(Note: this is the third in a series of blogs reflecting on what I learned in my recent Comprehensive Pilates Teacher Training certification. You can see the first installment here.)
Lesson 3: The use of excessive force for breath work (among other things)
So, back in the beginning of my Pilates journey 10 years ago, I learned these breaths- the ocean breath, the blast breath, and the percussion breath. I also learned about the idea of lateral breathing- where you focus on expanding the breath into the back and sides as well as the front of the body. This is absolutely still an important concept for pilates work. The breath can help you mobilize your spine and provide stability when you move. However, the blast breath in particular has fallen out of favour in the pilates community, and now that I understand why, I agree. The reason for this is the use of excessive force when breathing can actually cause impairment in the natural mechanisms we have when we breathe. The "squeezing" air out idea does not serve to strengthen us in the way I used to think. The way I have come to think about breathing is the idea of an integrated system. You basically have a cylinder in your torso, if you will- with a top, a bottom, and walls all around. You have some muscles that are major players in this mechanism and lots of other ones that simply assist. Two of the major players are the diaphragm up top, the pelvic floor down below (actually several muscles grouped together). When you force one of these to work overtime by using a lot of force, it actually weakens the function of the system. How, you say? Because it starts to be tight too often and can't relax anymore. For example, you can have an overtight pelvic floor from doing tons and tons of kegels, and it's not going to help you, instead it's going to continue to impair your function. As we draw air into our lungs, the diaphragm at the top flattens down and the pelvic floor does the same- to fit the air into that cylinder. As we breathe out the diaphragm lifts up again and the pelvic floor follows, because the air is leaving the space. Make sense? So, forcing the diaphragm to work overtime by squeezing the air out of the lungs when you exhale is working against how it moves naturally. It can also make the pelvic floor have to work that much harder to compensate for the extra pressure. Wherever the weak point is in your abdominal cylinder- the top, bottom, front or back- will be where you have pain or problems. So it's actually all about finding a balance in all the spots, rather than focusing on one area in particular all the time. It's about an integrated system.
The more I studied and observed last year, the more I realized that excessive force is not helpful in any situation, not just breathing. The old school attitude of "strengthen your core!" is not something I believe in anymore. I feel like that concept was drummed into the world at large because people were told for years that they needed a flat stomach to be considered attractive. I certainly have a squishy stomach myself, and, guess what? I don't need to get rid of it to be strong and functional. I also personally don't think my extra fluff makes me unattractive, nor am I terribly concerned with the opinions of others on the subject. But that's a whole other blog post! Yes, your abdominals need to be strong to help you move well, to keep your body functional. But it's just a part of the whole system, how your entire body works together. I am looking at the big picture, not just "strengthening your core." I wrote in Part 1 about how it's all about spinal mobility, and that is tightly wound together with this concept- that all the muscles in your torso need to be balanced and working together, without strain and tension. Extra gripping and tension in your body impairs normal function, it doesn't matter where it is. I even wrote a blog about this years ago, only I was focused on the idea of developing "flow." Same thing, just expanded now as I put together all the bits and pieces of knowledge from my years of teaching and my recent course.
I will finish with another rather amusing quote from Joseph Pilates (he called his exercise method "contrology"):
“Contrology,” he said, “was conceived to limber and stretch muscles and ligaments so that your body will be as supple as that of a cat, not muscular like a brewery-truck horse or professional weightlifter you so much admire at the circus”.
Moving with flow and ease in all ways helps achieve that supple and strong body he speaks of. Who wouldn't want to move like a cat? LOL.
Thanks for reading, and as always, please feel free to shoot me a message if you want to chat about all things pilates.
(Note: this is the second in a series of blogs reflecting on what I learned in my recent Comprehensive Pilates Teacher Training certification. You can see the first installment here.)
Props are for supporting better movement, not just for "challenge"
Here's the thing I've been thinking about a great deal: are we focused on improving movement quality, to make it all more effective and efficient, or are we just looking to offer more and more challenge without the quality of movement in place first?
