Resolution to Evolution: An Opportunity for Change Each Day

It’s the end of January. ALREADY. If you made a New Year’s resolution, how’s it going? Have you stuck with it, or did you “fail” the first week?

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve never been great at proposing, “From this day forward, I will do XYZ,” and keeping my promise. There’s one exception: My 1996 New Year’s resolution was to become a vegetarian. Years later, my husband still says he wishes he’d known the Ashley who would share a steak with him!

Resolutions are hard to keep, in part, because they can be dreams or goals that are a bit out of reach. And since the change is supposed to become fully realized over night, the majority of our resolutions do not offer us any lead up time to prepare ourselves. For many of us, New Year’s resolutions are big changes that we’d like to make, but we don’t do the prep work to ensure our own success. Think of it: Would you have made this same big decision to change something if it were another day, like July 6? Probably not. Some of us use this “magical” date, when we advance our calendars forward to a new year, as a catalyst for change. But this wishful thinking (even if highly motivated!) fails to acknowledge that most of life’s changes require background, foundational, or supporting work.

Additionally, one of the downsides to New Year’s resolutions is the guilt that comes with not keeping them. You’ve set your goals high, envisioned what life would be if XYZ changed, and then you don’t meet your goal. You feel you’ve failed…arghhhhh!

But there’s hope! As one great thinker said, “Every new day is a chance to change your life.” I believe that many of us need to hear this now and hear it often. Truly, we don’t need to rely on some calendar date to stir us into change. Each and every day offers us the opportunity for making decisions and choices that can bring us close to our personal goals of change. Baby steps can build the solid foundation for life-long, not week- or month-long, change.

So if you’ve abandoned your resolution, or even if you didn’t make one to begin with, you’re offered a fresh, new, start every single day. And if you don’t move in the desired direction one day, please don’t give up. The good news is that there are many paths to meeting your goals. Sometimes even a few “wrong” turns can end up leading to positive change and a stronger you with more resilience, determination, and tenacity than you ever thought you could muster. Now that’s evolution!

A Change of Pace...and Heart

Our bodies change. It’s just a fact of life. There are normal developmental changes that come with growing up, going through puberty, having kids, and aging. Then there are changes that our bodies go through as a result of injury or illness. Changes that come through physical training are often the ones we desire and have more control over; for example, increasing upper body work to build stronger arms and upper back, adding yoga to increase flexibility, or adding agility drills to improve speed and coordination on the field. Changes arising from illness or injury are typically unwanted, but we benefit by managing them wisely. Regardless of the cause, all bodies experience lots of changes; such is life. 

So my question for you today is: how do you deal with the unwanted, undesirable changes that come with life?  

Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I loved to run. I could run far and was even somewhat fast. I relished the chance to train…hard and be my best on race day. Then I had kids, and I found time for exercise wherever, whenever I could work it in. And, with little ones at home, I was not able to get out and run for an hour or more! My distance running was no longer my priority.

Fast forward to my return to running about 1.5 years ago. I started training, but I did not see the improvements for which I hoped. This was new for me.  To top it off, I noticed my heart would skip a beat every now and then. This was not only uncomfortable in terms of breathing rhythm, but it was also worrisome. I most often noticed the skipped heartbeats when running, which really bothered me- mentally and physically.

I went to see my doctor who calmly explained that running with an arrhythmia was permissible, as long as I did not feel chest pain, get dizzy, pass out, etc.  

So, the ball was put in my court. What to do? Walk away from what I love because in order to keep running I would need to back off a bit and go <gulp> slow? Or approach it with care and caution? For me, the latter choice would mean a total shift in mindset. In order to run and enjoy it and not risk feeling the discomfort and fear that comes with my heart skipping a beat, I would need to show extra kindness to myself and replace my goals of time/distance with more basic goals of just running, being comfortable, and enjoying each run. A totally different approach, but I am strong and I can do hard things! Even if it means updating my belief in what personal success looks like!

Since that discovery and revelation, I have returned to running… but slower. I do not beat myself up for not being as fast as I used to be. Yes, I wish I could run my old pace. But at least I am running and NOT feeling the weird breathing/heart irregularities that were triggered when I pushed myself too hard.  Instead, I often meditate when I run. I also use my running time to increase my awareness of my breath and all my senses. I tune in to feeling the cool air on my face, hearing the leaves as they’re blown across the sidewalk or crunch underfoot, listening to the birds and dogs in the neighborhood, feeling the impact of each shoe hitting the sidewalk, enjoying the scents from local restaurants and cafes I pass, and seeing the beauty of nature all around. I am the same physically, but my mindset change has allowed a valuable internal shift. Instead of fighting the reality of my body’s limitations, I now choose to be fully respectful and present for all that is within me and around me. I am able to focus on what I realize really matters most to me: peace, true presence, the gifts of nature, and the ability just “ to be.”

