4 tips to avoid injury and get the most out of life

Good form is the alignment of your body whilst you are doing anything. Body alignment and or the lack of it can either lead us toward injury or keep us safe. If you suffer from recurring injuries such as bursitis, shoulder injuries, tendonitis or lower back pain it is likely that by improving your alignment and your body awareness whilst moving will help to reduce your pain and the cause of the injury in the first place.

There are some basic rules of alignment that can help us to check our own bodies whilst we are moving. This helps to develop our own awareness of alignment so we can correct ourselves to reduce pain and injury and to enjoy life more.

Rules of good form:

  1. Find and know your neutral spine – The term neutral spine means the position of your spine when you are relaxed and not in-printing or arching the spine. This position is slightly different for everyone. When in a lying position or standing against a wall in ‘neutral’ you should be able to feel a small air pocket or gap between your lower back and the floor or the wall. Neutral spine is the same spinal position whether you are standing lying or sitting (see images below). Getting used to feeling your own ‘neutral spine’ can help to improve all your movement and your posture and reduce risk of injury. * Thanks to backforever.com for the image.
Image shows different spine positions

2. Unlock your joints – Some of us have a habit of hanging in our joints. This is easiest to see in our legs. When we hang in our joints we have our legs so ‘straight’ that we push through the back of our knee joint. This pushes the hips forward and we hang off the front of hips (see image below). In this position we often collapse in the upper back as the ribs get little support from the abdominals and bottom (gluteals) gets very tight. When you are aware of this you can retrain yourself to unlock the knees and bring the weight of your hips back over your ankles. This will quickly rebuild your leg strength and deep abdominals and improve you posture.

3. Side lying, stack and hold – Side lying exercises are a common feature in rehabilitation programs and in the gym. They are a great way to strengthen the bottom (gluteals) so they are able to support your pelvis. Often I see people doing side lying exercises with some common errors that mean they don’t get the benefits of the exercise and can strain their lower back. The key when side-lying is ensuring your hips are stacked one on top of the other (easy right?) now when you lift your knee or leg, keep them stacked. No rolling the top hip back to lift the leg! See images below. Correcting this will give you a much deeper burn at the gym and will prevent tightness and strain in the lower back.

4. See your head and neck as part of your spine – Your head and neck are part of your spine. Bring that awareness into your minds eye (you just got taller!). When moving or sitting or driving imagine that your head and neck are in alignment as part of your spine. The images below show a good example of when we can forget our head and neck. By simply seeing your body in your minds eye differently you can have a positive impact on your posture.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Tight leg muscles can cause back pain

What I love about Pilates is that we focus on the connections in the body, rather than looking at the parts as essentially seperate or whole in themselves. When you look at the connections it gives you an understanding of how the parts of our bodies work together to support each other. This allows us to see if one part is super tight or weak, how this can impact the rest of the body and our levels of pain.

The length of your leg muscles can directly impact how your pelvis sits which is the foundation for your spine. If the front of your legs are tight this can pull your pelvis forward leading to an increased arch in your lower back (lordosis). If the back of your legs are tighter than the front this can pull the back of your pelvis down and pull the natural curve out of the lumbar spine. Misalignment of the spine either way can put pressure on the muscles in the back causing tightness and spasm. Misalignment can also put additional pressure on vertebrae and over time can cause nerve damage and nerve pain.

Back Pain
Leg muscle length and spinal position

The length of your leg muscles matters. It’s worth stretching them regularly. Delightful ways to stretch the back of your legs include:

  • Lying on the floor with your legs up a wall, focus on making your tail bone and back of your hips heavy into the floor and reaching your heels to the ceiling.
  • Grab a theraband and lying on the floor put one foot into it. Press your foot into the band until you can get the leg straight (or close to). Reach your heel away from you as you breath, then repeat on your other leg.

Lovely ways to stretch the front of your legs include:

  • Stand facing a wall with a chair with a soft seat behind you. Stand tall and bend one knee, to bring your foot up behind you, place your knee on the edge of the seat, use your other hand to steady on on the wall, you can bend your standing leg, breath and then do the other leg.
  • Lying face down on the floor bend one knee to bring your foot towards your bottom, grab your foot with your hand if you can and breath. To deepen the stretch tuck your pelvis to push your pubic bone into the floor.

