About Madeleine

Madeleine Shen Lopez shares home between the city jungle of Toronto and the vast mountains of Patagonia, Argentina. As a movement educator, certified Axis Syllabus teacher and Doctor of Chiropractic, she spends most of her time teaching movement, dancing, and helping people connect with and regain agency over their bodies. She also bakes delicious treats and serves warm drinks with her husband and mother-in-law at their Cafe Matilde in Patago.

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About This Episode

Madeleine and Kathryn talk about the neck, and how we can move away from rigid ideas about movement. Madeleine shares a unique neck anatomy exploration, as well as an exercise you can do for your neck. She also talks about decolonizing movement and the body, and what that means from the perspective of a movement teacher. This episode will encourage you to think critically about postural cues you have heard about the neck, and tune into the way YOUR body moves.

Show Notes

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To check out Madeleine’s website click here

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Podcast Transcript


Kathryn: 00:01:59

All right Madeline, welcome to the podcast.

Madeleine: Thanks for having me.

Kathryn: 00:02:22

Yeah, my pleasure. I got to take your class one time. A couple of years ago when I was in Toronto visiting my parents and it’s was a really interesting class and I know that your work is really varied.

And I know that you were teaching a little bit on the faculty of one of my friend’s teacher training programs in Kitchener and so they really recommended you for the podcast and I’ve been meaning to reach out to you for so long. And now finally we’re here. So thank you for being here.

Madeleine: 00:02:54

Thanks so much for having me.

Kathryn: Do you want to take a few minutes for all the folks who don’t know who you are and tell them just a little bit about your background and the type of work that you do and how you got into it?

Madeleine: 00:03:07

Sure. So I have a background in dance. I’ve been dancing since I was little. And I sort of had my world split into my dance artistic side, body things and then my sort of science math side so I was really into science math and I studied engineering in undergrad and my undergrad led me sort of into the world of biomedicine.

So thinking about prosthetics and that kind of stuff sort of coming back to the body and then I switched back to dance so I sort of was hopping between these two worlds this sort of logic science world and this sort of artsy body feeling world and I realized that I didn’t have to keep them separate and I could actually just merge them to find some sort of way of enjoying both at the same time.

00:03:58 And so one of the main things I like to do in whatever world I’m in is to find some way to bridge those two sort of ways of thinking about the world and about the body the sort of science the logical fact-based world and then the somatic experiential world. So the way I do that is through teaching movement classes. I teach anatomy classes online now, especially with this pandemic. And I’m also a chiropractor.

Kathryn: 00:04:25

So how did you get into dance and what type of dance was it.

Madeleine: I started dancing when I was four. My mom put me in like a creative movement and we just like ran around with tutus on and then I did a lot of ballet when I was young and modern and contemporary dance. I was in a really amazing company in high school as a teenager called the Canadian children’s dance theater which is now known as the Canadian contemporary dance theater it’s on Parliament Street in Toronto. And I had amazing training there

00:04:57 doing mostly performance work so not so much the sort of dance competition style of work but more interpretive a lot more subtle sort of artistry of dance. So that was sort of my way into dance.

Kathryn: Then at what point did you decide that chiropractic school would be for you?

Madeleine: 00:05:19

Yeah. So it was sort of an afterthought after trying to be a dancer in Toronto where it’s pretty hard to have a steady job.

A lot of it is independent work. So on the side to make money I was tutoring math and science. I did that for like 10 years starting when I was still an undergrad. I really loved the one on one teaching and it sort of was a mix of teaching people how to do math and also mentoring them about how to have self-confidence and how to trust themselves and how to learn and how to be in the world as a young adult especially women.

00:06:00 I taught a lot of women in grade 11. Young girls, young women in grades 11 and 12 who are struggling with math and struggling with the subjects that are generally seen as sort of like logical men’s subjects and then you know with my experience in engineering where there was a lot of misogyny just misogyny everywhere.

And so empowering these young girls to really have agency over their choices and have agency over how they learned and what opportunities they grabbed for themselves that part just I really loved that. And so when I realized that I really loved teaching but I wanted to do something more with the body.

I was like “oh there are professions where that’s what you do”. Chiropractic is one of where yes a lot of it has to do with the hands-on but a lot of it is educating the patient on how their body moves and how they get to make choices about how their body moves and helping the patient regain agency over their body.