Before, in my mat classes, I would often throw in props to make it more fun. And don't get me wrong, props can be fun. I'm a big believer in making Pilates fun. We did foam rollers one week, and magic circles the next, etc... And it's true, these tools provide a good challenge and often change the dynamics of the exercises- ie. challenging stability or adding more stretch or providing resistance... However, it isn't necessarily going to help with progression, if you aren't aligned properly or moving well in your spine. It's just going to make an exercise harder, which isn't always the best thing for your body.
In my studies we looked at props from a completely different viewpoint- how to use them as a way to support alignment and provide feedback to encourage good movement. BAM! Mind blown.
For me personally, I discovered that raising up my head and shoulders onto a pillow or arc barrel allowed me to connect with my abdominal wall. In the past, I would have thought it was "cheating" to prop up my head and shoulders for abdominal work. Instead, it made everything that much more doable for me AND made it possible to engage the muscles that needed engaging. That's using a prop to develop that efficiency factor in your workout, and it does this by moving the bones into a space where the muscles work properly. It's such a simple way to help make movement better and safer.
I should add here that I have an abdominal diastasis, which got a lot worse after the birth of my second child, and although I had been careful not to make it worse, I didn't find I was getting stronger, and I was at a bit of a loss as to how to help myself through it. This simple adjustment of changing my supine position with a pillow made it possible for me to gain back strength and function- I never thought I would be able to do upper level exercises again, but here we are! Yay!
Near the end of the course I was feeling much stronger, so I stopped using that support under my shoulders and head. But, as my teacher reminded me, it's actually the way the bones align that is the benchmark I should be measuring, not the muscle strength alone. So I added it back in and, guess what, I'm moving with more ease and more flow and control because of it. I don't strictly need it anymore for abdominal work, but it helps, so why wouldn't I use it? My spine and my ribcage aren't going to realign quickly, or possibly never. But my muscles can engage and help hold my bones in a better spot, with ongoing practice. The prop helps me work towards this goal.
So, in class I'm now thinking about ways to use props to help support people. If I give you a prop it's for a reason- It's because I want to help your body find a way to work smarter, not necessarily harder. Let's get the basics down before adding more challenge! That's simply how to progress quicker and without strain or injury. It's just good sense.
Joseph Pilates said: “A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion.”
I agree completely, and I'm excited that I'm finding more ways to help people refine their movements with the use of props.
P.S. An additional note about Diastasis Recti:
I'm always going to have an abdominal diastasis. We are often taught to fear these things. But I can do upper level pilates exercises with it now, and I didn't think that would be possible before undertaking this course. I can be functional and strong in my everyday life, without back pain. So it's not actually scary at all. It's just a thing that happened to my body, from having a baby, like so many other women. If this is a concern for you, and bothers you or causes pain or dysfunction, I definitely suggest seeking help from a professional- a physiotherapist or a qualified pilates instructor should be able to help. I offer private sessions, or I can recommend a physiotherapist or other qualified teacher who I think would be able to help. It's never too late to address this issue, and there is always something that can be done to help you regain function. Feel free to send me a message if you want to chat about it.
Thanks for reading ! Stay tuned for the next installment, "The use of excessive force for breathwork (and other things)"
So I took the last 10 months out of my life to throw myself completely into the study of Pilates. What a luxury! I'm so grateful I had this opportunity. It wouldn't have happened without the support of my family. It takes a village to raise a child, and the same is true for this Pilates Teacher- so many people in my life have given me a hand and helped me along this path to where I am today. Here's a huge thank you to you all- you know who you are!
As for the course, it was amazing- incredibly detailed, and I was able to ASK ALL THE QUESTIONS I've had buzzing around in my head over the years. It also felt like a non stop questioning of everything I've done in my teaching career over the last 10 years. This questioning is a good thing, but also, a challenging thing when you've been doing something for a long time, and are forced to reflect on your past over and over again. Our teacher told us almost everyone on her course experiences an existential crisis at around the halfway mark, once you start to come to grips with the magnitude of the material.
