Minding the Pain – Moving with Mindfulness

Written for Balanced Body – April 2017

One of the most challenging periods of my life started on a rainy day in February 2014.  I was training with Yoga teachers at a leisure centre around 30 miles from my home when I slipped on a patch of water, carrying files through the facility’s entrance.  I landed on my left hip, essentially ‘squashing’ my Sacroiliac (SIJ) joint and fracturing T7 (one can only assume through vibrational shock or some kind of violent lateral shunt on landing).   I had been an exercise/Movement Professional for over 15 years at this point and felt that if anyone was able to rehabilitate themselves from such an injury, it was me.

I am writing this 3 years later having sold my fully equipped Pilates and Yoga studio, completely ceased Pilates and Yoga Teacher Training, re-trained to work with children in schools and am waiting (not very patiently) for an SIJ fusion operation to hopefully reduce the consistent pain I have suffered since that fateful day.  I changed my life to try and manage my symptoms but along the way, my entire perspective on movement (and life) changed.

I have a little room at the back of my house in which I can indulge my evolved approach to teaching movement and whilst I may only teach a few hours a week at the moment, my methods have allowed me to walk, work and function at a level that others in my situation may not be able to.  Allow me to explain…

As an experienced Movement Professional (and I do use this title as opposed to Pilates & Yoga Teacher as it more accurately describes my methods) I tried to bridge the gap between rehabilitation, functional movement and fitness training (strengthening and stretching).  I taught classes of 8 (never more) and ‘streamed’ my participants according to ability and background.  But as I struggled through life on pain relieving medication, trying to be the physically competent person I used to be as an example to my clients of why they came to me, I had a kind of ‘awakening’.  In order to manage my own body I needed to tune into it 100% and listen to what it needed in that precise moment, not yesterday, not last week, not last year…..

I looked around my small class one night and my heart sunk as I realised each of my participants needed something different from the next and I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of needing to address each of their individual needs by first exploring their personal awareness.  I had deliberately kept my groups small so that I could individualise but in that moment, even 8 seemed too many.

Unfortunately in a group environment a degree of competition will always creep in between participants or even just within an individual who wants to achieve more than they did the previous session, but for them to progress and understand their bodies I needed that judgement to melt away, I needed them all to be in their bodies, in the moment, in their movements and be mindful in the way that I was learning that I needed to be.

I used to train my students (trainee teachers) to ‘teach’ rather than ‘instruct’ and prided myself on that specification but layering in mindfulness was a new challenge.  The deeper my research into the methods took me, the more complicated I found it to pass on the importance of individual mindfulness both in teaching and in practise.   I found many people just wanted to be ‘told what to do’ and my students wanted ‘rules’ based on ‘don’t do it this way, do it that way’.   Whilst a certain amount of structure is always valuable, I was personally moving on from biomechanics towards a blend of science, with an organic and spiritual understanding of human action.

It was perhaps a more mindful understanding of what my physical well-being needed that led to the very difficult decision to move away from the business and career for which I had fought so hard, fortunately; I do not regret the decision.  It is easier to manage my pain and the volatility of my condition when I am not teaching and moving all day.  However as with all endings there was a beginning.  The transition birthed my Pilates and Yoga manual, blending my understanding of human anatomy and biomechanics with Mindfulness methodology entitled, ‘Opposition in Pilates and Yoga, Newton’s Third Law meets Mindfulness’.

Thanks to positive reviews and sales, I started to think about using the Reformer I had at home (for my own use) to support others in my position and at the risk of sounding ‘fluffy’, the universe heard my thoughts almost immediately and the exact right amount and nature of clients got in contact and asked for my help.

Here’s the ‘thing’, human beings are not ‘mechanical’ we are ‘biological’ and it is not just our physical actions that dictate our muscle behaviour and habits.  Our emotions, nutrition, the weather (high tides/full moons) all impact on our biological condition making it almost impossible to plan for either my own practise or my client’s sessions.  As a result, when I get on the Reformer, I give myself 5 minutes to tune into what my body is telling me it needs.  I need to get in my body and in the moment, in the way I wanted to teach all that time ago.

I mentally scan from head to toe trying to remain ‘non-judgemental’ in the sense that I may know which muscle attaches to which bone but if I feel something different I will explore that through my session. I ask the same of my clients.  Often this leads to a very ‘lop-sided’ session with focus being on ‘how does it feel’ and less about doing the same number of repetitions of something on each side or balancing the body.  If someone comes to me with an imbalance, doing the same thing on each side maintains that imbalance. I we focus on training weaknesses and stretching tightness in an imbalanced way, we effectively create; balance.

This approach has seen me reduce my pain medication to a quarter of what it was, but I still have to be mindful of my body as I go through life, protecting it whilst it remains vulnerable.  My approach has seen one client evolve from an inability to walk to the shop at the end of her road, to being able to go to the gym (mindfully) twice a week (incidentally she used to attend my group classes and my work with her recently has far outweighed any benefit I thought I may have afforded her previously).  It has helped with the tendency towards Obsessive Compulsive disorder in one client and pain management in another; it has helped with fatigue and depression in a post-natal client and motivation in an elderly man.  And as for me, I don’t know if I would have coped with the last few years if I had not found value in practising mindfulness both in movement and in my day to day life.

My world was turned upside down by an accident that could have been prevented if someone had done their job properly.  I live in pain and everything I had, has gone.  But, practising mindfulness has stopped me from sinking into a depression; it has allowed me to value everything I have right now and to enjoy the changes that this different life path has offered me.  A good example of this is that alongside training to be a counsellor I am also currently exploring the possibility of teaching mindfulness in schools. I’m using my experiences to help others.

