Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bringing in the New Year with Pilates Classes

Last year I made a New Year’s resolution to make my bed everyday, and until February 15 I was very successful.  I got up every morning in January and half of February and made my bed.  It was satisfying, I was able to enjoy coming home to a neat and tidy bed…Then the inevitable happened and at this point in the year I can honestly look back and say that my bed has been made very few times since February 15. 

What does that say about New Year’s resolutions?  If we look at them as if the world is black and white, then for the year of 2011, I get a big FAIL!!!  I did not keep my New Year’s resolution…BAD BAD BAD!  Fortunately for my sense of self worth, I am a master of examining the beauty of the gray area.  To me the fact that so many New Year’s resolutions fall by the way side means that there is a fault in the way we view New Year’s resolutions.  If we work under the premise that people don’t want to fail, and collectively harbor a sense of optimism that everyone really is doing the best that is possible, then the resolution failure rate is moot, and the entire tradition of New Year’s resolutions needs to be reframed.  

Let’s look at some of the classic resolutions.  How many of these have you made yourself?  Exercise more, eat healthier, eat breakfast, go to bed earlier, watch less TV, and on and on…In my mind all of these resolutions imply that the habits a person has before the New Year are wrong!  What if we said, “I want to try…”  Instead of “I will…” It seems preposterous to me that we propose to make life changes instantly without a little exploration, and the day we intend to implement these changes just happens to be the day that we might be a little fatigued from the celebrations.  If we were to try new things in January, it wouldn’t be a jab on our lives as they are now.  For instance, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with the fact that I rarely make my bed, and in all honesty I tried making it everyday and now I choose to use the extra time trying to eat breakfast everyday. 

With this new frame, we would also get the added neurological benefits of the learning process.   Instead of exercise more, what if the person stated the resolution as,  “I want to try Pilates in the New Year.” This is a blog for the Pilates Studio after all.  This is a resolution that is not set up for failure, a person that makes this resolution will be learning and making changes in his life. And if after trying Pilates a person decides that he doesn’t want to continue, the benefits from the added strength and flexibility will be with him for a very long time. 

So if you are a person that wants to try Pilates in the New Year.  Check out the video below.  It’s a simple plank series to get your feet wet.  Then if you want to try other pilates classes, Check out The Pilates Studio’s website and visit us.  We’re located between Northampton and Amherst on Route 9 in Hadley!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pilates Apparatus Classes versus Pilates Mat Classes

We’ve recently had many questions at the studio about the differences between the classes that we offer.  How do you choose which class to take?  What kind of class will meet your goals?  What are the different benefits? What should you consider when choosing a class?  These are all fabulous questions and I hope this blog post will answer some questions and serve to help progress any Pilates practice in Western Massachusetts. 

When choosing a Pilates practice many factors can be a part of the equation.  The first question to ask may seem irrelevant, but I actually think it is the most important factor.  Is exercise a social part of your life? When coming to the studio do you want to meet people?  Do you want to make friends?  Or are you coming to a pilates practice with a desire to focus on yourself without distraction?  Do you spend most of your time in social situations and the one-hour pilates session is the time in your week that you get to breathe without speaking?  None of these situations are wrong or right, but it is important to consider these questions so that your pilates practice can be everything you want it to be.

If, for instance, you are a person that lets exercise be a part of your social life, you might choose a pilates mat class over a pilates private session.  At The Pilates Studio the mat classes create a sense of community.  The teachers are well versed in supporting this community while teaching a great mixed level workout.  In a previous post I wrote about the art of teaching a pilates mat class.  This post speaks about the art of fostering community, keeping people safe, and giving a great workout.  On the other hand, if you are someone whose life is hectic and in your exercise you want to focus on you and you only.  You might want to choose a private pilates apparatus session.  In this session you and your teacher will create a space in which you are strengthening your body and relieving your nervous system of social stressors. 

Your fitness goals are another factor to consider when choosing what kind of pilates class to take.   Do you want a personalized workout that is created just for your body?  Do you want to get stronger fast?  Are you training for an endurance race?  Are you looking to improve your game? Are you fascinated by resistance training?  Are you interested in strengthening your core?

All of these questions can point you to the kind of class you want.  If you are looking for resistance training a pilates reformer class will be perfect.  In this class you will spend 50 minutes on the reformer with up to three other students.  You will be lead through a full body general workout that incorporates full body movements with spring resistance.  The workout will feel great and leave you moving efficiently.  Your body will feel longer and leaner. 

If you are looking for a personalized workout designed just for your body, then the introductory package is the place to start.  In this package (three private sessions) your first session is an assessment in which the teacher hears your medical history and takes both a postural and movement assessment.   Then in the next two sessions your teacher will teach you the workout that is designed specifically to meet your goals.  This workout will contain a homework component (if you so desire) and an apparatus component.  Then as your practice progresses you can move on to semi-private and small group sessions in which you continue to do the workout that you have developed with your instructor. 

