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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What an honour to be asked to teach at the first Southampton Dance Circle Day on May 30th 2017. This was an event run by local dance teachers, all working together to put on a great event for any children in their dance schools and in the local area. I love the collaborative nature of this, the non-competitiveness and the sheer passion the teachers all have.
Pilates is well known to have amazing benefits for dancers. Joseph Pilates himself worked dancers and in fact for a while Pilates was taken over by the dance world. So without a doubt Pilates can help children in dance too. I was excited and slightly nervous to see how a Pilates class would go down in a day of other exciting dance classes. I was part of an amazing line up including: Ballet/Contemporary with Louis McMiller (Royal Ballet Grad), Contemporary with Amy J Ireland, Musical Theatre with Sarah Evans (recommended by West End Star Ricky Rojas), Tap with Viki (trained with Tap Attack), Hip Hop with Cesa Hijo de Lalan.
The children there were a pleasure to be with. The older ones really worked hard and I could see them taking what I was saying on board. I was able to push them quite hard and they even posed nicely for the local paper!
The middle group of children had the definite mid afternoon slump session and so Pilates was great for them as they got a little lie down and some super stretching was done.
The tiny ones were super cute to teach, I could have cuddled them all! At the end of a very busy and active day a few were almost asleep but they gave such concentration to the class, I was super impressed.
Thankyou so much for asking me to come along and teach, I hope the children enjoyed it. Some of the feedback that I have heard so far is it made some of them feel all calm and relaxed, which is a good thing in my book! Maybe we should add in some mindfulness next time too.
Next Dance Circle Day is October half term. I know I will be booking my girl on it.
If you are interested in a Children’s Pilates class then do get in touch, we are launching one soon!
The hip flexors include the deep muscle called the Psoas. This runs from the middle of your spine to inside the top of your thigh bone. It helps pull the spine up towards your legs. The other hip flexors are the ones you can feel in the front at then top of your hip. If you stand on one leg and hug the other knee into your chest you should feel them. So the hip flexors need to be functioning properly. Not too short and tight, not too weak. If you spend time sitting a lot in your daily life then these muscles may well be tight and weak!
Shortness in these can make it hard to move through your lower back. If you struggle to sit on the floor upright this could be the case. There are a lovely range of hip flexor stretches that will open your hips and make you feel less “stuck”.
For those people who find their legs lift off the mat as they come up, well that is probably down to your hamstrings, hip flexors and back. Your hamstrings help you keep your thighs on the floor and help lever the body up. If you can’t keep your knees straight in a roll up then it’s due to tight hamstrings.
TIGHT LEGS AND BACK:
The band is your friend. Get stretching your hamstrings daily. Open up your lower back in the rest position, in hip rolls and in hip flexor stretches. Find the part where you are tight. Now work on your roll down – going from seated down to the mat using a band around your legs going vertebrae by vertebrae keeping your heels heavy and stretching out through your legs and feet. Stretching the upper and mid part of your back is also useful and the Spine Stretch is often put at the end of a roll up for this reason.
And finally here is a get out clause for some of you…. I don’t tend to use this one in classes as I like people to try without having a reason why they can’t do something. However your body proportions do play a role, making it harder to master but certainly not impossible.
If you have a long torso then a roll up will be harder than a short torso person. You have more weight to lift up compared to the weight staying on the mat. Teasers however will be easier for you!
I also firmly think that for some people CONFIDENCE is the key. If you believe you can do something and are determined then you will get there!
Roll ups can be one of those nemesis exercises that people struggle with and they can cause so much frustration. I’ve got a number of people in various classes who struggle with these so it’s made me get my thinking cap on. Why are they such a struggle? How can you get better at them? How do people suddenly manage to be able to do them?
What is a roll up?
A roll up can start from seated or lying down. I’m going to start from the mat. So we start with a curl up, chin towards the chest, working through the upper spine.
To do this you use primarily the rectus abdominus muscles (six pack muscles) and also the obliques (waist muscles). So this part of the exercise means you need to first off work on those curl ups.
The next stage is the most challenging part and brings more muscles into play. Bringing the ribs and torso off the mat. The aim is to do this segmentally, working vertebrae by vertebrae through the spine, keeping the shoulders down and not using momentum. So not only do you have too deepen and increase your curl up but you need to bend at the hips as you come up towards seated. This uses the hip flexors to pull your body up off the ground. Many people get stuck at this stage.
