Week Knees, High Blood Pressure & Sitting Properly

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Jenny asks:

I went for a body detox with herbs, and I did not sweat as much as I used to. Do you know why?

Jenny, I assume you’re doing like a hot sauna, steam bath kind of treatment. It’s interesting, you know, with sweat, people often do adapt to heat. So for example, we do a lot of work with hot yoga, which is practiced in a heated room, about 39 degrees Celsius, which is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the same kind of thing happens. When people first start coming, they sweat more, and eventually they sweat less.

What happens? I don’t really know. Maybe your body adjusts, maybe it cools down, maybe your body gets better or more efficient at cooling down, either of which are options, but I wouldn’t be too concerned about it.

Any supplement I can use to boost my immune system and blood circulations?

In terms of boosting your immune system, really the best thing is to try to eat a whole food diet, lots of dark green, leafy vegetables. In terms of things that boost your immune system, a lot of people believe in zinc. The mineral zinc can help boost your immune system. My wife is an herbalist, and she believes quite heavily in Echinacea. You have to use a lot more than most people recommend, but it can be quite powerful as well.

In terms of blood circulation, there’s all kinds of things that can be quite helpful, but again, in most cases, you really just want to clean this up through diet. I don’t really know what you mean by blood circulation, so I’m not going to recommend anything for you there. If you mean you have a blood pressure problem or something like that, that’s something else to look at. But in terms of boosting your immune system, yeah, plant-based diet, mushrooms, botanicals can be really great, and then something like Echinacea. I usually would want a liquid extract. Those tend to be the strongest and most potent.

Franklin asks:

Are any of the Gravity Yoga exercises contraindicated for individuals with high blood pressure?

The answer is yes, Franklin, a couple of them. One is Noodle, which is a passive backbend over a chair, and another one might be Ragdoll Pose, which is a passive forward bend. I say might, because in all of these cases, you want to check with your doctor. High blood pressure means different things to different people, and there’s different levels of severity, and depending on where you’re at, it might not be a concern at all.

But in general, what happens with high blood pressure is when we invert, when our head is lower than our heart in poses like Shoulder Stand, Headstand, full back bends, like a Full Wheel Urdhva Dhanurasana Pose, sometimes that can create a difference in blood pressure in the top half of your body, and it could be problematic for your heart, for example. I say could be problematic, because in many cases yoga practices are very, very beneficial. Sometimes you don’t need to modify. Sometimes you do need to make big modifications, but there’s lots and lots of people in studies where doing regular yoga has helped to relieve high blood pressure, so it certainly shouldn’t turn you off. Just make sure you’re working with your doctor.

And as great as alternative medicine is, it’s always smart to be working with an alternative medical professional or a medical professional, whoever you’re comfortable with, but make sure to get some professional advice.

My weakness is my right knee, which had a torn ligament from an old football injury. Are there any gravity exercises that are contraindicated for weak knees?

Yes, for sure. The pose we teach called Lightening Bolt, you need to be really careful, and that’s really the big one. Another stretch we teach is called Butterfly. You just want to be cautious. These stretches can be really helpful for your knees, too, but you want to be cautious. Whenever people have old injuries that linger forever, especially like joint injuries like knee injuries, these days I always recommend people get checked out.

And again, it’s one of these things where people say I don’t want surgery, I don’t want to talk to the doctor. Doctors tell me this and that. There’s certain areas where that makes a lot of sense, and then other areas where it doesn’t. With knees, it’s really interesting. A lot of knee surgeries that are done are totally unnecessary, but a lot of knee surgeries that are done are extremely successful and very, very fast. I know people who have had really, really bad knee problems for five-plus years, and within three weeks after a very simple surgery, it’s really changed their life.

And so, as much as I like the holistic and natural approach, when you’re dealing with the joints, I just don’t think you should mess around with it. So, if you have an old knee injury – if you haven’t, maybe you have already, Franklin, but if you haven’t, I’d definitely go talk to a doctor. You never know what has changed, and the procedures they’re doing now, it’s pretty phenomenal the recoveries I’ve seen. People from runners to gymnasts to dancers, all kinds of people having knee surgery, and again, there’s definitely way too many of them happening and a lot of them are unnecessary, but if you have a problem for, it sounds like decades here, I’d go get it checked out.

Ray asks:

I would be interested in any suggestions how to sit properly in an office chair and in the car.

This is a really great question, Ray. There’s no one answer, but I’ll tell you what I do and maybe that would be helpful. The first thing that I found is that sitting back in a chair, you’re never going to be able to sit very well. If you look at airplane seats, those are the best attempt at being ergonomically correct. I’m sure somebody will flame me for this, but they definitely do try. They try to make a seat where you can just lean back, your head is supported, your back is supported and you’re okay. Now, of course as soon as you start adjusting the angle of that backrest, everything changes. But in theory, when that thing is sitting upright, like a 90-degree angle, or more or less, it’s supposed to be pretty ergonomically correct, but still most people end up with pretty bad pain sitting in a chair like that.

They have all kinds of crazy contraptions. You’ll see everything from these leaning forward chairs where you rest your chest on a thing, to sitting on fitness balls while you’re on your computer. I always just say whatever works. The really complex stuff turned me off, because I just don’t buy it, the hardcore back pillows and things like that. It just doesn’t make sense to me that that’s the way that you’re supposed to sit.

