Wednesday, August 29, 2012

All Things Bridge in Pilates

Do you know that the Pilates Bridge leads to a flexible and articulate spine, strengthens the hamstrings, creates a stabile pelvis, lengthens the hip flexors, relieves tension in the upper back and neck, increases lung capacity, relieves pain, increases height, improves balance and relieves stress? Is it a miracle?  No, and in fact on that note, no movement is a miracle. Movement seems magical because it isn’t given enough credit in this pill for everything world!  But, let me leave that soapbox to another post and tell you about the beauty of the bridge in all of its variations!

If you’re new to us you might not have heard of our Movement Recipes.  It is widely accepted that exercise is “good for you,” but the controversy enters when a person tries to decipher which kind of exercise is “best” for you.  At the Pilates Studio, there is no best exercise, there is problem solving.  The Pilates Movement Recipes that you’ll read over the next year all have goals and missions, and it is the process of traveling towards these goals (whether you reach them or not) that is “good for you” It is this process that creates the strong and healthy individuals who emerge from mindful movement.  

Follow this link to the Pilates Exercise of the Day Blog to find a simple explanation of the basic bridge.  Performed alone this exercise is fantastic, but if you want to increase the benefits towards specific goals you may want to try some of the following recipes.  Below are three Bridge Recipes!

First if you want to use the Pilates Bridge to create a flexible and articulate spine, try the following: Click the links for more information about each exercise:

Pitcher Breath Remember Breath is the Olive Oil of any Pilates Recipe, choosing the breath pattern is like choosing the first ingredient.  In this case, the pitcher breath can help address certain parts of the spine that might not articulate through the individual vertebra
Pelvic Rocks on the Soft Ball The soft ball aids in the pelvic rock initiation and can relieve some tightness and immobility in the low spine.  The Soft Ball also allows the pelvic floor to engage easily.
Bridge – In this case you are using the Bridge as a marker exercise to see how flexible and articulate your spine is.
Bridge Side Stepping – This exercise will help loosen the spine at individual vertebral joints to increase the articulation of each joint
Bridge with Figure Eight -  The figure eight continues to release individual vertebral joints. In this exercise your are working with minute spinal rotations.
Bridge – Does it feel different?  Can you feel the added mobility to the spine?

Try the following links if you want to use the bridge to create stronger hamstrings.  The following recipe can be used as a way to progress the bridge over several days, or if a goal is to really challenge the hamstrings the progression could happen over one workout.  As always be aware of the comfort in your movement, if the hamstrings are cramping then they are asking for a rest!

Neutral Bridge -  Doing the bridge with a neutral spine creates the opportunity to concentrate on the pelvic shift rather than the articulation of the spine.  

Bridge Marchingthe ability to lift one leg makes the standing legwork harder

Single Leg Bridge The next step that progresses towards hamstring strength is acquiring the ability to lift the pelvis with just a single leg.

Bridge with Neutral Spine on the Foam Roller -  The additional height of the Foam Roller increases the stress and thus strengthens the hamstrings

Single leg Bridge Feet on the Foam Roller Yowser! This one is hard!!!

Try the following recipe if Pelvic Stability is your goal!

Breath with Abdominal and Pelvic Floor Engagementit is important to find the relationship between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor
Inner Thigh Squeeze Soft Ball  - Allows the body to find the inner thighs which can aid in pelvic stability

Outer Thigh Squeeze Theraband Allow the body to find the external rotators for additional aid in pelvic stability

Pelvic RocksThis exercise isolates the initiation of the bridge
Bridge – The bridge in this recipe is the culmination and provides a synthesis opportunity for everything that was learned in this recipe.

There are many other Bridge Movement Recipes, The lovely thing about movement recipes is that you can create your own.  As I continue to create these recipes for you, I might need your help.  What are your movement goals?  What kind of movement recipe do you want?  Leave a note in the comments and I hope to write recipes for anyone that wants one!

