Health vs. Fitness: Are They The Same Thing?

Health vs. Fitness: Are They The Same Thing?

Health and fitness are words that become interchangeable in our industry, but they actually aren’t the same thing at all. These two words are most often used incorrectly and can get lost in industry jargon.

So what’s the difference? In order to answer this question effectively I would like to introduce the term the “biopyschosoical model,” fist before we get into defining them.  This model takes into account the spheres of one’s overall well-being.  Notice I did not say “health” or “fitness,” here either, I said “well-being.”

The Biopsychosoical Model:

Tis model is best understood in terms of a combination of biological, psychological, and social contextual factors rather than purely in biological terms of the human structure (our physical body).  Many clients come to us because they want to “feel better,” “get fitter,” “be less stressed.” Yet, most often this in related to the physical body only, and as we know the physical structure of a human is merely one proponent of someone’s “well-being.”  When we use the words like health and fitness  we need to identify the pre-requisites. After that address the systematic activities that need to be established to prevent or rehabilitate health problems that allow for greater fitness gains and ultimately promote optimal well-being.

untitled (10)Take pain for example, or movement dysfunction This model is used most often in the clinical practice, but as a Movement Coach is a very critical piece of analysis we can use as a reminder that health and fitness are not the same.

What’s the Difference?

Let me ask you this?  If there is pain, does this mean a person needs better health or better fitness? Do they just need to move more? Have we identified what kind of stressors  they exposed to at their work, lifestyle etc ? What’s their nutrition like, do they fuel their body for proper health or proper fitness?

Let’s outline a simple framework for not only defining these separately, but let’s breakdown an easy operating system towards acceptable transition from health to fitness.

What is health? Health can be considered the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living organism. Therefore, in humans, it is the general condition of a person’s mind and body, usually meaning to be free from illness, injury or pain.

What is fitness? Fitness is a general state of health and well-being or specifically the ability to perform aspects of sports or occupations. Physical fitness is generally achieved through correct nutrition, exercise, hygiene and rest.

Can you see the difference?

I want to bring your attention to the phrase ‘free of pain.” If a person has pain, their health is at risk. Not just physically, but biochemically, neurologically and psychologically.. Pain changes movement. Pain changes our chemical reactions and it changes breathing ; which can lead to dysfunction, limiting their ability to perform fitness related tasks. 50% of patients with chronic pain will increase their chances by 50% towards having a mental health problem; like depression, anxiety or sleep related disorders.

Why? because pain changes and affects your health. If there is pain, then improved health is first and foremost. Fitness cannot even be considered until the pain is at a manageable level where the client can feel confident in movement.

How to Screen Health vs Fitness:

Every person on our planet, no matter how athletic you are, or how many organic fruits or veggies you consume or super foods you add to your recovery shakes – when we look under the hood we can always find asymmetries or dysfunction – and this can cause pain. We all have them at some point in our lives, your coaches, your health practitioners – all of us, because we are all human and because our external environment is in constant state of flux  and when our external environment changes, so does out internal environment.

The goal is minimizing risk  and pain is by addressing movement dysfunction early on and ensuring early intervention with injury.  Look closely and you will often find that a tight muscle is limiting a movement pattern where motor control or stability is poor and vice versa, too much mobility can cause inhibition of tissue and instability of the joint.  Look at your profession; every profession has its physical and biopyschosocial risks that has the potential to lead to injury. Pain not only changes movement, it changes your bio chemical reactions, secretions and operating systems of your organs. Most affected by this is your breathing and cardiovascular health – dysfunctional movement = dysfunctional breathing patterns. This increases anxiety in the body; which in turn creates tonic, tense tissue!

Prevention is key and what you choose to do should make it move better, and that’s dependent on the tools in your coach’s toolbox. The FMS Movement Systems is one of those tools, along with the SFMA (selective functional movement assessment). Both are baselines for  health (the SFMA – when there is pain) and fitness (the FMS – movement and transition to performance).The SFMA protocol and top tier breakouts are a guideline from which you can see from the figure 1 that help to triage the impairment so you can know the direction to take the client’s health. This is for the clinician, not the coach. So if you are a coach, having someone to refer to with SFMA experience is key. Now, this is not the only assessment out there, but it is one of few that use language that is easy for any coach or client to understand. Using a language that is common to all, allows for greater intra-disciplinary support – working together as a team.

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Your Gateway to Fitness:

The FMS Systems is merely one tool in your toolbox towards screening a client for health concerns and or fitness readiness. Apart from the FMS and proponents of musculoskeletal testing, I also use a postural poise screen and certain strength benchmarks once a client has been cleared from pain..

If you flunk a movement screen due to pain or movement-pattern incompetency, the best coaching in the world most likely will not help much. As a coach, my job is to correct mechanics, improve movement and empower clients to live an optimal lifestyle. Even with a major movement restriction, compensation or limitation, we can always find positions where you can still encourage movement competency and increased load, but there must be pre requisites for applying load. These pre requisites start with mobility, then stability and then strength. The reality is we want a moving, dynamic evolving and adaptable human being, not someone who knows how to program a treadmill well.

