When does Hypermobility become a Problem?
Many of us are experiencing a lack of range of motion, tight muscles and stiff, restricted joints, due to our movement deprived, modern lifestyle and the ageing process. Usually, what is then needed is an exercise program focusing on expanding the range of motion. Yoga and specialised Pilates are great ways to help improve mobility in the body, which then reduces the uncomfortable symptoms.
However there are a fair few of us, who suffer similar symptoms, such as muscle aches, tightness, tension and joint pain, but for the opposite reason. Hypermobility and Hypermobility disorders are often hereditary, caused by premature birth and other factors effecting us in the developmental stage or very early in life. The ligaments that help stabilise the joints in the body are too slack, meaning we have great range of motion. During our youth we may therefore gravitate towards activities like dance, gymnastics or even contortionism. We enjoy our unusual movement ability and do not tend to experience it as a problem. As long as we do not experience pain and are in good control of our hypermobile body there is no need to pathologise it.
However as we get older our body may start suffering from this excessive bendyness. The slackness of the ligaments can mean that our joints start experiencing increased wear and tear. Our muscles need to compensate for the lack of stability from the ligaments and start having to working harder, resulting in us experiencing them as tight and achy.
Many of us, who find themselves in this situation then gravitate towards yoga and flexibility focused practices. Yoga naturally suits us, as our range of motion allows us to achieve many of the positions others would find challenging, and we get a sense of relief from stretching our tense and tight muscles.
Unfortunately this kind of practice is very counterproductive. While we may get short term relief from stretching our muscles, we only make matters worse in the longer term, by over-stressing our mobile joints and working on increasing our problematic range of motion further.
Matters can become even more complicated when neural symptoms start to emerge. In the hypermobile body nerves are prone to irritation. Once a nerve is irritated or painful, practising big stretches and movements will aggravate the nerves further.
What we need to do is address the reason for the unpleasant symptoms. When we have aches and pains and muscle tightness, due to what we could call HYPO-mobility the solution is fairly straight forward. We want to gain mobility and the process of this will also instantly give us relief from the symptoms. When we are suffering due to HYPER-mobility we need to practice patience and perseverance, as the process of addressing the underlying reason may not provide that instant relief. However with a little bit of time we will find that an approach that may feel frustrating in the short term has amazing results in the longer term and can give us back a real sense of freedom.
How can Pilates Help?
First of all, if you are seeking help with your hypermobility related symptoms it is strongly advised that you consider 1-1 Pilates with a skilled practitioner, rather than joining a group class. Group classes may be a great way to support your private sessions further down the line. Initially it is important that you have the practitioners undivided attention as he or she doesn’t just give you the appropriate activities to do, but more importantly, guides you through how to do them.
Pilates is all about recognising your individual needs, and learning how to move healthily and efficiently. Some people believe it is all about core stability, however core stability is only one element of the bigger picture of balanced movement mechanics. The goal is to learn how to move with just as much tension or effort as is necessary. Stability also means balanced mobility. All of this is key for the Hypermobile.
As mentioned earlier, you want to address the source of the symptoms. Joint pain is a result of excessive wear and tear. This means with specialised Pilates we make sure you move in a more balanced way, that does not load individual joints to a degree that harms them.
The muscle aches and tension you feel are a result of the muscles having to work much harder, trying to stabilise the hypermobile body. Stretching the muscles would make matters worse, yet we want to relief the discomfort and allow the muscles to relax somewhat, so that they can start doing their job of stabilising you and providing you with more efficient strength. Some gentle manual therapy and smaller mobilisation movements go along way in calming down the muscular tension. Then we can focus on the actual work we need to do, of promoting muscular stabilisation of your joints. We start working on stabilising movements in a smaller range of motion. The hypermobile body tends to find it easy and somewhat satisfying to go into end range positions and large ranges of motion, because it does not require any muscular effort or stabilisation. We literally end up hanging off our bones and into our joints. Therefore practising a particular movement in a smaller range of motion can be both frustrating and challenging for the Hypermobile. It requires effort and control to coordinate the movement. This is exactly what we need to start teaching our body to do with as little effort as possible.
Another issue is that many of our neurological sensors for our spacial awareness are in the tissue around the joints. With the joints being slack it can be very difficult for us to balance our body and to coordinate our movements. Pilates is great at improving coordination and spacial awareness. It can offer additional help with this, while we are working on improving joint stability itself.
It is a fine line between overworking the already overstretched and overly tense muscles and encouraging them to provide the right amount of joint stability. Quality Pilates is taught with the idea that we want to use just as much muscular effort as we need, to perform the relevant movement in a stable way. The less effort we have to put into it without loosing movement quality, the better. This principle of movement efficiently is particularly important to the hypermobile person, who needs to get comfortable and efficient muscle function back.
As Pilates practitioners we love your individual, amazing range of motion and the last thing we want is to stop you from accessing the natural mobility you have got. Our goal is not only to reduce your symptoms of pain and tension. We also want to help you to be able to enjoy the big range of motion you have safely again. So while we may spend a fair bit of time narrowing your range of motion, to teach your body how to stabilise and control a movement efficiently and with balanced distribution of force through the joints, our goal is to eventually expand your movements back to the big ranges you are capable of. We want you to explore them however with the same stability and control you have learned in smaller ranges as this will keep your body save and comfortable.
Imagine how it would be, if you could enjoy your flexibility and mobility without aches, tension and injury again. Then is the time to return to yoga, dance or gymnastics. Pilates for the Hypermobile is a means to an end. We want to enable you to get back to the activities you love.
If you struggle with hypermobility-related symptoms and you would like some help contact Kristin on firstname.lastname@example.org .
The National Osteoporosis Society says that more than 3 million people in the UK are estimated to have Osteoporosis and that every minute there is an Osteoporosis related bone fracture. (ref:https://nos.org.uk/ )
Women over 50 are most at risk to develop Osteoporosis. It is estimated that 50% of women over 50 will develop Osteoporosis. Men and younger people can develop it too, and statistics show cases of Osteoporosis are generally dramatically increasing.
What is Osteoporosis and what are its Risks?
Osteoporosis is a degeneration of bone density. When our bones are healthy they are full of minerals that keep them super strong, as well as a little bit flexible so they can absorb the shock and impact of our daily activities. The more we stomp and jump when we are kids the better in fact, as bone density increases based on the demand.
When we develop Osteoporosis the bone becomes brittle and literally crumbles. We have different kinds of bone in our body. Some is naturally very dense, other look a bit like a sponge or honeycomb structure, with little holes. When we have Osteoporosis these areas are particularly at risk of crumbling. We have bone like this at the top of our thigh bone for example, which means that those suffering from Osteoporosis are at risk of hip fractures. We also have sponge bone in the front bit of our vertebra in the spine. This can become a huge problem.
We are designed to bend forward and turn our body side to side. It comes much easier to us bio-mechanically than bending backwards for example. However when we have Osteoporosis all the forward bending we do as we go through life, wears away at the front of our vertebral bodies, so they begin to look like wedges, as supposed to disks.Therefore we tend to see that those suffering from Osteoporosis over time, become very hunched in their posture. This wearing away of the front of the bone is caused by micro fractures that the person will not feel as they happen. This is a gradual process and while a fracture from impact can heal, these micro fractures are irreversible and will get worse, unless we dramatically change how we move.
What Do You Need To Be Aware Of?
If you have been diagnosed with Osteoporosis, it is something you will have to manage for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, if you have been diagnosed with Osteoporosis certain high impact sports will become a nono for you. Your bones are now more brittle and vulnerable and you need to avoid impact that causes risks of fractures. This includes activities that carry a risk of falling, as falling can now cause bone fractures more easily. Having said that, of course you want to stay fit and physically able. Walking is a great physical activity, that provides gentle impact, to continue stimulating bone density without increasing risks of fractures. Cycling or rowing would be a great alternative for running in order to maintain your cardiovascular health. Body weight exercise like Pilates and Yoga are great to maintain strength and flexibility and further stimulate bone density safely.