The introductory package works best if you are recovering from an injury too.  The most fabulous thing about the pilates method is its adaptability.  Whether there is a physioball under your feet, or straps attached to your thighs, all of the Pilates exercises can be modified to prevent and rehabilitate injury.  Together you and your instructor can make a satisfying workout that keeps your body safe and pain free.

Whatever you decide The Pilates Studio has the right combination of classes for you.  We encourage people to let us know what their desires are so that we can structure a program that fits every need. 

Katrina Hawley

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Loving the Vertebral Discs in Pilates Classes

 This past weekend I was lucky enough to take a course with Dr. Brent Anderson founder of Polestar Pilates.  The Course was entitled Pathokinesiology of the Spine, and just like the name sounds the workshop was full of useful, technical, and profound information.  As I've been teaching throughout the week I have continued to process the information, make connections, and hopefully shared some new insights with clients in classes.  Many tiny yet huge paradigm shifts were sprinkled throughout the course.  Those moments when a simple concept is presented and it changes the way you think completely and forever… A point at which you realize that your perception of the world will never be the same…a moment where a relatively simple idea blows your mind.  When Dr. Anderson was talking about loving the intervertebral discs I had one of these moments.  Understandably you might be thinking, ‘Really Katrina your mind was blown?  Really?’  Well to that I say read further and maybe your mind will burst a little too!

In one of the lectures in this course Dr. Anderson spent a great detail of time reviewing the details to the structures of the spine.  We covered degrees of rotation planes of transverse processes, angles of transverse processes, segmental movement of the spine.  Then we came to the intervertebral discs and Dr. Anderson picked up a soft ball and started talking about how we talk about the discs.  He mentioned words like slipped disc, bulging disc, degenerating disc, prolapsed disc and so on…then he went on to speak about the importance of speaking positively about the intervertebral discs, and finished with, “Do you know why disc replacements don’t work?  Because we can’t figure out how to make something as good as the intervertebral disc.”

At this point, I was thinking, ‘ok I get it love the discs.  Awesome…’ Though, it was “how to” that created the paradigm shift.  First, lets explore the anatomy of the discs. What are the components of this fabulous piece of our body?  The intervertebral discs are considered cartilaginous.  The outside (Annulus Fibrosus) of the disc is made up many layers of cartilage, which offers protection to the center of the disc (Nucleus Pulposus).

There are several things that can happen to these discs if they are not “loved” enough.  Disc degeneration occurs when fibers of the Annulus Fibrosus begin to degrade causing the disc to lose pliability and flexibility.  A bulging disc occurs when one part of the Annulus Fibrosus weakens and then the Nucleus Pulposus begins to shift from the center of the disc to the edge.  The Herniated disc occurs when the Annulus Fibrosus splits or bursts and the Nucleus Pulposus escapes.  There are also flattened discs, and flattened discs that then lead to deformation of the vertebrae.        

Ok Now!  How do we love the discs…How do we keep them at their flexible, strong, spongy glory…Well here’s the easy part.  With movement!  The best way to nurture the discs is with a balanced combination of compression and decompression.  In flexion of the spine the bodies of the vertebra compress the front of the disc and decompresses the back of the disc, in extension of the spine the body of the vertebra compresses the back of the disc and decompresses the front of the disc.  In lateral flexion the body of the discs compresses the side of the disc while decompressing the opposite side. 

During this part of the lecture you might remember that I had mentioned that Dr. Anderson had picked up a soft ball and while he was speaking he was “playing” with it.  He was gently squeezing it and releasing it.  And as we were listening we all became slightly mesmerized with this soft ball.  The ball became the discs and his hands became the vertebra.  I felt my spine start moving with his hands and the shift happened…Love the discs, don’t fix the discs, don’t be static be mobile…Spread the love between all of the discs not just a few.  Love the discs, Love the discs, Love the discs!!!!!

Now how do we love the discs!  Think movement of the spine. During your day find times when you ask the spine to bend forward.  Ask your spine to arch towards the back space bend from side to side.  In the video below I have recreated Dr. Anderson’s demonstration with the soft ball.  It was such a clear visual for me and I wanted to share it with you.  Thank you Brent Anderson for a great workshop and experience!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Core Strength Part II: What is the best way to add functional strength to the core?