What about you? What’s been your mountain? Have you walked away or changed your approach in order to move toward a healthier goal?

Pilates and Your Young Athlete

Current guidelines for physical activity in children and teens include at least an hour a day of exercise for aerobic, muscle, and bone strengthening. Many children sign up (or get signed up!) for team sports, often through school, local organizations, or club sports teams. Most times, the season starts off strong. Regular practices, team building activities, and even some cross training ensue. Things are going well, until a child is injured. What went wrong?  

Just as adults need to train up to performance level, the same is true for kids. But unfortunately, foundational training is often overlooked in kids’ sports seasons. The “winning plays” (hitting home runs, striking out players, scoring hat tricks, lapping opponents, and coming in first in the pool or on the track) become the primary focus.  Consequently, the background work of building strength, flexibility, and healthy movement patterns with balanced muscle groups is neglected, and injuries happen. So instead of having fun with the team, injured kids get to cheer from the sidelines and may even have to go for physical therapy. Not the way you envisioned the season going!

So how can we help our kids become the athletes they hope to be while simultaneously minimizing their risk of getting sidelined due to injury?

Try adding Pilates. Pilates is not just for adults; the benefits to kids are astounding! Here are 7 ways Pilates can make an enormous difference in the life of your athlete:

1-    Improved mind-body connection. This can be huge when your body is growing and changing.  Practicing Pilates builds a sense of body awareness and alignment, which can serve to protect your young athlete when playing sports. She/he will learn how to engage the core and move from the center while maintaining proper spine and joint alignment. When they don’t move from their periphery, safer and more controlled movements occur.

2-    Protected joint mobility. Hypermobility is not a problem in and of itself, but lack of control of the body in this extra (hypermobile) range of motion can lead to injury. For example: female athletes with hypermobility of the ankles or knees are at risk of injury when pivoting in sports such as soccer or tennis. Pilates helps athletes learn to control their bodies throughout the entire joint range of motion. With improved proprioception (the sense of telling where/how the body/joints are positioned in space), movement patterns can be executed efficiently, protecting the joints no matter which position they’re in or surface upon which they move.

3-    Increased muscle strength and motor control through multiple types of contractions. Pilates exercises require muscles to work concentrically (to shorten the muscle through the movement), eccentrically (to control the lengthening of the muscle), and isometrically (static contraction and hold). Training muscles in multiple ways improves overall strength and neuromuscular control, leading to greater athletic performance.

4-    Strong foundation and core. Often injuries are due to an overuse of bigger muscle groups that create movement and an underuse of smaller muscles that are responsible for creating a foundation on which big movers work. For example, back and/or hip pain in running can be associated with a loss of stabilization of the pelvis. In this case, the big mover muscles in the back and legs may be causing the spine and pelvis to shift, leading to pain. Pilates addresses these weaknesses, leading to safer, more controlled and precise movements.

5-   Identify asymmetries and balance muscle groups. When athletes train, their bodies develop and adapt to meet the demands of the sport. To this end, certain muscle groups get more stretched out, certain groups get stronger, and certain groups go underused. Asymmetries develop, and injuries occur. Pilates helps to balance muscle groups, leading to more well-rounded development of young athletes and reduced risk of injury both on and off the field.  

6-    Heightened focus and attention when the pressure’s on. Let’s face it: playing sports can be stressful. Even though the main objective may be to have fun, many kids feel pressured by themselves, their peers, their coaches, and even their parents to do well. Pilates can help your athlete get his/her head in the game, keep cool, and tune out external stressors. Practicing movements in Pilates in a mindful, precise way will translate to increased ability to focus when playing sports, helping your young athlete perform with greater mental clarity and certainty.   

7-    Increased longevity in your child’s sport of choice. Look at it this way: the time, money, and energy you and your child invest in Pilates will help safeguard your athlete by teaching how to move safely and efficiently to help him/her start strong, stay safe, and adapt physically and mentally as his/her body changes and sports demands increase. Training with Pilates off the field can better prepare your young athlete for the current season and years of healthy movement and FUN!  

I am passionate about helping athletes of all ages learn to use and develop their body in ways that are safe now and in the long run and will help them be the athletes they dream to be.  Please contact me to learn more… I am here to help!

If You're Gonna Do It, Do It Right

“I hate Pilates. Pilates makes me angry.” I actually heard this quote at a recent wellness event. When I curiously inquired, the lady replied, “I guess because it’s hard.”