However if you choose to take up Pilates or Yoga it is very important that you work with a teacher who understands the contraindications and risks that come with Osteoporosis and helps you stay save. There are certain exercises and movements even in Pilates and Yoga, that will add to spinal degeneration if you suffer from Osteoporosis.
What you must avoid:
This is for the same reason as above.
How Specialised Pilates Can Help You.
Pilates is one of the best methods to help you keep your spine as healthy as possible, while maintaining your over all fitness. Specific Pilates exercises for Osteoporosis can actively help you avoid the collapse of your spine.
However it is very important to work with a practitioner who is experienced in working with Osteoporosis. As mentioned above, it is important to minimise or even avoid forward and sideways flexing of the spine as well as rotational movements under load. The Pilates and also Yoga repertoire is full of such movements, therefore you could cause yourself great damage if you simply join a Pilates or Yoga class at the gym where you do the same exercises as everyone else in the class.
If you can find a practitioner who works with you on a 1-1 basis, or looks after you within a small class, he or she will be able to show you how you can adapt a forward flexion exercise into an exercise that is save for you to do. So there is no need to feel like you can not do certain movements. You will just do them a bit differently.
Pilates and Yoga can further help you specifically counter the wearing down of your vertebral bodies by strengthening your back and opening your chest. In 1-1 sessions your teacher can give you a range of specific exercises to practice regularly at home, that give you an overall, more upright posture. This will take pressure off the front of your vertebrae, meaning you will be able to preserve a very vulnerable area of your spine for longer, making a huge difference to the quality of your life in the long term.
If you know you have Osteoporosis or its pre-stage, Osteopenia, starting with specific Pilates for your condition, with an experienced practitioner will give you a great sense of power and help you keep you spine healthy, minimising pain, risk of fractures and deterioration of lung capacity.
If you have Osteoporosis or Osteopenia, and you would like some help with how to keep your spine as healthy as possible contact Kristin at email@example.com.
A goal many of my clients note down on their client form, when they come to see me is “core strength”. Probably not surprising, considering most of them come to me to practice Pilates and Pilates is considered a discipline that improves core strength.
And yet, every time I see “core strength” as a goal on the form, I wonder what this means to the client. The truth is, this goal does not actually tell me much about what you are wanting to achieve. My first question usually then is “What are you hoping to achieve through core strength?”
What is Core Strength?
The thing is, that core strength is not actually a goal in itself. It is a concept, an idea, a theory about the body’s biomechanical function. If you are interested in physical fitness or rehabilitation of the spine, you have most likely heard of core strength. It gets referred to as a solution for many problems. Apparently a weak core can cause back pain and spinal problems. A strong core can keep injury away and enables you to master more challenging physical tasks. We talk about core strength as though we all agree on what it is. The funny thing is, we really don’t!
We can somewhat agree that the core refers to the centre of the body and strength refers to muscular strength. So it makes sense that we are talking about the strength of the muscles surrounding the spine in the centre of the body. However many professionals including Physiotherapists and some Pilates Teachers are very strict in differentiating between true core muscles and global trunk muscles, which should not play a role in core strengthening exercise programs.
This is where the first problem lies. While for some of us it is crucial that only four deep muscles of the trunk are to be considered the core, for some it is six and for others it is every muscle surrounding the center of the body. Which muscles you consider to be a core muscle makes a huge difference in how you go about strengthening your core. If you believe in the four deep core muscles (diaphragm, transverse abdominus, pelvic floor and multifidus) for example, you would use a very particular strategy. The idea is that these deep muscles are postural muscles, that play a key role in stabilising the spine in a neutral position. As soon as we add movement of the trunk into flexion or rotation for example, we would start exercising the global muscles of the trunk. If the core is considered weak this would mean that the goal is to strengthen the deep muscles in isolation. So we would do minimal effort stability exercises with no spinal movement.
If we believe the core is the body’s center in general and all muscles in this area play a role in spinal stabilisation we would do more classical abdominal, or bracing exercises that feel a lot stronger and give you that six pack as a bonus.
What To Believe?
So we have to decide which core strength idea to believe. How do we go about making this decision? We could try to find out more about the research that has been conducted in the area of core strength. However you would find that there is equal research supporting both theories. Paul Hodges has been studying the deep core muscle theory for many years and Stuart Mc Gill has written many books about his reasons behind his abdominal bracing idea. Also, there is a lot of research, rejecting the whole idea of core muscle strength. Those who do reject it argue that the body does not create stable, healthy movement by contracting individual muscles like pulling strings on a marionette. Rather movement and stability are created by something more along the lines of tensegrity, an architectural construct that suspends leavers in an equally stretched and tensioned elastic network.
So we are talking about core strength and we work on improving core strength. Yet no one actually knows what we are talking about and what we should be doing.
I have experience with the different core strength ideas out there and there is a time and place for all of them. Personally I find I need to learn more about your reasons behind your wish to improve your core strength, before I know how best to help you. I ask you, what do you want core strength for? Did someone else tell you, that it would help you eliminate pain or improve your physical abilities? Do you feel it would give you a more toned waist? Do you just want it because everyone seems to want it? What are you hoping to gain from core strength truthfully? The answers to these questions may already give me a more clear idea of what approach to take. The rest will come from observing you move, so I can see the supposed lack of core stability for myself. If there is such a deficit, it may present itself in very different ways, which yet again will influence the approach.
I would also argue that no body part is more important than another. Our bodies have developed over thousands of years to be durable and efficient. There is no design flaw. In some of us, because of our modern life habits or medical history, there may be a lack of what I prefer to call “core control” (efficiency and appropriate stability of the trunk during movement) or “motor control” (coordination and stability of efficient movement patterns, facilitated by the nervous system), which may impact on our spinal health or abilities. However the physical reason for this lack of control will be very unique in each person, which means the strategy we use to improve it will be unique too.
There are a vast amount of ways in which we can influence core control. Connective tissue experts like Thomas Myers and Robert Schleip have made us aware of just how interconnected the inside of our body is. Connective tissue, called fascia interwebs our muscles, organs and bones from foot to brain. The idea that we should isolate one or a few muscles by trying to contract them individually and locally suddenly seems very unrealistic. Sometimes we may lack core control because of a local weakness or injury indeed, but how are we going to work a muscle in isolation that is entirely interwebbed with others?
We can in fact use the interwebbed structures in our body to improve core control. How did we first learn to move well and control our centre of gravity? How did we first learn core control when we started crawling and walking? We engaged with our environment. We used the feedback we got from the floor, from gravity, from furniture we pulled ourselves up on. It makes sense that we use the same strategies to maintain and to brush up on our core control later on in life. You could call it re-engaging with our natural instincts to learn how to move well.
The Pilates apparatus, such as the reformer, trapeze table and combo chair are fantastic tools for this. The machine gives you a unique experience of movement. It gives you subtle resistance and support. It gives you feedback and enriches your neurological connections into your muscles, as it lets you explore movements in different relations to gravity. What ever is aiding core control inside your body is getting lots of stimulation here. It is my job to not only guide you through the movements and with the use of the machines, I observe the quality of your movements in all areas of the body, from the alignment of your lower extremities, your head, neck and shoulder organisation into the articulation and control of your spine. All of this is valuable information about your core control ability as well as many other elements that play a role in healthy physical movement ability.
Core strength, if it exists, is not a one fits all cure to everything. What is most important to me is what you actually want to achieve. What do you want your body to be able to do? What do you want to change and what will it mean for you and your life when you achieve it? Some idea of core strength might indeed come into play. But it will be unique to you and your goals.
If you would like to discuss your case with me you can get in touch via: firstname.lastname@example.org
Since the 1990ies Pilates has become increasingly popular. Many of us try out Pilates at some point in our lives for various reasons, such as wanting to eliminate pain, seeking a low impact, mindful fitness class or wanting to improve sporting performance or posture. Most of us end up in a mixed ability mat work class, as this tends to be the most available option. Many people do not even know that Pilates was traditionally practised in a 1:1 setting on large machines.
