Alaya

SLOW DOWN !

 

 

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.

 

 


Alaya

THE WISDOM OF JOE PILATES AND MODERN EXERCISE SCIENCE



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?

 
Collagen
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 !

Alaya

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.

 

TRUSTING THE BODY'S ABILITY TO HEAL ITSELF

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!