Monday, August 26, 2019

Improving Balance

What body part is

  1. critically important for balance?
  2. largely ignored?
  3. incredibly responsive to minimal attention?

Hint:  It’s a joint

Give yourself a moment to consider the answer (unless you know immediately).   Click on the link only after you’ve worked the question a bit – please.

NYTimes Article

Limited ROM (range of motion) of this joint can significantly affect your balance.  So, if you have limited ROM, you can improve your ROM and, consequently, your balance within a very short period of time – like magic (really!)

Pole Etiquette, Safety and READ BEFORE you Borrow My Poles

September 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Pole Tips, Poles, Uncommon Sense

The other day a participant in my class was walking and eating an apple with her poles dangling in front of her.  My immediate response was – STOP!  Please don’t walk with your poles dangling down because you can trip on them.  I know this because I have (several times) gotten all mixed up – poles, legs, hiking – yikes!

Then it registered to me that she was EATING an apple.  She was borrowing my top end, foam grip poles.  They’re discontinued and I have only a few pairs left to loan or sell.

This put me in the VERY uncomfortable position of having to ask her to please finish her apple and wipe off her hands before she resumed with my poles.  She completely understood and was gracious.   I loan gear and people expect it to be CLEAN.

Please, if you are a participant in one of my classes, consider that bananas, apples, sticky energy bars, etc.  do not mix well with high-performing pole grips.  Sticky grips – yick!


Disposable Society – Warning, this is a rant

Yesterday I was watching one of my all-time  favorite cooking shows – a lady from California making a wonderful vegan soup recipe.  She poured the thick contents of the blender into the bowl, leaving a large amount in the blender then added water to the bowl to thin the soup.

She put the blender aside without scraping any of the remaining soup into the bowl.  She COULD have put the water into the blender and swished it around, capturing all the yummy ingredients instead of wasting them.  This would have taken NO extra time and would have demonstrated what I consider the essence of ecology cooking  **

Television chefs need to set good examples.  Silicone spatulas are a cook’s friend.  Scrape all that yummy (expensive, healthy ingredients) food into the bowl/pot/container or onto your plate.  Don’t waste it and, for heaven sake, don’t teach others to waste.

This chef’s wasteful behavior was frustrating to me because of all the people out there who might copy her example and has earned my rant.

Whether it’s mellow yellow in California or preservation of some resource – we all need to do our part.  Our recent journey to Glacier National Park was bittersweet.  The glaciers are disappearing.  The naysayers of climate change seem to want to give us permission to not pay attention.  Imagine a world without clean water.  Be thankful of light switches that work.  Hug a tree.

End of rant.

** What is ecology cooking?

Joyfully creating dishes
that are healthy and tasty
& conserve or preserve
energy, resources and/or time.

Mindfulness prevents falls

This is the exercise I teach at all my mobility classes because it encourages and enhances mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the syncing of the brain with the body.  As our body slows and our brain speeds ahead at its “regular” rat-race pace, this imbalance puts us at increased risk for falls.  When using poles for mobility, this mindfulness enables you to take a moment to remember to take your hands out of the straps.  Remember, never stand up or sit down with your hands in the straps. 

MODIFIED SQUAT:  This one simple exercise is excellent for slowing the brain down as well as improving:

  • leg strength (great for balance)
  • circulation
  • improved function (what’s more functional than standing up/sitting down?)
  • core strength which can significantly relieve back pain/discomfort/strain
  • plus it “tunes” the vestibular system  **  (see below)
  • excellent for posture and posture awareness (again, when done optimally)

The key to this exercise is the breath.  Learn and practice pursed lip breathing (also known as Pilates breathing)

  • Inhale fully thru your nose
  • Exhale thru pursed lips as if whistling
  • Notice the feeling in your tummy muscles (rectus abdominus) – the tightening (engagement/contraction/recruitment) of these core muscles is what helps your back

Starting Position:

  • Standing in front of a chair, feel the front of the chair at the back of your legs
  • Neutral Spine (see elsewhere on this blog for tips on optimal posture)
  • Feet and legs approx. hip width apart, keep parallel
  • Knees aim in same direction as feet (either straight ahead or slightly out – not in)

To Sit down:

  • Inhale and stand tall, feel front of chair at back of legs
  • Pursed lip exhale as you Slowly lower into chair, hinging at the hips (stick your bottom back – this is where you think of a public toilet)
  • Use arms if needed
  • Don’t “plop.”  Plopping Impact is really bad for the back
  • Use an arm chair if necessary – it’s the same amount of effort, but redistributed
  • Keep knees aligned (weakness in legs often brings knees together as a compensation)

