How to fix your forward head posture | Cranial nerves

Do you have forward head posture, or do you have a friend or family member who does? Perhaps you’re always telling them to stand up straight, but they just can’t seem to do it. Let’s talk about the neurology and physiology behind forward head posture and most importantly, what you can do about it.

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Three things that contribute to forward head posture:

  1. Decreased tone in the trapezius muscle and increased tone in the sternocleidomastoid muscle

This is typically due to some kind of breathing dysfunction. That can be from an airway issue such as nasal valve collapse, deviated septum, chronic allergies, jaw issues, enlarged tonsils, just to name a few, which contributes to poor breathing mechanics, breathing more from the neck and shoulders as opposed to the abdomen and diaphragm. It can also be caused by a stressful event, trauma, or even chronic ongoing stress. This specific imbalance in these muscles is what contributes to forward head posture. Additionally, people that have asthma or COPD will almost always have a forward head posture.

2) State of the nervous system

If you are in a chronically stressed state, perhaps a fight or flight state, or even a freeze state where you feel shut down, how you hold your posture will be impacted. Your posture is your story and how you present yourself to the world. Do you walk into a room with confidence and standing up tall, or do you feel shy, reserved, and rounded forward? All of your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and activities impact your posture. We can’t simply think about your forward head posture as a plumb line.  It is so much more than that. 

3) Scars

No matter where the scar is or how old it is, it can affect your breathing, emotions, and movement. Scars contribute to postural changes, shifts in the nervous system, and contribute to muscle imbalances. It’s important to look at any scar in your body no matter where it is or what it’s from, and begin to address the scar from a fascial perspective. This means that doing scar work can influence your emotions, breathing, and movement. 

Now that you have three causes, let’s talk about three solutions. So, when we’re thinking about how we’re going to shift this forward head posture, we have to think beyond just simple exercises such as chin retractions and thoracic mobility. We have to think about the cranial nerves because they are impacting our nervous system, facial expression, and whether we’re in a state of social engagement, which means we’re mindful, joyful, and grounded. We’re going to address this more so from a cranial nerve perspective and optimizing breathing so that you can make a change immediately. You can also have a cumulative effect the more that you do these.

What I would recommend before you start the exercises is to have someone take a side view picture of your forward head posture. Then, take one again after you finish the exercises to see if there is a change. There absolutely should be at least a subtle change if not a very noticeable change. 

Three solutions for forward head posture

Three solutions for forward head posture

1) The Basic Exercise

With this, you’re putting input to the back of your head and looking with your eyes to create more blood flow around the brainstem. This is where the vagus nerve originates. What happens when we’re not in a state of social engagement is our first two vertebrae can become slightly misaligned. By bringing blood flow to the area and stimulating the vagus nerve can bring the first two vertebrae back into alignment, which means we’re back into a state of social engagement. This can impact your forward head posture almost immediately.

To perform the basic exercise, interlace your fingers and bring them behind your head. Look with your eyes only in one direction until you sigh, swallow, or yawn. When you’ve done that, repeat on the other side. This should take approximately 30 to 60 seconds, however, it can take longer depending on if your nervous system is ready to relax 

2) The Salamander Exercise 

This is also a cranial nerve reprogramming exercise, which will help to create more space in the chest cavity, the heart, and the lungs, therefore impacting breathing and forward head posture.

To perform the salamander, assume a table position. Look with your eyes first and then your head as you bring your ear to your shoulder and hold that for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat on the other side again making sure you lead with your eyes, then side bend your head bringing your ear towards your shoulder. 

3) The Trapezius Twist

This is essentially waking up all of the trapezius muscles. It’s not stretching or strengthening them. It’s just waking them up, which means there will be an immediate change in posture, breathing, forward head posture, as well as overall posture. Especially after you’ve been sitting for some time, get up and do these three twists! You won’t be disappointed.

To perform this exercise, start with your arms grasped together at waist level rocking back and forth. Next, move your arms up to the heart line rocking them back and forth. Lastly, raise your arms slightly above your shoulders and once again rock them back and forth. You should do about five to ten repetitions at each position. 

