The importance of HOW

I'm happy to be blogging again and this is a topic that our team has been talking about a lot lately.  

When we get new students oriented to their body, gaining awareness and joy of moving it is magic! It makes us feel so purposeful in our craft. There are so many glorious ways to move and they are available to every person. Sometimes a person will come in with preconceived notions of what Pilates is (not challenging, hurts my neck, haven’t gotten results from it) or with a story of how someone they know hurt themselves doing kettlebells. Quite simply- their teacher was doing them a disservice and not teaching them how both of these modalities can CHANGE a person's life when taught properly. To us, it is always about alignment and load. Let's use a simple functional exercise like the squat. For example, when a student cannot squat properly with no weight, giving them weight just loads dysfunction and leads to injury. Another example, a person with MS or a knee replacement may not be able to do deep squats from standing, but on the Reformer, horizontally, they can do Footwork and experience a squat using heavier springs. And they never thought they could.  Then they do.  It is felt as a huge success by both client and trainer.  We helped them re-program their body AND of the mind/mindset.

We work in a unique environment where we can facilitate, functional, practical whole body movement. The Pilates equipment, the TRX, Bodhi Trainer, Rip Trainer all enable our skilled teachers to take load off joints that may be compromised, and teach a range of motion that they presently have and meet them there to progress safely.  Taking time to give proper instruction creates self discovery, competence and strength. When people regain a sense of competency and they perceive that they can also move without pain, psychologically, they begin to feel better as they are moving. When someone comes in in pain, and we help them get out of pain by teaching them how, it changes their life. It might not mean that they overcome the factors that created the pain, but they can have a break from the pain they typically experience. Additionally, if they can eventually experience the ease of movement on their own, then that is a victory which decreases their fear and increases their activity level. Our role, really, is to facilitate better movement which leads to a better, longer life.

We can change resistance, line of force, decrease the length of levers, vary proprioceptive feedback, and base of support.  We can use the equipment to re-educate clients about proper alignment and load for their bodies, and then they can use the knowledge when they leave the studio. They can have multiple positive movement experiences in the studio which begins to change the wiring in the brain and then begins to translate into their lives outside the studio. It is empowering and that is kinda a big deal.

There are not “good exercises” and “bad exercises”. There are effective exercises and safe exercises and exercises that do not give you a lot of metabolic benefits and those that do. There are dessert exercises, exercises you hate, exercises you love, but there are not good exercises and bad exercises, there is good movement and bad movement. There are exercises that are better for a specific posture or length/strength discrepancy and individual programming for specific goals. There are universals of exercise science and best practices to be upheld. There is working your craft with informed integrity and trying to make as much money as possible by selling crap “weight loss” products and programs that are short sited. There is diversity in body geometry. There are some standards to note and there are trends that are simply stupid. We teach our students how that incredible body of theirs can do incredible things and HEAL, when someone learns how, their world opens....




At the last TRX Trainer Summit resilience was brought up a lot in the context of physical preparedness as a quality of physical strength. By definition it is 

1. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.
2. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

As someone who has owned her own business for the last 15 years, grew up with people that I love addicted to drugs and alcohol and endured various adversities, I’ve always fancied myself pretty resilient.  Furthermore, I have never, ever neglected my physical health- it is a core value.  Recently, keeping more physical health has meant something entirely different.  Not moving.  Allowing my body to heal and my tissues to repair.  I was speaking this week to one of our students who is a retired physical therapist about the angst I was feeling about my VMO not contracting to my satisfaction.  Many positive things came out of that conversation but one thing I wanted to share was how we both felt that an injury like this is such a gift.  I’m grateful for all that I’ve had to navigate emotionally, physically, psychologically from the healing process.

I’ve always believed in the beauty and intelligence of our amazing bodies but as a goal oriented person, I mentally set myself up to be rehabbing at 6 weeks.  At 6 weeks, my wonderful orthopod checked out my knee, reviewed my MRI and X rays and gave me clearance to start PT.  That was a Friday morning.  Friday afternoon, I immediately got to work, liberating my hamstrings to get my knee to straighten only to be met by frustration that, while I could passively get my knee straight, my whole quad, namely my vastus medialis that creates the last bit of straightening and draws the kneecap upwards, would not fire.  I had PT on Monday, and my patient and attentive PT listened to my theories on form closure and arc reflex and began myofascial release.  It worked!! I was able to do some cable loaded terminal knee extensions there and when I woke up the next morning I could contract my whole quad in bed.  It was so satisfying to have the waking stretch of all my limbs reaching end to end!  I had hope. But when my feet hit the ground and my body had to manage any kind of load, it didn’t work, no VMO.  I literally cried. I didn’t actually listen to my body in the next few days as I was determined to get it to fire.  It wasn’t until it hurt and started swelling that I resigned myself to (sadly and reluctantly) practice patience and be more soft to my approach. 

At my second PT appointment, I said, "look, it isn’t sticking, we need a new approach.  My knee has not extended since we last met." I am grateful that he can deal with an annoying body aware, know it all patient..... After MFR and electrical stim it worked until my foot hit the ground.  This man who just met me did say, “slowing down and not forcing is going to be your best approach.”  I jokingly said, did you read my last blog?” How quickly desire overode reason…. And I temporarily forgot the wisdom I has 3 weeks ago!  Luckily I have people who I get to spend time with helping their personal fitness to throw ideas at regarding my recovery.  It was my matter of fact, retired orthopod client who went on to tell me  (with lots of examples, science and case studies) that my knee isn’t ready.  My retinaculum in the joint capsule is making a judgement call to turn it off.  Alaya’s inner dialogue, “Intelligence of our amazing bodies, slow incremental changes, let your nervous system find the way… don’t you say that all the time Alaya? Grrr!!”  Applying this to myself only took 4 experts, 3 days of forcing and a swollen knee to curb my tenacity for big VMO contraction and accept the subtle teaching that I intellectually know needed to happen and it is happening.  Today I can get a bigger VMO contraction than yesterday and I know tomorrow will bring progress as well.  I just need to be present to the process and whisper instead of shout at my knee.
I identified with the following definition from Psychology Today as I continue to recover. "Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on." I feel blessed not only with this outlook but with my physical strength and resilience. I think that my mental AND physical resilience has given me the opportunity to become a deeper, more confident and more accomplished person. The phoenix is rising!

