Tag Archives: pain

The importance of finding your balance

Balance. Noun. A state of equilibrium or parity; a harmonious or satisfying arrangement

Busy is the new normal. It’s too easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of daily life and getting our heads stuck planning the future or over analysing the past. We all need more balance in our lives. And Pilates with its emphasis on the Mind Body connection and focus on strength, flexibility and control gives you space to breathe and find your balance – both physically and emotionally.

Pilates exercises ask you to use as much mindfulness as possible in every movement. And particularly if you’re living with neurological issues like Parkinson’s or MS, Pilates has a ton of benefits for you:

Pilates exercises strengthens those deep core stabilising muscles which are super important to help your balance, correct posture and improve spinal and pelvic stability.

“Keep in mind that you are not interested in merely developing bulging muscles but rather flexible ones. Bulging muscles restrict flexibility because the over developed muscles interfere with the proper development of the under-developed ones” Joe Pilates

And finding your balance is also key if you have Osteoporosis. A disease where increased bone weakness increases the risk of a broken bone. It is the most common reason for a broken bone among the elderly. The real danger with this condition is the falls that can cause fractures.

Pilates exercises but particularly Pilates apparatus which uses resistance is perfect for people with osteoporosis. The resistance creates stronger muscles to work against, Pilates helps our spine’s lift and lengthen to give more space and improve posture and stability. We need strong bones that can bear our weight and allow us to move. And bone, like muscle, strengthens in response to forces it has to resist. Working against gravity, working with spring resistance and working our balance play a major role in strengthening our bones.

You just gotta get the balance right.

 

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony”
Thomas Merton

Written by Instructor, Clair Starkey

www.thepilatespod.co.uk

5 ways to become successful… in life and Pilates!

For many around the UK, today marks the first day back at school for the kids. <insert sighs of relief for parents everywhere!>

I bet you’ve already prepped their day and week with military order and discipline to ensure everything runs successfully, right?

  • New shoes and uniform bought, ironed and name tags on? Check.
  • Book bag and PE kit ready for PE Wednesday even though it’s Monday? Check.
  • Swimming lessons bought and booked for 12 week term. Check.
  • Arrangements made with school friends mums to pick up kids from football practice and we’ll take them all the next week? Check.
  • Lunches made. Check.

The importance of a good routine for children is vital to instill structure, consistency and development through repetition. But the same applies for the grown ups too and Pilates too.  Is it time you had a successful Pilates well-being routine? Let’s go back to school in 5 easy lessons.

  1. Provide structure and take ownership

Make your Pilates workouts part of your every day routine. Pilates isn’t just about the studio work, it’s about lessons learnt and transferred to your everyday life. Get a structured routine to your studio workouts 2-3 a week. Once every couple weeks just won’t do it! Do extra “homework” practice in-between with matwork routines that can take just anywhere between 10 -25 minutes, or just committing to a daily “Hundred” challenge, or simply being more aware of using your abs “in and up” when you bend over and lift things.

When you have structure, you take ownership and commitment to what you are doing. You have made things fit in, you aren’t wondering how you will find the time to fit things in. You are less likely to re-organise your workouts if they are already part of a structure and schedule.
One thing is for sure, you won’t get out of back pain, lose weight, feel fitter and make new friends by not creating a routine for your Pilates! You are the master of your own Pilates goals destiny. It’s time to take ownership of your self!

2. Repetition becomes habit

Habits can be good or bad but all habits are learned and can be un learned!
They used to say it took 21 days to make a habit (some say 30 days) but according to scientific study, it can take anywhere between 18 days to 254 days of daily repetition to form a new habit, it depends on the individual. But on average it takes 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. Plus as an extra bonus, when you make Pilates part of your every day/every week life, the healthy habit encourages other healthy habits to kick in.  You’ll start moving better and with ease, so you’ll start walking more or going to that aerobics class. You’ll feel healthier, so you’ll start eating healthier. You’ll sweat and improve circulation, so you’ll want to drink more water.

