Happy Hamstrings - tight, short or weak ?

After a decade of teaching yoga classes the most common complaint I hear over and over again is ….. my hamstrings are TIGHTTTTT !

I could feel my students’ frustrations as we stretched and stretched and stretched the back of the thighs. Did those tight students gain flexibility ? Maybe a little. But they STILL complained of tight hamstrings and limited range of motion in forward bended yoga positions. For many years I was baffled, and frankly just didn’t really know how to help them.

More recently, there has been much buzz in the yoga and movement industry on tightness vs weakness, pain science, and other body topics. What the research is showing is that “tightness” is a perception of the nervous system .. i .e. brain and spinal cord, and that is uniquely wired from person to person with variability depending on genetics, history, trauma, past surgeries, illnesses or injuries, etc. In the words of teacher Jenni Rawlings, “ strengthening doesn’t shorten tissues, and stretching doesn’t lengthen them. Once we account for the fact that the nervous system is what sets the resting length of our muscles, we can start to see that the body is much more complex than many of our simplistic models of stretching and strengthening really account for.”

Many of my back pain and spine fusion clients complain of tight hamstrings among other feelings of tightness globally in the body. This is a very subjective description and can mean different things to different people. Most of the time a tight or stiff muscle gets flexibility training, but nowhere in the literature is there a mechanical definition for tight.

In one study, “ stiffness was reduced after 5 immediately consecutive stretches but the effect was temporary and baseline range of motion returned within 60 minutes.” (Jules Mitchell)

The latest research is showing that the missing piece in managing “tightness” is actually … strength training. Strengthening, over time, tells the nervous system “ you are safe,” and safety begets comfort. As counterintuitive as it may seem, strengthening the hamstrings does not cause it to structurally change so that its resting length is shorter. Rather, it sends a message to the brain of active movement, productivity, and resilience to injury. The brain in turn says … yay! We can handle the demands of movement life. This movement is familiar. I can relax now.

In the words of Jules Mitchell, biomechanist, “ yes, stretch your hamstrings. But not because you think they will get longer and fix your posture. Stretch your hamstrings so you can move better. And while you’re at it, strengthen those hamstrings at all your degrees or extensibility.”

If you would like to explore a hamstring training course, a NEW RELEASE is in the FOREVER FUSED online library !

HAPPY HAMS ONLINE CLASS >>>>> https://foreverfused.teachable.com/p/happy-hams

Healthy Hips

Hips are one of the first areas in the body to show early signs of degenerative changes and bone loss. A ball and socket joint with a large range of motion, our hips can take a beating! People commonly come to yoga classes searching for hip "openers" and other stretches to find relief in this joint, but what is generally missing in traditional yoga classes in hip stability training. Stretching is good, but we also need stability, strength, and active motor control in functional range of motion. 

My newest video released in our online class library is Healthy Hips, a 30 minute blend of yoga, pilates, and functional strength adapted to meet the needs of the spinal fusion population. 

In this 30 minute home practice, Julie Wilkins leads participants through a hip focused movement series exploring strength, stability, range of motion, and functional mobility of the hip joint. No equipment is required.

All levels and spine fusion friendly.

Please make sure your doctor has cleared you for exercise and activity before beginning this or any other home based movement program.

As a reminder, all classes are filmed by Julie in her home practice space in order to provide a format that is affordable and feels user/home friendly.

To access the latest video for download or to stream visit >>>> Healthy Hips !


Back to Core

August is back to school month for us here in lower Alabama, so I decided to theme the month of August around #backtocore. You might have noticed each month I create an educational focus which connects to the online class of the month . I then post short videos as free content using instagram and Facebook. 

These online courses and movement education videos take into consideration the adaptive needs of long spinal fusions as well as small segment fusions and general back safe body mechanics. Please make sure your doctor has cleared you for activity before beginning any physical program. 

So jump into the #backtocore bus and enjoy short do-able fusion friendly movement training! I    answer all questions and comments on the social media platforms as well as the online course library. Let's move! 





Sleep, Rest, and Digest

You may have noticed my social media accounts (Instagram, Facebook) this month are full of the #calmcoolcollectedconnected hashtag. I've been teaching on the functioning of our central nervous system and how to begin to recognize when our CNS is operating at its optimal, most regulated place ... and also how to recognize when we are over-activated I  .e. STRESSED and under-activated I  .e. DEPRESSED. There are many many self care practices we can begin to put in place to help our nervous system function at its most optimal, calm, cool, connected space, some of which I have discussed in my social media platforms. 

Today I want to talk to you about the best nervous system regulator on the market and that is ... SLEEP!!! During sleep the sympathetic nervous system—the fight-or-flight system— relaxes, and blood pressure falls, muscles relax and skin vessels dilate, warming the body. The parasympathetic nervous system, which is the rest and digest is more active. 

