Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Using Pilates to Learn How to Sit when sitting causes pain

Last week we started a series of blog posts about learning how to sit.  As we continue the series I am finding some humor in the fact that as a culture that sits for more of its day than most, it seems funny to me that we are a culture that doesn’t know how to sit.  I find myself thinking, "I remember when I learned how to sit."  The funny part is that I was 25 years old not 6 months old, and ironically I learned how to sit by moving not sitting.  This is why ultimately as we continue to sit without knowing how to sit eventually the act of sitting begins to cause pain.  This pain can manifest in our low back, our neck, our shoulders, our hips, and even our knees and feet.    When someone talks to me about pain in sitting I look for a few things.  I wonder how long is the axis?  I look at each vertebra and see if one is “sticking out” more than others.  I look to see if the knees are even or below the hips, and I look to see if the pelvis is stacked and tall.   I look to see what compressive forces are acting on the spine.  I look for bones that are stacked.  Why do I look for these things?  Because it is in my experience that pain when sitting is often caused by compressive forces (gravity) acting on the spine.  And if these forces can be spread throughout the myofascial system, pain dissipates.

The following video is a series of exercises that I have found to help elongate the spine.  Try it.  See what you think.

Thanks to flickr and caseorganic on flickr
The first exercise in the video is simply adding length to your spine by balancing the tension in the myofascial system.  I have learned from Tom Myers to look at the body as a tensegrity structure.  What does that mean?  I see a body with bones that are suspended between different fascial tensions.  Very much like the picture to the right.   In it the sticks are suspended by the tension forces.  Which is the feeling that the first exercise is helping you find.  You want to imagine each vertebra suspended by balanced tension of the muscles and tendons.

Thanks to flickr and Rwike77
Then you want to start moving the vertebra.  When you keep the tension balanced, the rest of the body can now begin to move in both flexion and extension in the sagittal plane, and in lateral flexion in the coronal plane.  In these exercises, I like to think about the spine as taffy that is warming; that as you bend it back and forth, and side to side the spine is getting gooier and gooier. 

And then finally I like to replace the tension in the spine to keep the posture that the exercises just created.

Have fun!  And join us next week when we use Pilates to learn how to sit balanced front to back

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, PMA-CPT
Director of Instruction at The Pilates Studio 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Using Pilates to Learn How to Sit Ready to Move

This morning, I was working with a client that asked me, “How can I improve my sitting posture?”  While I saw it as a fabulous question, I also found myself a little perplexed…When I first started learning and teaching Pilates, I didn’t think about my posture too much.  I was busy learning exercises, and learning how to teach exercises, and then something magical happened. (not really, it simply happened without my conscious awareness). I was sitting in a class once and I noticed, “Woh my posture is really good right now…and it’s not even hard to sit up straight.”  Imagine that a person who had been moving all of her life finally learned how to sit. Imagine my surprise that finally I became conscious of my posture when it was okay, and not when it was awful and causing pain…

This was a few years ago, and it left me with a dilemma.  I was not sure what exercises helped me to find this balanced posture.  I had no codified way to tell someone to practice posture because it happened to me unconsciously when I was learning movement.  It happened to me when I was getting stronger and it happened to me when I was trying to learn EVERY Pilates Exercise not just my favorites.  Since then, I have been on many pseudo scientific journeys with clients at The Pilates Studio.  I say pseudo scientific because in movement theory there is a scientific base for choices that are made.  I work from a strong base of biomechanical knowledge, myofascial relationships, and movement study, but I am convinced that the double blind causation studies are detrimental to the complex system and variables that are human movement.   SO in a pseudo scientific ways I have explored improving posture with people.  And like any double blind experiment I could say, the results are varied, but why don’t you try this or this or this….

What constitutes ”BAD” posture?

For the record, bad posture is a phrase I don’t like, but if I write about improving posture I like to name what it is I would like to improve.  Off the top of my head and for the purpose of the next few blog posts, I have thought of four things to observe.

1.     Is this posture movement ready?
2.    Does the posture cause pain?
3.    Is the posture balanced from front to back?
4.    Is the posture balanced from inside to outside?

The lovely thing about this list is that it is ever changing.  Tomorrow it could be a list of six things, and yesterday it might have only been three.  Just another way that working with posture is a malleable endeavor.  Like my list posture is an ever-changing event subject to many variables in our lives.

For the purposes of this blog post we are going to talk about #1.  Is this posture movement ready?

How to sit ready for movement

When you are sitting, can you quickly get up and get a cup of tea?  Do you have to think about standing up? How easy is it to get out of your car? Do you have access to the muscles in your legs?  Movement ready posture in my mind is sitting with the ability to stand instantly and easily. Movement ready posture is the ability to move efficiently from a sitting position inside a car to standing position outside of a car.  I have found the following physioball workouts to be the best and most fun way to practice. 