Particularly in situations where they were injured sort of outside of their control so it sort of feels like they don’t have a choice over the matter so that’s sort of just emerged from me. I was like oh there’s a career that I can do and mix all of my favorite things, so…

Kathryn: And what was your experience in chiropractic school like?

Madeleine: 00:07:18

Chiropractic school is a very interesting time of my life. I just graduated last June and it was interesting to be back in school first of all because I had been out of school for six or seven years when I went back to school. So it was interesting just to have that different schedule again.

It was a lot of information in a very short amount of time. We had about 14 courses at any given moment so it was just like trying to cram all of the information into my brain and I finished with a lot more clinical knowledge than I was expecting which was really wonderful.

It was extremely empowering for me to know that I could have that confidence in a clinical setting. Knowing when I need to refer a patient to someone else, because it’s just not in my scope, or when they need another hand or they need more people on their team.

00:08:11 And then just things like knowing how to interact with patients in a way that is effective for what I’m trying to do. Yeah. And our last year in school is a residency year so we do six months in one clinic and six months in a second clinic with two different clinicians. So we get a really good experience with a different demographic of people in a different treatment style because chiropractic is so broad. We’ve got a little bit of exposure to different ways of running a clinic.

And I had two amazing residencies with two amazing clinicians. So I got really really lucky. I mean all of the clinicians are great but I was particularly happy with my placements. Yeah. There were also challenges to my school in particular. They are quite logical in science i.e. evidence base like heavy on that side. So there was not a ton of room for conversations about the more like feelings based stuff.

I definitely struggled in my residency with burnout like emotional burnout from dealing with patients who had had a lot of trauma and we’re bringing that into the sessions or our patients who were carrying a lot of grief. And so that sort of softer side of things didn’t have as much of a focus but I was lucky to have mentors throughout that helped me through that.

Kathryn: 00:09:30

So I think that when people think chiropractor they think I’m going to go there they’re going to crack my back and I’m wondering if that is how you treat people and or do you do other things.
You know you’re a mover I’m assuming there’s a little bit of movement going on like what is your clinical practice like.

Madeleine: 00:09:51

Yeah. So chiropractic is a really broad profession and our main tool is this sort of cracking this the manipulation or the manual adjustments but it’s definitely not the only tool. There are chiropractors, sort of a spectrum of ways, that people treat there are chiropractors who only do the adjustments and other chiropractors who rarely use them at all.

I’m sort of in-between and I really like to make the treatment individual to each person. Some people really need the adjustments and really respond well to them and other people don’t respond well to them.

So it’s not a good tool to use on those people. And some people require more soft tissue stuff. Some people especially if they’re in a really stressed nervous state they actually need a lot of turning on the parasympathetic system, so different manipulations that an adjustment might be too shocking to their system for example.

And then some people need a ton of movement education and other people are just not interested in that and so it won’t benefit them. So there’s really like a huge variety in the people that I treat but I like to always at least try to bring in the education portion even if it’s not giving them particular exercises.

00:11:03 But it’s telling them what’s going on explaining to them where the issues are coming from or like trying to give them this idea that most things are multifactorial, that it’s more complicated than just you know “oh it’s bad posture” or whatever. So that they can really be on the team of getting better rather than being a passenger.

Kathryn: Yeah. Yeah. I just finished a nine-month mentorship on pain science with a Canadian physical therapist and researcher.

Madeleine: Amazing.

Kathryn: 00:11:34

A huge part of that training was focusing on the explain pain model. Which is on education and talking about just how important it is to try to teach people a little bit more about the body and the system and in this context, the pain stuff and this multifactorialness to it.

Which I think, not because I’ve been exposed to so many people who are like obsessed with pain science, there seems to be almost different ends of the spectrum and thought where it’s like some people are really into the neuroscience and the biopsychosocial model.

The very very multifactorialness of it all and are like kind of against manual therapy and manipulations like that seems to be one end of the spectrum.

And then the other end of the spectrum I see is like all about the biomechanics the joints and the levers and the muscles and engage here, we’ll release here, we put this needle in here. It sounds like you are kind of like in the middle. Which amazing.

Madeleine: 00:12:46

Yeah, I’m definitely like… There’s no sort of tool that I won’t bring out to try to help someone so I’m not going to like limit myself to looking only with one perspective. And this is actually something I learned tutoring math ironically enough.