Turning troubles into growth, bouncing back from difficulties and believing that the future holds the promise of sunshine change any perceivably negative situation.  My physical and psychological resilience has made this a very positive experience and I’m coming out of the clouds into the sunshine with a skinny left leg.  Tempering my drive and desire that can come with resilience has been the most important part of my recovery. Listening to others to help me listen to my body and practicing patience and presence fills me with hope and excitement to get on my super sweet bike that has been collecting dust and get back to the barre with vigor.  I also think it is important for all y’all to observe this process of my atrophy and slow springing back to to strength when you feel your path to strength requires some patience. It is a virtue I've been given the opportunity to practice.





When contemplating the new year post, I didn’t want to be trite.  We all aspire to improve ourselves every day and as we go into a new year we resolve to do so.  You can find those tips EVERYWHERE on the internet if you’re interested in how to create effective new year’s resolutions.  We have a great life coach here who can spend time with you to help you do that as well but I thought I’d use this public forum to share my personal experiences and insights and maybe it will inspire, maybe not, but at least all y’all will know that I am injured and maybe think about the benefits of slowing down. 


I love how life gives you lessons, if you're noticing.  I think am pretty sure I had not been noticing lately so I needed a stop-you-in-your-tracks-spine injury to make me pause and accept doing nothing. Making time to focus on caring for myself, to genuinely be grateful for my baseline strength and health of my body, to make me be uncomfortable with my natural tendencies by being uncomfortable (in pain), to get lots of sleep and let go of getting shit done-TO RELAX. Deeply and truly. Oh I eventually studied, watched some Netflix but mostly I meditated and contemplated.  The studying didn’t come right away, I had to my head right and getting my head right was NOT instantaneous. There was A LOT of struggle and some crying and some existential questions about who I am if I can’t move, but I won’t bore you with all that. Through chaos comes change 

I love my mom. She gave me so many wonderful gifts both by nature and by nurture, probably more by nurture. That is what a mother does after all, she nurtures. Without being asked, my mother indoctrinated me into the Cult of Productivity.  We LOVE getting shit done. An early thought was, "Yay! I can get so much shit done lying in bed with my iPad" but my body didn't let me, then I listened to my body-mostly.... I was reluctantly letting go of getting shit done. There was a lot of emotional struggle with accepting doing nothing. Lots. My rational self knows that the nervous system/muscles need work, education and stimulation balanced with rest and deep breathing.  I knew I had just experienced great trauma and needed rest and meditation.  My emotional self hated it. So I tuned inside and practiced shambhala meditation for longer than I ever have before. I find that shambhala helps you know your mind, it teaches you to use your mind as your ally not your foe.  Prior to learning shambhala, most of the meditation I practiced had me focusing on something to keep your mind steady, which is valuable but for a mind like mine, it is simply another distraction. Don't get me wrong contemplative meditation has value, but the self knowledge isn’t there like with shambhala. Working in is SO MUCH harder than working out.

As grown women with daughters we can see both the inherited traits we love and don't love (as my husband enjoys pointing out!) manifesting themselves in ourselves. When my daughter shines, I see things that I know I have given her, and in turn, I glow.  I am also aware of the things I've given her that I don't love about myself that maybe even came from her grandmother. She has a unique perspective to our similarities and differences and a lot of wisdom at 10 1/2.  

While on our recent ski vacation, Stella was riding high on her ski lesson accolades after their first lesson, especially since she performed much better than her little brother, who can make her feel inferior on family mountain bike rides.  That first day she was as graceful as a swan on the snow as he is on the trail on his bike and she LOVED it, and she was, at first, quietly dancing with the fact that she was a better skier than him.  Her confidence was soaring, and then that confidence became comparative and unkind toward her brother, so I had a little talk with her about her overconfidence and Grace, and the intentions of her words etc...

The night Chad and I returned from the hospital (and she knew I was alright) I gave a brief explanation of how I came to fracture the transverse processes of my lumbar my spine, tear up my medial knee, break my wrist and strain ligaments in my hand after only 3 hours on the slopes) that, "I thought I was in control and clearly I wasn't" she promptly responded, "you were overconfident".  I think she said more, but I immediately went into my head about just how poignant it all was. I, of course, was in the stage of comforting myself with deeper meaning that I couldn't simply accept that I was an overconfident novice.  Eventually, I came to play with confidence, control, knowledge, trust and their interplay not only in myself but as concepts.  To have true confidence, you need knowledge, like for example, a ski lesson.

I’ve always known that if I could only be present all the time, all would be bliss in my world, but we are complex creatures- I’ll just keep striving for it. The reoccurring theme in my recent education and exposure to the broader Pilates world has been presence, relaxation and not forcing, trusting the intelligence of our bodies to organize properly. It has been difficult to dettach from old ways of doing things in my professional practice but I have, and it has been liberating and so much fun to see quicker results with my clients. I have an understanding that the result of doing things in a new way is a lot more fun. Especially after this experience, my continually evolving interpretation of Contrology is even shifting.  I've read and re-read Joe's (Joseph Pilates) work over the years and I've previously come into it with a pre-judgement of a stereotypical germanic order and dogma- a hardess. Just picking it up yesterday, I read it with more softness, a greater understanding of his big picture. When not stressed, I’m happy, my attitude shifts and life is lighter. To move, as Joe would say, with "spontaneous zest and pleasure" is an attitude, and does not come with forcing or constant bracing. Perhaps the pathway comes with some forcing of yourself out of old habits, some discomfort some lack of ease, but on the other side is the magic, the flow.  The process involves asserting oneself, moving toward mastery, and Knowing to truly have control. Control comes from self knowledge, knowledge absorbs best in a calm and relaxed state, real control needs presence. Presence is found in breathing and moving slower, not just physically, but mentally.  When we oov, we move slowly. Our nervous system can create change when it can take in information. For me, slowing down has created some genuine change, but only by working through the chaos of the process. I'm not worried about my injuries, I have confidence that if I give my body the things it needs it will reorganize and heal properly. I've helped hundreds of people through this process over the years. 

