I want to woman to be able to breathe properly In a full 360° breath.I want them to be able to connect the pelvic floor, lower abdominals and feel their back expand as they breathe.In order to correct your posture work is going to need to be done.This is going to involve some release moves, possibly some soft tissue work.It needs to be a daily approach. What you do in a class needs to spill out into your daily life.It’s also really important to focus on you. Self-care cannot be underestimated. Finding ways to make yourself out of that highly stressed fight/flight state into the calm zen like parasympathetic nervous system is absolutely 100% important. This could involve meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, along path, or otherwise of chilling out. However you do it it’s important. If you are living in stress and tension you’re not going to be able to heal your body.
Let’s talk planks.
An amazing exercise for building core strength, for working the whole of your body and there is so much you can layer and add into a plank.
Also one of the exercises that therefore needs great technique or a lot can go wrong. All too often people are encouraged to dive head on into a full plank without knowing the hows, why’s and why nots. I love a challenge, but I don’t like the planking challenges. Personally I do not see the benefit to being able to hold a static plank. I have a body that rarely stays that still and so far more useful is a moving plank with levers and motion.
Many people are just not strong enough to launch into planks. These are not beginner exercises. Done incorrectly the intra-abdominal pressure will build up and it has to go somewhere, so if you have weak abdominals these may sag and bulge or the same with your pelvic floor. I remember attending a mums and babies fitness class with mums there 6 weeks after having baby – all being told to plank for 1 minute. If your core is not ready, do not do a full plank, if you have recently had a baby and you are rebuilding your strength, do not plank, if you have a weak pelvic floor, do not plank. Now that may sound harsh and rather black and white… so here is the softer version. There is a version of a plank that everyone can do, it is just finding your level and knowing which muscles to use plus ensuring you breath.
So what about if you really want to plank or if you are in a class with planks and you need a variation? Here are some plank progressions for you, including a standing version that I use with my pregnant and postnatal ladies.
The Hypopressive exercise, is a relatively new technique developed to help with pelvic floor rehabilitation and postnatal recovery of the abdominals. It is a form of breathing and intense posture work that involves creating a vacuum with your breath. This activate the involuntary fibres of the pelvic floor and abdominals, you don’t have to find the right muscles and squeeze them, instead you work with the bodies natural reflexes.
Where did the Hypopressive Exercise originate?
In the late 70’s, Dr. Marcel Caufriez realized that ‘traditional’ abdominal exercises were damaging women’s pelvic floors. So he looked into alternatives, moving away from high intra-adominal exercises such as creates and planks, the hypopressives were born. These exercises have been used for 30 years in Spain and are now used postnatally in hospitals in Europe with ladies with know pelvic floor and diastasis issues. However this is all brand new to the UK, we are pleased to be on the cutting edge, bringing you this technique.
Priya has trained with UK Hypopressives and has started doing hypopressives herself. With just 10 minutes a day she is feeling the effect on her core. These exercises are fabulous as they don’t take a lot of time and do not need any equipment. If you can breath, you can do them! However you do need hands on help to learn the technique.
This is a technique that can be incorporated in with other pelvic floor safe rehabilitation work, or used on it’s own for 30 days. It really depends on what level you enter this at. For example, someone with a prolapse it would be sensible to use the hypopressives only, then build on other pelvic floor work later.
Additional benefits can include:
1. Decreasing back pain
2. Reducing the waistline
3. Preventing disc and abdominal hernias
4. Improving sexual function
5. Treating and preventing urinary incontinence
6. Treats and prevents Pelvic Organ Prolapse
7. Improving respiratory function
8. Improving posture and balance
If you would like to learn more and experience hypopressives for yourself then please book onto our workshops. These are kept to small numbers so that you can have plenty of hands on help to learn the technique.
Monday 29th January 10-12pm
Thurs 22nd March 1-3pm
Booking to come
It strengthens your core and fixes your body. This is HUGE NEWS. Mums are lifting, bending, rotating, reaching, rocking, pushing and feeding babies. A whole lot of work and strain on the body. The core is made up of the abdominal muscles, the back muscles and the pelvic floor. This cylinder provides the support for the rest of the body to move. After carrying a baby in your womb for 9 months there has been quite a strain on the core. Your abdominals have been stretched and may have stretched apart slightly (diastasis recti). Your pelvic floor muscles have been supporting a heavy load and then may have helped push a baby out. Your lower back muscles will need supporting and strengthening as your baby grows and gets heavier. This is where Pilates has been invaluable for me and it fixes me weekly. Yes there are plenty of other fitness classes you can do postnatally, but a specialised postnatal Pilates is the one you want to do FIRST. It provides you with the foundation that you need to rehabilitate your body after pregnancy and labour. If you do not strengthen your core and get your posture sorted then later along the line you could suffer set backs and problems such as leaking and abdominal separation that doesn’t heal up. If you have this issue come see me for a 1-2-1 session.