There you have it, some causes for forward head posture and most importantly some solutions. We do have to remember that with forward head posture it becomes a vicious cycle because the more forward the head is the more blood flow that is constricted from the vertebral arteries. This means less blood flow to the brain. It also is affecting our airway which means it’s impacting our lymphatic system, hormonal system, and causing inflammation in the body. It’s really important to understand the neurology and physiology of forward head posture and begin to think about it from a much different perspective rather than simply corrective exercises like the chin tucks, upper back stretches, and retractions. We want to think of it especially from a nervous system perspective.

Reach out for a 15 minute FREE discovery session to see how we can help you on your journey.

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HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR VAGAL TONE | 9 Ways To Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve

Did you ever wonder how you can consciously tap into the power of your vagus nerve to trigger your sense of inner calm and reduce inflammation in your body?

The vagus nerve is also referred to as the “wandering nerve” in Latin because it begins in the brainstem and it has multiple branches to the heart, viscera, and many other organs. It is one of the longest nerves in the body and it is 80 percent of our parasympathetic nervous system, also referred to as our ‘rest and digest’ system.

In 1921, a German physiologist named Otto Loewi discovered that when you stimulate the vagus nerve, it triggers the release of acetylcholine. Why is that important? Acetylcholine is like a tranquilizer that we have the power to tap into at any point through slow, long, deep breaths.

When we have a high vagal tone or healthy vagal tone that is indicative that when you inhale, you have a slight increase in your heartbeat, and when you exhale, you have a slight decrease in your heartbeat. It is also associated with better physical and mental well-being. Conversely, if you have a low vagal tone, this is associated with inflammation, heart disease, stroke, poor psychological well-being, and much more.

9 Ways To Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve

Now let’s get into nine different ways that you can stimulate your vagus nerve to improve your vagal tone.

1) Cold exposure

Research shows that acute cold exposure will activate the cholinergic neurons that are part of the vagus nerve pathways, and it stimulates the vagus nerve. Cold showers are the easiest way to integrate this into your life. At the end of your shower, lower the temperature for 30 seconds of cold water and aim to do that consistently over time. That will,  in turn, decrease your fight or flight or your sympathetic pathways.

2) Deep, slow breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, that is. You’ll want to make sure that as you’re inhaling, you’re getting the full expansion of your abdomen 360 degrees. The key is a slow breath with a long exhale. You could start with a tempo of three seconds in and three seconds out. Over time, you want to begin to lengthen your exhalation as well as your inhalation. As you progress with your breath practice, the slower the exhale the more you will stimulate the vagus nerve and also create that relaxation response that we’re seeking. Especially in times of stress and anxiety, this should be a go-to. For some that have experienced trauma, however, this may not always be a safe place.

3) Chanting, singing, humming, and gargling

These are great ways to stimulate the vagus nerve because the muscles of the vocal cords are connected to the vagus nerve. This is a great way to improve vagal tone and increase heart rate variability, which is a sign of a healthy nervous system.

4) Probiotics

There are two specific strains, lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium,  that are directly related to the gut-brain connection as it relates to mood, anxiety, and depression. This is directly linked to the vagus nerve as well. It has been shown that by taking probiotics, you can improve the vagal tone and stimulation.

5) Meditation

This is a great way to improve vagal tone, decrease your stress response, and improve your mindfulness awareness over time. Register here for free weekly mindfulness sessions.

6) Omega-3’s

This comes from your fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, etc. These are great foods that can help with improving vagal tone, overall mental health, and cognitive decline if there is any. Make sure to eat your fatty fish regularly to ensure you’ve got the appropriate amount of omega-3’s.

7) Massage

Make sure you get a regular massage or perform self-massage, to enhance the vagal activity and improve vagal tone. Things like foot reflexology are a great way to stimulate the vagus nerve. At the minimum, make sure to get your regular massage.

8) Exercise

Movement is such a powerful way to improve your vagal tone, to be more connected, and to enhance your sense of happiness. Making exercise and activities that you enjoy a big part of your life will help to improve your vagal tone and overall happiness.

9) Socializing and laughing

It’s such a great way to improve mood and enhance overall well-being. That of course is happening by enhancing the vagal activity and once again improving overall vagal tone. Make sure that despite the current circumstances in the world, you’re able to connect with people, socialize and laugh, and enjoy life as much as possible.

