Jules Mitchell on biomechanics, yoga, and human variability

Today on the Body Positive Yogacast, I’m chatting with biomechanist, yoga teacher, and researcher Jules Mitchell. We discuss the basics of biomechanics, proprioception, how the yoga conversation is changing, and some exciting research in movement science.

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Amber Karnes: Hey welcome to the Body Positive Yoga podcast. I’m Amber Karnes. And you can find more about me and other episodes at bodypositiveyoga.com.

I’m really excited today to introduce you to Jules Mitchell. So Jules is a San Francisco based yoga teacher, educator, and massage therapist. And she has a really unique approach that blends the tradition of yoga with her study in bio-mechanics, to help teachers develop their craft, and empower them with education.

It’s Jules passion to share the most useful and applicable pieces of science with the yoga community to build confidence in students and teachers by having a well-grounded understanding of the science behind the how and why of yoga asana. And Jules leads teacher trainings, workshops, courses, both worldwide and online. And she also has private clients that she works with as well.

And Jules is also an adjunct faculty at Arizona State university. She’s the yoga consultant on research studies measuring the effects of yoga therapy on special populations including pregnant women, women with depressive symptoms associated with perinatal loss, and cancer patients. And her future research goals include the effects of asana on tissue adaptation and bridging the gap between exercise, science and yoga.

So she is also a prolific writer. On her popular Science Meets Yoga blog and she’s currently writing her book, Yoga, Biomechanics Redefining Stretching, which is due to release next year.

So I’m really excited to have Jules Mitchell here today to talk with us about yoga and science and all kinds of different things having to do with biomechanics. And sort of the future of the conversation around yoga and exercise science.

Thank you for being here Jules.

Jules Mitchell: Thanks for having me.

Amber Karnes: Great to have you.

So I spent a weekend with Jules up in Maryland taking a bunch of her workshops. And I followed your work online for a long time now. And really appreciate your science-based approach to asana. I definitely, as a yoga person who sometimes doesn’t feel like in the yoga community per se, I’ve definitely heard a lot of things that are more esoteric, I think in the yoga practices and folks get told, “Oh, your shoulder hurts? Maybe you should your prana around or unblock one of your chakras.” To somebody that’s not steeped in that method, it can be really vague and inaccessible and so the thing that I was really drawn to about your work, is that it’s based in movement science, but it’s also in the practice of yoga. So I want to talk about a bunch of different “sciency” movement type stuff today.

Jules Mitchell: That sounds perfect.

Amber Karnes: Okay great. So in the workshops that I came to, the thing that struck me the most was your … If I could sum up that whole weekend, it was like, “Human variability is normal.” And this goes really hand-in-hand with my practice and my teaching and where I am, which is helping folks to adapt the practice of yoga to non-confirming bodies, you know quote, unquote whether they’re bigger bodies, older, disabled, stiff folks, raw beginners. Sometimes even athletes, you know, they have their own set of issues. And I think because yoga’s such this visual practice, you know, we’re making shapes with our bodies, folks get caught up in alignment cues and poses looking a certain way when in reality, every pose and every body looks a little different and that’s normal. So in those workshops that we had, you talked a lot about being able to do the poses all the ways, that we have more choices in a pose rather than just being really rigid about one way to do a pose.

So can you speak to that a little bit? I’ll just let you ramble and talk about it.

Jules Mitchell: Sure. There’s a rut there.

Amber Karnes: Yeah there is. The human variability thing is big.

Jules Mitchell: You know there’s so many different topics in that. I mean, we could just talk about variances in skeletons and bone shape if we wanted to and have an entire hour conversation about that. But I think I’ll go a little bit more on the alignment road and the perception of correctness and incorrectness. And our role as yoga teachers because I think that’s also very important to bring into the equation.

Since when is it the role of a yoga teacher to tell someone how to move correctly, right?

Amber Karnes: Right, right.

Jules Mitchell: And you know and to highlight incorrectness, do we even have the background for that is the question. And then also I would like just to add to this conversation, I’d also to mention the difference between group versus private yoga teaching because that’s also very different. You know, I think there’s an implied consent and also hopefully a verbalized and written consent with the private teacher that is a little bit more of an analysis of how somebody moves. But in a group environment, can a yoga teacher even achieve that if there’s 25 people in the class, or 80 people in the class or wherever you are.

