By following the principles that we broke down in the book, essentially it’s a guide on how we can start to maintain awareness in more of that productive physical state. And then also embracing rest. You know, you don’t always need to be like, stick up your butt, upright posture guides. Also, there’s a whole aspect which is the other side of the coin, which is embracing, you know, kind of like the fitness of rest, you know, or the positioning of rest. We can get into that deeper as well.

Katie: Yea, I think that’s a perfect segue to talk about rest. And I want to talk about sleep posture, too. Because that’s another thing like breathing, we do it everyday, and I don’t think many of pay attention to how we are doing it and we’re not very intentional when we breathe or sleep. And I love this about you, because you’re so balanced. In our first episode we talked about how all these studies say sitting is bad, but you offered the counterpoint that sitting isn’t bad, it’s doing the same thing that is bad. Standing in one place is also bad. So I’d love to hear your take on how to integrate rest and how to be intentional about that. And the same with sleep. What can we be aware of when we go to sleep?

Aaron: Yeah, it’s such a great question and because it’s not something that’s overly applauded in our culture. There’s certain kind of niches, voices like yourself where it’s like we’re actually talking about that and realizing the value of it. But if you look at any, you know, as growing up as a young boy, I was looking at Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Pumping Iron,” and reading “Men’s Health,” and, you know, “Men’s Journal,” and all that stuff. And it’s just like bicep curls, muscle-ups, wind sprints, and chics, you know, like, that’s where we’re just, “Go, full go.” And there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on the foundation of all of that. And you could probably say that’s kind of like a cultural trend where, you know, like the patriarchy, the damn patriarchy, you know, which is, you know, the masculine go, you know, more of that young, make it happen. Whereas the other side, the thing that contains the masculine and contains the go and contains the “Get this stuff done” is that nurturing home and the listening and the support. And we don’t really prize that as much in the present cultural model that we’re in. I think it’s starting to shift.

You know, and so your rest practice is equally valuable to your activation practice. There’s no one that’s more or less valuable, just like, you know, feminism isn’t right. And, you know, the opposite of feminism isn’t right. It’s like it’s not masculine/feminine. It’s both, like we are in this thing together. As long as the pendulum swings too far to the other side, then we’re just equally confused. It’s just confused from a different angle, you know. And so the rest practice is the way that you are positioned as you are resting, is literally, it’s like a tuning mechanism for your body. You know, so your body naturally has these positions that we’ve been going on, going into for millennia, which we break them all down in the chapter about floor sitting and the value of that in the book.

You know, so most of us, for the most part, our rest practice is kind of dropping into a couch, stuffing ourselves into that and oftentimes bringing a cell phone out in front of our face and looking at that and checking our Instagram notifications. And then we’re done with that, we’ll get the computer out and we’ll throw on some Netflix and then our vision goes out maybe four feet instead of, you know, two feet. And then after that, maybe we’ll throw on the TV screen. And now our vision goes out to maybe 10 feet instead of 4 feet and we’re inside this little compressed, collapsed box. So structurally, our postural patterns are kind of going into that collapsed position. And then our vision isn’t even able to actually come out of contraction because it’s continuing, this is kind of fancy, unnecessary talk, but it’s refracting that light. So it’s bending the light when you’re in closed walls. So when you’re looking at a screen, when you’re looking at, you know, walls 10 feet away from you, you literally have to, your eyes need to contract the lens in order to bend that light so you can perceive it.

Our eyes, our vision, that’s even a…that’s a major component of our rest practice or our activation focus practice. So we don’t think of how as we’re sitting down in that couch and we are going into that same repetitive position that we’ve been in very likely for, throughout most of the day/our lives. And we think that we are resting by taking a load off and looking into our phone. We are in fact activating that autonomic nervous system because we’re tuning our autonomic nervous system based off our environment. We’re putting ourselves into a container of staring down and contracting our vision and putting us into more of a place of focus and fight/flight, get it done.

You know, so there’s a great fellow/friend, researcher, Stanford researcher, like, amazing mind called Andrew Huberman that he reviewed the whole psych chapter, we have a chapter in the book notes. The way the leverage side is a tool for fitness and wellness and focus and all the things. And he was gracious enough to go through and actually review and make edits on it, which was just amazing. He has done a tremendous job with breaking down research around how our vision is a part of our fitness just like anything else. And we can literally control our physiology by controlling those toggles in our vision. So when we go into that looking out into the distance, it’s this, “Ah, wow,” you’re looking out into the ocean or the mountains. Just like, “Wow, I just wanna like have a snuggle and take it all in.” You know, whereas when I get my phone out, I immediately go into, you know, tunnel vision, executive function, get stuff done, and that’s affecting us at a deep level.

