Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recipes for a Balanced, Strong and Flexible Ankle

In the last post, we talked about foot and ankle agility, and listed exercises from the Exercise of the Day Blog that help create a pliable and adaptable foot.  In this post, I hope to create recipe cards for both ankle strength and ankle flexibility.  Simple calf raises are a great place to start with ankle strength, but there are lots of variables to consider.  Deciding which exercises to do can seem overwhelming, so to get started let’s first answer a few questions. 

First, let’s start this with a marker exercise.

While doing this exercise notice if your kneecap is in line with your second and third toe.  Notice the pathway of the ankle as it rises.  Does it move smoothly in a straight line centered over the heel, or does the ankle fall to the outside or the inside? Is it easy to stand on your toes or are your ankles wobbly?  Are the backs of your legs cramping at all?  How is your balance?  Do you feel secure?

Now after performing the marker exercise and considering the previous questions, it’s time to decide which ankle exercises are the best for you!

If your ankle moves to the outside when you rise up on your toes, you may want to start the following exercises, follow the links for further explanations of each exercise:

After completing these exercises, try your marker exercise again to see if there is a difference.  If your ankle still feels wobbly, you might need to develop more strength in the tendons around your ankles in a non-weight bearing environment.  Follow the following links to see what these exercises can accomplish.

Next, let’s look at some variations that will help release cramping feet.  The increased range of motion in these exercises can help lengthen the muscles in the back of the leg, and so then release any hamstring, calf, or foot cramps.

But wait! What if your legs are cramping but your kneecaps are also having trouble staying aligned with the second and third toe?  Not to worry, you can address both of these issues at one time.

Finally what about balance?…Were you wobbly when you did the marker exercise?  If your goal is to improve your balance, it is important to put your body in situations that are a little more precarious.  To improve balance you must challenge the balance.  Try these exercises if balance improvement is your goal.

 Single Leg Balance on Full Foam Roller

Now that you have read these ideas try some of your own combinations.  The best part of having a variety of exercises at your disposal is to be able to vary your workouts from day to day.    Maybe one day you want to work on foot agility, and maybe on another day you’ll be improving balance.  Keeping the ankle strong, flexible, and the foot supple requires time outside of shoes.    Play with these exercises OR if you have one that you love even more than these, feel free to let us know in the comments! We might just post it on the Exercise of the day blog

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Recipe for an Agile Foot!

Have you seen our new blog??? Check out The Pilates Exercise of the Day Blog.  When you click on the link you may notice, “Wow July is an entire month of foot and ankle exercises…hmmm”  You might have allowed a few questions to pop into your head.  Should I do each of these everyday?  OR isn’t pilates about core strength?  What do my feet have to do with my core?  Well the next few blog posts are to serve as your recipe cards for July’s foot and ankle exercises, and hopefully the rest of this post will answer why foot and ankle exercises are important to Pilates, and more importantly, this recipe and the many recipes to come, will make the Exercise of the Day Blog more practical and useful to all of us!

To answer the first question, Should I do each of these exercises everyday?  If only we all had the time, Right?  Yes, it would seem slightly ridiculous to do 30 foot and ankle exercises per day, and of course some of the exercises might seem a little bit redundant.  To help you create your own ankle workout, I have divided the exercises into a few groups, and I have a few suggestions on how to create a workout that is specific to your goals and needs.  Read the next few posts and you’ll get a sense of how important the feet are to me.  They are our foundation, our connection to the earth, and our brakes.  They keep us safe, and the move us forward.  Yay! for the feet!  

Foot and Ankle Agility

When I think about foot and ankle agility, I am reminded of the fact that our feet are in shoes almost all of the time.  We never run around in the dirt like we did when we were kids.  The calluses on our feet are from shoes not monkey bars.  Our toes are beginning to squish together.  This is not helpful to our feet or the rest of our bodies.  Yet, when our feet lose agility and little problems pop up, instead of taking our feet out of shoes, we add orthotics to the mix.  Let’s shift the paradigm… Let’s get the feet moving, and maybe just maybe the world will change (Think I am exaggerating for effect?  Think again!!) 

