A week in Ibiza with YogaFit Retreats

Dance parties, glitter, staying up till sunrise and mind-altering experiences….everything I associate with Ibiza but didn’t expect from a fitness holiday – yet that’s what I got (except we were up at sunrise rather than still up at sunrise!)

yoga in ibiza by the sea
Sunrise Yoga

Most mornings were spent flowing through sunrise yoga overlooking the sea and accompanied by a live DJ and drummer.   Moving to music with the sun on your face and sea breeze on your skin – what a total treat after the past couple of years.   

The extensive timetable ranged from well-being talks to fitness classes and island activities, you were spoilt for choice with over 5 sessions an hour at times. The standout ones for me were those where I was outside of my comfort zone – trying new things without judgement or expectations. 

A Soma Breath session had us breathing for over an hour to the beat of pulsating music – many of us had mind altering experiences as a result.  By the end of the session we were neither breathing in nor out, just resting, suspended in a deeply relaxed state where even breathing felt too much effort and ultimately unnecessary.  Many of us saw shapes, colours and even visions and lost ourselves in time and space – totally fascinating.  You can find out more here

I experienced my first QiGong class on the beach.  We balanced our energy with this ancient Chinese moving meditation.  I’ve picked up some beautiful breathing exercises you can see on my Instagram @zenergyactive.  

AcroYoga on the beach

An AcroYoga workshop involved ‘flying’ while a friend ‘based’ me.  It was hilarious and a bit scary with a huge sense of achievement when you managed a position you didn’t think possible.   

The dance sessions ranged from complex routines to just letting go and throwing yourself around the dance floor. The teachers encouraged us to get out of our heads and remove judgement so we could truly release and go bigger. We started off tentatively but by the end of class were shouting, jumping and throwing shapes!

Yoga, Pilates and Barre were in my comfort zone but none the less brilliant opportunities to see expert teachers from around the world demonstrating their craft.  Including my own Pilates trainer @RachelHolmes and Barre Fitness trainer @jaynenicholls.  So grateful to them for sharing their knowledge – loads of great inspiration I’ll be sharing with my students this term. 

The mind nourishing talks provided a chance to hear about subjects not on my radar. I particularly enjoyed the introduction to Ayuverdic medicine.  Ayurveda is an ancient science about understanding your energy and bringing you into harmony and balance. Your Ayurverdic profile is called a ‘Dosha’.  If you’re interested you can take the dosha quiz here

A SomaSexology workshop by Nicki Whetherell @celestialsoulcoach brought to life the work of Dr Betty Martin’s and the ‘Wheel of consent’ We explored the concepts of giving, taking and boundary setting from the perspective of sex but also life in general as well. Totally fascinating and genuinely life changing.

Kayaking and coastal walks meant we got a chance to see the island.  Ibiza is beautiful, much greener than I’d expected.  There’s a magical vibe maybe because the island is mostly made of quartz crystal, or because the air quality is some of the best in the world and the island gets more sun than the other Balearic islands, whatever it is, it’s special.  

So thank you to the Ibiza YogaFit Retreat team for an excellent week and to the many fabulous people I met there.  After the past couple of years it was a total tonic to take a break from the routine, to reconnect to myself and others, to play, move and think for the sheer joy of it.  

#ibiza #yogafit #yogafitretreats #pilates #dance #fitnessweek

Myofascial release for flexibility

Woman with spiky massage balls doing neck release

Does getting your socks on feel like an Olympic sport?  Does the journey to touching your toes elicit oohs and aghs?  Stretching is a great way to improve flexibility but there’s another important factor to consider – your fascia.  

Fascia is a type of connective tissue that wraps around every element of our body – like a body sock. Helping the body’s structures to operate optimally and as a form of protection.  The myofascial that wraps around our muscles helps the muscles to slide and glide for optimal transfer of force and for protection against damage.

Myofascia is mostly collagen – very strong and very elastic.  When it becomes dehydrated (through over use, under use, trauma, inflammation or age and lifestyle factors) it loses its elasticity which impacts muscle strength, endurance and even motor skills.  Dehydrated myofascia forms pressure points which can be felt as tight knots.  Exercise and movement rehydrates the fascia as does creating pressure point release through rolling on foam rollers or spiky balls. 

