Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stepping out of the World of Science and into the Realm of Possibilities

 The other day I was working with a client and as we were talking about bio-mechanics and imagery I said, “ok let’s step out of the world of science…” and then she piped up, ”and into the realm of possibilities.” I paused and let what she said sink in and then I laughed…She stated quite simply a paradox that I have struggled with for a long time.  I have a very logical and scientific mind, but there is a part of the world of science that doesn’t sit well with me.  In that moment, I flashed back to arguments that I had with a friend who was a scientist…We would argue for hours about double blind studies and proving things and statistics.  And I would always ask, “What about the person that doesn’t fit into the statistics?”  “What about the people that are within the margin of error?”  “How is it possible for a single variable experiment with a control to give us knowledge of complex problems?”  These arguments would end with both of us staring at each other…exasperated.

Then, I was introduced in a very general and simple way to systems theory, and chaos theory (my knowledge of these complex fields is so very small) enough to know that in my next life I may come back as a mathematician or physicist…The very few and simplified articles and books I have read, one of which is called Fuller’s Earth: A Day with Bucky and the Kids a book that explains the theories of Buckminster Fuller so that even a child can understand, have opened up my mind to the thought that science isn’t just statistics or the double blind studies that are touted to prove the efficacy of pharmaceutical brands.  YAY!  I can be a proud scientist again…Except that there is still something else in the definition of science that bugs me.  This sent me on an Internet search to see why people who espouse scientific explanation cause the obstinate twitch to come from my being.  I found it in the following definition:

Science: the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding

OH PLEASE!!!  I’m sorry but that definition illustrates it all.  My problem is not with science; my problem is with the hierarchy of it all!  Who is to say that scientists are the only ones that are searching for the world’s truth?  What about the truths that artists portray in paintings or on stage?  What about the truths spoken of in the world’s spiritual centers?  What about the profound truths spoken by children?  What about the truths that come from the body?

Why do we grasp onto our own truths like bulldogs that are playing tug-o-war?  Don’t get me wrong I know that scientists are not the only bulldogs in this world.  I guess my problem is with the tug-of-wars.  Can’t we all learn to listen and empathize with ideas that are outside of our worldview? And better yet could we allow these ideas to enter into our worldview and see how they fit?  Can we creatively weave opposing ideas together into brand new ideas?  What would it take to do this?  AND WHAT THE HECK DOES THIS POST HAVE TO DO WITH PILATES? 

A person that works with an instructor at the Pilates Studio is working with a person that is well versed in biomechanics, anatomy and physiology.  This person is working with a Pilates instructor that understands the science of the body, but a person who is working with an instructor at The Pilates Studio is also working with an instructor that will meet the client wherever he or she is in time, space and knowledge.  There is a profound respect at the Pilates Studio for the body’s knowledge that may be unexplainable!  There is a profound respect for the mysteries that may take the student on a movement path that has no end or answer.  The instructor and the student are a team without hierarchy!  Science and Art work as one with the mysteries of the world at The Pilates Studio.  We often step outside the world of science and into the realm of possibilities. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Part II – More Than Just The Plank

We are trying something new for this blog post.  We made a video of a plank series.  Instead of writing intricate descriptions of the series, we have created a video in which I lead you through the series.  Enjoy and then read on to learn about the anatomy of the plank.  

This series also builds on itself. If you are just beginning start with just the plank, and when this exercise feel secure add the elbow planks, and so on. 

Enjoy the video.  Let us know if it is helpful to you.

