Book Review: Deskbound

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I just got my copy of the brand new book Deskbound by Dr. Kelly Starrett, with  Juliet Starrett and Glen Cordoza. Finally! Before I get into the book, I have to say, I am biased– I am already a fan of the Starretts–I like their giant quads, their cheerful, funny approach  and their seeming lack of douchiness.  And I already like the books Becoming a Supple Leopard and Ready to Run and Mobilitywod. To me, Kelly Starrett stands out amongst the many people talking about bodies in that he’s not waxed up, he seems to be respecting ladies, he and the others in his books and videos seem just like regular people. It’s like Yep, here’s a strong lady lifting stuff and it’s no big thing.  Here’s my kids,  here we are just running around. Refreshing.


OK, so Deskbound. It is about the sedentary life that is very common in our culture right now, why it matters, and what we can do about it. It is definitely about sitting, but, you know, it’s like 300-something pages, it offers a lot of information and solutions. Sitting is an issue that affects herbalists because 3 of the most common complaints we get are pain, digestive issues and “stress”/sleep issues. ALL of these issues may be helped by our changing the ways we move and live, so every time we hand out a product to fix something caused by a behavior, we are participating in, we are co-creating this cultural imbalance.

Yes, we are part of the problem, too.

So throughout the book, they are not afraid to say ” ____is a problem, here is why, move away from ___, here is how.” It is a format that actually makes sense, feels do-able and practical to me.

There are a lot of visuals, both photos and drawings, that help to make the concepts clear. The approach feels like systems thinking, where we identify and unravel underlying causes, make connections, which excites me. I’m seeing lots of focus on standing and walking, which might sound boring but IT’S NOT–basically, how can we do these better, and how  will that support our overall health.

And the concept of “environmental loads”–  everything from shoes to chairs– is one that may be useful in talking about what makes us unwell–often we hear, in the alternative health community, about fears of chemicals or radiation, GMOs or “toxins”, from people wearing heeled shoes, sitting all day who don’t lift heavy things. HEY! It’s not the “toxins” that are going to get you, people! Go for a walk!

I also appreciate that there isn’t a diet section. I’ve experienced reading a book about movement or health which suddenly shifts into what to eat, or some pseudoscientific or religious views, or both, and it’s an immediate buzzkill for me.

My only complaint about this book, and much of the media around sitting, heck all fitness, is that they seem to be speaking to “white collar” office workers first. My personal background, community and family are filled with factory workers, farmers , cleaners and carpenters. While this information definitely applies to nearly all types of workers, some interpretation will need to be done to make this feel super relevant to much of the working class.

So go get this book, and learn how to perform basic maintenance on your bod. Bring it to your own community, bring the concepts into your practice, your teaching, or your way of thinking. The next big shift in our culture is out of the chair, and this book shows us how and why.

Changing the way we move will eventually help to change the way we view our bodies–we don’t HAVE a body, we ARE a body, and this book is an owner’s manual.IMG_0933

 

 

BOOKS, reviewed

What I’ve been reading this Winter: I chose 10 books that, to me, correspond with concepts that I would like to see discussed and taught within the word of herbalism. It is nice to read a book, but to me, even better if I can USE it as a tool. I read mostly non-fiction, and I do so with a (real paper) notebook handy so I can take notes on what excites me, what pisses me off, what I need to share or what I must find someone to discuss as soon as possible.

-A History of Public Health: revised and expanded edition by George Rosen

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A sense of our place in history.

I have a love-hate relationship with public health. It encompasses the history of waste management, which I find very interesting, and without a doubt useful. And it also encompasses a person or group trying to force another person or group to change, and a loss of cultural diversity that comes from calling individual humans “the public”. It raises questions around human rights and human responsibilities, access, communication, authority and information. Thankfully, Rosen does bring a bit of class consciousness to the stories, which I appreciate.

This book was originally written in the 1950s and does reflect that time, so if you are looking for something more recent, this is not it. But if you would like to geek out on the journey of public health, especially during the 1700s and 1800s, mainly European and American, this is the book for you. It has people and places, diseases and theory!

And this is one piece of the overall life-puzzle I explore constantly: How did we get here?  How did NOW happen? I just don’t think we can move forward without some information about where we’ve been.

What I found most interesting about this history is that Public Health seems, on first glance, like “the man”  but the reality is full of activists, problem-solvers and creative thinkers, and includes many working women.