It’s a similar way, more specifically as like the rest practice stuff, vision’s a part of it. But then you call them the postural archetypal positions of repose would be like unnecessary long polysyllabic waves of describing putting a little bit more intention into the mechanics of rest, you know. So as you are doing something like we recommend in the book, just getting a comfy area in your house with a comfy rug and some floor pillows or cushions and poufs and throw a foam roller down or a yoga mat. By you just having that space… So right now, I’m doing this conversation with you, I’m sitting on the ground, I’m sitting on a foam roller actually, and I’m on, like, a low coffee table and I’ve been alternating my hips as I’m going through this. You know, so I’m literally mobilizing my knees and my hips and circulating lymphatic fluid and all that interstitial stuff and blood, you know, I’m expanding, contracting my pelvic floor muscles. It’s like I’m literally doing a massage. You know, I’ve signed up for a massage session while I did this conversation with you.

You know, and then in tandem, I’m doubling up on some of those beneficial health benefits because I’m getting to connect with community and somebody that I love and care about. So I’m getting to have this, like, health sandwich as opposed to making my rest practice be that same slouchy postural pattern that I’ve been in for most of the day, which kind of like backs up my fluids in a sense. And then staring down into the phone. So your rest practice is very valuable is what I’m kind of trying to say here.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. And I think like you mentioned, like, just movement in play and how much we can learn from kids, I think rest gets discounted in today’s world, just like play does. And you’re right, I think men are more prone to that, like must accomplish, must, whatever. But I think it’s so built into our culture right now, even in the mom culture, that’s almost always the default answer I hear from people like, “How are you?” People are like, “Oh, so busy,” or, “So tired, or, “So…” And you see that immediate, like, posture change.

And I think that’s something so many of us are not even aware of. It’s just built in to this, like, stress response and this, like no need for rest and we’re supposed to be busy as almost like a badge of honor. And we’ve lost the importance of rest and also play because of that. What about sleep? Is there, I know there’s been all these debates, I’ve read articles that kind of debate the best posture to sleep in. Is it actually better to sleep on your back? Did you find any evidence of anything that can help with sleep posture?

Aaron: Yeah, there’s all sorts of things. So, one, you know, so I had the, like you, I have the amazing opportunity, which I’m immensely grateful for, to be able to reach out to past podcast guests that are like the world’s leading expert on various different subjects. So I pretty much did that with each of the chapters. And so I had a few different people, but Dr. Michael Bruce is known as the sleep doctor. He’s done, like, all the shows and all the things and all that. Yeah. So I reached out to him to kind of go through that chapter and he, before, most of the research that I was seeing was that side sleeping is the most effective for the healing of your, even like your, the circulation of the amyloid beta plaque in the glymphatic system of your brain. So when you go to sleep at night, you move out all of these various different kind of byproducts your brain produces throughout the day and when, if you get backed up with those, they’re called tau proteins and amyloid beta plaque and these things. If you get backed up with that, that’s strongly associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia and cognitive decline of all sorts.

And so if we’re not sleeping effectively and allowing that glymphatic system to come in and kind of clean our brains, I think of like a hose going through there and kind of getting all the nooks and crannies, that stuff backs up and it’s problematic. And so the research that I found with that was with mice and they found that mice on their sides would, it was much, the glymphatic system would come online much more effectively compared to being on their back. I haven’t seen research with humans particularly. You know, but you see in nature, you’ll see, you know, apes and various different of our potential ancestors, maybe not, well, you know, whatever your belief system is, sleeping on their side as well.

When you are sleeping on your back, it can do a couple things. If you’re a person that isn’t in much like hyperlordosis or a lot of, like, extension in your spine, then sleeping on your back won’t be such a big deal. But if you are, when you’re laying down on your back like that and your legs are straight, you will put your spine into a little bit more of extension, a little bit more compression. And then also a tendency that may happen depending upon, you do want a pillow to kind of support your neck. If not, then you would end up allowing your neck to kind of go forward a little bit and crunching that cervical spine, which will induce mouth breathing, which there’s a whole nother chapter and reasoning around why that’s problematic.

