Optimal health in any area of your body requires three things to flow: Blood, electricity and lymph. Blood delivers oxygen to the cells, electricity innervates them, and the lymph system drains waste material from them. The lymphatic system is our second circulatory system but unlike the cardiovascular system, where the heart pumps the blood throughout the body, the lymph system relies on us moving our bodies for it to function.
We usually do a pretty good job of moving our big muscles but there are tons of small muscles that often get neglected. This post is about moving some of those neglected muscles surrounding the breasts so that you can work towards optimal breast health. Here are 4 things you can do that will immediately deliver more blood and electricity to your cells while getting great lymph circulation.
One: Walk with reciprocal arm swing.
Reciprocal arm swing ‘pumps’ accumulated lymph away from the breast tissue. Reciprocal arm swing is a natural way of walking (your arms move opposite to your legs, i.e. right leg forward, left arm back). What is different here is the emphasis on the back swing (cross country ski). Let your arms return naturally to your side as opposed to bringing them up in front of you ‘power walking’ style. You can also do an arm swing while standing still if you can’t get out for a walk.
The back swing reciprocal arm movement also stabilizes your spine as you walk. If you have lower back pain or hip pain, this will be your best friend.
And, ideally you need your arms to be free when you walk – shoulder bags hanging off your shoulder impede your arm movement. I use a backpack or messenger bag.
Two: Ditch Your Bra.
You will have healthier breast tissue if you allow your breasts to support themselves. Okay, maybe you can’t ditch your bra completely. If you have larger breasts you need support especially for things like running, but even larger chested women can go natural sometimes by taking the bra off earlier and putting it on later.
Stop wearing a bra for sleeping (if you do). And especially, don’t wear an underwire bra. Those underwire bras press on the lymph nodes (in your arm pits, sternum and ribs) and restrict the lymph flow. They also restrict movement in your ribs.
Three: Improve your Shoulder Mobility.
The lymph nodes in your breasts need regular and well-aligned use of the muscles in your neck, armpits, shoulder, arms and hands for waste removal. So if your neck, shoulders, arms and hands are tight, chances are your lymphatic drainage is slow.
There are a lot of ways to increase shoulder mobility. One that I like is the posterior block hold. Hold a yoga block behind you by pressing your palms into the surface. Try to hold the block without gripping or using your fingers. You will want your elbows to roll behind you (as opposed to pointing out to the sides) and your shoulder blades to squeeze together. Work your way up to holding the stretch for sixty seconds, and repeat each 2-3 times per day. Try it: it is simple but not easy.
Loading the muscles in your arms and shoulders through hanging is my favourite upper body exercise. You don’t need special equipment or an occasion to do it.
If you are new to loading your arm and shoulder tissues in this way, start out gently and let your muscles do the work – not your ligaments – and keep your feet on the ground.
A great way to begin is to use your door frame. This is a horizontal hang (raising your arm out to the side). Stand to the side of the door frame, hook your fingers over the frame and lean away from the door frame. Vary the load by moving your feet closer or further away from the door way, or moving your arm up higher.
Once you start hanging with your feet on the ground you will start noticing opportunities and places to do it. For example, you can (if you are tall enough) reach up and grab the top of your door frame while keeping your feet on the ground, and get some hanging in every time you pass through a doorway.
When you are ready to hang with your feet off the ground you can use the equipment at the playground or get a pull up bar. I have a pull up bar that attaches in a doorway. If you are hanging from monkey bars (or pull up bars) start with both feet on the ground and bend your knees so that your arms and shoulders begin to take your weight. Check in with your shoulder blades…are your shoulders hiked? If they are, back off and see if you can let them come down a little. You can change you grip, widen the distance between your arms or lessen it. Play with it and have a little fun.There is actually quite a lot to be said about hanging so I am going to pass you over to Katy Says for some additional pointers.
Note: You can’t walk until you can stand and you can’t swing until you can hang. Yes, I learned that the hard way, ouch!