 

-Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Eastern/Central, third edition by Steven Foster and James A. Duke

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Skills, baby, skills! Field ID, botany

OK, I am going to air out my internet pet peeve: “Can I get an ID?”
Why do we think it makes sense to take a crappy photo and post it on Facebook, where people we don’t know argue over whether it is a tomato or an Oak tree? Like the constant desire for an ID app, this speaks to a modern learned helplessness and an unwillingness to do a little work.
People. Get this book. Learn to ID.
For basic  field ID of common plants, it is convenient and reasonable.

I do NOT use this book for information about plant use, as I find that part of it oversimplified, outdated and overreliant on “used by X tribe for __”  and “experimentally, used as___” both of which I personally find obnoxious.
Example: Prenanthes alba, “Iroquois used tea as a wash for weakness.” This piece of information is so useless to me. What does that even mean?

But anyway, it’s a great book for identifying plants.

-H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

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Finding meaning in the struggle

This book is a memoir of Ms. MacDonald’s journey of mourning. She struggles after her Father’s sudden death, and ends up combining a literary research project and the training of her own raptor  (a Goshawk, Mabel) to pull herself through. Slowly. Excruciatingly.
It is a beautiful book, wonderful use of language, very descriptive, it moves quickly and it’s emotional but not mushy.

I admit to scanning a few of the paragraphs about TH White towards the end, but this is a minor detail.

It ultimately  speaks to how we all need an outlet in life, a way to process all that comes at us, all that is hard to speak about or let go of, whether it is a dramatic death or just dealing with life’s many challenges.

-Out on the Wire, The storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel

This is a graphic non-fiction book about making great radio. The issue it hits upon that’s relevant to herbalism is story-telling and public speaking. It took me time to find my voice as a teacher and speaker, and I’d suggest this to new and old writers, teachers, interviewers and anyone who has to speak in front of others.

That is part of what being an herbalist is, really: a good interviewer. A good listener. And someone who can present suggestions in a way that grabs others and keeps them interested.

And many of us create audio or video of our classes, plant walks and/or discussions, so I see this as a useful tool in creating that work, too. Because becoming great speakers is difficult and takes time–but is a worthwhile pursuit, especially if we would like to share our ideas with others.

-Risk, the Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner 

RISK MANAGEMENT

Yes, we need an understanding of risk management in health care. YES, yes, yes.

From the tired old trope “vaccines are the cause of Autism” to the constant claims that a trace of ___chemical means certain death, or an herb that has SOME effect on the uterus will totally abort your fetus, from fearfully kicking trans folks out of “womyn’s” spaces to running for cover from “chemtrails” and conventionally grown bananas we just don’t seem to be interested in assessing real risk.

The reality of risk is that it is complex, that humans fear what grabs their attention and ignore what kills us slowly.

The reality is that we seem to want to blame someone. Anyone.

And most of the media we hear is based on  gross oversimplification, fear-mongering, and quick and easy words about difficult subjects.

So we need to really get how to ask questions!

Even just the most basic–What is the actual risk of doing or not doing this thing?

And ultimately, having a grasp of how risk management affects us, as practitioners, as end users, as participants in a system, might be the most important way to create  cultural shifts, to make change away from fear-based decision making  and towards more practical  management of our risk.

Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh

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Problem solving!

Quite possibly my favorite subject. We often talk about treating the problem, not just the symptoms. But how?

We can’t often change these underlying problems without a shift in how we look at these problems, without shifting how WE understand them.

Systems thinking is one possible solution to creating a broader perspective on these problems. It gives us tools to talk about things, to diagram the problems we are facing. And that is how to start.

This book has some interesting ideas for helping us to create that broader thinking. Chapters like Why Good Intentions are Not Enough, Storytelling for Social Change and Facing Current Reality excite and invigorate me.

I definitely suggest it.

 

-Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen

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Age Power to the Old People!

Ack, I loooooove this book. It’s an easy read, a break from all these wordy chaptery things. It’s about elders who are still having fun with their looks and outfits. But it also speaks to a deeper issue–shaming the aging process with our shitty marketing campaigns for wrinkle creams and butt slimmers. And herbalists do it, too–same baggage-laden products and concepts with an all-natural label stuck to the front.

Turns out that using the wrinkle cream designed for your face isn’t good enough for your neck, which has its own special needs and requires a separate  “décolletage cream”. UGH.

So this celebrates people–mostly ladies, in this case–who are rocking their wrinkles and it shows their style, beauty and spirit in an inspiring and fun way.

-Mind Over Medicine , Scientific Proof that you can Heal Yourself by Lissa Rankin, MD

-Cure by Jo Marchant

Mind-Body connections

I am going to write about these 2 together because I am lazy and want to go take a walk.