So these are all the topics that fit into this alignment question and this correctness question. I’m trying to … My message is to bring these ideas to the forefront. And I don’t really have an answer. So I actually don’t have an agenda to push. It’s not like, “Alignment is wrong or alignment is good,” it’s not that. It’s just like, “What assumptions have we made about alignment, and are they working for us?” That’s the bigger question.

Yesterday, I took a yoga class and it was really interesting. The teacher started talking about alignment. And then because — you and I aren’t the first people to have this conversation, right? It’s out there on the Internet now. And so as she was using this word, alignment, she suddenly came to its defense. She was teaching a group class so there was no interaction. Nobody was actually questioning her about alignment, she was just talking to herself, well to a group of people. But you know, it’s was a one-sided narrative. And she mentioned the word alignment a few times and then came to its own defense. So I thought in my head maybe she’s had this conversation with others. And so she redefined alignment, I thought was really interesting, as paying attention.

And that actually got me thinking as well because why are we redefining words? Why don’t we just call paying attention, paying attention? And being aware? Now this goes to what you had said like all this esoteric language. Do we really have the right to make up definitions for words? What does that do to communication and how was that [inaudible 00:07:40] polarizing the students that are like, “Wait. I thought alignment means an arrangement of parts in to a correct relative position so that we can do things well.” When did that turn into awareness? Those are two different meanings in my opinion.

Amber Karnes: Agreed.

Jules Mitchell: So I thought that was kind of interesting that again, you and I aren’t the only ones having this conversation. And I’m even seeing it out in the yoga world, people having conversations with themselves. And that’s important. That’s good.

Amber Karnes: Yeah definitely. You know, something that I really appreciated about both the class that we did with you and also just throughout the weekend was that approaching things from a place of inquiry, instead of a place of defined like, “There’s this one correct way to do it. And it’s the way Mr. Iyengar does it in the picture.” Or like whatever, right? So you know, one of the things that I remember you saying was, during that class, was asking a lot of questions about the sensations that we’re feeling and stuff like that. And the thing that you said was like, “Not trying to achieve anything but just what can we learn about the body?”

And I thought that was really interesting. Also, just questioning the alignment cues that we say. I know I’ve definitely done it as a yoga teacher. It’s like you hear other yoga teachers say things and then you repeat those things.

Jules Mitchell: Of course.

Amber Karnes: And sometimes we don’t stop to question, why are we saying things like, “Don’t let your knee go past your ankle in this one pose,” but in another pose, it’s okay. And so these fear-based alignment cues, I think, one of the things that struck me about that I’ve heard you say is that the body isn’t this delicate, breakable thing necessarily. It’s a pretty robust self-organizing system. And I don’t know if you want to talk a little bit about that and how you’ve rethought different cues that you give as a teacher that you’re encouraging other teachers [crosstalk 00:09:44]

Jules Mitchell: Yeah sure. Absolutely. I mean, I taught yoga in the realm of, “Don’t do this, you’ll hurt yourself.” I remember in my very first 200 hour teacher training going at it with the teacher because she was telling us, the teacher of the training program, she’s telling us that the knee had to be over the ankle to protect the knee. I remember going like, “What? How?” I didn’t even doubt her, I actually believed her. I actually believed that makes sense. You know, things are straight in straight lines, I like that, that appeals to the mathematician in me. I was like, “Okay but how is that safer?” I actually wanted to legitimately know what was happening … Nobody at that time said to me stuff like sheer forces and … I wanted to know that stuff. And I didn’t get any of that back. And so I was left with believing it and repeating it. And so I was left with … There was no biomechanics education. And she’s a lovely woman and I’m friends with her today and she’s an amazing teacher. It just wasn’t part of our curriculum and she came from the psychology background. She taught anatomy very well but it was a missing component in the conversation. And because I appealed to authority, because that’s what we’re taught to do when we learn from our teachers, I believed it and repeated it.

And I think the interesting thing about that is, just in line with your work, is it really starts to paint a picture of what a body should look like. And I think that really gets us into trouble. It starts to shame the body who can’t do that for whatever reason. I mean, who cares what the reason is, again in a group class versus private is different, but in a group class, if somebody’s knee is forward or backwards of the ankle or whatever, does it provide value for us to keep repeating and blaming and shaming? Do we actually know the reason for that?