Studies have shown (full paper here) that rehydrating the fascia “influences muscle and myofascial structures by increasing the compliance and extensibility of the fascia (Mohr et al., 2014) and reduces passive muscle stiffness (Morales-Artacho et al., 2017). It may also reduce muscle pain by decreasing delayed onset muscle soreness after intense exercise (MacDonald et al., 2013Pearcey et al., 2015)”. They found “a significant increase in flexibility was observed following self-myofasical release compared to control”. 

My students are always impressed when we do the same set of flexibility test stretches at the start of a myofascial release session compared with the end – the results speak for themselves.  So if you’re yet to be convinced – get in touch and I’ll happily show you how to improve your flexibility in just one hour minus any actual stretches!   You’ll be left feeling more fluid in your movements, less tense and more flexible.  

#myofascialrelease #flexibility #spikyballs #foamroller #myofascia #pilates #pilatesforflexibility #zenergyactive

New year, same me – nourish not punish

Many of us want to put in place good well-being and exercise habits for the new year but how do we over-ride our natural desire to snuggle under the duvet and reach for some snacks. This is what radio presenter Bob Johnson and I were discussing on Wycombe Sound this morning. Have a listen here:

Talking with Bob Johnson of Wycombe Sound Radio on the topic of New Year and Well-Being

My top tips:

Avoid the pitfalls of setting unrealistic short-term goals like losing 2 stone in a month. Consider goals beyond weight such as how you want to feel in your mind and body. Perhaps you want to relieve physical tension from sitting at a desk, or mental tension from the stress of work/life. Do you want to be able to touch your toes or look and feel stronger? These will give you clues as to what type of exercise might suit you best.

Shop around and find a fitness partner – you’re investing time and money so find the right exercise and instructor for you. Avoid the latest exercise trend and find a format, instructor and environment that makes you want to go to class and that’s convenient to your routine. Like a meaningful relationship – can you see yourself doing this long-term? Most instructors will provide the first class free – so ask if you can attend a session to see if it’s for you.

Pace yourself – there’s no such thing as immediate results but you can get injured immediately. Ease your way back in and don’t miss the warm up and cool down. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing as this is when we push ourselves beyond our limits. Listen to your body and compete only with yourself – being a little bit fitter and stronger than the last session is enough.

Nourish yourself – most of us want to feel strong, supple and energised so we can do more of the things we love and live in minds and bodies that are as free from tension, stress and injury as we can. So think of exercise as a way to nourish yourself not punish yourself. If you love high octane exercise then great – there’s loads of HiiT style workouts out there but it’s not the only way to get results and feel strong and supple. Low impact exercise such as Pilates, Yoga or Tai Chi can have amazing results while relieving tension and pain not creating it. Combine gentler, but no less effective, forms of exercise with other things that make you feel great like eating well, sleeping well and having fun and you’ve created great habits for the new year that will last.

#pilates #newyearnewyou #sustainablefitness #nourishnotpunish #newyearsameyou #exerciseforwellbeing #wellbeing #selfcare #nourish #lowimpact #groupexercise #wycombesound

The Pilates High

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

“I don’t get the endorphin buzz from Pilates that I get from running” is a criticism, and even a barrier, to Pilates that I hear a lot as an instructor.  I totally get it. I’m a runner and the two forms of exercise provide very different things.  However, I argue that Pilates still gives you a high – there’s just a subtle difference between the two.  

Firstly, does running actually give you a physical high? The evidence says yes.  The high is a mix of chemicals, including endorphins and endocannabinoids, that seems to be a biological reward that kept our ancestors hunting and foraging. Kelly McGonigal PhD summarises the research here: https://ideas.ted.com/why-does-running-give-you-a-high-heres-the-science/

Although we might not be biologically primed to do Pilates for our very survival, Pilates is still movement and even gentler movement comes with built in neuro and muscular benefits.  Caroline Williams in her book MOVE! The science of body over mind, explains that simply standing and moving give a boost for the mind and body.  And in part it comes down to gravity.  “Physiological changes happen when we put weight on our bones, and what that, in turn, does to our minds. We tend to think of bones as dry white sticks that hold up our insides, but in reality bone is a living tissue that is constantly built up and broken down to adjust to the stresses we put upon it.  And our bones are in constant communication with our brains – what they talk about depends on how much we ask them to move while resisting the pull of gravity”.