If you have pelvic floor issues then you need to be on my pelvic floor workshop.
There are a couple of ways we work on core strength in classes.
Firstly BREATHING. It is something we all do all of the time but breathing using the diaphragm will help the core work in synergy. The Diaphragm, abdominals, back muscles and pelvic floor are all involved in breathing. Try this out:
1. Place your hands around your ribcage. Inhale feeling the breath come into your ribcage. So your ribs move out to the side, your back expands, your chest expands.
2. As you exhale, breath out with pursed lips, feel the tummy come in, the lower back tense and try to get right to the end of your breath to feel an tension in your lower abdominals and a lift in your pelvic floor.
3. Practise this for 5-10 minutes and it really can help, plus it relaxes you 🙂
All the Pilates moves are layered on top of the breathing. It can take a while to get the breathing at the right time and in the right way but suddenly it will click.
It reconnects you with your body. As a mum your primary focus is on your gorgeous baby. There is less time for you to look after your own body and this can get pushed down the list of importance. However your postnatal period is an important time of recovery for you.
A postnatal class can teach you how your body feels when you do certain movements. I know I can be busy rushing around all day and then suddenly in a class I realise my shoulder is out of alignment or my hips ache. It makes you focus on your tummy and pelvic floor, an area many mums don’t want to connect with post-birth. Let’s face it things are changed in or bodies but it is something to embrace and work to strengthen rather than to avoid. A class also means someone else also has a look at how your body is functioning, which can give you valuable insights and reassurance.
I myself go to classes so that someone who knows my body can give me feedback and push me further. We all need someone who knows us well to watch out for us.
It is you time. Our postnatal classes are run with a creche. I love babies, but having taught with one crawling around the studio, going under and over me… I know how distracting it is to doing the moves correctly. You tense up in order to ensure baby is safe which then means you do not get the full benefit from the class and exercises. You listen to their noises and not your body.
We’ve found over the years that having a creche away from the studio works best. Then the mums are not listening out to their babies, they aren’t all in the studio freezing each time a baby makes a noise, working out if it is theirs, if so do they need to go to baby. It takes trust on the part of the mum, but James has been running our creche for 7 years now and has seen an awful lot of babies in that time. If he can’t cope and needs a mummy, he knows when to ask.
So if you are thinking about trying a postnatal class I would highly recommend you try Pilates. Yes I am completely biased, but I am also proof that it works. Having had 3 babies, I have rehabilitated each time with Pilates. It works.
We get a lot of emails from pregnant ladies who are worried about losing their fitness whilst pregnant. They have been working out and love their current exercise routine but obviously want to look after the baby too. Well the best way to look after baby and yourself is to keep exercising but modify as you progress through pregnancy.
Years ago, the advice was for pregnancy ladies to stop all exercise and to pretty much go on bed rest. Then this changed to a focus on only low impact exercise. However now we know from the recent research that exercise in pregnancy is a good thing, but that pregnant ladies tend to reduce their exercise. In the first trimester the advice is that you shouldn’t take up a NEW form of exercise, but this seems to sometime get misconstrued into “I must not exercise”. What this advice actually means is “Keep doing your normal exercise routine as much as you can/feel ok to do so”. Of course the nausea, tiredness and pregnancy hormones may mean you find exercising harder than normal, but some ladies do find doing exercise can help them through this trimester.
A study on over 1,000 pregnant ladies showed the rate pf physical activity was lower in pregnancy (20.1%) and that less than half received exercise advice in pregnancy (47.4%). Yes, when you are pregnant it is absolutely important to look after the baby, but part of that is looking after your own body so it is strong, fit and able to cope with not just the demands of pregnancy but of being a mum. Carrying, lifting, feeding, rocking and crawling after a small person is pretty tough on the body.
So can you continue your normal exercise routine? Yes to an extent. You will need to seek advice and modify some things. I was teaching spin until 7 months pregnant with my first baby and I taught Step Aerobics until 2 days before baby 1 and 1 week before baby 2. Through my 3rd pregnancy daily Pilates and functional work kept me strong and sane. Maybe surprisingly (or not) doing more Pilates and functional work lead to the pregnancy with the least aches and complications and a simple homebirth. So I’m not saying that you need to be running or cross-fitting your way through pregnancy, but that many forms of exercise can be adapted for you to continue whilst pregnant.
I have ladies who have run through pregnancy, who have continued to lift weights and to do modified cross fit. For all these ladies they have naturally tapered their levels of impact and exertion down as needed. Running may become a slow job with some walking, weights can be lighter and the range of movement smaller, cross fit moves can have some of the impact taken out.
