Step 4: Learn To Use Your Body
By: Dave Asprey
June 26, 2012
Humans are designed to move.
Your butt isn’t meant for sitting, and your joints aren’t meant to be tight. After years of sitting at a desk, it’s easy to lose the ability to perform basic, functional movements like squats. Even worse, many people believe chronic pain throughout their body is normal. It’s not.
I spent the first half of my life with constant joint pain. I was even diagnosed with arthritis in my knees at age 14, and I honestly didn’t know that other people didn’t experience pain when they moved around until I was in my early 20’s. I’m not alone, but unlike most people, I hacked my joint pain so that it’s usually not there anymore, and if it is, it’s a sign of something else going on with my system.
85 percent of people in the U.S. experience back pain at some point in their lives and the United States spends over $600 billion dollars on treating chronic pain every year.
Chronic pain is a serious problem. Sixty percent of Americans rate their pain as moderate, and twenty percent rate their pain as severe.
The 2006 Voices of Pain National Survey reported the following:
- 50 percent of responders said they felt like they had no control over their pain.
- Six out of ten patients (60%) said they experience enormous pain one or more times daily, severely impacting their quality of life and overall well-being.
- Almost two-thirds (59%) reported an impact on their overall enjoyment of life.
- More than three quarters of patients (77%) reported feeling depressed.
- 70% said they have trouble concentrating.
- 74% said their energy level is impacted by their pain.
- 86% reported an inability to sleep well.
It’s really hard to reach a Bulletproof state when chronic aches and pains are sucking energy from your personal and professional life.
The 2001-2002 National Productivity Audit estimated the total loss of productivity in the United States due to headache, arthritis, back pain, and other musculoskeletal conditions. The results were expressed in hours per worker per week and calculated in US dollars.
- Over half (52.7%) of the workforce surveyed reported having headache, back pain, arthritis, or other musculoskeletal pain in the past two weeks, and 12.7% of all workforce lost productive time in a two-week period due to pain.
- Headache (5.4%) was the most common pain condition prompting lost productive time: followed by back pain (3.2%), arthritis pain (2%) and other musculoskeletal pain (2%).
- Overall, workers lost an average of 4.6 hours per week of productive time due to a pain condition.
- Other musculoskeletal pain (5.5 hours/week) and arthritis or back pain (5.2 hours/week) produced the largest amounts of lost productive time.
- Headache produced, on average, 3.5 hours of lost productive time per week.
- Lost productive time from common painful conditions was estimated to be $61.2 billion per year, while 76.6% of lost productive time was explained by reduced work performance, not absenteeism.
Granted, not all chronic pain is related to orthopedic issues, but a lot of it is.
After changing my diet, most of my pain went away. The inflammation had been partially caused by grains, mycotoxins, pasteurized dairy, and bad oils However, I still wasn’t as flexible as I am now. At 39, without warming up, and without a regular yoga or stretching practice, I can put my foot behind my head. This is mainly due to the low-inflammation Bulletproof diet and a few specific supplements, but much of it came from learning how to use my body in the first place. I couldn’t even touch my toes when I was 22 without bending my knees.
Once you free your muscles and joints to function as they’re intended, you’ll look healthier and perform better. You’ll be able to pick up your kids without cringing in pain. You’ll be able to stand tall throughout the day without resorting to a hunched position by noon. Many people underestimate the importance of posture, but it is essential to looking and performing your best.
Being able to move correctly is also the foundation for other athletic pursuits. There is no sport on earth where functional movement is not needed. If you want to lift weights, sprint, hike, run, swim, bike, or do anything that places a demand on your body – you need to be able to move.
Before you learn to move – you need to relax. If you didn’t read the last article – read it now. Most people walk around with unconscious tension in their muscles that makes it hard to move properly. You need to relax before you can let your body flow through it’s natural range of motion.
Men’s Heath recently ran an article about how one of the causes of back pain is psychological. You can cure some pain by hacking your brain with neurofeedback, and you can even even remove pain with your logical mind. Dr. John Sarno is a fascinating physician who spent more than 30 years teaching patients to end chronic pain by managing the interaction between their rational, ethical, moral conscious mind and the repressed feelings of emotional pain, hurt, sadness, and anger characteristic of the unconscious mind. I know people – very successful people with names you may have heard – who had long standing pain disappear simply from reading Sarno’s book. It works better on smart, rational people.
Here are some techniques designed to help you move the way every human should: smoothly, confidently, and without pain. You have it in you to be a mobile, agile, pain free biohacker.
Functional Movement Systems
In 1995, Gray Cook and Lee Burton started working together to gather statistical data to help prevent injuries. Their research on human movement patterns evolved into what is now a global system for assessing proper movement. Functional movement systems is the result of years of research on how the body should be able to move.
It’s hard to know where to start any project unless you establish a baseline. While some problems are obvious (if you can barely bend forward or reach over your head), other limitations are less obvious. Functional Movement Systems has created a standardized program that measures your mobility and provides techniques to address your limitations.
They have practitioners around the globe, and a wonderful website filled with exercises, tutorials, articles, and other resources to help you address your aches and pains. After you identify your areas of limitation with a functional movement screen, you can take precise measures to correct your movement problems.
You can find certified FMS experts by clicking here
You don’t need to perform a functional movement screen, but it’s a good place to start. Four Hour Body fans will recognize this as something that Tim Ferriss also recommends.