Imagine your foot as a spring that takes in the shock of each step and disperses it through the rest of the body.  What happens if the number of different fascial pathways from the foot to the rest of our body becomes limited? The body will be absorbing shock that is dispersed over a limited area instead of a vast and flexible web of fascia.  Joints might get more wear and tear and begin to degrade?  How does your heel feel?  What about the inside of your knee?  What about your low back or neck?  The list of foot agility exercises below is by no means complete, but it is a place to start.  Check out these links, and pick your favorites.  You could do each exercise every day, or you could vary it from day to day.  This is your body and the exercises you do are your choice…Give your feet the freedom to move and improve!

Just to clarify, I am not on a crusade to rid the world of orthotic inserts. I am on a crusade to get the feet moving in all directions.  Let’s tap the toes, Let’s spread the toes.  Let’s scrunch them, twist them, and spiral them, Let’s do everything we can to pick up tiny little objects.  Ready set go! Let’s make agile feet!

You'll notice that today is July 25th and there are more foot agility exercises to come!  Consider checking out the Pilates Exercise of the Day Blog tomorrow!  And of course later this week come back to this blog to see the recipe cards for Ankle Strength, Ankle Flexibility, and Balance Improvement!  
Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Co-Director The Pilates Studio

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Learning to love the Hundred

Learn to love the Hundred

I admit it; finally after teaching Pilates for more than ten years, I have made peace with “the Hundred.”  I might even admit to actually liking the exercise.  This turn around came about when the exercise was reframed for me.  Instead of thinking about the Hundred as a “really hard abdominal exercise that if not careful will strain my neck” I learned to think of the Hundred as a “heater”, and an “exercise in breath control for length in the spine”… You might be skeptical that a simple reframing is all that it took for me to change my feelings towards my nemesis exercise, and its true the reframing was just the first step, but with a lot of practice, I had an "aha" moment, and I want to share that moment with you. 

First of all the Hundred is an exercise in Breath Control
For years I have been teaching people about breath.  I have been teaching the difference between diaphragmatic breath and accessory breath. I have been teaching people how to use the breath to release tension in the neck and shoulders and the low back.  I have been teaching people about the connection between the psoas and the diaphragm.  But it took me more than ten years to synthesize this information enough to apply it to the Hundred.  Why? Might you ask…Well first of all, I think that I decided that I didn’t like the Hundred many years ago, and I am sure that I even had a perfectly rationalized opinion, that sounded intelligent and could have fooled any person…However as we often learn in our adult life, the most intelligent arguments can have the attitude of a whiney six year old behind them…You know the child in us that decides they don’t like certain vegetables, and will never try anything that has that vegetable in it.  Well the Hundred was my broccoli, and it wasn’t until it was reframed for me that I gave it the time of day.

When I speak of abdominal work, I often talk about making sure that a person gets all of the air out of the lungs so that the spine can find its full length in flexion. The hundred is no different, so if a person makes sure that each inhale is then exhaled completely, then the spine finds its full length and the neck can be easy without tension.  In fact the Hundred is an excellent way to practice this kind of breath work.  To begin the student exhales and releases all of the air out of the lungs, and then presses the ribcage into the ground to lift the head neck and shoulders.  Then the real breath practice begins, the person continues breathing and inhales into the back of the ribs, and then exhales and gets even more air out of the lungs, which then in turn deepens the abdominal engagement.  This makes the hundred more than just an abdominal exercise, it makes it about releasing toxins, and it also makes it about using the diaphragm for spine length. 

Next the Hundred as a heater…
Often I am teaching a group of people that are working hard and moving and so in these long summer months the air conditioner becomes necessary to keep everyone cool and safe.  Well when you are not exercising as much because you are keeping your eye on your students, it can get a bit chilly in the room. Let’s not kid ourselves too much.  It can get frigid.  The Hundred to the rescue…Why?  Again, it might seem that I am making this stuff up just to convince people that the Hundred is a great exercise (it is an election year after all.)  To understand the Hundred as a heater, it is important to understand the relationship of the diaphragm and the pelvic floor.  When the diaphragm engages to take in oxygen it moves down into the abdominal cavity and the pelvic floor releases.  When the body exhales and releases the air, the diaphragm moves up into the lungs and the pelvic floor engages and lifts into the pelvis. When a person is doing the Hundred, the pelvic floor stays engaged the entire time, and the inhale accesses different parts of the lungs to expand.  The continued pelvic floor engagement along with a deepening abdominal engagement with each exhale makes the body heat up.  A person as they do this will get flushed and warm.  This helps make the body prime for more difficult exercises, and releases the stiffness that one might have at the beginning of class.