 Core strength is the buzzword, and along with the buzz comes everybody’s favorite core workout.  In a previous post, I said, if you google core strength the plethora of entries fills several pages.  It’s been going on for years. (Does anybody remember abs of steel?)  So what is the best way to strengthen the core?  Google will tell me right? At The Pilates Studio, our instructors hold the position that there is no “best” way to strengthen the core. The infinite variations in musculature and strength along with tightness and weakness, means that developing core strength happens on a case-by-case basis.  To further this idea, let us all think back to middle school PE (If its too traumatic don’t think back just read the following as if it never happened to you)

In middle school PE, we had fitness tests.  This meant we had to test our flexibility and strength and our scores were compared to “the norm.” Now imagine me, in middle school an awkward ballet dancer.  Be sure not to picture Baryshnikov, picture a math geek with gigantic brown glasses in ballet class.  Yet, as it turns out the dancing math geek passed the fitness test with flying colors. I had the hamstring flexibility and I could do the push-ups, and most importantly I could do the sit ups.  You remember, those sit ups where someone holds your feet and you continue to sit up as fast as you possibly can for a minute.  So according to this fitness test, I had great core strength, but one would never know it when looking at my over tall middle school posture.  Did I stand tall and utilize my brilliant core strength?  Well NO, out of sheer spite and determination I could do the sit ups (more of them than most in fact) but I had no idea how to use this core strength functionally in the world.  I didn’t know how to use my core to protect my back.  I didn’t know how to use the core to improve my dance performance, and I didn’t know how to use the core to improve my posture.  Core strength is of no functional use to anyone if it is not accompanied with body knowledge.  Along with core strength a person must know how to use the core in everyday movement!     

This brings me to the previous post.  At The Pilates Studio, when a new client comes and says, “I need more core strength.”  I ask, “Why?”  Not because I think that core strength is bogus, but because the goal tells me how to approach the buzzword of core strength.  I previously gave four definitions of the core (this doesn’t mean that I think there are only four definitions of the core.)  This post includes one video that can begin the journey of functional core strength for most any person.  The following video is an example of one workout design that is geared towards the very beginner, and addresses core definition one. 

Core Definition I – I use this when I work with a client who comes to me and says, “I need to strengthen my core to relieve back pain.”

This video shows a beginner core workout that will help increase lumbo-pelvic stability. It has the following exercises. (If you have trouble viewing the video due to size, feel free to click the youtube link to view it there.)

1.     Pelvic curls – For Pelvic Floor strength as well as lower abdominals
2.     Leg Slides – Pelvic Stability
3.     Thigh Lifts – A Bartenieff Fundamental™ for Psoas Strength-
4.     Bridge – Lumbo-Pelvic Stability with Hamstring Strength
5.     Sidelying leg lifts – Gluteus Medius Strength
6.     Quadruped – Strengthening the Front of the Spine
7.     Abdominal Curls – More abdominal Strength
8.     Single Bent Leg Strength – This is a more complicated exercise for abdominal strength. 

In subsequent blog posts we will post other videos for furthering the functional core strength of the body, but if you are a beginner try these exercises for about two weeks so that the next step is easier and more fulfilling.

And always remember if you have a question about Pilates in general or other fitness opportunities in the Amherst-Northampton area, please feel free to CLICK HERE to ask.   We respond quickly and are happy to write a blog post geared towards you!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pilates next to Northampton-Amherst Rail Trail: Taking Movement Education the Extra Mile.

As Pilates Instructors we’ve all seen it.  We have seen the posture that improved during a Pilates session melt away as the client is scheduling the next session…Luckily, the Pilates Studio is located conveniently to a bike path that is great for what I call the walk for integration. When people come to The Pilates Studio, it is not to exercise for exercise sake.  Throughout the session movement patterns are changing.  Yet the most challenging part of the session happens afterwards when a client works to keep the new patterns active in his/her everyday life.  The best way to do this is to take a walk that allows the new movement patterns to integrate into the body.  Hopefully this walk happens before the car ride away from the studio.  Hopefully, it can be a walk that’s only goal is movement.  Taking ten minutes to feel how the body moves differently after a session allows new neural pathways to create learned movement patterns.  The effect of these patterns makes the thought required for good posture less conscious. Thus in the hectic part of life when the last thing a person has time to think about is the pelvic floor engagement on the exhale, everything’s okay. 

This brings me to one of the many reasons I love to go to work.  The Pilates Studio is located just off of the Norwottuck Rail Trail.  The Norwottock Rail Trail is an 11 mile path linking Northampton, Hadley, and Amherst along the former Boston & Main Railroad right-of-way.” On any given day, this trail is filled with bikers, runners, walkers, strollers, and everytime I’ve been on it, people are smiling.  It allows the community to move without fear of traffic.  It creates alternative ways to commute between communities.  And it provides the perfect opportunity for a walk for integration after a great Pilates Session.  The Pilates Studio is committed to its community and the Norwottuck Rail Trail is one of the many reasons why!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A., R.S.M.E

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pilates in Western Massachusetts prepares the Rotator Cuff for Wyoming wind.