When you pass a movement screen, you can undergo further load-focused testing and you are now ready to look at corrective strategies and transitional training.  Thus you can now move into fitness. Test and retest for much-needed bio feedback on how to improve performance and skill sets.

This is why the patterns of the FMS movement screen, the SFMA and the corrective models are so important. As Gray Cook says “acceptable movement patterns under appropriate loads usually improve, but we must first agree on situational definitions of acceptable and appropriate.” Much like agreeing upon acceptable definitions of health vs fitness. Understanding the vast difference can help you, as a coach systemically change your client’s life – not just physically, but improving their own biopyschosocial approach.

Chronic Pain Series Part 2: Mental Health & Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain Series Part 2: Mental Health & Chronic Pain

Mental Health and Chronic Pain:

Mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked; there can be no denying that people in pain, feel stress and it is this cycle of stress that leads us to consider our mental health. People living with chronic physical health conditions experience depression and anxiety at twice the rate of the general population.

Living with chronic pain every day puts a strain on your psychological well-being. Keeping the mind healthy while the body struggles to finds ease is not always easy, but it plays a huge role in coping with day to day pain. It is a perpetual cycle that acts as a feedback loop in both the brain and the body.

On the flip side, it also goes without saying that people living with a serious mental illness are at higher risk of experiencing a wide range of chronic physical conditions.



It is no secret that there is a link between chronic pain and certain mental health concerns, like depression. This can be extremely frustrating during the diagnosis stage, because of the dual diagnosis of chronic pain. In fact, depression is often one of the first conditions that doctors try to rule out when diagnosing chronic pain. As many as 50% of people who suffer from chronic pain also have recurrent clinical depression. Billions have been spent on healthcare per year, yet chronic pain is still not high on the medical agenda.

So what is Clinical Depression? Clinical depression is more than a feeling of sadness or low, down and out mood. It is a psychological state that causes fatigue, lack of motivation, appetite changes, slowed response time and feelings of helplessness, inability to partake in the things you love, which is doubled by the pain of……pain. Depression has physical symptoms as well, including aches, pains and difficulty sleeping. Does this not sound familiar? Does this not sound a lot like many of the same symptoms of chronic pain? YES.

Depression is more than a side effect of chronic pain: the two diagnoses are often so interwoven, that they can be difficult to separate the two for proper treatment and resources. Chronic pain can keep people from doing the things they love. Pain changes how our body’s move, and how we relate to the world. It changes our mood; therefore, it’s safe to say that people who have chronic pain tend to be less active than those who are healthy, because their minds and bodies cause them to slow down and the anticipation of pain receptors leave little room for getting excited to move around and be merry. Again, we see this constant cycle of anxiety around pain.  Not feeling happy with your quality of life is often an emotional drain. With few outlets available for stress relief, it is easy to fall into a downward spiral that leads to depression.

In the Vancouver Sun on April 15, 2013 there was an article “Chronic pain: Managing it, living with it: Health system lags in chronic pain treatment,” outlining the need for chronic pain to be higher up on our medical systems agenda.

 “Depression can make people’s pain feel more intense as it can potentially stop them from feeling hopeful and they can lose motivation to do the work of recovery, which adds up to more pain, she says.

Diagnoses related to chronic pain are therefore difficult. Complex pain is a biopsychosocial issue as opposed to acute pain,” says Squire. “So that means we’re never just assessing the painful part, we’re assessing somebody’s mood, usually their sleep. It has cognitive effects, so they’re quite complicated assessments.”

We still do not have enough data metrics and research to support the proper pathways to treat people with chronic pain, but there are many organizations that are coming together to change this. Two of those organizations are PainBC and Change Pain Clinic, located right here in VancouverBC, but we will get to them in just a mere moment. Let’s look at the cycle of stress.


The Cycle of Stress:

Pain activates the areas of the brain that respond to stress; through pain receptors. This is one of the body’s coping strategies for dealing with acute pain and for protecting us from harm. It is a survival mechanism that’s been encoded in our DNA since the dawn of time. When the brain gets the signal, the brain reacts by sending the body into high sensory overload and overdrive, to prepare for fight or flight. When the pain goes away the signals are supposed to stop.

However, we see with chronic pain, the fight or flight signals don’t turn off, and the nervous system stays in a constant state of high alert, like an alarm in the morning that won’t shut off. You can imagine how annoying and frustrating that would sound like; at some point all you want to do is throw the freakin’ alarm clock against the wall and drop “F”bombs right, left and center.

Now imagine that constant alarm in your body 24/7. It can feel debilitating, maddening and deafening. The body does not get a break from the brain’s stress chemicals and too much stress without time off eventually wears the body down, which can leave you vulnerable to depression.

Stress management can be complicated and confusing because there are different types of stress,  each with its own characteristics, symptoms, duration, and treatment approaches.

