Monday, April 30, 2012

Something exciting is happening

Last week Laurie and I were able to spend a day with a videographer from  I can't wait to post the videos when they are ready, but just as a sneak peek behind the scenes I wanted to post some of the pictures we took!  It was a fun day, and we can't wait to continue our collaboration with Dimitri!

Turning the studio into a Video set

Katrina teaching Jenni the Pilates Fundamentals

Dimitri LaBarge, videographer extraordinaire

The collaborative process

Of course Marion helped us with our makeup

Jenni and Laurie receiving direction

Thursday, April 19, 2012

There are no words!

I have been searching for words of gratitude all week.  I have been searching for the perfect phrase that I could write that would reflect how grateful I am for the community at The Pilates Studio.  I have scoured the internet for the perfect quote about gratitude. I have even recruited the help of a literary friend to find the perfect poem for me…Yet, I haven’t found the perfect words because when I think about how lucky I am to work where I work I am rendered speechless, with a large case of writer’s block…This causes me to vacantly stare at the screen and think there has to be words for this feeling…and when they don’t come I hit google again…and the cycle continues!

At some point in this process, I found the following quote: 

When eating bamboo sprouts, remember the man who planted them.  ~Chinese Proverb

It’s not a perfect quote, but when I read it I looked at the bamboo on the counter at the studio.  This bamboo keeps me company every time I write a blogpost.  It has accepted many a gaze as the search for words takes me away from the computer screen.  It has watched over all of us as we greet people that walk in the door.  This bamboo has heard every fit of laughter that has happened in the last year.  This bamboo was a gift of congratulations from a client when Laurie and I bought The Pilates Studio.  If this bamboo had arms and legs, I am sure that it would join every mat class for the sheer joy of moving. 

As I was staring at the bamboo, I started thinking about the last year and the wonderful people that walk in the front door everyday.  I thought about all the stories I’ve heard, I thought about the hugs that I’ve received.  I missed the clients that I haven’t seen.  I worried about clients that are ill or injured.  I thought about all of the people and animals I’ve never met, but somehow I feel like I know them because someone that goes to the studio loves them.   I thought about how long I have been teaching in this space.  I thought about the happiness, love, laughter, grief, elation, anger…Okay its been enough time that I have experienced every emotion there is to be felt in this room.  I thought about how lucky I am to have a business partner that is both my best friend and perfect balance.  I thought about the teachers that are here, and again I thought about the clients.  Then I thought okay now I’m ready to find the perfect words.  I turned back to the computer and once again stared at a blank screen because there are no words…

That’s when I decided to tell you the story of the bamboo and trust that my actions will show my gratitude to each and every person that walks in the front door, I am a mover after all.  So I will close with THANK YOU, and hope that the capslock key does the trick!

With love and appreciation
Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Movement and Communication

“When Integrated Movement has occurred, a deeply held thought or feeling, even a statement of one’s world view, has been expressed.  Something valuable has happened in human communication, which bypasses the concerns, details, distractions of daily life in favor of a broader deeper meaning.  A door has been opened to communication”  -Ellen Goldman-

Ellen Goldman was one of my teachers at The Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in 2000.  This quote is from her book As Others See Us:  Body Movement and the Art of Successful Communication.  This week I have had the pleasure of revisiting this book and along with it theory from Laban Movement Analysis that speaks to the communication that is inherent in our movement.  This communication is often unconscious and can be productive to our relationships or revealing of true feelings that we might not be expressing verbally.

Imagine the following dialog,
“How are you?” 
“I’m alright.”
“How’s work going?”
“It’s pretty good.  How are you?”
“I’m doing okay.”   

First of all, think about how many conversations have you had like this.  You might even have had one earlier today over breakfast.  Then read the dialog again, and decide what the written words are actually telling us.  Now imagine a person who is really excited for a vacation that is about to start.  How might that person say, “I’m alright,” differently than the person who is approaching a deadline for unfinished work?  What would you notice in their bodies? What kind of shapes might their bodies make?  Would one person seem taller than the other?   These are all interpretations that we make unconsciously and instantaneously.  We are a verbal species so we use words, but often the words we use are superfluous to the communication that is happening from within our body.

Imagine a gift being given to two different people.  Both people say, “thanks.” But one person hugs the gift to her chest and makes eye contact to say thanks, and the next person says thanks while holding the gift away from her body and retracts her head pulling her chin back towards her spine.  In this scenario who is really saying thanks…And what happens if the second person really wants to say thanks but needs glasses to see the gift more clearly.  I smell a miscommunication brewing, do you?  Being aware of our gestures, postures and any movement in between will aid in effective communication. 

Why might I be revisiting this information that I studied so long ago?  Well on May 4th, 2012, I will be sharing some of these theories with the fabulous women that attend the retreat One Powerful Day for Women hosted and facilitated by Jeff Rock of Swift River Coaching.

This retreat promises to be fabulous and I encourage anybody who is interested to email for more information.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Pinwheels, Pilates, and Perfecting the Breath

Last week Laurie Johnson, inspired by her very first Pilates Instructor Charrette Boyce, bought many packages of pinwheels at the dollar store.  Why?  You might ask.  You may have read in a previous blogpost about Laurie’s mat classes and the plank.  You might have read about an entire class singing ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’ or you might have seen one of our facebook status updates about a noon mat class that spent the plank listening to one of the students tell stories about Emily Dickenson.  Laurie uses all of these sneaky ploys to keep a class breathing throughout the entirety of the fifty-second planks.  And now the pinwheel is Laurie’s latest ingenious idea to keep people breathing throughout the plank and other challenging exercises.  Why is breath important?  Why is breath the first thing any Pilates instructor teaches?  How does holding the breath impede exercise, or how does facilitating certain breath patterns aid in different Pilates exercises?  To begin answering these questions I want to first address the diaphragm’s role in core engagement and it’s relationship to the psoas and pelvic floor, and then from this point we can address the way to use breath to facilitate certain movements in the body.