There was this one moment where I was teaching at a boarding school and so all of the kids were taking the same math class with the same math teacher. They had the same homework, and so there was one night I think was a Tuesday that I always had three grade 10 students in a row.

And so they were coming to me the literally the exact same question three times in a row and every single student had understood something different.  They were thinking about the problems in a different way and needed a different sort of input from me for the exact same issue let alone patients who all come with different issues right.

So even if you have the same problem, every single person is going to process that in a different way and will need something different from the person who’s helping them. And that for me was like so amazing it really changed how I was able to help people with math and I definitely see it helping me with people who come to me with body pain.

Kathryn: 00:13:52

Yeah, that’s super interesting. So we’re going to talk about the neck. I’ve never done a podcast on like a part of the body.

It’s always been like super conceptual or talking about exercise or movement. So my first question and I know you teach anatomy but I know your anatomy class is quite visual and so this is not visual. So we’re gonna have to try to explain the best that we can.

But my first question is Is there anything anatomy wise about the neck that you think is interesting and important.

Madeleine: 00:14:28

Yes, I think there are a lot of things that are interesting and important but I think one thing that really helped me, is sort of like a global concept. It really helped me with particularly the neck but also the rest of the body. Thinking about the variations of mass and volume in the structure of the human body. So there is this sort of undulation pattern that shows up in the body but also throughout nature.

You know the waves of the ocean for example right. And so if you start the top of the head, the head itself is quite dense. It’s a big mass and it’s got like a certain volume. And then if you move down to the neck the neck has a much smaller volume and it’s not quite as dense.

There’s less amount of bone. The tissues are lighter. So like you know the brain tissue is quite heavy. And in the neck, we don’t have as heavy tissue and it’s smaller and more flexible.

So there’s like a lot more movement possible in the neck than comparing to the mass of the head. And then if you keep going down you have the mass of the rib cage including even the shoulders, inside the rib cage you have a lot of organs there’s the heavy heart.

Then you move down, in terms of the bone structure, you have the spine where the ribs end and just before the pelvis starts there is just spine. And of course, we have all of the abdominal organs.

But in terms of heavy bone structure, it’s just the spine. And then you head into the pelvis. So we have these sort of like undulatory like a big mass and then a small sort of spine segment and then another big mass and then a small spine segment and then another big mass.

And then anyways undulations continues into the leg which we won’t dive into but this sort of idea that one of the next rolls is actually to negotiate the relationship between the mass of the head and the mass of the torso.

And so it has this really tricky, I mean negotiation is really tricky. I mean if you’ve ever tried to be the mediator for something it’s really tricky you have to listen to both sides at the same time and figure out how to best get them to meet in the middle. Right.

And so the same thing would go with the neck. So if my head wants to look to one side I have to know where I want the head to look and organize the activation of muscles that will allow that to happen while knowing where the torso is so I can’t move my head without knowing where my torso is and vice versa.

If I’m gonna move my shoulders I need to have some idea of where my head is so that the neck can be sort of doing both things at the same time. And so this like idea of having these two masses that are trying to find a way to maneuver gravity in space depending on you know regardless of which position you’re in but each position is going to have their own challenges.

The neck is always in-between sort of figuring that out and it’s not only figuring that out in big movements. It’s figuring that out even if you’re just sitting still the neck is constantly in dialogue with those two masses and figuring out how to how to just make things work.

Kathryn: 00:17:39

So this is really great like visual wise. I think people can totally understand what you’re saying about the masses and the neck being in the middle and having to kind of figure out you know how to support the whole structure through movement.

So if people are trying to figure out, so you mentioned negotiation and so if people are trying to figure out where they’re at or whether this negotiation is happening smoothly or not you know what are some things that they could start to explore.


00:18:08 So the first thing that I always offer to people is always to start with observing. Instead of trying to already tell your body to do something new like just see what’s happening first. That can look like, if you have for example a yoga practice during your yoga class like trying to imagine like where’s the mass of my head and where does the mass of my torso if I’m standing in mountain pose. OK so then they have a certain relationship and like how is my neck feeling is it tense.