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

Friday, August 24, 2012

Head Shoulders Knees and Toes: Kids songs and muscular relationships

Do you remember the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes?” I happen to live with a four year old who loves all things bone, so these songs are very much a part of my consciousness.  I always find it remarkably funny how much these “body” songs are connected to the work that I do.   “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” is clearly a song about the first scan in a postural assessment.  First, I see if the head is even between the shoulders, I look to see if one shoulder is higher than the other, I see if the knee caps are pointing straight forward, I check where the toes are pointing, and then I look back at the knees to see if they line up with the toes.  There you have it: head shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes! Throw in some pelvis alignment and we’ve got ourselves a kid’s song!  Of course there’s more to it, but that’s where I start.  These bony landmarks are a great way to assess the relationships within the musculoskeletal system, which brings me to this week’s installment of “how do you remember all that?” Last week I talked about the Latin names of muscles as pneumonic devices that actually make it easy to remember them, this week I’ll talk about remembering muscular relationships because in actuality there would be no “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” without the relationship between fascia, muscles, and bone.  I’ll finish with a story about a client who benefited directly from knowledge of these relationships.

The following memory tricks are based on the work of Tom Myers who developed Anatomy Trains as a way of analyzing muscle relationships in function.   When you are remembering relationships, muscular names are not necessary to achieve great function.  Tom Myers would go so far as to say that perseverating on the actions of individual muscles might even impede healthy function.  In real life no muscle acts alone, so isolating individual muscles does not create functional strength.  In general when I think of muscle groups I think Back, Front, Side, Inside and Spirals…These of course correlate to Tom Myers’ Superficial Front Line, Superficial Back Line, Lateral Line, Deep Front Line, and Spiral Line (along with his arm line and functional lines) The lovely thing about Tom Myers’ work is that while the theory can explain incredibly complex ideas with great detail and accuracy, it’s simplicity can also be broken down for anyone to understand and use for greater movement efficiency.

When I think of the Back of the Body (Superficial Back Line), I think of the bottom of the foot, the back of the lower leg, the back of the thigh, the back of the hips, the spine, the back of the neck and the skull wrapped around to the forehead.  These body parts work together to propel the body forward, hold the body upright, and bend the body backwards.     

When I think of the Front of the Body (Superficial Front Line), I think of the top of the toes, the front of the shins, the front of the thighs, the belly, the chest, the front of the neck, and the face.  These body parts curl the body into a ball, help us bend forward, and pull our body forward through space.

When I think of the Side of the Body (Lateral Line), I think of the bump on the side of the ankle (lateral malleolus), the side of the lower leg, the side of the thighs, the side of the hip, the waist, the side of the ribcage, and the side of the neck.  These muscular relationships help us bend to the side, and transfer weight so that we can lift one foot while walking.

When I think of the Inside of the Body (Deep Front Line), I think of the deep fascia in the foot, behind the bones of the lower leg, the inner thighs, the inside of the pelvis, right along the front of the spine, and believe it or not the tongue.  These muscular relationships are our center or our core.  They move the legs, stabilize the pelvis, and hold us up from the inside (think of a tent pole).

When I think of Spirals in the Body, I imagine a rubber band or string that connects the right ear to the left shoulder blade, then it wraps around the left side of the ribcage, and runs across the abdomen to the right hip.  Then this rubber band continues down the right inner thigh, moves around the front of the right lower leg, wraps around the bottom of the foot from the inside of the ankle to the outside of the ankle. Our imaginary rubber band continues to move up the side of the lower leg, and then up the back of the thigh.  Phew…I like to think of these Spiral relationships as the balancers in the body.  Imagine this scenario: If imbalances on the inside of the body cause the ribcage to rotate to the right, then the spirals in the body can adjust the head neck and shoulders so that anyone with this spinal rotation doesn’t have to spend his or her life walking around in a circle (yay for homeostasis).     

Now of course these descriptions are quite simplified. Basically I reduced Anatomy Trains into five paragraphs, which in many ways is a travesty to the depth of information in this fabulous book.  But if you’ll forgive me, I want to explain how I used the simplicity of this in depth theory with a client recently.  This person returned to The Pilates Studio after a time away, and as she was communicating the “status” of her body, she talked about a shoulder that was causing pain.  After some conversation, we both determined that probably there was some sort of impingement in the shoulder, and I certainly had a few movement recipes in mind for her shoulder.  Then she said something that gave me pause.  She talked about feeling tightness over her entire body.  She has some scoliotic rotations in the spine, which we had worked with in the past, but the stiffness she spoke of was not something I had heard from her before.  This led me to a different strategy with her, even though I knew what I wanted to do for her shoulder I decided to postpone shoulder specific exercises for a few sessions.  

