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