Totally happened to me too, in May last year, right on schedule.
I'll be honest here, it didn't feel great at the time. The amount of information I had to absorb was absolutely incredible... and it felt like my brain wasn't operating at peak efficiency. It was right after experiencing a worldwide pandemic which caused a whole lot of unexpected changes in my life. But I persisted through that time, when I felt I couldn't take any more, and I didn't give up. GO ME! And here I am, now fully qualified to teach pilates on all the amazing bits of equipment- reformer, caddilac, chair, barrels, mat. But this feels like only the bare bones of what happened on this journey. I am also a whole lot more organized in terms of how I look at bodies, how I consider teaching, and how I want to work moving forward. To help me reflect on this, I started writing down some of the biggest lessons I learned these past 10 months and I am sharing it here on my blog for all to see. So here is the first installment- and there's going to be more to come, so stay tuned.
IT IS ALL ABOUT MOVING THE SPINE
Seems simple, and incredibly obvious, doesn't it.
But here's the thing, I didn't really understand the depth and complexity of that idea before.
I thought - flexion, extension, lateral flexion, rotation. bada-boom bada-bing and you are there.
It's actually looking at each single vertebra and seeing how each one either sticks or moves. There are often sticky sections which means when you ask someone to move, it hinges above or below the sticky section. This creates compression in that spot. So it really is more about maintaining length in between each section while you move, in all directions. Not an easy task for anyone especially without a teacher. A major personal realization I had this year about my own body was that I thought I was doing extension in my upper back all these years, but I really wasn't. I was hinging in my thoracolumbar junction. This is why having a teacher is so crucial to doing pilates safely and effectively.
Our bodies are going to take the path of least resistance, if left to move on their own. If your spine is used to hinging in a certain spot, it's just going to keep doing that every time until you consciously make an effort to move differently.
(If you are reading this and thinking, but I do pilates on my own!- It's ok, take a breath. I didn't have a teacher for many years. You are still moving your body which is better than no movement by a long shot)
I strongly believe something is better than nothing when it comes to movement, of any kind. However it simply isn't going to be as effective for your body as having someone help you create new, healthy patterns. Becoming more efficient in all things, including movement, is a good goal for our bodies- both to prevent injury and to improve our function in everyday life. It also means we don't need to spend our time doing a lot of movement if it's done efficiently. You will see results faster, and without all that extra stress and tension your body has been holding onto.
It also takes time to change movement patterns we've had for a long time. Potentially we've had years and years to make these patterns a habit. I do feel it's important to honour the fact that our bodies developed these patterns for a reason. If you are always carrying a baby on your right hip, your body adapts to this and does what it can to keep you able to hold your baby on your hip. It may not be the most efficient way, but it got the job done. However, once that baby starts walking and not needing carrying around anymore, how do you let your body know it doesn't need to keep those same movement patterns? How do we even know what changes have occurred in our bodies in the past, aside from when we push too far and injure ourselves or have pain? Let's just say that this course has given me even more appreciation for the human body than I had before (hard to believe!). Small changes in movement patterns can make a huge difference with time and practice. We are never going to be "perfect" or even close... I still hinge in my TL junction during extension, that's a fact. But it's definitely better. And I'm continually trying to find ways to move in extension that are flowing, smooth and lengthened. It's getting there for sure. Our bodies are capable of so much. We are truly adaptable creatures.
Joseph Pilates said: "You are only as young as your spine is flexible."
I couldn't agree more. I hope when I'm 90 my spinal extension is such that I feel as young as I do now. #LifeGoals
Thanks for reading!