Let’s say you’ve identified your weak areas – now what? That’s where MobilityWod comes in. Founded by Kelly Starrett of San Francisco CrossFit, MobilityWod is a video blog and real world course that teaches you how to address your aches and pains with a few simple tools and stretches.
Unlike stretching, mobility involves doing everything necessary to get your body to move in it’s proper range of motion. This involves soft tissue massage, dynamic stretching, strengthening exercises, and static stretching.
“In short, mobilization is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems.”
It was originally designed as a system to help athletes improve orthopedic limitations, but it’s great resource for anyone hoping to become more limber. The exercises take 10-15 minutes each, some even less than that.
If you struggle with small aches and pains that never seem to go away, MobilityWod is the place to start.
Just Biohack It (shameless plug for my first biohacking conference)
If FMS and MobilityWod sound attractive, you can save an awful lot of time by directly hacking the way your body moves. It takes about 10,000 repetitions of a movement for the brain to re-pattern itself. You can use electrical currents to stimulate the muscles and brain 500 times a second, letting you re-pattern a movement pattern in a few minutes. Years of progress are possible in 1-2 days. Many of the top-performing pro athletes use these secret techniques and spend upwards of $50,000 to get trained with specialized high current equipment. This is something I have done and am actively doing now.
On September 20-21 of 2012, I’m putting on The Bulletproof Biohacking Conference where 50 Bulletproof people will spend 2 days in the Bay Area with a world-champion power lifter and pro sports trainer who invented this equipment, actively rewiring their mind/body connections over the course of two very full days. We’re flying in more than $100,000 worth of biohacking equipment to make it happen.
The conference pages aren’t up yet, but if you can’t wait, use our contact form on the site to let me know you want a spot. Depending on how low we can get the venue cost, it will likely cost about $2,000 per person. More details later after some details get sorted out, but if you want to be first in line for it, let me know. This is not a promise of a spot and I’m not collecting money or anything – just letting you be first in line when we do formally open registration.
Yoga is a great way to combine stress reduction and improve your movement patterns. Asana is the stretching and movement part of yoga that can help you learn to use muscles you didn’t know you had. Start with a local instructor with lots of experience and learn the poses properly. I find that faster paced classes like ashtanga lead people, especially beginners, to have poor alignment that can lead to injury. I recommend Iyengar (alignment) types of yoga, including Anusara, and do not recommend Bikram (hot) yoga. Many people over-stretch in yoga and forget or are not able to engage muscles at all times, even in the “softer” poses like forward fold. Yoga done without engaged muscles can hurt your movement patterns.
There is plenty of evidence as to the benefits of yoga when it comes to orthopedic issues. A recent study found Asana Yoga poses to be just as effective as conventional treatments for back pain. Even if you aren’t into the spiritual aspect of Yoga (you definitely shouldn’t be into the vegetarian part), the asana poses are extremely helpful in regaining natural motion, and the pranayama breathing exercises are amazing.
Whole Body Vibration
Standing on a vibrating plate can do amazing things for chronic pain because it causes muscles through your skeletal system to fire and it causes lymph (fluid between tissues) to circulate. I’ve had amazing and consistent results from using WBV, but the problem is that the very nicest WBV machines are upwards of $15,000, and the cheaper ones tend to break easily because of heavy vibrations and bad welds.
Mercola sells a WBV for nearly $5,000 which seems quite expensive still. I’m in the late stages of working with a 100% US based manufacturer to create a heavy plate steel WBV unit that is solid enough to hold together and keep going for years. The target price when it launches will be about $1500. Whether you choose that one or another, just make sure you get one that only does vertical vibrations; the kind that vibrate from one side to the other (oscillate) really tend to cause back and hip pain.
Eat A Bulletproof Diet
Muscle and joint pain is often the result of inflammation and toxins. The Bulletproof Diet is lower in toxins than even the standard paleo diet. Here are several reasons eating a bulletproof diet will improve your flexibility:
- Supplies large amounts of healthy fats.
- Removes inflammatory foods like grains, legumes, refined sugar, and processed seed oils.
- Provides micronutrients and trace minerals.
- Retains valuable animal proteins.
Mobility Supplement #1: Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides
This is a special tool I’ve been using for years to hack my flexibility. It’s helped me get to the level of flexibility I have now.
Collagen is the main building block of connective tissue. When the collagen in your body begins to dry out and age, you lose flexibility. Hydrolyzation is the process of breaking protein molecules into smaller ones. This makes them more bioavailable and better absorbed into your joints and connective tissue. Studies have shown this to be far more effective than other supplements such as glucosamine chondroitin and MSM. I take 1-2 tablespoons a day before bed with extra small peptides that make it more effective.
Being able to move well is not something reserved for athletes. Everyone should learn to move their bodies through a natural range of motion. It will help you to be more confident, avoid injuries and pain, and pursue other activities that you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. You need to learn to move and healthy joints help.
Mobility Supplement #2: Serrapeptase
Serrapeptase is an enzyme supplement created by the silkworm. It’s a protein-dissolving pill you can take on an empty stomach. It fights strokes and thins the blood, but most people don’t know it dissolves scar tissue throughout the body, including muscle adhesions. I’ve been taking 3 normal sized caps from a variety of manufacturers for a decade with great results.
How do you stay flexible and mobile? In what ways do you think it’s important to be able to move properly? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.