There's no excuse NOT to take care of your body, especially as you can do it sitting at your desk! I invited an Office Yoga Specialist onto the show to help us listen to our bodies a little more closely.
You can reach Will at www.happyjointsclub.com
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CONNECT with Debra Jones
[00:02] Debra Jones: Sitting at your computer scrolling or texting on your phone. It's a common scene. And while technology helps us stay connected and get lots done, there's a disconnection and an undoing going on. These activities are distracting us from what's happening in our own bodies. Sooner or later, we start to feel something - a tightness, a pinching, or we can't move the way we used to or supposed to. Sometimes it hurts so much it takes our breath away. And sometimes it's just annoying, and we choose to push it out of our minds with yet another distraction. We might even recognize that we're neglecting our bodies, but we just don't have time right now to pay attention to that. I hope we've got your attention, because we want to tell you to proceed with caution. Because if you don't choose to take care of your body now, it will demand that you do so later.
Welcome to OWN THE GREY, a podcast to dispel the notion that aging is undesirable and setting new positive attitudes. I'm Debra Jones, and I believe you can be vibrant and healthy throughout the best years of your life.
Will Thomas is an office yoga specialist who's helped thousands of people, including first responders, airline and bank employees, veterans in the Wounded Warrior Project, and people like me who sit at a desk for a large part of the day. I invited Will on to OWN THE GREY to show you how you can take care of the pain in your back, shoulders, and joints in just a few minutes while you're at work. My shoulders are glad you're here today, Will. Welcome to OWN THE GREY.
[02:06] Will Thomas: Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here, too. Thank you for having me.
[02:10] Debra Jones: You're welcome. It's true. I'm so busy working away that I don't stop to listen to my body except when it's yelling at me. And as we get older, we all feel our bodies changing. What kinds of things should we be paying attention to?
[02:29] Will Thomas: We should try to pay attention to the things that the brain might normally hide from us.
[02:35] Debra Jones: Like what?
[02:36] Will Thomas: Such as tightnesses or weaknesses. Maybe imbalances. I call it rust. If we can go through the body and find the things that the brain has been avoiding, then maybe we can interrupt a pattern of movement or non movement that has led to those tightnesses and those weaknesses and those imbalances. If we just on purpose find those little places in the body, we can end up shaking some things loose and getting things to flow better.
[03:12] Debra Jones: That sounds great, but it's not something we're used to doing. So there must be some kind of a process or something that you can share with us to help us do that.
[03:22] Will Thomas: Sure. It starts with deciding what's important to you in that moment. When I've done yoga for many years, and I think the way that yoga is popularly taught today, we imply that the goal is the pose itself, how does it look? How long can you hold it, compared it to the person next to you. And the implied goal, there is something external, right? If we set that aside and we set our goal to be something internal, how we feel or how this movement feels, then we can train the brain over time to listen for those things in the body and then we can go back to regular life or regular yoga or whatever it is that we want to do. I call it on autopilot and then go back to regular life with confidence, knowing that the brain has the information about what's going on in these little parts of the body so we can organize things better.
[04:40] Debra Jones: So it sounds to me it's a change in thought process but also change in habit, that if we start to do things a little bit differently, we're going to have a different result. There's that saying you do same thing, you get the same result. You do something different, you get a different result. Right? So it's almost like mindfulness in becoming aware of things that we ignore or brush over or don't even stop to even consider. So when you're working with teaching people how to do that, what kinds of things are the AHA moments that are shared with you? When people start to get how to do that..
[05:31] Will Thomas: It is a process of letting go of the ‘just do it’ mentality. So when someone starts this practice, we bring to it a lot of the performance mentality. And over time the AHA that I hear from people are “oh, I get it now. It doesn't matter that my foot doesn't go this far. It just matters that I do what it takes to feel something. I get that now,” and it can take a while. But the first step is deciding that it's important to know what's going on in the body, that we're curious about it. Does that make sense?
[06:18] Debra Jones: Absolutely it does. And it's really kind of stop the world and listen to your body. I love you talked about the just do it mentality. It seems like it's a task. It seems like it's something that we have got to achieve or attain. But what I'm hearing you saying, it's kind of the opposite.