First we worked with the relationship of the back of the body to the front of the body. We bent forward and backward, we released tight spots and strengthened weak spots.  We played with flexion and extension of the spine.  We worked to make the bottom of the feet malleable, and we played with flexion and extension of the ankle and the hip.  Then we began working with the side of the body and the inside of the body.  We flexed the spine from side to side.  We strengthened the side of the hips. We lengthened the muscles that run in front of the spine. And finally we played with spirals.  I used the very simplified information as a structure to choose Pilates exercises, and my only goal was to relieve the feeling of stiffness.  The funny side effect was that well, her shoulder started feeling better before I ever addressed it directly.  It wasn’t perfect, but the range of motion improved, and the pain decreased.  By the time we started working with shoulder motion directly, we were working with a shoulder that was not as acute as the beginning of her sessions.

Now one of my pet peeves is using an anecdotal story (like the one I just told) and then spouting causal relationships as if the anecdote of one person’s movement experience proves anything.    I could list so many other things that could have contributed to this client’s decrease in shoulder pain.  There was no “control” in our work together, we were simply two people problem solving and moving together.  We allowed ourselves to be creative, and now I have another anecdote that I can add to the plethora of anecdotes that have shaped my practice over the years. 

Well then what do I know? I do know that working with muscular relationships rather than isolating individual muscles will create a powerful movement experience for any person.  I also know that if you watch a baby rolling around on the floor, you will see that we are born with this innate knowledge that somehow disappears.  I also know that “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” has been running through my head since I started writing this post, and I hope that I have not passed that onto you.  But beyond that I am simply a mover that is teaching other people to move, and if you’re still wondering how I remember all that…Just think about all of the connections in your world that allow you to remember all that you do, and well that’s how I remember all that.

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

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Latin in Muscle Names can be Helpful?

The other day, a client asked me how is it that I can remember the muscle names so easily.  I started explaining how I had been studying anatomy forever, and with practice these names start to come easier, but then I remembered something.  My very first anatomy teacher while staring at a group of nineteen-year-old college students, once said, “Remembering the names of muscles is easy.” Of course our angst-ridden response was probably, “Maybe for you.” But then she went on to explain something.  Each muscle name is descriptive.  The muscle names most often do one or two of the following things:

1.     Describe the shape of the muscle
2.     Describe the consistency of the muscle
3.     Describe the function of the muscle
4.     Describe the location of the muscle

And with that she went on to say remembering these four rules will make learning the musculo- skeletal anatomy easy because each name is a pneumonic device.  I was a very skeptical nineteen-year-old, so much so that until the day my client asked me how I remembered the muscle names, I had blocked out this learning process entirely.  But the memory has come back and I now realize that every time someone says Quadratus Lumborum, I automatically think “Square muscle next to the Lumbar spine” or if somebody says Adductor Magnus, I automatically think, “The really big one.”  First of all my professor of so many years ago was absolutely right, and she was such a great teacher that it was years before I realized exactly how much she taught me.  So here’s a shout out to Professor Dee Forrest at Western Wyoming College, because in the publish or perish world of universities, I want to honor a professor that was also a great teacher. 

The following is a list of the Latin Pneumonics that have been burned into my brain…For the Latin experts out there, I have never ever taken a Latin class; so if there are any inaccuracies please except my apologies.  That’s the best thing about pneumonic devices they help me remember the muscles whether the Latin is accurate or not.  At nineteen I learned a great way to remember muscle names and at thirty one after quite a few years in practice, I learned an even better way to think about muscular relationships, and that will be the subject of next week's post!  Stay Tuned!   