It is my hope, that after the operation later this year I can look to supporting even more individuals through either Pilates or Yoga methods, who perhaps find that the generalised group class or even private session is not managing their physical well-being sufficiently, for whatever reason.

I hope it is clear that I can highly recommend exploring mindfulness in terms of movement but also, for every human’s fundamental well-being.  It can ensure that all aspects of life can be enjoyed, even the darker times.

You will only remember this life, live ALL of it.

Social Media and Me (We were on a break!)

I recently returned to the world of social media after a 4 month break, a break that I felt I had to take in order to figure out if I had shot myself in the foot by being (basically) A BIG FAT LIAR!

Yes that’s right, I lied on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts just like everyone else.  I only showed my followers what I wanted them to see by regurgitating pictures taken years ago of my body contorted into phenomenal shapes that I cannot make now.  I posed for pictures without telling anyone that half an hour later I had to lie down for 2 hours on a hot water bottle after swallowing a couple of codeine tablets.  I smiled and I faked it because the truth isn’t really something I felt that people wanted to see or know about.  Occasionally I would have a little gripe, a moment of honesty about the level of pain I was suffering, but follow it with some flippant remark about ‘those who get knocked down always get up stronger than those who’ve never fallen’ and other such (true) but vapid comments.

This would not have been a problem, however it was pointed out to me at the beginning of 2017 that if anyone were to investigate the reality of my situation, social media would indicate to most that I was getting on just fine.  That was a massive shock! I mean when it’s pointed out to you of course it makes sense but for me, I guess I just didn’t want anyone to know just how broken I really was and by living a life I wanted to online, I guess I didn’t have to admit it to myself either.  I felt that people wouldn’t trust my advice about movement, wouldn’t want to buy my book and essentially my credibility as a professional would be marred for eternity if people knew that I couldn’t get myself straight. For a while there, I couldn’t even teach the disciplines that I am so passionate about.  I retrained and went to work in a school, which to be honest I don’t regret for a second.  I think I needed a break from my life and now I’ve had it, I’m rebuilding it in a way that I can manage, but doing the work I love.

The Movement Specialist is back and I think all my suffering has only made my appreciation for others’ injuries and illnesses all the more empathic. As a result, I think I’m going to be more honest about things moving forward as I don’t really know why I’m ashamed!  I don’t judge others for being injured so why should people be judging me?!  And let’s face it, the accident I had WAS NOT MY FAULT.  In trying to have the world think I’m not in a much pain as I actually am I nearly (nearly) gave those that caused the damage and ruined my life as it was, a reason not to compensate me at a level at which I can rebuild my life and look after myself for the rest of my existence.  That just isn’t fair, but it would have been my fault.   I wrote articles which implied that I was still working ‘normally’ and that my pain was improved by the movement practises I teach.  I’m not saying that Pilates and Yoga haven’t helped me, but I may have stretched the truth in places because I WANT to be better than I am.  It’s positive thinking at some level!

Here’s the truth, I am not as bad as I was at the beginning of this year because I had an injection under CT which has been singularly the most successful procedure I have had for my back pain in 3 years.  The consultant said that if I achieved any level of pain relief from the procedure then there would be justification for a joint fusion operation.  I am currently, on the waiting list for said operation. Since then I was able to reduce my morphine from a 20 mcg patch to a 5mcg which involved going through horrendous opiate withdrawal symptoms.  I take codeine and paracetamol to deal with increases in pain and an anti-depressant as there is evidence to suggest they too can help manage pain conditions. I am still a long way from ‘better’ I am just currently ‘better than I have been’ but ‘not as good as I was’.  You know what’s made the difference really?  I am able to stay off the meds because I’m only working 7 or 8 hours a week.  I sit on a firm floor cushion and I teach private clients and couples.  I’m not charging around running a studio, a training centre, managing students, chasing after kids in a school or generally pushing myself and having to take handfuls of analgesics to cope…

I will be taking it easy until I’ve recovered from the operation and even after that, I’m not sure I’ll ever be the all singing all dancing fitness fanatic that I was once, but that’s OK.  I’ll just be glad to be able to sleep at night, travel in a car for longer than 20 minutes and carry shopping bags. There is one more interesting development that I was mulling over whilst not sleeping last night, a friend who had a car accident when she was 17 and has lived with the consequences ever since once told me, ‘you get used to the pain eventually’, I thought she was mad.  But she was (of course) right.  When people ask me how I am and I say ‘I’m fine’, I am!  Although, I am in pain, constantly.  The aches and sharp stabbing sensations that travel from the left side of my lower back, through my left buttock, down my leg and into my heel are ALWAYS THERE, sometimes to a greater or lesser extent than other times, but it’s always there.  I’ve just ‘got used to it’.  This was most apparent when I was still enjoying the anaesthetic effects following the injection; I had the weirdest feeling that I’d forgotten something for 2 days because there was NO PAIN AT ALL.  So I don’t notice that it’s there as much anymore on a daily basis, but I certainly notice when it’s gone.  I guess being in pain is my new ‘normal’. Fingers crossed the consultant’s optimism about the fusion comes to fruition.

So from now on expect me to comment if I’m having a particularly bad pain day and I’ll try to be more explicit than ‘I’m fine’ in conversation.  If you don’t want to know, don’t ask! :-)

‘Why I’ve given up teaching Pilates….or have I?’

Now before you all jump down my throats and point out that I do still teach, I would like to point out that this article is in response to a post by Carol Robbins on ‘PilatesIntel’ last week, which has the same title and many points within, that I can relate to. Please, let me explain.