As is the case with most movement, breathing is an essential part of letting the muscles find new length. To see a difference in muscle tightness you will need to be stretching everyday for at least two weeks to gain prolonged benefit. If you are doing the right stretch for you, you will feel a little better straight away.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay and Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

5 Tips for getting back to exercise after isolation

So many people have not had much exercise during isolation. Now that gyms and classes are reopening and people are rushing back to their workouts it is important to take your time and check in with your body. It can be frustrating to come back to your work out and find you have lost strength and mobility. All your hard work feels lost, as though you are starting again from scratch. Well, yes you will have lost some of your gains but follow these tips to bounce back quickly and avoid injury.

  1. Frequency is (almost) everything:

Going hard into your first workout and then doing nothing for the week is not the way to do this. Start small, prepare yourself before your class or workout. 10 -15 minutes a day of stretching or gentle core activation per day is going to connect your mind and body as well as key muscle groups (if you do the right exercises) to be ready for a more challenging work out. If you would like to receive a 10 minute video guiding you through some of these exercises, enter you email below and I will send it to you.

2. Form is everything:

Take the time to understand the position your body needs to be in to get the most out of the exercise, a good trainer or teacher will give you this. Form or correct alignment whilst exercising makes the difference between effectiveness and injury. So make sure you are working with someone who corrects you and teaches you to feel your correct alignment and correct yourself. This is a bit like riding a bike, it can feel strange at first but once you have the knack you have it for life.

3. Hydrate before and after your workout or class:

Dehydration is common at the time of year. The colder weather doesn’t inspire us to drink lots of water whilst the drying winds literally draw the water out of us. Make a point of drinking water before you work out or exercise and tanking up afterwards. Also cutting back on diuretics such as tea and coffee and switching to herb tea for one or two of you hot drinks can help you stay well hydrated.

4. Engage your mind

If you are someone who monitors your own progress closely and critically then check these thoughts at the door. Your mind can be a powerful ally in your journey to strength and mobility. It can help you to focus on your internal alignment (form) and it can help you coordinate your movement with your breath. When occupied with keeping you present your mind will have less time to criticise your efforts and distract you from your experience.

5. Schedule it into your routine and give yourself a cue

The important thing is you get up and do all of this again tomorrow. If it isn’t in your schedule or your routine it is likely other priorities will come up. So, when are you going to do that 10 minutes stretch and strength work in your day? First thing? Before bed? See it in your minds eye, what do you do before this activity and what comes after it? Think of something that will remind you of this order of events, it may be a reminder on your phone, or putting your stretching clothes out on the bed. Make sure you give yourself a cue. When are you doing your classes this week? Book them in NOW – classes are small right now so book your spot and commit to this time and you will be on the pathway back to your own strength and mobility.

To receive your free ‘Return to exercise safely’ video, enter your email below and I will send it to you.

Thanks for reading.

Brigid

Tight neck and shoulders?

I tend to watch more TV in winter. Colder nights make me want to cuddle up and be entertained! After some cosy nights I wake with a tight neck and shoulders from being in the same position for too long. If you work at a desk and especially from home a tight neck and shoulders might be something you have regularly. A tight neck and shoulders can lead to headaches, lethargy and tiredness and interrupted sleep. So what can we do about it?

The antidote to tight muscles is movement, sound simple? It is. If the tightness is not chronic then movement like a brisk walk (swinging your arms), a dance in the lounge room or a light weight session with good form can bring fresh circulation into muscles. As the muscles warm up and take in fresh blood the tight fibres can release and let go.

Breath is a key to releasing tension. Movement that encourages deep abdominal breathing will help to release neck and shoulder tension.

If there is tension in other parts of the body this can contribute to neck and shoulder tension. For example tension in the diaphragm can lock the ribs and restrict breath. Limited mobility in the ribs can affect the way the collar bones sit and how the scapula (shoulder blade) glides over the back of the ribcage, this can result in neck and shoulder tension.