Mat classes are great when you just want to take some time out regularly to focus on your body, learn to move better and feel generally stronger, more flexible and positive. Practising Pilates 1:1 on the reformer, trapeze table, combo chair, ladder barrel and spine corrector is an entirely different experience with very different benefits.
1. It’s All About You
A 1:1 Pilates session evolves around you and your individual limitations and goals. You have undivided attention and support, so you know everything you do in that session is relevant to your specific needs and you are doing everything right. You are in constant dialog with your practitioner as you go through the exercises. There is no judgement or comparison with what other people should do, or may be able to do. The only thing that matters is you. Just think about what a physiotherapy group treatment would be like compared to your private treatment plan. With Pilates it is no different.
While Pilates can be used as a workout, it is first and foremost a therapy that teaches you the fundamentals of efficient, natural and healthy movement. Just like talking therapies and physical therapies Pilates is all about making very individual changes, such as eliminating your pain, rehabilitating your injury, changing your individual movement patterns and identifying barriers to change, and if needed, their causes. These barriers and causes can be biomechanical as well as environmental or behavioural. In order to identify and address all these individual factors a private 1:1 setting is needed.
2. Hands-On Therapeutic Support
As mentioned above, Pilates is a form of therapy. In a 1:1 setting the practitioner is able to support you with manual skills, that would be limited in a group setting.
David Lesondak, the author of the book “Fascia: What It Is And Why It Matters” is one of many successful Physical Therapists, who has said that manual therapy, combined with active movement by the client tends to be more effective than manual therapy alone. In a 1:1 Pilates setting the practitioner can support and guide you with tactile cueing during your exercises. The trapeze table also offers a comfortable and suitable platform for short, targeted massage and manual therapy treatments with and without active movement.
3. Movement Support
Not only the practitioner gives guidance and support in the session. The apparatus itself was originally designed to support clients in their rehabilitation from injury. The Polestar Pilates method, developed by Dr Brent Anderson and Feldenkrais Practitioner Elizabeth Larkam, strongly believes in working out smarter rather than harder. Changing our subconscious, inefficient movement strategies and getting out of faulty movement patterns that cause wear and tear is a big part of this.
This means, rather than making you struggle with a difficult movement we may instead put you in a different orientation to gravity. This is what the Pilates apparatus does best. If you struggle with squatting (getting up and down from a chair), the reformer enables you to improve your squatting pattern while lying down, which means you are in a more supportive orientation to gravity. This way we do not only form a supportive environment, where change is easier to facilitate, we are also turning the squat into something the brain does not recognise as the same thing. Therefore it is much easier to break with movement habits and learn new strategies that are more efficient and healthy.
4. Improved Proprioception
As we get older it is not only important to maintain muscle strength and mobility. The more linear and repetitive our everyday movements become, the more we loose our ability for coordination and balance. Both of these are very important for our movement health and for maintaining comfortable and save movement quality in later years. We may be very good in walking forward and standing up from a chair. However if one day we suddenly have to jump out of the way of a cyclist, or we trip and need to catch ourselves, our brain and body may be very poor at managing this sudden different movement and we could injure ourselves.
Our brain’s understanding of where we are in space and what kind of physical reaction is required in any given situation is called proprioception. The more diverse movement experiences we have the better our proprioception becomes.
The Pilates apparatus offers a movement experience that often does not feel like anything else we have done in our life. For example during the basic reformer exercise “Feet in Straps” you lie on your back, on a moving carriage. Your feet reach into loops attached to ropes. As you start circling the legs in the air you begin to move the carriage backwards and forwards. While the exercise helps with hip mobility, rehab and core stabilisation, our brain gets flooded and enriched with lots of new information about our body and its movement capabilities. Through this we improve our motor control and proprioception, while using many tiny stabilising muscles we did not even know we had.
5. Rehabilitation From Head To Toe
Some people think that Pilates only deals with the rehabilitation and maintenance of spinal health. However the Pilates apparatus offers a vast repertoire of exercises focused on the rehabilitation and movement quality of other areas of the body too. For example the combo chair is ideal for the purpose of working on ankle stability and mobility as well as hip, knee to ankle alignment.
Sometimes, when we had an injury we feel we can not go to our Pilates or Yoga class, because most of the exercises may not be suitable for us in that moment. However there is no need to just stop and wait until things get better. 1:1 Pilates can always offer you something that will help with your recovery. Even when you can barely move. The trapeze table can take on the role of a sling table for example, a tool that is used in rehabilitation hospitals to assist in the early stages of rehab after hip and knee operations. The client lies on their back and has their legs elevated and completely supported by springs. Unlike the sling table however, the trapeze table allows the practitioner to easily move your legs to start the process of bringing movement back into the affected part of the body. You then can also start gradually taking over the movement of your legs while suspended and supported by the springs. This can be an incredibly relaxing experience both mentally and locally at the joint.
6. It’s Fun!
Let’s not forget that moving should be fun! The apparatus offers opportunities to explore exciting and joyful ways of working with the body. One of them is “Jumping” on the reformer. In this exercise you are lying down and jumping against a vertical board with far less than your body weight, making you feel like you are jumping on the moon. The trapeze table has a very stable frame that allows you to suspend yourself from your ankles and explore functional strength by pulling yourself up and climbing around as you perhaps used to do on the monkey bars back in the day.
Pilates group classes can be a great place to improve your physical and mental well being. However it is useful to know that 1:1 Pilates is not a mere luxury choice, but that it offers some very different benefits beyond the mat class experience and that sometimes it may be the more appropriate choice for your goals.
If you would like to experience Pilates and its rehabilitation, holistic or therapeutic benefits in a 1:1 setting with the support of the Pilates apparatus you can discuss your case with Kristin at email@example.com
One of the key problems that underlies most physical issues is stress and excessive tension. Injuries can happen when we live our lives to the full, however sometimes we recover easily and sometimes pain and injury become chronic. And sometimes we get physical problems seemingly out of nowhere and struggle to get rid of them.
When injuries seem to just not want to heal, or pain and discomfort comes out of nowhere, stress often is an underlying factor. Stress is something we may experience as an unpleasant state that makes us tired, irritable and anxious. Sometimes we get simply used to feeling like that and hardly notice just how stressful our lives are. Or we deny to ourselves just how stressed we are because we believe we should be more resilient.
However stress does not only affect our mind and comfort levels, it also affects our body. When we are stressed we do not give ourselves the rest our body and mind usually requires. Instead we are hyper vigilant, on high alert and our muscles are in a constant state of readiness. Our nervous system knows nothing about our modern lifestyles and the cause of our stress. It does not know that the stress is caused by pressure at work or problems with the children. It interprets our state of being as a signal that we are in a dangerous situation. It makes sure that our body is ready for fight, flight or freeze. This is called the sympathetic nervous system responds. Our breathing becomes more shallow, muscles continue to be permanently ready to contract quickly and powerfully to defend us or to run away from danger. Being in this state also changes our hormone levels. We produce more adrenaline and other hormones that support this expenditure of energy for constant readiness. Hormones that maintain cell repair and help us sleep will now be produced less in order to give adrenaline priority. This means that maintenance and repair processes in the body will go on standby. Digestion for example is not something that would happen while we are running away from danger or fighting for our lives. It would take energy away from the vital need of defence or flight. Therefore, when we are stressed, our digestive system tends to suffer. Other processes in the body, such as repair of tissue damage will also take a step back to allow high alert and defence to take priority.
Stress by nature is supposed to be a short term responds that allows us to deal with a sudden, dangerous situation. However in our day and age stress has become something we live with for longer periods of time. Our body can not sustain this state of hyper vigilance and constant readiness without suffering some kind of damage.
We may start having symptoms such as sleeping and digestive problems or migraines and tension headaches. As our body starts struggling more and more with this prolonged state of stress, the constant readiness of our muscles and the defensive, protective tensing of our connective tissue start to become the normal state. This is when excessive tension starts to impair our physical abilities and makes us prone to injury, which then our body is not so able to repair, as repair is not a priority in our stressed body.