This interaction has stuck with me for multiple reasons.

1. I’ve actually never heard of a form of exercise creating a feeling of anger. Challenged? Yes. Fatigued, as a result of having a good workout? Absolutely. But, angry?

2. Pilates, when approached properly, is like ANY sport. There’s a foundation of skills that are built first, and later the layers of dynamic movements that challenge total body strength, control, and coordination are added. These foundational skills are challenging, but mastering them greatly reduces any chance you’ll add exercises that lead to “anger.” Is this what happened to her?

3. At the end of a Pilates session, you should feel rejuvenated and refreshed. Pretty much the opposite of “angry.” Where had things gone wrong?

My conversation at the wellness event reminded me of my own experience with mat Pilates years ago. At this time, my fitness regimen was almost exclusively running. I had completed a marathon a few months prior, and I believed I was in really good shape. I showed up to a group class where clients had obviously been attending for awhile. When it came to the roll up and hundred exercises, I felt ALL NECK and totally inadequate. I was nowhere near ready for this level of challenge, and my body let me know it! In fact, I was so turned off by Pilates, that I did not try it again for several years. What a shame!

Thank goodness I found my way back and found a program that helped me build my strong base, learn how to engage my core properly for stability and controlled mobility, and taught me the value of focus.

Thank goodness I learned to go slow through the “tough spots,” coordinate movements with my breath, and make mindful connections.  I discovered that with a relatively weak deep core (not my superficial abs, because those were popping!), I was setting myself up for risk of having an injury. And let me tell you, building a stronger deep core reduced the “neck work,” as well as the headaches I had been experiencing.

I finally realized: I trained up to a marathon. I did not start running that distance; I had to WORK at it. This is the approach I should take with Pilates. A complete overhaul of faulty movement patterns cannot be finalized in just one session. Like any sport, it takes work, consistency, and a qualified, astute instructor to help you tune in and create safe movement patterns.  Otherwise, you may find yourself leaving the session, well, a little bit angry.

 I invite you, especially if you already consider yourself to be an athlete, to try Pilates. But please find an instructor who understands the need to build that base. And-heads up!- this is not the base you’ve built in your current sport of choice. The foundational Pilates base is built on the deep core you can’t see, the one that gives feedback to the brain about how your joints are positioned and coordinates healthy muscle firing to keep you safe and set your bigger, mover muscles up for success. (For more on this, please read my blog entry Your Core: True Strength Runs Deep.)  

To experience one of the greatest rewards of Pilates, make sure you integrate the breath with your movements. Breathing practice carries amazing benefits that last long after your workout.

Finally, remember: you have many options for cardio workouts. Give yourself the gift of listening more deeply to your body, try not to “cheat” with momentum, and allow your body and brain to coordinate movements in a new and potentially healthier way. All of this can lead you to greater longevity and safer performance in your other fitness/sports routines. Your body will thank you for it! No anger needed.

Pilates + Running = A Winning Combination!

I’d like to share with you the results of a study that came out earlier this year on the exciting benefits that Pilates can have on running performance. Here’s the link to the full article: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0194057

Or if you prefer a quick summary, please read on!

Over the course of 12 weeks, subjects in both the control group and Pilates group participated in racetrack training twice a week. Additionally, each week on non-running days the Pilates group had two one-hour mat Pilates sessions. 

Researchers attached electrodes to specific core and leg muscles to determine muscle activation. Oxygen uptake (reflecting endurance) was also measured, and this was used to determine metabolic cost (the amount of energy needed to run).  Finally, subjects were timed on a 3k run. Go!

Researchers concluded that distance running was enhanced in subjects who added a twice a week, 12 week mat Pilates program to their training. Specifically, they reported that the Pilates group had:

Improved VO2max (reflects endurance and performance capacity),

Reduced energy spent while running

Faster 5K running times

Researchers believe these gains were largely due to core and lumbopelvic stabilization training received through Pilates. 

If you’re ready for enhanced running performance with less energy spent, let’s connect! 

Contact me (phone: 601-942-8538 or email mindfulpilatesandwellness@gmail.com) to get started! I’ve got the training, tools, and commitment to help you reach your running goals and find your true joy in running!

Neutral Spine: What Is It and Why Should It Matter to Me?

The term “neutral spine” is commonly used by Pilates instructors, physical therapists, and other movement specialists during exercise and therapy sessions. Often the instruction to “find your neutral spine” is given before the start of an exercise and may even be used during the movement as a means of getting you to do a self-check: Where is my spine? But what does this really mean, and why is it important to you as a mover?