Now, not all stress is bad, but when we do not know how to cope or adapt to the changing landscape, it can do more harm to us, then we realize. In most psychology journals, psychologists describe four types of stress – hyopstress, eustress, episodic acute/ hyerpsress and chronic/ distress:


  • Hypostress: insufficiently low stress
  • Eustress: sufficient, adaptable stress, positive stressors
  • Episodic Acute /Hyperstress: recoverable, high stress, “A” type stress
  • Distress: excessive, unadaptable stress, inability to recover or cope


The emotional trigger and response is critical in establishing greater levels of resilience, in hopes of instigating more positive coping strategies that can greatly improve ones ability to cope under stress.  These include options such as; gentle and restorative yoga, breathing classes, meditation, music therapy, light movement classes, even brain entrainment. All of which have shown to be successful when applied to their treatment and personal coping strategy. Of course, none of these alone will do the trick, but an integrated system designed for YOU  – can offer you renewed HOPE.


The Biopsychosocial Model:

The biopsychosocial model (abbreviated “BPS”) is a general model or approach positing that biological, psychological (which entails thoughts, emotions, and behaviors), and social factors, all play a significant role in human functioning in the context of disease or illness. Indeed, health is best understood in terms of a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors rather than purely in biological terms The biological component of the biopsychosocial model seeks to understand how the cause of the illness stems from the functioning of the individual’s body. The psychological component of the biopsychosocial model looks for potential psychological causes for a health problem such as lack of self-control, emotional turmoil, and negative thinking.  (Wikipedia)

Rather than offer you a full synopsis on this model, it can be best viewed in this riveting presentation featured in April via Pain BC:

For those of you interested in the cross pollination of these fields, I highly recommend you take the time to view this presentation.


Renewed Hope

Our community mental health sector, as well as our community in chronnic pain management, is undergoing a province-wide transformation. Many organizations, including local branches of the Canadian Mental Health Association, grassroots organizations in pain specialties have received new funding for service enhancements over the past several years; however it is not enough. Policy making and governance are high on the agenda to support long term, sustainable change at the higher levels. With new policy and adequate funding this can offer those patients with pain who may not be able to afford services and programs new hope in optimizing their health and wellness.

PainBC and teams like Change Pain Clinic are two pioneers in the areas of chronic pain who are paving the way for a renewed sense of dignity and hope for those who live with chronic pain and dual diagnosis in mental illness.

Last week we looked at PainBC, but I wanted to draw your attention to the previous “Empowering Self Management of Pain” webinar series. A series of webinars that aired in May brought forth the power of how innovation and technology can bring people with pain together to better understand their conditions and the power they have to take charge and manage their own personal health and wellness. In case you missed them please watch them all here –

Change Pain Clinic:  

A passionate team about leading health care system change for everyone burdened by pain. Since it’s fruition in 2009, founders Brenda Lau, Greg Siren and Judy Pryce have been collaborating on ideas on how to improve the lives of pain patients and pain practitioners. An integrated team of clinicians and health practitioners brings together the necessary skill sets to truly revolutionize how we look at, deal with and treat people in pain.

More importantly, a team readily open to put themselves on the line to change agenda, governance and policy within our medical system. Word on the street is Fit to Train Human Performance Systems may just be combining forces and joining this revolution. I feel honored to be part of this team and part of this revolution.

Not Myself Today: Partners in Mental Health

In January, a major step forward was taken with the launch of a National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety, which promotes good mental health and prevents psychological harm in the workplace. This is an important start.

The Not Myself Today campaign was created to proactively deal with our mental health. Every one of us has had a day when we don’t feel like ourselves. Now, imagine living with those feelings not just one day, but many days – and the shame, discrimination and lack of treatment and support that goes with it. This is especially critical at work – where so many of us spend so many hours a day. This campaign is designed to better understand and break the stigma around mental illness. As we know much like chronic pain, the stigma is the same. If you can’t “see” it…how do we tell others about how we “feel.” This campaign aims to change that and to bring people who feel miss understood…together to join forces… so they CAN and WILL be understood.



The moral of this story, is that there are those of us who understand, who are here to help and offer support. There is hope and dignity in this struggle and as we continue to forge forward, more and more options are available to those who live with chronic pain and mental illness. I would like to close by offering you a fan-freakin-tastic quote, by one of my mentors, who has undergone his own transformation with chronic pain, injury, being stigmatized with labels; a man who is a fighter and has come out on the other side stronger and more resilient. This is quote from one of his blogs titled “Strive but do not Identify with the Struggle.” Enjoy….


 “What you fight for, and what you refuse to struggle against, defines who you are. Fight for your values, but do not live in strife. You can do a thing, without becoming a thing, just like you can face defeat, but not be defeated. Stop keeping track of the mistakes you’ve made, the fights you’ve faced and the defeats you’ve suffered. You will again, but you will not become them by doing do; only by thinking you are.

Focus your attention on the right decisions you’ve chosen, the flow you’ve facilitated and the triumphs you’ve allowed. Steel against the negative until you no longer need to direct your mind, and you have trained yourself to be free of judgment at all. Judging a person doesn’t define who they are, but who you are; judging yourself is the same. The process of judgment limits us by the boundaries of its definitions.