Stay tuned for the next installment, "props are for supporting movement, not just for extra challenge"
7/11/2019 2 Comments
I've always known that Pilates has a huge mind-body connection. But what I didn’t understand until recently was just how powerful the mind can be, and have how much this can have an effect on every aspect of your life. When I found out I was pregnant this time around, I decided to spend more time and energy on my meditation practice. I’ve been meditating for about two years off and on, at home. I use an app called Headspace that I absolutely love and which taught me everything I know about it. I'm not an expert or anything, I simply set aside 10 minutes almost every day to listen to a meditation, and I don't stress it if I can't get into a clear frame of mind when I do it. I simply commit to the time. It’s amazing how this small amount of time has improved so many aspects of my life- my stress level is way down, my ability to recover from feeling low is way up, and my relationships with my family are generally much improved. When I first began meditating I realized quickly that there was a component of it that was fairly easy for me, a part of it that felt accessible to me right away. It was, of course, the ability to tune in to my body and how it feels. This is clearly because of all the pilates I have done over the years. It has prepared me to be able to really just sit in that space within my own body. So I've always found this aspect of meditation- the breathing, and the body scanning- to be really simple and comfortable. When I got pregnant I decided I was going to see if I could improve on my mind-body awareness even further, for both pregnancy and birth. Headspace has some really useful tools for this. I did their 30 day pregnancy pack, and I also did a 30 day pain management pack. I repeated the pain management one twice- because it was so amazing and challenging- so I actually did 60 days of pain management meditation, for 10 minutes a day during my pregnancy. I'm so glad I did! When I first went into labour I was asleep, and I was jolted out of sleep by the contractions. At first I was feeling the pain, and it was tough and shocking in that moment. But then I remembered my pain management meditation practice. I began focussing on the sensation and actually delving into it, and bringing my attention very gently onto the sensation. A normal reaction to pain is to fight against it, to resist it, and pull away in fear from it. It's only when you try the opposite approach that you realize how strong the instinct to resist is. I discovered that by stopping the resistance to pain, and actually feeling the pain, and allowing myself to feel it, that it actually wasn’t so bad. I also was able to easily remember during the contraction that it was temporary- and that it would pass every single time. Knowing there is an end makes it all so much easier to deal with!
So we called the midwife, and she spoke to me on the phone to check in and see how far along I was. She was at first convinced that I was in very early labour, but said OK, we will be there in a little while to check on you. And so she was very surprised to discover that I was already 6cm dilated when they arrived. They could see I was breathing deeply, I was very calm and not at all in distress. Every time that a contraction started I would practice my focused attention technique and breathe deeply. It would pass and I would enjoy the present moment in between. Please be aware, if you want to try this technique yourself that it does take practice. Your mind needs training just like your body does, I spent at least 10 hours total practicing with the app as well as little bits here and there, in between, on my own. Now that I have the skill I find myself applying it to any pain in my life that crops up. I highly recommend to anyone out there who is in pain, that they consider trying to manage the pain with meditation. I'm absolutely serious that all it takes is practice!
Pilates was definitely good grounding for me in developing this mind and body connection. In fact, in the recovery phase I’ve discovered that I am more body aware than ever. I can feel everything coming back into position, and I can feel when it’s beginning to be more balanced and working together. I can feel all the sensations of healing and it’s simply nice to be so present in my body, to be in the moment with it. I can appreciate and engage with my body more now because I’ve been through this process. I've never been less interested in the conventional postpartum ideals around "losing the baby weight" or "bouncing back" after birth. You know why? Because those thoughts are not relevant to me. They don't encompass the scope of what my body is doing right now- it's simply not important. It also doesn't allow for how grateful I feel toward my body at this moment. It's been on a journey through birth and postpartum, and it's continuing to work hard now as it recovers. These kind of thoughts are placing the focus on how others view my body instead of what's actually happening. No thanks! I'd rather not spend my time dwelling there. Instead I'm going to feel and appreciate it all without worrying about what others think. I'm going to treat it right- by exercising at my own pace, stopping and starting as I need to. By really listening to it, and recovering in my own way.