So there you have it, nine different ways that you can improve your vagal tone to make sure that you’re more connected to the world, you’re enhancing your physical and mental well-being, and you’re living life to the fullest.

Reach out for a 15-minute FREE discovery session to see how we can help you on your journey.

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3 AREAS IN YOUR BODY YOU HOLD YOUR STRESS

Did you know that there are three primary areas of the body that typically hold tension? All of us have preferred places in our bodies where our pain, worry, and fears are most readily expressed in muscular tension. The three key areas in the body that have the potential to be most affected by emotional forces are the pelvic floor, the diaphragm, and the jaw.

Many of you have experienced tension in your neck and jaw and tightness in your low back. This can be driven primarily by emotions. If we think of it this way, pleasurable experiences typically will cause us to relax, energize, and expand. Conversely, unpleasant experiences are going to typically cause us to contract, be tenser, and possibly even depressed. We must recognize that this stress or muscular tension that we are holding in these three primary areas is subconscious and that rather than just addressing the symptom, we have to focus on what is the root cause. Is there another way for you to express your emotion? Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, journaling, and talking to a friend or talking to a psychologist are all really powerful and often necessary. I’m going to discuss some quick bio hacks that can help with addressing these tensions and hopefully make you feel great.

Jaw

Many people tend to clench their jaw or grind their teeth, whether that’s during the day or at night. This is a subconscious behavior indicating that the nervous system is in survival mode. Here are two easy things that you can do while you’re brushing your teeth and then also during your workday that are very simple to relieve jaw tension and hopefully retrain and reprogram yourself to not clenching your jaw.

  • The first thing is to make sure that you have the optimal tongue position. Make sure that the tongue is resting on the roof of the mouth and the back of the front teeth. You’ll want to make sure that your teeth are slightly apart and your lips are gently closed. If you make a humming sound, your tongue will naturally be in the ideal position. Practice this multiple times a day to make sure you are tuning in. Also, when you are breathing diaphragmatically, your tongue would be in it’s resting position.
  • Another aspect of jaw tension is when your jaw is compensating for other things. For example, if there’s a lack of core stability and tension in the abdomen, you could be clenching your jaw to create stability. You do want to be properly evaluated but if you know that your jaw is tight you can do this release. Your masseter muscle is right on the outside of the jaw. Then you have your lateral pterygoid, which points up toward the ear and then the medial pterygoid, which goes down toward the bottom of the jaw, like scissors.  You can take your toothbrush in your mouth and move it up toward your ear to release the lateral pterygoid. You do this by holding your toothbrush in your mouth in that direction on the right side and then moving your jaw down, left, up, and then to the right. Then to release the medial pterygoid you would stick your toothbrush in your mouth again but this time toward the bottom of your jaw. Then, while holding the toothbrush on the right side you will move your jaw down, left, and then close. Now, to release the masseter, you will hold your fingers against the outside of your jaw on the left and then move your jaw down, right, and then close. You can do all of these on both sides. You can also use this as an assessment to see how tight your jaw is. 

Diaphragm

This tends to be an area where we can hold a lot of emotional tension and grief. We breathe 20 to 25,000 times a day so how you breathe matters. It’s not just about if you’re breathing to stay alive, it’s how you’re breathing. With practice and conscious regulation of this muscle, we can regulate our response and our emotions. However, during times of high stress, like right now in the world, the diaphragm can become very restricted which therefore can cause one of your most common complaints which is neck tension. Many will say “I hold my tension in my neck,” but that’s because they are breathing from the neck and shoulders, as opposed to the diaphragm.

You can check out my other video on how breathing is your superpower. But, for now, try to take three diaphragmatic breaths every hour. This means that you’re breathing in through the nose, ideally out through the nose, if possible, and you’re expanding your abdomen 360 degrees. That means that your chest will not rise up and down, but your abdomen will expand. The longer the exhalation, the more of a relaxation response you will have.