For people who live more in that sympathetic state (ready to go, do, produce, achieve, exceed, rise to the occasion .. maybe you ? ) sleep can sometimes seem quite elusive. You can probably relate to occasional sleep difficulties during stressful periods of time, or maybe you're someone who never sleeps well. 

Good quality, steady, consistent night sleep is where all the good stuff happens. It's where the brain can adapt to the day's input. If we sleep too little, we become unable to process what we’ve learned during the day and we have more trouble remembering it in the future. Researchers also believe that sleep may promote the removal of waste products from brain cells—something that seems to occur less efficiently when the brain is awake.

Sleep is vital to the rest of the body too. When people don’t get enough sleep, their health risks rise. Symptoms of depression, seizures, high blood pressure and migraines worsen. Immunity is compromised, increasing the likelihood of illness and infection. 

For the rest of the month I will be giving some sleep hygiene tips through my social media outlets. Sleep isn't just about what happens at bedtime, but your day routines as well. A well wired healthy nervous system knows when to wake, and knows when to sleep. Sleep training isn't just for infants! 

To ease you into rest and digest ... my July online yoga class CONNECT AND RESTORE is available for purchase to stream or download. At only $15, this is an all levels back, spine, and fusion friendly restorative yoga class designed to calm, cool, connect, and collect the nervous system, and is perfect as a before bedtime class. 

July's Online Yoga Class Connect and Restore is HERE >>>> https://foreverfused.teachable.com/p/connect-and-restore



Let's Get Regulated!

Last month's blog post received so much positive and INTERESTED attention, that I decided to follow up with July being the month where we do a deep dive into our nervous system and put some solid practices in place. If you missed that post make sure to read HERE to catch up so you will understand the why to the what. 

So the month of June was challenging for me. I haven't spoken much to this health issue publicly, as most of my work focuses on my back care and scoliosis spine fusion journey, but for 10 years I've had recurring and severe vertigo that comes on without much warning, and leaves me basically bed bound for day. Eventually, the vertigo subsides, my brain recalibrates, and I slowly climb back out of the dark destabilizing pit that has been called vestibular migraine and benign positional vertigo. I'm no stranger to it, and have been managing this condition for a while now. What I do know, is that it is triggered by multiple factors, much like traditional migraines, and when the perfect storm is in place, my world literally spins around me and I  spend a few days feeling like I'm on a boat with 10 foot waves - except that I can't get off the boat! My nervous system goes into fight/flight/freeze, or sympathetic overdrive, and my anxiety goes through the roof. It's pretty dang awful. 

I noticed this time as my nervous system was re-setting, my physical body felt pretty rough as well. I've had full body achiness, a nagging low back pain, and a general sense of stiffness, or unease in my body. Because I've done so much study I could see that the dysregulation really triggered additional somatic symptoms. I could say that I wasn't really feeling at home in my body. My mood fluctuated between low and anxious, and I felt spacey and disconnected.

Time to reconnect, regulate, and come home again. Will you join me ? 

For the month of July, I'm going to be sharing my self-regulation strategies. Things I do, products I use, and practices I put in place to balance my nervous system. I would love to have community around this!

I'll be posting on instagram and facebook on the regular if you would like to keep up with strategies on either or both accounts. 

To kick us off, I  have an all levels beginner friendly Restorative Yoga class available HERE as July's online class. You can stream or download the class. Restorative yoga is a supportive, quiet, and calming practice to restore body/mind balance and calm a frazzled nervous system.

I look forward to soothing the heat of the summer with you, and reconnecting to the quiet space of comfort that resides within.  

To access that Restorative Yoga class click here > https://foreverfused.teachable.com/p/connect-and-restore

Are You Taking Care of Your Nervous System ?

Scroll in to the chart below and familiarize yourself with your nervous system. Why ? It’s easy to focus on tissues, muscles, bones, joints and I get it, I’ve got a pile of structural issues that could cause me great pain.

But I’ve become less interested in focusing on making structural changes in my body and more interested in regulating my nervous system. 

Why? A hyper- aroused system ( and you’d be surprised how much we live in fight or flight) FEELS tight, rigid, guarded, stiff, pain sensitive ... all the things that we actually need to run, fight, flee, escape that chasing tiger 🐅

We are in that pink zone a lot. When we drink too much coffee, when we hear those little dings and pings, when we have too much going on in a day, when we travel, when we’re around people are not healthy for us ( or our nervous systems) - and that may be someone you live with. 

If you’ve experienced trauma, particularly childhood trauma, your nervous system wired developmentally in that pink or blue zone. But the nervous system is plastic ... pliable. You CAN rewire pathways to live in the yellow. And your body will feel much better there. 