In Classical Pilates, we focus on repetition. Pilates is mean to be about low number of repetitions per exercise, not millions for the sake of it and the burnout feeling. It’s to ensure you get through the material, and it gets into your brain and body.  Unlike other styles of Pilates, Classical follows the clear format and order for the exercises as laid out by Joe Pilates himself for his work. In doing this, you learn the order! it becomes a habit through repetition. You are free then later to concentrate your mind on getting better at the same exercise and working deeper. Classical teachers are trained to teach you in the same way, the same wording, the same format. In doing so, the message sinks in quicker, the habit is formed without the confusion of extra flowery language to distract the mind. How many times have you heard Michelle cue the Hundred for beginners in this way…. “Bend your knees into your chest, curl up your head, neck and shoulders to your shoulder blade tips, lift your arms out of the mat by your hips and above your abdominal wall, move your legs to tabletop, anchor the pelvis and shoulders, eyes on the abs, long fingers and neck. Pump your arms up and down vigorously as you breathe in for 5 counts and out for 5 counts, in 2,3,4,5, out 2,3,4,5.”  Once you know it, you just do it!

3. Successful people are more efficient

When you start out at anything, routines are things you just have to keep doing over and over again. Pilates is just the same. You will need will power, you need motivation to stick to the routine especially if you’ve had a bad day at work, or it’s raining and you’d rather sit on the sofa with Game of Thrones and a cuppa. Once a routine is a learned behaviour (through repetition), it becomes a habit. Once it’s a habit, it’s autonomous so you don’t actually have to think about it, will power and motivation isn’t needed to attend. You won’t have to keep reminding yourself to book in your Pilates class, it’s an essential part of your daily routine.  You don’t let it slip, it’s a good habit. You therefore save time and free up more brain space to concentrate on other tasks as wellbeing and self care is under check!

In Classical Pilates, the orders and important transitions that link the exercises together make your more efficient in your Pilates and a learnt habit of good efficiency for outside in your every day life. Transitions are key to the Classical Pilates style for you to move from one exercise to another in the most efficient way. Your body is warm from the exercise, we transition from one to another in such a way that you don’t rest, cool down and undo all your hard work. It’s stamina building. It makes you get through your material so eventually a demanding, sweaty and challenging advanced matwork session will be done in under 25 mins. Efficiency! Who has time to workout for hours at a time?!

 

4. Builds momentum little by little

There is a quote that goes “little by little, a little becomes a lot.”  That’s true with everything in life. Pilates is just the same. How can you be a master of the advanced work if you don’t go through the little steps of learning how to break it all right down to the basics and learn how to use your powerhouse correctly, every single time, every single exercise.  You wouldn’t just run a marathon, you would put in the months of training, step by step, mile by mile. A little Pilates every day means your body will have moved well hundreds of thousands of times over a year. No wonder you don’t need the weekly Osteopath fix anymore hey?!  One of our client’s Pete, committed himself to over 100 Pilates sessions in a year, and by doing it, he ended up losing 2 stone!  But you have to start. It won’t look pretty, you won’t be great at it to start with. but you will have started and that’s what gets you great at something.

5. Commitment saves you work in the long run
If you are constantly writing each and every day, you will become a better writer.  If you are constantly running mile after mile, you will be able to do a marathon. If you never thought you could learn languages but you kept listening to the tape everyday in the car, you would become better at Spanish. Pilates is the same. If you practice a little Pilates every day, you will be better at Pilates and your aches and pains/knee issues/weight loss/neurological issue will be better.  If you practice once a week, it may take a little longer, it you practice one every 2 weeks, it will take even longer. Down the line you save win in the long run just by dedicating a little time.

Written by Owner and Pilates teacher: Michelle Smith
www.thepilatespod.co.uk

 

The man, the legend and his creation

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”

Do you buy that? Smart words you might think?  These are the words of Joseph Pilates, the creator of the Pilates method. Except back in  the 1900’s when he devised this fantastic system of movements, it was called “Contrology” (only later becoming Pilates after his death)

So let me just get this right… Pilates was created by a man?
How many men do you know these days who do Pilates or even less, how many teach it? Yet the system was originally created by a man and taught to hundreds of men. And not just “a” man, Joe was a man’s man!  A cigar smoking, beer loving, womanizing, man!