And even yesterday in my yoga class, we were doing a lot of forward bending, which we do just in yoga way too much, I think, in a lot of low style classes, we spend half the class in standing forward bend it feels like. And we were doing Warrior Three Standing Split, Warrior Three Standing Split. And you know, I’m recovered from a hamstring tendinopathy. And there’s just some things, after a while, I just don’t want to do. And so, I was doing the posture poorly on purpose. You know, I was like … I had my hip open and I was doing all the things you’re not supposed to do. But I was doing it because it was I was choosing for myself coming from a place of actual education and knowledge. And I was literally concerned that I would be called out, shamed or corrected. I’ve never been to that class before, I just recently moved, so it’s kind of nice, I’m taking yoga classes anonymously. Because I get a different experience then when I go and the teacher knows me, you know. So it’s kind of cool. It was a legitimate concern of mine. This is a narrative running through my head in my yoga practice well is, “I hope I don’t have to like-

Amber Karnes: Justify yourself.

Jules Mitchell: And well, yeah exactly. Actually like defy the teacher’s advice because … You know, I just didn’t even want to be put in that situation because I want to please the teacher as well. You know what I mean? This whole conversation was really in my own head, was really rich with shaming and concern for being shamed, and concern for defying authority. Like how did this enter the yoga classes? It’s kind of crazy, isn’t it?

Amber Karnes: Yeah it is. And you know, I’ve definitely have actually had that experience and you probably have too. If you go and do your own thing or you don’t do exactly what the teacher says sometimes, is that the teacher actually will stop and be like, “No,” and correct and command. And I think it’s okay to correct and command if we know why we’re saying that. If there’s a legitimate reason and there’s not much to back it up. But just because in a picture, in a yoga book, it says that the knee has to be directly over the ankle in a straight line, but we don’t question why. What mechanical stuff is happening in the body to justify that? Then I don’t think it’s our place to command.

Jules Mitchell: And in defense, I mean again, let’s just be very diplomatic about it. In the defense of yoga teachers, because I’ve done it too, so I’m not speaking at yoga teachers, I’m speaking within our circle.

Amber Karnes: Same, yeah same.

Jules Mitchell: So in defense of that, I’m not even putting blame on it. I’m just basically bringing to light a conversation about our culture and a conversation about how we’ve been taught. And we actually don’t know. I mean, who knows? Maybe it is actually that much better to have the knee right over … We actually don’t … It’s more of a question of the culture and what’s happening in a group class setting when we’re imposing certain ideals.

You know I remember, one time, I went to an anger class in Los Angeles and we had to sit backwards in the chairs, you know the yoga chairs where the back is. So we had to sit with our legs through that space backwards. And there was a woman in that class, there was probably 25 people in the class, it was full. And there was a woman that was sitting in it sideways. And the teacher literally stopped teaching and direct like cut a one-on-one conversation from the front of the room with that student. So of course, what do we all do? We all turned and looked. So now she’s being witnessed for 25 people watching her have this conversation with the teacher. And she didn’t want to sit backwards in the chair because she thought she wouldn’t fit. And so she wanted to sit sideways. And the teacher made her sit backwards in the chair while everybody was watching. And it turns out, she did fit but that’s not really the issue.

Amber Karnes: Now she’s singled out and [inaudible 00:16:17] and everything else, yeah.

Jules Mitchell: That’s not a good experience in yoga. And again, I’m not even blaming the teacher. The teacher’s a lovely woman. It came from a place of love and like, “I want to show you, you can do this.” There’s no blame to go around here. It’s just like, we have to talk about these things because they have to be brought to our attention. And I’m sure, I mean maybe I’m not sure, I’m hoping that in retrospect that teacher went home … Because I know I’ve probably done things like that as well. And I know I have because I’ve lost sleep over them. Do you know what it’s like?

Amber Karnes: Yep.

Jules Mitchell: You know it’s not a like, “Oh, you shouldn’t be like that,” that’s not what I’m saying at all. It’s just like, these are … To push it under the rug and not have a conversation about it isn’t helping. You know, it’s like, “Hey, you know.”