As a consequence of this experience I have begun reflecting on the idea of resistance, and how it applies more broadly to my day to day activities as well as my teaching work. I can sum it up like this: If my body is sending me pain signals I need to listen, but I also need to not resist when I feel that pain and create extra tension. I understand now that so much of how we treat our bodies is to resist and react unconsciously. I see my clients creating unnecessary tension all the time, in their shoulders or necks especially. It’s the way we are conditioned to react to the unfamiliar or the stressful. It also becomes a habit over time. An example I see often is when I ask someone to move their arm, and their shoulder goes up toward their ear and their neck stiffens up. They automatically pull back and resist what could be a gentle and easy movement. We often fight tooth and nail against the flow of our bodies. So I think, in my classes, I’m going to incorporate more mind-body meditation practice. I always did some of this, but we can definitely do more with it! The mind is the most powerful tool that we have in our lives, and it’s time that we learned how to harness that power. It's time to become stronger in our minds, and to learn to move easily without that extra tension and automatic resistance. I look forward to developing this idea more for both myself in my own practice, and for my clients when I return in September!
Thanks for reading. Comments are always welcome!
I woke up the other day after having, well, a powerful dream. In this dream I was teaching a new class, with new people in what looked like your typical living room. There were only 3 people in the class- no sweat really, for me, after having taught for so many years. Only, this time, the class did not go as I expected.
Every time I started to walk around, they started walking too.
Every time I stood up, they stood up.
They mimicked my every movement, exactly.
And every time I tried to explain that they needed to stay put and do what I said, instead of copying my movements, it was like they didn't hear me.
This is not the first time I have experienced this kind of thing happening with new clients, only, it usually isn't quite so overwhelming! Even in my dream I was more puzzled than irritated. It's my responsibility to teach them, and if they don't get it, it's something I'm doing wrong. That's what I believe about teaching. So I paused, and I thought for a moment. How could I get them to understand me? So I sat down on my mat, and they sat down too. I looked at them, and I said:
"Usually I don't stop a class like this but I feel I need to make something clear to you now. In my classes, I'm here to be your guide. I am here to watch what you do, and help you do it the best way you can. Sometimes that means I'm walking around you to see where your shoulders are in relation to your hips. Sometimes I'm looking at your knees, or your feet. Sometimes I am seeing if moving one part of your body means you are tensing up somewhere else. I'm seeing how your body works together, and which parts are holding you back from moving freely. I don't usually explain this because I worry you might feel nervous, or concerned about "doing it wrong." Under a spotlight, if you know what I mean. I can only explain why it is I am doing this, and to reassure you that this isn't about judgement at all. It's about compassion toward your body. I want to be aware of what your body is doing- what it's been through, what it needs to feel better. I watch to see what areas might hold pain or tension so I can help you find ways to relax them. I have the highest respect for your body- in fact, for every body I have ever worked with. It is a miracle to me how bodies can change, move, grow and adapt to any situation. The fact you are here means that you also care about your body. You care what happens to it. You want to show compassion to your body too. But maybe you don't know how. So I'm going to help you figure it out. And I help best by watching, explaining, and occasionally, placing my hand on you so you can feel what is happening too. I don't believe I'd be helping you very much by simply moving in front of you, and expecting you to follow along. I might as well be on a DVD then. You're not going to change overnight, but you will feel a difference soon. You will be sitting at your desk at work, and suddenly, you will feel the ache in your shoulders. You will sit up tall and relax your shoulders. Or, maybe you will be picking your child up off the floor. And you will stop, and think to yourself, I'm going to engage my core before picking you up. This is the amazing power of pilates. If you can muddle through this beginning, and not worry too much about doing it wrong, and simply keep trying your best and allowing me to watch and correct, this is what will happen to you. It will improve your life in so many ways. "
And then I woke up.
I thought it was important to share this message with everyone. It was a powerful moment in my dream. A message from my subconscious.
I want to add that it may be that you are uncomfortable being in a class like mine. I offer private sessions too and sometimes that helps people gain a bit of confidence, and get to know me before taking the step of joining a group class. Or, maybe this kind of exercise class isn't for you. My way of teaching isn't for everybody. But I can't change how I work- because I believe it works. I have seen it work, over and over again. If you want to start and give it a try so you can see for yourself, please get in touch.