When I reflect on my daily stressors it comes back to all the things I feel I need to get done and the center of that stress is some forcing, (=fake control) not trusting or reacting without presence. I’m letting go of the feeling that, if I don’t do it, who is going to do it?! or not knowing when I would possibly have time to get it all done?! Of course there is the practical matter of life/family/business tasks, but to lose the frantic feeling of being out of control, it is necessary for me trust.  And to trust I need to slow down, pause, and actually create the knowledge base of what is most important and take the time to discern how tasks can get accomplished and trust that if I delegate tasks to others, they can get it done. I find this in my most important relationship daily and have become more aware of his reaction to my attempts to control what he does with his time. I’m needing to let go and trust that things will get done without asking or they won’t and then being ok with that. It is hard, but not as hard as it was 3 weeks ago. 

For 2017, I hope that each of you can count your blessings, be grateful everyday, slow down, breathe deeply often get less done.





I thought that I would expand on my last post about neuroplasticity, fascia and task based learning and bring the mind part of mind body fitness back to neuroscience. Usually on the topic of mind body connection, we think of yoga or Pilates; coordinated breathing and moving. Always. I want to talk neuroscience, motor control and our broad reaching habits not just in movement but in our lives. 

Ask yourself this- if you could be naturally gifted with either strength and power OR flexibility and coordination, which would you choose?? In the absence of specific goals, the way I’d answer this question is to consider which of the movement qualities are the most difficult to acquire? Without wishing to upset vast numbers of strength and conditioning enthusiasts and coaches, I am inclined to say that it is a simpler process to gain strength and power than it is to become more coordinated and flexible!

Note that I said simpler and NOT easier. 

The pursuit of high levels of strength is hard work but if you utilize a progressive training system that involves the manipulation of intensity (load) and volume, over time, you will get stronger. If you also practice moving quickly while applying force, you will become more powerful. I would also like to point out that depending on the individual, the constant pursuit of these two qualities exclusively is often to the detriment of overall movement quality.

Flexibility, mobility and coordination are a little more complicated to acquire. Gaining large increases in flexibility, for example, can be a long and slow road, but small and instant changes are achievable when knowledge of fascia is considered. In most circles, flexibility is not as impressive as getting leaner or more powerful. We talk a lot about movement quality at Iron & Grace and hold it paramount. It is not sexy or particularly marketable but it is a belief we hold dear as we know quality is where profound results start. We honor our students' goals then deliver quality movement patterns within the scope of their goals. 

We always talk about, "what is stable and what is mobile when coaching our clients so lets consider the concept of balance for starters. If you are not stable balancing in a static position, joint mobility and flexibility are secondary. You need to stabilize your joints (controlled strength) before you worry about enhancing mobility and increasing movement. And then, to make that dynamic.... well that doesn't happen until you've mastered the static part. In order to balance, our bodies use three internal control systems to help maintain balance (and thus stability) throughout any athletic movement. These three systems consist of our eyes, our ears, and our nervous system. The three systems function together to supply tons of information from our surroundings and our bodies to our brain. The brain then identifies which muscles and joints need to make the appropriate adjustments for proper balance. This system of balance is a very powerful and accurate control mechanism, unless the channel of communication between any of these three internal control systems is broken or disrupted.

In the world of body weight training, people who are coordinated and flexible require less strength. They have the capacity to manipulate their bodies into angles of leverage that are advantageous instead of fighting against their own tensions and having to muscle their way through things, but I beckon back to natural gifts.... We are naturally inclined to keep doing things that we can do better. So do you want to broaden your skill set or more greatly enhance your God given talent? There is no wrong answer. 

It reminds me of my adamant desire to master step aerobics. At 19, I took a certification, long story short- I SUCKED at it, never taught it, but by the time I was more mature.... 24, I started taking step class 2x/week BECAUSE I knew I sucked at it. I only got sorta better but I have a lot of moxie. After a few months, I added DOUBLE step and promptly sprained my ankle. I'd been taking my Pilates matwork certification and understood the value of focus, precision, control and grace in my 24 year old way. None of these qualities existed in my step-aerobics-ing.  I hung up my Reeboks and whole heartedly started working out on the reformer to strengthen my feet and ankles.  A blessing in disguise! That's when I really began to fall in love with Pilates. Fast forward 10 years, I took a "throwback" step class at a fitness conference. I had my Pilates head firmly attached and NAILED IT. Maybe it was because the class was taught by Gin Miller, step aerobics goddess, but I like to believe that it was my dedication and practice at Pilates. My brain changed. I was more coordinated. I'd spent YEARS studying, practicing, changing my natural inclinations and went from kinda clumsy to coordinated. I'm not sure that I have genes for coordination, maybe that's why I got moxie?

Effortless coordination is genetic, but coordination CAN BE LEARNED as pointed out in my step aerobics example.  Coordination suggests that someone also has a highly developed motor system. The peripheral nervous system, cerebellum, pre-motor and motor cortices are well educated, they have a large movement vocabulary, or as I like to call it they have a high level of movement intelligence.  So are the elusive skills we speak of more important than strength and power? Do I have to choose? No!!! You can have both.  We can do it all. Strength is indeed a skill and lifting heavy things is useful.

Skill work combines the expression of strength, power, coordination, mobility, flexibility and balance. There are untold benefits to this kind of movement neurologically and psychologically. How awesome does it feel to hit an arrow center on target, do a cartwheel in a straight line, or triumph some gnarly single track? Pretty awesome. But those all take PRACTICE and coordination of your brain and body. Skills are acquired through practice. When you whole heartedly commit to a practice, you simply get better.

Remember last post?  I’ll remind you that Joe Pilates really had 2 principles in his system of Contology (what we presently call Pilates) Whole body health and Whole body commitment.  Part of his dogma was to practice your exercises daily, with precision, alignment, focus and your whole life improves.  It is truth.

Form follows function
In an evolutionary sense and with regards to movement, the function of the body is to be capable of interacting effectively with the environment or as Joe Pilates would say, to "move with spontaneous zest and pleasure." A hypothesis as to why we have such incredibly powerful brains is due to our capacity for complex motion, the variance of the environment and a necessity to be able to predict outcomes of such interactions so as to promote our survival.  These days, the function of the human body is having the freedom and potential to do whatever we want with it. Our form, our design, affords us near limitless movement potential.

Move in a manner that promotes and integrates our form and improved function will follow. Move in a manner that over simplifies our form and function can degrade.