What I like about them is the progression.
Step I:  Sit on the ball, sometimes this is the practice in and of itself.  There is proprioceptive challenge, and you must keep your feet grounded

Step 2: Start bouncing on the ball.  Keep your feet grounded.  Your heels should be like roots into the floor.

Step 3: Bounce to Stand.  When you are comfortable bouncing on the ball without fear of falling, Simply start bouncing, bounce higher and then a little higher until you bounce your way to standing

Step 4: Now we’re getting tricky.  Make sure you are really secure with Step III, then bounce your way to standing…wait for it…on one foot.

Step 5: is the most challenging in this series and it provides quite a balance challenge.  Be sure to watch the video before you try this.  It’s important to have a mental picture of this.  You stand beside the ball and lift the leg closest to the ball, then sit on the ball and slide across the ball.  Then plant the opposite foot in the ground on the other side of the ball.  Repeat and be sure to enjoy the wobbles.

Enjoy this first of four how to sit workouts.  Next week we’ll learn how to sit when sitting causes pain

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, CPT-PMA
Director of Instruction at The Pilates Studio

The next two videos illustrate steps 1-5

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Magic Trick for Tight Hamstrings

This past week I discovered a magic trick…Okay not really.  What really happened?  I remembered a few things that I had forgotten, and then once connected these tidbits of information worked as if by magic to release someone’s hamstrings!  It seemed like magic because this person had been doing all the “right” things.  She had been stretching the hamstrings, she had been doing the hamstring release series, and she had been strengthening her body… Yet her hamstrings weren’t budging because we hadn’t put it all together.  Like many things, this magic trick seemed so obvious once it was clear.  Why didn’t I think of it before?  Well, I thought I would point out the pieces of information that connected to develop the hamstring magic trick…Then what I really want to do is ask all of you to try it and see if it really works.  You know another of The Pilates Studio’s forays into uncontrolled pseudo scientific experiments that gather more and more anecdotal information.  That’s what I want!  I look forward to the discussion that occurs at The Pilates Studio this week.  

Or if you are in another place, feel free to post a comment below!

Hamstring Tidbits (Funny none of these tidbits are "about" the hamstrings)

Tidbit #1 – I remember learning once from Elizabeth Larkham.  We were on the trap table at a workshop entitled “The Core has Arms” She talked about the leg spring series and how pressing your hands into the upright poles helps to activate the anterior oblique sling.

Tidbit #2 – I remembered learning about the functional lines from Tom Myers.  These are fascial lines that work together, and in particular I remembered when talking fascial connections that the triceps connect to the serratus anterior which connects to the external obliques, which connect to the internal obliques of the opposite side.

Tidbit #3 – The phrase “Stuck on the Inhale” came to mind.  This idea refers to the efficiency of using the core of the body.  It is much more efficient to find axial length with a strong and efficient core if a person can get all of the air out of the lungs.  Thank you to Tom Myers and Brent Anderson, who have both explained this in completely different ways to me…

Tidbit #4 – The body will recruit global moving muscles to maintain stability if necessary.  And this becomes necessary when the body loses axial length and abdominal strength.  In other words the body uses muscles like the hamstrings and glutes instead of the core of the body.

Wait I thought this post was about loosening the hamstrings…

Okay Try This: 

First don’t think about anything and lift your leg straight into the air.  Ask yourself these questions…

How does the pelvis feel?  How does the hamstring feel?  Where do you feel pain or tightness?

Now with the answers to those questions in mind, Try this:

Lay down on the floor close to the wall.  Place your hands on the wall and push the palms of your hands into the wall, slide your shoulder blades down your back, feel your triceps engage and also feel muscles underneath your shoulder blades engage.  Then exhale all of the air out of your lungs, notice that your ribcage narrows and that your abdominals engage.  Maintain this position and lift your leg again…What happens?  How does it feel?  IS it different?

If the description above is confusing watch the videos below that show the difference.

These videos were shot quickly at The Pilates Studio between classes.  Notice all the chatter of the happy people that love pilates

Task one may look like this:

Notice the popping ribs, and that the thigh bone stops just below the hip.

Here's a video of the next task.  Do you notice a difference?  Now what if you used the breath while stretching the hamstrings? Might life be a little easier in these stretches.?

I can't wait to continue to explore this idea with the clients at The Pilates Studio.  Please feel free to try this and comment below.  The more anecdotal data we can collect the more movement "magic tricks" we can discover.

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, CPT-PMA
Director of Instruction at The Pilates Studio

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Improve your Golf Swing with Pilates

It’s winter, and the avid golfers I know have entered that mellow part of the year where they yearn for just one thing…The Spring. 

These golfers lament that their golf swing will not be as good as it was in the latest throws of September.  They plan vacations so that they can golf again…

What if I said that I could improve a golf swing over the winter without a single golf club?  What if I could provide a training program that could allow your body to gain flexibility and strength that was focused on the golf swing?  Has a golf game ever hurt your back?  What if I could fix that? 