Amber Karnes: Right. Yeah, I think it’s part of our job as teachers to be self aware and to practice self study, which is part of what we’re supposed to be doing if we’re following you know, yoga system anyway. So I think it’s good to have these conversations instead of just pretending that it doesn’t happen.

Jules Mitchell: Yeah.

Amber Karnes: So I wanted to change gears just slightly … Well not really but … We’ve said the words biomechanics a couple of times.

Jules Mitchell: Yeah.

Amber Karnes: So I’m wondering you know, for the folks that are listening maybe who don’t study movement science, who maybe are new to yoga or movement, can you talk a little bit about what that means? I don’t know if you follow J. Brown but he just came out with a post this week that was sort of like … To me it felt a little bit of a rant against biomechanics. It was like, “The body is not a machine.” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s a completely different definition than what I understand what biomechanics to be.” So-

Jules Mitchell: That’s not what biomechanics is at all.

Amber Karnes: Right. So let’s talk a little bit about what it is and what is isn’t, and how that informs the teaching that you do.

Jules Mitchell: I think biomechanics is a completely misunderstood term. I spend the first 20 minutes of every workshop defining biomechanics and talking about it. I think people think biomechanics is alignment, which that statement that you just said where biomechanics, the body’s not a machine, I think that’s alignment. You’re right, the body’s not a machine, therefore the topic of alignment comes into question.

Biomechanics is how the body responds to forces.

Amber Karnes: Right.

Jules Mitchell: Period. Like force. Like that means muscle contractions, that produces force. That means … it means gravity. So when I say the body responds to force, you know, there’s a few different narratives in that. We can talk about kinetics and kinematics, which is more about motion stuff but we don’t do a lot of motion in yoga, it’s a lot more … We do obviously flow but we talk about the poses, which are snapshots so we don’t really study as much the transitions which are not the poses.

So it’s really about in that shape that we’re holding, what are the forces on the knee joint? What are the forces on the bones? Are the ground reaction forces on the bones strong enough to improve bone density? That’s biomechanics. So it’s not about alignment, it’s not about heel to arch alignment. I think people think that’s what biomechanics means, that it’s applied anatomy. That you step your feet this far apart, but that’s not at all what it means. It means if or when you step your feet this far apart and turn one leg out and bend the knee, what are the forces acting on the component parts of the body, what are the forces on the ankle, on the knee, on the hip? Does it change when you increase your muscle contractions? What are the forces on the tendons? Right? Like we know that tendons respond very well to higher load activity so when you’ve got stronger muscle contractions like 80% capacity in that range, tendons respond well. That’s biomechanics. Let’s get these tendons strong.

And let me just say that — I’m getting passionate about this — that is exactly saying the body’s not a machine, because a machine doesn’t adapt to forces. I always use the example of the suspension bridge. If the suspension bridge were a body, the more cars you packed on it, the stronger it would get, the more cars it would be able to hold over time of course. And there’s a limit, of course there’s a finite limit. But to suggest that the body is a machine would suggest that the body doesn’t adapt to forces. That’s not at all what biomechanics-

Amber Karnes: That it’s fixed.

Jules Mitchell: Exactly. And biomechanics is about how the body behaves under load, and how the body adapts to load.

Amber Karnes: Yeah, so when you-

Jules Mitchell: Right? So the behavior over time changes.

Amber Karnes: Yeah definitely. So we spent a lot of time in your workshops talking about adaptability and load and graded exposure and stuff like that. So maybe you can define adaption a little bit more than what you just referred to it. But the thing that I wanted to talk about on here was … I found it fascinating that we started talking about visualization. And that you know, if we want the body to adapt, we need this graded exposure thing and it can start with the mind. It can start with imagining. So can you talk about that first of all? Like what’s load? What’s adaption? And then how can visualization come into play if you’re an athlete or a yoga practitioner or whatever?

Jules Mitchell: Yeah absolutely. That’s a really exciting part of the research for me because it unfolded after I started going out teaching biomechanics. And I would leave my weekends feeling like because biomechanics is all about load, that my message was like, “Load, load, load.” And that it was like, “Stronger asana. Stronger asana.” And there’s a huge value in that. You know, that’s the shira, right? There’s definite value in that. But that’s not all that yoga is and so I felt like I was leaving people with this message that there shouldn’t be this kind of softer side, the side that affects the nervous system. It’s not all biomechanics. So it’s not all about load always. There’s perception, there’s all sorts of other components.