You know, so side sleeping, you kind of elongate that spine a little bit and allow that chain from your sacrum all the way up to your head to kind of relax throughout that night and also allows the mouth to close, putting you into a nose-breathing position. And there’s also like various different research and more like hypothetical around it being better for circulation of lymph and even blood with, like, the positioning of the heart. But I think some of that stuff to me feels a little dubious, but nonetheless, it’s like, it’s what people talk about. I think in the end with sleeping, you need to sleep. You know, so whatever position you’re gonna fall asleep in, I think, do that. And maybe you could play tinker with try laying on your side. Maybe throw a pillow between your arms, maybe throw one between your legs, prop your head up so it’s just neutral so that your neck isn’t kinked up to the left or to the right and you have that side bend on the cervical spine. You know, tinker with that.

And then, you know, but in the end, I care much more that you’re getting a really rock-solid night’s sleep than you trying to finagle yourself into some perfect position that may be perfect for 95% of culture but not you. You know, so in the end, what I care most about is that you’re sleeping and then from there, we can draw back and say, “Okay, let’s play with some of these other aspects.”

Katie: For sure. And I know like when, for instance, when you’re pregnant, they tell you to sleep on your left side because that’s supposed to be better for circulation and lymphatic.

Aaron: Yeah.

Katie: Yeah, I’m actually really glad to hear you say that it’s better to sleep on your side because I hate sleeping on my back and I’ve heard people say like, “You should,” I’m like, “I don’t want to.”

Aaron: Yeah, me too. Yeah, you probably don’t need to. I mean, it’s more unanimous from what I’ve seen and there are people that will absolutely disagree with that. But from what I’ve gathered in the research, it seems to be more unanimous that side sleeping is of value. I mean, and I don’t, it’s really hard to be like, “This one is the best.” But the whole letting yourself in that extended position throughout the night, it’s not…I personally, from what I’ve gathered from it, I don’t think it’s optimal personally. But I, again, I think it depends on the person and yeah, you’ve got to feel into your own body with it.

Katie: For sure.

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Katie: And speaking of, like, pregnancy, a lot of the women listening are moms. In fact, the majority of the women listening are moms and have either been in that phase of pregnancy or are currently in that phase of pregnancy. And so you mentioned like hinging at the hips and some different things that can help with posture. I know it’s probably not from personal experience, but from working with people, do you have any advice for women, especially like I would say post-pregnancy, when you’ve been in these kind of altered posture for a long time because of, like, this baby growing inside of you and then you’ve been nursing, so you’ve been hunched over for all these months. Are there things we can do to, like, slowly correct that?

Aaron: Certainly. Yeah. So when you’re in that position of having a human in your belly there, you are gonna go into a lot more of this, that extension like we’re talking about. You know, so if you’re being pulled forward like that, you’re gonna have, your spine is gonna be kind of like that Brazilian booty, hyperlordosis type position. And then that can even manifest itself into like diastasis recti where you have the abdominal muscles kind of coming open out to the side, and to be able to re-contain that abdominal, that torso, that container, that cylinder that is your torso, practices that a person could do to start to bring a little bit more support in that area would be another one of the chapters in the book, which is spending some time hanging. And as you’re hanging, you’re decompressing the spine, you’re literally restructuring the shape of the shoulder girdles.

There’s a whole book by a guy called John Kirsch, Dr. John Kirsch, orthopedic surgeon, that broke down how hanging with patients that were gonna go through surgery, he said 99% of the time, the patients that he worked with and he took them through this hanging protocol that would heal their pain, the pain would go away and the structure of the shoulder would change and the impinge would go away. Something we could do to make that be more about bringing more integrity to the tummies of a woman would be bringing the, or a man, but in this case with pregnancy, but bring the knees up as you’re in that hanging position and starting to go into what’s in, like gymnastics, it’s called a hollow position. So you’re kind of tucking the ribs forward and you’re kind of raising the knees up a little bit and just kinda like reclosing that abdomen that was splayed open for the last, you know, six months.