Do not identify with the discord, even when life surrounds you with a cacophony. Remain in harmony with the melody of your soul despite the noisy world, and you give everyone with whom you harmonize, a chance to tune in to their own melody as well.” 

– Scott Sonnon


Next week we look at chronic pain and PTSD in our military forces. Serving those who serve and protect.




Golden Halo Over the Golden Arches

Golden Halo Over the Golden Arches

McDonald’s Canada’s latest advertising campaign is called: “Our Food, Your Questions.”

You may have seen the television commercials or floor-to-ceiling advertisements in SkyTrain stations. The company is basically claiming to be 100 per cent honest, transparent and willing to publicly answer any question posed by the public.

Many questions are answered on a new website:

Some examples of answers: McDonald’s food has no MSG, the company uses 100% Canadian Beef, their food does in fact rot, additives used in their food are deemed safe by the World Health Organization, etc.


McDonald’s Canada has a new campaign called “Your Questions,” offering to answer any questions from the public about their food.

So if McDonald’s food is indeed so virtuous, is there still a reason the health-conscious should not eat there?

I posed the question to Pura Vida Nutrition’s Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Gabrielle Eagles.

“It’s great they are making an effort with this campaign,” Eagles says, but she points out that most of the questions actually haven’t been answered. The website seems to answer the same kinds of questions, like “What is the beef made from?” several times, but many other questions are unanswered.

“ I have a hard time trusting what they say, as it took a significant amount of public outcry for them to make these small changes,” Eagles says. “They are a company that tries to ‘get away’ with things and only makes changes when they are caught, so why would I trust them now?”

So why would one still consider not eating at the massive fast-food chain? Eagles explains:

  • The actual food quality. Even if the quality of the food increases, it’s still up to the consumer to make informed choices for their own health. For instance, even if McDonald’s had a truly healthy burger, if the consumer ate one per day, the quantity of red meat in their diet could be detrimental.
  • Not organic. There is substantial research regarding the damages of pesticides and herbicides.
  • Added sugar, which can lead to:
  • Inflammation;
  • damaged arteries, which can leave a person more prone to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries),  heart attack or stroke;
  • increase in insulin, eventual insulin resistance, more prone to diabetes, and;
  • energy/mood fluctuations throughout the day. As a person’s blood sugar escalates and then crashes, there is the potential for a poor mood, less exercise, and decreased productivity.
  • White buns have very few nutrients, so they mostly turn to sucrose. “The whole point of eating is to get quality protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals,” Eagles explains. “With processed food, the vitamins and minerals are significantly diminished, and the quality of those macronutrients is very low.” Plus the buns are simply higher in carbohydrate than required by the body.
    • Fats: “I don’t see any high-quality fats, which should make up 30 per cent of calories consumed,” Eagles says. “Good fats come from foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, cold water fish, and olive oil.”
    • Vegetables. “It’s great they have salad now, but it needs to contain rich greens,” Eagles says.

“Ultimately, it’s the consumer’s choice to not eat at a poor-quality food place like McD’s,” Eagles concludes. “No matter how much they try to clean up, they still aren’t serving primarily vegetables from gardens full of vitamins and minerals, which is what people really need.”



Temporomandibular joint disorder, TMJD (in the medical literature TMD), or TMJ syndrome, is an umbrella term covering acute or chronic pain and inflammation of the temporomandibular joint, which connects the mandible to the skull. The primary cause is muscular hyper- or parafunction with secondary effects on the oral musculoskeletal system and are seen quite often in individuals who suffer from high stress, poor sleeping (clenching of the teeth) and poor posture.

The temporomandibular joint is susceptible to many of the conditions that affect other joints in the body, and in our clinical field of corrective movement management, we see a lot of this common disorder. However, TMJ is what seems to develop after a long period of time where the client goes untreated or neglects to acknowledge the breakdown signs.  Over time, our bodies adapt to our everyday movements to make it easier for us to function and get through the day; however, in time, these adaptations come at a cost and slowly change and pull our bodies out of alignment.

This specific disorder transcends the boundaries between several health-care disciplines — in particular, dentistry and neurology, corrective movement and pathology — there are a variety of treatment approaches and bridging the gap between your dentist and movement coach may be the key towards living pain free.

Yoga isn’t just for your muscles, it can also help protect your teeth and limit your trips to the dentist and need for oral corrective care.  But, if you do have to go to the dentist then we have the team for you.

The teeth have it! Oral Care is a great place to start

Dr. Melissa Skinner, Dentist and local athlete, has graciously offered to lend her experience and expertise on oral care, relaxation and TMJ so that we can understand this specific disorder that plagues so many and often goes mis diagnosed. In addition to the exceptional team and the great office location;  your dental experience is more like a spa. You have your own private booth, TV and head set and blanket. Yes, I said your own TV! All one would need is a green juice and a mani/pedi and you have a day at the spa.