First, stay with me for a brief anatomy review: The spine consists of 24 vertebrae (bones) that move and 9 that are fused or stuck together in the sacrum and coccyx. The part of the spine that moves is divided into 3 sections: cervical (think: neck), thoracic (think: shoulder blade and rib cage area), and lumbar (think: low back). However, depending on where the vertebra sits in the spine the actual amount of movement in any given direction is different. For example, a significant amount of each type of motion (forward bend, back bend, side bend, and rotation) occurs in the neck area. This allows the head to move, and for us to obtain sensory information (seeing, smelling, hearing). At the rib cage and shoulder blade level, spine rotation is very important for the arms and shoulder blades to move efficiently. Finally, in the low back, most movement is in forward bend direction and the least amount of movement is in rotation. So why should this matter to you? Well, quite simply, how you hold your spine affects the amount and type of movement you get.

Try this: Sit tall in your chair. Cross your arms over your chest and turn slowly to the left. Now turn back to the center and all the way to the right. Return to the center, and round forward to sit in a slumped position.  Now with your arms crossed over your chest, turn to the left-center-right. Which sitting posture allowed more turn/rotation to the left and right? Most likely it was when you were sitting up tall since your rib cages blocked you and slumped spine position limits spine rotation. Moving from more of a neutral spine position, where the joints of the spine are in their optimal positions, allows you to rotate and turn your body more efficiently.  And over time, a neutral spine position means less wear and tear on your back.

Maintaining a neutral spine position is also important when it comes to arm and leg movements. People are often surprised when I tell them that just because the arm or leg is moving doesn’t mean the spine needs to move, too. Try this: Stand and reach up as if you’re trying to get a cup off a shelf that is higher than your head. Did your spine move or arch into a little bit of extension (like a backbend) when you reached? Now try it and see if you can prevent the spine from arching, keeping it in a more neutral position. If you aren’t able to move the arm/shoulder without arching the back, you’re at risk for injuring your back due to poor alignment and an inability to maintain neutral spine position while moving the arm.

Performing task related movements with a neutral spine in your day-to-day routines and even with sports is extremely important. One client of mine was a tennis player and developed a slumped posture over time.  Even though she was physically fit, she ended up with an injury to her low back as a result of poor postural habits on and off the court. To swing a tennis racket, the part of the spine near the shoulder blades, along with the rib cage, needs to rotate. But for my client, since the spine was already slumped, the amount of rotation was limited. She loved to play tennis and wouldn’t be stopped by this, so the spine movement for the swing instead came from the low back and the hips. Because the body is not built for heavy rotation in the lumbar spine, an injury to the low back occurred.  Simply put, she was not using her body as it was meant to be used.

Parallels can be drawn from just about anywhere: from golfers who lose mid-back rotation and instead overuse low back movement; to runners who use trunk and spine rotation instead of spine/core stabilization to propel the legs forward; to moms and dads who injure their backs while lifting and loading groceries, boxes, or a kicking and screaming 4 year old.

In Pilates sessions, I help you to find your neutral spine position. This is different for each of us. As with the tennis client mentioned above, you may have let yourself resort to a slumped position for years and now it’s hard if not impossible to sit up fully straight. There are still gains that can be made to bring you back upright, improve your spine alignment, and allow your body to move in healthier patterns. Once you recognize your neutral spine position, you can then learn to keep this position and stabilize spine movement by working on breathing strategies, separating arm/leg movement from spine movement, and by learning to turn “on” the deep spinal stabilizers that work to let the brain know where each vertebra is in space. This helps the body to program and carry out exercises, as well as daily activities and sports, safely.  

I teach you how to work from a neutral spine position in all developmental and functional positions (lying on your back, side-lying, lying on your stomach, all 4’s, sitting, kneeling, and standing).  When you learn to move into and out of these positions safely, you’re setting your body up for success. You’re putting the joints of the spine in the position best suited to support the movements you’re wanting to do, and you’re allowing your muscles to work from a safe, optimally aligned position.

Working from a neutral spine position does two important things: (1) it builds healthy movement patterns, and (2) it prevents injury.  I invite you to come to my studio or one of my mat classes and let me guide you in learning to use your neutral spine most effectively.  I would love to help you learn healthy movement patterns to keep your body safe for a lifetime!

Where is Your Mind?

“The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness.” ~ Sakyong Mipham

Where is your mind when you exercise? Where is your mind when you’re moving through your day, busy with activities at work, at home, or with others? For many of us, our minds are only partially focused on the activities at hand. Sometimes we’re zoned out completely. Have you ever been looking for your keys, only to find them in your “other” hand? Point made.