And so that’s when you can really start to look at this graded exposure, which comes from the pain science research. Basically it’s suggesting that in injured or painful situations, our go-to has always been to rest it and leave it alone, so let it heal. And the graded exposure idea basically says, “Let’s start the process by strengthening the neural connections.” So let’s strengthen the way the brain is wired and let’s imagine loading, even before loading. This is useful because if you’re in a painful situation or an injured situation, the joints aren’t moving. So it is letting it “rest” in air quotes. But the brain, the synapses in the brain still light up when you imagine movement. And so, that’s kind of this early graded exposure. It’s like this at early stages. That’s the pain science adaption of it, or application of it I should say.

But it’s also used, not just in rehab settings but also in training settings. So think of athletes, right? Athletes are very good at visualization and it strengthens the synapses. It makes them better at their sport just by visualizing. You can just watch the Olympics, you know the downhill skiers or the ski jumpers, right? What do they do right before they do their ski jump, is they visualize it. It crosses over between rehab training practice et cetera, et cetera.

And then also there’s something called the cross education effect, which says if you train the right side, the left side also improves somewhat. You know we can use this in both rehab and training settings so you don’t decondition the other side if you’re injured. There’s this nervous system component that is really exciting and really fits well into the yoga narrative because it doesn’t always have to be maximum effort in the poses.

Amber Karnes: Yeah, that is really exciting. I [inaudible 00:25:22] the brain and all that stuff. That’s so fascinating to me that when you exercise one side of your body, the other side can improve and keep up. And you don’t even have to do anything so it really speaks to like, it isn’t all muscle and bone and machine, it’s way more complicated than that.

Jules Mitchell: And then just to give a little warning you know. I’ve had questions in workshops, people being like, “So you can imagine your way in to the splits?” You know, I’m like, “Okay, so let’s not swing the pendulum so far, right?” So you can’t imagine yourself to become an Olympic athlete, it’s part of the equation.

Amber Karnes: That’s right. That’s right.

Since we’re talking about neural side of things, I want to talk about one of my favorite words to say, proprioception. One of the things that I was excited and fascinated by in your workshop was about how proprioception and nociception came into place where pain was concerned. I’m just wondering if you can talk a little bit about what’s proprioception? What’s nociception? And what should we be concerned about as people who move our bodies throughout the world and that kind of thing?

Jules Mitchell: So proprioception is just defined as knowing where you are in space. Knowing where your limbs are in space. And then there’s also interoception, which is a little bit more about having a sense of aliveness, I guess. Knowing that you have a hand instead of where your hand is in space. So those work together but they’re separate. But they’re both still about a sense of understanding your body.

They’re important for any human and mover because it’s the link to the brain. The brain is always looking for feedback and input, constantly. And so it gets this feedback and input from the proprioceptive and the interoceptive nerve endings and it sends information to the brain. And again, this comes from the pain science, when proprioception and interoception is diminished, those free nerve endings are looking for input. And so they will look for something and that can be nociception, which then can be interpreted sometimes as pain. Nociception happens all the time. If you’ve been listening to this and you shifted in your seat, that’s because nociceptors told the brain it’s time to shift. It doesn’t have to be necessarily painful. Does that make sense? It’s just like, “Hey,” it’s like a little warning [crosstalk 00:28:21] alarm.

Amber Karnes: Yeah, I think you had said, “If the tag is bothering you in your shirt, you reach back and you fix it.”

Jules Mitchell: Fix it, yes.

Amber Karnes: And that’s nociception. Right.

Jules Mitchell: Yes, exactly. And so no big deal. But if the nociception starts running the show, then you can get stuck in this feedback loop of this tag, this tag, this tag and then it becomes problematic. And so there is some research to support that increased proprioception can decrease nociception. Whenever I say there’s research to support, that means it’s not definitive. But there’s definitely some older research particularly with people with low back pain and lumbo-pelvic movement. But it’s older research but still it’s there.

And I’ve actually heard Dr. Schleip, Robert Schleip, out of Germany recently say that, proprioception and nociception are like oil and water. You get one or the other. They don’t really mix. So there’s definitely a possibility that, that’s pretty valid.