Here are some ideas for nourishing movement to help release tension in your upper body, neck and shoulders:

Elbow breathing

Stand tall, feet hip width apart. Bring your finger tips to your shoulders. As you inhale draw your shoulder forward and then up over your shoulders and let them fall apart, open your chest. As you exhale let your elbows fall gently down and forward bringing your elbows together in front of you as you round and broaden through the back of the ribs. Repeat at least 4 times.

Your head is a ball

Stand tall, feet hip width apart. Imagine your head is a ball balancing on the top of your neck. Keep your neck steady and still, as you drop your chin let the base of your skull slide back and up. As you lift your chin, keeping your neck steady and still, let the base of your skull slide forward and down towards the top of your neck. Let your head glide like a ball rolling on top of your neck.

Jaw release

Stand tall, feet hip width apart. Move your head to look side to side, take note of how your neck feels. Bring your left hand up and over your head to touch your jaw joint on the right hand side of your head (just in front of your right ear). Take your right hand to the same place. Begin to press gently into the jaw joint and slide your right hand down towards your jaw as you slide your left hand up towards your temple. Repeat 6- 8 times getting deeper and find different pathways for your fingers to stroke way from the join. Then relax and move your head to look side to side again. See if you have more movement in your right side. Then do the same on your left side.

I am a movement and Pilates teacher based in Lennox Head where I have a fully equipped Pilates studio. My studio has now reopened! I love working with clients to recover from injury, reduce pain and gain strength and body confidence. Check out more information about my Pilates equipment classes and contact me on the details below to discuss how I can help you .

Leg tension from too much sitting?

If all this home isolation has you sitting more than usual you may be feeling tight and not connected to your leg strength. This article outlines how to release tension in the legs that can cause lower back pain, sciatica and hip discomfort and how to engage the muscles in the back of the legs.

Working from home has its advantages like reducing your time commuting but it also can mean many more hours sitting at a desk without the usual walking between meetings. Instead we go from one zoom meeting to the next often without getting up.

Tightness in the legs can manifest as lower back pain, hip discomfort, sciatica pain or pins and needles in your feet. To reduce tension in your legs a combination of getting the blood moving and stretching can bring fast and effective relief.

BRIDGING

To start with lets get the back of the legs working with some bridging. Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms out to the side. Take an inhale to prepare, as you exhale push down into your feet. See if you can feel the back of your legs working. Begin to squeeze your bottom to lift your hips (pelvis) off the ground.

Engage gluteals and hamstrings
Bridge to engage back of legs and gluteals

NUETRAL SPINE & TOE TAPS

Neutral spine is the position of your spine with it’s natural curve in it. Lay on your back knees bent with feet flat on the floor, arms out to the side. You can slide one hand under your lower back to check if you are maintaining a small ‘air pocket’ between your lumbar spine and your mat. Bring both knees up to hover above the hips with your ankles in line with the knee so your calf is parallel to the ground. Now, keep the shape of your leg as you hinge from the hip to drop one foot to the floor, then return the leg to meet the other leg and repeat each side. If you feel your lower back lift and arch off the floor to keep the legs up then stop and do this with one leg up and the other knee bent with the foot on the floor.

Neutral spine - Pilates
Neutral spine – piston legs

GLUTEAL STRETCH

Lay on your back knees bent with feet flat on the floor, arms out to the side. Bring one ankle to the opposite knee, then lift the foot off the floor to bring the knee toward the chest, hang on to knee with your hands if you can, stay here and breathe. Then repeat on the other side. This is a hugely beneficial stretch to do for your legs, hips and lower back. Enjoy!

Release leg and lower back tension
Gluteal stretch

Brigid Pearse is a Pilates and Movement teacher based in Lennox Head offering virtual classes during lockdown. These are real time classes where Brigid leads clients through an all levels Pilates mat work and movement therapy via the internet. Check out the home page for more details or Sign up for regular videos to maintain health and mobility through Pilates.