Have you discovered the power of Pilates in your everyday life? I would love to hear about it if you want to share in the comments.
Do you remember your gym class in High School?
There's probably people who fall in the middle ground, but you may have:
LOVED it- felt so graceful and strong. "I never understood the girls who just refused to move!"
HATED it- you would have done anything to avoid class. "I just felt so awkward! Everyone was always looking at me!"
Has that experience coloured your attitude towards exercise as an adult?
Last weekend I went to visit friends in Huntsville and someone described my swimming as "graceful" when I got out of the lake. I did a double take (internally) as I have never, ever, in my life, considered myself graceful. I'm awkward. I'm an awkward girl with a large body and limbs that were uncoordinated for a long time. My high school gym class was absolute torture. I couldn't catch, I couldn't throw, I couldn't run, I couldn't jump. After that, I became an adult- and still felt like I couldn't move gracefully. Sure, I have learned to exercise, in my own way, and I now enjoy moving my body- especially after having done Pilates for so long. But graceful? Really?
Now I am questioning the very idea of "graceful". Is it something you feel inside? Is it something that others can see but you can't? Is is possible that my high school beliefs are still here inside with me? I'm thinking yes.
Pilates has helped me to gain control of my awkward limbs. I definitely practice a flowing movement in certain exercises. I feel strong, coordinated, and, well, graceful sometimes. Perhaps it's time to change my mindset and stop believing I am stuck as my teenage self. Perhaps practice a little compassion for that girl. That one who was afraid to try and make a mistake. Who was worried boys would be looking at my breasts while I jumped around on the volleyball court. Who felt so out of place every day and just wanted to hide. That part of my life is over, and I'm learning new ways to be.
If I had never felt that way, then I may not have ended up where I am today. And I'm pretty happy to be where I am. I'm so blessed to be able to learn new ways to take care of my body, and have the time to practice. And I even get to do that with other people! How awesome is that?
Do you feel graceful? Are you stuck with your teenage attitudes too? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
I came up for the idea of this blog post during my weekly swim. I LOVE swimming, and feel totally at ease in the water. I reach and pull, reach and pull, and breathe. It's repetitive and calming for me. And I've realized it is an excellent example of mindful movement.
Exercise can be more than simply exercise. It can be Mindful Movement.
Sometimes, during my day to day life, when I'm in a rush, or distracted, I get careless with my movements.
Sometimes- like during Pilates exercises, I am very precise with my body and move a certain way.
But there's definitely a middle ground, where I have a low level background hum of an awareness of what my body is doing. That space is a pretty amazing one, and I find myself able to connect to it more and more these days. It's awesome, and you may just be doing it too.
How do you know you have experienced mindful movement when you exercise?
1. Your mind becomes clear.
During the movement, I'm not thinking- I'm doing. My mind enters that state where I am there, I am present, and I am just in the moment. Thoughts come and go, but don't linger. It's glorious. If you meditate at all you will understand exactly what I mean.
2. It will feel effortless.
Your body moves and you are along for the ride, helping when needed but not forcing it to keep going.
3. You will not be obsessed with a goal or plan.
Throw the calorie counting, reps, times and all other goals out the window. You are just doing the movement. That's it.
4. You will feel refreshed afterwards.
Your mind and body feel fantastic- your muscles pleasantly worked, your mind free of worries and at peace.
5. You will look forward to doing it again.
It felt good, you feel good, so you want to do it some more. Awesome.
Needless to say, the above does not fit with our modern expectations of exercise. It doesn't meet the criteria of the current fitness industry- which is obsessed with goals, counting calories, having accountability partners, etc, etc. Many people feel like they haven't truly worked out unless they've experienced pain, sweat, felt "the burn," did 50 reps or whatever they have in their plan for that day. Unfortunately, this kind of mindset can easily lead to injuries- and is almost always a short-term and unsustainable approach to exercise. What happens once you meet your goal? Do you keep going and set a new one? It's an obsessive way to view it, and doesn't account for the "life" factors. Like getting sick. Like having a child to care for. Like being tired after a busy day. Or having a craving a chocolate bar, or a glass of wine. So many things to keep track of and control, it's impossible to keep on top of it forever. And exhausting!