Exercises in the series:
1.    Breath in Quadruped Position - This is a preparation. Your goal is to find the support in the front of the spine
2.    Three planks held for five breaths - With the support that you found earlier endurance can be built with this series
3.    Elbow Plank Wave – The elbow plank wave is designed to assist the bodies learning in alignment.  Specifically the alignment of your head neck and shoulders
4.    Hold Three Elbow Planks for Five Breaths - Now we get to build more endurance with a different plank exercise.
5.    QL Stretch Each Side – Exertion/Recuperation is a tenet of the Laban/Bartenieff work.  With every exertion there needs to be a recuperation for the body.  The next two exercises add balance to this series.
6.    Side Lying Arm Circles-  In the plank you are using most of your body in Stability.  Now we are using all of the same muscles but we are creating mobility in the body.  We are moving the body through space.  Mobility/Stability is another tenet of the Laban/Bartenieff work.
7.    Side Plank Prep: Shoulder shrugs and hip lifts -  This exercise is designed to find the strength and stability of the shoulder blade in preparation of the side plank
8.    Side Plank –  Ok we're doing it the side plank!  Check out the picture below!
9.    Side Plank Leg Kicks – This is a Pilates Classic.  It's often forgotten in the Pilates Classes, but it is one of my favorites.  Its a great example of stability/mobility.  The body is stabile so that the leg can be mobile.  
10.  Plank to Plank with Leg Lifts - building endurance in the body by holding the plank is one possibility, but so is moving the plank from side to side with a little leg lift in the middle.
11.  Rest Position with Child’s Pose - And finally recuperation again.  This link connects you to a great book that illustrates the anatomy of different yoga poses

The following pictures illustrate the connections make the side plank a possibility:
This picture above illustrates the planes of the body.  If one only practices the plank they are stabilizing the spine in the sagittal plane and transverse plane.  The side plank stabilizes the spine in relationship to the coronal plain. 
Ahh this picture shows the all important link between the serratus anterior (blue muscle) and the external obliques (green muscle).  This is the connection that protects the thoracic-lumbar junction in the spine (base of the ribcage) and it is also the connection that takes the work of the plank out of the upper trapezius

My favorite.  An illustration of the side plank (taken from Yoga Anatomy) link to purchase Yoga Anatomy)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Part I: The Plank

Wow!  I knew the plank was one of the latest abdominal super exercises, but just typing the plank into google brought up a plethora of websites that explain the plank.  The plank has become a staple in any exercise class; Yoga and Pilates classes are no exception.  These websites do a pretty good job, but most of them also do the thing that drives me bananas…They all spout that the Plank is the best thing to hit the fitness field since well, since the beginning of time because it is clearly the most amazing abdominal exercise EVER!!!!! Hopefully the sarcasm is clear.  If it isn’t, I should warn that there is an obstinate side to my personality.   Whenever anybody or anything is portrayed as the new miracle, I become instantaneously skeptical…

This is not to say that I think everybody is wrong, and the plank is a bad exercise.  I think it serves a great service of integrating the abdominals with shoulder girdle stability.  I think that when it is done correctly that it is a fabulous way to stabilize the low spine and it is an effective way to teach the body how to engage the transverse abdominals.  My problem with the fad power of the plank is that it makes the plank the next "miracle exercise."  Clearly, when one is planking (not be confused with the internet craze of lying on your stomach in weird places and taking pictures), and she has the belief that it is the best exercise in the world; she may skip the exercises that balance the body.  The body needs to move and find strength in all planes of motion, and part of this is realizing that movement must happen in all directions, and that every exercise no matter how valuable has many opposing exercises that are equal in value.

Now that I am off of my soapbox, I want to write us through a plank sequence. 

To prepare for the plank, spend some time in the quadruped position.  Once the quadruped position is found, the awareness of the breath should be strong.  With each inhale the torso should expand in three dimensions and with each exhale the torso should cinch itself towards the centerline.  Let’s remember the Eric Franklin image from the previous movement post.  In the quadruped position, imagine that there is a magnet in front of your head and behind your tail, and as you breath this magnet is increasing the distance between your head and tail.  It is elongating your axis and increasing your core control (Thank you Brent Anderson and Polestar Pilates for that fabulous principle!) 

Now the preparation is complete, so from the quadruped position reach one foot long behind the pelvis and curl the toes underneath; take a moment here. In this moment ask questions like:  Has the alignment of the spine changed?  Is the head still in line with the spine or has it dropped towards the floor?  Is there still length throughout the entire axis of the body?  Then inhale for preparation and on the exhale extend the other leg to meet the first.  Now Eric Franklin’s image changes slightly because the two imaginary magnets are at the top of the head and behind the heels.  They are still lengthening the spine and with the aid of the breath, they are elongating your axis with core control.  Continue breathing in the plank position and when ready place one knee on the ground.  Press back into a rest position and send your breath to lengthen the low back muscles.     
Repeating this sequence three to four times should leave the body with a feeling of full body expenditure.  On the second try as the breath is flowing through the body, imagine where in the body the most muscular work is happening.  Are the arms shaking, or is the base of the neck getting sore?  Is the work in front of the spine or in the back?  The answer to these questions may require a reinvestment in the axial elongation and core control, or it may mean that it is time to rest.  