Graduating top of her class from UBC School of Dentistry, Dr. Skinner is committed to lifelong learning, and is a member at the Kois Centre in Seattle, Washington. After finding numerous clients with TMJ related concerns, I took the liberty to ask an expert. Here are a few questions I posed to Dr. Skinner:

Q.  Hw often do you see TMJ (or even the initial signs) in your patients? And how does this affect their oral care?

A.  Temporomandibular disorders are very common and seen daily in the dental office. Those with jaw joint pain have difficulty opening their jaw, and commonly have limited opening. This affects oral care because it is more difficult for these patients to brush and floss their teeth.

Q.  Sleep clenching seems to be a contributor to TMJ pain. Since this is more of an unconscious act many perform due to disruptive sleep and stress. What are your thoughts on this and how can it be prevented?

A.  Clenching and grinding of the teeth are common habits that present themselves by chipping or wearing teeth, tired facial muscles, sore jaw joints and sensitive teeth. It can be caused by a poor bite and stress. Treatment is a removable appliance worn nightly that protects the teeth from further damage. Prevention is through bite correction, relaxation therapy, counselling to manage stress, yoga, and physiotherapy.

Q.   Most of this blog piece centers around the muscles and poor posture being the major cause, but in many cases it’s the teeth that can be the initiator. Correcting the way the teeth fit together seems to be where practitioners should start when confronted with TMJ. How does one check to see if their teeth are contributing to stress and pain?

A.   A bad bite can lead to clenching and grinding of the teeth. It’s a good idea to have a dentist check the bite to see if there are unhealthy tooth positions. If one tooth hits before the others, the chewing muscles become protective. Rather than bumping into that spot each time, the teeth close and the chewing muscles maneuver around the interference. This places extra strain on the muscles and they eventually become tired and painful. Interestingly enough, to reduce the pain, we clench our teeth harder! Babies do this by biting against a teething ring to decrease the pain of erupting teeth.

Q.  We know that such tightness and compression in the jaw and neck can lead to arthritis, cause nerve pressure, an increase in neck muscle injuries and in oral care does this affect the necessary salvation and inner workings needed to protect our teeth and oral cavity?

A.   As we mentioned, the teeth take the abuse from  clenching and grinding. Our teeth are not meant to take forces all the time. So they wear down, crack, get receding gums and become sensitive. But, the rest of the oral cavity and saliva flow are not affected. So long as the patient isn’t on medications, that can commonly cause dry mouth.

Q.  Are there specific treatments that you suggest in your profession to help treat TMJ related pain?

A.   Any TMJ pain is worrisome.  I know this is a sign that something is out of balance. It is possible that if nothing is done, the pain can get worse quite quickly.  It’s important to try to identify what is causing the pain. Is it the bite? Is the patient clenching their teeth and wearing  the joint? Does the patient have arthritis? Are there high levels of stress? … Once we know this, we go ahead on treat the pain. A splint to wear at night is a very common treatment to protect the teeth and provide some jaw relief by opening the bite.  If it’s a bite issue, we treat anywhere from tiny tooth adjustments to full orthodontics. Stress management is important for some patients. Others with muscle fatigue would benefit from massage therapy and physiotherapy that specialize in the jaw joint.

Q.  Since tooth decay is one of the leading causes of disease in children, how often do you see signs of problematic symptoms that could lead to teeth clenching, stress and changes in children’s oral structure?  And what advice can you offer to new parents to help steward their children into positive practices at home?

A.   A cavity in a baby tooth can get large at a very fast rate. This can cause a toothache. Pain can cause clenching, poor eating habits, poor attention and increased stress. Cavities also cause the teeth to shift forward in the mouth. This causes crowding of the permanent teeth.

My advice is to start oral hygiene habits early. Even when a baby has no teeth, it is a good idea to clean the baby’s mouth with a washcloth during bath time. Praise your kids when they clean their teeth, and be involved! Be a good role model, check that their teeth are clean and help them brush. Try making it fun by placing stickers on a calendar or using a cute timer to let your child know when it’s been long enough. Of course, getting regular dental visits is not only important to check for cavities, but teaches the child to love the dental office.

Q.   I feel very privileged to not only have you as my dentist, but as my friend and supporter. Third Street Dental is the key sponsor for the upcoming “RUN4MOM” Memorial run focused on supporting the positive face of mental health and education on the mental well-being of our community. What do you do to stay healthy? And Who is your dentist?

A.   Being healthy helps me tremendously at work. It helps me manage stress and helps my body handle the physical demands of dentistry. I absolutely love  hiking with my adorable Labrador. I enjoy yoga and love running. I recently ran my first half-marathon!

My dentist is the amazing Dr. Gail Landsberger, who also works with me at Third Street Dental!


What Muscles are Affected?

Most of the time it is a result of poor posture and ergonomics at work, living with stress and not knowing how to relax and often those who hold stress in their shoulders and neck and after long periods of time begin to forward head carry. We call this upper crossed syndrome (see previous blog post on upper cross syndrome – )  When we talk about forward head carry, there are many muscles that help with head and neck movements. The top 3 that I find with clients that are hyper tonic (high stress) are the longus capitis; which helps to reduce the lordotic curve of the cervical vertebrae and is a deep flexor muscle in the neck whose job is to laterally flex, rotate, and flex the head and neck.