It is important to say that not all tension is bad. Tension is a necessity for healthy movement. Our connective tissue and muscles need to have a degree of balanced tension in order to create movement. However when we are stressed for long periods of time we have too much of it, to a degree where it creates restriction, pain and limitation. As we got to this point gradually over time we may not even be aware of the amount of tension we are holding in our body. In fact all we might notice is that we feel physically weak and stiff. We tend to interpret this as feeling generally unfit, or we put it down to the ageing process.
Excessive tension restricts our muscles from being able to expand and contract. It literally disables them from doing their job, giving us the feeling of weakness. We often then make things worse by going to the gym, using brute force in an attempt to get stronger, hence increasing excessive tension and stress in our body. What we then have is a vicious circle.
So what can we do to reduce stress and tension in our body?
1. Reduce Stress In Your Life
While this may be an obvious solution, it is probably the hardest one too. Chronic stress is on the rise for a reason and in order to not go down that route we seriously have to get an overview of our life and what we are demanding of our selves. Identify the areas in your life that are important for your well-being and that currently come too short. Think about how you can reorganise your routine to make time for those things that come too short. Be realistic. Something might have to give, however we tend to compromise on our well-being first and put everything else above it. It is important to realise that in the longer term we can not outrun ourselves and in order to be there for others, or to have that successful career we need to look after our well being. Try not to compare your resilience to stress with that of others around you. Your individual state of being matters, not how much stress anyone else around you can take, or thinks you should be able to take. We are all different and our lives are uniquely different too. It is impossible to compare our stress with that of others. Be kind to yourself and value time just for yourself. It is not selfish and it is not a waste of time. It is important in order for you to keep going and be there for the ones you love.
2. Increase Your Awareness
The more body awareness we can develop, the more power we have over it. Once in a while during your day just check in with your body and the subtle state it is in. How do your feet meet the floor? How are you standing or sitting? Don't over-police your posture and try not to judge. Just ask yourself “How is my body? Can I let go a little bit? If not, -what do I need, in order to let go a little bit?”
3. Use Your Breath
Breathing is a hugely powerful tool to change internal processes in our body. To a degree we can influence the sympathetic nervous system response through the way we breath. We may not have direct control of our digestive system, however we do have direct control over how we breath. We can use our breath to coax our body into shifting into the opposite state, the para-sympathetic state of repair, restoration and relaxation. This is why breathing is often used in relaxation techniques. Relaxation is a great way to reduce tension, however we need to find the right way for us to practice relaxation. Not one fits all and ultimately the important thing is to bring relaxation into our life, rather than keeping it something we do when we have the time. You can change your breathing, no matter what else you are busy with. The effect on the body is incredible. Try breathing into your stomach slowly and deeply, filling it up like a balloon. Pause a moment before you breath out. Aim to make the exhale last longer than the inhale. Repeat for a few minutes several times a day. On a personal note, this technique helped me get rid of my chronic digestion problems that no pills could help with.
4. Get A Massage
At the beginning it can be hard to shift physical tension all by yourself. Getting a light massage can be a great aid at this time. If you are suffering from tension related pain it can be very tempting to ask for the deepest deep tissue massage you can get, however these can be counterproductive in this case. Your body has tensed up for a reason and you need to work with it in order for it to release. You can not force it to do so. While you may experience quick, powerful relief from your tension symptoms afterwards, your body will tense up on you soon again and possibly worse than before. If you are stressed, deep and painful massage will be interpreted by the body as a form of attack. Therefore it will make sure it heightens its defences even more. When you look for a suitable massage I recommend a light form of myofascial release or even a hot stone massage. If you are desperate for that deep tissue massage, choose a therapist who will go deep very carefully and slowly. If massage is not your thing, try a hot bath or go for a swim. This can have similar effects.
5. Improve Your Relationship With Your Body
It goes without saying, that if you feel uncomfortable in your body for some reason you also grow more tense. We all are uncomfortable sometimes. It is an issue when discomfort and tension becomes our permanent state. As mentioned above, key for long term success is to work with your body on your goal to reduce tension. If you are very uncomfortable in your body for any reason, or you reject it on some level, this will be tricky. You may need help to find a way into rebuilding a positive relationship with your body, depending on the source of your discomfort.
6. Reconnect With Nature
We live in an increasingly digital and technical world, however we are still organic. Make time to go out for walks or even runs in nature. Moving, particularly surrounded by nature can have a calming influence and disburses some of the tension we hold on to. Research has shown that those who exercise outdoors where more efficient at decreasing high blood pressure than those exercising in gyms. Also, if you have a cat or a dog, spend time with them. Animals are the best teachers when it comes to healthy movement and a balanced, stress free lifestyle.
7. Learn To Move And Exercise Without Excessive Tension
Jane Fonda's famous words “No Pain, No Gain” have added to a workout mentality in our Western world, that can be harmful and inefficient. Somehow we feel that unless we completely exhausted ourselves and ache the next day we just wasted our time. To a degree physical exertion can help reduce tension indeed, however poor exercise technique that deliberately seeks excessive tension means that most of the time we make a physical task harder than it should be. Instead of toughening up and getting stronger we simply learn to fight against ourselves harder and do things with excessive tension where there does not need to be any, risking wear and tear and injury. Where else in your life is forcing yourself to do things the hard way over and over a good idea? Can you imagine performing a challenging physical movement like a squat or push up with ease, being comfortable and relaxed? This is what exercise can be like when you are patient and learn how to use all of your body and your surroundings efficiently and healthily to move effortlessly and skillfully without force and excessive tension.
If you would like some help with any of the above you can contact Kristin to discuss your case and how she might be able to help you.
Alternatively you might like to attend Kristin's Release & Restore Class, which is designed to calm your nervous system, gently mobilise your body and reduce aches and pains.
The next class available in Leigh on Sea will be on Thursday 22nd of February 6:30pm - 8pm.
The next class available in Edinburgh will be on Friday the 2rd of March 7pm - 8:30pm.
In 2017 many of my clients have made positive changes to their bodies and their lives. Some are only at the beginning of their journey to being happier and healthier. However they have made the first step by recognising the value of their own well-being and that we need to invest in ourselves in order to live life to the full.
One of my clients who really embraced this and was rewarded is Sinead. She kindly allowed me to tell you her story. I hope it will inspire those of you, who are facing the New Year with injury, pain, or a physical condition that holds you back from reaching for your dreams.
When I First Met Sinead
36 year old Sinead first came to see me in August this year. She walked into the room gingerly, as though scared of the impact her feet would cause on the floor. Her expression was one of doubt, hesitance and insecurity. She explained to me that her partner and her had booked a very special adventure for this November. They wanted to climb Mount Everest together. They had spend a lot of money on this trip and it was going to be an experience of a lifetime for their anniversary. They thought they were doing everything right, starting to prepare themselves early. Sinead had been seeing a Personal Trainer to get fit for the hike. As her sessions progressed Sinead started noticing some discomfort in her back, that soon develop into pain. She told her trainer “My back hurts.” Her trainer replied: “That’s normal. No pain no gain. Keep going.” Sinead kept going, until one day during her session her back went into spasm and severe pain started shooting down her leg. She could no longer hold herself upright.
Sinead was diagnosed with an acute disk prolapse in her lower back, which was pressing on a nerve and caused sciatica (nerve pain down her leg). Sinead did everything she was told by the doctors, to recover as quickly as possible. She also visited a Physiotherapist. The acute pain went away, but back ache and sciatica remained. As soon as she went back to the gym to continue her training the pain got worse again.
Making a Plan
Now, 2 months later she stood in my studio after someone had recommended Pilates to her to help with her recovery. She asked me: “Is it even possible that I can climb Mount Everest in 3 months? Do I have to cancel my trip?” I told her that everything was possible, however that I could not promise anything as her recovery depended on many things. Climbing Mount Everest in 3 months, when she could barely walk now, was an ambitious goal. I explained that ideally, she would not put herself under this pressure and allow her body to heal in its own time. Sinead explained just how important this trip was for her. She wanted to do anything she could to be able to go with her partner. She reassured me however, that she had no intention of taking a big risk on her health either.