OK, how  many times have we heard someone get mad at being told “it’s all in your head”? And yeah, when people say that as a put-down, it IS obnoxious and shows that they don’t understand the mind-body connection. But what if we take control of that narrative for ourselves? What if, when we hear something is all in our head, we say YAY! That means that, though it will be long and hard, thought it will take work, I can create shifts myself!

That means it’s mine!

We often go to a practitioner wanting them to fix us. But sometimes getting better requires our participation, and rather than seeing that as a problem, maybe it is an opportunity.

Self-empowerment is an interesting concept, as it holds a lot of potential for healing but also some potential for loneliness. Challenging standard ways of thinking is not always easy or straightforward. But if the story is mine, that means it’s mine to destroy, or change, or accept–or some combo of these.

Of these two books, I’d strongly recommend Cure and weakly recommend Mind over Medicine–I think Marchant’s book is the better of the two.

I am super excited about new studies and ideas around changing our brain, around mindfulness and neuroplasticity. It is exploration  and it is Science. If you like Oliver Sacks, if you wonder how the mind and body intersect, if you struggle with something that is “all in your head”, or know someone who does, if you like stories, check these books out.

-Fuzzy Memories and Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

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HUMOR

I am including these two for the sole reason of fighting the trend to take ourselves too seriously, and because humor  heals.

Happy reading!

 

Book Review: Yoga–Fascia, Anatomy and Movement

Disclaimer: I have a love-hate relationship with Yoga. I am a big fan of moving around, and Asanas are one interesting way to do so. But I find some Yoga to be extreme. I love inner journeys, but I cringe at “Namaste”. And ultimately, I am turned off by the Yoga industry, by the strong association I find with positive thinking and by what I feel is the cultural appropriation and/or misunderstanding aspect of Yoga’s roots.

But Yoga is, at this moment in time in the West, many things and some of them are worth hanging onto, and I believe we can acknowledge these issues and move on.

So this is the personal context in which I was searching for a book to add to my movement-book-collection. I found that the majority of the Yoga books were either focused on looks, such as weight loss or the mysterious concept of “glowing”. Or had a spiritual angle, which I prefer to avoid.

I found Yoga-Fascia, Anatomy and Movement by Joanne Sarah Avison on Amazon. There were no reviews and only 1 copy available, and it was expensive compared to the other books I looked at, about 50.00. I’d never heard of the author, who according to her bio teaches in London, and it felt a little gamble-y to spend that much money on what I considered a longshot. But the foreword was written by Tom Myers, author of the book Anatomy Trains which is a groundbreaking and intense tome so I went for it.

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The result: the book is a masterwork. It is written for an audience of Yoga teachers–and I like that because I believe that if you want to really get into a subject, try to read books written for teachers of that subject. It’s got a whole different tone compared to books written for the masses–it’s an assumption that you, too, are passionate about this subject. There’s no feeling that she has to sell the tickets, cause you’re already on this bus.

Fascia is a newish subject, and one that I haven’t seen a lot of books about yet. I’d love to see a short, snappy, funny and photo-rich Fascia book with easy infographics that appeals to a wide audience…maybe it can come with a tennis ball and a  mat…but until then, we have to accept the challenge of more advanced works.

There are a few moments where I feel like she knows her subject so well that I am not quite getting it, but I suspect that is more my fault for not actually being a Yoga teacher. I haven’t been able to sit down and read it cover-to-cover, I keep jumping around from chapter to chapter, getting up to try things, taking time to think her ideas through. The book is as dynamic as the subject, which says a lot about her depth of knowledge.

I particularly liked that there are drawings and photos but no photos of very well-dressed super-perfect glowy people doing Asana on their stand-up paddelboard.

I particularly liked the back third movement section, and found that more accessible for entry-level people than some of the (albeit super interesting) theory.

And I appreciate that there is NO diet advice. At all. I have noticed many otherwise great movement or exercise books, such as Barefoot Walking and Strong Curves have large  sections on the authors’ ideas about food. Eat more, eat less, eat raw vegan, eat Paleo, eat this not that. Listen, writers, if I want a food book I will get one. Thank you to those who deliver movement content without assuming I need a diet!

Ultimately, I believe this book is going to be like the Velvet Underground, in which it quietly changes the world, becomes a favorite of those who are teaching and writing about t he subject and inspires a million people to start a band.

I am going to go ahead and suggest that if you have any interest in Yoga, movement, fascia, bodies or theory around these subjects you seek it out immediately.