Now, it’s starting to where it’s like, “Oh, how do we repair this and kind of bring it back and bring integrity back into that space?” So the door was wide open. Okay, now we need to kind of slowly close the door and re-contain ourselves. This is something as simple as that of get a pull-up bar or, you know, find a tree branch or something. Spend some time decompressing the shoulders, elongating that spine, and then you can, again, compound effects and raise those knees up. You could blow your air out, right? And so start engaging some of those deep intra-abdominal muscles. And yeah, that would be a great start. And then stack more variables on top of that and maybe do this outside, you know, expose your skin to sun. Expose your eyes to sun. Don’t go outside and always feel the need, especially if it’s winter time. Like if it’s winter time, that sun becomes a scarce commodity that, like, anytime you can get it, you gotta get it on there and that will heal your tissues, you know?

So looking at this, how do we restructure our bodies is beyond just a purely mechanical conversation because your exposure to that light, those photons, that’s a mechanical thing. You know, like every aspect of your life, there’s mechanics to it. There’s movement to all of it, you know. And so that would be a fine starting point. Then the same thing with the blowing the air out, that’s a really powerful tool to start to turn on, like, the TA and all those deeper muscles. You could lay on your back and you could bring both of your knees up so that they’re kind of like, almost kind of like you’re, well, laying on your back, your hips will be about 90 degrees, knees up in the air, blow all that air out and hold your hands onto your abdomen. Feel those deep, deep, deep, deep muscles starting to come online, feel the ribs kind of tucking. And then from that position, try to maintain that integrity you just created in the abdomen and then you could slowly play with reaching one foot forward and then pulling one foot back and then the other foot forward and then the other foot back. So you’re elongating the lever that you’re putting that stress on the abdomen while you’re maintaining that integrity. And that would be another really simple way to start to get a little more strength in that space.

Katie: Awesome. And okay, so to talk a little bit more about hanging, because this is something I learned from you and it’s now very much a part of my house and my life. My kids have all kinds of hanging contraptions in their room kind of how you do in your living room.

Aaron: Great. Cool.

Katie: Why do you think hanging is so important for all of us? Because it’s definitely not just reserved for pregnant women or those with shoulder injuries. Why is hanging so important?

Aaron: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, the prelim thing is just, I like to stack variables, you know, so it’s like, okay, we don’t need to necessarily do like, “Okay, you have this physical thing going on. Okay. This is the perfect exercise for you.” It’s like, for the most part, if we’re doing good movement, it’s kind of like a shotgun. It covers a lot of terrain, you know, so hanging is one of those things that does that. You know, so as you’re in that position, that hanging, I mean, it does a lot of things. One, it elongates that space or creates some spaciousness in between your ribs, allowing you to get some more spaciousness in your lungs and your viscera, your heart and your stomach and your liver and your gallbladder, all that. They aren’t these just isolated floating bags.

They are directly connected to the way that your body stretches and elongates and goes through contralateral motion, AKA walking or hanging as you’re going up in that range of motion. You’re literally, you can think of your organs kind of like as, like sails, you know, and so for a sail to be, or a kite, for that sail to fly or that kite to fly, you need the wind to be able to fill the whole entire surface area of it. For your organs to be able to fly and allow you to fly, you need to fill all those nooks and crannies with fresh, new fluid. They need to be able to, there’s a term, “motility,” where your organs, they each have this individual kind of rotational pattern where they rotate in towards the midline or towards your spine. And then away from the midline and then towards the midline and away from the midline.

And if that gets, and that’s how they circulate and that’s how they function is through that subtle movement along with your more kind of gross movements of walking and running and playing. You know, so hanging is a great way to think of… You can almost think of it as like visualize your organs like sails and as you hang, it’s like you’re opening them up and allowing some wind to come through and start to kind of open those sails so they can function more effectively. So we recommend just going through and that’s like going beyond the shoulder pillow conversation, you know, whereas like our, one, our shoulders arguably are, you know, they are built to hang just like, the arguable part is like, whether it’s really to, like, our ancestors, you know, but like monkey bars is a misnomer. Like they should be human bars or ape bars.

You know, humans are more effective hangers than monkeys. The shape of our collarbone, the shape of our hands and the ratio of the, you know, all the bones throughout the arm. We’re heavily, it’s like a part of our evolutionary code, our primordial roots to reach up into trees or anything and grab some stuff out of there. Reach up into the tree and grab that apple as opposed to reaching down into the supermarket and grabbing it off of the thing right in front of you. And so this is kind of going out in the woods a little bit, but the digestion is a larger process than just food goes into my face and then I start the whole process of chewing and the amylase and all the, you know, the whole circuit through.