Getting up and down off the floor with ease

When people come to do Pilates with me, getting up and down off the floor with ease is not usually something they say is a goal. They say things like stronger core strength. When I talk to clients about their everyday activities getting up and down off the floor can cause many people problems. We don’t always link ‘exercise’ to improving the everyday movements that we do. Well, exercise should make these everyday movements easier.

Pilates, Lennox Head

This is Jay an 82 year old client of mine (and also my mum). Jay started Pilates when she turned 60. She was constantly at the chiropractor and she struggled with her weight all her life. Jay committed to Pilates, she did classes at least twice, often three times per week, for more than twenty years. She is stronger at 82 than she was at 50. She rarely goes to the chiropractor now.

Even with this amazing strength, Jay still really struggled to get up and down off the floor. Until 4 weeks ago she switched to my online mat classes (like many of my clients). At home, she jumps online when it is time for class and joins me and other clients for a mat class.

After 4 weeks she is delightedly getting up and down off the floor, repetitively! Because she can. You see, getting up and down off the floor in a mat class, and working with gravity and resistance is very good practice for getting up and down off the floor in real life.

If you are struggling to get up and down off the floor, or just starting to struggle with this there are some things you can do to improve this:

  • Practice the hip crease exercise, a lot. Do a set of at least 20 twice a day, and as you get stronger get a little lower each time.
  • Do the walking in place exercise everyday.
  • Practice becoming aware of you centre ( the muscles between your ribs and hips all the way around your torso). Use your in-breath to expand your torso all the around and with your out-breath let the muscles return in to your body. This requires no force, just let the natural mechanics of your body respond to your breath.

Doing these three things each day will help you to build leg strength and encourage deep abdominal engagement. If you need more help to improve your ease with getting up and down off the floor contact me on the details below, I love helping people with this!

Brigid Pearse is a Pilates and Movement teacher based in Lennox Head offering virtual classes during the lockdown. These are real time classes where Brigid leads clients through an all levels Pilates mat work and movement therapy via the internet. Check out the home page for more details.

Online group exercise classes, how do they work?

During this time of COVID 19 and home isolation you may have seen your local gym, yoga or Pilates studios offering live online classes. Certainly in the Byron Bay, Lennox Head, Bangalow and Ballina areas there are some great options. If you have never contemplated doing a live online class and you are wondering how it might work, read on…

There are many great reasons to consider taking a live online class from your local studio or movement teacher:

  1. You are supporting a local business and a local teacher who will be able to keep teaching and be there as an option for you after the crisis is over.
  2. Movement is a great antidote for fear, boredom, depression and anxiety. Having a set time where you will meet with other humans to move with conscious awareness is a tremendously positive thing to do in your day.
  3. It is a way of connecting with the broader community. In a live online class there are other clients in the class as well, you can see and sometimes hear them. At the end of the class some teachers will make time for everyone to have a bit of a chat. This is a great break from isolation.

So how do live online classes work?

Usually you will need to book in or sign up for the class with the studio or teacher. They will send you a link usually via an email. There are a few different platforms that people can use. The most popular one at the moment is Zoom, so I will focus on that one.

Once you have a link to your class you click on it to open Zoom. If you have never used Zoom before, you will need to download it. Opening the link gives you the option to download the software. You can do this before the class if you like. Trying to download the software without the link can be tricky, so I advise people to simply use the link to begin the download, which needs to be confirmed by you.

Most live online classes will require the teacher to be online before you can actually ‘get into’ the class online. Some classes will have a waiting room that will open up from the link, this is so the teacher can check that everyone there is supposed to be there before they allow people into the class.

If you are early and the class won’t open you may have to wait until a few minutes before the class for someone to be in the class. I always start each of my Pilates mat classes 10 minutes early so people have a chance to get settled and check their audio and video before we need to start class.

Your setup:

It depends what class you are doing, for Pilates mat classes I like the camera to be side on to your mat and for clients to be some distance away from the camera so that I can see their whole body.

“In a live online Pilates class it is more important for the teacher to see the client than for the client to see the teacher. And it is more important for client to hear the teacher than for the teacher to hear the client.”

This is because teachers can give verbal instructions or cues for movement, as clients do this movement if the teacher can see you then they can correct the client if they don’t have something right. As long as you can hear the teacher you will get most of the class, if something needs to be demonstrated you can also see the teacher in a Zoom class.