Once the plank has been finished it is imperative to recuperate.  The child's pose or rest position is one way to release the low back and stretch the sides.

Ok that’s the plank.  On Thursday visit us again for Part II: More than just the Plank!  It will outline a twenty minute workout that incorporates the plank and moves the plank through different planes of motion, and around different myofascial connections

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

Here are some of the google descriptions I found: 

 And this is a lovely article about the Polestar Pilates Principles

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pilates Classes help Grandparents get on the floor with their Grandchildren!

Over the past twenty years I have gotten to watch my mother be a grandmother.  And the greatest thing I’ve learned is that my mom KNOWS how to play!  One of the stories that has become legend in our family begins when one of my nephews asked, “Grammy, what happens when you put an egg in the campfire?’  My mom, with her curiosity peaked, shrugged her shoulders and put an egg in the campfire.  Consequently, the egg exploded, and my brother-in-law erupted from the tent with a crazed look on his face, as should any father who is awoken by an explosion coming from the general vicinity of his 8 and 10 year old sons.  Then my mom had to apologize over the hysterical laughter of my two nephews.  This story is legend in my family, I think, because it illustrates the amazing roll of grandparents in the lives of children.  As a mother, I am pretty sure that my mom might have thought twice before plopping an egg in the fire (we might have needed it for breakfast).  In the same way as a mother she would have stopped kids from running around the living room for fear of furniture damage, but as a grandmother she is the one that throws the lamp breaking ball (Which was awesome by the way) As a grandmother my mom’s single responsibility is to play with her grandkids.  She doesn’t have to make sure there is food on the table (unless it is animal shaped pancakes); she doesn’t have to make sure the homework is done.  She doesn’t have to correct poor behavior.  She only has to play.

Unfortunately the irony of grandparenting shows itself at the Pilates Studio when clients tell me that playing with grandchildren, while it is one of life’s greatest rewards, is a little bit more exhausting.  Grandparents have already suffered the worries that accompany nurturing their own children.  They have said the hard “no’s,” and chosen the right battles, and nurtured even while being despised (even if it is only on the surface).  And finally now they are grandparents, they get to have all of the fun; they get to be celebrities in the eyes of their grandchildren!  But the toll that parenting, working, and aging have taken on their body impedes playing even when it is all that they want to do.

Ahh now it’s clear this is a blog post about the inevitability of aging…Except that at The Pilates Studio we do not buy into inevitability.  The grandparents at the Pilates Studio are thriving no matter what their age.   They are continuing to move in all of the Pilates classes.  They are strengthening their knees and hips for long hikes and bike rides.  They are stabilizing their pelvis so that it is safe on the next road trip.  They are doing planks to keep the spine supported.  They are stretching their chests and rolling out their ITBS like every other client at the Pilates Studio.  Pilates classes aren’t like just any exercise classes, they keep the body in motion in many planes and spirals.  The movement isn’t overly repetitive and it is balanced and safe.  Alice, the woman I talked about in a previous post, she is a grandparent that can PLAY!

At The Pilates Studio aging isn’t inevitable but wisdom is!  There are many times when I have strategized with clients how to get down on the floor.  We discuss what muscles need to be strengthened, what muscles need to be lengthened. Homework is designed, and the greatest reward happens when the client comes to the next session and tells me about the games and antics that they have shared with their grandchildren.  Pilates does all of the right things.  It increases strength and flexibility.  It aids in proprioception and balance, it builds muscular endurance, and most of all it helps Grandparents get on the floor to play with their grandchildren.

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

Pilates as an anti aging remedy

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Open the Front of the Pelvis for release in the Back???? Really??

