My Feet Hurt!

Foot pain. I notice that whether I’m working as a physical therapist, enjoying conversations with friends, working with elite runners, or instructing Pilates clients, foot pain seems to be rampant! While it would be nice if there were a cookie cutter cause and solution for this discomfort, this is definitely not the case. In fact, myriad reasons abound for why our feet hurt, as do ideas on what would bring relief.



To help you become a better detective regarding your own foot pain, I’d like to offer a few tips.

First, the amount of time spent on your feet counts. When we stand, our feet have to support the weight of our bodies, and the muscles of our legs and feet must work hard to keep us stable and upright. Extended periods of loading the foot tissues by standing can lead to muscle fatigue, stretched tendons, collapsed arches, and pain. Have you noticed how long hours on your feet can leave you feeling achy and craving a foot massage?

Second, the surface you’re standing on impacts your feet. Spending hours standing in a surgical suite feels quite different from the same hours on the golf course. And walking on the blacktop at the zoo can be much harder on your body than walking on carpet or linoleum.

Third, the type, quality, and design of your shoes can make a huge difference in whether you have happy or not-so-happy feet. While most of us understand the value of proper athletic shoes, it’s easy to overlook the impact of our daily footwear. For instance, the alignment of our feet is affected by how our shoes hit the ground, either offering or neglecting support of the arches. Some shoes offer cushion for the heels, while others feel like we’re walking on planks. Last but not least, how do your feet treat your toes? Do they allow space for the toes to spread comfortably, or do they make a fashion statement with a cute little point that hurts like hell?

Well, here’s the kicker: if problems with the feet go uncorrected, knee, hip, pelvis, back, and even neck pain may be in your future. Why? Because your body works as a total, complete system. The first thing touching the floor when we walk is our feet. The rest of the body adjusts. When we experience limitations in the feet, other body parts must compensate. This process strains your body, leads to poor alignment, and leaves you with more than just foot pain.

So, what should you do?

For starters, please do pay attention to what your feet are wearing! When was the last time you were properly fitted at a shoe store? If you’re in athletic shoes, have you had someone perform a gait analysis to determine where you load through the feet when you walk or run? You may have a subtle arch collapse that may be helped with orthotics or shoes that reduce the impact of over-pronation. Or you may need a more cushioned shoe if you bear weight more through the outside of the feet. Either way, having a qualified professional observe your gait and properly fit you can guide you to shoes that could reduce your pain and improve function.

But, you’re not done yet. While most people with foot pain can benefit from being more selective about the demands they put on their feet, and from proper footwear, these changes don’t provide the complete answer. People with foot pain quite often have a physical problem or limitation with the feet themselves. Whether actual problems with the feet have been caused by the strain and inadequate care we’ve just mentioned, or whether the feet themselves are the primal cause, collapsed arches, bone spurs, tight fascia, and restricted joints in the feet can really be uncomfortable.

But never fear! From plantar fasciitis to shin splints to heel pain and more, there are foot-specific exercises to help YOU! Activities that strengthen and stretch the musculature to support the arches, mobilize the fascia, and isolate toe work and movement can make a difference in how you feel when you’re on your feet. However… knowing which exercises are right for you and how to incorporate these into functional movements that eliminate pain during your day can be tricky.

And that’s where I come in. As a Runity trained coach and Polestar Pilates Rehab Practitioner, I’d love to share with you some simple yet effective, challenging yet rewarding, isolated yet total body movement patterns and strategies that can make a huge difference in how YOU feel and function. Through targeted strengthening and stretching of the feet, ankles, legs, and core, and careful monitoring of your alignment through movements and functional tasks, you will be better equipped to face the daily work or recreational tasks you enjoy most.

So remember, while physical therapists, podiatrists, and running shoe stores can offer you guidelines for your specific footwear needs and even offer you orthotics for “extra help,” YOU can also do a great deal to help yourself. And if you’re already receiving PT care for your hip, knee, back, pelvis, or neck, please ask her/him to check out your feet. Make sure that part of the equation is being addressed, or the benefit of your spine or neck program or your knee/hip rehab won’t be fully effective.

When we’re functioning at our best, each individual part of our bodies plays an important role in creating an integrated whole that works efficiently and painlessly. With a more conscious look at how your body works, and a little bit of training, you’ll empower yourself to reduce or eliminate pain, and be all that you can be.

Family Centered Pilates

After having several clients ask about Family Centered Pilates Sessions, I’m happy to announce I’m now offering them! Let me tell you more…

Family Centered Pilates Sessions take place in the comfort of your own home. As many family members as you’d like to participate are welcome to join. I bring the mats and small props; you all bring the energy and willingness to learn. Sessions are tailored to you and your family, and, as always, are fun, challenging, and rewarding.

There are several reasons I have decided to add these to my list of offerings.  First, it’s a wonderful way to create togetherness with a focus on health and wellness! Family Centered Pilates Sessions allow you to be intentional about incorporating wellness and movement into your family’s lifestyle. Even when family members are already active, it’s quite common for individuals’ fitness routines to be “on their own.” Dad plays soccer with his men’s team. Mom runs. And the kids play outside, enjoying softball, tennis, and other activities. Nothing wrong with that picture! But it’s quite fun to supercharge your “family team” with your own Pilates group class. Customized Pilates sessions in your home allow everyone to come together to move, learn, and work toward personal goals with the fun and support of family.

The second reason Family Centered Pilates is so popular is convenience! This is a great chance for you and your family to work on fitness goals in your own home at a schedule that works for you. Consider this: work consumes the lives of many adults. And when the workday ends, we just want to head home and de-stress. Stopping by the gym can just feel too overwhelming after a long day on the job. Scheduling Pilates in your own home brings quality instruction to you at the most convenient place and the most convenient time to meet your needs. An added bonus is that this level of convenience makes it so much easier to sustain your wellness and fitness goals.

Finally, Family Centered Pilates Sessions offer the ultimate privacy! I often hear from clients that, while they love Pilates, their spouse would never exercise in a public setting or with a group for that matter. Having me come to your home is a way of getting him/her moving without the fear of being seen or judged. Sessions are planned with you and your family, with your bodies and needs in mind. Workout attire may be chosen for how well it allows you to move, instead of how stylish you think you may appear to others. Make-up, hairstyle, and workout gear- all up to you! And who knows? After a few sessions, confidence will grow as exercises become familiar, and your loved one might be more willing to step out of the home and face new challenges!

As we move through life, it’s easy for busy families to fall into routines that don’t necessarily include one another. It’s also easy to skip out on workouts due to the life’s stresses. And being fearful of exercising in a group or in public can lead to a sedentary lifestyle.

Let Family Centered Pilates Sessions quell each of these concerns as you give you and your family the chance to spend an hour together in a healthy, productive, fun way.  I’d love to work with your family and would be honored to be invited into your home! Please reach out to learn more about how we can make this happen!

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!

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!

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!