How to help your nervous system

Modern life is stressful. Fact. One of the questions on our screening forms is “If your life stressful?” I’m always amazed if anyone ticks no. I actually need to change that question as it does not really matter how much stress is in your life, the important thing is how you are dealing with your stress?

When we are stressed our sympathetic nervous system is working full on. This is the system that responds to a threat or when something big and scary comes along and the body needs to go into “red alert”. For example a car is hurtling towards you and you need to move, you have a huge deadline to meet or the children are shouting and you are trying to get out the door fast! It is often call the “Fight or Flight” response.

The sympathetic nerves arise from the lower and mid-upper back spinal cord. When it is switched on there can be tension all over the body. Some of the main responses that occur in the body are:

  • increase in heart rate
  • dilation the pupils in the eyes
  • need to breath faster and more shallow breaths as the bronchioles dilate
  • contraction of muscles – pumped and ready for action
  • release of adrenaline from the adrenal gland causes you to feel on edge but ready to react
  • conversion of glycogen to glucose to provide energy for the muscles
  • decrease in saliva production: the stomach does not move for digestion, nor does it release digestive secretions.
  • decrease in urinary output, no need to wee as often!

Other processes that are not critical to survival may shut down in the body, so the whole body functions differently. Now whilst this is absolutely needed in a moment of danger it is not a way we want the body to be working long term. If you are living under stress long term then it could affect your breathing, your digestive system and your muscle.

Whilst modern life is indeed stressful and you may not be able to change that… what you can do is to build in techniques to help your mind and body let go of the stress. I think this is vital to do and it’s certainly something I’m working on myself. I’m 100% lucky as I get to practise what I preach daily. Pilates is very much a way I destress. The breathing, mindful movement, the calm space and the concentration needed really calms me and grounds me.

Other great ways to activate your parasympathetic nervous are mindfulness (you can check out apps like Calm, Breathworks and Headspace), meditations (check out free ones online or try a class), a bath, massage, deep breathing and just more resting and crafting. How do you get your chillout time in?

 

 

Hip Releases

Achey hips is something I’m often asked about. There are so many reasons why your hips can be hurting. If the pain is severe then you definitely want to go and seek medical advice. If it is a lower level muscular ache then check out my tips and video below.

The impact of sitting for long periods and standing out of neutral posture all adds up to extra pressure on the hips. Hip pain on the outside of your hip, upper thigh or bum is usually caused by problems with muscles, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues that surround your hip joint. Something is tight and out of balance. The body likes to be balanced and there are fascial lines that show us how it is all connected. A tightness in your hip could be related to how you sit and stand, but it could also be related to your shoulder. So it is worth making friends with your local sports massage therapist to get a good assessment and then you know what to work on. Having the area worked out in massage can then free it up for you to strengthen the surrounding areas and keep the tight part mobilised yourself.

So here are some yummy release moves that you can use to find those tight areas and start to work on them yourself. Or use these at the end of a busy day, before you get into an exercise session or between massage and pilates classes.

To book in for a sports massage do also get in touch.

Top Tips from our Teachers

Priya

Do some practice at home. Pilates is like learning a new language, the more you practice, the more you learn.

Now it is common sense that the more often you practice something the better you become at it. Therefore doing some Pilates practice between classes will help you massively. If you can practice lying in neutral and breathing, correcting your posture and a move that you enjoyed in class it will help. Check out our youtube channel for videos and sequences you can try.

Jo

Slow down and breathe, breathe, breathe. Pilates is a marathon and not a sprint.

Breathing is obviously something that we do all the time but we don’t always take the time to do properly. Focus on the breath going into your ribs, so they expand out to the side. The breath also expands your tummy and your back too.

Mandie

I always talk about rib cage placement. In all posts avoid the ribs flaring out, instead bury them down towards your hipbones so the abdominals engage.

If your ribs flare up when you lift your arms or legs, concentrate on there being a heaviness on your chest and your core engaging more. It may also be you need to reduce the range of movement in your shoulders and legs.

Faye

Check in with yourself from time to time through your day. How are you standing or sitting? Are you shallow breathing? When you can only attend one class a week, it’s these daily tweaks that really help to make a difference”

A focus on your posture is so key. What you do in class is a tiny fragment of your week, so finding the posture cues you need to work on is totally crucial. Whether it is adjusting your head position or bringing your pelvis into neutral more often. It all makes a difference.

Pilates and Self-Care

Self care is the new buzz word. Personally I love it. It is something I know I need to do more of. I work my body hard in the week running from clients to classes to clinics. I don’t always build in enough time to relax, never mind time to look after my body in the way it needs, but I’m working on it. One of my new years aims was to have a spa day this year. My older girl actually laughed when I said that… as in “that won’t happen mummy”, but thanks to a lovely friend turning 30, I’m booked on a spa day with some girls – YES. Jokes aside, I am totally lucky that I teach Pilates and can incorporate some self-care into the sessions I teach. Pilates has been shown to help with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety – why? It centres and focuses the mind in a similar way to mindfulness. I swear Pilates keeps my body working and my mind sane. Here are some tips on how you can make self-care part of your Pilates lifestyle.