Hip Pain, back pain, running strides, pain when sitting and standing can all be caused in some part by  short and tight hip flexors, and before reaching for the ibuprofen try these at home exercises.  No muscle is alone in the body, which begs the question: Which hip flexor is tight? (There are quite a few of them) Just one stretch won’t cut it.  There is also the art of strengthening the opposing muscles to facilitate release.  Its just 5-10 minutes, but the relief you will feel after doing the following workout is legendary.   These exercises can be done before any exercise class or pilates class.  They will assist in establishing a balanced pelvis so that you can access strength in your core.

The following workout also considers the muscles that become tender as a result of locked hip flexors.  How does the back of the ribcage feel?  What about the knees and the feet?  What about the low back and sacrum?  Is your breath restricted?  Try the following series and let us know what you think! 

1.    Releasing the Psoas with Breath – First lie on your back and hug both knees to your chest.  Take deep breaths into the back of your ribcage.  Imagine as you inhale that the space between all of the ribs in your back body are expanding and lengthening.  Think about the base of your ribcage.  Let the breath move the floating ribs.  Use the breath to expand the tissue below the rib cage.
2.    Lengthen one leg – Now lengthen one leg long along the floor.  You are still hugging one leg into your chest, and you are still breathing into the back of your ribcage.  Be sure to connect the heel of the leg that is long along the floor to the ground.   Begin to make circles with your ankle using the heel as an focal point.  As you continue these circles notice your femur or thighbone. Is there tension in the tissue in the front of the thigh?  Is this tissue preventing the top of your thigh from connecting to the floor?  As you continue these ankle circles periodically switching directions.  Notice if the thigh’s relationship to the floor changes.  Is the thighbone releasing towards the floor?  After a few ankle circles in each direction hug both knees to the chest and reach the next leg long along the floor and repeat on the other side.

3.    Introducing rotation to the spine – The following exercise is one of the basic six Bartenieff Fundamentals.  It has been called the knee drop or knee reach.  Lie on your back and let your arms reach out to the sides in the “Y position” Your feet are planted in the ground with your knees pointing up to the ceiling. As you inhale, while keeping your feet connected to the ground, let your knees drop gently to the side.  Establishing a diagonal line between your knees and the opposite hand.  Then exhale as you bring your pelvis and head back to the center line.  And then finally pick up your knees.  Inhale as you begin the sequence on the other side.  The rib breath will keep your upper body grounded and will continue to release the base of the ribcage

4.    Sidelying Leg Lifts and Circles – After the knee reach, roll over onto your side.  Lengthen your legs long beneath you and be sure to reach through the top of your head so that your spine is as long as possible.  Then begin with side lying leg lifts.  Reaching through the heel with each exhale as you lift the leg.  After approximately ten of these reach the heel even farther behind you and begin making tiny circles with your thighs.  Approximately ten circles in each direction.  Continue to lengthen the front of the hip as you complete these circles let the hamstrings and glutes assist you as the hip flexors continue to soften.  Use your belly muscles to keep your waist lifted.  Repeat on the other side.

5.    Clam Shell - Roll back to your first side.  This time bend your knees and allow your heels to line up with the S.I.T.S bones with your knees pointing to the front.  Inhale to prepare and then exhale as you allow your heels to squeeze together while lifting the top knee in external rotation.  Repeat on the other side
6.    Quadruped Breath Work– Now make your way to your hands and knees in quadruped position.  Take a few breaths here and begin finding your neutral spine.  Remember that your head is part of the spine.  If you are in a true neutral spine your head ribcage and pelvis would be in line.  Now as you exhale imagine two magnets on each end of your spine.  These magnets pull your head away from your tail (Then thank the great mind of Eric Franklin for that image) Inhale as you maintain the length of your spine but continue to expand the tissue at the base of your ribcage.  Let the floating ribs float on air. Continue for five to ten deep breaths

7.    Quadruped Leg Extensions – Continue the breath work and as you exhale (still lengthening the spine as before) extend one leg behind you on the floor and then into the air.  Make three circles with your leg in both directions and then return the knee back to the floor and repeat on the other side.  Repeat this pattern on both sides 5-10 times.  Be sure that your leg is moving without effect at the pelvis.  The spine is supported with lengthened strength in the abdominals.  Every inhale continues to expand tissues in the back, and every exhale lengthens the spine. 