What I do know works really, really great is when you don’t use a backrest. And so what that means, is sitting halfway in the middle of your chair or sitting on the tip of your chair or using a chair with no back. And with office chairs, oftentimes you can just remove the back. And the best thing you can do on your office chair is take the side handles off. So I do this on my – I have two different offices and two different office chairs that I spend a lot of time sitting in, and I’ve removed the side handles. This means that I can sit in different seated positions. So I can cross my legs, I can sit in Lotus. I have a nice big, wide base, and I do have a back on the chair but I don’t use it. I sit away from the back, the majority of the time.

Again, you might want to try using a fitness ball. I’ve never been able to do that more than a little while. I just find it irritating. But basically, when you’re sitting on the edge of your chair or in the middle of your chair and you don’t have those arm rests in your way, you’re able to use your body to kind of adjust naturally, and everybody’s spinal curve is going to be a little different. That’s why I don’t like those so-called ergonomically correct chairs or those pillows that you stick there, because everybody’s body is a little bit different and forcing your back into a lumbar curve might not be the best for you.

So anyway, hope that’s helpful. In the car, there’s not a lot of hope. I hate to break it to you. The car is pretty bad. You’ve got to try to just find a car with a decent seat, and in a car you might want to try using different sized pillows and things to support your back in a way that works. In a car, there’s no way to sit on the edge. You’ve got to lean back and relax, so I don’t have any great suggestions there, except try to stay symmetrical. What I mean by that is try to keep both hands on the wheel, as opposed to one hand on the windowsill and one hand on the steering wheel, if you’re doing a lot of driving, because sitting in a car, especially if you’re doing long commutes, can lead to some muscle imbalances as well.

I have done a lot of weight training and running. I’m trying to find ways of identifying the imbalances and the best type of corrective exercises, whether they need to be stretches or resistance type of exercises, or of course a combination of both.

Okay, this is really challenging. If you’re doing weight training and running, running, fortunately, is a natural movement. What I mean by that, is if you see children on the playground, they run around, they do cartwheels, they jump rope, they do all these natural movements. Weight training is very unnatural. Like for example, when in nature would you ever take a 50-pound dumbbell and do bicep curls? You would never lift anything like that. You would never lift a tree like that, you would never lift a rock like that, it just wouldn’t happen.

So, there’s lots of great benefits of weight training. One of the big drawbacks is you develop really, really exceptional skills at really, really imbalanced, useless movements. So it’s really not a functional movement, a bicep curl. Now a dead lift, for example, where you take a dumbbell and lift it up off the ground, that’s a relatively functional movement, right? In nature, we’d probably lift trees like that, we probably lift our children or a sack of rice like that.

And so, the best way, if you’re really looking to move toward balance, is to try to do more functional weight training. What I mean by that, is doing more body weight training. This is why body weight has become so popular, and this is why things like the Cross Fit movement have become so popular, because when you start to do functional strength training, things like climbing ropes, flipping tires, lifting heavy objects, if you’re doing weights, you’re doing really simple weights like gross body movements, engaging your full body, as opposed to isolating specific muscles for cosmetic reasons. When you do that, you tend to build balanced strength.

So for example, if you look at what I would consider some of the stronger athletes in the world, which are dancers, gymnasts, their bodies are quite lean. Actually, their muscle mass is quite efficient. They’re very, very muscular, but they don’t have exaggerated muscle definition. They have balanced muscle definition, and you get that by doing functional exercises.

So, the classic example is any yoga teacher can tell you a story about some body builder who comes to their yoga classes just incredibly fit looking. You know, five percent body fat, just completely ripped, and they can’t do a Plank Pose, can’t do a pushup, can’t do a Downward Dog Pose. And so, they’ve developed this exceptional, exceptional physical training that’s so impractical they can’t even go on all fours on the floor. And this type of thing is really common, to some degree, with all of this.

So this is a big, long explanation, but in terms of what you want to do, if you’re doing resistance training, if you’re doing strength training, all of which are fantastic by the way, you just want to make sure that at least 25 percent of your workout time is dedicated towards deep stretching. It should be at the end of your practice. What I mean by that, is if you spend an hour doing resistance training or an hour running or an hour doing or an hour doing mixed martial arts, whatever it is, take 15 minutes and make sure you do deep stretches, if you can do it right after your workout. If you need to wait until later, do it right before bed, but that will really help you to balance out and you’ll find your tough areas pretty quickly.

How well can you prevent imbalances by doing the right exercises? Is it best to avoid ‘bad’ ones? Which are the bad ones? What makes them bad?

Okay, this is a great question, Ray. The truth is, you cannot prevent imbalances. We are imbalanced by nature. Every spiritual tradition in the world talks about kind of finding the middle path, finding a healthy balance. In the corporate world, they talk about work/life balance. Whatever it is, we’re always trying to move towards the middle and we never quite get there. We go too much towards one side, too much towards the other side. It’s this pendulum and we never quite arrive in the middle.

Now that said, we want to be moving towards the middle, not away from the middle. So again, the best thing to do is really functional strength practices, as much as possible, and functional strength is things that use your body, natural range of motion, natural lifting. Strength is fantastic, but it needs to be there for a purpose, not just for cosmetic. And so whenever you’re doing anything, strength training, any training at all, just ask yourself if this is a natural movement your body would be doing. And if not, you just need to realize that it could be leading towards imbalance.

And extreme yoga is a perfect example of exercises that can lead to imbalance. For example, it’s not really natural in our normal life to put both our feet behind our head and then balance on our arms. That’s not a really natural movement. And so if you’re doing that, which some of us do, you need to be aware that you might be creating some muscle imbalances, strength or weakness in another area of the body, and just kind of accommodating to make that work, depending on what your goals are.