It’s like, no, no, no, that’s not the first step of digestion. The first step of digestion is you use your eyes to look up and see that apple in the tree and then you figure out and then you use your mind to figure, “How am I gonna get that apple?” And then you say, “Okay, I’m going to think about climbing it and I’m gonna twist and then I’m gonna turn my body. And then I’m gonna reach on that wall. Then I’m gonna…” Maybe I was almost scared for a second and I was already up. I thought it was gonna fall. You know, which creates this whole new electrical storm adaptation throughout my physiology. And then I grab the apple, and then I come down and then I, maybe I did teamwork to build the apple. So it was community, it was a part of that digestive experience. And I passed the apples down to my friend, you know. And then, finally, we start what we conceive as to be the first step of digestion. But I would say the first step of digestion is using your eyes to look out and grab that thing.

And when we put all of that digestion, you know, the movement part of digestion into I press buttons on my Amazon membership thing and they send food or I have somebody bring groceries back to my house and then they’re already pre-made and I just throw the plastic thing away and throw it in the microwave and then put it into my face. We’re missing out on this whole beautiful symphony of digestion, we’re just taking that out entirely. And then we’re wondering, you know, “Why isn’t my body working right?” There’s a lot of layers to it. So anyways, the question was about hanging, hanging is good for you.

Katie: I love that and I think it’s… I mean, I have six kids. I get to watch them daily and I think they’re actually really good teachers in a lot of the things that you say and that a lot of us have to learn as adults to go back and do because kids will naturally climb anything if it’s there. And they naturally just move so much more in daily life. And in fact, my kids’ rooms, like I mentioned, have multiple, they each have multiple ways that they can hang, like Olympic rings, yoga swings, aerial silks, even, I think it’s called a stall wall for the gymnastics. They can now do these like sideways things.

Aaron: Yeah, even the stall wall, good for you.

Katie: Yes. They have all these fun things and they just naturally move. Like they’ll sit on the floor and play and then they’ll get up and have to like climb something and then they’ll get back down and sit on the floor. But the other thing is they’re sitting on the floor and we’ve moved away from chairs more and more in recent times and the kids don’t have any chairs in their rooms whatsoever. So they’re always sitting on the floor. This is another big thing for you and something I’ve tagged on Instagram quite a bit is floor culture. So explain also like, first of all, why it’s important to sit on the floor and how we can incorporate that in our daily lives a little bit more.

Aaron: Yeah. Well, one, as you’re saying that, it’s like chairs take up so much space. You know, you throw a chair and then you have a desk and you’re like, “Okay, like, that’s the room.” You know, I go into that position that’s the same. So there’s nothing wrong with that position. That’s the big thing that you alluded to before of like, I’m not, like, fire and brimstone, like if you sit for 40 minutes, you’re gonna, your eyes are gonna explode. Like it’s not, there’s no problem with sitting. There’s no problem with slumping over. There’s no problem with being sad. There’s no problem with being scared or being ashamed, you know? I don’t know about ashamed. I don’t love ashamed so much actually. But there’s no problem with having those different postural patterns. The issue only comes when it’s like you could think of that pattern of, like, flexion of the spine. That’s a thing you do in yoga, forward fold. It’s in the book.

So like that, no issue there. The issue is when you take that, which you could consider it like, you know, say that was like a pineapple, you know, you eat one pineapple and you’re like, “Cool, that was cool. It’s a good experience. I really enjoyed that. Thanks. That’s a nice pineapple.” You know, but when you just are slammed with a thousand pineapples a day since you’re, like, a toddler and you get put in a child seat in the car and then you’re put in a stroller and then you go to kindergarten and then you’re in that same position. And then we put the screens in front of you and then it’s like, and then the weight machines at the gym, you’re doing seated rows. Like, “Why are you sitting on a thing? You’ve sat all day, you sat in your car to get to the gym to do a seated machine.” Like what are we talking about?

You know, so that’s the only issue is we’re just like completely inundated in these seated pineapples, you know? And so now our bodies are getting sick from too much of the, you know, what was at one point a healthy thing. So cultures that spend time on the ground regularly, what’s inherent with spending time on the ground, you know, in the book, I’m like, I’m intentionally using a superlative. Like, it is the best, you know, it is the best because it’s not a static thing. You know, if it was a static thing, then it wouldn’t be the best. Spending time on the ground is the best because it’s so many things. You know, you go into your hips naturally when I’m like, okay, so right now I’m in a 90/90 position. Not that anybody really cares, but just so you know, like I’ve been changing this whole time as we’re talking, you know, and then I’ll go 90/90 is like both legs are in, like, 90-degree angles.