But what’s more interesting to me is that just the conversation as as a whole, really appeals to novel movement. It really appeals to trying new things, again breaking out of alignment — you know, prisons — because the brain is fed through novel movement. And so the one time I went to this pain workshop and this guy was telling a story, we were doing little intros, and he said, “I have back pain.” And he said, “And yoga was my magic pill for a very long time. I’d go to yoga and I’d feel better,” and he said, “You know, after about five years, that stopped working. You know, yoga stopped being the magic pill.” So in my mind, I was like, “I wonder,” again, I’m always just questioning things, “I wonder if that’s because you go to the same style, the same teacher. The yoga is now not novel anymore.”

Amber Karnes: Right.

Jules Mitchell: “And so maybe it’s time to pick up tennis. Or try doing some of the poses differently and see what that does.” Again, it’s just like this is … Again, that space for inquiry. Is it the yoga that isn’t working anymore? Or is it that the activity is just not novel anymore? You need to modify the activity for it to be novel. And that might scare some of us because it’s not the yoga pose that we learned. But maybe there’s some benefit in that.

Amber Karnes: Yeah, definitely. And you know, one of the things that I wrote down in my notes from the weekend with you in all caps and whatever, was mobility equals stability. And you had said that, “If you can’t control movement in full range, then you’re not really mobile. And if you don’t own all the movements,” like you’re talking about, “Break out of these alignment prisons and do poses in different ways,” then if can’t do it all the ways then you only really have one stable place. And so, you want to talk about that a little bit?

Jules Mitchell: Yeah, I do.

Amber Karnes: Yeah, go ahead.

Jules Mitchell: Well first of all, I don’t think I’m the first one that’s said, “Mobility is stability.” I might have read that somewhere or heard somebody say that.

Amber Karnes: Well sure.

Jules Mitchell: That’s like a perfect tweet, you know?

Amber Karnes: Right.

Jules Mitchell: But it is really important because I think stability … It goes back to when we first started this interview when I was talking about defining terms. And I think stability is one of those words that we just throw around without explaining a definition for it. Stable, having stability in exercise science is really more about being able to find center after a perturbation.

Amber Karnes: Sure.

Jules Mitchell: That’s stability. Can the organism be disrupted? And then find its homeostatic place again. That’s a stable structure, right? So a joint, in it of itself, because it has movement … It’s stable in the way we talk about joint stability, it tends to mean that it shouldn’t move. And that’s actually not what stability means. And that’s why I think it’s fun to equate stability with mobility because if a joint is fully mobile, meaning it can access all of the degrees of freedom of motion that it’s built for, but the organism can’t maintain control of it, then the organism isn’t stable. But if they can, if they can control it, then they’re stable, but they’re also moving so they’re also mobile. They’re not that different.

And I get people’s attention when I talk about that because it’s been ingrained that they’re the opposite. Just like it’s been ingrained in our mind that stability, sorry, that strength and flexibility are opposite. We say all the time in yoga overbalancing strength and flexibility as if they are opposites. Whereas you can be strong and flexible.

Amber Karnes: That’s right.

Jules Mitchell: Why can we have one or the other? And do I need to be in the middle like too strong is bad and too flexible is bad. It’s like we actually should be plenty flexible and plenty strong. What’s wrong with that?

Amber Karnes: Super interesting. And I think defining terms is really important. We know what the heck we’re talking about when we’re talking about this stuff.

Jules Mitchell: Which is why I spend 20 minutes defining biomechanics. When people ask questions, you know, at workshops, a lot of times, I’ll say, “Well, what do you mean by that?” You know, I think even in the workshop you were in, somebody was like, “Well, isn’t that a …” I don’t remember maybe, “A compensatory movement?” I’m like, “Define that for me in this context so that I can address it and we can have a conversation about it.” And a lot of times, and I don’t mean to be mean about it, but a lot of times it ends up stopping the question. And it’s not because I’m trying to shut down the conversation, I actually will give plenty of space for everyone to deliberate it. It’s just like, you’re asking a question for which you actually don’t have the words in your mind … Fine tune the question and come back to me and we’ll discuss it more. But I don’t want to just throw out a bunch of word salad back at you and no one’s getting anywhere.

And so the question was still useful because just the practice of really saying, “Well, what is my question,” is actually good. They should always leave a workshop of mine with more questions. Otherwise, I don’t think I’ve done my job.