Fascia, what is it?
Fascia is the primary connective tissue of the body and has many recognizable guises such as ligaments, retinacula, tendons, aponeuroses, fascial bands, plura, meninges, perimysium, epimysium and even the pericardial sac,  but we will focus on myofascia. It is the very fabric that makes the body one single unfathomable piece of genius engineering!  

Luigi Stecco defines it beautifully, even in his non-native tongue. "In medicine, it has always been considered to have a mere function, or role, of containment or restraint, a type of packing material. In recent times, this view has changed somewhat. Fascia actually extends within the muscle, via the perimysium and the endomysium. This continuity means that the contraction of each single muscle fiber transmits to the deep fascia, or the outer most layer of muscle compartments. It is now thought that the fascia could be considered as a conductor of an orchestra playing a symphony of movement, where it synchronises the crescendo of some muscles and the diminuendo of others. The result is harmonious motion.”

Since some very smart surgeons and anatomists realized that fascia may be more than just the white stuff you need to cut away to get to the muscles, research and hypotheses have come out thick and fast. This research has proven that it can simply not be overlooked when training movement. Fascia provides not only a tension network but the ability for our muscles to slide and glide. The fascial system works optimally when it is mobile, therefore the body works best when mobile. Are you reconsidering your answer?

In response to regular physiological strain, collagen, the basic compound of our connective tissues adapts by altering its architectural properties to meet the imposed demand in gravity.  In healthy subjects 50% of collagen fibrils are replaced annually as part of the natural cycle of cellular life. There are hypotheses to suggest that certain movement practices can influence this cycle so as the renewal process promotes improved extensibility, hydration and sliding of fascia which is displayed via increased mobility through open joint angles. As ever, I will point out that fascia is not alone in this process but its direct line to the nervous system sure makes it a prominent player.  The proprioceptive sensory system does the learning, the tissues do the adapting. This is balance training my friends.

Whether it’s been proven in a lab or not, (and it has been) anecdotally as movement professionals, we see it everyday.  When working with the Oov, we see magic!  Tissue extensibility improves with the right kind of movement practices. It’s no coincidence that the connective tissue AND nervous systems of Gymnasts and Dancers allow them to move with grace and fluidity through full ranges of motion. I think of working through the fascia and understanding its arrangement and response is the best way to gain flexibility. It is instantly responsive when given the right coaxing.   We just need to reinforce the learning regularly to make it stick.

Counter movement and elastic recoil
The pursuit of athletic drills and movement skill practice is right on the money to enhance the energy store and release capacity of fascia.  The elastic storage capacity of fascial tissue can be enhanced with correct practice. When performing an athletic warm up we kick shoes off and coach clients to stay on the balls of the feet. We advise that ground contact time should be minimal and they should aim to be as quiet as possible, “land like a ninja”. Becoming fast and reactive through the lower limbs is a product of training. It strengthens the feet and goes a long way to improving athletic movement all the way through the body. Some have it naturally while others have to earn it, but it can always be learned and improved.  The energy returning, recoil extensibility of the connective tissue matrix is subconsciously utilized any time we jump, throw or kick a ball.  It is also present in just about every one of the dynamic skill movements we train our clients to do, particularly when using elastic resistance, like on the Pilates equipment and Rip Trainer.

Flexibility is not gained with a single approach. It is the net result of several complimentary practices, but I have to say, Joe Pilates knew his stuff, even if there was not current research to support it in the turn of the 20th century.  Let’s take his wisdom and get stronger, longer and springier !


NEUROPLASTICITY: open the mind

It's a fancy word to say that we are systemically malleable by using our brain; we can change ourselves through our central nervous system. We can learn things and learning things makes us better at whatever the task may be.

My realm is movement and all the tissue structures that give us the glorious ability to dance, leap, push, pull, rotate and walk.  The movement available to us is infinite, beautiful and can deliver lots of joy and health. I've been studying how to optimize this for the last 2 decades and I'm always growing my understanding. There are things I know-anatomy, biomechanics, Pilates, the value and practice of functional training and the general management of alignment, force and load- physics defines movement, but there are always more things to discover. I feel that I have a strong foundation in the aforementioned sciences and I practice from there, throwing in other things for fun, flavor and added benefit. Learning changes how I practice and expands my toolbox.  Historically, I've had many experiences that have been profound to the way I practice.. As a dedicated practitioner, I think my foundation is strong.  My world, was shook recently.

While expanding my Pilates education, all the new things have been re-enforcing what I know- first move well, check form and force closure, balance the myofascial slings, engage your core and breathe... And it has been so much fun and mind opening.  It is with an open mind and excited heart that I travelled to Chicago to take my first Oov course, hence the shaking, both figuratively and literally.  Functional movement training is all about creating efficient movement patterns that strengthen the body in a coordinated and effective way.  The goal is to never reinforce poor recruitment patterns, rather to re-pattern more efficient patterns for the task required.  I know what you are thinking, “That’s how we train at Iron & Grace!”  It is true, but the Oov gives us a new environment to shape learning.  The most succinct summation of what the Oov allows involves task based learning, relinquishing of fear in a 3 dimensionally unstable place (balance training), and unconsciously creating new and improved movement patterns to relieve pain and optimize movement with eccentric activation for greater strength and control;  V E R Y   
S L O W L Y.



Fascia is an interconnected web of tissue that is everywhere and its health and ability to slide and glide affects the WHOLE body. The exciting research hat has come about from all over the world tell us that our myofascia has its own mechanoreceptors (sensors that respond to tension and pressure.) The first gathering of the Fascia Research Congress defined it as all collagenous, fibrous connective tissues.  This definition is super cool because collagen shows a TREMENDOUS adaptability to gravitational load, which is, on this planet, inescapable. If the connective tissue is loaded properly, the inherent networking cells called fibroblasts, adapt their matrix remodeling activity so that the tissue architecture responds instantly.  While muscles need to break down and build up, to grow and change, fascia just needs to be given the right kind of load, environment and movement to adapt instantly. Dr. Robert Schleip is one of the world’s foremost researchers and an authority on fascia, states that with proper tension and loading we can address sensory receptors in order to affect tissue tone, body awareness and deeply- established movement patterns.  The “deeply established movement patterns” part is where I will focus. The architecture is complex and to explain it all would muddy my point.  The important thing to know as a body owner and mover is that the local architecture of this network adapts instantly in the right conditions.