Like Carol, I had a strong background and passion in sport; hers was equestrianism, mine; athletics and dancing.  You could say that I had a strong ‘movement’ background and where Carol focussed on horses, I was fascinated by human mechanics and human capabilities.  When my own function became impaired through overtraining and injury, I sought advice from physiotherapists and found myself at the mercy of a sports massage therapist.  Despite the profound discomfort I experienced during treatment, I did find that my body felt more my own again and I was inspired to pursue training in the discipline, in order to help my team-mates and fellow competitors.

I trained with the London School of Sports Massage in 2001whilst undertaking my Sports Science (Biomechanics pathway) degree and was ready to set myself up as a therapist until I was asked to attend a Pilates class as a favour to a friend who was undertaking training.  I was young and fit; I saw no reason why I wouldn’t be able to cope with lying on the floor and making a few shapes.  The morning after the class I felt, weird.   I couldn’t really define how my body felt but it was certainly different to how it normally felt any day of the week let alone after ‘training’.  Colour me intrigued!

So I trained to teach Pilates and over the next 12 years I established a fully equipped studio and treatment centre with a team of staff and a loyal, regular client base and good reputation in the area.  I then worked with an established training provider to offer Pilates (and subsequently Yoga) teacher training, biomechanics workshops, equipment training and CPD courses.

Now at this point, I should address the elephant in the room (if you like).  I had an accident in 2014 and fractured my spine and damaged my pelvis leaving me with debilitating chronic pain and a great big question mark over my career.  I sold the business because of my back injuries, but you know what?  I had questions about what I was doing and why I was doing it for quite some time before that.

My main passion in life; has always been the way in which people move.  How they are doing it and what the point is, functionally.  Like Carol, I believe that moving for life has more value than moving for an hour.  However, since the start of my career, I have noticed the industry change in such a way that I began to question whether I still had a role to play and whether there was still a space for me in an industry that seems to have become infused with ego, competition and goal-oriented participation (need I remind you of the 30 day plank competition?!).  The advent of social media and the accessibility for all to information online has saturated the mind/body world with images of very slim lycra-clad young women and muscle bound men in cacophony of contortions accompanied by hashtags and marketing for pills and products promising health and vitality. My systematic and mechanical approach was looking a little obsolete against the enormous power of big business branding and marketing along with the availability of ‘Pilates’ to members of gyms, 20-30 people squeezed into a sweaty space all following a series of instructions with no possibility of correction or individualisation.

I always used to say, that I would personally train the 8 people I had in my class.  Each body has its unique set of habits, genetic compositions and structural anomalies; the Pilates technique has the ability to address each and every one of these traits, but only if used appropriately and mindfully. The choreographed class leaves no time for that kind of refinement.

And thus I found myself drowning in an discipline that had moved away from Joe’s original concepts and my own enthusiasm for human function and was moving much more towards the fitness mentally of ‘faster and more, must be better’. I had to question my values and in the end, decided that I did not want to meet the demands of the masses and so with that and my own physical vulnerabilities (or maybe I just became ‘ring sour’ – look it up), I walked away….mostly.

I now ONLY take participants who have particular needs i.e. injury rehabilitation, pre and post operations, neurological disorders and dysfunction and illnesses such as cancer OR a willingness to accept that ‘good things come to those who think’!  I can coax and guide and nurture my participants (often 121) towards being the most functional that their bodies will allow and more than that, I can TEACH (rather than instruct).  Interestingly enough, my own back problems and the pain I was experiencing has diminished spectacularly since I stopped teaching ‘Pilates’, strengthening my belief that working the body with respect to its individual needs has a greater long-term physical health benefits than simply following a routine of muscular contractions with ‘questionable’ breath practises.  (I have put that in quotations because I often find that many teachers, let alone the participants; are unsure of the rationale behind the breathing technique which in turn, often leads to it being used incorrectly or without benefit).

So have I given up teaching Pilates?  Is what I teach actually Pilates? I adhere to the 6 principles and like Joe, I work with people in their unique individual form, but; it doesn’t look much like the Pilates that is being taught out there today.

So, you tell me.

Is there a difference between the Pilates ‘Methods’?

Well, I suppose that depends on how you are teaching movement and whether your teaching conforms to the 6 principles Pilates identified as being the key to his method of physical training.

For anyone who doesn’t know what these are, the principles are as follows:

Centring, Concentration, Control, Breathing, Precision & Flow

These components essentially make the difference between Pilates and something like, Body Conditioning.

An article I read recently attempted to claim differences between the Stott method of Pilates and Classical Pilates, making statements like, ‘The neutral spine is the primary difference between Stott and traditional Pilates1 and ‘Many people misinterpret the Stott technique and accuse instructors of advising their students to arch their back during the various exercises. The neutral spine, however, does not qualify as an arched position,’2 plus ‘The Stott technique also uses the stability ball, the foam roller and the bosu, which is a half ball for some of the exercises. Pilates traditionalists are opposed to using these fitness tools.’3

1In one respect, I agree completely with the principle of teaching people to work in a ‘neutral’ position, however; biomechanically speaking, one can be in a neutral pelvis and not in a neutral spine and vice versa due to postural anomalies and individuality. To force people into neutral is as counterintuitive as insisting on a lumbar imprint.   The imprint has for many years now been understood to be a major cause of Psoas shortening and thus facilitating the anterior tilt, but forcing someone into neutral, could potentially lead to overextension of the lower thoracic region and a loss of integrity between the ribcage and pelvis creating excessive tension in the lower back and weakened abdominals (in one scenario – there are many).