I have traveled home for the holiday.  I am settling into my mom’s home cooking, I have seen and spent quality times with three of my four nephews, and I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of my sister’s family.  All in all it has been a good two days.  The weather is everything that can be expected from Wyoming weather.  It’s cold and windy.  The wind in Wyoming is different than the wind in Western Massachusetts.  It is the kind of wind that causes bodies to hinge forward in the hopes that the blunt force of the skull can pierce through the wall of the wind, or if one is lucky to be walking with the wind at the back and she opens her arms out to the side, it feels like she might just float into the air.  In Wyoming, it is so windy that if one flippantly opens the car door without awareness of the wind that car door might just open so far and so fast that it takes the arm and person with it.  There is a technique to opening car doors in the wind, it is bred into Wyomingites deeply.  Today as I was opening the door, I was reminded of this technique. I felt the force of the wind grab the door and pull it open with great force.  I felt my arm straighten and I felt my body begin to go along with the door.  Then it all came back to me.  Of course I should have parked on the other side of the building and opened the door with a little more care, but it was too late for that.  In that moment I had to get the car door shut!  Well thank goodness for Pilates and the shoulder strengthening exercises that allowed me to engage my latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, and rotator cuff.  Not only did these muscles keep my shoulder from dislocating (You may think I’m being dramatic but until you experience Wyoming wind you won’t know the power of it) these muscles also allowed me to overcome the force of the wind, pull the door shut and drive to the other side of the building where it was a little easier to open the door.

And thus, the inspiration for this blog post.  How did the strength from my shoulder save it in the Wyoming wind?

Well first let’s talk about the anatomy of the shoulder.  Often when talking about the shoulder joint people only imagine the point at which the humerus (upper arm) connects with the scapula (shoulder blade).  In actuality there are three joints that make up the shoulder. We must also consider the place where the scapula connects with the clavicle (collar bone) and also where the clavicle connects to the sternum (breast bone).  In essence when we are talking about maintaining a full range of motion at the shoulder joint we are actually alluding to three joints that work together to create this motion. 

Held the upper arm in the socket on the shoulder blade
allowed shoulder blade to move away from body
There are also many muscular connections that are important within the shoulder girdle.  These relationships require balance for efficient movement and support.  If we think back to the car door that whipped open taking me and my body with it, a great amount of effort was required in my shoulder.  First several muscles had to call upon their individual flexibility so that they could allow my shoulder blade to follow my arm out into space. The flexibility of these muscles allowed my shoulder blade to move away from my ribcage.  This flexibility is balanced by the strength of my rotator cuff, which held my humerus solidly in the socket that is located on the shoulder blade.  Thus no shoulder dislocation took place (YAY!) 

big muscles that were called upon to shut the door
Then from this position came the retraction (getting the car door shut again).  All of the muscles that were pulled to the extent of their flexibility needed to be contracted to connect the shoulder blade back to the ribcage.  Then because the arm bone was connected solidly to the shoulder blade (thank you very much rotator cuff) the arm was in a perfect position to call on the strength of the biceps and the lattisimus dorsi and all of the myo fascial connections in between to pull the door to a close. Thus, the car door did not fly off into the wind. (Double YAY!)

Phew!  In the instant my brain was busy swearing (in front of my mom actually eek!), but my body knew what to do and against the odds the car door was shut…I am grateful to the lat pulls on the trap table and the lat pulls on the springboard, and especially grateful for safe functional strength training.   On this holiday, I am tipping my hat to families, great time spent, and of course the Wyoming wind!  Happy Thanksgiving from The Pilates Studio in Hadley!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Co-director The Pilates Studio

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sarah Prall Photography visits the Pilates Studio

Giving Direction
Sarah at Work!!!!
Laurie exercising organizational control
What fun we had yesterday afternoon.  Sarah Prall Photography came to the studio and took pictures for the website.  You might imagine that this wouldn't be fun.  Holding positions for a long time, looking authentic, creating photos that would bring people to the studio...But I have to admit that it has been awhile since I laughed as hard as I did yesterday, and I owe it all to Sarah Prall fabulous photographer extraordinaire.

The link above takes you to Sarah's website where she so eloquently writes about her passion for her work.  She tells stories with her photos, and upon meeting Sarah I knew she was the photographer for us!

When Laurie and I first bought the studio we started doing market research and this meant that we looked at a lot of studio websites with perfect bodies doing pilates.  The thing is Laurie and I wanted to tell a different story.  When we were purchasing the studio we had both been there for ten years and the reason we wanted to buy the studio is that we love the people who come.  We love watching the friendships form.  We wanted to tell the story of the community of the studio.  Pilates is great, but there is so much more to Pilates than the beautiful bodies it creates...We wanted to capture that.  When we first met Sarah, her first question was, "What do you love about this studio?"  And the rest is history...Enjoy the following photos of the "process" of a photo shoot.

Notice the smiles on the faces the laughter in the air...Sarah created this environment of joy for us and we couldn't be more grateful!  I can't wait to see her photos and the story that they have captured!

Each scene Sarah created involved a conversation about what we wanted
So many of my favorite people in the same place at once


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Vitamin D at the Pilates Studio in Hadley

In case you missed it, on Tuesday Night The Pilates Studio in Hadley once again hosted Dr. Allison Willette, and in our effort to keep abreast of the latest science we asked her to speak to us about vitamin D, and it’s importance!  It is always fun to see Dr. Willette speak, she makes bio chemistry accessible and is able to boil down a lot of complicated information into take home information that is useful and complete.