And then I’ll rotate to the other side and then I’ll, maybe I’ll cross my legs, criss-cross applesauce or Sukhasana and maybe I’ll straddle position. Then maybe I’ll sit on my shins and do like a Zesa position. You know, then maybe I’ll lay on my belly, you know? So as you do that, again, you’re in a yoga class, AKA life. And you are massaging all of your parts, circulating all of your fluids, allowing…if you were a pond, you want to be a well-circulated pond. You don’t want to get like the 100-gallon-per-hour pump when you actually demand like a 1,500-gallon-per-hour pump. Like, you want to move that water. You know, so cultures that end up spending time on the ground with regularity such as the places that have been observed, would be like Northern Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, they have very low incidence of arthritis of the knees, minimal incidence of it in the hips. Like fall risk is just like a thing that’s like, “What are you talking about?”

Like, we don’t all of a sudden just become 60 years old and our body just becomes shitty. Like it’s not like, “Oh, there it is, we’re done.” You know, like we just jumped off the cliff. It’s like, no, no, no, you gradually shift your body into, eventually, if we don’t take advantage of all of these nooks and crannies of ourselves, you know, then we end up losing them. They become darker and darker and darker until eventually it’s too scary to enter that room, you know. And then that jump between my hips sitting at 90 degrees flexion and all the way down to the ground, that chasm, that jump between that space, it gets bigger and bigger every day that you don’t do it. And if you go enough days without doing it, what was once an inch now becomes a mile and you’re like, “I could never make that jump,” and now fall risk.

And so that’s not something that just happens and it’s just inherent in the human animal. It’s something that our environment is throwing us into. And then our belief systems get wrapped up in age and the meaning of age because we’re looking at averages and norms. Averages and norms are way off. You know, so those are products of a broken environmental mold. Nothing against anything. You know, like I’m not saying anybody needs to burn their couch or needs to do anything crazy like, we can respect the tribal norms. And we can also just make subtle little shifts within our ourselves in the way that we occupy that modern environment that will make all the difference. You know, so a chair is just a tool. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s all how you use it, you know, so a hammer is just a tool, you know, the analogy with it.

Katie: Yeah, I think that’s such an important and balanced perspective. And another topic I would love a quick overview of your balanced perspective on is women wearing heels because this is another thing that’s gotten a bad rap and I have recently re-loved to learn wearing heels. I, like, actually really enjoyed them. And so I wanna, like, set the record straight on this because I know you have a great, I think a synopsis on this as well that I’ve heard you mention before in person.

Aaron: Yeah. That’s so funny. Yeah. So I, essentially, in the book in the how to align your clothing section, I essentially break down, like, a fairly thorough history of heels and they’ve been tools throughout history. So they were like, originally they were used by Egyptian butchers to keep blood off of their feet and then they were used by Persian soldiers on horseback so that they could keep their feet more stuck into the stirrups while they’re riding and shooting arrows. They’ve been used throughout… It was a king. You probably remember better than I do. It was King Henry XIII, I think, was the original guy that was wearing big, tall, red high heels as an indication of royalty. So all of his royal cabinet would be wearing these heels. No one were taller than his, his were like five inches. And, like, the whole, that’s like the history of heels.

One thing that’s kind of interesting is, predominantly from what I’ve gathered, predominantly masculine, which is very interesting. You know, and so present-day heels are still a tool. I personally, I think you could get by through your life quite well never owning heels and there’s not really any reason for it. But there’s not reason for a lot of tools. You know, so if you want heels for a job interview or for a gala or for something where it’s like, “I wanna be, like, my full sexy self, you know, my like, my booty to pop, I want my legs to be tight, I wanna be a little taller. And they’re like, ‘Whoa,’” you know, because this whole, like, embodied cognition stuff, like we become the way that we feel in our bodies. You know, so if all of a sudden, I get a little taller, I’m like, “I feel a little more confident.” You know? It’s like, it’s this little filter change-up. They’re like, “Well, I’m looking down at, you know, the world.” I’d be like, “I feel, like, tall, strong and like a power position here.” If that’s what serves you in that moment to get whatever it is, whatever directionality you want in your life, I’m all for it.