Is it holding or is it allowing a movement with my breath or not, not trying to change it just noticing, and then let’s say you’re in a plank. Now you’re in a different relationship to gravity so your neck has a new job right. Iit has to find some way to keep your head and your torso in a relationship in a new gravity situation. So then you can observe. Does my head tend to fall forwards? Do I tend to lift my eyes up so that the back of my neck gets short?

00:19:04 Do I tense and hold or am I allowing some movement with my breath and then maybe you’re inside angle pose. And so now it’s a new orientation to gravity you’re sort of on a diagonal you’re facing one side. So one ear is towards the earth and one is towards the sky. So again, your neck has a new job and once you’ve sort of pay attention to each position then you can start noticing what happens.

What does my neck having to do while I’m transitioning from one position to the next?
So how is it negotiating that gradual shift to a new sort of gravity position? So that would be the first thing. It’s just like observing what’s happening. Then for your neck to have a really good negotiation it needs to have options for where it can go.

So if you are holding really, tense your neck doesn’t have a lot of choice as to how it can adjust for little changes that might need to happen through a transition or in a new position. So finding a way to find a bit of movement in the neck.

00:20:04 I have a really simple exercise to help find this so maybe I’ll just talk everyone through it. So you can just be sitting and you can then later do it and what our position. But start sitting upright and it’s really great to close your eyes it helps you sort of put your mind’s eye into it like an internal place in the body.

You’re just going to imagine that the very very top of your head has like a magical rainbow pencil or paintbrush or marker or highlighter or whatever writing instrument you prefer. Then you’re going to just see if you can notice whether or not that little paintbrush is holding the perfect point still.

So if it was drawing on the ceiling. If it’s drawing just one point and holding that point or if there’s like a micro scribble. And so as you breathe you might notice that there is a tiny micro scribble. And so one of the first things you can do is just let that scribble get bigger.

So almost like you want to scribble with a little pencil that’s sticking up from the top of your head and trying to do that with the least amount of muscles possible. So almost like you’re letting the weight of the head guide this sort of scribbly wobbling.

00:21:17 You might feel like exhaling or sighing hopefully you’ll feel like your arms are relaxed, your jaw is relaxed. And once you feel like your scribble is getting scribblier here you can start trying to guide the scribble to draw a figure-eight pattern on the ceiling where the lobes of the figure-eight pattern are side to side.

Again trying to allow it the weight of the head to be what guides the drawing and not sort-of like muscular action of like pushing or pulling the neck.

So you have these sort-of swooping moments where you swoop down and around the lobe and back up and then you cross the center and swoop down and around the other side. And you can let this figure-eight get nice and big so your neck actually will move more. Your ear on the side that you’re swooping towards will get closer to your shoulder and you’ll notice that there’s a rhythm to it.

So if you are allowing the weight of the head to fall the moment that the weight of the head tips and falls over there will be sort of like an acceleration moment.

00:22:22 And then this moment of sort of suspension as the head comes back up and over the center just before it tips to the other side. And so you’ll have this sort of falls suspend and seeing if you can really sense the head having a little fall.

Now it’s a controlled fall so it’s not like your head is lolling to one side and just sort of you’re letting go of it. And that’s where the trickiness comes in where it’s like how much can I let go without letting everything go. And then as you keep playing you can try and make your figure-eight smaller.

So how small can I get while still feeling like I’m really dropping the weight of my head to allow that figure-eight to happen? And am I neglecting the back part of my lobe?

So is my head hanging further and further forwards? Am I drawing on the on a diagonal instead of straight above me or am I drawing behind me? All of these little things that you can observe. Then once you get your figure-eight super tiny again, you can pause.

So see if you can come to a stillness and notice if you find that little scribble again with a paintbrush. So this is something you can do like especially if you’re if you have a job where you have to sit in front of a computer. Now that a lot of people are working from home.

If you just had a really long meeting and your brain hurts because there was just so much stuff that you had to talk about and you’re staring at a screen for 45 minutes or an hour. This is something really nice that just takes a couple of minutes and you just close your eyes and it gives your neck a break without straining it.

00:23:50 So a lot of times when we have a sore neck we start stretching it and pulling it and forcing it and twisting it. A lot of people try to like self crack their necks. And so those things can be super helpful in some situations but oftentimes it’s like a big sudden shift from the neck being very still and holding your head staring at the screen.