8.    Illiacus Stretch – Stand on one knee with the other foot in front of you.  Continue using the breath pattern from the quadruped series.  Use your hamstrings and glutes to tuck your pelvis underneath you, which will add length to the front of your hip.  Continue focusing on your breath as you continue to stretch. Repeat on the other side.
9.    Tensor Fasciae Latae Stretch – While sitting in a chair cross one ankle over the other. Place one hand on your thigh and grab your ankle with the other hand.  Very gently begin to press down on the thigh while pulling up on the ankle.  Continue breathing as you remember those magnets.  Repeat on the other side.

10.  Psoas stretch – Now return to the position of the illiacus stretch and then shift your weight to the front leg as you lengthen the back leg behind you.  If you can, curl your toes underneath your foot and lift the back knee.  Reach your heel away from the already long spine.  Remember the Eric Franklin image, but now put the magnets at the top of the head and below the heel. Let your belly lift the spine away from the ground as the new length allows your pelvis to release towards the ground.  Repeat on the other side.

11. Roll Down - Now stand.  First notice the length in the front of your pelvis and the ease in your low back and at the base of your ribcage.  Then maintaining this length, roll down vertebra by vertebra until your hands touch the floor in front of you. (or a box if your hands can’t reach the floor)  Then inhale into the back of the ribcage expanding the tissues of the back even more.  After this exhale return to standing in the same sequential manner as before.  Repeat twice. 

12. Take a walk or keep moving– After completing this series, the best way to implement real change in the body is to continue moving.  Either take a 5-10 minute walk, or begin a pilates class or any exercise class for that matter.  Just keep moving so that the new lengthened anterior pelvis gets to learn how to move with ease.

If you are a client at The Pilates Studio, let me know how this feels.  How does your back feel after doing it!  Have Fun!

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

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Beauty of Pilates Mat Class at The Pilates Studio

 Pilates mat classes are everywhere.  They have found their way to gyms, senior centers, swimming pools, yoga studios, and anywhere else that movement may be available.  However, the quality and quantity in the training of a Pilates Mat instructor varies more than any other Pilates Instructor, and at The Pilates Studio we are proud to have high quality mixed level mat classes that challenge the strongest students and are safe for the newest of newcomers.  However, there is something else offered in the pilates classes at the Pilates Studio that words almost can’t describe.

One day I was coming back from lunch when I walked into The Pilates Studio and Laurie Johnson was leading her class through the planks!  Now for a little over a year Laurie has been working with her class to develop the muscular endurance necessary to complete these planks with ease.  On this particular day, as I entered the studio something different was happening.  The class was singing while doing the planks…In fact they were singing Old MacDonald. I smiled to myself and thought there is something special here…

When I talked to Laurie after class, she mentioned something about one person being a preschool teacher and then the plank came up in conversation and then all of a sudden she had a class full of people singing Old MacDonald taking turns on who gets to pick the animal that goes “moo moo here and moo moo there.”   People come to The Pilates Studio to gain strength and flexibility, but they also find an opportunity to let the seriousness of life go for a bit.  The participants in this class were playing…

There seems to be a trend in the fitness field today of intense workouts that require a lot of serious effort.  But it seems to me that real change and learning happens in the body when people are playing much like children learning on the playground.  The Pilates Studio prides itself in the creation of a fun and playful environment.  In each pilates class the participants are not being led through a recipe and regimented course. Each class is designed and choreographed with goals and concepts in mind, and each teacher has the uncanny ability to improvise when necessary.  (Even if it means encouraging a room full of people to sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm) 

At The Pilates Studio, teaching Pilates mat classes is considered a special kind of art form. Each teacher strives to create a community within the class that gives a sense of camaraderie to all of the students while also giving a great workout.  The mat classes at The Pilates Studio illustrate the wonderful ethos of the studio, they are an hour in which people who would not know each other in their everyday lives come together and learn, move, and create health and wellness in their own bodies and in the community at large. The community in these classes makes them so much more than a simple exercise class. Where else would you find a grandmother, a French teacher, a Spanish teacher, a high school principle, an owner of a horse barn, a Mount Holyoke student, a social worker, and a development director in the same room following the words of their pilates instructor.  That wasn’t a cheesy joke…It was the beauty of The Pilates Mat Classes at The Pilates Studio.