Joseph Pilates (1883-1967) always claimed that he was far ahead of his time with his system of exercises and he was right. In the early 1920’s he started his first studio in New York City, but today Pilates is known internationally as a key staple exercise and movement programme. Not a fad that came and went, not a wishy washy airy fairy exercise, not something that didn’t make you break a sweat, but a system of carefully controlled (hence the name Contrology) flowing movements designed to return you to life. It’s no wonder then that his (second) book in 1945 was named just this “Return to Life through Contrology”  (his first book was “Your Health”)
These days the Pilates method is taught and practiced by millions of smart cookies all over the world, who’ve cottoned on to the fact that this Pilates thing will make your back feel strong, your whole body feel toned, your vitality and energy increase, make you stand taller, walk and move easier….. basically it will make you feel fan dabby tastic!

Joe based his concepts for Pilates on having a balanced mind, body and spirit and took some of his inspiration from the early Greeks. He studied scientifically and experimentally into what upset the balance of these things.  Sleep, posture, stress, technology all played a part in his research.  You might not even know that much of Pilates work was outside of the actual exercise system we now know and love but that he also had his views on how we should sit on a chair, sleep in our bed, and built furniture to help us get this balance.
He believed in correct breathing being the basis of it all, as it is in life. Adding in body movement and mechanics, spinal flexibility and physical education.

Quite simply Pilates is a method of exercise designed to bring about balance in your body through strength and flexibility. If the body is restored to balance, it can move effortlessly without strain.  Most of the time, we are completely unaware of these stresses and strains being added to the body, causing us to be out of balance. Until it’s too late and the injury sets in to the point of letting us know about it. An ache or niggle here, later leading perhaps to more pains and a trip to the osteopath or doc.

Sure, doing Pilates will, as Joe wanted, return you to life and restore your imbalances once you have them. But imagine if you will a life where doing Pilates meant you didn’t get the imbalances in the first place?! That’s what’s it’s all about. It’s functional, basic movement. Strength training, flexibility training, body balancing.

You can (and should!) use it to help your sport improve, to get you out of back pain, to prepare your body for motherhood, to deal with the physical demands on a young developing body, or to managing the issues we face as we get older. It’s perfect for everyone; male and female alike.

In Pilates we refer to a “two way stretch” That’s one of the really cool things about it, you are always focusing. As one part of your body strengthens, the other side is stretching. Imagine in a gym, you’d have to use two machines for that. In Pilates, just the one exercise will do both! As your body becomes stronger, it also becomes longer = flexibility and strength! Winner!

We focus on the inner workings of the body, what some refer to as the “powerhouse” or “core.”
The deeper muscles of the body can’t be seen but can still be felt, and it’s these smaller postural muscles that help us with proper alignment whilst we go through our everyday movements. An imbalance in these muscles means we can’t work as efficiently, we are more likely to injure.  Time off work, time off the sports pitch, time off picking up the grandchildren for a cuddle. Do you want that?

But it doesn’t stop there! Pilates is a full body exercise. You use your brain to move your body so it’s great for the grey matter! You simply don’t have head space to think of the shopping when you’re doing Pilates, so a natural stress reliever.  We also use the limbs; our arms and legs, so you’ll be getting them stronger too.

In fact, Pilates as a class may help you in the studio, but just think of the all the benefits it gives your whole life outside the class room! For a full Pilates experience, you should also be using the equipment such as the “Reformer” to really condition the body, but it’s so easy to start with just you and a mat, anywhere, anytime.

And what’s not to like about that?! Just be sure your teacher knows a bit about what they are talking about!

For more information on Pilates, check out www.thepilatespod.co.uk

 

 

Are we a nation of pill poppers?

“The one thing that is taking up GP’s time is those arriving with back pain.”doctors waiting room

That was the view in the Cambridge News recently, reporting on how we are a nation obsessed with the control of pain and the taking of pain relief. We’ve all done it- reached for the headache tablets when our head is pounding and thanked those little white pills for sweet relief when it’s gone. But what happens the next day and the day after that when the same headache comes back?

A recent study from The Lancet journal has revealed that paracetamol is no better for back pain than placebo. With 26 million people suffering from back pain in the UK, that’s a pretty big number of people reaching for the bathroom cabinet supplies and keeping the pharmaceutical company rich!