Often teachers in Zoom will mute everyone in the class so that there is not a lot of background noise. Don’t take this personally! It just helps everyone hear the teacher well. You are able to un-mute yourself by clicking on your microphone in the Zoom window.

In the top right hand corner of the Zoom window is a setting for ‘Speaker view’ or ‘Gallery view’. ‘Speaker view’ makes whoever is speaking visible on your screen. ‘Gallery view’ gives you a view of everyone in the class. This is really up to personal preference. Sometimes it is good to see others in the class if the teacher is not demonstrating much but it is also good to just be focused on the teacher.

Other tips for doing live online classes:

  • Make sure your device battery is charged or your device is plugged into the wall
  • You may want to unplug other devices from your wifi to give you the best connection possible
  • Set up your camera side on to your mat to give your teacher the best view of your movement
  • Don’t be right on top of your camera, set the camera back from you so your teacher can see your whole body
  • Be patient, sometimes systems freeze and you may miss a few words, if you can’t pick it up let your teacher know you have missed the direction. You may hold a plank a little longer than you need to while your teacher is frozen but that isn’t such a bad thing is it?

Brigid Pearse is a Pilates and Movement teacher based in Lennox Head offering virtual classes during the lockdown. These are real time classes where Brigid leads clients through an all levels Pilates mat work and movement therapy via the internet. Check out the home page for more details.

Understanding lower back pain and what to do about it

I am one of those lucky people who have never had lower back pain through my life, and I am nearing 50. The other day I was in the garden doing hours of digging and I strained my lower back whilst being lassoed by a 5 year old (yes, really). I think that’s when it happened.

Having lower back pain is agony, every time I bent over I felt the strain and it was as if my abdominals had gone to sleep, I felt no support. That was 2 days ago and after my regular Pilates practice and teaching I am feeling much better. I am now beginning to focus exactly on the muscles on the left side of my lumber spine that need more strengthening.

The level of pain shocked me and I have renewed empathy and respect for anyone who lives with that pain, and I have renewed energy to share the solutions I have learnt to help you fix it. I don’t have a magic bullet, only a practice that if you do regularly like 3 or 4 times per week will reduce most back pain.

Back pain can be a mythical beast, Australian’s have a very high rate of spinal imaging for the world and yet often people with severe pain show nothing significant on their MRI’s or X-rays. Although often imaging can give some clear diagnosis to assist with treatment and exercise considerations.

There are some common pathologies that cause lower back pain:

Stenosis: Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the lower back and the neck.

Protruding or bulged discs:bulging disc injury is a common spine injury sustained to your spine’s intervertebral disc. It can occur in your lumbar spine (lower back), thoracic spine (upper and mid-back) or your cervical spine (neck). A disc bulge (commonly referred to as slipped disc, can potentially press against or irritate the nerve where it exits from the spine. This nerve pinch can cause back pain, spasms, cramping, numbness, pins and needles, or pain in your legs.

Lumbar strain: A stretching injury to the ligaments, tendons, and/or muscles of the low back. The stretching incident results in microscopic tears of varying degrees in these tissues. Lumbar strain is one of the most common causes of lower back pain.

Sciatica: Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body. Sciatica most commonly occurs when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) compresses part of the nerve. This causes inflammation, pain and often some numbness in the affected leg.

There are of course many more but for the purposes of this blog I will group these into two broad groups and then go into helpful movement considerations for these conditions:

  1. Conditions that cause nerve pain: Movement considerations:
    • Understand where the pressure on nerves is occurring
    • Minimise bending and stretching that increases pressure on nerves
    • Continue to develop spinal mobility without aggravating nerves
    • Develop movement patterns such as neutral spine and deep abdominal engagement to reduce impingement on nerves
  2. Conditions that lead to muscular pain
    • Encourage spinal mobility from the head to the tail
    • Release tight muscles in hips, gluteals and legs
    • Work to engage deep abdominals and deep back stabilisers

For more guidance on this seek out a qualified manual therapist or Pilates and movement therapy teacher.