I'm saying no thanks to this mindset of control and accountability. Instead I'm going to focus on moving mindfully, and enjoying the feel of my body performing an exercise. I'm going to find the space and time in my life because I love exercise. If life gets in the way, so be it. I will find the time sometime soon, I'm certain of it. And I will for the rest of my life.
Maybe you've moved mindfully before and recognize the feelings I described above. Or maybe you hate moving because you've done so much traditional exercise that it puts you off moving mindfully. If that's the case, maybe it's time to try something new.
Thanks for reading. All my love and compassion to you on this crazy journey we call life xx
Last year I wrote a blog post about using positive language when writing your goals. I thought I was on to something at the time but now I'm not so sure. This year I have a new plan for those pesky New Years Resolutions, and it's called: Goals! Schmoals!
I've been realizing that I am always interested in improving myself, in a general sense- and all year long, not just in January. Why should I go to the trouble of adding extra ideas on top of all that I already do? When it's been proven time and again that New Years Resolutions peter out before March and are unsustainable? I feel like this whole lark was invented by the diet and fitness industry to generate income and use shame as a motivator. Don't fall for it this year! I say: Goals! Schmoals! If you are working to be your best self already (like most of us are) there is absolutely no need to pile on more expectations at this time. You will continue to be your best self in 2018 too. I promise!
One thing I do like about this time of year is the encouragement to reflect on the previous year. My 2017 was a challenging one and I'm amazed when I think about all that happened. I started it out with a bang on January 9th, when I tripped and fell over my son on our basement stairs and broke my pinky finger. I initially thought- hey, a pinky finger isn't so bad! Turns out I was wrong... our pinky fingers are the base of all our grip strength. I now affectionately refer to my left pinky as my "lightning" finger... and it's become a new part of me. Just another funny part to learn to take care of and work on regularly!
I had further physical problems in March when my dreaded sciatica returned after a 10 year absence. I was in pretty much constant pain until late September. There's several things about this experience that I want to remember going forward. Here they are:
1) No matter how much you take care of your body, sometimes it does things you don't understand or expect and you just have to go with the flow. It's hard not to be angry about it! But it is just a fact of life.
2) Spending money on regular physical maintenence (ie. osteopath or fascial stretch therapy appointments) is but a drop in the ocean compared to trying to recover from an acute injury. I used to hold off on appointments and think, hey, it's not so bad, I don't need to go this month. Now I can see how utterly important it is and am more than willing to move money around in my budget to make it a priority!
3) I hate painkillers. Hate them. TENS, heat, movement and natural treatments are definitely the way for me. Unfortunately OHIP is not on board. This is a national crisis in my opinion. I'm 38 years old, and my doctor was willing to give me any pain pills I wanted and had nothing else to offer. He actually said: "Just keep coming back when they stop working and I'll up the dose." How many millions of people out there are on pills their whole lives because this is all the standard and free medical service has to offer us? It's truly horrific and I wish there was something that could be done about it.
4) Moving is key to relieving pain. Truly it is. My husband took my son to his parents for a few days to let me rest and have a break. (Bless him!) However by the time he returned I was crying from the pain and could barely move. All because I spent two days "resting" instead of leading my normal, active life. Lesson learned.
5) Moderate and regular exercise is way better than occasional hard core workouts. I am continuing to gently exercise more often (no more than 30 mins of walking, swimming, or- you guessed it, pilates) and I am feeling a huge increase in my energy levels. It's totally the way forward. I knew this already but this experience hammered the lesson home!
6) Living without pain is a blessing. A BLESSING. And I intend to enjoy every moment of my pain free life.
