Opposition:  The ‘Other’ Direction.

I have worked with the human body for nearly 20 years; in the water, as a Swimming Coach and Aqua Teacher, on land as a Personal Trainer and Dancer and on the mat as a Pilates and Yoga Teacher.  Ok, so I work on the apparatus too with Pilates but to squeeze that in as well would have ruined the flow of the previous sentence! The point is, my whole life; I have worked with human movement.

My passion for movement was cemented when I studied biomechanics as an undergraduate and have continued to lecture and teach in the field ever since at Universities, workshops for the Fitness Industry and woven into my Pilates and Yoga Teacher Training courses.

It was Newton who originally stated that ‘for every action; there is an equal and opposite reaction’ Opposition -What goes down; must go up.

When I did my first Pilates teacher training qualification many, many years ago; I remember that emphasis on length.  Lengthen, out through the crown of the head.  Lengthen, through your leg.  Lengthen, through to your finger-tips.  But as I watched my participants, and then later; my students interpret that, I noticed that something was missing…..the ‘other’ direction.

In both practises (Pilates & Yoga) I watched people lengthen furiously out through their heads and throw their ribs forward enthusiastically into an almost ‘military’ stance.  I watched people stretch their leg out of their hip and throw the pelvis forward from the effort.  There was no base from which this length could grow.

It was like a plant being pulled by its stem out of the ground, the roots failing to hold it secure.

A plant needs strong roots to stay firm on the ground.  So does the human body.

As an analogy, I found this worked best in sitting or standing.  Cue people to ‘grow roots’ out through their feet or through their sitting bones and the feel the spine lengthen from that strong and stable foundation.  This was easy for people to feel, but they needed to really think about it.  They needed to be mindful and aware.  With awareness they could transpose the sensation of growing roots, into lengthening out in opposite directions with a strong and stable centre (the centre, becoming the rooted body part).  It was from here that my style of teaching evolved into;

The Opposition Method

It’s not just about action vs reaction; it’s about being mindful in movement.  But, more than that; much more, it’s about respecting the fact that as humans, we have different bodies; developed through the evolutionary power of genetics and the modern world influences of work and lifestyle.

As a new teacher, I found myself forever trying to manipulate people into a Pilates or Yoga-shaped box.  The idealistic ‘neutral’ or ‘correct’ posture or pose, which is merely a guideline and does not account for learned behaviour and DNA-imprinted characteristics.

For many years now, I have worked with people; respecting their natural form and working with it to help that body be the best that it can be; not forcing it to be a projection of assumed perfection.  My method of teaching evolved into something much more gentle and forgiving of what it means to be a human with a body, much more functional and analytical.  This approach allowed me the privilege of working with sufferers of neurological conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.  I work with the elderly and children.  I teach movement, call it whatever you like; Pilates/Yoga – I teach people how to move, breathe and just ‘be’ in their body.

This method of thinking, moving, feeling and being human, is now available in guideline form, published by Panoma Press and available for purchase through their website


& mine


until 2016, when it will be available from Amazon and in all good book stores.

Pilates at one end; Yoga at the other and the principles of sound mechanics and mindfulness woven throughout…

Opposition in Pilates & Yoga – Newton’s Third Law meets Mindfulness.

Marie-Claire Prettyman  – ‘The Movement Specialist’



Yoga Master-class

I had a fantastic time in Devon last weekend teaching an ‘Introduction to Yoga’ master-class at Teign Fitness’ beautiful new studio.  When the subject of this session was first discussed, I though it wouldn’t be too difficult; after all, it’s just an introduction right? Wrong.  When I sat down to put the handout together, I realised that I didn’t know where to start and then when I did get going, I didn’t know where to end!

Yoga is so multi-dimensional, the breathing practises or ‘pranyama’ on it’s own could take a whole day (or a lifetime) to explore.  Then there’s the hand mudras (which I am personally fascinated by), what about bandhas (locks) and chakras?  What about the different ‘styles’ of yoga, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Hatha? And all of that is before you’ve even started looking at the postures!

So what is Yoga?

Yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit.  Its objective is to assist the practitioner in using the breath and body to create an awareness of ourselves as individualised beings, intimately connected to the unified whole of creation.  In short it is about making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole.

This art of right living was perfected and practised in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of the yoga philosophy were written in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in approximately 200 AD.  This sacred text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides an 8 step blueprint for controlling its restlessness so as to enjoy lasting peace.

Fitting that into 2 hours was a challenge.  In the end, I decided that what I wanted the group to leave with, was an understanding that Yoga was so much more than a form of exercise; for which the western world adopted it in the 1980’s. So we discussed the origins and practised basic chanting, pranyama, asanas (postures), mudras, bandhas and chakras.  We finished with heart chakra affirmations and a guided relaxation.

I hope, that the group left with open minds, and hearts; with their bodies feeling stretched, challenged and then settled.  I hope, that maybe some of them, will look up the 8 limbs of Yoga and seek to explore the concepts further and embrace some of them as a life choice.  I hope, that they will invite me back to explore this diverse and spiritually enlightening practise further. In the meantime, I will continue to improve my own understanding of Patanjali’s work and how it can help me be a better human.