Stott Pilates, like so many other ‘brands’ have taken on board the scientific understandings that have evolved since Pilates’ time.  Encouraging a more neutral position of the axial skeleton, allows the muscles to lie evenly on both sides of the body, thus leading to balance between the agonist and antagonist and between strength and flexibility.  Body Control Pilates™, MK Pilates™, Alan Herdman Pilates™, Polestar Pilates UK™ et al, have also studied and allowed the Pilates method to evolve with the changes in the way that humans live their lives and the progressions made in research.  To claim that Stott is somehow unique in this approach is short-sighted and fundamentally, untrue.

2To claim that many people misinterpret the Stott method and accuse the instructors of teaching an arched back is as delusional as accusing the ‘Traditional Pilates’ teachers of not appreciating biomechanical norms and the value of using 3‘fitness’ tools to support training.  Joseph Pilates was a visionary, a man who evolved, developed and grew in terms of his understanding of physicality and as a person throughout his life.  If he was here today, he would absolutely be using as many bits of kit that he could find to assist his clients in finding the most functional and balanced body that they were capable of.

I have been trained by some of the world’s greatest Pilates experts in the U.K, Spain and the U.S.A and for a time, I worked in a studio in Florida alongside those ’Classical’ teachers trained by Romana herself.  My background is predominantly rehabilitation and biomechanics so my approach is extremely cautious and precise.  I also thought that there would be stark differences between my style and Romana’s graduates.  But, you know what; we all wanted the same things from our clients, we adhered to the principles and within that framework you are teaching the person that is in front of you, not the exercise.  (It just so happened that many of my clients were either injured or unwell). Every movement, every concept, every variation can be manipulated to suit the individual that is in front of you in order to develop functionality.  THAT is how to teach Pilates, because that is what Joe would have done.

So is there a difference?  The only difference is between teachers who ‘get it’ and teachers who ‘don’t’.  The ‘brands’ will always put their own spin on things and share their own ways of understanding the principles, but at the end of the day 2 things will always be the same; the principles and human anatomy.

‘Teach the person & the principles not just an exercise’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What it means to be a Pilates &/or Yoga Teacher

  • Our hobby, became our passion; which then became our career.

So, despite the fact that we love what we do, it is still work and some days, we feel the same way about going to work as you do. We would much rather curl up with a book on the sofa with a glass of wine and some chocolates or actually ‘attend’ a Pilates or Yoga class for our own pleasure!

  • We go to work when you get home.

Which means that during the day, we are not ‘off’; we are actually doing all the things that you do in the evening.  We are putting the washing on, doing the shopping, ironing and planning for the next evening or day.

  • We never see our partners.

When they walk in, we walk out and many of us work weekends too because we have to be available to work when others are not! We fill the work spaces in the day that are not occupied by the ‘9-5ers’.

  • We struggle to spend quality time with our kids.

We drop them off at school, run around manically either teaching, planning our classes, planning and executing our marketing strategies, keeping our accounts and doing domestic admin or at least, trying to; before collecting children and taking them to after school clubs, dropping them home and going out to teach.

  • It is not, ‘ok for us’.

With reference to our bodies, it is not ‘ok for us’ because we are ‘working out all the time’ and can probably ‘eat whatever we want’.  I refer you to point number 1!  We are working, which means that we demonstrate an exercise or a pose, and then spend the time that you are concentrating; making sure that you are in the right position for maximum gain and minimising the risk of injury.  Often we demonstrate on our ‘good’ side so that you can see the best possible example of perfect execution but that means that our ‘less good’ or ‘less strong’ side just gets weaker and eventually, we get injured. And no, we cannot eat whatever we want – we have to eat sensibly just like everyone else. Working in fitness is not a free pass to puddings and cheese.

  • Owning a studio is not as much fun as you think.

As the boss, just like every other business; you have to be the manager, cleaner, data input clerk, marketing executive, mentor, counsellor, sales and tech support; and that’s before and after you’ve taught anything!  And no, we rarely get to ‘play’ on our kit; when the day is done (at 10pm) we just want to go home.

  • Self-employment does not mean freedom.

Being self-employed means that you don’t have 1 boss, you have hundreds!  We have to be available and fit in around the timetables set by our clients, sometimes that means sitting in a car doing paperwork or answering emails because it’s too early to turn up for the next appointment and the last one finished and hour ago. Our classes are also carved into stone on the studio timetable, to change it means re-organising up to 12 individuals.

  • We cannot just go on holiday whenever we want.

Our holidays, cost us double what they cost employed personnel.  Every day that we are not working, is a day’s pay lost.  No holiday pay here!  I can also guarantee that most teachers will be planning sessions either in their heads or in their notebooks while others around them sunbathe and read books.  (Our books, by the way; usually have something to do with our discipline too).

  • Off sick?

If we cancel anything, you know that we are pretty much close to death.  We will work through most things because, guess what?  We don’t get sick pay!  Unfortunately, I’ve seen teachers get more and more poorly because they don’t give themselves time to recover and their immune systems become weak, which is why they constantly catch everything (so if you have a cold or feel under the weather, consider others before coming to class).

  • We love what we do and could never do, or be; anything else.

There are lots of difficulties faced by teachers of Yoga & Pilates, but for most us; it’s a calling.  You don’t find many spinning teachers dedicating their lives to the art of indoor cycling, or Aquacise instructors travelling the globe to practise with the gurus of water-based aerobics. You will sometimes find ‘former’ fitness professionals finding ‘conventional’ work in an office or in sales, but Pilates and Yoga Teachers, are ‘lifers’.

Namaste :-)

What is ‘good’ posture and why is it so important?