Impressed by her clarity and determination I told her that she would have to commit time daily to her recovery. She would have to be very aware all the time about how to minimise stress on her body and her injury. I also told her that she should see me twice a week to give this a chance in the time frame we had.
Over the course of the next few weeks Sinead seemed to struggle with her dedication and with keeping her impatience at bay. Several times she cancelled her sessions with me because of having to stay late at work. She also did not pay enough attention to her back health, by sitting for long periods of time at work, making her back feel worse. She often admitted that she was not doing the gentle mobilising exercises I gave her regularly. To make matters worse she tried to make up for the lack of practice and care by going back to the gym again, trying to push away at more challenging workouts and hurting herself again.
It took her until beginning of September to realised that she was not helping herself. She realised that what I was recommending did work, but that she had to stick to it and that she could not force her body to heal faster by compromising on it and then pushing it.
From then on Sinead decided to see me 3 times a week and did all her exercises just as instructed. Her sciatica soon disappeared. By mid October her back pain was gone. Thanks to Pilates she had now learned a lot about how to use her body more safely and efficiently, and she was ready to return to the gym to carefully built her endurance and strength again. As November approached she was left with nothing but a slight feeling of weakness in her left leg and a slightly stiff hip. She still had to be careful to not overdo things, however she felt ready to go on her adventure.
During the last session we discussed what safety measures she could put in place, in case she had to cut her trip short. I wanted to make sure that she had a way out and would not feel stuck in the mountains or feel forced to continue in case she re-injured herself. I also gave her a tool kit of stretches and exercises she could do standing up, so they were practical during her hike when she felt her hip or back stiffen up.
Off I let her go to the Himalayas with a fierce hug. Over the time she was away I often thought of her and hoped that all would go well. I had asked her to let me know as soon as she could, how it all went.
Two weeks later I received an email from her with a photo of her partner and her, smiling broadly at Mount Everest Base Camp. They had done it! Sinead told me that it had not been easy for her but that the stretches I gave her helped her reach the top and she was now going to give herself proper recovery time.
I was euphoric for her. Sinead is a wonderful example of someone who did not let physical issues stop her doing what she wanted to do in life. Yet she did this responsibly, putting their health first. I think we all can learn from Sinead and her balanced commitment to her physical health and her life ambitions.
If a physical issue is holding you back from going on your personal adventures in life, contact Kristin to discuss your case and how she might be able to help you.
We all have heard of “body and mind” exercise such as Yoga and Pilates and most of us understand that the body and the mind are connected. Of course, where ever you perceive your mind to be, it is most definitely inside your body. However we do not always grasp just how completely inseparable mind and body are. They are not only connected, they are one. For example, the gut is sometimes called the second brain, because it inhabits some 100 million nerve cells. That is more than there are in the spinal cord. No wonder we tend to say “I have a gut feeling” when we have a strong intuition about something. Here are 3 reasons why we should consider our mental state when we seek changes within our body.
#1 Posture is not just a habit, it is an expression of how you feel.
Most of us are aware that our posture needs improving. We have desk jobs and slouch a lot. We get cold and hunch our shoulders. We consider it a physical issue and to some degree it is. Over time our chest muscles tighten and pull our shoulders forward. Our head gets pushed forward and the neck gets stiff. The upper back rounds and becomes weak.
However we also know that our posture suffers when we are stressed. We get more tense with stress and our shoulders rise. If we are insecure we also assume a hunched posture in a subconscious attempt to protect ourselves. When we are sad and depressed we look at the floor a lot and drag our feet. Think of someone you know, who you believe to be confident and relaxed. What is their posture like? You will most likely find them upright, open in their chest, relaxed in their body and with a spring in their step.
How we hold ourselves, how we move, and the degree of tension in our body is largely determined by how we feel. Are we confident or anxious? Are we stressed or relaxed? Are we happy or sad? This has an impact on our body and our posture. So why do we tend to always resort to fixing our posture by simply pulling our shoulders back or sitting more upright when we can remember?
How about we work on the cause of bad posture on the inside, as well as on the physical elements on the outside? Would that not mean twice the chance at positive postural change and a generally more comfortable you?
#2 Pain is our body's way of telling us that something is wrong.
Some of us are plagued with pain that comes and goes or has been with us for a long time. We may not even remember how or why it first appeared. We may have tried all sorts of manual therapy and rehabilitation exercise, but it just doesn't seem to make much difference.
Pain is the body's way of telling us, that something is wrong. It works pretty well when we have sustained an injury or illness. However pain is also sometimes experienced where there is no visible injury at all. The nerves that signal pain to the brain are embedded within the connective tissue, which spreads through the entire body. Since the nervous system and the connective tissue are so interlinked they affect each other. Many massage and movement professionals have seen clients spontaneously become emotional as an area of connective tissue is released. It is believed that emotional distress can be stored or trapped in areas of the connective tissue, which hardens or stiffens as a protective responds. Over time this starts to affect the nerves embedded within, to signal pain. Releasing the tissue however, does not resolve the problem permanently, because the cause is of an emotional nature and needs to be addressed too.
If you experience pain that has been investigated by health professionals to no avail, you may want to ask yourself honestly, how stressed or anxious you are in your life? Have you experienced any emotional upset around the time when the pain started? This does not have to have been a massive traumatic event. A generally hectic and stressful stretch of time can be enough to start overloading our nervous system to affect the body if we are already vulnerable in some way.
What you way need are 3 things:
2. Gentle mobilising exercises to increase physical healing.
3. A plan of how you can make the changes in your life that resolve the original cause and allow
you to move on with a more balanced lifestyle.
#3 If we can't eat well and manage a healthy weight, there is a good reason for this.
Most of us have a basic understanding of what foods are healthy and what foods are not. We also generally understand the balance between calorie intake and burning it off by being physically active. And yet many of us struggle with the discipline to stick to our healthy diet and gym regime. We easily judge ourselves as too weak to resist temptation.
If your cravings are overriding your conscious reasoning, that sticking to a certain diet and exercise plan would make you loose weight, ask yourself what you are getting out of eating when you think you should not. Our body is not looking for weight gain when it makes us eat more than we need. It is however looking for something. You may think you are gaining nothing useful from overeating, but what ever you are getting from overeating is powerful and more important than what you want from being slimmer, otherwise you would not do it.
You may need some help, identifying what it is that overeating is giving you. Once you have identified what it is, you can make changes in your life, so that you gain that very important, powerful thing in a different way. Then changing your diet and loosing weight won't be so difficult.
When we begin to work with the mind and the body equally, we also begin to appreciate all that we are, with all our complexities and all the potential we actually have to change.
If you would like help with improving your posture, reducing pain, shifting a destructive habit, that holds you back, or work on other physical goals together with your mind, you can get in touch with Kristin on firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My core is rubbish”
“I have a weak core.”
“I need to strengthen my core.”
I hear comments like these every day. They make me wonder:
“Do you know exactly what you mean by core? How do you know this to be true? Do you feel this or did someone tell you so?”
You may not be aware that movement professionals, from physiotherapists over strength and conditioning coaches to pilates teachers all have very different opinions about what the core is, what is wrong with it, how to fix it or whether to fix it at all. The difference in opinion is not necessarily based on the job title, but on whatever they have learned to be the truth and whatever works for them personally.
I admit it here and now, at the start of my career, like many, I worked on the bases of just one school of thought, because it was taught to me as the truth. When I embarked on further training I was told that in fact what I thought to be true was very flawed. I was angry and annoyed at the challenging thought that I may have been doing it wrong. Like many others I insisted that they were the ones who were wrong. I continued to seek more professional development and the more I studied the more often this happened. Repeatedly I was confronted with a completely different idea of what the core is and how it works. I started to wonder, if so many people are convinced of so many different things, how do I know what is true? I realised how religious we movement professionals can be about the theory we choose to follow and how dismissive we are of other ideas. I realised what this complete diversity of believe means. If we look around and read all the research done in the area of movement science and spine stability we realise that this subject is anything but clear and it is very unlikely that only one approach out of all of them is the right one. If there was one right way of doing it we would all get fixed instantly. You may have found it is often not that easy.