[06:40] Will Thomas: Yes, exactly. It is receiving information from the body and that requires an openness and a receptivity. That's a mode that we don't often let ourselves get into. Even vulnerability is something that we're conditioned to be I don't want to say afraid of, but in the background, just afraid of. It enough that we don't do it, we don't allow ourselves. It's uncomfortable. Again, this is a practice that is temporary. It's part of your day. It's not that we're trying to become hypersensitive all day, every day to what's happening in these places because maybe we wouldn't get the things in life that we want done if we were all the time feeling these things. So that autopilot mode, even the just do it mode, it's good, it's very useful. It gets us to do the things that we want to do in life. But if it's 100% of the time, then maybe we can miss some things. If we take a small percentage of time and turn on the listening mode and receiving the data mode, then autopilot mode happens. That much better.
[08:07] Debra Jones: Interesting. So your focus is on joints and back and shoulder. I guess it's because you see that those are the areas that are affected by most of the people, is it?
[08:23] Will Thomas: Yes. Really. The first reason, though, is my own experience where I practiced yoga and taught yoga and owned studios for many years. With that just do it mentality, focusing on how does the pose look, and this is what I'm supposed to do. This is what the teacher is telling me to do. I'm going to do it. And if it looks correct and if I hold it long enough, then I have had success in yoga. Then years into it, I started playing with different styles of yoga, and I started uncovering things in my joints and in my back and in my muscles that weren't working like I assumed they would be working after so many years of yoga. And I started to feel, now wait a minute. As a yogi, especially as a yoga teacher, I should be able to feel better than I'm feeling right now, basically. And thinking about that in particular and trying to address some of these joint issues and strength issues led me to this technique of listening. And the first AHA for me was, wow, I feel so much better. That little creek that I had in my shoulder isn't there anymore. I can move my hips in a much larger range before I feel the tightness in them than I did before my stretching practice.
[10:05] Debra Jones: Beautiful. So you've created a program to help people. I know you have all kinds of videos and instructional videos on your website, which I'll put a link in the show notes for the listener to find the website. Thank you. You have also a very quick method of easing into what it is you're saying. And I wonder maybe you can share that with our listeners today. And I'm sure I'd benefit from it, too.
[10:33] Will Thomas: Great. All right, so this first one can be done sitting down for the next one. If it's possible to stand up, then stand up. But if not, then just modify it as you go on. But we'll go through some poses and some muscle contractions, just flexing different muscles. And the whole point we're going to decide going into it that the whole point of everything that we're going to do is to feel something in the body. It's not to achieve, it's not to look correct in the pose. It's not to correct anything that we feel is wrong. It's just to feel something, to listen. It's just to find the rust. That's all. Without judgment, with openness and curiosity. Okay?
[11:34] Debra Jones: Okay, let's do it.
[11:35] Will Thomas: Start with just bringing your hands under your chin, interlace your fingers, knuckles touching your chin. Now bring your elbows up until you feel some rust in your shoulders and maybe your ribcage. And then just hold it there. Now just flex your right arm muscles. Squeeze and release, then left arm. Squeeze and release and then both arms. Now take a big inhale, so big that you feel it in your ribs. And then exhale as you head up, elbows forward and elbows touch and push your knuckles into your chin until you feel it in your throat. Nice and therapeutic, no pain, just feeling it. And then squeeze your right arm and then your left arm. And then squeeze both arms. Now another big inhale. So your ribs open a little bit. And that's enough. Arms down to the side. Now, arms over your head, palms together. Reach up, come down a little bit to your right until you feel it in your ribcage. Now this is important, don't go so far that you're going to get tired because that's going to turn the brain into just do it mode. So feeling nice and easy with it. And squeeze your right arm. And then squeeze your left arm and then squeeze both. Now come back up to the middle and then down to your left. And just find some feelings. And again, if you start to feel like you're holding it and getting tired with it, ease off. So we keep that brain in receptive mode. Squeeze your right arm, squeeze your left arm, release all the way in between and squeeze both arms. Now come back up to the middle and then drop your head back until you feel it in your throat. Reach your arms back and even you're sitting, push your hips forward a little bit and just feel what's going on in your hips. Right, now squeeze your right arm and then your left arm. And then squeeze both arms. Take a big inhale and then exhale. When you come back up to the middle, suck your stomach in and reach forward. And even sitting in a chair, pull your stomach all the way in and just lean forward. Hunch your shoulders forward until