What happens in the regulated zone ? COMFORT. Calm, cool, collected, connected, and I’ll add comfortable. Its the zone of ease. 

How do we create and maintain the comfort zone? The first step is to really begin to FEEL your nervous system. Notice, observe, sense .. throughout the day.  

Everyone's different, but for ME , that pink zone feels like racing thoughts, shortness of breath, muscle tension, and even sometimes like productive HIGH energy. So it's not always a bad sensation, sometimes it's more of a  ... I'm ON today and I'm gettin' stuff done! Sometimes it keeps me from falling asleep at night, or wakes me up early in the morning. Sometimes it feels like I've had two cups of coffee when I haven't had any.  And sometimes it feels like an impending sense of doom or discomfort in my physical body. 

On the flip side, the blue state can feel like I'm dragging my body around with 10lb weights on my ankles. It's a deep bone fatigue. A tired when I've slept for 10 hours. Sometimes it even feels a bit numb which might also be considered a "freeze" state. My brain just doesn't want to fire or wake up, and my body is slow to move. 

I am always happy to discover myself in the regulated state, and I try to really sit in that state as long as I can. To deeply FEEL my nervous system there so I    can come back to it more frequently and with ease. For me, regulation feels like comfort. I  am at home in my body, mind, and spirit. All is well in the world and I am safe.  My physical body feels ready to move, go, and do, but I      don't have a sense of tightness or rigidity. Not too heavy or too light. I feel rested, alert, and present. It's the best state to learn, love, share, parent, work, and rest. Ahhhhh if we could all live in a state of regulation what would our world be like ?

And that's just it. If you're one of the lucky few who lives most of their lives in a state of nervous system regulation consider yourself well wired! For the rest of us, it becomes a practice.
If you have any history of trauma and particularly childhood trauma, your nervous system was likely wired in a state of sympathetic overload - or what we call fight or flight. You were wired to be hyper-vigilant because your world was not safe. The good news is the nervous system is "plastic" and adaptable, and with proper care healing can happen.

Just as you train your bones, joints, and muscles, we must train our nervous systems to move in and out of dysregulated states with ease. To down regulate and also up-regulate, as well as sustain that easeful comfort zone.  

If you are interested in hearing more on this topic, I did a great interview podcast with therapist Kelley Munger who specializes in this type of work. Her episode can be found HERE or episode 14 at Forever Fused on iTunes apple podcast player or stitcher. 

Injury Proof Your Back and Body

This month in my own practice as well as my teachings, I have been working on taking my movement therapies and translating them to real world functional activities.

After 10 years of working with people in back pain, time and time again they tell me "I hurt my back lifting my child," "I  threw out my back bending over and picking up a piece of paper," "I    sat wrong," ... etc etc.

People report injuring their backs in everyday, normal functional activities.

I've been breaking down common functional activities and using my movement practices to TRAIN my body towards better tolerance to daily activities. This has required adding load or resistance to my body, while using back safe posturing to build tolerance to things like : (click below)

1. Lifting objects  

2. Unloading laundry

3. Lifting items in front of the body

Join me on my From Forms to Function online class and learn 5 essential dynamic postures that translate to real world activities for improving body mechanics and preventing back pain/injury.

We will be continuing this training through the month of May, so join me online at instagram.com/forever_fused as I  post free daily content there!


Body Mechanics : From Forms to Function

The other day one of my private yoga therapy clients said to me, "I want to learn more about body mechanics" followed by "well maybe everything we've been doing IS body mechanics! " 

YES ... in its essence yoga teaches us about alignment and mechanics of movement, but first lets see what the actual definition of body mechanics really is.  Body Mechanics - exercises designed to improve posture, coordination, and stamina. 

Sometimes, we get lost in the flow of the practice, or the technicalities of the posture and we forget that the reason we are REALLY doing all of this is to improve our body mechanics for FUNCTION. Yes function.

Function meaning, the way we carry ourselves, the way we sit, how we bend over and pick things up, how we unload the dishwasher, how we vacuum the house, how we make up the beds, how we drive ...  and the list goes on. 

That's the hard part. Making your forms functional. 

So how do we practice in a way that carries over into our daily activities? We have to take these static yoga postures and morph them into dynamic postures that pulse, move, and engage. 

Well, you're in luck !!! 

Next up in the Forever Fused library ... Forms to Function practice class. 

In this class we will take 5 dynamic yoga postures and morph them into functional shapes that you can integrate in to your daily life for sitting, standing, walking, lifting, and more.  You will learn the body mechanics for the actual shape and form, and then we will practice those forms in real life activities. As you put this into practice, you will re-wire your nervous system to move your body with mindful body mechanics and healthy structural alignment. 

This is a class for everyone, beginners welcome. 

Click HERE>>>> for a video preview of my Forms to Function class. 