I want to give you a taster of the core chaos out there so you have a more realistic image of your core and what it means. Here are some of the different ideas of what the core is and how to treat it.
A popular believe is that we have deep/local muscles making up our core. These muscles have the main function of stabilizing the spine. We also have superficial/global muscles, with the job to create movement. The local core muscles always tend to include pelvic floor, diaphram, transverse abdominus (TVA) and multifidus. The global muscles in the core area always include rectus abdominus, erector spinae and the external obliques. There are a fair few muscles in between. Experts like to argue about which group they belong to. Unfortunately muscles do not come with labels that state their purpose.
Those who work based on this idea of the inner unit and outer unit, as they are also called, might tell you that your inner unit or core is weak and that you need to do core isolation/strengthening exercises with the purpose of targeting those local muscles.
This practice is based on research conducted by Australian physiotherapy and neuroscience professor Paul Hodges. He has researched the area of spine stabilization and motor control since the 1980ies. While it is widely accepted that indeed the deep muscles differ in many ways from the superficial ones there has been a lot of misinterpretation of his work. The reason why there are core conditioning classes in every gym, we believe to be plagued by a world wide epidemic of weak cores and that those with back pain particularly need to strengthen their core, is based on one of Hodges early research projects. He tested the performance of the deep core muscle transverse abdominus in people with chronic back pain compared to people without back pain. In people without back pain transverse abdominus contracted earlier in relation to other muscles and the performed movement. In people with back pain TVA contracted slightly later in comparison. So there is something interesting to be said about the difference in behaviour of the TVA in people with back pain, compared to the one in those without back pain.
When the results were published many rushed to the conclusion that our societies epidemic of back pain is due to the fact that we have weak or sluggish TVAs. This was the point when Pilates became all about the core. Joseph Pilates, the founder of the method never mentioned the word in his life. It may sound like a logical conclusion, yet we have no idea if the delayed TVA contraction caused the back pain, or if it was caused by the back pain. We simply do not know what the effect of the different behaviour of TVA is. It also is a whole other story to assume that we all have a faulty TVA and therefore we all need to strengthen our core. Yes we have an epidemic of back pain but remember, the ten individuals who were tested, who did not have back pain had a perfectly normal TVA contraction (if we assume their TVA performance is the normal one). Hodges study was a small one, only involving 20 people in total who were only tested on one arm movement. It was too small a study to assume chronic pain or poor physical performance is due to a weak set of deep core muscles. Hodges himself never made this conclusion from his work. He still works on getting his message through, that his research was misinterpreted. In an interview with the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015 he addressed the issue that the fact that he has studied muscles such as TVA in great detail does not mean that he believes these muscles to be more important than any other muscle in the body and that stability of the spine is provided by an orchestra of muscles. (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hplw6Lg95SY)
The believe that the TVA can be isolated and retrained or strengthened in isolation has also been highly disputed. The TVA is deep inside our body fully networked via connective tissue with other structures and muscles. Because of this complication, those who believe in the local core isolation approach make core contraction quite an art from. The contraction has to be so slight that other muscles are recruited as little as possible alongside it. Some speak of a 25% contraction in order to make their clients understand that the effort they are to put into it is way less than a thorough pull of the navel to the spine. Some suggest the mere thought of contraction is enough. The degree of subtlety is difficult to get right and requires experimentation with a variety of different visualisations. Core isolation is a difficult skill if it can be mastered at all. Its purpose is questionable, yet some therapists have had good results with it. Although we also do not know what about the procedure really helped the client. Is their core really stronger and fixing the problem, or perhaps it was just slowing down and gaining body awareness that took their pain away and made them feel better. We do not know.
“PELVIC FLOOR ISOLATION”
There are many practitioners out there, particularly in the fitness world, who consider all trunk muscles to be the core, which is strengthened by drawing the navel to the spine. Recent research has shown that there is a huge issue with sucking the stomach in all the time. Whenever we draw the stomach in we can cause dysfunction and prolapsing of the pelvic floor. This can also happen with the TVA isolation approach when not enough emphasis is placed on the subtlety of the contraction.
When we draw our stomach in this creates something called intra abdominal pressure, which facilitates stability to the spine. It was found that this pressure also causes us to bear down on the pelvic floor which literally buckles under the pressure. Imagine creating pressure in a balloon by squeezing it and how an area in the balloon’s skin starts to bulge. This discovery has caused many who previously attempted TVA isolation directly to now access it via the pelvic floor instead, as the pelvic floor will always also engage TVA with it. This way it can be more or less insured that the pelvic floor will not bulge during core contraction.
This sounds like a great idea, it just became problematic when we learned recently, that in many people who were suspected of having a weak pelvic floor, the pelvic floor is in fact hypertonic (tight/in spasm/not functioning) and the last thing it needs is more pulling and tensing up. (you can read more about it here, and how pilates teachers themselves are particularly at risk of developing hypertonic pelvic floors due to their focus on repetitive pelvic floor contraction: http://www.mypelvichealth.ca/causes-pelvic-floor-pain/hypertonic-pelvic-floor-muscle-dysfunction/).
This does not mean that everyone who is currently doing kegel exercises should stop doing so. It just means the problem with the pelvic floor is not always that it is baggy and weak, it may be the opposite. And too much focus on pelvic floor contraction can cause problems. It is possible for an experienced movement professional to get an idea of someone's pelvic floor health by looking at the person’s quality of movement. If in doubt ultrasound imaging would reveal the truth. In any case it would make sense to practice pelvic floor releases as well as strengthening exercises. Unfortunately that is usually not part of core training.
The world of core was basically fine, mainly following Paul Hodges idea of what it was and how it works. Then suddenly a man named Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics from Canada dropped a bombshell. He claimed that drawing your stomach in and isolating the deep core muscles was harmful to our core stability. He said that the global muscles of the trunk, such as the rectus abdominus, external obliques and erector spinae are all just as vital to help with spinal stability as the deep, local muscles. He said that drawing our stomach in meant that we inhibit the proper function of the rectus abdominus, which means we do not get the full stability for our spine that we should get. He suggested we should use abdominal bracing (tensing your stomach as though you expect to get punched in the stomach) to engage our core. He dismissed the idea that the performance of the TVA had much to do with onset of back pain. Instead he believed that spinal flexion under load (forward bending in abdominal exercises such as sit ups or crunches) causes spinal disk degeneration, which then causes back issues. He suggested we should strengthen our core in isometric contractions only. This means with the spine in a lengthened form such as in a plank or squat with a straight back to minimise disk degeneration.
McGill came to this conclusion by testing the pressure that spinal disks had to endure during certain movements and positions, such as bending down, lying, sitting and so on. He found that by bending forward we put a lot of load through the vertebral disks and wear them out over time. To proof his believe that we only have a set number of movements within our spinal disks before they break he put the spines of dead pigs through massive repetitive bending tests. The spinal disks eventually broke. McGill concluded that we must minimise flexion of our spine and work on core stability in a way that strengthens our trunk into an erect shape. So brace your abs and don’t bend down if you can help it.
McGill found out a lot of stuff about the human body that is worth considering and it is thanks to his discoveries that we have moved on a fair bit from old school gym training. There is one thing that bothers me though. My spine, right now inside me, as I type this, is not dead. There is still constant repair going on in my body. Yes I age, yes time starts to show in the lines of my skin and in areas in my body that have suffered over the years and simply are not as fresh as they used to be. Yet if I injure myself I heal. Even in 40 years time, if I break my leg, the bone will grow back together. Even if I bulge a disk, if I look after myself sensibly the bulge can disappear with time. Does this happen in a dead pig spine? No it does not. There is no more repair happening there. So while of course time and repetitive movement wears out parts of our body McGill’s research does not proof that it is necessary to keep ourselves upright all the time because we do not have enough flexion in our spine to last us a lifetime. McGill’s theory also doesn’t explain why I have had many clients under the age of 35 with upright posture suffering disk problems. Yet many of my clients over 60 have no back problems at all. I suspect that the amount of disk degeneration through spinal flexion is somewhat dependent on the segmental quality of movement through the spine and the functionality of the surrounding tissue.