To Stand:

  • Inhale while seated, elongating spine
  • Pursed lip exhale to rise, exhale throughout the entire standing process
  • Shift weight forward and rise. (as rising, lift from hamstrings, push forward with gluts and press in to feet – as in a dead lift)
  • Pause standing, check your balance
  • Squeeze gluts as you stand
  • Use an armchair if you tend to “hoist” yourself up.  This use of momentum often involves the low back vs. using the breath and the core

Return to seated position with legs also wide apart and knees pointing same direction as toes.

  • Each one of these is a rep (short for repetition)
  • Do up to 10 reps at a time until fatigue.
  • No pain!  Nothing should hurt even a little.  Use a sturdy arm chair if your knees complain.
  • When this is easy, slow them down .  Slower is harder and works (strengthens) the legs more.  Follow your breath.


  • If you stand up without good form, you didn’t forget – you remembered late and you get free do-overs for life!
  • Called public toilets because as you sit down you stick your bottom out as if you don’t want to touch the toilet
  • Really focus on your body mechanics on this exercise.
  • This highly functional exercise will strengthen your legs.
  • Do these more slowly as you progress
  • Progress to arms crossing chest as legs get stronger.  You can also reach arms forward as you rise

**How to create healthy new habits that improve performance & safety.  Going the Distance, Article in 12/29/13 Parade Magazine by Bruce Grierson

“Simply standing up more is the best thing sedentary people can do to start becoming healthier, maintains Joan Vernikos, Ph.D., the former director of Life Sciences for NASA and author of the book Sitting Kills. The painless act of rising from your chair pumps blood from the feet to the head, and tunes the vestibular system, which helps maintain blood pressure and keeps you steady on your feet.”

Hiking Etiquette – Listening to nature

June 22, 2015 by  
Filed under Nature, Trail Tips, Uncommon Sense

I was MORTIFIED the other day when hiking with a regular hiking group.

We started at Muir Woods and I wanted to go ahead to warm up before our climb.  Plus, the quiet of Muir Woods early in the morning is magical.  I passed a gentleman and his son experiencing the wonder of this national monument.  I overheard the tourist quietly challenging his son to find a more wondrous experience.  He said it’s better than being in church.   I stopped to point out a few of the natural wonders with them.  We found ourselves whispering because the silence of the woods was serene and profound.  There’s even a sign asking people to respect the quiet of the woods.

Towards the end of the woods, I heard a cacophony of sound resonating thru the forest.  I knew immediately that it was “my” hiking group approaching.  I felt embarrassed.  The man and his son pulled to the side so the group could pass and I told him to go along because – thankfully – we were heading up a trail out of Muir Woods.

This hike was on the small side for this group – maybe 10 people, vs. the usual 15 to 20.  Imagine what that kind of noise an even larger group would have made.  This is a nature experience people go to early so they can enjoy the serenity and majesty of the big trees.

Large groups often have multiple conversations going on and people have to speak more loudly as they compete to be heard.  Long ago a woman, standing on a bridge over the stream at Muir Woods, asked our small group of 4 to be quiet.  I thanked her for reminding me.   I have a friend who hikes behind just so he can hear the sounds of nature.  Many times, I’ve had to remind  our hiking group to please be quiet as we approach and are near water.   I wish I did not have to remind people that part of the experience of hiking – in addition to the EXERCISE and the socialization –  is being able to hear the birds and the water and the wind.

I am going to request RADIO SILENCE the next time I lead an early morning group through Muir Woods.  Good luck to me.

Does this post resonate with you?  Or tick you off?  Either way, thanks for reading!

Annual Gift Guide for Health and Wellness in 2015

Top of the list again this year.  If you love the outdoors, Bay Nature Magazine is a gift that gives all year long.

If you have a skeleton, Dr. Lani’s Bone Health book is a must read.  I waited to read Susan Love’s Breast Book until AFTER I was fighting breast cancer.  Please DO NOT wait for a diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis to read this book.

Click here to order Bay Naturegiftforallseasons

Eating on the Wild Side:  This life-changing (but badly named) book will help you make better, more nutritious choices.  Learn how to buy, store, prepare fruits and veggies in order to make more nutritious choices, save money and shop smarter.   More info and great pod cast – click here.