Master The Hip Hinge: Bend Forward Without Back Pain

Keep reading until the end for a short hip hinge practice video! 

There is recent discussion in the media about how tribal cultures have much less incidence of back pain AND they spend much of their time in forward bending work postures. However, their forward bend posture is not a bend at the waist, but rather a HIP HINGE. So what is all this talk of the HIP HINGE, and how can it improve our back and spine health, stretch our hamstrings, strengthen our hips and glutes, and create a foundation for functional movement ? 

Read on friends .... 


The hip hinge is a method of forward bending where the "bend" is coming from the hip joint instead of the spine. It requires us to "load" our hips, use the big muscles of the glutes and hamstrings, and maintain a neutral or straight spine. This is a super helpful technique to learn for anyone but especially useful with long or short spinal fusions.

When you hip hinge, you decrease pressure on the spine, especially the lumbar spine, sacrum, and SI joints.

These are common areas for pain, inflammation, and injury. For those with spinal fusions, learning different variations of the hip hinge is crucial to preserving unfused vertebrae health, while allowing us to still bend forward. AND if you are a long fusion to the sacrum, you are a natural hip hinger so congrats!!!

Forward bending is a functional movement required to get the hands to the ground (or hands to feet) and is needed in daily living skills such as housework, and lower body dressing.

Forward bends are also a large component of traditional yoga class sequences, and most are taught with forward flexion of the spine as well. When you learn to hip hinge, you can still practice forward bends but with a spine protective technique.

Hip hinge with knee bend in ADLs (activities of daily living) below! 


You also see the hip hinge used in weight lifting and fitness circles as a back protective posture that allows you to strengthen and stretch the hamstrings. 


As well as in some yoga postures like ardha uttanasana or half forward bend posture.


So lets learn how to hip hinge, practice in various styles and positions, with knees straight and bent, and see how this technique can provide healthy back and spine variations for forward bending.

Follow along with me on instagram.com/forever_fused as I  start the #hiphinger challenge, and lets learn this in community. 

Be a hip hinger, your back will thank you !


Yoga and Movement Classes for Spinal Fusion

It's launched !


Forever Fused courses and classes for back care and spinal fusion. 
Where else can you get information about accessible yoga and fitness programs with long spinal fusions? It's hard to find! 

Click HERE to access the Forever Fused Courses

My goal is to help support the instrumented spinal fused individual learn about their bodies, and live well after spinal fusion. 

As you know, being in this body is different. We don't move the same, and we should still have access to quality yoga and fitness classes. I found very few yoga teachers or fitness professionals who truly understand spinal fusion particularly long scoliosis fusions. I want YOU to be your own best advocate, and have a thorough understanding of your unique spine.

The call was to create a broader outreach and provide digital resources to best serve fused spines. I am a teacher at heart, and don't just want to guide you, or tell you what to do... I want to TEACH you. I want to empower you.

Years ago I began creating video libraries of adapted yoga and movement programs. 

I'm excited to expand my offerings in 2018 with the Forever Fused "school" launched on a teachable platform. 

So here is what is available NOW in the Forever Fused school:

1. A 5 module workshop style course in yoga modifications. I break down 15 of the most difficult to access yoga postures offered in typical flow style yoga classes, and provide various options to modifiy those poses for a safe and accessible practice. This workshop is best for active fused students who have begun attending public yoga classes.

2. An affordable single purchase practice classes, adapted yoga, for all level spine fusions. No backbends, twists, or deep forward bends. Appropriate for all level fusions. This class does move and build strength, while maintaining safe positioning for the fused spine. 

3. A JUST RELEASED 5 module core training workshop for the fused spine. Learn what the core actually is, how to access different core muscle groups, how to adapt traditional core exercises for a fused spine, and more! 

Coming Soon
1. Anatomy of the Fused Spine
2. Yoga For Fused Scoliosis
3. Practice Classes All Levels
4. Continuing Education for Yoga Teachers
5. Back Care and Body Mechanics
5. and more ... 

Also ... we podcast ! 
 I look forward to the ever-evolving Forever Fused journey!

Taking Care With New Routines for 2017

As we close out 2016 and enter a new year, I wanted to share how my movement, yoga, and self care routines have evolved and what is working very well for me at this time. People ask me all the time, how do I exercise with a 13 level spinal fusion? Yoga ? How ???? Well, it's not easy and can require a high level of mindfulness and self care ... 

30 years later, I am still trying to take care of this and forever will be! 

30 years later, I am still trying to take care of this and forever will be! 

At 41, my body requires a new level of movement and mindfulness. After about a year of experimentation, I have developed a routine that works well for me now. This will probably evolve again in another year or more, but this program is therapeutic, efficient, and is multi-modality. I don't feel bored with it and it moves quickly!