You want to start with a breath that feels comfortable for you. For example, three seconds in and three seconds out. As you feel more comfortable please try to extend your inhalation, exhalation, and even your pauses at the subtle shift before your exhalation, and then before your inhalation. This can be calming for the nervous system, but it also allows you this opportunity to tune in with what’s happening in your body, to be mindful, to understand what your emotions and thoughts are, and what your physical sensations are.

Pelvic Floor

This is often considered taboo, however, is one of the primary areas for men and women, where we unconsciously store emotions. This is also based on Eastern and Western medicine as it relates to the chakras, but also science.

The pelvic floor is critical for our emotional and energetic health. Think of dogs when they are expressing their emotions or they have done something wrong and their owner is upset; the dog will tuck their tail between their legs. That is the same concept of what happens where as humans, we create this tension in the pelvic region and we don’t even know it’s there. Pelvic floor issues are very commonly present as hip pain, low back pain, and sometimes even knee pain.  It can be something that is an underlying issue that is often overlooked but very common. Here are two exercises that you can do to relax your pelvic floor.

  1. Rock on your forearms: Place your elbows outside of your shoulder, knees outside of your hip, and keep your eyes gazing towards your fingertips. Inhale as you rock back, exhale as you rock forward. Make sure you keep your spine nice and straight. Your eyes gazing forward will allow that to happen. Inhale as you go back to relax the pelvic floor, exhale as you go forward belly button will go in towards your spine.
  2. Happy baby:  Lie on your back, grab your toes, outside of your shin, or inside of your shin. Inhale all the way down to the pelvic floor to relax it and you can rock gently back and forth.

In summary, start with the tongue on the roof of the mouth and resting on the back of the teeth. When you inhale, your pelvic floor is relaxing. The deeper your diaphragmatic breath, as that intra-abdominal pressure goes down, your pelvic floor is lengthening and relaxing. When you exhale, your abdomen tightens up like a corset. Just your breath alone with the proper positioning of your tongue can address all of these areas of emotion or muscular tension. Then, you can integrate that into your movement. When you are doing the happy baby or rocking on your forearms, make sure you integrate all those aspects together. Especially during this challenging time, make sure to be kind to yourself and the emotions you are feeling right now.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

For more content, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel here.

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How to start a fitness program or step up your game

Who’s excited for the New Year? You may be thinking “new year, new me,” so you want to either start an exercise program or step up your game. I am here today to help you with that! This is a time where so many people get injured because they are trying to start a fitness program for the first time or they’re trying to step it up too quickly. And nearly 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. Let’s take this as an opportunity to help you think about some different aspects of fitness, so you can prevent injury and get the most out of your fitness and your health this year.

Know your baseline

The first and most important thing is knowing your baseline. Are you a beginner, intermediate, or advanced fitness enthusiast? Do you have any pain or discomfort, or any potentially old injuries that you’re dealing with? What is your mobility/ stability, or functional movement, baseline? Working with a qualified professional to properly screened and know exactly what your starting point is highly recommended.  If you don’t have that opportunity, then you really want to be able to seriously reflect on your true baseline, your starting point, so that you know how to systematically progress safely from there. Once you figured that out, now we can jump into what to include in your fitness program.

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1)Warm-up and prepare

This does not mean jumping on the treadmill for five minutes to get your body warmed up for your workout. It means taking the time to tune into your body. Notice what pain or tension you might have that day. Are you tired? Did you eat well that day?  Really take a deep inward look to see how you are feeling that day and how that will affect your workout. Once you’ve established that, then you can think about how can you prepare yourself best for the demands of the activity that you are about to embark on. If you are going to do strength training for example, then doing some static stretching, ie holding a stretch for 30 seconds, is not beneficial. Instead, think about how you can prepare your body for the demands of the activity. For example, instead of jumping on a treadmill and walking for five minutes, you could do lunges with a reach. This will help to activate and wake up your whole body and nervous system, so you are fully prepared for your workout. 

2) The systematic progression of your activity.

For this to be successful, it is vital to have a preparation period. One to three months preparation time is recommended to prepare for it, so that you can just go into it with ease. The last thing you want it to do is create stress, ie. Inflammation, on your body.  You’ll want to make sure it is the right time in your life and things are relatively calm. It is extremely challenging to eat out when you are on the Elimination Diet. Lastly, it’s often easier if you slowly work out one to three foods at a time and find replacements for them before you begin. You want to be fully prepared, which is why it is strongly recommended to work with a professional to guide and support you through the process.   