Coming back to neuroplasticity…  The “right conditions” can be created with lots of our tools and I want to keep your attention so I will come to my point and bring it back to topic.  The Oov is exciting, the Oov is unique but this concept of learning (from our mistakes especially) ALWAYS APPLIES.  We make ill patterns then we re-pattern.  We create habits then abandon habits.  Joe Pilates had 2 main principles- Whole body health and Whole Body commitment. Learning something new is a commitment.  If we give up learning, we give up improving, if we give up improving, what is the point?  I have entirely too much to say after a summer full of reading, training and practicing. I thought this post timely as some of you will need to learn how to work with mindbodyonline (so easy!) but some of you will just welcome your old friend and pick right up where you left off.  Open your mind and wonderful things will happen- I KNOW IT!



How do you enter a time warp?

I lament the seemingly quick passage of time often, like writing a check and thinking, “where did December go and how did it become 2016?!”  but I found a time warp this holiday season and it was in Terlingua, Texas….

Every mom who has brought her family elsewhere for Christmas knows that it takes much more effort to make happen than staying home so when Chad decided that our family and each of our bikes were going to Terlingua, Texas for Christmas, my mind immediately raced (read stressed) through the logistics of this endeavor, and got after the preparations in November.  This middle of nowhere place, we affectionately refer to as the Lazy KZ Ranch is the home my in-laws, Kevin and Zoey.  Lazy they are not, the lifestyle they’ve created is nothing but lazy. With no prior building experience, they have built an artful abode by hand over the last 16 years amidst 200 acres surrounded by mountains of red, orange, yellow, tan and brown 

I’ll provide a few facts to clarify the extent of middle of nowhere  and unlazy lifestyle to set the picture in your minds eye. It is 450 miles from San Antonio, 360 from El Paso, and 82 to the closest town of over 2000 people.  It is on the edge of the Big Bend National Park where STUNNING BEAUTY is everywhere.  The energy for electricity at LKZR is provided by the sun, the heat, from propane space heaters and the minimal water that falls from the sky, (14”/year, US average is 37”) is consciously caught from broad rooflines and stored to be used for bathing and washing. There is not a flushable toilet and I won’t extrapolate on that but to say that I am happy that I have flexible hips and a good understanding of hydrodynamics to keep splash off my boots. Washing clothes with the 1945 Maytag is more labor intensive (and you run the risk of losing a fingernail if you are a curious 5.5 year old boy) but has a certain joy about it.

 Before the trip, I had a list of ideas on the special bike rides and hikes we’d squeeze in and outdoor adventures we’d have and our trip WAS full of daily hikes, rides and adventures but nothing was ever squeezed in.  We entered a space where time was determined by the sun and no one had to be anywhere at any particular time and I quit keeping track of time.  We had our work-rest-energy ratios all dialed in; we flowed.  My phone didn’t work as anything but a camera and time piece there but I mostly didn’t know or care where it was but to capture a photo opp.

 In addition to biking and hiking our strength was volunteered to haul a 100 pound piece of petrified wood out of the desert, pick axe and transplant various thorny succulents, dig fire pits and move rocks of all shapes and sizes,  and to place the granite that was once our front desk to its new kitchen home.  Working felt good.  I brought a TRX and a Rip but chopping, digging, hauling, squatting, hiking and climbing made it almost unnecessary to work out. I was applying functional movement to functional tasks and my spirit filled with joy, and I built up my energetic fire through these tasks.  To give creative effort and kinesthetic effort to transform the land where I plan to spend down time for the rest of my life was a fulfilling and ironically erased time. My tasks had purpose, and soul.

Time is a construct for productivity and I love being productive…. It too often overrides my need for creativity but in the creativity is where the heart sings and time ceases to exist. It builds your energy and vitality. Even if you aren’t exactly a member of the cult of Getting Things Done, you probably have a schedule, calendar and a couple lists of things to do, but how well do you manage your energy? While each of us has 24 hours in the day, our capacity for energy isn’t measurable in minutes.  It ebbs and flows. We fuel it and suck it by our choices.

In regular life, how do we balance productivity and creativity and infuse it all with love? How do we keep our ENERGY to stay on track to our current PURPOSE.  We often need a plan to begin, but once we attach purpose to it has a whole new life. Then we choose to be present to the moment at hand, truly embody our body, breathe deeply and enjoy the people in our presence.  We get after it.  We do.

 Are there people who suck your energy? Build you up? Are their foods or activities that make you sluggish or invigorated? Athletes understand that effective training comes from a combination of exercise and rest. By getting better control over your own energy cycles and capacity, you can do far more for your productivity making a To Do List.

Working constantly and resting constantly are both suboptimal. Being acquainted with our energy cycles can help us stay balanced.  We all have to do lists, daily goals are great but a goal with purpose has soul.  Don’t simply set a goal, meditate the process and attach meaning and spirit to that goal.  It will provide inspiration and can make mundane tasks seem fun. It can even make your awareness that time exists melt away.


TRX TRAINING: Move better. Train better. Coach better

The pursuit of better

I left the TRX Trainer Summit proud to be part of such an innovative, smart and GENUINELY functional movement centered organization- and really sore. Last year I felt the same- these are my people, they are speaking my language and hold my same beliefs. I felt compelled to share just 3 things that spoke to my heart.  The pursuit of better was ever present.

I believe deep in my soul that we are ALWAYS learning and live my life in that way. I believe in teaching movement and while it is not a sexy motto, I know that when you teach movement properly people get infinitely stronger and don't get hurt. After returning from the TRX TRAINER SUMMIT over the past weekend, not only am I inspired but I have affirmation that we, at Iron & Grace are on the right path. You can invest in any number of new fangled, trendy pieces of equipment but if your teaching skills are not on point it doesn't really matter... which brings me to my first point that is always driven home by Chris Frankel.

