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How I undid 12 years behind a desk

I have a Bachelor’s of Science (Ecology), Masters of Science (Ecology) and Doctor of Philosophy in Biology (Ecology). That’s a total of 12 years in school. My degrees were in ecology and naturally that meant field work. But it still meant a massive number of hours logged at a desk.

To paint a picture, here is typical week during the last year of my PhD. Get up at 6am, drive 45min to office, sit at office from 7:45am-4:15pm, drive an hour home, spend from 5:30pm-10:30pm working on my dissertation. Weekends I’d get up and work on my dissertation until I went to bed. I’d go to a dance class or a yoga class a couple days a week. But besides a few hours of exercise, I’d spend the remainder of the 168 hours a week seated/slouched or asleep.

Now, what did that do to my body? Aside from coming out of grad school emotionally exhausted and a bit lost, my body was all wonky. Sitting/slouching for most of your day means that a lot of the muscles that are meant to spend their time resisting gravity in an upright position (as our water-carrying, food preparing, field-tending, home-repairing, child-minding ancestors would have done) never really get to do much. On top of that, not doing much in the way of exercise means that my circulatory system is a stagnant, slow-moving pool most of the time and my brain is the one doing most of the heavy lifting all day long.

I was always prone to little niggling pains. I pulled my lower back about every 3 months doing silly little things like plugging in my laptop under my desk, sneezing cross-legged (seriously, body?) and picking up a bucket of cat litter. Although I was sleeping ok, I was clenching my jaw all night and woke up with very tired and angry jaw muscles. I was also getting terrible charliehorses in my calves at night that would wake me up in agony. Not to mention the constant tension in my upper back.

Graduating at least allowed me to reduce the number of hours behind a desk. But still those niggling pains and annoyances lingered. It wasn’t until I had an unexpected foot fracture and I ended up bored sitting things out on the couch in the late summer that I decided to do a Google search to figure out this wonky body. Trust a bored scientist to be resourceful and search out a solution to their problem!

I discovered a program and a way of thinking that made a lot of sense to me. My background in science meant that I was drawn to approaches that had a logical progression of ideas and were based on ideas that I could conceptualize in my head. It gave me a WHY. It helped me understand the root cause of my problems and allow me to work through a problem on my own. I didn’t want another set of cookiecutter exercises that didn’t explain to me WHY I was experiencing what I was in my body. This approach allowed me to understand so I could keep myself well by going back to first principles.

What is this approach? It’s called Anatomy in Motion. It looks at the body as one big machine. The surface of each bone is shaped to promote certain types of movements in your body. The attachments of the muscles to those bones are ideally placed to manage both gravity and momentum while maximizing efficiency through energy conservation. If we get injured there is a negotiation that goes on amongst all the structures to optimize efficiency while minimizing pain. With every new input of injury or habitual movement pattern, the negotiation is revisited. This tradeoff results in the way you move today. It may be the most efficient given the parameters at play, but you may be experiencing pain or reduced performance. By restoring the factory settings in your body we can adjust the patterns of movement of the structures to find a new maximum point that both alleviates pain and improves performance.

Once I figured all this out, I’ve not had those recurring injuries and frustrations. My body moves better than it ever did as a dancer and I’ve been able to keep my injuries at bay and unravel niggling issues on my own.