The season of Autumn is connected with the element of Metal in Chinese medicine and is related to gratitude and letting go of things you no longer need: of ideas that are limiting, of regrets, old hurts, grief and a sense of loss. If you desire to experience more reverence and gratitude and a sense of celebration in your life, or experience more playfulness and joy, work with Metal Element energy. The most effective way to do this is to work with your breath.
The central organ associated with the Metal Element is the Lungs which control the flow of chi. The word inspiration is connected with the Latin word ‘spiritus’ which means roughly the same thing as chi – essential life giving energy. Although breathing is an autonomous function, most of us breathe quite shallowly, using only the top third of the lungs. Taking full deep breaths, filling all the lungs, and fully exhaling is extremely beneficial. It is also a meditation practice, because doing breath work connects us with the moment; it is almost impossible to do while the mind is roaming.
Lungs take in and let go. We think of the Metal Element as a solid, un-moving structure, but metal is flexible; it can take almost any shape when it is in a molten shape and is also flexible to some extent in its solid form.
Like the element of metal, the thoracic cavity is also flexible – a container that can change shape to become larger or smaller in volume. The bottom of the container is your diaphragm, the ribs and spine form the sides, and in between the ribs are the intercostal muscles.
Instead of letting go and breathing freely, most of us have patterns of constriction or holding on: in your shoulders, diaphragm, stomach and even your pelvic floor. Do your shoulders rise with your breath? Does your belly harden, or pouch out? Do you breathe shallowly and hold your breath?
The shoulder girdle muscles and the stomach muscles are very important in breath mechanics because they determine the mobility of your ribs and rib cage and how much your lungs can expand to take in. If you only work on breathing exercises (through meditation or yoga) you may find there is some agitation and discomfort in your upper body, causing you to hold on even more, rather than relaxing and letting go.
The first step to releasing your breath is to stop sucking in your stomach. If you aren’t sure whether you have stomach tension, try this simple exercise:
Belly Release Exercise
Come to your hands and knees on the floor (as if you were doing to do cow pose) and let your belly hang. Do not force your belly or your front ribs out. You are looking for a neutral spine and a neutral abdomen. Most people will not feel anything happen at first but if you can stay in this position you may feel a sudden release in your abdomen. Congratulations: you’ve just let go a lot of tension you didn’t know you were carrying.
To work on your shoulders and ribs try one of the Alignment Snacks by Katy Bowman:
A Real Pain in the Neck: A 30 minute class of neck and shoulder stretching that shows how tight shoulders make for tight neck and jaws.
Can’t Get Enough Shoulder: A little over 30 minutes, this class helps you see here you hold tension from your hands to the neck. (Hint: they are connected). You’ll also see there you have lost ranges of movement in your shoulder girdle.
Gotta Get Down to (Arm) Swingtown: This approximately 30 minute class focuses on muscle tone of upper arms (bingo arms anyone? Nooo!). This class is also important for breast and spine health.
When I was a teenager I had a pair of sandy-suede Desert boots, a.k.a. Chukkas. I regretted for a long time not having those boots any longer, but now I have a new pair: *The Hawthorne Chukka by Soft Star Shoes.
I consulted Wikipedia on the difference between a Desert boot and a Chukka. Both the Desert and the Chukka are an unlined, ankle high boot, with open lacing and 2-3 eyelets. The upper is made in two parts. The main difference is that Desert boots are always suede uppers with a crepe sole. A Chukka can be a suede or leather upper, with either a leather or rubber sole. There is a vague connection with the game of polo. (If you, like me, are interested in the history of names, you may enjoy this site.
So, now we are all clear on what a Chukka boot is, yes? Let me tell you about this particular Chukka.
There is so much to love about this boot. First they are, of course, by Soft Star Shoes, which if you didn’t know, means handcrafted – by actual elves who dwell in Oregon – or so they claim. Soft Star Shoes makes minimalist footwear and you can read more about what makes a minimalist shoe, in my words, here.
The Hawthorne Chukka (like all Soft Star Shoes) are zero rise (no heel at all) and are totally flexible, like so:
The sole is made up of two layers: the first is a 4mm leather midsole, which is the tan layer you see. The outer sole is by Vibrams: an 8mm Geo sole, for a total of 12mm, which makes them the most ‘padded’ minimal shoes I own.