So this is just a nice way to get a bit of more fluid motion and how the muscles like find their way slowly into a more soft supple listening place. Then it can be something you can bring into your yoga practice if you’re in downward dog you can try a little figure-eight and see if you can paint your yoga mat. If you’re doing something really strenuous with core work, like if you’re in plank pose.

See if you can find a little figure-eight, it doesn’t have to be big but finding a little figure-eight will help you avoid sort of holding tension in the neck so that you’re really working the more supportive parts of the body. Yeah, that’s my suggestion for a neck thing.

Kathryn: 00:24:45

Yeah. That’s super cool. It’s also interesting because it’s like a task-based movement. It’s not like a specific alignment or posture or like it’s not a mechanical type of movement. And people can kind of like explore it on their own and it’s not about like right and wrong.

Madeleine: Yes exactly. It’s not about right and wrong and it’s not also about imposing Cartesian coordinates on a body that doesn’t have any.

Kathryn: So yeah. What does that mean?

Madeleine: 00:25:16

So this is like a big thing that I talk about a lot of my classes. This idea of like we live in a world where everything’s 90-degree angles. We live in a world where there is a front and a back and a side and a side and where there’s an up and a down. Like everything is very sort of boxy and defined.

And it’s for ease of sharing information. Right. So if I’m in a yoga class and I don’t know anything about warrior two pose then there’s gonna be ideas of like “OK line up your feet with short sides of your mat” right. Your arms should be long and one right in front of the other and they should be along the line of the long line of your mat.

So it helps me find myself in space if I don’t really know what the goal is. Right. And it’s a really good way because like I know how to line myself up with stuff because we’ve been doing that since we were tiny babies.

00:26:06 Like all of our school rooms have the desks lined up in perfect lines. You’re always sitting directly behind someone, directly beside someone. So you have a sense of what your sides are and what your front is and what your back is. Right. But we often forget that that’s not like a built-in aspect of the human body.

It’s not like the front is a flat line. Right there’s no flat surface on the body that we can point to and say “oh that’s the front”. So we have a general idea of what the front of the body is, but the front of the body is all curve and it curves into the side of the body.

So where does the side of the body start really right and where does the back start from the side. And so this idea of having these X Y Z coordinate system. This like Cartesian coordinate system comes from Descartes.

So it’s something that humans thought up to think about the world but it’s not something that came with the world. And so it’s not something that exists in our body at birth but we definitely cultivate and colonize our bodies with that information.

00:27:02 So part of what I try to do when I’m helping people regain agency of their body is also colonizing all of this sort of way of thinking. It’s like having our bodies move in these parallel straight lines which at the end of the day like are interesting guidelines because it’s really easy for someone to get what you mean but it’s not necessarily easy on the body.

And one thing I always, one of my catchphrases is “whenever you see the body moving in a straight line it’s an optical illusion”. Because there are no straight lines in any of the joints in your body.

So there’s definitely something else happening to allow those straight lines to happen. So just sort of like this disconnect between how our bodies actually shaped and how our like our world is shaped in these like boxy straight lines. Finding a way to really appreciate and understand the actual structure of our body and how it allows us to move in these nondescript sorts of organic figure-eighty curvy spirally, nonlinear , non-mono-planal ways.

Kathryn: 00:28:11

So great, so good. OK. There’s this idea which is very popular especially right now about this forward head posture. And I see a lot of correction right. There’s a lot of like of cues, a lot of videos online a lot of like really common cues about like push the head back and tuck the chine and da-da-da-da-da. And yeah I’m wondering what you think about all that. Yeah.

Madeleine: So one of the things that I’ll just come back to is like whenever someone is trying to change their posture it’s always really important to observe and listen to what the posture is right now before you start changing it.

Oftentimes people will just give you a general cue without actually maybe even seeing like where your body is first. If you are just watching a video and you’re taking on a cue or a way of thinking about posture without checking in first and see where is your posture even starting.

00:29:11 So some people might take the like put your shoulders back cue. But maybe their habit is to already have the shoulders back and so then they’re just going to put them back more and that’s gonna be really counterproductive for them.

Or maybe a person has their head like had or their chin sort of already tucked in like maybe they have a military neck sort of as a habit and so then tucking their chin in more again is going to be counterproductive.

