In the first lockdown here in the UK the nation embraced exercise. We replaced the daily commute by moving with Joe or grabbing our trainers and re-acquainting ourselves with nature. By the third lockdown however, motivation dwindled. Now at the end of our lockdown journey (fingers crossed), many of my clients have told me they’re now moving even less than they did pre-lockdown. Not only have they lost their way with exercise routines but they’re feeling the loss of the incidental movement going to work provided. Combine this with work and home life blending into one meaning even longer hours sat at makeshift desks, bodies are feeling stiff and clothes a little tighter.
As a Pilates instructor it would be easy for me to prescribe more Pilates, but I’m realistic about how much time clients have at the moment to incorporate more structured exercise into their days. So we’ve been talking about NEAT – non-exercise activity thermogenesis – the impact on your calories and energy of everything you do that is beyond structured exercise or what your body has to do to stay alive such as breathing, sleeping, eating etc. NEAT includes standing, fidgeting, walking around, shopping, house work – anything that requires your body to move outside of formal exercise.
There are many articles and papers that explain the weight loss benefits of NEAT such as this and this but you can turn NEAT into an everyday workout that will serve you beyond calorie loss, it can relieve you of achy joints, build stronger muscles and improve your posture and flexibility. You simply need to ensure that while doing any NEAT movement you maximise it by putting in place the ABCs of Pilates and create a daily habit anchored to activities you do anyway – they just happen to boost your balance, posture, strength and flexibility. Here’s a few ideas that go beyond ‘take the stairs not the lift’ and ‘get off the bus a stop early’:
Strength, balance and posture:
Stand on one-leg to brush your teeth, or do calf lifts floating up and down on your toes – brilliant for balance and great for the legs!
When you walk or stand think about your posture and alignment (until it becomes a habit then you can forget about it, you’ll just do it naturally). Roll your shoulders back and down, keep your shoulders in line with your hip bones and on your exhale feel a light engagement of your tummy and bum muscles
Create a daily stretch habit:
Before you walk up the stairs use them to have a stretch – place one foot on the first or second stair keep your chest upright and tuck your tailbone under for a hip flexor stretch
Before eating use the table or chair– as long as you can hold onto it without it slipping – to hold onto as you hinge 90 degrees at the hips lowering and flattening your spine and extending your arms for a back and shoulder stretch
When you load the dishwasher, before you stand, touch the floor with your knees only as bent as you need to reach the floor and have a hamstring stretch
Shake out your wrists and legs for 30 seconds when you do something you do every day – boil the kettle, check your phone, go to the loo
So give yourself permission to stop feeling guilty about lack of exercise and start making the most of your everyday movements – you’re already burning calories and building stronger muscles and bones without even knowing it so now make it intentional.
When you feel really worried about something you’ve probably experienced tunnel vision – when your brain can only focus on one threat even your vision narrows. The opposite is also true. When we’re in a relaxed state our peripheral vision (PV) widens because it’s connected to our parasympathetic nervous system. When we’re calm, we can take in a bigger picture and absorb more of what’s around us. That’s why athletes hone their Peripheral Vision to gain a competitive advantage in fast paced sports. So by tuning into our peripheral vision we slow the world around us and create calm and a broader perspective.
Not only that, as we age we loseabout 1–3 degrees from the edges of our visual field every 10 years. By 70–80 years of age, most of us have lost 20–30 degrees from the edges of our visual field. This is partly why we fall more as we get older. It’s seen as ‘part of the ageing process’ but there are lots of exercises we can do to improve our peripheral vision.
Here’s a couple of exercises to try:
Stand or sit comfortably and take three deep breaths, relax into the exhale, do a body scan and release any tight muscles.
Pick a target to look at – a picture, something you can look at clearly. Now imagine that’s the centre of a clock face, without moving your eyes what can you see at 12 – take in the shapes and colours for a moment, now without moving your eyes what can you see at 3, take a breath, now 6, breathe and now 12. Finally what can you see at both 3 and 9 simultaneously?