All exercise needs to have a strong core as a foundation, this is even more important in pregnancy and postally. So for me, Pilates is essential as part of an exercise routine, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing you do. Having said that, it could be! Our pregnancy classes include whole body functional movements such as lunges, squats, wall press ups and wall planks that ensure our mums are working those global muscles as well as the core. It isn’t all breathing!
The 4 keys:
1. Listen to your body. When you feel hot, tired or just not right then stop.
2. Seek the advice of a trained exercise professional who knows their stuff. Someone who knows about pregnancy and if they don’t knows where to get help.
3. Expect to make modifications.
4. Keep your core strong. This is your foundation, with your abdominals being stretched and your pelvic floor taking a heavy load you need to have more focus on this. A specific Pilates class will do this for you or check out our DVD.
I feel so totally blessed in my job. Pilates is so much more than just exercise. Yes there are always times I don’t fancy going to teach a class and moments I get that “rather be on the sofa” feeling but on the main I love what I do.
Here is why.
Movement heals and keeps me working.
I’ve taught my way through 3 pregnancies and put my body back together postnatally. The demands of young children and breastfeeding and not sleeping on my body are huge. I’ve been pregnant 3 times in 6 yrs and fed babies now for 4 out of the past 6 1/2 years. A woman’s health Physio told me that the functional movement I do in pilates is what has saved me. It has fixed me and because I move so much it keeps me strong. Without it I know I would have lower back pain, aching shoulders, neck and hips. In short I would be needing massage and Physio!
Pilates is mindful movement.
Mindfulness is so in at the moment. A chance to switch off the thoughts of life outside the studio, of family, of my other quite stressful work and instead focus on breathing and concentrating on controlling body movements. Switching on certain muscles and relaxing others. I always leave with a calmer mind. A calmer mind leads to clearer thoughts.
Community and friendships.
I meet such amazing people. Pilates has built up a fabulous community around us. Having small children can be lonely. Even though you can be out with them in a crowd you don’t always get the chance to talk to adults. Pilates gives me that adult company that I don’t always get in the rest of my day (husband excluded!). I pick up tips, local knowledge and find out what is going on in the world from the chatter in my classes! Friendships have been made in classes but also in 1-1 sessions and our postnatal cuppa sessions. I have made some wonderful connections through this and am super lucky to have added to my mummy friendship circle and also to my supportive friendships through what I do for enjoyment and work.
Pilates practise overspills into my everyday life.
My posture is something I am constantly working on. I totally loved studying but wasn’t aware of my posture in University days and suffered with a very tight upper back, shoulders and neck away. I know now that how I sit, stand and move creates patterns in my body, creates muscle tensions and so working on my shoulder and neck position helps me trendously. It is all about making the subconscious become more conscious.
Having a job that you enjoy is important. Having a job that provides so much more just makes me very lucky. I hope you get more from your pilates practise than just going through the motions.
The hip flexors are a complex group of muscles that play a huge role in posture, pilates and day to day life. They are also a muscle that I often see people struggling with when undertaking curl up, roll ups, sitting up and any exercises with the legs in the air!
What are they are where are they?
The hip flexors are the:
Tensor Fascia Latae
So a whole host of muscles. They attach to the vertebrae of the lower back, the inside of the femur in the top of the thigh, the hip bone and some run down the inner thigh.
These muscles interact with each other, so if one is tight or weak it can affect the others. The same goes if one is too strong or overstretched. Ideally we want these muscles to be at the correct strength, length and position.
What happens if these muscles are not working optimally?
The peso and iliacus are commonly know together as the iliopsoas. These muscles stabilise the spine and if out of balance they can affect your posture. A tight iliopsoas causes an anterior tilt of the pelvis (bum sticks out behind you and a curved lower back). This can result in lower back pain and pelvis issues.
A weak or long iliopsoas can mean the pelvis is pushed too far forward (posterior tilt). The person may feel the hamstrings are tights and pull and the lower back weak.
Try this out at home. Lie down on the floor with legs outstretched. Hug a knee into your chest. Now you are in a posterior pelvic tilt. If the iliopsoas is of optimal length the leg stays on the mat and knee stays down on the mat. If the foot flops out to the side or the knee lifts up it is tight.
Signs in class:
The hip flexors can try to take over and do the work of the core in certain exercises.
For example if your legs lift up off the mat in a roll up or your legs lower and ache in a teaser.
To fix this it is a case of going back to basics. Strengthen the core more and mobilise the lower abdominals by using a half roll up. Use a band for a teaser and focus on working through the spine going back down to the mat. To strengthen the hip flexors practise those knee folds and any exercise with the legs in the air. To rest the hip flexors practise being in neutral letting go of any tension and just being there for 5 minutes or try out some of the hip flexor stretches – there are so many of these so find one you like and be consistent with it.
I’m going to be focusing on this in class for the next few weeks. Join me on the mat!