She started with what is vitamin D? 

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin as opposed to a water-soluble vitamin.  Its most common avenue into the body is through the sun.  Other fat-soluble vitamins are A E and K.   Dr. Willette’s explanation of fat versus water soluble vitamins helped me understand why it is easier through supplementation to overdose on some vitamins and not others….Water is constantly moving through our bodies and thus an excess of vitamin C for example leaves the body through the urine, but fat soluble vitamins remain in the fat stores of our body and can accumulate if too many supplements are taken. 

Ok now back to Vitamin D – First of all in the medical field there is great variation on what constitutes too much vitamin D or too little vitamin D, and she made the point of saying that the easiest way for a person to understand his/her vitamin D levels is through a blood test and with the help of a practitioner to choose what supplements might be needed. 

Who is at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?
·      Elderly -  Aging skin is less likely to absorb vitamin D from the sun
·      Dark skinned people – Skin pigmentation in darker skin requires three times the sun exposure than lighter skin.
·      Fat malabsorption issues - if a person has any fat absorption problems then vitamin D is not able to be absorbed into the body (gallbladder problems is one example)
·      Heavy - Vitamin D stores in fat reserves, and extra fat locks it away.
·      Chronic Illness/Cancer –
·      Kids -
·      Pregnant/Nursing -
·      Northern geography – The population that lives above 35N latitude has much less UVB and time with the sun

Ok Vitamin D is important how much sun do I need!
15-30 minutes in direct sun 3 times per week is enough time to get Vitamin D, but this has to be time spent outdoors with the arms and legs exposed.  The sun that passes through the windows only contains UVA rays and a person needs UVB rays to get vitamin D.  Direct sunlight is necessary.

Ok so I am not getting enough sun what is the best supplement?
The best supplement should be oil based, and contain Vitamin D3, however this presents a problem for anybody that is vegetarian or vegan because vitamin D3 is only found in animals.  However there are D2 supplements on the market that are plant based.

Can I get Vitamin D through food?
Fatty fish like salmon are a great source.  Canned salmon contains more vitamin D than raw sushi salmon.   Portabella mushrooms are a great source for vegetarians and vegans, as well as other foods that are fortified with vitamin D.  Fish Oil is also a great source. 

How do I know if my vitamin D is too low?
A blood test is the best way to check Vitamin D Levels.  In a blood test they check the blood for 25(OH)D.  Dr. Willette prefers that people run between 60-80 ng/ml on a blood test. 

Dr. Willette also laid out a general system for supplementation.
Step I:  Blood Test to check levels
Step II:  To raise levels supplement 1000IUs for each 25 pounds of body weight.  For example a 200-pound man shall take 8000IU of D3.
Step III: After eight weeks, check levels.  Monitoring is important when supplementing vitamin D.

I love it when Dr. Willette speaks at the studio, she is a wealth of knowledge, but she shares the philosophy of the studio that health is achieved when a person is empowered to be a part of the process.  I see people coming out of her office with their homework in hand, ready to change their lives!

If you have a question for Dr. Willette, please participate in our Ask Allison program.  Follow this link and send us your questions, and enjoy reading the questions that have already been answered.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Core Strength Part I: What is the Core anyway?

 One won’t be surprised to see how many websites come to the surface when a person types core strength into the google search engine.  It’s the fitness buzzword these days.  This core strength phenomenon brings forth several questions for me.  First, what is the core?  Second, what’s the best way to add functional strength to the core? And finally, if strength in the core of the body is so important, and we work under the assumption that efficient movement is what the body will choose above all else, then why is the core so weak in the first place?  The following will be an answer to that first question, and then in subsequent blog posts we will explore answers to the others.

I LOVE the Psoas Still!
This first question is fun for me, because my own personal definition of the core has evolved over the years…At first to me the core was clearly the abdominals, and could be strengthened by doing “crunches.” (You should have seen me crank them out!!!) Then as my education developed I learned about the multiple layers of the abdominals and thus I added oblique abdominal “crunches” to my core strength protocol…Then I learned about the psoas, which is not an abdominal muscle at all and my whole view of the core changed. (If there were a soundtrack to this blog post, this would be the moment when bells start ringing) I was about 22 at the time.  I remember walking the streets of New York thinking about the Psoas and the way it swings the leg in the gait and supports the upright posture of the spine.  At this point, the Psoas was definitely the most important muscle of the core!!!!!! (The exclamation points are meant to signify the tenacity with which a 22-year-old anatomy geek can latch onto an idea and promote it as the TRUTH OF THE WORLD!) 