you feel some stretching in your shoulders. Maybe even grab your legs or grab something and pull on it so you feel a little bit more. Squeeze your right arm, squeeze your left arm, squeeze both arms. And then take such a big inhale that you feel your rib cage moving your upper back muscles. And then exhale as you come back up to the middle. So that's a breathing exercise. And then a little stretch that you can even do seated. That gets the brain starting, figuring out where the rust is, where the tightnesses are, where the imbalances may be, and maybe you tried to flex your right arm, but your left arm flexed. Or maybe you tried to flex your right arm, but your leg contracted. And maybe there's a connection that's not quite solid yet between the brain and a certain part of the body. No problem, we're listening. And over time, as we get better at listening, then what I found and what I think you and your listeners will find is that control develops. I started this and would try to contract a certain muscle and it wouldn't go. And I thought, oh well, if I'm in a certain position, or if anybody is in a certain position and they try to flex that muscle, it's just not anatomically going to work. And then a few practices into it, there's a little glimmer of movement. Oh, wait a minute, maybe there is some connection. And then it deepened and deepened to the point where I felt this full control. That gives me confidence that if I have something come up in my body, I'm going to be able to put my brain there for a little while, and I'm going to be able to get some blood flow to it, and I'm going to be able to get some muscle activity around it to see if those are the things that that area of the body needs. If it needs blood circulation, then I know how to get it there. If it needs a muscle to fire in a way that it hasn't been firing lately, I know how to do that.
[17:09] Debra Jones: Yeah, I have something to share about that experience and to have an example of what you've just said is when I was leaning over and you suggested I flex my arm muscles, my stomach wanted to flex instead. So I think that's what you're talking about is that if I keep practicing it, eventually it will be my arm that flexes and not my stomach. When I have an astig to yes.
[17:37] Will Thomas: And with an attitude of openness and receptivity and curiosity, then we can just check in with these places in the body. So I hesitate to say that over time I feel control because I don't want to make that the goal. The goal is to train the brain to listen and control and strength and flexibility and all these great things that we want happen. But the first step that's non avoidable in my experience is that acceptance of what is in the body. If I go at something intending to fix it, then I've got some internal resistance that somehow slows progress down or prevents it altogether. But if I go into the practice just wanting to feel, well, where is it tight? When does my abdominal muscle flex? When I told my arm to flex. When does that happen? Interesting. I'm curious about that. I'm going to try it again tomorrow and see if the same thing happens.
[19:01] Debra Jones: Right. There's a word that I use a lot in the healing room. And it applies to this, too. It's a matter of allowing what is, to be. Yes, nice. You said there was a standing exercise. Can you walk us through that?
[19:21] Will Thomas: Yeah, for sure. So let's stand up and just take a little step to the right, about six inches between your parallel feet. And then grab your thighs, your quads. As you sit down just a bit. Again, don't go to a place that you're going to have to hold yourself up against gravity. Just go down a little bit until you feel those thighs muscles contract. And then tilt your pelvis back, way back, like really exaggerate pelvic. Tilt backwards until you find some rust in the little muscles around your hips joints. Now, with your fingers on your thighs and you're not sitting so low that you're going to get tired, just squeeze your right thigh and then release it. Squeeze your left thigh, release it, and then both. Now abdominals. Pull your abdominals all the way up to your heart and then release. And then pull them all the way back to your spine and release. And then pull them all the way to your heart. Again and release. Now reach your arms forward until you feel it stretching your upper back. When you feel it stretching your upper back, take a big inhale so your ribs move those muscles even more. And as you exhale, squeeze your right arm and your left arm. And then both arms. And then come back up to standing. Drop your hands, stand up on your toes maximum and sit down on the tops of your toes with your spine straight. Again, just slightly. Grab your thighs so you can feel your thighs contract. If we get tired, the brain is not going to listen to these little places. So keep yourself standing tall enough to where you're not going to get tired. Tilt your pelvis back and squeeze your right thigh and your left thigh. And then squeeze both abdominals with pelvic floor, pull all the way to your heart and then spine, and then heart. Reach your arms forward. Don't get tired. Squeeze your arm, right side, left side, both sides. Come back up. Drop your hands down. Now come up a little bit on your toes. Again, your feet are about six inches apart in parallel. Come up a little bit on your toes. Bring your knees together to touch and sit down just a bit, just enough until you know your thighs have contracted because you're feeling