STUCK ON THE MAT: work on your breathing. If you get stuck at the ribcage, exhaling properly and using the diaphragm as you breath can help. It will open the ribs and help lengthen the spine. Also use spine stretches and the shoulder bridge to help mobilise your spine. Go back to the 1/2 roll back and focus on really deepening your C curve, this will stretch the tightness in your lower back and strengthen your abdominals. Think of scooping and bring your belly button towards your spine to really get the curve. When you try the full roll up, keep your ribcage heavy and down into the mat as you roll up, then once your ribs are up keep the lower back heavy on the mat and keep peeling the spine up.
For the roll up to work well you need your back to be flexible. It doesn’t matter how strong your abdominals are, if your back is stiff you won’t roll up segmentally. If you struggle with the rollover and rolling like a ball then this is likely you.
STIFF BACK: work on shoulder bridges. Get that spine moving piece by piece letting gravity help you. Focus on your breath as you do it. Breath out as you come down to the mat.
Use the spine stretch to stretch the upper-mid part of your back. Also work your C-curve. Focus on the half roll up and also rolling like a ball without rolling! So getting into that position really rounding the lower back and sinking into the tilted pelvis.
To learn more look out for part 2 of this post focusing on hip flexors.
But to be completely honest, I have needed it for years.
Before, I used to work, in a semi-active job and was on my feet regularly, and walking around campus.
Since 2010 I have predominantly been working from home, and helping bring up my two amazing children.
Lots of sitting, crawling, playing on the floor (and that’s just the children…)
About 3 months ago, I decided to stop procrastinating…
It’s tough. There you go. I admitted it…
I have chosen a class with Jo on a Wednesday evening.
I know where my core is, and in the past it has been in tip top shape, but over the years, I have become lazy, and taken short-cuts which has had negative effects on posture, core, and muscles.
I have found out (though I was not surprised) that I have tight hamstring muscles. Embarrassingly tight. My straight leg, is more 125 degrees than 180 degrees…
Though on the bright side of life, my best exercise (as quoted by Jo) is the Mermaid (or a theme of it)…
Yes, I said it, I am good at being a MERMAID!!!
My favourite exercise is…. I have not idea… I just do as I am told!
The fitness world is evolving at a fast pace. There constantly seems to be another new fitness concept out or a new fusion franchise. Keeping up with all the new concepts is impossible. Some of them seem inspired and some incredulous!
I’ve often joked in classes that to make my millions I should start up my own fusion of some variation on Pilates:
Tropical Pilates – because I actually like the humidity and our studio often gets pretty warm.
Winolates – Pilates with a glass of wine, it could be a winner.
Barefoot Step – I’ve started teaching barefoot and love it (though I wouldn’t advise you do this until you are used to being barefoot and have built up to it).
Do you know the reasons I wouldn’t create my own fusion franchise right now?
1. I don’t have the time, if our studio is this busy teaching pure Pilates then something is working.
2. I believe in the pure form of Pilates too much. Joesph Pilates knew his stuff.
3. I’ve been around a bit in the fitness world. I’ve see fads come and go and throughout I’ve stuck to my guns as a freestyle instructor in aerobics, step and Pilates. Being free and able to adapt the class to suit their needs is key.
Yes I love adding in variations and using equipment to keep things fresh. Plus many fusion classes can be great, don’t get me wrong… But mixing 2 concepts together to create something new can also dilute things down. Something this can be great, not so for Pilates. I don’t want to dilute the effects of Pilates.
I also don’t want to be tied into teaching a certain way, using specific music, following a preset class or using a brands style. I love to learn from as many places as I can and am continually updating my repetoire and watching others teach so that I can bring new approaches, new descriptions, new variations and new thought processes to my classes. It’s not about 1 concept for me, it’s about translating Pilates to the people I teach in a way that helps them.
Teach the body you have in front of you in the best way you know how.
I often describe Pilates to people as a “back to front type of exercise”. Usually in exercise working as hard as you can means as fast and hard as you can, as many times as you can. The opposite is almost true in Pilates. This is one of the reasons I love it.
Coming from a fitness instructor background I was used to teaching aerobics, spin and step classes. If you weren’t creating a sweat pool, you weren’t getting the most benefits. You know those classes, and DVDs where they say things like “your legs should be crying right now” and “push, push, go faster” or “you should be feeling like you want to collapse right now”, well that wasn’t quite my teaching style but I loved all of that. In fact I still do.
Pilates has taught me so much about my body and how it functions, how I can get the best out of all forms of exercise, how to breath correctly, the mental clarity of exercise and how to slow things down to get maximal gains. All of this I carry over into any other exercise I do. In short, Pilates has completely changed my view on exercise and improved my technique all round.
Let’s take a crunch. Often you see people aiming to do 50 crunches in one go. Pilates has taught me that if you do a sit up/curl up/crunch correctly you only need to do 8-12 repetitions to get the benefits. It is the technique and speed that changes things.