First, I do not attend any public group classes (yoga, barre, etc etc) anymore. I've just found that my body has become too particular and sensitive, and requires too many modifications for group classes. So I'm saving my money, and doing everything in my home. I spend about 30 minutes to an hour with this in the morning, and I like to get up about an hour before the family so it works for my schedule.

1. I begin on my yoga mat centering, breathing, and welcoming myself into the day. It is usually still dark so I might light a candle or two and sprinkle some essential oils around. I'm not much for listening to music anymore, so many times I will play a podcast of something inspiring or of interest as I begin to move. I am into The Liturgists, On Being, Bliss and Grit, and The Deconstructionist Podcast right now. 

2. I move organically for about 15-20 minutes. These days this looks like my variation on the Bowspring Method. I like using the Bowspring because it really fires up my lower body,  glutes, and hip stabilizers which are key to low back health. My heart rate is usually up and my legs and glutes are working hard, yet it is still a mindfulness practice. I have to really be in my body to do this right! Don't let the curves of the bowspring throw you, it's a directionality more than an appearance. Bowspring takes some work! Here is an example of my work with the Bowspring and how I'm adapting it to fit my fusion ( I am fused T3-L3 ). 

3. I then pick up my 3 lb weights and move through a series of upper body resistance training. Triceps, biceps, and shoulders. I have to be careful not to overdue this as my upper back and neck flare up VERY easily. No overhead lifting. 3 -4 sets of 10 with little breaks, and good form is the key. This maybe takes another 10 -15 minutes. I'll throw in a minute - 2 minute plank and side plank (left side only for my scoliosis) for good measure!

4. If I still have time, or if my body feels like it, I will do some resistance flexibility exercises. 

5. Finally, a brief rest using the posture pump for my cervical spine. I LOVE this thing! Don't pump past 2 pumps when you first use it and I would not recommend this with a cervical fusion. Make sure you are physician clear for cervical traction. I've made the mistake of pumping too much and it leaves me a bit sore. Moderation these days is the key. 

Give it a try ! Let me know how you are doing and what you are doing these days to take care of your body, mind, and spirit. 

Back Care Tool Kit

I chuckled to myself yesterday as I looked around my home and realized I could run a therapy clinic out of this place. Heating pads, cold pads, kinesiotape, massage mats, therapy balls .. the list goes on.

As a former occupational therapist I’m no stranger to modalities. Now as a yoga therapist, I enjoy teaching others how to create their own back care tool kit to keep their bodies pain free, agile, and strong.

As of late, I am the creator and administrator of a Facebook group, Forever Fused, that I started for people, like myself, who have had spine fusions for scoliosis surgery. We get together in a virtual hub and chat about all things rods, hardware, stiff spines, and the like.  It is amazing to have a resource like this and we have learned so much from each other there. 

The body-mind connection is powerful and strong. I hold on to the belief that the body is always searching for its best health, or homeostasis, and we just have to listen and support the process. The body is not designed to hold on to pain in a chronic state. If it flares up, it will calm down.  So when “things” get exacerbated in my body, I drag myself to my meditation mat and LISTEN. I usually learn that my Type A, overachieving nature is getting the best of me again. I find I’m overworking, overexercising, or just trying to DO more than I need to.  I’ve learned this 40 year old body requires a high level of self care to run at its best.  I got away with a lot in my 20s and early 30s but at some point things change. For everyone. Usually the message comes loud and clear. We just have to LISTEN.


A flare up forces me to rest more and quiet my body. I used to get very frustrated as I like to use and move my body every day, but now I welcome these times as a respite. A time to heal and be more gentle with my activities. I welcome Restorative yoga, meditation, and pranayama (breathing) practices. I walk. I alternate activity and rest, activity and rest. AND I pull out my back care toolkit. My tools in my toolbox are a necessity!  Sometimes I don’t need any of them for months as my body stays flare free. But when the back or neck gets angry I’ve got my resources.

AND here they are (drumroll ) ….

* DISCLAIMER* – This is not medical advice! Always consult your doctor to design your own unique individual plan of care. This is MY plan based on years of education and working with my own body almost 30 years post extensive spine fusion for scoliosis. 

1. All activities of daily living are modified and superb body mechanics are in place. Lighten the loads, pace yourself, think energy conservation and work simplification. No lifting (spine fusion patients should not lift over 15 lbs ever), no bending forward at the waist. If you don’t know basic back care body mechanics visit youtube.com and you will find great tutorials there. “Body mechanics for back care” should be the search you use. Also, little spurts of activities at a time. For example … cleaning the house. Take it in small little segments. Www.flylady.com helped me with this tremendously. A little something everyday so the work doesn’t pile up and stays manageable. Small daily loads of laundry instead of huge piles. Daily routines is the key.