Great picture of Transverse as well as Definition I - below
As my training continued I had another “aha” moment when I discovered in my own body the transverse abdominals.  This is the deepest abdominal layer with muscle fibers on the side of the waist, but learning about the transverse abdominals was also my very first introduction to the importance of fascia…(here come the soundtrack bells again) When I look back I was learning about fascia all along but it was at this point that all of the pieces seemed to fit together.  I learned of the word Gestalt .  Our bodies are a system of relationships that work together to make us whole…one cannot talk about the core as just the abdominals, or just the psoas, or just the transverse abdominal fascia.  To really define the core of the body one has to study the relationships between these muscles.  Also when we consider the infinite variation these relationships can manifest in the body, it also becomes absurd to think that there is just one way or even a best way to strengthen the core. I may have been 24 or 25 when this kicked in, and my mind was blown!

However, while sharing a large part of my geekiness with you, I have yet to answer the question posed?  What is the Core?  In my work, I find myself vacillating between a few different theories or definitions, depending on an individual client’s needs.  Often people come to me and say I need to strengthen my core, and I respond with, “Why?” Core strength is important, but everyone comes to the studio with a different goal that “core strength” will achieve. These goals help me decide how to work with each person.

Core Definition I – I use this when I work with a client who comes to me and says, “I need to strengthen my core to relieve back pain.”

According to this definition, the core is the transverse abdominals, pelvic floor, multifidi, and (depending on who you talk to) the diaphragm (see picture above).  When working with this part of the core, the client’s goal is lumbo-pelvic stability.  This person wants to have strength and stability in the core so that she can go about daily living without fear of a spasm or slipped disc.  When working with this definition I find myself using the cues, “pull your belly to your spine, smile with your belly button, zip up the front of your pelvis.” 

Core Definition II – I use this when I work with a client who comes to me and says, “I need to strengthen my core so that I have better posture.”

Quadruped position
Notice the Depth of the Front of the Spine
The core is the Deep Front Line – I base this definition on Tom Myers Anatomy Trains Theory.  When I studied with Tom he talked us through a quadruped exercise (the one that can be found in any Physical Therapist Office, as well as most yoga classes.) Yet, when Mr. Myers took us through this exercise he talked about the inside of the ankles, inside the back of the lower leg, the inner thighs, the pelvic floor, the psoas, the anterior longitudinal ligament, and the scalenes.  He didn’t ever say pull your belly to your spine. He didn’t even mention the belly, but as he was leading the class through this exercise the core of my being was engaged and the front of my spine was supported. 

This definition of the core allows people to think about their posture differently.  When a person is sitting and he begins to imagine the front of his spine, his posture improves, he grows, his spine becomes healthy… We often forget how central the spine is in this body.  The little bumps on your back are such a small part of the spine.   If we support the front of the spine our posture will be great without all of the effort.       

Definition III  -  I use this definition of the core when someone says to me, “I need to strengthen my core so that I can run faster, kick further, ski better…”

The Core is the Hamstrings, the Gluteus Medius, the Pelvic Floor, Low Abdominals, Psoas and Diaphragm.

Doing a series of abdominal exercises will strengthen the core, but it will do nothing for functional strength and performance improvement, if the core is not addressed along with kinetic chains in functional movement.  The abdominals and the psoas need to be strong if one wants to improve a stride because they pull the body forward, however, the diaphragm low abdominals
(internal obliques) and hamstrings are the balancing factors when working with this stride because they push from behind.  Full body movements that engage the core in function are going to be the core strengtheners that a person needs in this situation.      

Definition IV – I address this definition of the core when someone says, “I want to strengthen my core to relieve symptoms from my scoliosis”

Hardly symmetrical
To be quite frank, this is a new definition for me, and one that I am only in the beginning stages of learning, playing, and exploring.  It all started when I realized during my intakes that I say, “My training involved learning an awful lot about a perfectly symmetrical musculo-skeletal system of which I have never seen in real life.”  Well, it’s been ten years, why haven’t I seen this perfectly symmetrical person.  There’s got to be somebody right?  Well there’s not, and you want to know why.  Because we only have one heart and it’s one the left side (most of the time) and our liver is much larger than our stomach, we only have one colon and it changes sizes depending on what’s in it, and so on and so forth. 

How does the structure of our organs affect our musculo-skeletal system and of course the reverse can be true, how does the efficiency of movement in our musculo-skeletal system affect our organs.  And why is there all of this talk about core strength without a mention of our organs?  So in these explorations with clients we often use just the breath, try to roll, try to move without musculature, imagine our organs suspended in the pressure of the organ cavities. 

So there you have it…I still haven’t told you exactly what the core is, because for me it is constantly changing.  The body is such a mystery, and when we try to define this mystery in just one way, then we leave out so many possibilities.  So please, if you have other definitions of the core send them my way.  We can learn from each other as we all work to look at the same bodies with different eyes!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Co-owner The Pilates Studio

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Art and Wine at The Pilates Studio in Hadley

Stress relief comes in many ways.  I’ve discovered in the past few days that for me stress relief came with an art opening and a wine tasting at The Pilates Studio…It was a time to be social and have fun, and also a time to slow down and taste. 

The viewing!!