Massage:

Seen by some as a luxury (including myself for many years) I’m not meaning that spa aromatherapy style massage (though bring that on too). Instead it’s the the dig deep and release the tight areas kind of massage that helps fix your body. We all get certain, recurrent tight spots in the body. Often these are due to posture or over-using the body in certain ways. Either way a decent sport massage can make a big difference. When the tight muscles are released you can move your body in a new pattern. I know I have certain areas that would benefit from a course of massage treatments (hint hint) – you only get one body.

Breathing:

I’ve totally fallen in love with breathing this year. A lot of time devoted to studying this deeply has impacted my practice as a teacher and my own day to day practice. I find myself pausing at points in the day to breath and reconnect. Just 10 minutes of deep breathing can help calm your mind, work your core and ground you. My personal preference is to teach people to lie down in neutral posture and breath as it helps you relax into it with good posture, however this isn’t always possible in the middle of the day! So sitting on a chair with a high back, breathing into your back, sides and tummy with a relaxation on the inhale and engagement of the core on the exhale.

Move:

We all know too much sitting is not good for us. So building movement into your day is key. This doesn’t have to be a massive workout. Move your body in the way that feels good. I don’t think there need to be any rules, the rules confine people. Instead just know that moving is good for your body, your mind, your soul. Stretching after a busy day, changing postures at work, a 15 minute walk – it all helps.

 

Stretching:

There are times my body is just too darn tired to do a teaser and thats ok. On those occasions it is good to listen. It all depends on how in tune you are with your body. Is it your head telling you not to bother moving today and to sit on the sofa or is it your body letting yoou know it is tired, it needs a rest? We all need a rest day in our week, even God took time to rest in creating the world. I have weeks as a teacher when people turn up to class and they all look tired out. Those weeks we change the pace and although there will still be plenty of core work and a sneaky teaser, there will also be plenty of stretching and release work built in too.

Sleep:

Not something I’ve managed to do much of over the past few years, for which I blame my children 😉 There is so much research now showing us how important sleep is. To be fair it’s pretty obvious isn’t it. When we sleep it’s the time our bodies renew, replenish and restore themselves. So it’s a time of new growth but also a time part of us gets to unplug and switch off. If you are not asleep at night then your body can’t do all its jobs, you are just making it extra hard work! So commit to getting to bed and resting.

Nutrition:

I cannot emphasis enough how key getting good nutrition into your body and nourishing it is. I’m totally biased, confession I’m a dietitian too… which means I have seen first hand how nutrition plays a vital role in healing and in health. Simple things like ensuring you eat plenty of fruit and veggies, stay hydrated and have your cupboard/fridge stocked with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, yoghurt, oats, nut butter to keep you out of biscuit tin on some occasions. I live by the 80/20 rule which states you eat healthily 80% of the time and you relax your approach 20% of the time. There is always room for cake!

 

However self-care works for you, try to build it into your week, your day, your life.

Prepare to Plank

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.

 

I’d love to hear how you find these. For more videos and tips do follow me on Instagram and Youtube.

 

 

 

30 Sessions to a New Body?

There is a well known and loved quote from Joseph Pilates himself that in 30 sessions you will have a new body. I sometimes think that this quote gets taken out of context and leads to people expecting a beach bikini ready body from 30 pilates sessions. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but doing Pilates once a week for 7 months is not going to do that.

So was Mr Pilates wrong? No, I don’t think so, but I think he had a different emphasis on this. I think he was meaning 1-2-1 sessions rather than group classes, he used a lot of equipment including the reformer and cadillac. I think he would have been expecting homework to be done between sessions and I think his style of teaching would have demanded you continually work on your posture and core daily.  Let’s face it, 7 months working in this way and you should be seeing great results.

This is not to say doing a weekly Pilates class isn’t beneficial. More of the point to highlight is that a weekly class is only 1% of your week and what you do the remaining 99% is key. So making Pilates a regular part of your day is the key. This doesn’t have to be a full hours workout, but more taking 10 minutes to focus on a few target exercises and keeping your posture high up the list of priorities in your day.

If you can manage a regular 1-2-1 session then this will also step things up a gear for you. I always notice that I work harder and see greater benefits for my own Pilates practise and body when I have regular 1-2-1’s. These don’t have to be weekly, I have clients who book in monthly for a reformer session to get that extra input and encouragement. Taking your Pilates from the mat to the equipment can show you where you need to focus your efforts. I’ve recently found that although I can do a roll up on the mat with ease, when I do it on the box on top of the reformer I struggle to get segmental work through one part of my spine. Cue a lightbulb moment and lots of focused stretching, segmental moves and practise.