Once again this year – if you have feet – these massage balls will help them stay healthy.  If you have a HINT of Plantar Fasciitis (or know someone who does), get them – don’t wait!

With Dad dying this year and mother-in-law failing, I’m aware that many of us are helping or dealing with an older adult who is at fall risk.  This simple, high quality bed rail helps stabilize at one of the most risky times – getting out of bed.  This is the one you want!  Also, I carry a Handy Bar for helping clients get out of the car, it’s a great stabilizer as well as a seat belt cutter and window smasher.  I hope I never need to use it for that!

What gift guide would be complete without a plug for POLES?  Consider gifting a class (if you’re in Northern CA) or a video (for hiking or mobility) and or a new set of poles.   To learn which poles best fit a person (and will help him/her achieve her goals), just complete the consultation form on this web page.  I have some poles that are discontinued, so my stock of high quality poles is selectively available for special needs (like extra tall people, wrist or shoulder issues, etc).

For locals (Bay Area Residents), anytime tickets to the Mountain Play are a great gift.  We go every year and the anytime tickets enable us to go when the weather is what we want (not hot).  They are only on sale for a short time in December.

Happy & Safe Holidays! 

Exercise to Improve Mindfulness & Balance

When I teach a POLES for Balance & Maintaining Mobility class, I work to achieve TWO goals:

  1. Helping people experience the freedom of movement possible when using poles for walking
  2. How to improve mindfulness

We do exercises for balance, ROM (range of motion), gait, etc.   I use the sit-to-stand exercise to help improve mindfulness.  We break this (very complicated) movement down to its individual elements.  Here’s an excerpt from an article which discusses one of the MANY benefits of this exercise:

Going the Distance, Article in 12/29/13 Parade Magazine by Bruce Grierson

… Simply standing up more is the best thing sedentary people can do to start becoming healthier, maintains Joan Vernikos, Ph.D., the former director of Life Sciences for NASA and author of the book Sitting Kills. The painless act of rising from your chair pumps blood from the feet to the head, and tunes the vestibular system, which helps maintain blood pressure and keeps you steady on your feet….

Some of the benefits of the sit to stand exercise (done optimally and progressively):

  • Leg Strength
  • Circulation
  • Core Strengthening
  • Low Back Healing (it’s true!)
  • Balance
  • Mindfulness


Improve BALANCE and ENDURANCE with Communication

How are you feeling?  OK?  Fine?  Good?    A little tired?  Wobbly?  And what ON EARTH do those mean?  (they’re called fuzzy words)

I work with many people – some of whom have mobility and balance challenges.  If a person says – I’m OK, maybe s/he is, or perhaps I’m reading something else in his/her form.  I use a simple Zero to Ten scale to help us both communicate endurance.

You know the pain scale, right?  Zero is no pain; Ten is put me out of my misery.  This is the OPPOSITE.


  • Zero is the worst it can be (almost no one I meet is really a zero, cause they show up).
  • Ten is the absolute best (think gymnast doing a back flip on the balance beam.)


  • Zero means – Completely Empty Fuel Tank – if I don’t sit down, I’m going to fall down – I’ve got nothing left.
  • Ten is the tippy top of my endurance.  Let’s stop talkin’ and let’s keep walkin’

Another example:  We’re walking along and my client communicates a Five.  It’s probably time to turn around or rest – certainly not go farther.  Be proactive.  Rest before you absolutely need to.  Slow down vs. stopping.  (see endurance tips on this blog)

If you have a partner/friend/buddy – consider using this method of communicating.  It’s helpful for you, BUT it’s also extremely helpful for the person with mobility challenges.  S/he will start to be more aware of the need to rest or slow down or turn around.

All kinds of things drain or energize people.  Just when you think someone has gone from a 5 to a 3, they communicate a 6.  They’re having fun!

Remember that this is very subjective.  A person’s “number” is just the first number that leaps into their consciousness.  It can change and refine as s/he becomes more self aware and this simple tool helps people to become more self aware.  Many of us lose the mind-body connection as we age.  Some really smart/cerebral people never worked on it to start with.  This simple tool will help us be/stay tuned into how we feel/are. 

Ecology Cooking – Healthy Choices Book Review

January 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Ecology Cooking, Uncommon Sense

After hearing a Science Friday interview on NPR with the author of this book, I asked Bob for this for my birthday.  It was sold out and took quite a bit of research to find one.   They’ve printed more!