For fall-into-winter footwear this is a good thing: It is extra insulation from the cold and damp.
(I must confess that I have worn Soft Star Merry Janes for 3 winters with wool socks, but even then, my feet got cold – and sometimes wet. I looked for a minimal boot that would cover the top of my foot completely last winter but my local search was unsuccessful: I was really happy to hear Soft Star Shoes was making one!).
The back of the boot has some nice detailing with contrast stitching on the heel strip and a loop for pulling them on.
They are very comfortable and I didn’t need any break in time, I suspect because the leather is so deliciously soft.
They attach to the foot snugly with no pressure spots. The laces seemed overly long but they have become more supple as I have worn them a few times and I have decided they are fine.
I was told (by one of the elves) that they run small and weren’t available in my usual Women’s 6 so I decided to try the 7. They are a great fit width-wise, and only a tiny bit too long; my foot slips ever so slightly into the toe box with each step (I suspect this is not going to be an issue as the weather gets colder and I transition into thick socks).
I was slightly disappointed to see that they do not have a suede foot bed like my other Soft Star Shoes, but smooth leather. The leather is admittedly lovely, but I suspect it contributes to the foot slip. This is an easy fix by wearing a thicker sock or an innersole. Soft Star Shoes make a nice sheepskin pair and since I already had them on hand I tried them out; for putting the boots on my bare feet sans socks, I prefer it – but it may be a matter of taste.
I wore the boots all day – only an hour of steady walking – but I felt like I could walk in them all day. They also provided great traction: see the Vibram’s sole?
The charm of Chukkas is that they look good with jeans and casual pants, and if you follow fashion at all, you’ll be aware that women are wearing short boots with skirts. So naturally, I tried them out with a few choices.
I am pretty conservative about shoes: most of the ones I own are neutrals but I loved them in this red that Soft Star is calling Currant. It is such a happy colour.
They also come in Oxyx and Chicory which I also like, though in my opinion the Chicory is not that far from the red. I also love the over stitching around the upper. In a minimalist boot (on my foot at least) I find it gives the sole more structure.
- Zero rise and minimalist (full flex of feet).
- Good traction with a Vibrams sole.
- Plenty of room in the toe box.
- 12 mm between your foot and the ground – for warmth, dryness and cushioning on hard ground.
- Wear-out-of-the-box comfortable.
- Very light weight (9 oz.) and great for packing because you can fold them.
- Smart enough to take you from the trail to … anywhere … just about.
- An investment piece. Who knew Chukkas were ‘old school cool’?
- Small make – you may have to size up.
- Slippery foot bed.
- Price point: $190USD.
Since I own 5 pairs of Soft Star shoes, I am obviously a fan, but seriously I tried to come up with more negatives for a balanced review. But – unless you don’t like flats – I can’t think of more to add except a discussion of the price point: Only the Soft Star boots are priced higher.
But taking into consideration the value, I think this is a fair price. For one thing, they can be re-soled. I am anticipating several years of service from these boots at least, and to back this up, my first Soft Star purchase – Merry Janes, will be seeing their 4th winter this year and are still in mint condition. I wear them through all seasons – except in heavy rain and snow – and I am anticipating the Hawthorne Chukkas will be the same. Even if you get three years from them, it works out to $65 a year. I have bought quite a few shoes at that price that barely saw me through a season.
I am also looking forward to seeing new colours in this boot. I would really enjoy having the look of my old sand Desert boots but a high quality, which to me means a minimalist design.
*This addition to my footwear collection was a generous and most welcome gift from Soft Star Shoes.
Also called Barefoot Shoes, minimalist shoes are a special category of minimalism because they have a different meaning than what we usually mean by minimalism.
With minimalism the goal is to have fewer material things. Minimalist footwear could mean owning fewer pairs of shoes, or owning shoes that were as small as possible.
But in this case, minimalist shoes means minimal interference with the natural function of the feet. It refers to footwear that allows as much free movement of your natural, unshod foot as possible, while offering protection from injury (stepping on sharp things and having something heavy dropped on your foot) as well as protection from extreme heat and cold.