How to do this for a running program

If you are just starting out with a running program, running for 30 minutes three times a week is unrealistic, especially if you haven’t done that in months or years. That will set you up for injury. When, starting a running program, or any program for that matter, you want put stress on your body, and then take it off, put stress on your body, and take it off, and so on. This will create an adaptation, which means you are getting your body familiar to a certain exercise or training program through repeated exposure. This will help to create fascial elasticity in our body, like a rubber band, which can really aid in preventing injury. If you want to start a running program, make sure that you can walk for 30 minutes three times a week first without any symptoms before you progress to running in any capacity. You encounter 1-1.5 x your body weight in force with walking and almost double that with running. When you’re symptom-free and ready to progress, you would slowly start with a walk-jog interval. You could start with the one minute of walking and one minute of jogging. I would suggest starting at five minutes total, so it’s only a few minutes total running time. Once you feel comfortable with that, then you can slowly progress to 10 minutes, and then 15 minutes and so on. This is going to take weeks to months to get you to 30 minutes of running. On the other hand, if you’ve already been running, and you want to step it up you could follow the same protocol, but you would just have a different baseline than a beginner does. For example, if you want to go from 20 minutes to 30 minutes, then every other day you can add a few more minutes to your run assuming there’s no symptoms, pain, discomfort, or injuries. You can continue to progress that way to achieve whatever goal you have.

How to do this for strength training program: If you’re strength training for the first time, I would suggest starting at two sets of eight to 12 repetitions two times a week. Then you can slowly progress that towards three sets of 10-12 repetitions three days a week.

How to do this for a yoga program: There are a lot of different yoga classes out there, but you need to make sure that it’s a yoga class that you can do safely. For example, a Hatha yoga class may be more appropriate for a beginner as opposed to a power yoga class. It doesn’t mean that you can’t ever do that, it just means to start with something where you can learn how to control your body and coordinate your movement with your breath first before you go into something more advanced.

How to do this for a HITT training program: Please reference the video on for pros and cons of HIIT training here or read the blog post here. For the intermediate to advanced fitness enthusiast, this can be great way for you to step up your program. Beginners have a higher injury risk because they really need to develop a basic fitness or strength baseline before they move into something more advanced like HITT training.

3) Cool-down

A cool-down is different for every person. It could be a short walk, stretching, basic breath work, or even meditation. It can also be a great way to reflect on what happened in that session. That means reflecting on what went right and what didn’t go as well.  Does your body feel energized and revitalized or does it feel kind of worn down and sore? Did you work too hard or not hard enough? Use this information as an opportunity to change your next session.

Summary

Fitness is a journey, no matter if you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced. You are always fine tuning, and reflecting on how to maximize what your doing.  Do you need to add yoga in because you’re doing too much strength and HITT training? Do you do too much yoga and need to add in strength and  power exercises? I definitely encourage you to reach out to a professional that can help you reach your goals while staying injury- free. It is important to take ownership of your health and movement to be able to continue to stay pain-free for a lifetime.

If you are interested in feeling your best and you need help, reach out to schedule an appointment to get you started on your journey.

Pros and Cons of HIIT

With the holidays coming around, many of you may want to get fit as fast as you can. We all know deep down that’s not the best solution. But, part of improving your fitness quickly probably includes some kind of speak of high intensity interval training (HIIT). As with anything, there are pros and cons of HIIT and I’d like to educate you on making an informed decision of whether or not it’s appropriate for you.

What is HIIT?

You may be asking yourself what is HITT ? It is essentially a vigorous activity, followed by a low to moderate intensity activity in an interval format that is often done between five to 30 minutes, and the intervals can range from 15 seconds to two to three minutes. There are many options to perform HITT such as using bodyweight, calisthenics, free weights, or even a machine like an elliptical or stair climber.