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Do I have the Tightest Hamstrings You’ve ever seen?

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked, “Do I have the tightest hamstrings you’ve ever seen?”   So first things first, I don’t know, because I have seen a lot of tight hamstrings!  They are often paired with low back pain, and low abdominal tone, but anecdotally over ten years I can say that flexible hamstrings are not as common in the population as inflexible hamstrings.  This is not to say that once in awhile I haven’t seen hamstrings that are so flexible that they are causing other issues…But in general hamstrings are often short and tight!

The tricky thing about tight hamstrings is that if they are not addressed before a pilates lesson or reformer class then a lot of the core strengthening work that is done in a pilates class becomes moot.  Core Strength relies on a multitude of variables and the flexibility of the hamstrings is certainly one of them.   Flexibility in the hamstrings increases mobility in the hip socket, which in turn opens up access to the pelvic floor and abdominals.  Some exercise classes make the Hamstring stretches the throw away warm up or cool down exercise. 

Over the years I have also found that simply stretching the hamstrings doesn’t always do the trick.  It can often decrease symptoms, but to facilitate real change in the body there is more to do than the simple hamstring stretch.  Thus below I have outlined a hamstring release series that addresses some of the body’s imbalances these imbalances may be at the root of tight hamstrings.  As an experiment, get to your next pilates lesson or exercise class a few minutes early so you can do this series before the pilates class starts.  Then notice any differences that you might feel both during and after the class.     

Hamstring Release Series

1.     Hamstring Stretch as a marker. The first step in this series is to try your favorite hamstring stretch.  This may mean lying on the floor putting your foot up on a door jam, or rolling forward into a forward bend.  Whatever stretch you choose, know that you will do it before and after the hamstring release series so that you can feel the improvement. 

2.     Roll out the bottom of your feet on a spikey ball – A golf or tennis ball will work too.  This part of the series is designed to release the plantar fascia.  Often when the hamstring is tight the source of the tightness is in other parts of the fascial line.  You want to put a lot of weight on the ball and roll it from the ball of your foot to your heel.  Imagine pushing the tissue in the bottom of the foot towards your heel.  I read about this trick in Tom Myers’ book Anatomy Trains in the chapter about the superficial back line.

3.     Calf Raise series -  This series is designed to strengthen the ankle while increasing its range of motion.  It has three components.  Using a stair step, you will place the balls of your feet on the edge of the step.  Then you will do ten calf raises with straight legs.  Exhale as you rise up on your toes.  Inhale as you release your heels towards the floor.  Next you will bend your knees keeping the balls of your feet on the stair step.  Now we want to isolate the ankle movement so for another ten repetitions you will lift the heels and let them lower towards the floor, but this time you will not let your body move higher in space.  Only the ankles are moving..  The final exercise in the calf raise series is treading.  Continue placing the balls of the feet on the stair step and now let one ankle release to the floor while bending the opposite knee and then switch so that you are alternating the calf stretch from one ankle to the next.


4.     Sidelying Leg Lifts – The next two exercises are designed to work on the muscles in the hip that work with the hamstrings.  First you will lie on your side and stretch your legs long beneath you.  Making your body as long as possible. Then you will flex the top foot and reach through your heel.  Now your body is as long as possible and you are reaching through your heel so much that your legs are getting longer too.  Once you are as tall as possible Exhale as you lift the top leg up to hip height, and inhale as you release.   Be sure the leg is in line with the pelvis and not in front of the pelvis.  Repeat this exercise 10-15 times.