Minimal footwear allows your feet to behave as feet while still offering a buffer between the unnatural detritus found in the modern world that can cause injury.
Katy Bowman, Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear.
There are 4 main components of minimalist shoes: the sole, the heel, the toe box and the upper.
1. The Sole
Regular shoes are generally rigid and, sometimes, thick. Minimalist shoes have flexible soles and are usually thin enough to feel the contours of the ground through them and allows the foot to respond to the terrain. Ideally the soles are flexible so you can fold it.
2. The Heel
The next important thing about minimalist shoes is that the heel is non-existent. Just calling them ‘flats’ is misleading because many ‘flats’ have a very small rise. Minimalist shoes have a zero drop or a neutral heel. This is important because it allows your body to initiate movements from neutral, or an aligned position. A heel, even a small one, pitches the body weight forward and small adjustments are made in the joints to counteract it. These compensations have a physiological cost.
3. The Toe Box
Minimalist Shoes also have a larger toe box than traditional shoes, because toes are meant to move in all directions while moving, but most traditional shoes shape the toes into some fashionable shape that is considered attractive.
4. The Upper
The upper part of the shoe is why flip flops and slip-ons do not make good minimalist shoes. The upper must secure the shoe to the foot without requiring the wearer to grip their toes or tense the shin to keep the shoe on while walking.
3 More Reasons to Wear Minimalists Shoes.
- To regain foot mobility. The greater the mobility in your feet, the less likely you are to have knee, hip, lower back, pelvic floor, and psoas pain/problems.
- To regain lost calf and hamstring length. Your muscles adapt to whatever position you put them in most often. Wearing a positive heeled shoe (and also prolonged sitting) shortens the sarcomeres in the hamstrings and calves. There are a number of reasons why a person might want to reverse this, such as performing better on the ‘sit and rise test’ (how easily can you get to the floor or even touch your toes?), you want to squat, you have urinary incontinence or pelvic floor pain.
- To get a better booty. When you don’t use the back of your legs much there usually a corresponding lack of development in the gluteal muscles, and you end up with a flat butt.
Transitioning to Minimalist
If you’ve worn rigid soled shoes with a narrow toe box and a heel (even a small one) all your life, make your transition slowly.
1. Begin by lowering the height of your heel a bit and get used to that.
2. Don’t trade in your shoes for flip flops (or any other shoe that requires toe grip to keep them on your feet, because you are just trading in one problem for another.
3. Be aware that your walking gait pattern will probably change so be mindful of doing hard hiking, pounding on city pavement or running while wearing minimal shoes until you build up more mobility (and strength) in your feet.
Some Brands of Minimalist Shoes
Soft Star Shoes
Also, stop by my Pinterest page on minimalist shoes I own and ones I admire.
Well into our second year of living in a much smaller space, we’ve decided that our ‘this will do for now’ approach needed to be reviewed.
Even though we have scaled back several times, the furniture we kept was re-purposed, too big for the space and encouraged our hoarding tendencies. I also realized that we do not have things which go together, stored together.
For example our TV is sitting on an oak chest (making it very difficult to get anything out of the chest, by the way) while our movies are in a bed-side table re-purposed as an end table. So we don’t watch our movies and probably we do not need anything that is being stored in the oak chest. Right now it is just a place for things to be put away and forgotten about. We also ended up with these two pieces which kept some office supplies and books, but contained, frankly, too much junk.
Although the goal of minimalism is to have less stuff, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with replacing things with those that are more functional and beautiful. We gave away the larger dresser on the right, and the smaller dresser is (temporarily) in the bedroom.
We replaced it all with this sleek setup from Ikea (Hemnes) that holds our greatly reduced office supplies in the cabinet with the solid door, while more decorative things are in the glass upper portion. I really wanted a lighter feel and this is white stained pine.
All the movies, music and a considerable number of work-related CDs and DVDs are in the drawers below the television. The best part of this is that I don’t have any other hidden stashes. What we have is out on display, and we can better appreciate the fewer treasures we choose to keep without going through the stress of trying to find things when nothing is edited and organized.