As a former nemesis to the classic Pilates Hundred, I must admit that I have grown.  I no longer complain about Joseph Pilates’ most famous exercise.  I can’t wait until winter (Im as stingy with the heat as I am with the air conditioning) where I can use the hundred not only to keep my core strong but also to keep my body warm and fluid.

Now here’s a question for you.  What exercise do you do that qualifies as “not your favorite?”  The exercise that you know is good for you, but well you just don’t like it…Send your response here, tell me what the exercise is, and why you need it, but don’t like it.  We can work together to find a solution.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fly like a bird and strong like a bear, Imagery and Pilates – Book Review Part III

Imagery is a tool that we use constantly to teach and master movement.  We are all observers of the world, and even if it is below a conscious level, we are making connections and organizing the world within our human experience.  We create images for successful movement, we create images to help us remember movement, and we can use images to help us learn movement.  In this third and final installment of “Katrina’s bookshelf review,” I want to talk about three books by Eric Franklin, an internationally recognized teacher of Ideokinesis, which is an “approach to the improvement of human posture and body movement, in which visual and tactile-kinesthetic imagery guide the student toward healthier form.”  According to Eric Franklin using imagery brings multiple senses into the learning process.  Imagery allows us to access our own experience while learning new movement.  Imagery relies on our past so that we make connections and synthesize new movement patterns.

Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery first came into my life during the Laban/Bartenieff Certification program, and then again it was assigned during the Polestar Pilates rehabilitation curriculum.  In the Polestar Pilates program we were assigned an essay in which we were to write about how to use imagery in teaching.  I thought of many images for this essay, and found one that clearly didn’t work.  The lack of success of this certain image came to the forefront when I shouted it across the room in a studio full of students, and what was once a lively chatter fell to a stunned silence before erupting into unified laughter at the absurdity of my image…While that particular image (which I will keep to myself) did not evoke what I thought it did, I was not deterred.  I loved the idea of using imagery to teach movement and express the connection of movement to the world around us.   In Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery Eric Franklin outlines the history of using imagery in movement, explains why the use of imagery includes all senses in the learning process, as well as how the images used connect to the nervous system.  It is a complete guide to create posture that moves with you.

I came to Pelvic Power much later in my teaching experience.  Two years ago, I started reading this book, which is about strength in the pelvic floor and the pelvic floor’s role in pelvic stability and the overall health of the spine.  The audience intended for this book is the student of movement.  The student that needs to relieve pain, the student that wants to understand why his or her pelvis is made the way it is.  The student that is wondering, “What in the heck is the pelvic floor?”  Through concise explanations Eric Franklin breaks the pelvic floor down into parts, and then explains how to strengthen the pelvic floor for the most balance and efficiency of movement.  His exercises are so much more accessible, yet so much more sophisticated than the usual, “You need to do some kegel exercises,” which is generally given for pelvic floor strengthening homework.

The final Eric Franklin book that I want to talk about is Relax Your Neck and Liberate Your Shoulders.  We are spending the majority of our day in front of computers, and our neck and shoulders not to mention our cardiovascular system are suffering the consequences.  This inactivity shows itself in shoulder blades that are separated from the ribcage and a head that is being held onto the spine with the muscles that should be connecting the shoulder blades to the ribcage.   Relax Your Neck and Liberate Your Shoulders explains these anatomical connections and then gives easy to use examples of mindful ways to change the relationship between our neck and shoulders so that we can achieve the success of relaxing our necks and liberating our shoulders!

Eric Franklin’s accessible writing in each of these books takes complicated biomechanical concepts and makes them accessible to any reader.  I recommend any of these three books to any reader who wants to make use of a fabulous imagination to create healthy movement in a mindful way.  If perchance you are this person and want to find these books follow this link to The Pilates Studio’s Amazon Store!