As with most things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Do I want to flex someone forward with an acute disk injury? Probably not. Do I suggest we put your healthy spine through 100 sit ups at a time? I certainly do not. Should we ban people from flexing forward? It just doesn't sound natural or realistic to me. Not only would this be a serious limitation for people’s ability to move, we also know that the vertebral disks need movement in order to remain healthy and repair themselves. Maintaining an even movement quality through each spinal disk is also supposed to prevent hinging repetitively from the same areas in the spine which indeed could cause problems. If we stop teaching clients how to flex their spines well their vertebral disks will start to dry out due to a lack of use. Soft tissue around the spine would become less adaptable. Further down the line when they bend down to put on a shoe their body may not be able to cope very well with this basic task any more.
A problem I have with the idea of exessive bracing of the abdominals is that it was found that such forceful contraction of the global muscles of the trunk will actually compress the spine. In pilates we work a lot on elongating the spine and improving posture and movement in order to prevent spinal compression. Spinal compression can speed up disk degeneration, reduces shock absorption and by extend therefore can cause harm to other weight bearing joints. Contracting my trunk muscles that forcefully may make my spine more stable in the immediate term, however it may cause it to become more compressed in the long term.
Still there are times when abdominal bracing may be the best strategy for us to achieve what we are wanting to do. And McGill's discoveries about the pressure placed on spinal disks during particular movements is very valuable and influencing what we choose to ask our clients to do in classes. My dispute is with the generalisations based on the results of the research and the often blunt and categorical actions taken.
“THERE IS NO CORE”
While the McGill supporters quarrel with the Hodges believers about what the core is and how to contract it there is a whole other group of movement professionals who challenge both of them by basically saying: “There is no core.”, and the idea of improving physical ability by tensing up individual muscles is not functional or helpful.
They tend to say that western movement science has gone about it the wrong way by attempting to make sense of the human body by applying mechanical ideas (biomechanics) to it. The idea of “switching the core on and off” is part of this as well as the text book image of dissected bodies in general. Our body is seen as the casing of the muscular system, skeletal system, nervous system and so on. The muscular system is broken down into different muscles with different purposes. It is argued that seeing the whole, living, moving body as an arrangement of separate parts is not helpful, because we are not machines and science is still far away from understanding how we human beings work. Connective tissue (fascia) has been discovered to line the inside of our bones as much as it wraps around and through our muscles and into the deep layers of our skin. We are beginning to understand, that it is of huge importance for our stability in movement and biomechanical health. Separating the body into different systems means breaking down the fascia and disregarding anything interconnecting that may be of value. This may just hinder us in discovering how the body really works, as a very organic interconnected universe of its own, where for example the feet may hold the key to spinal stability as well as many other factors such as balance, breath and soft tissue health.
People who believe that our bodies, including our mind, are one organic whole, where everything effects everything tend to argue that the martial arts masters and yogis in the far east have astounding physical abilities even at very old age without injuries, and most importantly without applying any of our western methods of training and treatments. Our western athletes however tend to retire in their 30ies due to injuries, regardless of all the expert support, coaching and treatments they receive.
There are many different strands of this general rejection of the idea that there is a core we need to engage or strengthen. Some simply argue that the chronic tension and stiffening that many of us experience as we grow older is worsened by the constant focus on muscular strength and deliberate contraction and flexing of our muscles. They say that the key is in getting in touch with our body and our instincts and trusting in our natural ability to move again. It is in learning to find strength in a very different way by balancing the body well, letting gravity help us as supposed to fighting it, and letting go of excessive tension as much as possible.
Thomas Myers was perhaps the first to draw our attention to the value of connective tissue inside the body when he published his book “The Anatomy Trains” just after the millennium. His work was new and ground breaking in the western world. He saw the body and its movements based on myofacial meridians. He identified the forces of pull that our connective tissue develops over the years. In dissection these can be seen in the alignment of the fascial fibres, which look like paths or lines. They indicate that muscles work in a sort of chain reaction in long and spiralling lines up and down and through the depth of the body. The health of the fasica is absolutely vital in making these chain reactions work.. In the past fascia was merely regarded as packaging material for our muscles. Myers and others working in his field have now demonstrated the huge role fascia plays in our body and the impact its health has on our ability to move well and avoid injury.
Others who have also recognised the importance of connective tissue see the body more as a trensegrity model and developed the idea of biotensegrity. If the structure is completely balanced with an equal amount of tension and length in all parts the overall tension and expansion allows the whole system to be buoyant, light, balanced and effortless without any structures wearing away. Tensing up a set of muscles such as the core would disturb the over all balance and cause compression.
Those who believe in biotensegrity blame our epidemic of compressive joints such as knees, hips and vertebral disks causing pain, injury, replacements and spinal rods to some degree on the way we exercise our muscles with deliberate contractions (flexing them, tightening and shortening them).
Part of all these new discoveries that were made about the connective tissue in the body was that 80% of our nerves are located in our connective tissue and therefore there is a strong relationship between the nervous system and the fascial system. Neuroscience and the role the brain plays in the struggles we have with our body is the new area of exploration. The brain is constantly communicating with our body via the nervous and endocrine system in ways we are not even aware of. A simple example of this would be that our posture suffers when we are depressed. There are many much more mind blowing examples of this close relationship between the two. Biomechanist Stephen Braybrook is one of many current experts exploring this connection. He wrote “The Evolution of Biomechanics” to share his ideas of the direction movement science should go into while Caroline Sutherland’s book “The Body Knows” also explores the effect of the mind on the body, by saying that our physicality is ease-dropping on our state of mind and is affected by it.
While a faulty or weak core seems like a much more tangible issue to tackle when we seek improvement or relief from pain there is now a much wider spectrum of possible causes for our problems from connective tissue damage to our mental state.
It is possible to have some consideration for the research around the core and yet be able to see the body as a much more interconnected whole. Many who regard both develop a much more interconnected idea or abstract image of the core or even say that we have many cores. We may have a core around our spine but we also have a core in our shoulder for example and not one is more important than the other. Alternatively they may suggest that spinal stability is gained by engaging well with gravity and moving with a quality of expansion within us that provides supportive tension in our connective tissue. This way we avoid constant joint and spinal compression through deliberate muscle contraction.
What is certain is that each one of us is a complex individual and the more strategies and approaches we have available to us to make positive changes the more likely it is that we will find the one that will help us.
So when you say your core is rubbish, are you still sure you know what exactly that means and if this is actually true?
So your core is weak and needs strengthening. How do you know this?
And in what way do you want to strengthen it now?
I think we can safely say that we have no idea what the reality about our core is. I have spend enough time in the past believing religiously in one thing and opposing everything else. I am over that. I am proud to say that I have learned an awful lot from all the different approaches out there. The more I have learned the less I know., and believe it or not, I am very comfortable with that as it keeps me on my toes and it keeps me exploring and becoming better at what I do every day. I have studied and applied all the techniques and concepts above. All of them have helped some people, and some they have not helped. It is easy to stick to a "one fits all" approach and preech ones ability to "fix people". I can not fix you because you are not a machine.
When you come to see me I see you as an individual with a unique problem or goal. I want to know more about it and how it affects you, because although it may seem similar to the goal or problem many others have, I am sure it is not the same.. The direction we take together is determined by the nature of your problem or goal and how you speak about it within the context of your life. It is determined by what you tell me, how you tell me and what I see when I see you move. It is determined by the changes you experience with my guidance. I will draw from many theories and ways of working to find the thing that helps you best.
I see you and your body as a whole living person with the potential to be most amazing, with fascial meridians, a clinical history, movement habits, a mind that affects the body and a body that affects the mind, a spine affected by its life so far and muscles supporting it in the centre of your body. I can support you with neuro-linguistic programming, manual fascial and deep tissue release techniques and a flexible approach of movement therapy, biomechanics and pilates.
