‘How do I improve my flexibility’?

Improved flexibility is a common goal for many Pilates students, especially for my 40+ clients. They know that staying flexible in their muscles and mobile in their joints will bring about numerous benefits; improved posture, ease of movement, competitive advantage, reduced chance of injury and physical independence as we age.

I often get asked for stretches to target specific areas such as ‘how do I stretch my tight hamstrings?’. I’m always happy to share stretches like this but that’s not often the real issue. Many factors influence your flexibility and mobility (this article explains the difference between flexibility and mobility if you want to understand more)

  • Your posture – an anterior pelvic tilt will cause hamstring issues as they attach to the pelvis and will be permanently lengthened
  • Your bio mechanics and the natural limits of your range of movement
  • Strength of your muscles and joints – weak muscles and joints will cause others to become over active and tight
  • The quality (hydration, elasticity) of your fascia – the connective tissue that wraps like a web around your muscles, bones, organs etc
  • Beyond formal exercise – what you spend your time doing for the other hours a day that you’re not formally exercising (NEAT)
  • Regularity of your stretching & strengthening – to counter any sedentary behaviours

So bearing in mind the above, my top tips for becoming more flexible and mobile are:

  • Set realistic goals – do you really want to do the splits or is it about improving and maintaining a comfortable level of flexibility and mobility that enables you to do the things you love
  • Understand your posture and bio mechanics – do you have any postural imbalances or deviations you’ve picked up over the years that might be causing an imbalance or limit to your movement – I recommend you see a Level 3+ Pilates instructor or physio for this. Work on improving this first before incorporating stretch and mobility drills.
  • Strengthen and stretch – Everything in our bodies is connected so focus on full body stretching and strengthening to enable your body to operate in harmony rather than fixating on one part of your body that is ‘tight’. Ensure that you have an exercise style in your workout programme that doesn’t just strengthen but stretches as well for example Pilates or Yoga.
  • Myofascia – you may be experiencing limitations to your quality of movement if your fascia needs attention. A sudden increase in movement, trauma, or lack of movement can all impact your fascia. Think stretching and gliding on spiky balls and foam rollers to improve the quality of your fascia.
  • Move regularly – Can you build daily stretch breaks and more incidental movement into your daily routine so that your muscles and joints don’t get ‘stuck’ in set movement patterns. A couple of exercise classes a week can’t undo hours and hours of sitting at a desk where as regular 5 minute stretch breaks every hour can really help.
  • Hydrate and eat well for good muscle and joint care. Think Calcium, Vitamin D, Protein, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and H20

And when you do stretch…….

Be in the movement & in the moment – work to your end range of movement so that you can seek gradual improvements week on week (without pushing beyond your limits). You need a good neuromuscular connection to ensure you’re maximising the quality of the movement, staying in control of the exercise, so stretch and strengthen mindfully.

Breathe – by breathing calmly and steadily you’ll shift into your parasympathetic nervous system where your body is more relaxed and able to work with you deeper into the stretch

Break out of set movement habits by incorporating variety into your stretches your body doesn’t get used to the same patterns and remember consistency is key. It takes time and consistency to increase your range safely and effectively.

Enjoy the release but stay safe – finding stretches that unlock tension and new movement patterns is intensely rewarding. Remember though it is possible to overstretch so listen to your body, work within your limits, explore and have fun.

#pilatesstretches #flexibility #mobility #jointcare #neuromuscular #myofascia #stretchandstrengthen #pilatesinsturctor #howtobecomeflexible #zenergyactive

Nasal breathing & long covid

Before I started teaching Pilates I was unaware of how powerful the breath is to our wellbeing.  It’s a freely available tool we have at our disposal to bring about a variety of outcomes – if we know how to use it properly.  I’ve just been reading some of the latest recommendations about managing long covid symptoms as breathing control exercises feature heavily to help restore patients back to wellness. Read article

In class we use various breathing techniques for lots of reasons (Joseph Pilates was a big breath fan!). We use one at the start of class to clear our minds, another to engage our muscles more deeply and to support our posture and movement.  Plus in Zen Pilates it switches us to our parasympathetic nervous system for a more effective calming guided relaxation.