Next up we have the anterior scalenes, and the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). When the SCM is overworked it becomes fatigued quicker eventually leading to chronic forward head posture (head/neck extension). The levator scapulae is also a high functioning culprit where it’s main function is to lift the scapulae. It also works in conjunction with the pectoralis group (minor particularly) and the rhomboids (postural muscles).

As the muscles pull down on the base of the skull and upper neck, they also pull up on the scapula. All this adds up to compression on the cervical vertebra.

How can Yoga help?

Decompressing the muscles around the jaw line and neck are crucial to limiting stress in this area, and it starts with the practice of meditation, deep breathing and sensory awareness. Practicing a simple modified vinyasa sequence of child’s pose to downward facing dog to upward facing dog can help the flow of blood to the jaw and cranium, as well as improve the articulation of the spine.

Sequences to improve posture and reduce stress to the jaw and neck muscles:

  • Seated meditation (focus on softening the tongue and facial muscles
  • Seated cat flow (working in all 6 motions of the neck, extension, flexion, lateral extension, rotation)
  • Cat flow series to child’s pose vinyasa (mentioned above)
  • Cobra and sphinx poses (to help relax spine
  • Supine cervical and lumbar corrective movement (passive hip rotations)
  • Bridge pose variations to promote length in the spine and occipital ridge trigger release.
  • Soft tissue rolling with the foam roller (mid back, lats, glutes)


I believe it is an important practice to work with other health care providers who believe in a holistic approach to optimal wellness. Dentistry is one of the most neglected pillars of our health and ultimately, it should be one of the first. For more information on Third Street Dental and Dr. Melissa Skinner, please see the information links below.

Dr. Gail Landsberger. Dr. Melissa Skinner. Dr. Henry Tom.

Fun Fact:

Third Street Dental is a community driven family oriented practice. This July 29th Dr. Skinner will be participating in my annual “RUN4MOM” Memorial Run that takes place over a span of 57km, supporting mental health and suicide prevention in our community.  They also support a plethora of community initiatives centered on youth and family well-being.


The China Study

I just finished reading this book.  It is a must read for anyone interested in nutrition.  It gives some very compelling, scientifically proven evidence as to the benefits of eating a plant based diet.  The book speaks for itself.

Libre Tea Glass Review & Giveaway!

**UPDATE** This contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone for entering, and congratulations to Adrienne Summers for winning a beautiful Libre Tea Glass!

Libre, from Gibsons, BC, is an eco-friendly company committed to sustainable people and planet practices. They are the creators the portable ‘on-the-go’ loose leaf tea glass for all to enjoy and relax with – anywhere, anytime.

“Libre (lee-brah). The state of being free. Letting go, bringing ones mind and body to a place of rest and free from restraint. Tea is symbolic of an ancient ritual celebrating the secular as sacred. It is a space to take a breath, reconnect with oneself and the world. It is a time to stop to enjoy life, people and the planet and remembering the joys that life has to offer.”

The Libre Loose Leaf Tea Glass collection comes in three sizes: the 9oz Original, 14 oz Large and 10 oz Mug. Each beverage holder is a thermal bottle with a health-conscious glass interior for fresh tasting beverages and a tough polycarbonate exterior for portable durability. Its easy to clean stainless steel removable filter is surrounded by twist off BPA-free lid and drinking lip.

Just add hot water (or cold) along with your favourite loose leaf tea, watch your drink steep, and take leaf-free sips thanks to its efficient strainer screen. It’s is the perfect leak resistant thermal travel container (keeps tea warm yet cool to touch) to take to yoga class – its compact size fits easily in hand, purse, bike or car cup holders, and makes a healthy post-yoga class rehydrator.

This handy to-go bottle can be used two ways to brew and travel with loose leaf tea: Tea in the tea glass for longer-brewing herbal teas or tea on top of the twist off filter for black and shorter-brewing time teas. Here is a quick video on using the Libre Loose Leaf Tea Glass that shows how simple and easy it is to achieve a great cup of tea:

Libre is giving a chance for one lucky Vancouver Yoga Review reader to win a large (14 oz) Loose Leaf Tea Glass! You’ll find the following giveaway information below…

How to enter the Libre Tea Contest:

1. “Like” Vancouver Yoga Review and Libre Tea on Facebook.

2. “Follow” @VanYogaReview and @LibreTea on Twitter.

3. Leave a comment below when you have completed the above!

FYI: Liking this specific post on Facebook and sharing the link on your Facebook and Twitter accounts will add your name three extra times into the draw. Contest ends October 31st at 11:59pm. Good luck!

Eat Local

I am passionate about food.  It brings people together and fuels our body.  My Bikram yoga practice made me very aware of the food I was putting into my body and my bodies reaction to it.  I felt so clean from all the sweating that I no longer wanted to put junk food into my body.