Amber Karnes: Definitely. So I want to wrap things up but before we close it out, do you want to talk about some new movement research that’s come out that you find exciting? Or compelling?

Jules Mitchell: Yeah. I’m not going to maybe cite a particular study. Maybe I will but … I think it’s just exciting that a lot of the research is challenging our older models. The model of anatomy. This goes back again to the body’s not a machine. I think studying anatomy leads us to think the body can be like a machine, whereas I think biomechanics doesn’t, because biomechanics includes that adaptability component.

When we look at anatomy from anatomical position, you know, from tadasana, and we get these ideas that the muscles have jobs because of their origin and insertion points, we end up being very planar. We move in these planes and it ends up being, “This muscle does this and that muscle does that.” And what a muscle does is dictated by how we are in anatomical position. And that’s actually not the way it works. Muscles don’t really have jobs. Muscles do whatever they need to do at any given moment in time depending on position, speed, load. And then they get the task done. And so there’s a lot of research now that’s really supporting that, that’s really looking at how it’s difficult to isolate in a study, one rotator cuff muscle because the connections are so strong. There’s one paper that looks at when you take your shoulder, your arm into flexion, that’s actually a rotator cuff exercise. You don’t have to be just in anatomical position doing your theraband external rotation exercise, you can load the rotator cuff in a variety of ways. And it really speaks to this idea that the body likes novel things and we don’t always have to fit in this perfect shape. The perfect shape is not bad, it’s good. But can we do other shapes as well? And isn’t the body also adapting and responding to that?

So yeah, that’s for me is the most exciting thing in the research that I’m seeing now. Is there’s a lot of questioning the old model. It makes me happy.

Amber Karnes: Yeah definitely. Well one of the things that I think is pretty cool is the more research, and the more I dig into movement science, the more I get the message that like, “Well, what type of exercise is best?” And it’s like, “Whatever you want to do. Just go move your body.”

Jules Mitchell: Do something.

Amber Karnes: Yeah. Because I think especially … A lot of my folks that follow me and come to my workshops are folks in bigger bodies. You know, we experience hostility in fitness environments where there’s all this baggage wrapped around it and things like that. And so that can be very fraught. And it’s like, “Oh, I have to go to a gym to work out.” And it’s like, “Actually, no you don’t. Find,” and this is what I tell people is like, “What physical activity is best for you? And it’s like, “The one that you like doing.” And for science to back that up which is an intuition that I have and a lot of other people have is just like, “Just go move,” is pretty cool.

Jules Mitchell: Yeah. And if your back hurts … I always laugh at the five best yoga poses for back pain. It’s like how do you know that two of those might not aggravate someone’s back? So it’s like, “Why don’t you do the five poses that make your back feel better?” Unfortunately, that doesn’t sell, it can’t be monetized. It’s a whole other conversation. But if we as teachers can support that statement, then we’re doing a huge service to our community.

Amber Karnes: Absolutely.

Well, I want to thank you for being here. And I want to give you a chance to tell us what you’re up to. What are you doing that you’re excited about? Or, what programs, workshops, stuff like that, do you have coming up that you want for us to check us?

Jules Mitchell: Oh thanks.

I’m working on finishing up my book. That’s why I’m on writing sabbatical right now because it’s summer. I’m hoping to get that done very soon. It’s a tremendous amount of work. And then once fall starts, I’ll be on the road again. I’m somewhere every weekend. Coming up, it’s all US and Canada I believe. But I do sometimes make it overseas, so just check my website. I keep my schedule very up-to-date so you can see where I’m at.

Amber Karnes: Awesome. Well, we’ll link to that in a …

Jules Mitchell: That’s pretty much it.

Amber Karnes: … pose that goes along with this.

Jules Mitchell: Okay thanks.

Amber Karnes: And thank you so much for your time and for the work that you’re doing. It’s really exciting to me. And I definitely have taken stuff away from the work that you’ve done that’s helped my students in real life. So I really appreciate that and I’ll let you know that you’re doing good things.

Jules Mitchell: Thanks.

Amber Karnes: So thanks for being here.

Jules Mitchell: Thank you. Always good to hear. Thanks for having me.

Amber Karnes: Okay. See you.