Of course there are people who’s lives and conditions rely on medication, we’re not talking about those here naturally. But have we become reliant on the “quick fix” of those little tablets to get us through back, neck or headache pain on a daily basis?

Deal with the cause and not the symptom

From a previous life coping with back pain from a car accident, I know too well of the joy  you feel from re-occurring visits to the osteopath where your back is temporarily “fixed” only for it to spring back again a few days or weeks later and rely on that fixing again. Or to manage the pain with Tens machine and medication that was offered to me with the NHS. Do you want to spend your life like that? I got fed up relying on someone or something to “fix” me and started looking for ways to manage myself and that’s when the lightbulb moment happened.

lightbulb moment

Sure, that’s dealing with the symptoms, but what is the cause?!

In my case the symptoms were back and neck pain, spinal stiffness from being locked up on impact and muscular spasms. But the cause (obviously we know the car accident was the culprit) was that my spine was no longer in alignment, my neck was too far forward, my mid back twisted and locked up, my lower back and pelvis had been trying to cope with this imbalances and caused pain.
After the initial physio help and no help from the Tens machine, I invested in Self Management Tools, better known as Pilates!

It’s really important to get your spine checked out. A good osteopath or chiropractor won’t just look at the symptom (tight hamstrings, sore shoulders etc) but look at the whole spine and realign your spine and pelvis into it’s optimal position, allowing your muscles and joints around it to then work freely and without restrictions. But without some sort of “management tools” to help keep your spine and pelvis aligned, this trip back to the docs or osteoapth  can be a frequent (and expensive) reoccuring one!

For me, once a week doing Matwork lead to 3-4 times a week on both Mat and Reformer and guess what…

magic wand Hey presto, the magic happened!

I was moving my body again in all directions; forward flexion, side bend, rotation twist and backwards extension and feeling supple. I got stronger in my centre and core, my glutes starting working and the pain disappeared. My body started to help itself!

At first I didn’t realise it, but after a couple of weeks I began to think “hang on a minute, my back hasn’t been hurting like it usually does!” and then I realised what I’d been doing differently- Pilates!

But it’s not really magic is it, it’s just a bit of common sense.  Pilates isn’t a magic pill but it’s sensible, controlled movement. Pilates is exercise, exercise is movement, movement is what makes us feel better!

Move often, with control, stability and mobility. Stretch, strengthen, feel better!

And you can look forward to chucking those pills in the bin!

For more info on how Pilates can help you, see www.thepilatespod.co.uk

Pilates and Back Pain: Why it works

My last blog was about putting up with back pain and why that’s not a good idea. On a much more positive note lets have a look at why Pilates is so great for managing back pain. It goes without saying that any pain should be diagnosed by a medical professional reducing the chances of aggravating rather than relieving your discomfort.

Did your mother ever tell you to stand up straight? She was onto something here. She probably also told you to eat your vegetables too but now we might pay a nutritionist to advise us on superfoods!

Mother knows best
Mother knows best

Poor, slumped and collapsed postures standing and especially sitting place a tremendous amount of strain on our tissues. If muscles are held in a shortened position for a prolonged period other muscles will have to work overtime in order to support the weight of the surrounding structures. The body’s energy efficient response to this is to lay down extra collagen into the overworked muscle to make it more like a ligament, allowing it to support the same weight without expending much energy through prolonged muscular contraction. So rather than having well balanced muscles around a joint we have shortened and weakened muscles on one side versus overly long muscles that have lost their ability to contract as muscles fibres are replaced by collagen.

Hence we end up with a poor balance of muscular control around many joints. The resulting lack of stability around our sensitive joints  can result in poorly controlled movements with painful muscular spasms as the body quickly tries to gain control.

Muscle imbalances from sitting
Muscle imbalances from sitting

Pilates teaches you to lengthen your body in every possible direction. Even some of the starting positions for many exercises are hard work! This continual striving to find more space in your body is decompressing the joints and distributing the load of either movement or static held positions. In the Pilates mat exercises its just you and gravity. On the equipment the springs act as gravity for you to push and lengthen out against. A reformer is literally trying to squash and compress you giving you some feedback to lengthen out against. Thats why the equipment has the funky looking straps and handles so your limbs can experience this as well as your spine. Once you get back on the mat again after using the equipment your body knows what to do, as you reach a leg away for Single Leg Stretch you keep reaching into a now imaginary strap.