The Relaxing!!!
The Artist!!!!!
For the next few months the walls of The Pilates Studio will be graced with the paintings of our very own Jennifer Sussman and on this past Saturday we had an opening reception for her.  It was such great fun to see the studio as a space for art, and it was even more fun to see the space transformed not just by the paintings on the wall but also by the energy in the room.  People were lounging and relaxing.  The minds in the room were not concentrating on bodies, but on paintings.  It reminded me of a principle from Laban Movement Analysis (not to get too technical).  The exertion/recuperation principle is the yin and yang of the movement analysis world.  In the studio, I teach pilates to help people recuperate from stillness in their lives.  Yet practicing Pilates all of the time can be its own exertion, and practicing stillness can be just the balance needed. I learned this weekend that looking at art and speaking with people about art provided recuperation for the space.  Now, the energy feels different.

And then there was the Wine Tasting

Tasting wine with food pairings

Dark Chocolate with A Cabernet 

MMMM Chocolate

learning new things

Finding the body of the wine

checking out the color

Taking notes: hearing stories

 Our latest Mat Chat was a wine tasting with Faye Omasta from the Traveling Vineyard.  The most striking thing for me was learning to slow down when tasting wine.  I spend my day watching people move, and keeping people safe from injury…When tasting wine I had to stop to notice the color of the wine, I had to see the body of the wine, I had to smell the wine, swirl the wine, and then finally taste the wine…I got to imagine the locations of the wineries, and taste foods from these locations with the wines.  I was lead on this journey by a knowledgeable source and I got to hear many impressions of the same wines…It was a time to slow down and notice.  It is funny that this is what I ask my clients to do with their bodies every day…slow down and notice.  Its something that can be learned in many ways.

I look forward to all of the gatherings we have at the studio, because they create an atmosphere of learning and a community that values more than just exercise.  These gatherings make a space for friendships to blossom.  We are not alone in this world and its always nice to be reminded of that!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Pilates Studio in Hadley presents at the 18th Annual Women Business Owners Conference.

On Wednesday, Laurie and I were honored to be panelists at the 18th Annual Women Business Owners Conference at Mount Holyoke College.  First of all, it was so exciting to get the call from our business advisor Lyne Kendall who asked that we participate.  She wanted the other entrepreneurs to “hear our story.”  To be quite frank, when you are in the midst of it you often don’t realize that your story might be of interest, or even very different from the rest of the world.  But we did as told, put together the talk and told our story.  Now I realize that maybe the followers of this blog might want to hear our story too.   

I started the talk with, “Did I ever think that I, with a B.F.A in dance and an overzealous interest in anatomy, would be surfing the internet to research business valuation techniques as well as creating a proforma balance sheet…Well no, but in May and June that’s what I found myself doing.  The even more surprising thing was that I was enjoying every minute of it, and even better I was doing this with my very best friend…

Then I talked about the history of our friendship.  We met at the studio 10 years ago.  Our friendship developed so much so that the original owners of the studio changed our schedules so that we were working in different locations (apparently we were a little "too chatty")  However, when ownership of the studio changed, we conveniently changed our schedules so that we would be working together all of the time again.  As time passed a collaborative process developed between the two of us.  We learned how to accentuate each of our very different strengths into a synergistic division of labor…(that might not make sense but it does if you really think about it) 

At the Talk we also went on to tell the story of our tagline…Laurie and I are very passionate about our tagline because it succinctly accentuates the reason we love our business so much.

The Pilates Studio: Strengthening Community One Core at a Time. 

To me that’s enough said but Laurie and I were supposed to fill 35 minutes at this conference so we had to explain a little bit.

When we decided to buy the business last spring we set out to write a business plan.  We spent hours talking about how great the studio was and trying to find what, besides the fact that Pilates is an excellent exercise method for creating strength and flexibility, was it about the studio that we loved so much! 

As we were writing this business plan, we of course would go on tangents.  Do you remember when Mary had her whole family come to the studio to take a mat class for her 60th Birthday?  Isn’t it great that Nel, Allie, and Sara go to lunch at Esselon after their session? Do you remember when Debbie and Laurel were planning a surprise party for Alice, and you had to remember not to spill the beans when Alice came to Mat Class?  I love that our clients love each other! Do you remember the party we had last year?  Who knew that a party at a Pilates Studio could be so much fun?  We need to have more of those?  Interspersed between all of this reminiscing we were doing the "tedious work" of analyzing the market, making spreadsheets, and creating a marketing plan…

At some point during this process Laurie and I were both at work.  I was teaching a session and when it was finished I went to the desk and her eyes were huge when she said, “I’ve got it.  The Pilates Studio building community one core at a time” 

I said, “That’s perfect”  and then I taught the next session,.

When I came back to the desk Laurie said, “The Pilates Studio:  Strengthening Community One Core at a Time.”

"Well that's even better!"

We were definitely going to have to have another party.