them with your fingers. Tilt your pelvis back. Wear some little tightnesses and muscles around your hip bones. Squeeze your left thigh and then your right thigh. And then both ABS with pelvic floor all the way to your spine and then all the way to your heart. Keep pulling through the whole range. Pull back to your spine. Reach your arms forward so far that you feel it across your upper back. And then right arm and chest. Left arm and chest and feel where the rust is in your shoulders. When you squeeze both arms, come back up, drop your hands and then bring your right arm under your left arm. So one elbow under the other, and then sit down a bit. Right leg up and over. Tilt your pelvis back until you feel can you feel your left glute muscle because you're exaggerating this pelvic. Tilt backwards so far. Squeeze the leg that's up in the air. Don't get tired. Squeeze the leg on the floor and then squeeze both legs, looking for feelings. ABS back, ABS up, ABS back. Pull your elbows down until you feel it spreading your upper back muscles. Squeeze your right bicep left and then both come back up and then the last side. Bring your left arm under your right arm. Pull your elbows in and down. Do you feel it in your upper back? Sit down just a bit. Left leg up and over. Tilt your pelvis back. Looking for the little creakinesses on purpose. Squeeze your standing leg and then leg in the air. And then both add your pelvic floor. Pull up and then back, and then up. Squeeze your right arm and then your left arm. Find some rust when you squeeze both arms, and that's enough. Come back up. Be together, arms down to your side. And that's a little routine that you can do with just a couple of minutes break. Just to get up from your desk or whatever situation you're in. Put yourself in some poses, listen to where the blockages may be, where the tightnesses may be, what's firing, what's not firing, with curiosity, and then see how you feel for the next little while.
[24:52] Debra Jones: That is great. I did that myself while I was listening to you as well. And I feel a little looser than I did when I started, but I also noticed a lot of rust. And so listening to what you said, I'm just going to be curious about it without the judgment and to realize that the more I do this for myself or the more I listen to my body, the more I'm going to discover. Be it tightness, be it looseness, be it an ability to move in a way that I wasn't able to before I started the stretching. And I think it's a really great idea and it seemed really easy to do and not very difficult to remember those poses, but actually I felt kind of proud of myself, to be able to keep my balance, to be honest.
[25:49] Will Thomas: That's huge. Grab onto that, please, and look for those little things to celebrate, because they, for me, are more abundant in this kind of practice. When I'm curious about what's happening in the body, I get pleasantly surprised more often.
[26:10] Debra Jones: Nice. It's very doable and I see the benefit of it because even just sitting at my desk for too long, I regularly have massages and I'm very surprised each time. A massage therapist says that my lower back is tight and it's like, well, it didn't feel that way. But when I realize that I sit all day and I don't move as much as my body would like me to move, then some of the things that I don't necessarily know are happening are happening. So they don't necessarily show up, these things, do they?
[26:49] Will Thomas: Right? They're hidden. And I think it's by design, because the brain wants to sit all day, because it wants to achieve this task that we set for ourselves, these things. And the brain takes over and the autopilot takes control. And if your back would start to maybe say something and the brain would say, not going to listen to that right now. Shut up. Right? Going to ignore that. And again, we like that. We want to be able to do the work that we want to do. We want to be able to achieve the things. So I'm all for achievement, but if we take a little bit of time to sort of rock backwards, swing backwards and receive some information, it almost feels like a self correcting machine. If I tried to correct it myself, if I tried to sit differently, or if I tried to breathe differently, if I tried to change habits that I have all day long of how I move, I don't think I would be able to do it. But I feel like with the stretching practice, I'm just putting information in my brain. And then in the background, the brain organizes how I sit and how I move in ways that make me feel better. It happens on its own. My only job is to get it the information, to get the brain the information that it needs.
[28:25] Debra Jones: Beautifully said. So if somebody wants to explore a little further or maybe even needs a little bit of coaching, they can go to your website, can they?
[28:36] Will Thomas: Yes, for sure. So you can go to Happyjointsclub.com. And that little routine that we just did, I've put it up on YouTube and they can access YouTube video through there. And then for a little longer instruction, I've got a library of videos. And then about once a day, I teach a Zoom class. So if you want to hop on with me live, you can do that through the website as well.
[29:02] Debra Jones: You can now find my podcast, my book, and soon my classes on babyboomer.org. The ultimate, most trusted source for news, information, and community. They've curated all the resources on the things that interest you. Check it out today at www.babyboomer.org .