I have been to dozens of professional trade shows and they always provide inspiration and new pieces of information AND they always have a tagline. I have never been to a educational conference that so consistently delivered the message of the tagline than this recent TRX Trainer Summit. From the first informal talk the owner of the company, Randy Hetrick gave at our CORE Happy Hour, it was clear that the truly amazing team of fitness professionals representing TRX were there to support the mission of making us better coaches. My first profound experience with exercise and movement outside of a youth filled with sport came through yoga and Pilates. For years while teaching other professionals as an Instructor Trainer for STOTT PILATES, I developed so much appreciation for a system that makes you pause, values the importance of a starting position and holds focus as always present value in movement. We apply these concepts to the TRX, the kettlebell etc.- always have.  I came away from this conference (last time) feeling affirmed that I'm on the same page as the organization as a whole. Recently, I'm energized because  they've figured out how to create curriculum to help trainers better express what it means TO ACTUALLY TEACH MOVEMENT FUNCTIONALLY.   The TRX educational courses' revamping gives participants more systems (and acronyms) to become better coaches. I've had some frustration (and I must admit a little vindication) with the countless amount of people who come into our studio after having taken TRX somewhere else in town but are just learning how to properly plank in our walls. WTF? So what were they doing in the TRX I wonder....?!? I do however, have faith, as the TRX educational courses have been revamped recently to give participants more systems (and acronyms) to become better coaches. While our whole staff is credentialed and trained in both the TRX and Rip Trainer we will ALL be taking the new generation of the courses that we have already taken because there is always more to learn.  I have a lot of respect for the way they have grown.

This conference also symbolically marked a partnership with TRX and Under Armour. They hosted it at their AMAZING World headquarters, gave us great shwag and opened my eyes to its goodness- truly goodness. For this girl who lives in a no TV household and is dumb to pop culture, I didn't really understand Under Armour's message. After listening to the founder/ CEO of Under Armour speak to us and getting some more clarity, I went online to learn more. Maybe you already saw this, 9.4 million people have seen it on youtube but it was fresh to me...

Misty Copeland

Rule yourself

I will what I want- it is so American but really about empowering yourself, taking responsibility for the shape and form of your life. Will trumps fate. You rule yourself. I especially love it as a woman, it speaks to women who do not wait for permission, advice or affirmation from others in order to go after what they want. They are using strong, fierce, atypical women athletes to deliver the message that their will to tune out society’s standards to achieve their dreams is valid and works. It is what I love about the transformative process of helping people get stronger and seeing their whole lives get better. Anyone can rule themselves. I believe it.

More clearly, education and expression and application of that education is the most innovative tool in the fitness industry- maybe any industry. I tapped into this in my first topic but I thought I'd extrapolate the genius of TRX TRAINING as an organization. It started with education and some nylon webbing. Randy Hetrick, a Stanford MBA and former Navy SEAL invented and made the straps, and then with a team of driven, smart fitness pros, they designed the courses for fitness pros. Until recently, the only way to buy them were through their website and affiliate studios. They put the knowledge in the hands of the people on the ground; created their soldiers, so to speak. As I've seen the education system and the support materials broaden in the last couple years, I will admit it tapped into a fear of making the professional obsolete. But au contraire.... The professional market is relatively small. The consumer market is enormous and now that the foundation is laid, pop! into the consumer market with the troops of enthusiastic fitness professionals leading the charge. Today, you could go to an Under Armour brand house (store) and buy one- another stroke of brilliance- and in the very near future, you will be able to buy one in Dick's sporting goods around the country. Of course, those who are buying them are mostly going to go home and disregard the advice to seek a professional TRX Trainer but, in theory, it is beautiful and starts with the idea that WE (TRX Trainers) are a valuable asset to the company.

Some of my favorite TRXisms:
If you are training movement, results will follow
HIIT is built on focused simple strong movements
Meet the standards, then change the conditions- focus, learn, apply then challenge

Sure TRXisms were re-enforced, reminders of the acronyms and the importance of the plank were laid out there in addition to many, many new coaching tools/skills but more than anything else the spirit of my unencumbered 22 your old self who was bound to change the world one healthier sphere of influence at a time was reinvigorated. I was reminded that all the education and my commitment to the value of education is the most solid investment I can make. I now have another fitness family of likeminded individuals all trying to pursue their better and help others bring out their best.




Recently my great uncle Ted died.  On my dad's side, we have Hawaiian ancestry and uncle Ted was a big part of the oral tradition of our family culture; our connection to all that was universal and our connection to the Waipio Valley and our Hawaiian culture.  He loved to talk story.  Storytelling is healing, entertaining, expressive and most importantly, uniting.  Stories help us understand and build value, and in this modern world, and are wonderful to help all people understand each other.  His were mostly funny, but insightful and folktale-ish. They belonged in our family and in many ways, could be interpreted as universally transformative and inspirational.  

Everyone has a story and everyone's story has  meaning so this helped me think of a relevant way to have our clients testimonials take form in more than a soundbite. Our students are AMAZING!!! In our Iron & Grace family, there are lots of good stories and those who are willing to share theirs on our blog will hopefully provide you with inspiration and help you weave your story of consciously creating better health. I open with a tale of Shannon….. IMG_1095

"My strength journey began a few years ago when Iron and Grace moved to Lynchburg. Their timing was perfect, since I was going through a busy phase in life and had let myself go, so to speak – little exercise, poor diet, put on 10 pounds, etc. – I was always an exerciser, so I just felt yucky and not very healthy. I started with CORE DYNAMIX and proceeded to have my butt handed to me on Monday mornings by women 10+ years my senior – facts are facts, and they know who they are! Alaya suggested that I try kettlebells. WOW @ the learning curve - but they are FUN and I am so glad I stuck with it.

I spent a couple years learning to move well and building a base of strength in core classes, TRX, kettlebells, and power barre. Later, I began private sessions in order to focus more on strength goals specific to me. This is when my progress, strength AND physique wise, really took off. Chad has helped me with GOAL setting and to see strength as a skill – he pushes me when I need it, and pulls in the reigns when necessary. Before, I was really just going through the motions – but Chad insisted that I set specific strength based goals. My initial goal was met, and subsequent goals have been falling like dominos – feats of strength that I never dreamed I would be able to achieve. Now, I can’t imagine training without specific goals – they are what drive every session.