Muscle names that describe the shape of the muscle: Often the shape and the location go together so some of these names have both a shape and a location descriptor.  (I found a few pictures to show some of the shapes)

Quadratus Lumborum: Square muscle next to the lumbar spine

Quadratus Femoris: Square muscle close to the femur

Gluteus Maximus: The big glute

Gluteus Medius: The medium glute  

Gluteus Minimus: The little glute

Rectus Femoris: up and down the femur (thigh)

Rectus Abdominis: up and down the abdomin

Triceps: Three heads

Trapezius: Trapezoid

Serratus Anterior:  Serrated muscle in front

Serratus Posterior: Serrated muscle in back

Muscle names that describe the consistency of the muscle

Semi-tendonosis: tendon like muscle

Semi-Membranosis: muscle that is gooey like a membrane

Gracilis: muscle like gristle

Muscle names that describe the function of the muscle

Erector Spinae: Muscle that keeps spine erect

Multifidi: Multifunction muscle of the spine

Rotares: rotates the spine

Flexor Hallucis Longus: Flexes the big toe (its also long)

Extensor Hallucis Longus: Extends the big toe

Flexor Digitorum Longus: Flexes the other toes

Extensor Digitorum Longus: Extends the other toes

Adductor Longus: Adducts leg

Adductor Brevis: Adducts leg

Muscles that describe the Location of the muscle

Tibialis Anterior: Muscle in front of the Tibia

Tibialis Posterior: Muscle in back of the Tibia

Biceps Femoris: Two headed muscle on the femur

Biceps Brachii: Two headed muscle on the arm 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Breath: The Olive Oil of any Pilates Exercise!

We’ve all heard of super foods and the “miracles” that they create…But whenever I hear someone speak of the benefits of olive oil, I find myself wondering how awesome I’d be if I could take a shot of olive oil at every meal.  Seriously I’ve almost bought a shot glass for this very purpose…It’s so simple and easy to use, and olive oil can literally cure ills.  The “miracle” that I feel in olive oil is that it is not pharmaceutical.  olive oils aren’t concocted in chemistry labs; olives grow on trees and are pressed for oil.  Why isn’t olive oil the most obvious choice?  Why don’t we start with olive oil?  Actually many recipes do start with olive oil…

This brings me to the Pilates Exercise of the Day Recipe Cards.  So far we have created recipes for agile feet and strong and flexible ankles, and for the last ten days the Pilates Exercise of the day has been a different breath pattern.  I’m sure that you have been waiting with baited breath for the breath recipe card.  Well, my friends that would be like handing you a recipe card listing ten different kinds of olive oil and calling it soup.  Breath is the beginning; it is the place to start.  It is the one principle of pilates that is consistent in all of the pilates studies and writings.  Breath is the olive oil of any Pilates Recipe.

Just this morning I was working with a new client, and she told me about a muscle spasm underneath her shoulder blade that happened every time she performed certain actions.  As she was talking about the movement that this mystery spasm prohibited, I started mapping out a strategy in my mind, a recipe of sorts.   Well this recipe started with breath.  I watched the action of her breath. Then I placed my hand on the place that hurt, asked her to breath into my hand.  She took a few breaths, and I felt the tissue under my hand expand.   Suddenly, she sat up and said, “It’s gone!”  And then preceded to do all of the movements that she had just told me were impossible because of this pain underneath her shoulder blade.  Now, this was no miracle. It just so happens that she had never cooked with olive oil before.  

Is a years worth of pain relieved every time I ask someone to breath into my hand?  Is breath that much of a miracle?  Of course not!  This woman had tried many things to relieve this pain, but this was the first time that her “recipe” had breath as the first ingredient.  During the session, we continued to move and correct muscular imbalances that may have helped to cause the pain, but we started with breath, just like lots of great and healthy recipes start with Olive Oil.   

So now below when I list links to the breath patterns on the Pilates Exercise of the Day Blog, consider it as a shelf full of gourmet olive oils.  Each with subtle variations to get the most out of any Pilates exercise. 

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

P.S.  As I was sitting at Esselon cafĂ© typing this blog post Jenni one of the fabulous instructors at The Pilates Studio, who you might only know as the model in the Pilates Exercise of the Day Blog, came in and asked about the post.  As we were chatting, she laughed and told me how sore her deep abdominal muscles were the day after we took all of the breath pattern pictures. …Hmmm another reason to always start with the breath!