Shoulders are an issue for so many of us, stress, desk working, carrying and feeding babies, walking with small children, sitting on sofas, having smartphones are just a few reasons why your shoulders may end up rounded.
When I trained in Pilates (quite a few years back!) the emphasis was all on bringing your shoulders round and down, thinking about sliding your shoulder blades into your back pockets. Which is nice cue, it makes sense and has a great visual with it. However as someone who works a lot with postnatal ladies I know that sliding your shoulder blades down can lead to the ribs being thrust forward.
Shoulders round and down works well as long as you don’t then thrust the ribs out. Think about staying in between 2 pains of glass as you roll the shoulds down and back, lengthen through the spine as you do so – this includes lengthening through the neck BTW.
The cue that helps me (a typical rib cage thruster) is shoulders down and wide. If you shrug your shoulders to your ears and then slide them down thinking about your shoulders connecting into your armpits it can help you find your lats – those large back muscles that help keep the shoulder blades in the right place. A nice visual I heard for this recently was to think about a coathanger being in your top. Bringing your shoulders down and keeping them wide.
I don’t normally watch terestial TV, but whilst away I flicked it on to be greeted by an advert about incontinence pants. There wasn’t much of this advert I agreed with, it was normalising incontinence, specifically after having a baby.
Incontinence affects 1 in 3 women at some time. Childbirth, menopause, impact sports and getting older all affect our pelvic floor but that doesn’t mean we have to put up with it or pretend incontinence pads are glamorous. Let’s face it, it should not be normal to wee in your pants unless you are unwell or in a nursing home! Yet so often on social media it is made to seem normal.
At points in life your pelvic floor will be weaker. Hormones play a large role as does the affect of carrying a baby and pushing it out. If you had an assisted delivery using forceps that will also cause further damage. As you get older muscle mass can decline so it becomes even more important to keep those muscles working properly. We can of course adapt by drinking less, going for a wee before you leave a safe environment (the “just in case” wee), avoiding certain moves like star jumps and wearing pants/a pad. However that is pretty restrictive and isn’t living as full a life as you could.
Urinary Stress Incontinence = poor function of the pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles that need to relax for us to toilet, so they also need to contract to stop leaks. They can be too weak, too tight, poorly co-ordinated and working more one side than the other. So it isn’t as simple as a squeeze and release.
Now think about it, if other muscles are not doing their job what do we do? You may see a physiotherapist, take time to work on working the muscles correctly, resting them when needed, having some sports massage and work with the muscles around the injured area. It is no different with the pelvic floor! We need to focus on a whole pile of muscles around that area, plus the contraction and relaxation. You may need to downtrain the pelvic floor and you may need to change some of your day to day habits to help.
You know those days you are buzzing with adrenaline, you are whizzing around like a busy bee, getting physical stuff done but your mind is in an anxious state? When you constantly feel tense, you can’t fully breathe and your heart rate feels pumping?
These are examples of your nervous system being on overdrive and I know is a place I tend to live my life in. However Pilates brings me an answer to this. Read on for more. We have 2 nervous systems:
Sympathetic – this is the fight or flight nervous system. When your body is faced with a sudden threat it tenses up, certain functions slow down (digestion) and others speed up:
increased heart rate
increased blood pressure
Parasympathetic – the “regist and digest” nervous system. This system we need to be working to enable the body to recover, relax and heal itself. When this nervous system is fired up we get more:
constriction of pupils
decreased heart rate
more saliva and mucus
more urine production
Pilates for me brings me out of the craziness of daily life, away from the “to-do” list, the work deadlines, the family dynamics, the household jobs and into a place where I have to slow down, I have to think about my body and I have to concentrate on me. That is why it is more than exercise. It is a way to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system and calm your whole system so that your body can restore itself.
Personally I think most of us need time daily to destress, to calm our bodies and mind, to breath deeply and to let the body slow down. Mindfulness and meditation have been recommended for years for many mental health conditions and now this is coming into physical health too. Why? When our bodies are under stress one way this can be shown is through sickness. Our gut and brain are linked closely by the gut-brain axis via the nervous system. So if our brain is on overdrive and highly stressed it can definitely affect gut conditions.
If you are struggling with your physical or mental health then why not try Pilates as a way to help. Here is a beginners video that may be helpful:
One of the most complicated things in Pilates can be the breathing. It is not uncommon for people to say that it feels back to front. They want to inhale when the teacher is cueing them to exhale. I remember being the same, the breathing just takes time to grasp.
So why do we exhale at a certain part of the movement and why is important?
Pilates is all about working with the body in a functional way, to strengthen it and keep it moving in the way it was designed to work. In the same way we work with the body in terms of the breath.
When you inhale your lungs full with air, your diaphragm descends, your tummy goes soft and your pelvic floor relaxes. This is the point where you have less strength and less of your core functioning. So it makes sense at this point that you aren’t placing lots of load and pressure on. The exhale part of the breath is when you empty the lungs of air, your diaphragm rises, your tummy comes in and the pelvic floor rises. It’s when your core fires. So therefore at this stage it’s when you load the body.
Think about lifting. You exhale as you lift a heavy weight. You exhale when it’s hard work. Yes?
Therefore we EXHALE on EXERTION in pilates. Thats when you stretch a leg away, when you curl up, when you press up from the mat, when you come into a teaser. Now of course there are aways exceptions to the rule and in some exercises the whole thing feels like hard work (for example the hundred) so you hold some core tension throughout.
Many of your know my obsession with the pelvic floor . By exhaling on exertion you are also helping to protect your pelvic floor, rather than sending pressure down on it. So next time you lift something or even get out of a chair – breath out and think of me!
It’s what you do daily that counts. This is true in so much of life.
Posture is important. There are things that you have to do on a day-to-day basis that will affect your posture. For example carrying a child, carrying a bag, how you sit, driving a car, the shoes you wear and the chair you sit in. Studies show that sitting at a desk for long periods can lead to a forward head/neck posture which then can result in back pain.
The key is it’s what you do on a daily basis even hourly basis that makes a difference. So if you can make small adjustments to your day over a long term period this will add up. You cannot think about your posture all the time but you can adjust how you move, lift and sit to make small improvements.
It’s the same with eating. As a dietician and I know that deep changing small things in your diet will add up over the long term. So adding in one extra portion of fruit a day will make a long-term difference to your health.
So the challenge is to find those things that are causing you to have pain or tension in your body. A good way to do this is to go and see someone who specialises in looking at bodies. For example a Pilates teacher or a sports massage therapist such as myself. A postural assessment and a chat about your daily life can highlight some of the things that are going on that are causing the problems. It isn’t always obvious, so the position of your foot can impact your hip for example and what is happening at your hip can affect your shoulders.
Whilst you may not be able to change all of your daily activities that are leading to push your balances. But you can do is be aware of this and use some daily exercises to help release the tension and reverse the impact on your body.
For me carrying a heavy toddler is not great for my body. I know that I have tightness in my hips and my glutes and in my thoracic spine pain in my thoracica spine from this. I can’t not carry my child but I can use regular exercises to help mobilise, stretch and release those areas as well as keeping strong.
So the challenge is to realise which areas of your body need strengthening, which need mobilising and to have a daily self care programme to help. It may only need 15 minutes of your day to keep your body in tip top form. If you don’t have a plan like this then find someone to work with you and to help you create one. Then regular massage, and exercise sessions will help you stay motivated and moving pain free!
Get in touch to book a session: firstname.lastname@example.org