So this post is all about encouraging you to take your Pilates out of the studio. Find some moves that you know you need to work on. The moves that you struggle with or the ones that you know help your body. Get your focus onto your posture and your everyday movements. Then you will really start to see the changes.

Pilates is more than just Exercise.

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. 

Top Pilates Buys

Pilates is one of those exercises that can be done on a complete shoe string. You don’t need any fancy equipment or snazzy clothing. You don’t NEED it, but sometimes it helps.

Here are the top 5 Pilates bits and bobs that I wouldn’t be without.

Thick Mat.

Do you need a mat at home? Hmmmm, I would say yes you can do.  I sometimes try moves out when prepping for a class and don’t have a mat to hand and it is an altogether different experience. A mat offers a non slip surface and extra cushioning, it offers safety and gives you a set space to exercise on. That extra cushioned mat really makes all the difference for some of the rolling moves and the prone positions. So it is worth investing in a mat you love and a mat that brings you comfort. Personally I would steer away from anything less than an 8mm thick mat. Lots of the yoga mats are quite thin, which from my understanding is to keep you connected to the groud. Pilates is not yoga, you need that extra padding!

We have the Airex Coronella mats in the studio which are not cheap, but you can get a decent one on Amazon for a good price if you search for a thick pilates mat.

Toesox.

Now people who know me will know I’m always in my toesox for class. Why? They provide a great balance of grip for exercises like planks, yet let your feet slide along the mat for other moves. The toe separation thing looks weird and initially feels weird, but spreading those toes can help with your alignment and enables you to get better feedback through your foot. Normal socks constrict the toes so they cannot move normally. Foot issues can be linked to back pain and affect the rest of the body so it’s a great foundation to focus on. If you get weirded out by the toes then go for a lightly grippy soled sock. Either way socks are best for a lot of Pilates moves, it’s not just us being fussy in the studio with our sock rule 😉

If you are local to us then we stock these in our studio, or you can buy online from Pilates Mad and use the code PRIYATOESOX for 10% off.

Spikey ball.

These babies are amazing. Pop one in your bag and you can give yourself a massage wherever you are! Great on the feet, shoulders, neck and bum but can be used all over.

Good quality leggings.

Now I’m all for a bargain in life. But I’ve learnt now, pilates leggings need to be good leggings and it’s worth spending a bit more on them and checking them regularly. I see lots of leggings that are see through or have holes! One of my teaching friends uses the hashtag #leggingsarenottrousers which I agree with to an extent. If you have decent leggings then they can be passable on the school run too. Plus if you have fancy leggings life is just that bit better – or is that just me?!

I am an ambassador for Elle Sport and you can get 20% off using code 20PTAW16 (including sale items). I also particularly like the range over at  Tikiboo

Resistance Band.

So versatile and great for stretching as well as adding resistance to those pilates moves. This is one great piece of kit as a band folds up so small so you can take it away with you on trips. Really useful for stretching your hamstrings after travelling or a day of sitting. Also fabulous for toning the arms and for adding variety to a range of pilates exercises. You can pick these up online pretty easily or come to the studio and we have a stock of them.

Current Classes

I’d love to know what pieces of Pilates kit you love…

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Are my hip flexors tight or weak?

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!

By Beth ohara – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=545389

What are they are where are they?

The hip flexors are the:

Psoas

Iliacus

Sartorius

Tensor Fascia Latae

Rectus Femoris

Pectineus 

Adductor Brevis

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. 

Testing:

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!

The research into Pilates and Mental Health.

There seems to be an obvious link between Pilates helping people wind down, relax, sleep better and reduce their stress levels. Just the act of slowing down your breathing, movements and bringing more awareness into your body is such a helpful principle. I love checking out the actual science on these things, so I’ve had a little search around and found a few articles. Here is a summary.

Pilates helps your brain function:

30 volunteers had their cognitive function tested after a yoga class, a treadmill workout and a baseline assessment. After the yoga session their cognitive function was significantly improved. This sounds like it would also translate over to Pilates. So Pilates could help keep your brain working, it definitely makes you think hard about what you are doing and teaches you a new skill.

Pilates with Priya: Pilates and mental health 2

Pilates and Mood:

There is a specific Pilates study on just over 300 subjects comparing Pilates and a “special recreation” exercise class which was a class suited to the subjects exercise ability and needs. This showed that Pilates led to a better ability to regulate mood, a more relaxed state and a better sense of wellbeing.

Taking this to look specifically depression a group of 146 women followed a 16 week Pilates programme. Depression scores were measured before and after, showing that Pilates lowered depression.

So Pilates is not just great for core strength, for all over body conditioning and for helping rehabilitate after injury. It is also helpful for keeping you mentally alert and is a great way to help regulate your mood.

Pilates with Priya: Pilates and mental health 1