Once you become addicted to that, it’s like the pressing like the NOS button, like “Fast and Furious” in your car, you don’t wanna just ride around on NOS. You know, but if you, for an hour, you’re doing a thing and you’re like, “We’re pressing the NOS tonight, we’re going for it,” I’m like, “Go press that NOS. Like, have fun. Like, enjoy it. Embrace the experience.” And if you have enough of a healthy buffer of healthy practices that we break down in your life, heels just become a moment for adaptation. It’s only when you adapt to that point that it becomes cemented into your neuromuscular makeup, that’s when we really have an issue, you know.

And then there’s even interesting research that, again, I don’t stand behind or anything. It’s just things I read on the internet. There’s some research people look up on PubMed that correlated schizophrenia with a high use of heels because it throws off that, it’s called the dopaminergic circuit in the brain because your ankle range of motion, your brain is not, just like your organs are not these floating bags floating in this vacuum in space, nor is your brain. Like, you are your brain. You know, your ankles are your brain. Your hands are your brain, your viscera is your brain. Your sexual organs is your brain, your throat. If anything goes sideways in any parts of your body, it affects the way that your brain functions. So taking your ankles through that full plantar dorsiflexion range of motion is valuable not just for, like, the health of your calves and your pelvic floor. Like, it literally affects the way that you think and the way that you feel, the way that you perceive the world. So yeah, so heels, I would say, are a tool. You know, you just don’t want to, all the time, be running around swinging hammers. Like sometimes I put the hammer down. You know, it’s okay.

Katie: Yeah, I feel like that’s such a wonderful recurring theme throughout the whole book was this balanced approach. Like you kind of, I feel like people get hung up in these little, like, tangents. Like, “No, heels are always bad. We should be only barefoot or in minimalist shoes,” or, “Sitting is bad. We should only be standing,” and all these things. And you kind of take a much higher level approach and really break down both the science and the history of human physiology and say, “No, no, no.” Like, “None of these things are inherently bad.” I think that’s my favorite part of the message of all this. None of it’s inherently bad. It’s how you use any of it.

And it’s the fact that we’re doing singular things too much. We’re not balanced. And so, to me, that’s the overarching theme of all of it is how do you actually work in human balance into life in a way that’s fun and it’s play and it’s supporting your physiology and also supporting community and supporting confident posture and all of those things. So I’m just really grateful for you and the work you put into that because I think it just nails all of that. So, congratulations, by the way, on that.

Aaron: Cool. Yes. Thank you. I appreciate it. Well, it’s the same thing that I always mention is kind of walking on a little bit. Anytime you bring up the word “feminism” or like any of it, just the relationship, masculine, feminine, I’m always like, “Oh.” My sphincters clench up a little bit because I don’t wanna say the wrong thing. But that’s, it’s a similar thing where like the pendulum swings too far. You know, you’re like, “No,” and, “Sitting’s giving you cancer,” like, “You can’t do it.” It’s like, wait, hold on, hold on. Like, you have to sit. Like, you’re not gonna not sit. Sitting is not the new smoking, which…I love James Levine and, like, his research and, you know, “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” is a great term that I got from him. Like the way that the calories that we’re burning passively through doing non-exercise related activities throughout the day is really a big deal, which is in large part what the book is about.

But where I disagree is that sitting is the new smoking because it’s just not a complete sentence. And I think he knows that. I haven’t talked to him about it personally, but yeah, we have to watch out for, and this is very apparent, you know, we have to watch out for attention-grabbing captions and, you know, headlines because it’s not the whole story. And then typically what happens is we live in this echo chamber, for the most part, people that are grabbing headlines and then it’s repeated and then it becomes a thing and then you’re like, “Okay, here it is.” You know, but if we look into it a little bit deeper, you know, I think within the whole minimalist shoe thing and, “Sitting is the new smoking,” and, you know, all of that, I think that the pendulum can swing a lot, maybe a little too far on that as well.

I tend to be, my pendulum hangs out a little pretty far over to that side, personally. But I can acknowledge and respect people whose pendulum has not swang out of control. And I think that’s the best way that we’re able to actually communicate messages is by looking at people in their shoes. That’s a kind of a heel pun. You know, putting yourself in their position and really truly doing your damnedest to see it from their eyes. And then from there, then we can start to talk. You know, but it’s like the, I mean, Martin Luther King talked about that, you know, if there’s…if you have like an underlying sensation of contempt with your enemy, then you’ll never be able to make peace. He didn’t say that but something along those lines. Like if we’re going into a conversation and there’s this knowing of like, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” You’re like, “Well, good luck,” that’s not gonna disappear, you’re not, you won’t be able to communicate. It’s just gonna be two monologues kinda talking at each other. So, I think it’s very valuable that we see the world from other people’s perspectives as well.