LISTEN at the FIRST SIGN that something in your body needs RICE.  Rest, ice, compression, elevation.

I can’t say this enough. The body will usually give you a “twinge” before a full blown flare. Treat aggressively and on first sign, don’t wait or blow off that little twinge or twitch. Don’t push through it. This is very important ! ALSO, when it calms down you must go another week with your rest plan. We always think OK “it” has calmed down, so tomorrow I will go full speed back at the gym. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Once pain free, go another week pain free. Then ease back in slowly, very slowly. Trust me on this one.

2. I pull out my go-to resources a Physical Therapist once gave me. These are two books I hold tightly; Treat Your Own Back and Treat Your Own Neck by Robin McKenzie. I work the protocols.  (*note if you have a low lumbar fusion (fused to the sacrum) or a total cervical fusion these programs will not apply).*

3.  For a low back flare I have a few things I do including the Treat Your Own Back protocol.

A.  Brace it ! Compression helps A LOT. I have a few lumbar braces (drug store variations) but I really like my old fashioned Miraclesuit girdle. It is tight and has eye hooks up the front, but fits well under clothing. The compression dulls other sensations, stabilizes my lumbar spine area just enough, and reminds me not to move too much in order to let any inflammation cool off.  If I need more compression I will wrap an ACE wrap around my lumbar spine and cover it with a compression girdle.

B.  Thermacare – these things stay warm all day. Don’t buy the generic it has to be the brand name. Wear one under your compression garment. There is also a patch called Icy Hot. Ice or heat ? It’s a little confusing which to use but THIS should help you sort that out a bit.

C.  Supported bridge pose. This is my go-to when my low back gets cranky. I put a yoga block at the level of the sacrolumbar junction and rest here for 5-7 minutes throughout the day whenever I can. It provides a tiny light traction and a gentle massage if you GENTLY rock your knees side to side.

With Spinal Fusion bring the block down to the lowest level and release the strap   

With Spinal Fusion bring the block down to the lowest level and release the strap


My opinion is low back pain should clear in a few days although I’ve had a few more major episodes that lasted 6 weeks. It DID go away. The major episodes occurred after lifting something (or some little person). I don’t practice vigorous vinyasa yoga with lots of up and down, side to side movements of the spine anymore. I don’t do boot camp style exercises.  My exercise choices have to be designed with little excessive spine movements and low impact/compression. The more neutral I can keep my spine while exercising or in classes the better. Classes need to move slow enough so I can use stellar body mechanics. I don’t run or bounce. Keep the spine neutral ( a few forward and back movements are fine and healthy but too much is too wearing) and keep the core engaged.  NEUTRAL SPINE! Not sure about neutral spine postures ? Check this out.

Some of the barre methods are great for us, but you may need to modify the abdominal section.

Also if you must sit for long periods of time, use a lumbar roll behind the low back (The Treat Your Own Back book has resources for those) and stand up once every 30 minutes to lengthen and neutralize the spine. Or sit on a wedge where your hips are higher than your knees. Better yet adapt your workspace to stand while at the computer at least some of the time if possible.  I hate to break this to you – but SITTING IS THE ENEMY.  

4. For a neck/upper back flare this is what I do: * some of these can also be applied to other areas of the back *

First off I have to figure out what flares my neck and upper back and I’ve discovered it is this:

1) long periods of working at a computer at a table (or doing anything leaning over a table). I do all my extended computer work (example composing this blog) from a recliner or the bed completely propped on pillows. I don’t hold my neck up at all, I’m resting back. I realize this is hard to do in an office situation but when modifications have to be made, they have to be made.  You will need to figure out some accommodations.

2) repetitive upper body exercises such as repeatedly lifting the arms overhead over and over again, or with weights in hand. No, No, No. Just refuse. There are plenty of other ways to develop arm strength than repetitive overhead lifting. Upper body weight bearing positions are excellent for developing stabilizing strength. 

A. I use Biofreeze or its drug store variations. Biofreeze is a cooling gel that seems particularly good for neck pain. Keep applying that stuff throughout the day! 

B. Compression ! I love compression. Just give me a little light pressure down on those upper traps and voila. So I have this, the Shoulders Back Posture Support that I will wear when needed.

C. Therapy balls. Thank you, thank you, thank you Jill Miller for introducing me to Yoga Tune Ups.  I will do the tune up rolls to the upper back, neck, and shoulders throughout the day when I need to calm tight overused muscles. It’s like having a deep massage.  Which speaking of massage, get thee to a massage therapist on a regular basis!

D. I had great success after a really long muscular tension type flare up getting trigger point injections. I saw a local Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation doctor (Physiatrist) and he injected my traps and rhomboids with a lidocaine substance plus added "needling." Some physical therapists are doing needling and it is very effective.