At rest, we normally breathe approximately 8-12 times per minute but if we’re suffering shortness of breath for any reason – Covid-19 or stress, exhaustion, anxiety etc – our breathing becomes erratic.  I was interested to see which breathing techniques are being recommended by the top scientists for managing shortness of breath.  Unsurprisingly nasal breathing features heavily in most papers.   It has many benefits but fundamentally it works the heart and lungs due to increasing the vacuum in the lungs so you draw in up to 20percent more oxygen than breathing by mouth and this natural resistance slows the pace of your breath.  According to this New Scientist magazine article this increased oxygen intake gives your brain function a boost too!

You can simply gently breathe in and out through your nose but a useful technique in times of stress and pressure is to build on the natural vacuum and resistance by using one nostril to inhale and then the other to exhale:

Sit or lie in comfortable upright position with your back straight, closing your eyes helps you focus. 

  • With your right hand, gently close your right nostril with your thumb.
  • Inhale through your left nostril, and then close it with your ring finger. 
  • Exhale though your right nostril, then inhale through the same. 
  • Close your right nostril, open your left, and slowly exhale.
  • Repeat for a couple of minutes

#nasalbreathing #breathingtechniques #breathingforwellbeing #zenergyactive #zenpilates #energypilates 

What does well-being really mean?

There are many definitions for what well-being means, the OED definition is ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’. In 2012 a new definition for well-being was proposed by Dodge et al,  ‘as the balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced’ summarised by the image below and you can read the full paper here

Dodge et al 2012: The challenge of defining wellbeing

This really appealed to me as a definition as it captures everything we talk about in Zen Pilates. In class I share a practical self-care tip each week to help build my students library of tools and activities that energise and boost your well-being toolkit. This then equips you to successfully tackle and respond to life’s challenges – exactly as Dodge et al describe in their definition.

This framework is also broad enough to reflect just how individual this balance is – what energises one person may drain another, what someone sees as a challenge might be an opportunity to another.  We need to know ourselves in order to strike the right balance for us individually.

There are so many conflicting ideas about what constitutes health and wellbeing that it can be really overwhelming to navigate. Taking a ‘balanced’ approach is becoming an increasingly popular perspective.  Diets that label some foods as bad and others as good are outmoded now, same with exercise no one exercise style is deemed better than another in fact a complimentary mix is now seen as ideal, same with any one set style to work or even family set up.  It’s about getting to know yourself and what brings you a sense of health and wellbeing and then making the time to regularly put those wellbeing practices in place. 

Well-being resources are highly personal but a few that are commonly backed by science and recommended by leaders in this field include; moving your body, breath work (which can be as simple as a few minutes just noticing your breath) gratitude practice, acts of kindness, walks in nature, taking regular breaks from any activity and balanced eating.

So take a moment to reflect on your ‘well-being balance’, how are life’s challenges leaving you feeling at the moment and could you top up your inner ‘resources’ to serve you better and increase your overall sense of wellbeing.

#wellbeing #selfcare #dodgeetal #definingwellbeing #selfcarebatteries #selfcareresources #pilates #boostyourwellbeing #balance #wellbeingtips #zenergyactive

Radio interview (Part 1 & 2)

I was really lucky to get the chance to talk on local radio recently about all things Pilates and entice the presenter to try it for the first time for himself!

We talked about the evolution of my Pilates business over the past couple of years (with a particular focus on the impact of Covid), what Pilates is, who it might appeal to and how I run personalised one-to-one sessions. Bob, the presenter, then took the brave decision to join me for a one-to-one Pilates session that very afternoon and then shared his experience the following week.

Here’s the recording of the initial chat – before the one-to-one:

Play to hear my initial interview on Wycombe Sound 106.6FM

Then Bob joined me for a one-to-one and shared back his experience in a second interview the following week. Here’s the second post workout chat:

Play to hear the second chat with Bob – post Pilates session!

Thank you to Bob Johnson for the opportunity to chat all things Pilates and for being open minded to trying it for himself. I’m so glad he’s now a Pilates fan and look forward to working with him!