So it’s always good to just check-in where you are and that can either be you on your own or you can have someone like if you have roommates just ask them to take a surprise photo of you when you’re standing or sitting.

That way you’re not like posing for the picture. So say to your roommate “ok next time I’m cooking just come over and take like a side profile shot of me” that way I can just see what my posture is when I’m not thinking about my posture for example.

00:29:59 And then you can sort of see where you’re at both from an outside perspective but also from like sensing in your own body like what does my posture feel like where do I feel the tension.

One really good test to see where your head is is if I relax my neck like where does my head fall. So if I relax my neck and my head falls forwards then it’s likely that I’m holding my head in that anterior posture. But if I relax my head and it collapses backward then there might be something else going on for example.

One thing for those people who do have this interior head carriage which is very common probably because we live in a world where everything is very front focused.

Also now that everyone’s on computers and most people have laptops we’re sort of like leaning forwards and doing the like turtleneck to sort of stick our heads out so we can see our computers better. The main cue I would say is counterproductive for most people. Is this pull your shoulders back cue

00:30:55 If you just try it now like you pull your shoulders backward you’ll notice that your head actually sticks further forwards and so it kind of accentuates if anything the anterior head carriage.

And so then to then bring your head back is like you’re trying to bring everything back at the same time. And usually what you’ll get is like a rib flare out the front because you’ll actually just be arching in the thoracic spine to make the shoulders and go back.

So I would say that unless you have like a pretty pronounced forwards shoulder slump that your shoulders are probably fine just where they are. It’s actually probably your thoracic spine that is flexing too much so it might just mean that you want to think of shining light from your heart shining out forwards, up, down, sides, back, shining in all directions to just bring a little bit of activation into the thoracic spine.

00:31:48 So I’m not thinking of straightening my thoracic spine or popping my chest out but I am thinking of activating that whole area so that I have just a little bit more life in my chest area. And that will often bring your shoulders to a more comfortable position. And that’s a lot of that is just habit. It’s not that you’re not strong enough. It’s just that you’re not in the habit of doing that.

And then the other thing I would think of is getting to know like the weight of your torso and the weight of your head and how they can stack on top of each other. Not in a rigid sort of like sliding them and squishing them and pushing them into place. More like letting your neck be that mediator to find a way that your head can float above your torso like in space so that gravity can help you out a little bit so that your head is above your torso.

Not by pushing your chin or pulling your head back but rather by shifting both masses in space so you’re thinking of the torso and the head moving through space to try to find a better relationship with each other. And you can’t really do that without then thinking about the pelvic mass you’re also going to be thinking about how can the pelvic mass and the thoracic mass have also like a floating above each other relationship.

Kathryn: 00:33:07

So it sounds like it’s a lot more like experiential and individualized than like your head should be here or your shoulders should be here or tuck your ribs squeeze your glutes.

Madeleine: Yes and part of the reason for that is that every body is different. Really really everybody is different but part of that is also like we have this idea that like posture is a thing that you arrive at and then you stay there. Like it’s a static place but posture is dynamic always.

00:33:38 Every time you breathe your body moves. So every time you breathe your posture is adjusting to that breath. Every time you talk. When you move your jaw your muscles at the back of your neck are adjusting to the change of weight distribution that happens when you open and close your mouth. When you chew the same thing happens.

So if you, and this is a fun little thing you can try, if you put your index fingers just at the base of your skull just where your neck starts like sort of where your hairline is and then you just talk or you chew or just chomp a couple of times.

You can feel the little muscle sort of bulging with activity like they’ll sort of twitch under your fingers and so that’s your neck adapting to the change of weight distribution at the front of your head. Every time you move whether it’s for breathing or for chewing or talking your posture is adapting constantly.

00:34:29 There are not huge adaptations it’s not like you’re shifting in these gigantic ways but the subtle ways of shifting are also part of that dynamic postural thing. So looking for a perfect place where if I just hold this perfect place then I have good posture and I’m winning. Like that’s not the point. Posture is really dynamic and so if you can find a way for it to be experiential, first of all, it’s much more fun.

But second of all, you’ll be able to also sense all of the little, you think you’ll get better and better at sensing the little adaptations that happen when you breathe. When you turn your head to one side or if you lift an arm or if you put one foot in front of the other or you shift your weight to one side like all of those little shifts you’ll get a sense of like the body finding its new moment to moment adaptable posture.