In Pilates we use body weight resistance and gravity to ‘load our bones’ to help boost this chemical bone building process as well as strengthen our muscles. Strong muscles are linked to stronger self-esteem and confidence.  In Williams’ book she explores the link between stress responses and the core muscles. Although this is an emerging science the evidence is pointing at the benefits of “oiling the psoas muscle by moving more and strengthening it along with the rest of the core to help build a healthier, more adaptable stress response”. 

And in terms of the buzz…. “By focusing on breath, Pilates improves cardiorespiratory capacity. This stimulates feel-good hormones, oxygen flow, and blood circulation”. Full article here. The power of the breath to unlock a swathe of well-being benefits is a hot topic andabsolutely fundamental to Pilates. Most Pilates movements have a set breath pattern to help deepen the muscular work but Joseph Pilates was also a believer in the power of breath to cleanse the system and mind.

And finally there’s the social element too. Social connection is known to be fundamental to our happiness – moving together in a synchronised flow while having a giggle in class, all add up to a high that might not be endorphin related but has a well-being benefit of its own. No one ever regrets going for a run or getting on the mat!

#pilates #pilateshigh #pilatesbenefits #rethinkpilates #powerofmovement #move #core #bones #muscle #fascia #carolinewilliams

The power of visualisations

Go to any good Pilates class and within 1 hour you’ll hear dozens and dozens of descriptions for how the movements should feel in your body.  Visualisations help students to co-ordinate their bones, muscles and breath within a simple sentence.  Joseph Pilates himself used words that would help convey his intention for the body and movement such as calling the core the ‘powerhouse’ – a really evocative and practical explanation for how to engage and perceive the core.

It’s a wonderfully creative challenge for any teacher to develop their own repertoire of creative visualisations for their students.  For example, a standing warm-up exercise I use is imagining you have a ribbon in each hand with a helium balloon attached at the top.  With a slow steady inhale lengthen through the body and allow both arms and heels to float up so you’re gently pulled skyward, then gently exhale as you lower the balloons by drawing your hands back to your sides and lowering your heels and connecting to the floor.  We repeat this a few times – lengthening and elongating our bodies, aligning our posture, finding our balance, breathe and grounding before we start class.   

Person reaching skyward
Reaching skyward.
Photo by luizclas from Pexels

I use the helium balloons a lot – for any sense of length and drawing away from the floor. For example in 4-point kneeling movements like Superman where students might start to tire and slump into their bodies, I ask them to imagine helium balloons tied around their shoulders and hips and imagine they’re floating up to the ceiling.  On the opposite end of the spectrum when we do standing balance work, I ask them to imagine heavy paint cans in their hands and on their shoulders as we lift and extend one leg – this can help engage the core and ground the muscles of the standing leg.  

Visualisations for the spine are incredibly effective – you can literally see spines unlock.  Outside of class we tend to treat the back as a source of strength, a lever for lifting and carrying.  In class we give back to our backs by allowing it to move to its full range and capacity.  We roll through the spine in standing ‘like peeling wallpaper off a wall’, twist ‘like we’re ringing out a sponge with our waist muscles’, articulate the back ‘like a bicycle chain’ in bridge and lengthen the spine ‘imaging popping pockets of air between the vertebrae’.  

Something powerful happens in the neuromuscular connection when the mind is given a visual for the desired movement outcome. The body is no longer just muscle and bone, the mind and body connect and the movement becomes more natural and fluid. There have been many excellent books written on the subject with this one being my favourite. I love the creative opportunity to develop visualisations that help students truly embody the movements. If you have any favourites as a teacher or student do share!

#creativevisualisations #embodiedmovement #pilates #movementdescriptions #proprioception #zenergyactive #mindandbody