#WycombeSoundFM #BobJohnson #pilates #smallbusiness #zenergyactive #pilatesbusiness #privatepilates #grouppilates #zoompilates

Struggling to slow down? Deploy a safety bubble

I’m embarrassed to say that I had to attend a vehicle speed awareness course last week. 

I’d been caught going just a couple of miles over the limit and I consider myself a safe driver so, if I’m honest, it’s been a date in the diary I’d been dreading. My assumption was that it would be a dry course full of facts and figures designed to educate and frighten us into driving more slowly. To my relief it was actually a fascinating exploration of why we speed with practical tips that reflect much of what we talk about in Zen Pilates to bring about mindfulness and calm. 

Why we speed in our cars boiled down to 3 things:

1. We rush. Most of us are operating day to day in a mental rush, a hurry that translates into physical speed when we get in the car.  We might be late or we might simply want to gain a few seconds advantage on the day. 

2. We’re distracted.  Whilst driving a lethal machine few of us are focussed on what’s going on around us, in the present moment, but rather where we’re going or where we’ve just been.

3. We’re frazzled.  We’re functioning frazzled – our overloaded, overhyper minds come with us into the car equating to choices and behaviour during our journeys that at times come from irritable, anger or frustration leading to bad decisions.  

At worst when we drive in this mode we’re impolite, rude or worst case downright dangerous. I had to admit that on reflection I have been recently, at times, sat in the impolite and impatient space. 

We were given a really practical tip to help us become calmer, more in control, mindful and slower in our approach to driving. We were told to create a safety bubble.  We were shown the many benefits that creating and maintaining a physical space between our vehicle and the vehicle in front can have on accidents, or potential accidents. By opening up space for ourselves and each other we will save lives.  They weren’t just talking about physically – physically putting a greater distance between you and the vehicle in front is an important part of it – 1metre for every mile per hour of your speed is a good barometer or use the ‘only a fool breaks the 2 second rule’, but there are mental benefits too:

1. It makes you mindful – monitoring and keeping that physical gap keeps you in the moment. 

2. It gives you space to think – to respond not just react.  If someone encroaches on your bubble there’s space for you to ease away safely and take an alternative cause of action rather than having to just react and be rushed into poor decisions. 

3. It’s infectious – when one person slows down there’s a ripple effect.

The class kept making me think about my Zen Pilates classes. In these sessions we use movement, breathing and mindfulness techniques to help counter all of the above. Most of us are living our lives rushed, distracted and frazzled. In general life, unlike driving, we don’t receive fines for putting our mental well-being at risk. Yet when we’re feeling overwhelmed, rushed, encroached upon, in reaction rather than considered response mode – we’re making poor decisions and increasing our chances of a calamity. 

So my outtake from the course was to reclaim your safety bubble not just when driving but in life. Recognise when you’re operating rushed, distracted and frazzled and increase your safety bubble. You can do this by:

•          Taking a break – physically and mentally put some distance between yourself from your surroundings and the problems you’re facing. Go for a walk or sit quietly for a moment and just breathe deeply. You’ll reset your mind and gain some perspective.

•          Take the emotion out of the situation and just observe the facts. Breathe deeply and ask yourself what would you advise a friend to do? 

•          Use a moment of mindfulness and visualise yourself surrounded by a safety bubble. Start with 3 deep breaths,  take a body scan and imagine being surrounded and floating in the centre of a bubble of positivity.  Imagine that bubble to be impenetrable – only positive, relaxed, vibes can enter the bubble, negativity can’t penetrate the walls.  Float with your breath enveloped in a bubble of calm.  A few minutes of this mindful exercise will pull you out of fight and flight mode and reset your system into the parasympathetic system of rest and digest. 

Christmas is a wonderful time of year but also one that can bring increased distraction and pressure. So this Christmas don’t be afraid to pump the breaks, slow things down, stay in the moment and if you need to deploy your safety bubble – you know what to do. 

#safetybubble #slowdown #presentmoment #mindfulness #mindfulnesstips #breathe #cultivatecalm #pumpthebreaks #zenpilates