Most of us living in 2018 have greatly reduced our attention spans through over-use of technology, including TV, texts, email, and social media. Unfortunately, our abilities to attend to conversations, stories, and relationships, and focus on what’s happening with us in the moment have also diminished. It’s easy for our mindless distraction to continue when we exercise as well. Many runners zone out and watch a movie while running on the treadmill or tune in to their music or podcasts while out for a run. Weight lifting without headphones is fairly uncommon. While this is okay some of the time, to move through every workout in a zoned out/distracted fashion is missing out on an amazing opportunity to increase your mind-body connection.  In fact, exercise without attention can actually increase your risk of injury.

What would happen if you tuned out the outside world, the distractions of music/TV and the like, and then tuned in to your mind, your body, and what you’re actually doing? For many of us, this would be extremely challenging due to the desire to be entertained. But you know what? We’re strong. We’re up for a challenge. And meeting this challenge will help us become stronger athletes and more attentive individuals over all. Don’t we want to be clear-headed, capable of focusing, persevering, and overcoming obstacles? Don’t our loved ones deserve to be with someone who is able to “be there,” physically, mentally, and emotionally?

Reducing your reliance on music, pod casts, and videos while exercising can greatly help you tap into deeper strengths while also increasing present moment awareness. However, to deepen your mind-body connection and calm the mind even more effectively, consider incorporating Pilates or yoga into your exercise routine. To be successful in either of these forms of exercise requires the ability to focus on both the outer physical position as well as increased awareness of inner connections. Since our bodies and minds have the capacity to grow throughout our lives, our mental and physical gains can be endless.

With Pilates clients, I begin each session, whether in the studio on the equipment or in group mat classes, with a time of centering. This is crucial in making the transition from the hustle and bustle of life to turning inward to the body. It gives clients the opportunity to let go of the to-do list, pause the review of past conversations, and release any anxiety about upcoming events. This period of external quiet and calm allows clients to simply turn all energy and focus inward. Without this important opportunity for internal connection, clients run the risk of going through the motions and missing something vital: the still, quiet, calm that comes only through a truly peaceful mind and calm breath. With clear minds, clients are able to listen to their bodies more acutely, have a deeper understanding of safe movement patterns, and have a greater appreciation for their place in this world.

I have had numerous clients, from runners, to weight lifters, to Crossfitters, to those who “hate exercise,” try Pilates for the first time in my studio and say, “This is really a challenge for me. It’s difficult for me to slow down and focus on my breath, to pay attention to where my body is in space while I’m moving or holding still.” Instead of relying on momentum to propel them through a movement or outside noise to distract them from the discomfort of challenging muscle work and body positions, they must dig deep internally. This can simultaneously reveal true strength and undeniable weakness and can be quite eye opening to them as movers and athletes. Despite this struggle, they end up leaving the session feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. How is this possible? By connecting deeper with their inner being, focusing on the breath, and coordinating movements to meet the breath instead of the other way around, they have discovered that exercise is not necessarily something to move through but something to truly experience.

The benefits of centering and increased self-awareness gained through Pilates practice are easily transferred to the outside world. It is common for Pilates clients to train also as cyclists, swimmers, runners, tennis players, etc. High intensity sports require considerable concentration and focus. To excel, one must be able to keep calm in stressful situations and remain focused on the body and task at hand. Training in mindful movements helps athletes find their center, push through mental and physical stress, and overcome to give their best.  

Even if you are not “an athlete,” the practice of calming the mind and moving with intention in a mindful, deliberate way can benefit you in your daily routine. By making it a habit to practice intentional movements and focus on your breath, your daily tasks can be used as a time to increase your mind-body connection, awareness, and focus. In fact, more challenging household/work tasks can be done more safely. Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t know what happened. I just lifted the groceries, turned, and my back went out.”? With practice in centering and focusing on healthy movement patterns, risk of such injury is reduced. Even your daily chores, family activities, work and child-caring activities can help you connect on a deeper level and live an injury-free life. A calm, clear mind can go a long way in developing and maintaining relationships, saying “the right” things, and being truly present for your loved ones.

My challenge for you is two-part:  1. Turn off your music, podcast, or TV and spend less time with external noise. 2. Spend some time developing your own practice of centering and looking inward to re-connect with yourself on a deeper level. This will be a true gift you can give yourself to increase happiness, quality of life, and help you excel in all that your body, mind, and spirit desire.

 

If you’re interested in building a deeper connection with yourself, increasing your mind-body awareness while reducing risk of injury, and taking your current fitness regimen to the next level, please contact me to schedule your first Pilates session. I am happy to introduce you to this wonderful world of intelligent movement!