The diaphragm is this fabulous muscle that walks the line between voluntary and involuntary muscle contraction.  It is voluntary in that when awareness is brought to the breath and we cognitively ask our body to inhale, the diaphragm is engaging in a voluntary muscle contraction.  The nerve impulse to work in this way comes from higher in the brain.  However, the brainstem that monitors the oxygen levels in the body can also ask the diaphragm to engage if it senses a blood oxygen level that is lower than ideal.   Here is the beauty; exercising the diaphragm with awareness can increase the duration of the inhale and exhale no matter what part of the brain is asking.  Thus it can also increase the blood oxygen levels when the higher brain is concentrating on other actions.  The reverse is also true, if the diaphragm is not exercised it will slowly lose elasticity and strength and so with time the blood oxygen levels will slowly decrease. Yikes!!  That’s the last thing a person wants!!! So in the interest of keeping blood oxygen levels at their best and continuing to improve the movement in the diaphragm, every pilates instructor starts with the breath.  Are you aware of your breath right now?  Can you maintain that awareness for the rest of this blogpost?

As you are noticing your inhale and exhale, consider the following myofascial relationships.  First, the diaphragm is fascially connected to the psoas.  The psoas when it is short leads to a lumbar lordosis (Increased arch in the low back) that decreases the spine’s ability for efficient movement and core control. Now, as you continue to be aware of your breath consider the exhale and put in your minds eye the diaphragm rising into your ribcage like a hot air balloon.  This hot air balloon is tethered to the top of the lumbar spine and as the diaphragm rises the low spine lengthens. This creates a more ideal posture for efficient core control.  Take a few breaths and imagine this happening.  Can you feel yourself growing?

Now, as you continue the breath with awareness towards the length of the Psoas and consequently the lengthened lumbar spine (low back), consider another relationship in the body between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor.  They work together to create support for the spine.  They move in a mirror like fashion, so on the inhale the diaphragm moves down into the abdomen and at the same time the pelvic floor moves down towards the ground. On the exhale the diaphragm moves up into the ribcage and the pelvic floor lifts up into the pelvis.  However, the fun part of this muscular relationship is in the opposing muscular contractions.  In the most efficient movement, when a person inhales the diaphragm as a muscle contracts to lower into the abdomen and at the same time muscles of the pelvic floor release towards the ground.  When this efficient mover exhales the diaphragm releases up into the lungs, and muscles of the pelvic floor contract to lift up into the pelvis. 

Are you still breathing after reading all of that technical mumbo jumbo?  Let’s take the awareness to the breath again.  When you inhale can you feel the diaphragm contract at the top of your abdomen?  And when you exhale can you feel the pelvic floor lift into the abdomen?  Continue feeling the breath…Imagine a ball being passed back and forth between the two spots in the body.  On the inhale the diaphragm passes the ball to the pelvis and on the exhale the pelvic floor passes the ball to the diaphragm.   When you lengthen the time of the inhale and exhale can you lengthen the distance this ball is traveling?  We are in your mind's eye, so the distance between your diaphragm and pelvic floor can be infinite?  How much can you grow? 

That was just thinking about your breath when sitting?  Now what about during pilates exercises?  Have you ever done pilates exercises and felt muscular tension in your neck?  What if you made breath facilitation your goal in the abdominal curl?  What if instead of focusing on abdominal strength you focused on the breath.  Imagine laying on your back, your hands are behind your head, you take an inhale and the diaphragm moves into the abdomen.  Then you begin your exhale as you nod your head.  You continue exhaling and as the ribcage narrows and the diaphragm lifts into the rib cage your spine begins flexing and your head floats into the air with ease.  You are focusing on getting all of the air out of your lungs so that your head can lift without tension in the neck. Now inhale as you place each vertebra on the ground individually.   Using the breath in abdominal work puts length in the spine, it makes abdominal curls so different than abdominal crunches!

What about thoracic extension?  How can we use the breath to facilitate extension.  Imagine sitting in a chair.  On the inhale as the diaphragm lowers into the abdomen, the sternum can lift away from it.  What if we used this increased length to facilitate extension of the spine?  On your next inhale imagine the diaphragm dropping away from the sternum and take this opportunity to lift the sternum to the ceiling.  Then exhale and imagine the diaphragm moving into the lungs as you return the spine to a more neutral position.  What about lateral flexion (bending from side to side)?  Imagine the diaphragm as you exhale and side bend and then inhale to your return to center.  And then there’s spinal rotation.  What does it feel like to exhale as you rotate to look over your shoulder?  Inhale return to neutral?  And then what if you reversed the breath and inhaled as you looked over your shoulder?  Which is better?  This is the best part of this kind of practice.  This is where I quote one of my favorite teachers Brent Anderson, “Breath is a Tool not a Rule. ”  There is no right or wrong answer. Exploring movement with the breath can accomplish many goals.  Our bodies will keep breathing, but what if we helped them breath better and longer?  Laurie’s pinwheels are tools to focus the breath, a reminder to keep the breath as an integral part of efficient movement, as well as a great distraction from a tremendously difficult exercise.  They are also a reminder that “playing” with breath is a fun and easy way to effect many systems of the body.  One pinwheel can help us improve circulation, calm the nervous system, and increase muscular strength.  Now that’s a toy worth buying!

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