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.