From here several ideas came to mind.  We wanted to continue strengthening the community at the Pilates Studio so we decided to:

1.  Have snacks after some mat classes…Community is strengthened when there are snacks.  This idea actually came to mind one day when I left my lunch on the counter and went to talk to a client. When I came back to the desk the students from Laurie’s mat class were standing around the counter chatting and eating my lunch.

 2.  We implemented Open Studio – This happens on Fridays from 1-2.  Anybody can come to the studio and for just $5, they can get an extra workout that week or any week for that matter. 

3.  Our lecture series now known as MAT CHATS.  This concept was born when Laurie came to me and said you know how everybody keeps asking you questions about anatomy…What if we have a lecture series…We can ask our clients to participate too!  

4.  We decided to have a community page on the website.  We would link to anything our clients were passionate about.  We have authors, passionate philanthropists, volunteers, who come to the studio, and they are passionate about many things in the community.  We want to share their passion with the rest of the community.  

5. We also support local businesses.  
WE bank locally.  The same mat class that ate my lunch surrounded our loan officer one day when he came to the studio.  Their sole purpose was to tell him how important the studio was to them.  They are a feisty group of ladies. 
Our graphic designer is local
Our printer is local
Our accountant is local, and we were given the advice that of all the people you work with you need to love your accountant!!! It was the best advice and we also LOVE our accountant!
Our lawyer is local.  He is the person that pointed us to the small business development center in the first place  

At the Pilates Studio in Hadley
We really are Strengthening the Community One Core at a Time.

At this point in the speech I handed the microphone to Laurie, and she spoke of the details of our social media strategy...In a sense it is how we connect with the community around the Pilates Studio on the web....

She talked about our blog, she talked about facebook, she talked about constant contact, she talked about search engine optimization.  She did this all with the sense of humor that makes the students in her mat classes get core work from laughter as well as Pilates.  This is a prime example synergistic division of labor I was writing about earlier...Laurie was the person that went with me to buy my first cell phone.  She sent me my first text (when I was still resisting)  She signed me up to friendster and then myspace, and finally to facebook...I am lucky to have such a brilliant business partner that is on the cutting edge of technology.  Wahoo I say!!!!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Co-owner The Pilates Studio


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hip Power at the Pilates Studio in Hadley: Part III Strengthening the Gluteus Medius with an elevated hip

We have talked about what to do before a Pilates side lying series when a person has an anterior tilted pelvis, and we have talked talked strategy in the case of a posterior tilted pelvis. (Check out the picture below for reference)

In this post, I want to address how to prepare for a side series when a person has an elevated hip. 

First of all, as we address asymmetry in the body, let’s remember that our bodies are not symmetrical.  For instance the liver is much larger than the stomach, the heart is on the left side, we have a larger right lung, and only one bladder.  These asymmetries exist in the body’s visceral and parietal cavities, yet often we demand that our Myofascial and Skeletal system be symmetrical. I recently read a statement by Tom Myers who was referring to symmetry in the body. He stated, 

When I am working with a client for the first time, and I am relaying information from the assessment, I always start with the same statement.  I say, “I have spent many hours in courses where I have learned about the perfectly symmetrical body.  However, in all of my years of practice I have yet to see a perfectly symmetrical body.”  Why not?  Well because we are not symmetrical beings.  Aside from the organs, we have dominant hands, which affect musculature and spine rotation.  Thus with the exercises below symmetry is not the goal we are looking for balanced strength and function.  If an asymmetry exists in the body the goal is not to “fix” the asymmetry.  The goal is to help the body to find efficiency in movement. 

When a hip is elevated there can sometimes be a lack of efficient movement because certain muscles are locking the pelvis in a position in which movement can’t be accessed.  The following exercises may not drop the elevated hip, but they are the first step towards release in the locking muscles.

In the following series we are working with the assumption that the right hip is elevated.  If you assess yourself and find that your left hip is elevated simply switch all the Right’s for Left’s!

If your Right hip is elevated before your hip series you should first:
1.     Stretch your right inner thigh.  When the right hip is elevated then the right inner thigh is locked short (a concept that I learned from Tom Myers) Thus, stretching the right inner thigh will help to release the pelvis.  In the photo the pilates ladder barrel is being used, however any table top, counter, couch can be used to do this stretch.  I have received feedback from people that bathroom counters are the best for this stretch as well as the next one.

2.     Stretch your left hip – It is also true that when the right hip is higher that the left hip also tends to be locked short.  Bathroom counters are also great for this stretch

3.     Strengthen your left inner thigh – once the locked hips and inner thighs are released then it is time to strengthen the opposites.  So first we must strengthen the left inner thigh.  This is a picture of simple sidelying leg lifts with the inner thigh of the left leg

4.     Strengthen the right hip  - simple leg lifts can do this nicely.  

After doing this series stand up and take a walk around the room.  Notice if your pelvis feels or looks any differently.   Now try the videos below.  They were posted previously, but they are good ones!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E.

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