I work with people who are trying to improve their posture.  Most of the time, they are not sure why they want to, only that they may have been told that their posture is ‘bad’.  Maybe they are suffering from lower back pain or neck pain, or maybe they have been told they have round shoulders.  Occasionally, they have just looked in the mirror and come to the conclusion that their posture just isn’t ‘right’.  I also work with people who think they have ‘good posture’ until they come to me.  And that’s the problem here, isn’t it?  I find that most people, even fitness professionals; are not entirely sure of the implications and meaning behind ‘good’ posture.

I work with clinicians who for the most part, consider a lack of pain to be an indicator of good health and well-being.  They are probably right, but an individual with weak musculature and so called ‘bad posture’ can only stay pain-free for so long and it might be knee pain, or shoulder pain for ‘no good reason’ that alerts that individual to the fact that they may have a dysfunction. However, they may only think that they have a problem with the knee and/or the shoulder, not their entire way of holding themselves upright.

Our musculature, sits from one point of origin, to another point of insertion; on either side of the body, on every human being.  Each muscle is designed to have a particular function.  An imbalance in the strengths of these muscles can create a dysfunction; where the muscles pull against each other on the skeleton, pulling us into a different shape.  Habit, will maintain this dysfunctional/imbalanced shape and maybe continue to pull and upset the balance of muscles and joints elsewhere.

Consider the posture assumed whilst sitting at a desk all day.  The muscles on the back of the body, become longer if you sit ‘slumped’, the muscles on the front; push out around the abdomen and tighten across the chest.  The hips are sat in a shortened state, which makes them tight, pulling the pelvis into a forward tilt.  This is just one scenario, another person may find that the backs of the legs become tighter and the lower back long and weak, possibly tightness in the neck extensors (at the back of the neck) from jutting the chin forwards.

What about repetitive activity like sport?  Racquet sports player often create power from only one arm, one shoulder – creating an imbalance between the shoulders and pulling the body into a rotation, which affects the way that shock is transmitted through the pelvis legs and feet.

Whatever we do, however we do it; if it is repetitive – it will have an effect on muscle balance and our anatomical alignment i.e. posture.  This in turn, can impact on our efficiency in breathing and therefore our ability to perform basic physiological actions like; remove the waste products of metabolism from within our system, creating toxicity and other symptoms like hypertension and IBS.

To address the imbalance cause by long term dysfunction and ensure sound physiological and anatomical function, Pilates is probably the best and easiest option.  A generic group class will focus on creating balance between the muscles and improving alignment, for serious dysfunction, a course of private lessons is advisable.

If you plan on tackling the issue on your own, watch for these common and counter-productive mistakes.

  • Lifting the ribcage

In an effort to ‘straighten that back’ people often lift the ribs to create the illusion of having a straight spine with shoulders back.  In truth, all that does is create weakness at the top of the (superficial) abdominals attachment and create tension in the middle of the back.   Individuals that I have worked with, who have favoured this ‘solution’ have ended up with chronic instability in the lower thoracic region leading to hyperextension and excessive tension and discomfort; plus an inhibition of movement in the upper spine and shoulder complex.

There is more value, if the ribcage stays low and calm, whilst the shoulders are gently trained into retraction at the same time as training the upper thoracic region to extend (speak to a Physiotherapist or Pilates Teacher for advice).

 

  • Lifting the chin

To release the tension in a tight neck, lifting the chin is counter-intuitive.  Tension in the neck caused by desk work, is as a result of excessive contraction of the neck extensor muscles at the back of the neck.  Lifting the chin, shortens the back of the neck creating further shortening and discomfort.

Many years ago I read an article in a newspaper that shall remain ‘unnamed’, which showed pictures of people sat at desks performing such an ativity for the management of ‘Desk-based Postural Discomfort’.  I can assure you that this is not going to benefit you, instead; sit with your back against a wall and press the back of your head into it firmly.  Glide the back of the head up against the wall, as if you are giving yourself a ‘double-chin’.  This will lengthen the tight neck muscles, so hold it and breathe in and out a few times to let the stretch take effect.

 

  • Forcing the legs into parallel

Have you ever stood with your legs in parallel, with the feet perfectly straight and relaxed your thigh muscles?  If you relax your legs with the feet in a perfect parallel, your knees will roll in.  That is true for everybody!  We are designed to function with our feet very slightly turned out, so that the knees face forwards.  Practice this; take a moment to feel how your knees internally rotate when your feet are straight.  Now turn the feet very slightly out and notice how the knees face forwards.

From this position, when you lengthen the spine, with the ribcage staying low and the shoulders gently drawn back; you will find a position that feels both comfortable and somehow ‘different’, it will feel ‘right’.

‘Good’ posture is found between the boundaries of balance, work and strain.  You want to your muscles gently connecting, but you do not want to feel like you are over-working anywhere.  The lower back in particular, should feel calm and long – as should the neck.  This will take training and commitment to ensure understanding.  I strongly recommend that you seek professional advice as you only have 1 body; it’s yours forever, take care of it.

 

Tips for a 5 minute meditation.

There are many practises across the world, which range from staring without blinking into the flame of a candle, concentrating only on the candle; staring at a dot on a piece of paper, concentrating only on the dot to concentrating on breathing, concentrating only on the breath.

Many people in today’s world do not breathe fully, they only use the top part of the lungs, which lifts the collar bones up and down and creates tension in the neck and shoulders.  For this reason I favour teaching (and practising) meditation with the breath, to receive more oxygen into the blood stream to nourish the internal organs, the skin, teeth and hair; whilst maximising carbon dioxide removal from the body.  Deep breathing also mobilises the ribs and releases tension from the back and shoulders.

Step 1 Environment

It may not always be possible to find yourself a dimly lit room, with rugs and meditation cushions available for use any time you like.  But you may be able to find a quiet space somewhere, your bedroom, a disused office, your car?  Wherever it is that you choose to meditate, you need to be sure that you will not be interrupted.