I now own a TRX and FIVE kettlebells (WTF!). I expect to use these tools for the rest of my life. The workouts are fast, effective, and FUN. The equipment does not take up room in my house, and I can take it with me anywhere I want. By the way, those 10 pounds of fat are long gone and I have visible abs, deltoids, etc. It is weird to think that I have actually SHRUNK while at the same time, I feel like such a muscle-y beast. ALL of this, and I do not feel drained or as though I even worked particularly hard to achieve it. Don’t get me wrong – when I am working out, I work hard - BUT the methods I have learned at Iron and Grace are SUSTAINABLE over a lifetime - such a far cry from my past of long cardio sessions, runs, and the nagging pains / discomfort which came with that. I never spend hours on end working out and I take at least 2 days of rest weekly. I have suffered no injury or pain and I feel great.

I can lift almost anything I want, safely – and usually by myself (this is a very useful skill). It’s really nothing crazy but CONSISTENCY is key. For me, that meant not being in a big rush for any of it, but maintaining a consistent effort over time. I don’t show up because I want to look like “X”. I will never look like someone else no matter what I do. Whatever I wind up looking like when I can do a pull up with a 24kg kettlebell hanging from my waist will look pretty damn good in my mind.

Iron and Grace will introduce you to the tools and show you the way. YOU have to do the work, and that does not mean being perfect BUT it does mean showing up and eating like a reasonable adult 80+% of the time. Just get started. Give it some time and it will become second nature ☺ "


SPRING CLEANING: The new and improved spring cleanse & detox

Alaya & Chad's experiment with a new variation on the Spring Cleanse
DAY ONE 5:56am

Spring is upon us! I've been playing with the idea of cleansing for awhile but there is something about this weekend's exposure to sunshine that popped the idea into action. I'm always learning healthy, new recipes, reading articles and research on new ideas on all things health, fitness and wellness. Over the years I've experienced a variety of cleanses either as a participant or an onlooker. The variation that I have been loving for the past few years was co-developed by myself and acupuncturist and digestive health guru, Senia Tuominen. Like often happens in our lives, I THOUGHT I had tweeked and retweeked the "metabolism retraining program" that it is born of, to perfection. At the time Senia and I were collaborating on a program integrating exercise and traditional chinese medecine to help people lose weight so I gave her the former (and much longer…) version of this program to critique and she did. She elucidated me on dampness and digestive fire and made some suggestions. I also had a toddler, was running my own business and had to be practical about eliminating time and labor. I laugh when I think about the complexities (sprouting of grains and seeds), expense (prepackaged juices and supplements) and craziness (bentonite clay and daily pH tests) various cleanses over the years. With subsequent cleanses, not only do I need to make it work for me but I want others with rich lives to make this work! The content of this cleanse has, as one of the goals, eliminating dampness. Disclaimer- only a doctor of chinese medicine or acupuncturist can craft something specific for your health and healing needs, this is just affected by Senia's wisdom and our collective experiences. Dampness is the most common problem in a typical American diet.

Why would you want to cleanse/detox? Well, I'm deferring this to experts like Megan Telpher and the ladies at Blondes Eat Clean for the answer. I actually took inspiration to try this before we put the whole thing online and available for our students from Mary Cope who recently finished a juice cleanse herself. Afterwards she posted all her insights on to those who may consider the same juice cleanse. We will give you daily insight and make changes so that all ya'all can decide.  I figured after spring break a detox may be in order... 

I'm practical (to a fault sometimes) this is indeed a detox/cleanse and has limited calories but my HOPE is that like me, you expand your culinary horizons in the process and grab some of the recipes for future use- open your mind and you might be wowed, like I was this morning. I'm just going to go right out there and say it. I STRONGLY DISLIKE CHIA SEEDS. This cleanse has lots of them and I reluctantly tried a recipe as a kickoff this morning that I would normally never eat for breakfast and was pleasantly surprised except for the fact that I am still picking chia seeds out of my teeth! I'm normally an eggs-and-green-smoothie-for-breakfast-girl but today I had a YUMMY beet bowl laden with apples, chia seeds and sprouted almonds. Our initial reaction was that it was remarkably yummy and satisfying. There is so much green in my day today I thought I'd diversify and beets are a great indicator of your body's ability to process. I've been concious of making this doable and creating complete proteins and I think that was the key to this morning's satisfaction. Since Chad's workouts are intense and he outweighs me by 100 pounds, he is adding more protein in the form of eggs and chicken this week. I'm going vegan. There are things I'm doing that you do not need to do but may want to consider. We will both check back in this evening with a little insight on day one.

8:27pm Alaya's day
So the satisfying beet bowl left me hungry in about 2 hours so the almonds that I intended to bring with me as a snack were nearly eaten by the time we left at 7:50, my eggs usually hold me just as long but I tend to sip my smoothie into the morning.  I had little pockets of time with which to eat today so around 11:40 I ate some of my ginger carrot watercress and beet salad and finished it after 1:00. Knowing I had a barre class to teach, I broke the vegan-ness around 4:00 and had an egg AND a Raw Rev 100 snack. I felt like I needed fat so I also had 10 more almonds and began thinking about my dinner waiting at home.... I was looking forward to it, so imagine my surprise when Chad told me that we were going to FunQuest before I would get home- yes, FunQuest where a very hungry person could eat chili cheese fries.  LUCKILY, I had my emergency hemp protein powder (20 g worth of protein baby) so in my state I went to Fresh Market and grabbed a Suja green drink WITHOUT looking at the back.  The juice fiends I happened to be travelling with, gladly drank about 25 g of the 40 g of sugar that was in said juice.  I had half a lemon to squeeze in about 8 oz of water and topped it off with about 4oz of the juice stirred and enjoyed!  I joke about the "emergency" hemp protein in the cabinet but this was the ideal situation to use it and I was pleasantly surprised that it was creamy and tasty.  I still needed some of the aparagus and quinoa that Chad made when I returned home.  So I learned 3 valuable things on day one of the cleanse. 1, Beet bowls and hemp protein will be part of my life.  2, I need more than 800-1000 calories on a workout day,even if cleansing.  3, Nothing stops a man with new inline skates (on the verge of roller hockey games) from going to FunQuest!