Maintain focus on that same spot from above, again keeping your head still, bring your fingers up to your sides.
Move your arms up and down forward and back while you wiggle your fingers until they go out of your vision range then come back in.
The idea is that you tune into your peripheral range and train the brain to make the field wider with practice.
When you next take a break incorporate a few deep breaths and a peripheral vision exercise and just notice how you feel before and after.
Further reading: This is a good article on PV along some more exercises to try and for the science take a look here
Stress Awareness Month has been held in the UK every April, since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. According to the Mental health Foundation 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
The relationship between mental health challenges such as stress and the impact on our physical health is becoming more widely understood. For example stress has been directly linked to health problems like heart disease, problems with our immune system, insomnia and digestive problems.
Understanding what causes us stress, recognising the signs that we’re feeling stressed and putting in place effective steps to avoid or counter stress in our lives is something that can take years to develop. For me discovering the mindful movement and breathing techniques of Pilates was an essential part of my stress management when I worked in the Corporate world but we all have to find our stress management techniques for ourselves.
The Stress Management Society has loads of incredible resources on their website including this 30 Day Challenge Hints, Links and Tips guide to help navigate this journey. Of course some stress is useful – warning us of danger etc but ongoing chronic stress can have devastating and debilitating consequences, so be reassured there’s loads of resources out there and remember it’s a really common issue that many of us experience.
Sports documentaries have been a revelation of lockdown life. They’ve exposed me (not someone that plays or watches sport despite being a Pilates teacher) to what being a sports person is really all about. It’s not always the most naturally able or biggest and strongest who win, it’s not always the shiny prize that drives the most determined and Pilates, mindfulness and psychology play a huge role in gaining a competitive edge.
The two standout documentaries to me have been Drive to Survive which takes you behind-the-scenes of the Formula 1 World Championship and The Last Dance about the rise of Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls.
Beyond the fascinating politics, power play, glamour and testosterone of Drive to Survive, you’re shown glimpses of what it takes to build a mind and body that can cope with putting your life at risk every week in a Formula 1 car. Pilates features heavily. For the driver they use it to keep a strong and supple body that can cope with the G force of the drive but also the whole pit crew do it together before the race so they’re ready to go from sitting watching the race to an all systems go ultra-fast tyre change. Off grid you see the drivers escape the adrenaline of the drive by connecting regularly with nature, quiet and stillness and spending time with family and friends who keep them grounded and help them retain a sense of humour even in dark times.
In The Last Dance the focus is mostly on Michael Jordan’s journey to super stardom but one of the most fascinating characters is Phil Jackson, the coach of the Chicago Bulls. He’s considered one of the best and most successful coaches of all time, so it was fascinating to see the techniques he used. He talks about how he was influenced by Zen Buddhism and Native American culture as a child. Before games you see him doing Pilates style exercises with the team, encouraging them to ‘centre and breathe’. You can see how these techniques help the players shut out the chaos of the court so they can bring their A-game.
“Michael [Jordan’s] a mystic. He was never anywhere else. His gift was not that he could jump high, run fast, shoot a basketball. His gift was that he was completely present. And that was the separator.” —Mark Vancil, “Rare Air”
So don’t be put off ‘sports documentaries’ if you don’t consider yourself ‘sporty’ or a fan of the sport being profiled. They’re really an exposé on how mere mortals can build powerful and resilient minds and bodies to withstand and overcome unimaginable pressures and challenges.
I met Bob a couple of years ago when he kindly invited me onto his station Wycombe Sound 106.6FM to talk all things well-being. I invited him to join me for a Pilates session and finally 2 years later we managed to make it happen. Since January Bob has been doing regular 1:to:1 sessions with me and on the show today we talked about his experiences – what he’s learned, whether he enjoys it and whether he’ll keep it up!