Reformer
Get a little length

Pilates brings your smaller supporting muscles to the party. Too often these small stabilisers get edged out of our movement patterns by the bigger movement producing muscles. Ever had to drive a car without power steering when you are used to having it? Thats what your body is doing when the stabilising muscles are neglected. It takes so much more effort to move the damn thing around! Advanced Pilates practitioners make the harder exercises look easy and flowing. They are still working hard but no part of the body is working harder than it has to.

Quality of movement is really important in Pilates. Once you start to find and use your stabilising muscles movement becomes much smoother and more controlled. Many of our stabilising muscles fine tune out movements but are also rich in nerve endings that send information back to our central nervous system. Our movements are then better calibrated, and of course smoother movement is far less likely to cause pain. Not having this feedback is like trying to negotiate the world with fogged up glasses.

One of the greatest gifts Pilates gives people with back pain is the ability to take back some control of their situation. Back pain is frightening and frustrating in equal measures with many chronic long term sufferers becoming depressed when it limits their previous level of activity. It’s a real privilege to work with this population as they learn how movement is going to help rather than hinder them.

No back pain
No back pain

Managing back pain is like being a tight rope walker

When you think of balance, you imagine the tightrope walker desperately trying not to fall off the rope, leaning one way and the other to achieve a good centre of gravity, alignment and control to be able to walk in a straight line unaided, unaltered and with ease.

Tightrope walker
Life’s about balance, your body is the same!

Your body needs this same ‘balance’ to perform daily tasks with the same ease but we’re not talking about whether you can stand on one leg kinda balance!

Whatever the reason of this imbalance, the cause nearly always ends up the same- imbalance of muscles. As a result of your actions, your muscles may end up either too tight (pulling on the body in one direction) or too weak (allowing a lack of support the other way) and wherever the affected area, there is always a knock on effect through the rest of the body. After all we are like a jigaw puzzle, all pieces of the body connecting together with muscle, ligament, fascia, tissue and skin. You can’t finish the jigsaw without all the pieces, they work together for the overall bigger picture.
What you feel today as a pain in the knee, may later be a pain in the back but you don’t know it, don’t appreciate it and don’t do anything about it until the Doc is telling you to improve your “core” or the physio is sticking their elbow in your butt to release tight muscles.
So if you’re reading this thinking “well I don’t have back pain” GREAT, we want to keep it that way!

Of course if the tight rope walker fell off the rope, he/she’d probably end up hurting herself, just the same as if we fell of a horse, it’d hurt right? We’d know why our back hurt, why we got bruises and the cause would be obvious.BUT for most of us we don’t necessarily put two and two together. As far as we’re concerned, we wake up one day and our back hurts, or we were putting our pants on and that’s it “pop.”

In most circumstances, it’s very unlikely that the very act of putting your pants on made your back go, I severely doubt you are wearing heavily armored pants with a huge weight-bearing effect on your body?!

But instead, the years of sitting at the desk staring at the screen has driven your head and beck forward and taken its toll on your neck and shoulders and lower back by compensation, or the 2 kids you’ve got gave you a lovely baby bump that pulled your pelvis forward and down causing excess strain on your back and the weakened deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles have never quite been the same or said hello again to help give your back support.

Even the professional football running up and down the pitch all day every day, fit as a fiddle heart and lungs wise, will be kicking the ball repetitively, twisting and turning and running into tackles, allowing for over developed exterior muscles (they look nice don’t they) but with imbalanced weaker inner muscles that give the body support.

So my charming readers, I’m not suggesting you rush out and join the circus and start brushing up on your balance act, but a little mind to what’s going on inside your body on a daily basis as a result of your normal daily tasks is worth the effort. We want strong, healthy bodies, not because for most of us we fancy ourselves as pin-up girls and Calvin Klein models, but because with a focus on inner “core” strengthening exercises, we can develop balance to our muscles an joints and therefore pick up our kids for a cuddle, do a spot of gardening or continue running, all without pain and aches.. or just be able to put our own knickers on… a basic human right surely?!

Large undies!
Pants on time

Until next time… 😉