In Vancouver we are so lucky to have access to a variety of amazing food.  Currently, we have a bounty of local produce.  Just go check out one of the many farms in Richmond or your closest farmers market at

Right now is the perfect time to take advantage of the 100 mile challenge.  Try to eat only foods produced, grown or sold within 100 miles of where you live.  This way we eat healthier and reduce our carbon footprint.  To learn more, read the book 100 Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon.

Bon Appetit!


“Blue, green, grey, white, or black; smooth, ruffled, or mountainous; that ocean is never silent, is never still. ” ~ H.P Lovecraft

Regardless of where you practice Yoga, there is always something so serene about practicing Yoga outdoors. Not only is it an opportunity to be more eco-friendly and environmentally sound, but it also offers us a chance to re connect with the beauty of mother natures landscape.

Over the course of the next four weeks, I have been given the opportunity to teach my Yin YogaFORM4athletes workshops outdoors, marina side in False Creek with Le Physique Studio; where my students not only learn about the benefits of Yin and fascial elasticity, but are able to breath in the abundance of practicing seaside.

The ambiance of the sea, cool breeze and practice of Yin to balance out our Yang society evokes a feeling of euphoric calming that not only soothes the soul, but has many therapeutic benefits that go beyond ones practice.

Just take a moment and think that water is the most abundant compound in our body. But what you may not know is the water contained in all of our tissues, cells, blood, etc. is a salty water solution, very similar to the seawater.  

Almost 75% of our body is water:

  • Blood is 83% water
  • Muscles are 75% water
  • The brain is 95% water
  • Lungs are 90% water

Therefore, it is of no surprise that we connect so well with fresh flowing water, streams, rivers and oceans.

One of the largest benefits to practicing yoga seaside; is the abundance of salt in the air. During yoga we focus our attention on the pranyama or breath work; which gives rise to the opportunity to inhale the pure salt air that flows over the water.

Anyone who has enjoyed an ocean swim knows this refreshing feeling! Without salt in our bodies, we would faint due to low blood pressure, as it helps to regulate proper blood pressure parameters.  

Functionally significant to athletes; electrolytes are comprised of sodium, chloride and potassium. These minerals can carry an electrical charge and flow through any part of the body where water resides; which promote healthy cells by carrying nutrients into them and removing any waste as they depart. The main cause of muscle cramping is dehydration. The natural sodium and chlorine in unrefined salt work to maintain body fluids, keeping muscles well hydrated.

We have known for centuries that salt can inhibit bacterial overgrowth and if you are feeling a little under the weather, salt shrinks swollen membranes; congested membranes that can often lead to infections and the common cold. More over, it improves respiratory and cardiovascular functions. Salt is vital for extracting excess acidity from inside the cells, particularly the brain cells, kidneys and liver through sweat and urine.

During the changes of the seasons, salt is a strong antihistamine and combats the particles which cause allergies in the first place. Even in small amounts the salt from the ocean can help to increase circulation and assist in the rejuvenation of the cells, because it naturally aids in healing.

In a Yin practice, as we move and stretch, our fascial and central nervous systems relax and with this the body begins to naturally detoxify our tissues through the process of our asana practice.

Breathing in the sea salt air is just another way to improve your health and your experience of yoga overall. Practicing near water connects us deeper to our own internal water components as water hydrates the body, mind and soul; not only as a physical necessity, but as a symbol of our duality, and in the same time of our unity with all the other elements in nature.  Take time to breath, smell the fresh salt air and connect with your environment.


Take It Easy

Taking it easy when you usually don’t is its own kind of challenge. I am practicing Ashtanga yoga these days. Two days of led primary series and four days of Mysore at 6:00 am. But I worked for nine hours on my feet yesterday and today I was tired… and stiff… and sore. So I took it easy. As easy as you can take it in the Ashtanga primary series.

I felt guilty? Not guilty, but I had to rationalize this decision to myself. I had to continually remind myself that it is my practice and I can (and should) practice in a way that feels good.

Figuring out how much effort is appropriate is a theme in my life. I know that there are some people who do not have this problem, but all so-called “type A” yogis recognize this in themselves. Working hard is a virtue, but working too hard is dangerous. Vancouver’s own master teacher Bernie Clark characterizes it the best when he talks about how you can optimize health and you can optimize performance, but you have to choose.

And you have to examine your goals very closely.

I have found that the Ashtanga practice taps in to my competitiveness and drive to progress. I want to be able to reach the full expression of every pose because I’m goal oriented. But that’s not why I do it. I do it because it opens my heart and allows me to be more compassionate and loving.

I am committed to optimizing health, not performance. But taking it easy can be hard work too, sometimes.

Chataranga Dandasana

My subject today is the dreaded chatarunga (dreaded by me, anyway).


We all have poses that teach us about our limitations. For many people these are poses like paschimottanasana or other hamstring zingers. But there is the other side– the upper body strength poses– like chataranga. I have been blessed with flexible, long hamstring muscles, which makes yoga much “easier” for me. So my challenges are different. I can find full hanumanasana on some days, but I cannot do a sun salutation!