Step 2 Sitting position

Whether you are sitting on the floor, or on a chair, try to be comfortable with a very straight (but comfortable) spine.  This is so that the diaphragm has plenty of room to move in your body, thus facilitating maximum benefits from the practise.

At this point, set a gentle alarm for 5 minutes. 

Step 3 Find your focus

Meditation means to be clear in the mind but remaining fully aware, so having only 1 point of focus eliminates the ‘noise’ that we often have in our minds about our worries, our fears, our desires.

Close your eyes and take a moment to relax your shoulders and face, particularly the muscles around your jaw.  Placing the tongue at the roof of the mouth can help. Close your eyes.

  • Notice your breath as it travels in through the nostrils and down the back of the throat, gently lifting the collar bones. Notice the breath as it leaves your body, softening the collar bones and shoulders, releasing the neck.
  • Notice the breath as it travels in through the nostrils and down the back of the throat, gently lifting the collar bones and widening the ribcage. Feel the ribcage widening.  Notice the breath as it leaves your body, drawing the ribcage in, softening the collar bones and shoulders, releasing the neck.
  • Notice the breath as it travels in through the nostrils and down the back of the throat, gently lifting the collar bones, widening the ribcage and expanding the belly. Feel the ribcage widening and the belly softly releasing. Notice the breath as it leaves your body, drawing the belly in, drawing the ribcage in, and softening the collar bones and shoulders, releasing the neck.

Step 4 Meditate

Follow the path of the breath into the belly and out of the belly, softly…softly.  Keep your focus on the breath at all times.

Count how long it takes to inhale, count how long it takes to exhale.

Notice how the exhale is always longer than the inhale.  As you continue to focus on the path of the breath, notice how the inhale and exhale get longer and longer, deeper and deeper.

Step 5 Return to consciousness

When the alarm sounds, take a moment to settle your breathing.  Place your hands over your eyes and gently rub around the eye socket, the brow line and the cheekbones.  Keep your eyes covered as your blink your eyes slowly open.  When ready, take your hands away from your face.

 

Now, think.  What is it that you plan to do next?

Once your mind is focussed on your next move, you are ready to get on with your day.

 

Notice the feeling of calmness and gentle rejuvenation.

 

10 reasons to take up Yoga

Published January 2016 in ‘Female First’ Magazine.

Why should YOU take up Yoga in 2016?

Yoga has been growing in popularity in the West since the 1980’s as a form of exercise, but Yoga offers so much more than just a tight bottom and a flatter stomach.  Here are 10 reasons why Yoga is suitable for ALL.

  • Improve your flexibility

If I had a pound for every time someone told me they couldn’t do Yoga because they were ‘not flexible’ I’d be living in the South of France on a vineyard. Yoga is not ‘for’ the flexible and it is not just about ‘becoming flexible’, Yoga is about finding peace in a busy and stressful world.  Ok, flexibility is a great physical benefit of Yoga, but the right class can teach you how to find a moment of calm in your hectic schedule, both inside and outside of the group class environment.  A gentle Hatha-based beginners’ class should include the teaching of meditation and relaxation along with stretches and poses designed to settle the busy mind and toxic body.

 

  • Learn how to breathe fully.

In every-day life we probably use only 20-25% of our breathing capabilities, therefore limiting the amount of oxygen that can be delivered to the blood, muscles, organs, skin, teeth and hair.  Learning to breathe more deeply and more efficiently will encourage a better delivery of nutrients to cells, shinier skin and hair, stronger teeth and greater mobilisation of the ribcage, which leads to increased flexibility in the back and sides of the body.

 

  • Learn to respect your body.

We push ourselves too hard; women in particular spend their lives trying to be the ‘perfect mother’, the best they can be at work, a considerate wife or partner whilst trying to maintain a healthy physique on top of that!   When fatigued, I find that the gym is either the first to go, or it’s yet another place for women to push themselves relentlessly in order to achieve the perfectly toned sculptures depicted on the front of fashion glossies and ‘health’ magazines. Yoga is about respecting your body and learning to work with it, not against it.

 

  • Find freedom within your body.

In a traditional yoga class the postures gently flow from one to the other, holding for a moment allowing the body to settle and relax before changing position. This allows the muscles to release quietly without strain, leaving you light, fluid and free, as if every part of your anatomy has had some attention.

 

  • Sleep better.

The combination of postures, breath work, mediation and relaxation will allow you to clear your mind and feel calm when you go to bed at night.  Reduced muscular tension, efficient oxygen delivery and carbon dioxide removal will lead to less tension and less toxicity leading to restful sleep.

 

  • Improved digestion.

The breath work and muscle activity works to stimulate the peristalsis of the gut by increasing the mobility of the diaphragm, and squeezing the abdominal muscles against the intestines during Pranayama (breathing techniques) or in certain postures.  This encourages a more efficient action of the bowel, reducing trapped wind and calming Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

 

  • Increase your strength.

Yoga postures, whilst releasing the tension in some muscles, will be strengthening the muscles elsewhere.  Yoga can help to develop long, lean muscles without accumulating lactic acid, which leads to a burning sensation in the muscles and then soreness a few days later.  You may ache a little, but it’s a ‘good ache’ rather than a painful one.

 

  • Find inner/outer peace.

You may have heard people reference Yoga in terms of finding ‘inner peace’ I like to think of it in terms of ‘outer peace’ as well.  During the yoga class, your teacher will guide you through the more relaxing aspects and the sensation of calm will infuse every cell of your very being. But, that calm travels into your peripheral self – projecting that sensation onto others around you and gently simmering down any toxic energy in your home, your office and your social circle.  Positivity and calm is as catching as stress and anxiety.