Kathryn: 00:35:17

And I guess it just sounds like, yeah it’s more based on experience less based on rules less based on the right way the safe way which I think is interesting because I would say over the last year I have really been trying to work these ideas out of my own practice and out of my own teaching. So saying things to people like “slide your head back in space” or “make sure pull your ribs in” or “neutral this or neutral that}” and I try to just be a little bit more like “bring your body what feels like neutral right now”.

Like a little bit more open-ended which I have found has been like successful. It’s been a little bit of a mental reorganization of the words that actually come out of my mouth while I’m teaching because like teaching can be so habit-based. Things just start coming out and you’re like “what do I really mean that”. Or like old beliefs come out really really easily. And so aside from that challenge I’ve been really enjoying this new way of communicating with people about their bodies.

And I teach a course for teachers and you know it’s a big course so there’s a lot of teachers and so there’s a lot of ideas. I frequently get a lot of questions about like “well if you’re not telling people how to do this then how do you know they’re gonna be safe”. Or like there is this feeling of like if I’m not being super specific then people are going to get injured and how do you talk to people about that.

Madeleine: 00:36:51

Yeah. So I just actually just want to say one thing before I forget that that work that you’re doing of like rejigging how you teach and how you use words like that process that you’re doing that work that you’re doing is decolonizing your own practice and decolonizing your educating practice. And so, first of all, I’m just so happy to hear that but really to recognize that that’s what you’re doing and that it’s really hard and will take a lot of time and that you doing that will encourage other people to do the same.

There’s a lot of these like ideals that come in from our society having this white supremacy in all places in all forms such as perfectionism is like this idea of needing to have like perfect posture. This idea of like good and bad. So that posture can be good or posture can be bad. And oftentimes that reflects whether I’m good or I’m bad that. I want to be a good student, I want to be a good teacher. Like all of these sort of like expectations that we grew up with and then we were raised to really hold as core values.

00:37:53 And so undoing those things is the process of decolonization for the various areas of your life that that’s happening. So I just wanted to like state that for what I see it to be. And you know I have an example from one of my classes the other day I was teaching and I had had a lot of tea in the morning and about an hour and so in my classes an hour and a half I had to pee so badly.

So I in my head I had this argument like well this is only half now are like you can hold it you need to like be the teacher who is doesn’t have bodily function and we’ll just teach for the whole time and break means that you’re like failing as a teacher or whatever.

And then I was like that is a ridiculous thought. Like if any of my students had to pee I would be like “please go pee”. So I just stopped my class and I said I’ll be back in a couple of minutes because I have to use a washroom. And I felt like why is that radical.

But somehow it really did feel like it felt like a big choice to be making. And one of my students commented after like “that made me feel like we were also allowed to like be human” and to have moments that are not sort of like by the book correct or whatever.
You know like it gives other people permission to also start that process or continue that process of colonizing.

So I just wanted to put that out there. Anyways in terms of safety. This is a really really great question and it’s complicated. And I remember when I was first learning about all of the ways in which my previous practices particularly my dance practices were actually unsafe for me and were causing injury and I was learning all of the ways that I needed to be conscious of how I move my body.

00:39:28 And I found it really hard to like take a class like to just go to take a dance class but I felt like “oh my gosh I’m going to injure myself”. “Things are going to be unsafe because I’m not like I can’t think of all the things all at once”. A part of the puzzle is that human bodies are really resilient.

So yes absolutely need to worry about the safety of our students but also we need to be careful not to be so precious that we don’t allow them to explore and to figure out where those places of safety are so and then my other key would be that I think it’s really really important for people who are guiding students through movement practices with their bodies to really understand the anatomy of the body.

I think that that’s a really important thing. I know that my ballet teachers probably had never seen you know a hip joint diagram. They probably didn’t know a lot of my dance friends and who are many from our teachers might think that the femur is just straight and the ball of the hip is just like at the end of the femur. But there’s actually an angle in the femur right before the ball of the hip and that actually really changes the mechanics of how that joint is going to move.

00:40:35 So like actually knowing how the body is constructed and what it’s made of and how it moves is really crucial to be being able to then actually see when a student is being unsafe rather than just “oh they’re not in parallel that means they’re not safe” or “oh their knee is going past their foot that means they’re not safe”.