Katrina Hawley
Co-Director of The Pilates Studio


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fascia! Fascia! Fascia! Pilates and Books Part III

Fascia! Fascia! Fascia!  Pilates and Books Part III

Thanks Ivy for being a fabulous model
The other day I was teaching a small group Pilates session, and across the room I spotted one of my clients doing something fabulous.  She was lying on the foam roller one leg was bent with her foot planted on the floor and the other was extended long and to the side as if part of an “X.”  She was circling the arm to stretch her chest.  I watched her fascinated.  Then when I asked what she was doing, because like many of my sassy clients (those are the best kind) she wasn’t doing the original exercise I had suggested.  She said, “I don’t know but it feels good,” and I responded with, “Well I love it!”  And then I proceeded to give her suggestions to try the arm circle with the legs switched before switching to the other arm.  Then for the rest of the day I taught this new series dubbed, “The Rachel” to people that came to The Pilates Studio.
Why did I love it?  Well because it gave me the opportunity to talk about Tom Myers and fascia for the entire day.  I got to pull out books show pictures, talk about functional fascial lines.  Theorize why people liked a contralateral pattern on one side better than the other.  Basically Rachel gave me the opportunity to explore movement in a different way!  WAHOO! And if I had not read and reread the following three books, I may have never recognized an opportunity that gave me such satisfaction.  You see when Rachel straightened her leg she was employing fascial lines to stabilize herself on an unstable base.  She was turning what could have been a simple shoulder mobilization exercise into a fascial extravaganza!!!!

Where did I learn about the goo or glue that connects us, from Tom Myers of course.   About five years ago I had one of those weeks in which three different people who didn’t know each other suggested that I read, Anatomy Trains.   It felt like a sign of sorts, or really good marketing, (but I’m pretty sure none of these people knew Tom Myers either).  I jumped on Amazon and ordered the book, and within the first few pages of reading the book, I was back online looking for a course that Tom Myers was teaching.  His writing is so very clear and he was looking at the body differently.  He was explaining anatomically why movement is a whole body experience.   Already, I knew that simply stretching the hamstrings wouldn’t create flexibility.  I knew the the puzzle was more complicated, but it wasn’t until I read Anatomy Trains that I had a road map of the body that explained why.

I couldn't find pictures online, so I snapped a picture of my own copies
A year after I read Anatomy Trains, I was enrolled in Body Language a 200 hour course with non other than Tom Myers.  This course used the book Body3 A collection of articles that started at the bottom of the feet and worked its way up.  This book explained to me the relationship of the Piriformis to the Psoas.  This book explained breath in a way that I hadn’t heard before.  The pliability of the ribcage, the connection of the diaphragm to the Psoas, the abdominal balloon.  This book pulled me away from referencing muscles as tight or loose, and instead as locked.  There are so many studies out there about stretching and whether its good or bad…Well Body3 taught me when to stretch muscles and when to leave them alone.  The studies conflict because not all stretching is alike…

After reading these two books I was hooked!  I mean really really hooked, and thus of course I had to buy Tom Myers next collection of articles entitled, The Anatomist’s Corner.  There are so many great parts to this book.  In it Tom Myers contextualizes his thoughts about Anatomy with a review of the earliest anatomist’s thoughts.  This book has my favorite article, “Psoas Psubstitutes” (the world’s best title).  The Anatomist’s Corner completed the reframing of the way I think about strengthening the body.  Tom Myers who also studied with Buckminster Fuller (How cool is that?????) is one of the many visionaries that changed the way I think about movement.  I will be forever grateful for his ability to contextualize his thoughts within the world that we live,  he is more than an anatomist, he is a philosopher and teacher.

Now that we have reviewed some of the work of Tom Myers,  it is time to think about next week and the way that visual imagery assists in movement instruction, pattern acquisition, and of course in the connection between artistry and function.  Eric Franklin has written the books that I’ll review next week.

As always if you have interest in buying any of these books feel free to visit The Pilates Studio’s Amazon Store.

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