 

  • Improve your balance.

Some Yoga postures require balance, which when used in conjunction with hand mudras (gestures) leads to balance in the mind.  Mudras symbolise balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.  Balance in the mind can help with manging difficult decisions and volatile environments.

 

  • Improve your concentration.

The world we inhabit is noisy, not just through actual noise but because of the constant stimulation we receive from our phones, tablets, laptops, co-workers, family, friends and so on.  It makes it hard to focus on work or an enjoyable hobby or just on what it is you want out of life.  To figure out the great questions in your life, you need to concentrate on what they mean to you.  Are you happy? Are you truly happy? The practise of Yoga can help you find the quietness in your mind that is necessary to focus and find the true meaning of our existence….or just finish a spreadsheet for your manager by Monday!

 

Marie-Claire Prettyman a.k.a ‘The Movement Specialist’

& Director of Fitness Inspired Teacher Training

www.themovementspecialist.co.uk

www.fitt.org.uk

Perspective

Noun – a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.

This word, ‘perspective’ has be rattling around my brain for weeks; possibly months.  Every situation that I have found myself in that has been ‘difficult’ has been interrupted by the thought of this word, ‘perspective’.  I don’t know why – but it’s been a constant so I decided to explore its connotations and understand why every time I close my eyes I just see these letters, ‘P.E.R.S.P.E.C.T.I.V.E’.

I’m a sensitive soul, many people don’t know that, or indeed believe that; but I am.  Words hurt me, people disrespecting me hurts. Listening to the news, that upsets me (so I don’t); thinking that I’ve done something that somebody didn’t like or enjoy really hurts!  Mostly, because I love my job, I love people and I’m a good person.  People have said wicked things about me that I haven’t been able to defend it because I’ve been so upset, and then people have hurt me through indifference and condescension.

Recently though, I have felt a bit different.  There was a trigger, someone I used to love very much disrespected me beyond belief and for the first time in my life, I stood up for myself.  Very empowering; but, it made me look again at how I have allowed people to treat me, purely because I do not like confrontation.

My ‘perspective’ was always that I if was nice to people that they would like me back.  Sometimes, people are viewing me (and you) through a different pane of glass. Perspective to me; is like looking at the world and people from one side of a window.  What you say and how you feel, is probably the same as the other people on that side of the window.  However, there are people on the other side, and they view the world very differently.

It’s like looking out of your sitting room at a person across the street who is looking right back at you.  That person sees you (maybe) looking lonely, or nosey, or irritated, or waiting for someone….you don’t know how they are interpreting the view.  You see that person staring at you, are you afraid? Are they admiring your home or are they envious of your home and feeling the need to take it away from you?  You don’t know.  We don’t know how anyone views a particular situation until we are faced with it.

I’ve been hurt in life because people have not seen the world from my side of the glass.  But there are people who sit on your side of the glass.  Remembering that each individual’s perspective is built up over years of experiences, their childhood, and their relationships with both friends and lovers is important when trying to move forwards in life with other humans.  Their journey is not yours and yours, is not theirs.

If you work closely with people or alongside them, and you find that you do not understand that person’s perspective, I recommend talking to them. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Try and see what it looks like on their side of the glass and allow them to get to know you a little?  It doesn’t always work though.  I have found that I have been unable to shatter the glass between myself and others in the past, so understanding another individual’s perspective may mean that you walk away from them.  That’s OK though, because you’ll feel much calmer for knowing how their particular flavour of human-being evolved and maybe appreciating that there are more factors involved in their attitude than just YOU.

These days, when I am faced with an uncomfortable situation e.g.

a) I’m being told that something I did was not enjoyed by one person or,

b) someone doesn’t like my attitude for some reason or,

c) I feel disrespected by another human,

I see the word ‘PERSPECTIVE’ and try to apply some principles.

a) It was only 1 person! Did everyone else enjoy the session? Yes. Ok, then maybe that person’s perspective was being influenced by expectation and previous experiences or they were simply having a bad day. My perspective on my side of the glass, is that I have thought about my work and decided it was either, absolutely fine or I could have improved in a particular area.   But I’m safe to consider this on my side of the glass, looking out at the world from my side of the window, with others like me.

b) If someone doesn’t like me, maybe I remind them of someone nasty. Maybe I’m too loud and they are a quiet person and they felt annoyed by my enthusiasm. That’s OK, introverts have huge power and are the ‘great thinkers’ of the world.  I could learn from that feedback or just enjoy being me with those who love me.

c) Did I let this person disrespect me? How and why?  If so, then I need to re-think my strategy for taking care of my well-being around that individual OR, have I overreacted?

The glass (perspective) will protect you and provide strength when faced with humans who have a different point of view.  Visualise it and use it to keep you safe as you try to connect with those from a different journey. Shatter it if you want to and if you can but if you like a quiet life, stay on the side you understand.

Much love to everyone and remember that maybe ‘it all comes down to ‘PERSPECTIVE’.

 

 

Mind & Body ‘Exercise’?

So what’s been happening?

I read an article recently written by a local Yoga teacher, in which she expressed a sense of feeling ‘lost’ in the world of Yoga at the moment.  In a moment of time where people post pictures of themselves in extraordinary poses (which in itself seems very anti-yoga and extremely egotistical) on social media, a moment of time where people are ‘performing poses’ in heat or at speed on order to burn calories and get more flexible, she wrote about watching a practise she is passionate about become less and less about finding a moment of stillness and peace in postures and the evolution of strength on body and mind as a result, and become more about showing off and pushing the body further and further towards physical trauma.