Reading this book has changed how I purchase, store and cook vegetables & fruits.   Faithful readers know I believe in ecology cooking (my very own mantra).   But with a busy, full schedule, time is precious.  Getting the most nutrition and value saves time, is frugal and makes healthy sense.  The name of the book is misleading….read on

This is a super easy read.  Each chapter is laid out logically.  There are so many good tips and ideas – science-based – that  I read with highlighter in hand.  I keep it in the kitchen to reference after shopping (for storage) and before cooking (to get the most nutrition).

This book is filled with simple ways to up nutrition, prevent disease, improve UV protection….  I’m learning simple strategies for purchasing, storing and preparing every day foods to maximize their potential.

For example, simply chilling cooked potatoes significantly lowers their glycemic rush.  Letting garlic rest for 10 minutes before cooking ensures maximum nutrition.  There are WAY too many wonderful tips to share here.  Do yourself a favor – get the book by clicking the link – I promise it will be the one of the best $twenty dollars$  you ever spent.  Read it and let me know what you think?  Enter a comment on this post?

If, reading this blog and me saying – BUY THIS BOOK – is not convincing enough, then read on or listen to the 20 minute Science Friday interview:

Jo Robinson is a bestselling, investigative Jo Robinsonjournalist who has spent the past 15 years scouring research journals for information on how we can restore vital nutrients to our fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products.

The nutritional losses did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, she has learned, but thousands of years earlier when we first abandoned our native diet of wild plants and game and began to domesticate animals and grow food in the first primitive gardens. Unwittingly, the choices we made about how to feed our livestock and what to plant in our gardens reduced the amount of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidants in the human diet, which compromised our ability to fight disease and enjoy optimum health.

Robinson is a nationally recognized expert in how to recapture those lost nutrients. Her insights into the benefits of raising animals on pasture have been featured in scores of magazines, newspapers, and radio shows, including Sunset Magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, NPR’s All Things Considered, and Mother Earth News.

Her new book, Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health, published by Little, Brown and Company, was released on June 4, 2013. It extends her expertise to reclaiming the lost nutrients of fruits and vegetables. The book has received stellar reviews and will be featured in seven magazines in June and July—Bon Appetit, Prevention, Health, Fitness, Epicurious, Oprah’s “O”, Mother Earth News, and Redbook. Jo will also appear on several national television programs.

In addition to researching the health benefits of wild-like fruits and vegetables, Jo has been growing the most exceptional varieties in her garden on Vashon Island.  She believes that growing the most nutritious fruits and vegetables in backyard gardens is the wave of the future.


Annual Gift Guide – 2013 Top Picks

December 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, Uncommon Sense

Bay Nature Magazine

Bay Nature Magazine

Rather than one big post, this year

I’m separating our Gift Guide into more bite size pieces.

We have some standard favorites and some radically new items.  This post includes one of each.   First, our Standard Favorite:

Up Close and Personal:  Give your family and friends a close-up view of the landscapes, birds, and wildlife that make the Bay Area so special!  Save over 30% off the regular price when you buy 2 or more gift subscriptions to Bay Nature magazine.

Give the gift of nature – and save!

 Lookie – Bay Nature  interviewed me for their connections feature 🙂

Now for the radical gift idea !

Growing up in South Florida, my parents knew a man who created (invented?) a special toilet seat bidet.  You remove your existing toilet seat and this replacement toilet seat washes and dries your bottom.  Down with Brown!  Virtually no more toilet paper.  I’ve had one my entire life.  The one I own costs about $750 and is amazing.   Other companies have them (like Toto).  Adding a Toto toilet seat bidet to your existing toilet costs $400 to $500.

I’ve found a company that is importing a simpler – but still highly effective – version that you can purchase for about $55 delivered.  They’re easy to install right under your existing toilet seat and take up almost no space.  They require NO electricity.

The reactions I get from people when I mention this are quite varied.  Some people are instantly opposed to the idea.  Anyone – I mean EVERYONE – who tries it –  LOVES it.  It’s great for people with back problems.  It’s SO hygienic.

I gave one to a friend facing surgery.  He LOVES it.

To be clear – I have zero investment in this.  I make no commission.  I share this info because I deeply appreciate my blog readers.  This is a life-enhancing-changing item.   It saves paper.  It’s gentler on fragile aging skin. It’s even a bit stimulating for helping elimination.   Here’s the Link to check this out – if you get one – get the simple, inexpensive one – it’s on sale right now (late 2013) for $55, including shipping.

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