D.  Kinesiotape !  OMG I LOVE this stuff. I was introduced to Kinesiotape in my Occupational Therapy days when we used to tape certain muscle groups as a soft splint, or to decrease muscle tone,  provide support and enhance circulation. Some chiropractors and Physical Therapists will do this but I ordered my own Kinesiotape, watched a few YouTube instructionals, and trained my husband to tape me (yep). This stuff stays on from 5-7 days and is like magic for my neck (have used on lower back as well).  Sometimes I have to continuously tape for a few weeks but it works for me.  Combine the tape and the upper back brace for long periods of sitting or computer work.

E.  Topical pain prescriptions. Must be prescribed by an MD. For me the verdict is still out on the efficacy of these but some people have great results. It’s a compounded cream of a few different ingredients including a muscle relaxer, anti-inflammatory, and a few other ingredients. Much better than anything you might take by mouth. You rub it on the affected area four times a day. Worth a try!

F. You can’t go wrong in getting a physician assessment if you are dealing with a pain flare that is not settling down in a week to 10 days. It can be helpful to have the area x-rayed or even for more depth of information MRI.  * YOU CAN HAVE AN MRI WITH SPINAL HARDWARE * An MRI will show what is going on in the disc space. It can be helpful to know if you are dealing with a herniated spinal disc, degeneration, stenosis etc.  X-Rays give you limited info. Push for the MRI. Many times the MD will refer you to Physical Therapy for a 6-8 week course of treatment. Ask to see a PT who is a spine specialist and give it a good try.

G. The fascia blaster.  Enough said. 

I hope this helps you to create your own back care toolkit. It takes a lot of work and an investment as well, but it is definitely worth it to have a plan of action when things go awry. Keep moving, keep breathing, and practice superb self care.  Your back will thank you !


Julie Wilkins


Building The Team

Building the Team

Whenever I work with people in pain, managing chronic issues, or just in a health crisis I always advise " build your support system with really good healers, bodyworkers, and doctors." Support is the key to healing, but the quality and care of the team is super important.

I've spent years exploring my local network of health care providers to build my own "team" as well as to have referrals for people I work with.  Here is what I've discovered along the way :

1. Start with a really good primary care physician. I love mine. She listens, she takes time, and most importantly she views me as a partner in my health care decisions. It may take a while to find the right person, but you want a doctor you can truly connect to. Sometimes I need her frequently, and sometimes I won't see her for a year, but I've stuck with her and she knows me. She remembers my history when she walks in the room, and she has seen me through my post partum bleak days through now as I enter my 40s.  

2. Find a good bodyworker. Someone suggested to me once "have a skilled bodyworker put their hands on your regularly ." If anything the positive energy exchange is good for the body and soul. The key here again is connection.  This could be a massage therapist, reiki worker, rolfer, or other body work professional.

3. Chiropractic - OK so I've had really bad chiro experiences and now seem to have found a really good one I can work with. Chiropractors definitely run the spectrum in terms of focus and skill set. In my opinion, the more tools they are using outside of just the "crack and adjust" , the better. Find one that offers soft tissue therapy such as ART, Graston Technique, Kinesiotaping, needling,  and so on. 

4. Physical Therapy - I have to admit after years of working with PTs some are really, really good and some ... well, not so much. You have to watch the PT clinics nowadays as they can become a little like a machine; moving you through the stations and having many different therapists, assistants, and techs working on you.  Do your research, call the office, and ask to speak to the lead PT/manager. Ask the questions ! I have a really great PT locally I can recommend if you live on the Eastern Shore, AL email me.

5. Acupuncture - I had a fabulous acupuncturist who retired and moved, but I believe acupuncture has a great place when combined with western medicine.  Some cities will have more resources in this department, while we here in the south are still lagging a bit. 

6.  Physiatrist - I have recently been working with a Physiatrist, or Physical Medicine and Rehab MD due to some chronic neck issues and a nagging hip/groin injury. *sigh* .  I have not had much experience with physiatrists but see now how they approach the body from a different viewpoint.

 "Physiatrists, or rehabilitation physicians, are nerve, muscle, and bone experts who treat injuries or illnesses that affect how you move."  For those with spine fusions from scoliosis, these doctors may be better at longer term management of nagging issues than your orthopedist might be.  I also noticed they tend to lean on the side of injections and procedures,  while going "straight to the injury" rather than using system drugs. It's worth checking into ! 

Now for the cost $$$$$.  Chiropractic care, PT, and of course your MD visits are covered under *most* health insurance policies. The other services are out of pocket. 

Now that I have my team in place, I kind of rotate around depending on what is going on to keep the wheels on :) . I go through phases where the services are not needed, and phases where I need more care, BUT the biggest thing is knowing I have a team in place. 

Cheers to the TEAM.  Now go build one. 