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Pros

First, it can help to decrease body fat, as well as improve overall metabolic rate. Metabolic rate is really important because it helps you to burn more calories throughout the course of the day when you’re not working out, which is really powerful. Second, it can help improve oxygenation, which is the muscles ability to use oxygen. This means if you do 60 minutes of HITT training versus 120 minutes of steady state cardio you can have the same benefits. This leads me to my next point, which is that you get maximum benefit for decreased time investment. Since we are all super busy and stressed for time, and can’t find the time in the day to exercise, this can be very valuable. It has been shown to also increase muscle growth, however, that is not the gold standard of muscle building.  Strength training always wins. Even though there has been shown some benefit, it’s not the most valuable way to build muscle.

Cons

Let’s shift gears now and talk about some of the disadvantages. First, it can lead to a higher injury risk. Some of the reasons why I think this happens is because many people that choose to do HITT training are often deconditioned at first and they think ” this is a fast way to get in shape”. So, they begin doing it at a high volume, high intensity and often do not have a solid movement foundation, or even a fitness foundation to support it. This is why I would recommend starting out slow and then gradually building yourself up. Second, recovery time is always important in exercise, but it is especially important in HITT training. This is because it is a physical stressor on your body, so you need more time to recover. HIIT four to six days a week is extremely high because the it may take two to three days to recover from a session.  I typically recommend my patients and clients do it no more than two to three days a week if they are an appropriate candidate. Lastly, if you are training for a sport or a movement skill, you need to make sure that you’re really focusing on the specificity. HITT training is not geared towards specificity whatsoever. It is general conditioning, so you may want to consider that with your training goals.  

Other considerations:

  1. Stress? Are you experiencing a tremendous amount of acute or chronic stress in your life. If so, I do not recommend HITT training, because again, it is a significant stressor, a physical stressor. This can contribute to a constant cascade of stress hormones which also can further impact hormonal and immune health.
  2. Beginner? If you are a beginner, I do not recommend HITT training. Learn how to develop the proper movement patterns, learn about your body, and really understand what’s happening to be able to recognize if you are feeling discomfort or pain. Tune in through mindful movement and develop a basic level of fitness first before volume and intensity is added.
  3. Intermediate to Advanced? If you have been working out for a while and you want to take things to the next level to really boost your cardiovascular fitness and fat loss, then I think HITT training can be really valuable.

Summary

Nothing is black and white. It’s really about understanding the different pros and cons of this or any other fitness program to see if it is appropriate for you at this time in your life. If it is not appropriate for you at this time in your life, then just hold off and revisit it later.  It will always be there.  Movement is a skill that you keep refining your whole life. There’s so much to learn. You really want to continue that journey forever, so there’s always room for improvement.

If you are not sure where to start, please reach out to schedule a private session to begin your movement journey.

3 Simple Informal Mindfulness Practices

Let’s chat about some informal mindfulness practices that you can do in your day to day life to become more aware, more present, and more connected. Often times we think about meditation as sitting in a meditative seat for 30 to 45 minutes. You might think, “how on Earth and I am going to do that?” I want to reinforce how important that practice can be in an overall mindfulness practice, however, that’s not for everyone. There are many things that you could do in your daily life to become more present in your own life, become more connected, more aware and hopefully help you to live your best life.

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Three Informal Mindfulness Practices

  1. Find an anchor.
Read moRE

How to decrease sugar cravings in 3 days

With the holidays in full gear, many of us struggle with those darn sugar cravings. Some people suffer with some type of sugar craving or even a so-called sugar addiction all year long.

We know that sugar cravings cause a dopamine response as well as other neuro chemicals that ultimately creates a biochemical and neuro chemical response in the body. The addiction of sugar can cause a similar response in the brain as in drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.  However, there’s a little bit more to sugar cravings than just that.

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Sugar Cravings and Gut Bacteria

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Are you overpatterned?

Did you know the body is actually very asymmetrical in its structure? This is due to the organs which are oriented in a very calculated way and separated from our right and left side of the body. We have our liver and gallbladder on the right, and our pancreas, spleen, stomach, and most of our heart on the left. We have different functions of our hemispheres in our brain, too. So, there’s so much asymmetry in our body, and it’s really powerful.

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Asymmetry in athletes

Continue reading “Are you overpatterned?”