So following those sort of like generic ideas of what global rules as to how to keep a student safe which came out of something that was sort of true but then we’re just used as like these general guidelines.

Right. Like parallel is not inherently safe. In fact, for some people can be really harmful and so and like keeping the knee behind the ankle that’s really common when I hear, also is not like inherently safe on its own.

00:41:21 It’s not that the second your knee goes past the ankle you’re in danger or at risk. One really good cue is if people are feeling pain to encourage them to look for and explore to find a place that doesn’t feel painful or ask for help.

And that seems really obvious but a lot of people who come to a movement class for maybe the first time or who are not working out might not know that they might just assume that it’s supposed to hurt.

That stretching is supposed to be painful.
So yeah like those kinds of cues can be helpful but it’s definitely a challenge. And I think that it comes with experience and time and dialogue with the people in your class.

Kathryn: 00:42:04

I think that when people come to class they either like you said some people just expect that it should hurt I’m not going to open them up or eventually just resolve itself. Or, and I feel like I see this even more commonly, is like when people feel pain they’re like “oh that means I need to stop completely”.

Or like never do that. And it’s like there has to be a little like more nuance there and a little wiggle room there and like well maybe I don’t have to do it exactly like that. But it also doesn’t necessarily mean that like you’re creating damage to your body.

Madeleine: 00:42:41

Yeah, it might just mean that you need to work up to that version or you need to engage different muscles or maybe the angle that you’re at is five degrees too far.
And so it hurts too much you know. Today actually in class you said, “find the angle like of your pelvis where you feel your legs working the most”.

Kathryn: Yes.

Madeleine: 00:43:01

And that even to me cue “oh I wonder what it’s like if I just move my pelvis around”. You know it gave me that freedom to just see what is it like if I changed if I tucked my pelvis under versus sticking my ducktail out like what does I feel like and just exploring. So things where you’re worried about people’s knees, you can give them the option of playing between the range so if you’re standing in utkatasana and there’s always the “press the knees together” cue.

So, then you can say like” if you are feeling pain try opening your knees a little bit and then close them and see if there is a specific angle that feels more possible more sustainable to hold the pose” or “if your shoulders are hurting when you lift your arm above your head maybe you lower them a little bit.

Maybe you bring them forward in space or back in space or maybe you bend your elbow” so like offering these sort of playing moments which you do very frequently in your class where it’s just like let’s just play with this type of movement and see what feels good or what feels interesting.

Because I think including that keeps people safe if anything because they’re paying more attention which sometimes is a lot to ask the people I know that sometimes I just want to go to yoga class I can check out mentally but that’s usually when injuries happen is when people are checked out mentally.

So finding ways to engage them to paying attention to their bodies especially if they’re not used to paying attention to their bodies. Getting them to notice their ankles. So even just saying like “notice what your ankles are doing” oftentimes will help people engage muscles around their ankles that maybe they otherwise wouldn’t. And maybe that could be causing them some strain in that area. For example.

Kathryn: 00:44:38 T

his has been so great. I would love to have you back on the podcast to talk about another part of the body. This is really wonderful. I knew this would be good.

But you know until you start talking to someone you never really know how it’s gonna go. So if people want to find out about your anatomy classes online or are you also teaching classes online right now?

Madeleine: 00:45:01

Not currently, mostly because I don’t really have a space to do much but I’m teaching anatomy classes and we do sort of stand up and move around a little bit but it’s mostly just to learn about the body. I’m terrible at social media I’m just gonna put that out there.

But I do try to like get the word out. But if people want to find out more I do have a website. It’s movinghealingbody.ca and I’m also on Facebook moving healing body.

And I have an Instagram moving.healing.body. I kept everything consistent so it’s easy to find me. So and I do anatomy Teas on Saturdays in English and on Tuesdays in Spanish.

And right now it’s by donation just while I’m figuring out logistics and also because of you know the economic situation. So people can donate whatever they feel is appropriate.

Kathryn: 00:45:54

And you have a little newsletter where you send stuff out to people. So if people go to your website they can join your newsletter and…

Madeleine: Yes, there’s a little subscribe.

Kathryn: Stay in the loop. That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today and talking to us.

Madeleine: It was great. I really enjoyed it.

Kathryn: My pleasure. Thanks so much.