May bank holiday weekend is festival weekend. Well in Southampton anyway. Whilst Common People had all the big names over on the Common, our local park, Riverside Park, had it’s own first festival called Riverfest. This was a wonderful event that brought together so many from our local community and worked to highlight our local businesses, science, arts and celebrate our river and park.
With music from many bands (my fav being the Southampton Ukelele Jam), puppet shows, stalls, cafe’s, spoken word, fruit and vegetables, scientific experiments, boating, whisking (swapping of items you no longer need), yoga and of course, pilates.
This was the first time I’d taught Pilates outside. I’d often thought about it, Pilates in the Park sounds fabulous, but a studio with a comfortable floor, mirrors and easy access to equipment is always easier! We bundled some mats up into our pram and set off to the park with the whole family to give it a whirl. Setting out mats on the grass instantly attracted lots of children, so I actually ended up teaching quite a few small people. It was so nice to see them get involved and enjoy it, showing their parents what to do. I think we need a children’s class added to our studio timetable now!
The event had a real community spirit to it. It was lovely to see so many people (about 4,000 attended) come along, lots we knew, lots who knew who we were. It showed the local talent and amazing businesses we have.
So would I teach Pilates outside again? Totally YES. It obviously presents its challenges, but it was such a beautiful setting and so nice to be in the fresh air doing our thing.
Saggy Tummy skin?
Abdominal separation that hasn’t healed?
Here are 3 reasons you may not be seeing results.
I can’t highlight this enough. Try this out. Place one hand on your tummy muscles. Stand up with poor posture, rounded shoulders, head jutting forward. Now what does it do to your tummy? Those muscles feel taut and strong, or saggy and loose? What changes when you lengthen up through the spine, bring the shoulder blades round and down in your back and straighten your neck? You should feel your tummy muscles are tighter and in a better position to heal up when you have good posture.
If you are not giving your body good nutrition then you aren’t giving it the best chance to heal. Protein, zinc, iron and vitamin C are all important in wound healing and muscle repair. I know as a mum you need quick meals and often have to eat on the hoof, but you can eat still eat healthily. It is all in the preparation and mind set. Step away from the cake and focus on nutritious snacks that give you energy and fill you. Nuts, seeds, homemade granola bars, hummus, egg muffins are good examples. A bowl of fruit, Greek yoghurt (higher in protein) and a small handful of nuts is a fabulous snack. Make overnight oats with fruit and seeds the night before, ready for an instant breakfast. Bake a pile of sweet potato’s ready for lunches, then you can heat them in the microwave for lunch, top with tuna, pile some salad on the plate and it should keep you going. The diagram below is both relative for pelvic floor healing and diastasis recti.
3. Breathing and Stress.
How much attention do you give to your breathing? Probably very little. Yet thoracic breathing can be a deal breaker. When you breath into the ribcage and not the belly you activate the intercostal muscles instead of forcing the tummy muscles out. As you breath out your pelvic floor lifts and you core activates. So breathing alone can work to strengthen your pelvic floor and lower abdominals. Stress leads to shallow breathing higher in the chest. It also affects hormones, posture in a lot of people and eating. A triple whammy. So taking time to relax, bring your cortisol levels down and calm down can be a factor. A bath, reading for 10 mins, a pilates class, it all helps.
If you want a 1-1 session for posture assessment and exercises you can use at home then get in touch I can even work over Skype.
People normally start doing pilates with us because they have a bad back, want to gain more core strength or are pregnant. However Pilates has more benefits than just the physical ones. Joseph Pilates believed mental and physical health were closely connected and I think this is one area we need to explore further in this busy world where levels of depression are high.
I know for myself, teaching Pilates is the best job. After a stressful time in my other work as a dietitian or as a mummy, I get to chill out in a relaxed, beautiful space and teach a calm, mindful class. Focusing on your breathing, your body movements and your muscles is part of mindfulness so you can instantly see why Pilates has more benefits than just the physical ones. One statement I heard this week was “I always sleep best on a Thursday after Pilates”. I can see why that is. Pilates helps you slow down your pace of life, move your thoughts from work, home and stress to your body and draw plenty of oxygen into your muscles, using deep, thoracic breathing.
Mindfulness is a therapy that is being used for all kinds of mental health conditions now. A definition of it is: “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” It uses compassion and breathing to help you to let go of negative thoughts, stress and even pain. The similarities to Pilates are easy to spot. Even if you went to a Pilates class and did nothing except lie on the mat and breath you would feel some benefits for your mood and stress relief.
So there seems to be an obvious link between Pilates and mental health. One thing I always want to know is what is the evidence? Has there been any actual research done? There is actually quite a lot that shows a link between Pilates improving your mood, lowering stress and helping with cognitive function.
Look out for my next blog post that looks at the research.