Being open and valuing all sorts of different expertise, theories and methods gives us more flexibility. The more flexible we are, the more choices we have. The more choices we have, the more likely we are to find the right way for you to resolve your problems and to reach your goal. There may be a core, but there are many possibilities of what it is and how it works. There are also many other things about you and your body that are worth some attention. I like to give my attention to all that is you and choose our course of action based on you, rather than the latest theory.
If you would like to speak to me about how I may be able to help you feel free to get in touch. You can book a session with me in Edinburgh, Southend or London. For those elsewhere in the world I offer sessions online via skype.
“Therapeutic Exercise for Lumbopelvic Stabilization: A Motor Control Approach for the Treatment and Prevention of Low Back Pain” by Carolyn Richardson PhD BPhty(Hons) and Paul W. Hodges PhD MedDr DSc BPhty(Hons) FACP
“Low Back Dissorders” by Stuart McGill
“Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists” by Thomas Myers
Do you suffer from chronic pain?
Do you keep failing at meeting your health or fitness goals?
Do you suffer from anxiety or stress?
Do you have a bad relationship with your body?
Do you struggle with food?
Do you suffer from a health condition or injury that keeps getting in the way of your goals?
Or do you simply want better posture?
Be my Casestudy and change things in 3 Free Sessions.
While working as a Pilates Teacher, Biomechanics Coach, Myofasical Movement Therapist and Clinical Massage Therapist over the past 5 years I had to learn that working with the body only, is often not enough. Therefore I am now launching a new aspect to my business of including Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) to my body work. NLP is a form of coaching that looks at how we think. It works on how we give meaning to our experiences and how that meaning affects us. It further helps us to turn those representations of our experiences into behaviours and strategies that help us achieve our goals. It originated in a research project in the 1970ies that looked at the reasons why some people seem to always be successful while others always experience bad luck. Nowadays it is popularly used in the corporate sector to improve leadership as well as in marketing, sales, business and life coaching or as a more pragmatic, goal orientated alternative to counselling.
Two of you have the one-time opportunity to benefit from this enriched, powerful, multidimensional kind of movement coaching and therapy for free.
Working on your body only, reduces yourself to only that. -a body, when you know that you are a lot more than that. You know how much your mind affects your body already, do you not? You are simply missing out on the mind, in what often claims to be a body and mind discipline. With Yoga and Pilates we can affect the mind to some degree via the body, but what if you could affect the body via the mind in the same session? It may seem logical to rely on manual therapy or movement work to tackle your physical problems, however you may just keep putting plasters on a symptom rather than exploring all possible causes and tools to help you get rid of it.
With the inclusion of NLP into your movement session you can start working at the very root of your physical issue. You will have many more tools to manage, minimise and eliminate your symptoms. No matter what your goal or problem is, allowing yourself to work on it both in body and mind will mean even more powerful results, as you will achieve them both on a physical and mental level. Yes, you can go for a massage, a Pilates class and an NLP session and try juggle all the balls. But what if you could work with someone who will be able to look at you, listen to you and treat you with the knowledge and skill of all of those disciplines and help you achieve your goals with a powerful approach rooted in all of those disciplines. After all everything in the body is connected.
We all know that our posture suffers when we are depressed, stressed or anxious. So would it not make sense to change what is causing the bad posture as well as improving the posture itself? Neuroscience is currently offering a lot of new insight into how the brain and the body interact and support each other. In fact the body and mind are not only connected, -they are one thing. For centuries we have learned to think of ourselves as a mass of different structures and systems. A brain, a body, a nervous system, muscles and bones...This way of dissection is useful when we are on the operating table, however it does not serve us at all when we want to improve our whole embodied living being.
The Institute of Heartmath has found brain cells in the heart and gut. They concluded that your heart communicates on some neurological level with your brain and so does your gut. Considering how much we sometimes want to, or ought to listen to our heart and gut, are you surprised? Is it any wonder that we get heart ache and stomach problems when we are in situations we find difficult to deal with? Biomechanist and author Stephen Braybrook has been developing a new kind of movement theory about how much influence our subconscious has on our body, and how we can use this knowledge to make powerful physical changes, using our neurological connections to our subconscious. Polestar Pilates, an International Pilates Method founded by Physiotherapist Brent Anderson also has recognised the benefit of bringing NLP, among other therapies, into Pilates practice and have shown amazing results by applying some of the ideas into their movement work.
I have been able to maintain a physically able body by using traditional movement work, yet it was when I allowed myself to explore the thinking patterns in my mind and condition my brain like my body, that I achieved changes that truly make me feel like a new person. I am more relaxed, more in control of my diet and loving of my body. My chronic stomach problems have gone and I know how to control them when they want to flare up. I am able to manage my old injuries with a mixture of physical and mental exercises and I finally feel like I can really embrace life.. I am experiencing an all new me and I regret not integrating NLP into my own movement practice sooner.
Imagine you were to reach your goals by being able to change your movement patterns as well as your thinking patterns and how the two reference each other as they change and the endless opportunities this gives you in your life.
How can you have it? For free!
As this is a new way of working for me I would like to invite you to experience 3 sessions completely free of charge to work on any problems you may have. The only thing I ask in return is that you allow me to use your work with me as a casestudy in my marketing materials. This means you would allow me to use some video footage, photos or quotes from our session (anonymously of course) on my website or social media. And you would commit to giving me a short written testimonial/written feedback after each session. Only one more requirement would be that the 3 sessions can take place between the 21st of November and the 15th of December.
What happens in the session?
If you choose to take advantage of this offer we will arrange 3 one hour sessions. They are your private sessions with me, so no one else will be taking part. Before we meet we would have a short conversation on the phone about what it is you want to work on. In the first session we would spend a little bit of time defining the issue or your goal a little further. I may help you really define your goal in a detailed, realistic and personal way if the goal is not quite clear yet. Then we will start doing a mixture of physical work, such as exercises, or manual work, such as the use of some massage techniques, depending on what is appropriate and helpful, as well as some mental exercises that will help you explore the issue you are having on a mental level. I may just ask you some questions during our movement work, or it may be helpful to focus on talking through the issue in some of the sessions. It will very much depend on what you bring to the session and what we decide will be most helpful for you.
Please get in touch if you would like to discuss your case, have any further questions or would like to sign up. I only have capacity for 2 persons for these free casestudies. First come, first serve.
This was a special Easter for me. My brother and his wife came from Germany to stay with me for 10 days with their two daughters, aged 1 ½ and 3 ½. It was a wonderful and yet incredibly exhausting time during which I found little opportunity to focus on my usual practice sessions.
I did however feel much better for a morning at Gambado,, the indoor softplay park at Fountainpark, as it gave me a chance to be physically active as well as play with the children.
Not having children myself I was secretly excited to see the huge installation, inviting even adults to climb, crawl and slide. I did not hesitate to have a go, encouraging my slightly fearful niece to explore all the tunnels and bridges.
It did not take long for me to break into quite a sweat and feel the unusual, physical challenge. Suddenly moving around like a toddler again on an indoor playground really proofed to me that the gym does not challenge me in a functional way like that all. It also isn’t much fun in comparison. For me the gym is about pushing myself to maintain or improve a certain fitness level. Practicing Pilates for me is about conscious movement study and experimentation. Climbing around in an indoor playground on the other hand was about nothing but fun, yet it seemed to give me so much more.
I believe it is a shame that there are so few adult playgrounds in comparison to the number of gyms and health clubs that exist. If we never had stopped playing, perhaps we would not feel too old for it now? Perhaps our creativity would be much more alive still and we could sustain an active lifestyle because it would not feel like a chore we have to do to.
After all what do we go to the gym or our fitness classes for if it does not enable us to play with our children, or our friends and partners? We want to be able to move effortlessly. We want to feel effortless and pain free when we work, go on holiday, play sports and play with the kids. We want to move effortlessly at any age during all of our lives.
We do not have to put up with “Oh well, we are too old for that now.”
If you feel, you are not able to enjoy effortless movement when you do these things, perhaps I can help you. Creative, somatic movement practice combined with Pilates can help you make a start towards more healthy, dynamic , comfortable movements. If you are interested to find out how I can help you find more freedom, comfort and playfulness in your movements visit my website or get in touch.