Radiant Heart

Work Wise with Bowspring

I'm home and processing a wonderful weekend of participation in the Bowspring Method workshop hosted by Springs Yoga in Atlanta, GA.  

Coming from a rehabilitation background as an Occupational Therapist, I saw some very valuable alignment principles in the method. Think smart functional training patterns, wise attendance to back body strength and power, and a lightness and lift in the body structure. The physical postures are unique, demanding, and in the beginning intense, but the mind/body message is clear and strong.

This is movement medicine.  

The Bowspring practice informs our daily living skills.  You retrain the postural template to "work wise."  Our teacher Desi Springer, talked about the difference in work hard vs work wise.  Work hard has a posture. Think about it, when we are over-efforting the jaw clenches, the shoulders tighten back, the sympathetic nervous system revs up. We want to learn to work wise and develop "sensitivity before strength." Which is why in this method, the teaching is to put our hands down fingernails first then flat hands.  Sensitivity then strength. Weight bear on paws of the feet (toe pads and mounds) and keep the foot soft on top, expand the ribcage circumferentially.  The practice forces us to slow down and feel first.

Other postural principles we learned throughout the weekend was to let the shoulders float on the ribcage. Easier said than done for someone whose upper traps are so tight her ears rest on her shoulders !  As we worked through this it got easier, you just have to get lighter and fuller from the inside out. The posture is empowering. No more closing, rounding, flexing, and folding. Think up, broad, and bright, "a posture of worthiness."  The way we hold ourselves becomes a message, a message to ourselves and a message to the world. 

“This is where the inner body meets the outer body"

— Desi Springer

On day two, Desi described the three parts of the postures which are HEART, HIPS, and HEAD. We start with the heart which represents accountability.  Be full, broad, and light. Float more. Expand more up and out. Be accountable. The hips broaden back and wide (sit bones apart, hips back from rib cage) so the belly can be long and strong. The belly is shaped like a bow. This is compassion. We see our human-ness without shame. Then the HEAD becomes broad, the throat is open and the gaze is on the horizon. Don't tighten the mind ! 

“The inner shape stays the same regardless of the external shape"

— Desi Springer

The Bowspring practice is "power posturing." Trust me, by the end of a full weekend training you will feel EMPOWERED. 

We talked about some of the more therapeutic aspects of the method including working with knee pain and low back pain. The Level 1 syllabus is mostly if not all composed of bent knee postures. With the knees bent, the postures can dynamically pulse so the knees are pumping quite a bit.  If there is any knee stress, the instruction was to open the pelvic floor more ( butt back and wide) and work the feet with higher integrity. I might also add that possibly engaging the back body more especially hamstrings and glutes might lighten the load a bit on the knee joint.  Same goes for low back. If there is any low back pain in the postures, the instruction was more leg action more gluteal action!  When the muscles are asleep the sensation will dump in the low back.  I am prone to low back pain below my fusion level and I will testify that if I kept my legs and glutes firing I felt no discomfort.

“The back body muscles are the muscles of choice and power"

— Desi Springer

Bowspring engagement is exactly that ... ENGAGED.  If you want to come hang out, stack your bones, and dump yourself in a pose than this is not for you.  It is mindful and it is work. It is also incredibly soothing for the nervous system which is counterintuitive when you look at the Bowspring system from the outside.  But Desi compared it to a how you calm a baby .. you swaddle and bounce.  We swaddled ourselves in our own muscular strength and intentional energy, and then we bounced with the pulse of the dynamic postures.  Nervous energy be gone! 

Being that we ended our training on Mother's Day, the practice can be compared to the "tough love mother."  Like the mother, the Bowspring Method pushes its students up and out in the world with compassion, courage, and a graceful power that comes from the heart. 

I am looking forward to continuing my studies in this system and am incredibly grateful to meet and study under these wise teachers. Let the journey continue ! 

Sacred Space Embodied

Sacred Space Embodied

It has been a long and incredible journey of healing to find comfort, space, and easeful movement in a body that has had 13 spinal vertebrae fused for correction of severe scoliosis. For years following my spine surgery, I definitely did not feel spacious. My body felt far from sacred. In many ways I felt invaded, ripped apart, rewired, and tightened back into place from an extensive spine surgery.

I discovered yoga 15 years after my spinal surgery for scoliosis. In those initial few years of exploring my practice, my body did not feel sacred OR spacious. I felt tight, fearful, angry, restricted, and doubtful. I sought out teachers, workshops, books, and anything else I could get my hands on to learn HOW to move with a spine that was 90% fused and immobilized in order to prevent further aggressive curvatures.

Over time the fear dissipated. Slowly. I began to trust myself, my surgeon, my body, and the choices that were made to manage this condition. Through diligent yoga practice and intentional healing, Sacred Space now resides in MY body.