9:01 Chad's day
So I forgot my lunch, LUCKILY Alaya brought it in addition to more snacks to hold me throughout the day.   I drank about 24oz of coffee but apparently coffee is "not on the cleanse", so.....none tomorrow? I was definitely hungry when I got home around 4:00.  Stella was eating potato chips and while I had less than one serving, I still could not resist.  I got to work making dinner and found it to be the perfect pre-skating meal. By the end of the day I came to know that I eat unconsciously and this directed cleanse is really helpful to keep me on track. Today I ate about half the amount of food than normal and I felt satisfied, but it was also a rest day in my workout schedule. I ate about 5x the vegetables than normal. I'm energized

DAY 2  Alaya
I decided that I would consume more water before my first caffeine in general and this cleanse kicked it off.  I never got around to eating my lunch OR drinking tea until 2:30 so I was DRAGGING. I had to work hard to not eating something I'd regret.  I must say that I am not made to be vegan.  I had about 2 oz of beef and 20 oz of kombucha tonight and I was a totally different state 30 minutes later. I was completely energized. I'm so glad that I am doing this in advance and have been making notes on exceptions in the directions ;)

DAY 2 Chad
I felt like an angel today.  I felt stronger in my workout.  Alaya and I are making the same opposite discoveries.  I thrive on veggies and she needs meat.  I had less coffee but it IS in MY cleanse, so those of you who are afraid of needing to quit it, I say you don't need to quit it during the cleanse.  I LOVE coffee and if you have love for it, why quit it?

DAY 3 Alaya
While I did not get nearly enough sleep, my morning workout (the toughest of the week) went SO WELL.  It had actually been 2 weeks since I did that workout and I felt like a super hero, as a matter of fact I used a heavier kettlebell for my 3rd and 4th round.  My detox began and it felt good to have my body releasing what it didn't need. My lack of sleep caught up to me and I was totally out of it by 7:30. While I have found a need for meat and eggs, a small amount has been enough.

DAY 3 Chad
I'm enjoying eating like this. I feel SO good.  I just need more sleep to feel like I can apply my new found energy to my workouts.

DAY 4 Alaya
Another awesome workout! I feel like my waist may be smaller.... My GI has been working and I feel great, underslept, but great.  Chad feels the same.  We are both thinking that we want to do this for 7, instead of 5 days.

DAY 5 Alaya
I had my first MINOR deviation today as I was not as well prepared as I have been today. I had a Raw Rev Glo bar.  Very clean ingredients and low in sugar but it has added rice syrup and I did not want anything packaged or processed.  It didn't seem to make a difference... I still feel like an angel.   I had a reception and awards ceremony for my daughter and becuase of my tight schedule, I did not eat as much as I had planned to eat prior to the event. I went there and only grazed on a few pieces of fresh fruit and I ate the garnishes (parsley and fresh mint).  We celebrated afterwards by taking her to Isabella's and we were hungry.  There were a few options that were 90% cleanse and detox-worthy, so there is the 2nd slip of the day. I chose the eggplant stack and got a side of sauteed spinach.  There is minimal goat and buffalo cheese on this dish and the eggplant is breaded but all good.  It is possible to keep it clean eating in Lynchburg.  You just have to make the right choices.

DAY 6 Alaya
Yet another busy day for the Sexton family. I had a great breakfast, brought some (but not enough) healthy snacks and survived extreme hunger with an iron will while I was at Science Fest for 4 hours.  I had another event where food likely to not be on the cleanse was served, so I pre-ate and resigned myself to do 90%.  I broke down and told Chad that hoppy beer was bitter and therefore a gray area in the cleanse.  His input for today? "Bitter is on the cleanse? coffee and hoppy beer? Now this is a cleanse  I can get behind."

We really did not do this EXACTLY by the directions but I think that it is an important thing to note.  We will refine it and make changes (again) so that by the time it is in your hands, it is easy to follow and comprehensive. I consider myself a healthy eater but my body DEFINITELY benefitted from this cleanse and I feel GREAT and inspired. A 3 week cleanse is truly optimal with the first 2 weeks being a cleanse and detox and the third about strengthening your system.  I plan to keep many of these recipes in my life. Keep your eyes peeled for its official release.  We will put it in our newsletter and can send you the directions upon your request.



Those of you who are our regular students know that we think of ALL we do here as Pilates; conscious, core crafting. Pilates classes, barre classes, TRX classes, Rip Training, and kettlebells- they all require core stability and breathing in a way to enhance and perfect the stability, strength and mobility of our bodies.

Yes sweet simplicity, whether it feels sweet or sinister, our first challenge begins with your core and hopes to enlighten all y’all who do not have the pleasure of what we have come to call, McG short bout planks. The McG stands for McGill, as in Stuart McGill, certifiably THE authority on lumbo pelvic stability and back pain relief through core conditioning- one of our gurus at Iron & Grace. He has authored books that are staples to all conscientious movement professionals. Learn more or find his books and research at Dr. Stuart M. McGill is a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, ON, Canada). His advice is often sought by governments, corporations, legal experts and elite athletes and teams from around the world. Difficult back cases are regularly referred to him for consultation. His research in the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory has three objectives: to understand how the low back functions; to understand how it becomes injured; and, knowing this, formulate and investigate hypotheses related to prevention of injury and optimal rehabilitation of the injured back, and ultimate performance of the athletic back. This work has been recognized with many awards including the R. Tait McKenzie Award 2005, the Canadian Society for Biomechanics Career Award 2004, the Stow visiting lectureship from the Ohio State University College of Medicine 2002, the Steven Rose Lectureship from the Washington University School of Medicine 2001, to name a few.

The evidence based protocol for our first challenge using a 2:1 work to rest ratio-12 seconds of work, 6 seconds of rest. Start with as many as you can do FULLY ENGAGED. The plank is a full body exercise. Wrap your muscles around your bones, use your deep corset to keep the abdominal wall intact, reach through your heels, keep your neck long, and use your midback. THIS IS ACCESSIBLE TO ALL FITNESS LEVELS. You may be starting at 2 or 12 planks but your goal is make it to 20 someday. This is why we pose it as a challenge.

THE TASK: a beautiful plank up to 20 rounds of 12 seconds of work and 6 seconds of rest.  Do as many as you can maintain the standards, criteria and conditions below.

THE STANDARD: There should be no pain, an engaged abdominal wall from the inside out, ears, shoulders, hips and heels making a straight line.

THE CRITERIA: Quality position and focus

THE CONDITIONS: Choose a plank position that honors your current fitness level

Please check out our accompanying video to get some pointers on how to progress from the ground up.

Need expert eyes on your plank? Give us a jingle or email!