Katie: I 100% agree with that. And I wanna make sure I respect your time, but a couple of, just kind of rapid-fire quick questions as we wrap up. What are you experimenting with or excited about right now?

Aaron: Oh, man. Sounds like some new-age Venice stuff but opening my heart. You know, so that’s like…and this is something that’s been a recurrent thing since we’ve been talking, it’s been kind of like a project of sorts for the last little while. But not being, that’s how I finished the book, actually. I don’t have the book sitting here, but anyway, something along the lines of life is too short to live, to limp through with a guarded heart. So the sooner that you can get to the point of loving yourself entirely, loving those around you entirely, loving the evil of the world entirely, whatever “evil” means, you know, like that’s… When the light is shined on a thing, it illuminates. You know, there’s no angles or twists. It’s like if you can just bring love into a room for yourself, for every part of your body, if there’s any part of your body to be ashamed of, I think today, our main priority ought to be figuring out how do we love that part.

Because any aspect or component, intentional shame that one carries will literally be an anchor and a weight that you carry around and it becomes a dam and it slowly builds up and it becomes thicker and darker and darker and darker until it’s something that’s out of control. And now you need to seek out some remedy that, you know, it’s a lot easier to prevent things than it is to fix them. You know, so I think that a large part of the disease that we experience culturally comes from an initial core of contraction, shame, fear, resistance. And if we can bring love into that place and acceptance into that place, all of a sudden, it’s the beginning of that darkness being able to speak, you know, and come out and have communion and relationship and connection, and be like, “Wow, man, that thing was just misunderstood the whole time,” you know.

And this in relation to, like, kids, it’s like, yeah, the more you, like, you don’t want to beat your kid, you know, because he did a thing. You ask him like, “Why did you do that?” Like, “What’s going on?” Like, let’s draw back and see where this comes from. Because they probably have some reason, you know, and it’s just, it might not be the most apparent reason that you see in that day. Maybe this is a reason it’s been building up for four years and all of a sudden, they did that thing and you’re like, “Okay, I see this. This was something that happened when you were two, you know, was I was involved in the reason that you punched that kid in the face today.” Or like whatever the real, whatever… I don’t know. You know parenting better than I do. You know, but I think that the more that we can go into acceptance and love of all of ourselves and kind of like audit, “Is there any part of myself that I am ashamed of?” And if you can find those parts and figure out how to love them, or afraid of, you know, any of those things as contracted states, I think that’s like the foundation of health.

Katie: I love that. And I love your idea, too, of, like, never wasting a trigger. Like, let those things be a teacher for you. And I love the quote, “Amor fati,” which means basically, “Love what is,” or, “Love your fate.” In fact, I’m sure it’ll spark controversy, but that will probably end up permanently on my body at some point in some way just because I think it’s a good reminder. But yeah, I think that’s actually a perfect place to end and we’ll just have to do another round one day and I can ask you some more questions then.

Aaron: Yea.

Katie: But yeah, I highly recommend your book and it will be linked in the show notes, but you guys, go find it anywhere books are sold. Yeah. Any parting advice you wanna leave with the listeners today?

Aaron: Oh, man. I mean, I think that would be the thing, would be just life is far too short to live in a contracted state. And if at some point you die, which you will, you know, then whatever happens after that, who knows? But at some point, like, this body is absolutely temporary. It’s gonna go. There’s no way around it. And if you, when you’re in that moment, you look back and say, “Dang it, I was too afraid to actually express myself entirely and sing my song because I was scared of what people would say, and to tell that person how much I care and how much I loved them because I didn’t want them to potentially shoot me down.” If that, that will be regret, you know. And so the sooner that you can put yourself in the position of your dying self and have that guy or girl be your coach for now, that’s gonna be a good way to live life, I think.

Katie: I love it. Aaron, as always, thank you for being here, for sharing, and for your book and your work and all that you do.

Aaron: Yeah, absolutely. I look forward to having you back on the podcast. We’ll do it next time you come back out. We’ll do a round two. I look forward to it.

Katie: Me too. Sounds great. And thanks to all of you guys for listening. I hope you’ll join me again on the next episode.

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