Chataranga continues to elude me.

I do yoga because of how it makes me feel, because of how it allows me to be in the world– the freedom I get from my practice both in my life and in my body. But there is a part of me that would like to be able to do a vinyasa properly. So I get up every morning and do my yoga and muddle through my vinyasas. My difficulty with chatarunga teaches me to be humble and to continue to experiment in my own body.

Strength and ease in chatarunga is different for me than it is in other postures, but just as worthwhile to explore. Every vinyasa is an opportunity to laugh at myself and let go of any expectations that I have. I aspire to do the pose like this guy:



The subject this week is gratitude, again. Here I am living my life and then I got news that an old friend who has cystic fibrosis just got a double lung transplant after waiting for years. So there you go. I am so happy for him and so thankful that it makes me cry.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle”

I talk a lot about being grateful for each breath in my classes, but imagine getting new lungs after having to fight for each breath for years. Plus he asked his girlfriend to marry him before the surgery and she said yes.

It puts everything in perspective

So I’m standing tall here in my life, breathing one sweet full breath after another. Each breath is an opportunity to begin again. To start over and live the life I want. Make the choices that I want to make.

And be grateful that I can.

The more I understand this life– my opportunities, the incredible gifts that I have been given that I am oblivious to– the more grateful I become for every inch of it. Every moment. It is such a gift to be able to practice and teach yoga with a healthy body and an open heart because I am safe.

Every time that something holds me back from happiness I have the opportunity to let it go– shed everything that I don’t want and stand here, full of breath, grateful.

Grateful for Jamie’s new lungs and grateful for mine too.


My Doctor Told Me To!

Things are rapidly changing not only with yoga but in life itself, and views of yoga and meditation practices are slowly becoming a recommended form of “self maintenance” and an over the counter prescription. 


Yoga and meditation is not only being brought in to businesses at Lunch or after work, it is used to help cancer patients, children with autism, prenatal yoga and baby yoga, depression or anxiety and much more, the list goes on and on. After reading an article on, it appears that doctors are beginning to recommend yoga and/or meditation, as they continue to become more accepting or perceptive to the ideas of alternative medicine or organic alternatives, yoga naturally makes it’s way into the mix.

According to the article,

“the 2007 National Health Interview Survey found more than 6.3 million Americans used mind-and-body therapies due to provider referral. That compares with 34.8 million who were self-referred.”

One comment in the articles states that while most patients are referred as a last resort when other options have failed;

“It makes us wonder whether referring patients for these therapies earlier in the treatment process could lead to less use of the health care system, and possibly, better outcomes for these patients.”

Similarly, the Harvard Medical School released a publication titled “Yoga can blunt harmful effects of stress, from the Harvard mental Health Letter” in April 2009. According to the report;

“Yoga appears to blunt the harmful effects of heightened stress by influencing the body’s response to stress. This is reflected in slower heart and breathing rates and lower blood pressure, all of which are good for the body. There is also evidence that yoga helps increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s flexibility in responding to stress.”

While not all doctors may be on the Yoga/Meditation band wagon yet, it appears that they are beginning to take a closer look at the benefits and how yoga is not only a means of helping somebody with health problems but also in preventative maintenance.

Interestingly enough, when researching the Internet I did not come across any representations of yoga being harmful or damaging except for the occasional post of an individuals experience.

If you practice yoga, you most certainly have noticed these benefits in yourself from feeling less stress, less anxiety to eating healthier, all which of improve our overall health. So, if yoga has been around so long what has taken them so long to figure it out? Perhaps yoga and or meditation should be covered under our Medical Services Plan (MSP) or Extended Health Benefits just like Massage Therapy, perhaps that’s not too far down the road, here’s to hoping!

To read the full Harvard Medical School Report, visit;

To read the full My Healthy News Daily report, visit:

What do you think, should more doctors’ recommend yoga and meditation for their patients? Has your doctor or another medical professional recommended yoga to you?

Five Ways Yoga Can Save You Money

Erica Rodefer (from the Spoiled Yogi) recently wrote an article on the Yoga Journal describing five ways practicing yoga can actually save you moolah. If you’re new to yoga and broke, we wouldn’t recommend jumping into the discipline just to save cash, but Erica does bring up some great ways yoga saves your health, wealth, and the planet! Here is an excerpt from her list:

4. Shop less. Some people eat ice cream when they’re feeling down. Others just shut down. Then, there are those of us who buy new shoes to make us feel better about life. I’ve learned that the more yoga I do, the less “stuff” I need to feel happy and fulfilled. I don’t need a day at the spa or a psychotherapist to validate my worth.

5. Conservation. One of the tenants of yoga is ahimsa, which means nonharming. While there may be some controversy in the yoga community about what exactly it means to practice ahimsa (mostly around the issue of vegetarianism), one thing we can all agree on is that we do less harm when we use fewer resources. The more we conserve, the less money we spend.

To read reasons numbers 1 – 3 of her list, click here.

How does yoga help you save in your life?

[source: yogadestin]

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