With simple arm movements if you focus on your posture and using your body in a functional way then you will actually strengthen the right muscles AND work the core.
A side lying leg lift is someone often put into a LBT style class. Performed whilst keeping your core engaged and your waist lengthened it turns into a completely different exercise.
How to change your exercise habits for the better:
1. Be mindful. Slow down and connect with what you are doing. What muscles are you meant to be working? Is your core switched on? You very much still need your brain in gear when you exercise.
2. Posture check. You can injure yourself or at best not get the most out of a movement by ignoring your posture. You can do a great squat but have your back arched, so pull your lower back. Think about your starting, ending, and your posture during the movement. Video yourself, watch in a mirror or get a PT/fitness instructor to check.
3. Slow it down. Now I don’t necessarily mean running here! However slowing down large compound movements can make you work harder. Try a fast and a slow press up for example.
4. Breath. The breathing really is key. By breathing out on the hardest part of the exercise you recruit those core muscles that little bit more.
5. Use your core in all your cardio and lifting movements too. Core work is not something you leave behind at the end of a Pilates class, but should be something that you take into other movements. Hopefully it will also become a natural reflex so that when you lift something you engage your core.
A sensitive topic. Mummy tummies and post baby bellies are something that I deal with on a regular basis. I know how much pressure mums can feel to lose the baby weight and get back into their skinny jeans. I felt it myself after my second baby especially. Social media and the media shows us how some celebs look like they’ve never had a baby just a few weeks after giving birth. There are posts of mums doing all kinds of crazy in order to lose weight and tone up. Whereas actually if your body has just had a baby doesn’t it need to rest and isn’t it perfectly natural and normal for your body to not ping back to normal after 9 months of stretching and carrying an extra person around inside it?
I’ve had 2 babies. I’m a Pilates teacher and a dietitian. So I eat well, I exercise and I didn’t put on too much weight with either pregnancy. Yet I still took 6 months to lose the baby weight. Here I am 4 weeks after baby with a definite bump still there.
Reasons to embrace the mummy tummy:
1. If you are breastfeeding then your body needs to have some reserves to make milk. Breastfeeding can help you lose weight but your body may not let you lose it all too soon. It’s a pretty sensible system really isn’t it. There is some built in protection for baby in those early months.
2. It’s taken 9 months or so to create a baby, you’ve done a stunning job of carrying baby around and feeding baby. All of that takes a toll on your body, it uses your nutritional stores. Now your body needs to recover. 9 months on, 9 months off is the commonly said phrase and I agree with it. It may feel like a long time but it really isn’t in the grand scheme of life.
3. Obviously you don’t want your weight to stay higher than normal for ever, but initially it’s a rite of passage and a sign of mummyhood. Try to savour those early days. Spending time with your baby and looking after yourself is the most important thing.
4. Getting back into high intensity exercise too soon can be damaging. Your pelvic floor needs to be strong enough and any abdominal separation fixed before you start running, jumping or high impact workouts. Stick to swimming, postnatal classes or specialist pilates.
Look out for my next post for top tips on how to lose that mummy tummy.
Anyone else got that January feeling? The kind of post-Christmas hangover, feeling slightly jaded, cold, fed up and a bit blue? I certainly do. Probably not helped by my delightful children not letting me have much sleep since Christmas Day – seriously just 4 hours sleep in a row would be amazing right now.
I thought I would share my secret tips on how to get through these blue weeks and change them to a more positive purple as people often ask me how I manage all I do. Purple is apparently all about creativity, seeing things in a positive manner, slighly unconventional and inspiring. Sounds good to me!
1. Top of my list. Aim to see the positive in all that happens. Even when it’s a bit rubbish: your child poos in the bath (as happened tonight) there is a positive – it made me clean the bath toys thoroughly!
2. Eat well. I know, everyone says it is important. Have you tested it out? Eating fresh food, plenty of fruit and veg, wholegrains and cutting down the sugar and processed rubbish really does make you feel so much better.
3. Get outside. Even though it is cold. I work from home and I really suffer with the cold. My fingers and toes go white. However getting fresh air and exercise outside boost my mood, my brain power and my energy levels.
4. Be more active. Activity release endorphins that make you feel good. So come to an extra drop in Pilates class, get our DVD or just run around the house!
5. Write a list of the things that make you feel happy and are relaxing Simple things that you can build into your life. Like having a bath, singing to music, laughing on the phone with friends. Then do them. For me, dancing in the kitchen with the kids, doing my own Pilates class and being creative in my kitchen helps keep me sane. Well as sane as I can be!
What are your top tips for surviving those blue months?