If you would like more information on this or would like to book a master-class at your venue or a private session email: marieclaire@themovementspecialist.co.uk


Understanding Chronic Pain-The Role of the Fitness Professional

I actually wrote this for the Women in Fitness Empowerment blog but I thought I would share it here as well, much of it (about me) you may have read before…

I write this article, from both sides of the coin these days; an unfortunate irony, you might say.  I started life in the Fitness Industry in 1998 as a Health and Fitness Instructor at a hotel club gym.  I have taught swimming, aqua, ETM, dance; a keen club athlete and competitive latin and ballroom dancer. My degree was a predominantly Biomechanics, Sports Science BSc and I have been back in the last few years to lecture on the very same course.  I trained as a sports therapist and then I opened my first Pilates and Fitness studio in 2004.  In 2008 I joined forced with Fitness Inspired Teacher Training and authored their Pilates course, which I continue to tutor as well as the Yoga qualification. I then expanded the studio in 2011 to larger premises with an apparatus studio and Yoga studio, 2 treatment rooms for sport therapy and physiotherapy.  I was well educated about fitness and health, physically fit and invincible, or so I thought…

My background is relevant, because you have to understand; that when I slipped in leisure centre in 2014 and fractured my spine, I never thought that 18 months later I would be writing this having just spent 2 hours at a Pain Management Information lecture, for people who suffer from chronic pain.  I have worked with people who have suffered from all kinds of physical dysfunction; from Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, to pre-op and post-op surgery participants.  I have also worked with people who have suffered chronic pain and I have to admit; I didn’t get it.  I thought I did, but I didn’t.  I do now…

Hands up who has been guilty of thinking that those people who have complained constantly of pain in certain area of their bodies, were hypochondriacs?

‘It’s all in their heads’,

‘They just like having an identity’,

‘If they just lost a little weight or exercised more, they would be fine’….

I can assure you, it’s not ‘all in their heads’, and no one enjoys being in constant pain.  It is miserable, let me tell you and people often end up suffering from depression or anxiety as a result.  As for exercising, it is scary to undertake an activity that might render you incapable of even moving for several days! Chronic pain sufferers NEED to protect themselves from activating their pain responses, read on to learn more.

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is defined as ‘pain that lasts longer than 3 months’. Some experts define it as lasting longer than 6 months.

Chronic pain usually follows an injury or illness which causes movement inhibition and reduced flexibility; but most injuries or illness related symptoms resolve within 8-10 weeks. Residual pain is often the result of a hyper-sensitive nervous system.  So, pain in the area that the sufferer indicates as problematic, may be structurally sound; or at least, not requiring surgical intervention. The pain felt is inconsistent with the degree of structural dysfunction; it is significantly higher because the pain system is in overdrive.

The pain is real; but pain is initiated by the brain because that it what controls our neuropathy. So brain re-training can assist in reducing pain, but this is not to be confused with having a mental health disorder.

Pain sufferers will often use analgesia to help supress the nervous system and reduce the pain signals from the problem area, but one of the most relevant approaches that I have heard was from Prof. Eyal Ledermann (Osteopath); at a lecture at Westminster University in 2011,

‘Chronic pain sufferers should be encouraged to move, but only within a pain free range’

What he was saying, was this; movement is important for general health, muscular health and psychological well-being, but if movement initiates pain; we create an association between certain movements and discomfort.  The pain system will naturally, increase the signals to the brain warning of potential injury, limiting the individual’s capability to move freely.  But, if we offer movement practises that are pain free, we disassociate from the pain and it allows the pain system time to‘re-set’, i.e. brain re-training.

Many pain sufferers are taught to ‘pace’ i.e. consider activities which aggravate their pain system and limit the activity to within a pain free time scale. E.g. working at the computer is fine but after 30 minutes the back starts to hurt.  So the sufferer will pace their activity and only work at the computer for 20 minutes, so as not to facilitate an inappropriate pain response from the nervous system.

As fitness professionals, we have an important role to play in helping sufferers of chronic pain manage their symptoms.

  • Empathy: Chronic pain is miserable; no one chooses to live that way. Be gentle in your approach, considerate; listen to your participant and let them guide the session.  They know their bodies.
  • Well-being: Re-consider what the aim of your work is with a chronic pain sufferer. The only objective they have is to live without pain.  Find movements that do not cause a pain response and work within those parameters to ensure an endorphin release; to manage low mood.
  • Inclusion: Chronic pain is socially isolating, the number of activities sufferers cease as a result of needing to protect them from pain is extensive. If a sufferer has made the decision to take charge and participate in an activity, try not to make a judgement about their lack of physical ability. It may be very upsetting for them to feel inhibited and less able than others, your positivity and enthusiasm can be extraordinarily powerful.
  • Pace: Allow your participant to decide when they’ve had enough. Pushing a chronic pain sufferer will have neuropathic consequences, so support them and appreciate that they need to work differently.

Overall, understanding chronic pain will make sure that sufferers feel safe with you as a professional both from a physical and emotional perspective.  Be kind, be gentle, be considerate and chronic pain sufferers can potentially start to manage their symptoms and improve fitness levels without fear of aggravating their over-active nervous system.

As for me; I had to give up the Studio I have devoted over 12 years of my life to.  Teaching Pilates and Yoga every day, was driving my pain responses too high and the pain killers I was taking led me to push myself too hard; and tear a disc.  I now work specifically, with people suffering from illness or injury that is preventing them from participating in activities that they enjoy.  Using Pilates and Yoga practises, I am supporting their rehabilitation and aiming to get them back to functional movement.  I also support others in the industry that are working with injuries and pain through Mentoring, Tutoring and Team Training.  For more information about my work, or if you’re are looking for professional support go to;


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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The Movement Specialist