When I work to help someone improve a golf swing I work with three things.

  1.  Strength and Flexibility in Rotation of the Spine
  2. Create efficiency in Lateral Weight Shift
  3. Axial Length for the Prevention of Back Pain

When it comes to improving a golf swing, the following exercises are just the tip of the iceberg.  They are mat exercises that you can do at home, and soon we will post a video that shows what we can do with the Pilates Apparatus.  Pilates creates functional strength and flexibility so that you can move efficiently in every endeavor, so if you want to golf we can make it happen!

When thinking about spinal rotation finding flexibility is key. Try the following stretches, imagine breathing into the ribcage and using your breath to find increased length.

Find the longest possible line from your pinky to your toe
Imagine reaching through the entire fascial line

The stretches above allow you to reach from the pinky finger to the pinky toe.  How long can you be?  And of course be sure to do both sides.

The Pilates Mermaid helps to open the ribs.  The base of the ribcage is often where the lower body and upper body can disconnect and cause trouble in the golf swing.  Integrating the two helps keep the motion of the golf swing fluid and fierce.
Breath into the ribs as you reach your hand away from your center
Added rotation expands the back of the ribs

After these stretches its time to practice efficient spine rotation.  Book openings is a great exercise that allows the body to feel the rotation move through each vertebra.  Follow your hand with your gaze and remember to engage the oblique abdominals as you return to the beginning.

Start with your hips stacked

Rotate your spine

Follow your hand with your gaze
 Axial length and lateral weight shift can be practiced with the side lift and side leg lift  Be sure that you are reaching your head away from your tail, and sending your heels away from your center to find all of the length you can find.

The longest body helps the hips suspend
Lifting your leg without collapsing at the waist is key

Friday, January 4, 2013

Three ways to heat up your Ab Workouts.

Last week’s snowstorms were replaced by this week’s frigid temperatures.  The kind of temperatures that turn noses red and burn in the fingertips, the kind of cold that shows in the breath and runny nose, the kind of cold that causes all human beings to rigidly shake when they make it inside with an animalistic, “BRRRRRRR!”  And yes this is the second week in a row that I am writing about the weather in The Pilates Studio’s weekly blog…

Why?  It is partly because I am fascinated with the way that the body protects our beings from our environment.  How is it that in most climates our bodies can maintain a homeostatic temperature of about 98.6?  How does our movement add to this process?  What are the after effects on our posture?  Does the cold make us sore?  And how can we use movement to protect us from the cold?  The frigid, bitter, frostbiting cold.     

Last week’s snowstorms led me to write about keeping our bodies safe while shoveling mounds and mounds of wet snow, but there’s something we didn’t talk about.  Shoveling snow is hard exercise.  While we all need to protect our bodies from the wear and tear caused by this inevitable winter task, when we shovel we get the added warming benefit.  We begin to sweat through our first layer.  Our cheeks get warm.  We start breathing rapidly, and after a lot of shoveling, we may even start to strip layers of clothing off of our bodies.  Maybe even baring our arms to get that scarce New England Vitamin D. 

Shoveling snow keeps us warm, but in the frigid cold of this week, the snow has been shoveled and thus the warming effect is gone.  Our shoulders keep inching towards our ears to keep our neck warm.  Our spine rounds forward to protect our most important organs from the cold.  Our muscles stiffen.   Our movement lessens, and unfortunately we just seem to get colder. 

Well, Pilates to the rescue.  The following exercises are a great body-warming recipe.  At the end of the workout you’ll be ready to enter the cold.  And you’ll at least make it to your car and be warm long enough for its heater to start blowing warm air.

First the classic: The Pilates HUNDRED. 

This exercise is often seen as a killer abdominal exercise, but Joseph Pilates intended it to be a heater!  HE intended this to increase circulation and to heat up the body.

To get all of the warming effects from this fabulous exercise be sure to check this link for THE HUNDRED and use the sniffing breath.  And if you’re bored with just one version of THE HUNDRED. then read every post for the entire month of November.  You could heat your body up in 30 different ways.

The next heating step, is rigorously engaging the large muscles of the thighs.   This is what warms us up when we are shoveling, but in the absence of snow try the following video.  It is a lunge series that will improve your balance and create great blood flow!

Finally the shoulders and the cold don’t mix.  Try these few exercises to recover from a walk in the cold.  You know the kind of walks where your arms are crossed and your shoulders are hiked to your ears.  Your head is down to keep the wind out of your ears…These protective measures can reek havoc on your neck and shoulders.  Try the following to recover, and enjoy the added benefit of improved posture.  

Opening the Spine over the FOAM ROLLER

Snow angels on the FOAM ROLLER

Elbow circles on the FOAM ROLLER