5.     Clam Shell – Now we are going to work on external rotation of the femur bone in the hip socket.  Continue lying on your side but now bend your knees.  Continue to line your heels up with your S.I.T.S bones and let your knees be in front of your body.   On the Exhale squeeze your heels together and lift the top knee.  Inhale as you lower your knee.  Exhale as you lift and inhale as you lower.  You want to be sure that you are externally rotating your leg not rotating your spine.  To check put your hand on the side of your hip to be sure that the pelvis is not moving back and forth.  Just the leg is moving.  You want to do a lot of these.  We want the hip muscles to be very tired.
6.     Pelvic Rock -  Now lie on your back and begin taking deep breaths into your belly.  On the exhale, I want you to rock your pelvis towards your belly button.  On the inhale, I want you to rock your pelvis towards your tailbone.  The challenge with this exercise is to use your lower abdominals to move your pelvis and not your hamstrings.  When you exhale you will engage your lower abdominals to pull your lumbar spine to the floor as opposed to pressing your feet into the ground to push your lumbar spine to the floor.
7.     Finally the Hamstring Stretch – Now here is the test.  Stretch your hamstrings again in the same way that you did at the beginning of this series.  Are they looser?  Do you have more range of motion?  How does your low back feel? 

That is the series, I have been using.  What I want you to do now is take your pilates class and notice if anything feels different.  If you practice pilates at The Pilates Studio, then let me know how it works.  Maybe we can compile some real data on this! 

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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Defy your age, Define your strength.

Recently, a primary care doctor said to one of my clients, “You have to exercise like that arthritis is chasing you.”  I love this line…It’s such a refreshing break from a more typical PCP line, “Well you know as we age, we start to get some aches and pains…” The second line implies passivity, an acceptance of the inevitable that I don’t buy!  Where as the first line offered a strategy; it empowered instead of victimized.  Which leads me to the subject of this blog post…Defy your age by defining your strength.

There is something more here that is beyond the musculo-skeletal system, and it speaks to the second reason that the second primary care line listed above drives me bananas!!! I have a student who has been coming to my Tuesday pilates class, almost every week for the past ten years.  Alice is close to seventy, but she might be older.  To be honest I have no idea what her age is.  She is so strong!  This Tuesday pilates class is in a college town, and at the start of the fall semester, I inevitably get some students that attend this pilates class and they are always young, beautiful and fit.  Yet, no matter how strong they are, Alice is stronger.   Part of it is her consistent ten-year practice, but more than that her “aging” body has so much wisdom, strength and grounding that no young athletic body can compete.  With age comes wisdom in the body as well as the mind.  We all should exercise as if the arthritis is chasing us, but luckily as we age we have the wisdom and knowledge to choose exercise that is safe and helpful to our bodies. 

Ok now how does one exercise as if the arthritis is chasing him?  Of course I am going to suggest pilates lessons.  Whether it is a pilates mat class, or a pilates reformer class, or even a pilates one on one sessions, pilates can provide a safe avenue for strength building that is gentle on the joints and muscles.  The spring resistance offered by the pilates apparatus offers progressive resistance so that the entire muscle is strengthened including fascial connections at the joint.  Pilates apparatus classes also work to balance all of the muscles acting on the joint. 

Let’s use the hip socket as an example.  The hamstrings and hip flexors including the illiopsoas have to work together and the flexibility and strength in the muscles and fascial connections need to have balance.  If one’s hamstrings are too short, tight and weak, then they will impede the range of motion in the hip, which will then cause the wear and tear on certain parts of the hip socket to increase.  However if one works with the piriformis and the illiopsoas and also strengthens the glute medius, releases the plantar fascia, and increases strength and range of motion at the ankle, then the hamstring can release and the range of motion at the hip socket will increase.  And if your brain is spinning right now, don’t worry when you come to a pilates lesson, or a pilates mat class, it is your pilates instructor’s job to have this information and present it in an accessible way.  The class will leave you rejuvenated, stronger and more flexible. 

One last thought to leave you with…I was playing with a three year old the other day and like many three year old boys he is a fan of Thomas the Tank engine…When we were playing we got out the sidewalk chalk went to the neighbor’s house and drew a train track.  This three year old ran around the track and directed the three adults to be bridges, tunnels, and of course he wanted us to chase him.  The laughter that erupted from his tiny body when we chased him expressed the spontaneous joy that only a child’s laughter can.  SO maybe as we head out into the world to exercise as if whatever is chasing us we can have the child’s giddy laughter and screams in our heads and then maybe we can laugh maniacally in the face of age with the “as if” attitude of the most resolute of teenagers. “aches and pains…Puh-lease!”

Katrina Hawley C.M.A., R.S.M.E
Co –Owner of The Pilates Studio