I couldn’t have agreed with her more.  Not only have I watched Yoga become lost in a fast and stress fuelled, ego-driven social environment, I have watched Pilates go the same way.

I first fell in love with Yoga in 1997, when I was attending classes with my Mum.  Having suffered from profound anxiety, which I only found relief from in running; I felt that Yoga offered me a gentle and soothing hug type of exercise!  Here I found movement that made my muscles feel relaxed but strong, and the attention given to each pose demanded concentration and stillness with deep and powerful breath work.  During Savasana, I felt my poor tired body fall heavily into the mats and let go of the pressure to be skinny after suffering from an eating disorder for the previous 3 years.

In 1998 I had my head turned by Pilates while studying Sports Science.  The biomechanics that became my life’s work seemed to be applied more to the Pilates practise than to Yoga and as such, I postponed my Yoga Teacher Training until much later and trained to be a Pilates Teacher.

But as I honed my skills in the Pilates studio that I established in 2003, I watched Yoga go the way of the fitness industry, with so much emphasis on getting skinny, getting ‘more bendy’, achieving the next physically challenging balance or contortion or worse, promises that participants could ‘get a better sex life!’ Hello?

I was upset with Yoga for letting this happen and I dug my heels into the world of Pilates; dedicating my work to supporting people develop the most functional, pain free and strong body that they were capable of.  I have worked with the very young to the very old, from the super fit, to the very poorly and I have used the Pilates principles to adapt movement to suit the person or persons that I had in front of me.

But now, I see Pilates being stripped down and disrespected in the same way that Yoga has been.  Recently I have heard stories of Gyms teaching Fitness Professionals with no Pilates qualifications, how to use a reformer so that they can run group classes.  You can now learn the apparatus, before learning the mat work. There is ‘hot’ Pilates, for burning more calories, I saw an advert for doing Pilates on an angle so that you are working your body against gravity for increased muscle work and so on.  I am not against progression, far from it; but in both practises, it seems that the original point of them has been lost.

Yoga is a peaceful and energising practise that gently strengthens both body and mind; while Pilates was developed for the same purposes, Joseph Pilates also adapted movements from Dance and Gymnastics as well as Martial Arts to prevent pain and discomfort caused by bad posture. He emphasised muscle balance and adapted exercises to suit the person or persons that he was working with.

I have also noticed recently, a misuse of the title ‘Classical Pilates Teacher’.  Classical Pilates Teacher, does not mean just teaching the strong, powerful and dynamic exercises made infamous by Romana Kryzanowska and Lolita San Miguel et al.  Classical Pilates/Traditional Pilates means, using the principles and adapting the exercises to suit the person you are working with i.e. exactly what Joe would have done.  Now don’t start yelling at me about the classical repertoire, I am well aware of it; I just think that the language being used is driving some restriction in people’s methods and that they are hiding behind set sequences rather than adapting for each client.

The people, who participate in Pilates today, are not the dancers and the gymnasts that Joseph and Clara worked with in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.  We work with people who sit for 8 hours a day, then sit in a car, then sit on the sofa.  They may do a class once a week; they need movement adapted to suit their bodies and help them be the best that they could be using a ‘modified’ version of the original exercises.

Traditional Yoga is also guilty of ignoring science/biomechanics and some teachers are still trying to squeeze their participants into poses that are fundamentally unsafe. Twisting the knees and sending shearing forces running up through the spinal column. Yoga can also be modified to suit the participant.  You may say that Bikram and the like is a modification for the super fit, but if the original principles have been lost, is it still Yoga?

I am not against an evolution of a practise to make it better; but I do have an issue with taking something peaceful and mindful and making it too fast, too soon, for most people.  I have an issue with squeezing people into a room to participate in a technique which has long been considered appropriate for back pain, only to have the person leading the session be an unqualified individual teaching movements by rote with no accounting for individuality.

I finished my Yoga Training only so that I could start teaching a practise that I fell in love with so many years ago, in the way that it was originally intended; with postures progressing gradually as your body relaxes and strengthens, as your mind learns to settle and calm and your understanding of the practise evolves.  I have returned to teaching Pilates privately and training teachers in both disciplines to understand the that the point of both was control and breath, in Pilates; muscle balance and in both, flexibility and strength.

I think here, in some cases, commercialism has overtaken the underlying principle of being healthy.  Drinks to help build muscle, which otherwise probably wouldn’t be there because it would not be that body’s natural state.  There are adverts for pills promising quick weight-loss, promoted by models of slim build. People shouting on social media that their technique will get your bigger muscles and less fat and a better marriage and more money…..

I digress.  My point is, in this world that seems to be getting faster and faster, Yoga could be providing a moment to reflect and be quiet and be strong in order to cope with it.  I don’t know if I would have developed the inner strength that I found to get better and dedicate myself to movement and helping others; if I had not been taken to Yoga at 17 by a Mum who was at her wits end dealing with her exhausted and fragile daughter.  Pilates has the power to refine and balance the human body!  How great is that?  But, it is only going to do that if the technique is applied to the individual who has taken the step to include Pilates in their life.

I cannot stop either discipline from being stripped apart and re-packaged as being ‘the next big thing’ for weight loss or muscle gain, but I as I look around me; I am more and more sure of what both practises mean to me and as such I will continue to train considerate and knowledgeable teachers, and work respectfully with each of my clients. They are all different, after all.

 

 

Big respect for Marie-Claire, her knowledgeable teacher training, the course was great….. it has given me some really useful extras to incorporate into each of the various levels of classes I teach. Tracey, Mini Balls Course

Get In Touch

Email: marieclaire@themovementspecialist.co.uk

Tel: 07919 286419

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