Brigid Pearse is a Pilates and Movement teacher based in Lennox Head offering virtual classes during the lockdown. These are real time classes where Brigid leads clients through an all levels Pilates mat work and movement therapy via the internet. Check out the home page for more details.

Find calm and release pain -everyday

So, the world just got turned upside down by a tiny virus. The rate and extent of change to our lives is beyond anything we have seen in our lifetime. During times of turmoil and change it is routine and regular practices that can bring us a sense of calm and control. If you are seeking ways to look after your health over the next few months starting a movement practice is a great idea!

When things hit the fan it is always good to have a regular practice. This creates predictability for the brain and can calm the nervous system. I always found the practice of sitting meditation stifling, I enjoy the focus on my breath but I become much more settled if I can move. For me Pilates is a wonderful combination of breath focus and movement to bring me into the present moment.

A movement practice is a commitment. You decide how often you will do it, and stick to it. Every day, twice a day, every second day, once or twice a week. It doesn’t matter although you will get more benefits the more frequently you do it. What matters is that you SHOW UP on your mat to move. You can do this in a class with a teacher or with exercises you have learned and take home. You can do it for an hour or a couple of minutes.

There is at least one essential ingredient for a movement practice. A focus on and control of your breath. Controlling our breath or breathing with conscious and curious attention brings us present with our bodies and into the present moment. This aspect of a movement practice is essential.

To begin a movement practice you will need:

  • A space to move where you can swing your arms and legs;
  • A mat to be comfortable on the floor
  • A series of movements to repeat.

It doesn’t really matter what movements you repeat. You can do yoga poses, Pilates routines, stretching from the gym or a combination of moves you remember from all over the place. There are only three things that really count when developing a movement practice:

  • A focus on the breath
  • A willingness to listen to what feels good in your body and what doesn’t
  • And showing up regularly.

My movement practice started when I was about 7 years old, I started ballet at the local church hall and I haven’t stopped moving since. Regular movement has helped me weather many storms in my life. I hope the idea of a movement practice is useful to you during this crazy time. Try it and let me know how you go.

X Brigid

Mental health: 3 tips for lock down

These are unprecedented times. COVID 19 has us all changing our way of life and moving in to lock down, and rightly so given the rate of spread and risk to lives. For many of us the loss of our usual routine, the lack of our usual supports such as schools to look after our children or even a coffee with friends, life can feel out of control. This has us all off-balance right now, so how can we look after our metal health during lock down?

Tip #1 Understand what you can control. This situation reveals to me the very uncomfortable truth that we are not in control of much. If this is also hitting you in the face at the moment lets look at things a bit more closely.

I love the image above as a way we can map our circle of influence over things that we are concerned about. There are things we have influence over (the good news!) and they go in the centre of the circle. These are the things we can do for ourselves. The things that really have no influence over go outside the circle and these are the things we need to let go of, as worrying about them will not change them.

Tip #2 Create a routine. Have a rough plan for each day that balances tasks that need to be done and time for self care. Things like walking in nature (if you are able to leave the house) exercise (more on this in the next tip), taking a bath, watching a favourite movie or cooking a favourite meal are all ways to give yourself care.

Tip #3 Move to Nurture yourself. Exercise is absolutely essential for mental health. As a Pilates teacher I recommend Pilates as an amazing practice to maintain wellness. Did you know Joseph Pilates was a POW in WW1 and while he was incarcerated he developed the traditional mat series that is now practiced around the world? These exercises were developed for people in very cramped conditions that were not getting other normal exercise. The health of prisoners that were doing these exercises was noted by the British Army at the time. Whatever you can do to move your energy right now is fine, dancing around the lounge room, stretching on the floor or doing an online class. Move and breath.

Here are some ideas to be mindful about our mental health as we move into lock down. With a few tips to keep us on track we can do this. If you are seeking further resources please check out https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak

Take care and move to nurture yourself,

Brigid

Brigid Pearse is a Pilates and Movement teacher based in Lennox Head offering virtual classes during the lockdown. These are real time classes where Brigid leads clients through an all levels Pilates mat work out via the internet. Check out the home page for more details.