On the emotional side of life, in May my son was eventually diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). This has been a huge ongoing rollercoaster of emotional stress for me and my family. I read book after book about it and returned to counselling for the third time in my life. I have managed to adjust my parenting style and expectations (at least to some degree anyway) and life is a whole lot better at home for it. This entire experience was way more draining than any of the physical pain I experienced. It brought about a new awareness of taking care of myself emotionally and mentally as well as physically. I began a regular meditation practice and I gotta say, it was a crazy huge life changer for me. I'm planning to keep going with it for the rest of my life. I am also continuing to learn alongside my son how to regulate emotions and stay calm in the face of stress. Such important skills but until there's a crisis, we don't usually learn about it or get help.
Looking back I can see that I was incredibly persistent in 2017 by carrying on with life through it all. I was open to new ideas and willing to change. I felt thankful for all the little things in life and incredibly grateful for my family and their support. Those things are way more important than setting goals like : "Lose 20 lbs" or "Get beach body ready by June" or whatever utter nonsense is being peddled out there on social media right now. In fact, I don't see any need to set goals- I'm pretty awesome just the way I am. I hope you will join me this year in saying the same: "I'm pretty awesome already. Goals! Schmoals!"
Happy New Year!!! <3
Do you hate going to the gym? I know lots of people who hate the whole idea of working out at a gym. I used to feel exactly like that, in my 20's. I was unfit, uncomfortable, and nervous. Let's just say that I didn't exercise much back then.
I used to think things like:
What is all this equipment for? How do I use this?
Are people looking at me?
Why should I want to watch other people sweat?
Am I supposed to be doing what everyone else is doing?
Many, many years later, I am a happy member of the Walker Family YMCA in St. Catharines. As a fitness instructor, I'm now comfortable using the amazing variety of equipment and love creating a variable program for myself which changes as I need, each day. Experience, education, practice, and self-confidence has changed it all for me. Now, I drop my son off to the childcare and have a GLORIOUS 1.5 hours to myself! Some days I just rest and meditate in the reflection room. Most days I do a bit of cardio and a bit of strength, with (of course) some Pilates thrown in there. I've been learning to take each day as it comes, and try to find balance in all aspects of my life- physical, emotional, spiritual. One thing that I've discovered is that I actually find a great deal of inspiration from my time at the Y.
Inspiration, you say? FROM GOING TO THE GYM?!?
In life, we look around and we see what we want to see. I could probably look around the Y with my old eyes now, if I wanted to. But I'd rather look around and feel inspired. I almost always feel inspired when I'm on the track on the upper level. I generally spend some time walking and/or running during my workout. This time on the track allows some wonderful space for my brain to engage and I often find this becomes meditative movement for me. Here is what I see now from this meditative mindset:
I see so many different people on that track. With all levels of fitness. In wheelchairs. With canes. Hunched over. Standing tall. With knees taped up. With arms in slings. Old and young. Alone. Friends working together. Moms with their sons. Anyone and everyone, all on the same track.
Every single one keeps on going. They are there. They are trying. They are moving. It is truly amazing and it humbles me. I have aches and pains- and injuries- and they do too, to varying degrees. It's not important to compare these things at all. In fact, I feel that I have completely set aside this comparative mindset. Instead, we are all working with what we have available to us, at the present moment. There is a collective power in this place, with everyone working towards the same goal: self-improvement. I get to join in to this collective when I am on the track. I get to see it all, and feel inspired, and inspire others too.
Maybe this kind of experience isn't for you. I totally get it. But I wanted to share my inspiration with you all today. It's how I feel when I workout at the Y. I hope that you have found a way to work towards improving your own self- physically, emotionally, or spiritually- however it is right for you. If you feel stuck and want some help along this journey, feel free to send me a message or write a comment below. If you see me on the track, I'll be the one with a smile and a bounce in her step.
Diane Archer, Pilates Instructor from the UK now living back in Canada. Blog of tips, thoughts, home challenges.
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