Neck pain from exercise? Never again!

Do you get neck pain from exercise? There is nothing more frustrating than doing your workout and then having a sore neck for a few days afterwards.

The worst things about getting a sore neck after exercise is it means that your neck is probably compensating for your core muscles. This means they didn’t work as well as they could have. Also having a sore neck means that your neck was out of alignment when it was working so it isn’t getting stronger either. It’s just getting tighter.

See what I mean? Frustrating right! If getting a sore neck after exercise is normal for you, you might not believe that it is possible to work really hard without getting a sore neck. I used to think that because I often used to get a sore neck after any exercise. I know what it feels like!

It wasn’t until I went through my Pilates teacher training that I learnt proper technique to align my neck. It was a revelation to me! And now I know that it is completely unnecessary to get neck pain from exercise I make sure my clients know how to work hard and look after their neck at the same time.

How to reduce neck pain from exercise:

1. Self Assess:

What is your posture like? Take a photo of your self from the side standing in a relaxed position. Does your ear line up with your shoulder or is it more forward? Do you have forward head posture that looks anything like the image below? I love this image because it demonstrates the additional weight the upper back has to carry the further forward the head is.

Neck pain and Pilates
Neck pain and posture

2 Chin tuck – long neck

If you have regular neck pain after exercise it is likely you have some forward head posture going on. You can see from the image above that the further forward your head the harder the front of the neck has to work to support your head. The true job of the muscles at the front of the neck (cervical flexors) is to contract to tuck the chin and lengthen the back of the neck.

To practice a good chin tuck, lay down on the floor with you knees bent and soles of the feet on the floor. Place a small towel roll under the curve in the back of your neck, this is simply to support your neck to rest with it’s natural curve, do not prop the head up to tuck the chin. Ensure the back of your head is still on the floor. Then proceed to tuck the chin down toward the chest, leaving the back of the head on the floor, lengthening the back of the neck as much as possible. Practice this twice a day for at least 1 minute.

3 Neck and head hover

Once you are comfortable with the chin tuck you can progress to the head hover. This progression is to continue to find the deep chin tuck and then hover the back of the head off the floor ONLY 1 CM! This is hover not a chest lift, and the low hover is designed to strengthen the deep neck flexors at the front of the neck. So if you lift too high you will miss them altogether. See this video for more information. Add these head hovers to your twice daily practice of your chin tucks.

These exercises begin to teach the bones in your neck to re-align themselves so the right muscles can start working. If you are practicing twice daily you will start to feel improved alignment in other positions like sitting and standing. Allow your chin to tuck more and lengthen through the back of your neck.

Then you can bring this awareness in as you exercise. If you do you chest lifts and sit ups you can start with the chin tuck and head hover. Make sure you pass through these positions on your way to the chest lift to get your neck aligned and the right muscles switched on. If you are playing golf or lifting small children from the floor, bring in the chin tuck to align your neck. If you are surfing tuck your chin whilst lengthening the back of your neck, see if you can lift your head with the front of the neck rather than the back.

There are so many ways to learn and apply great alignment! Get in touch for more ideas.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor, an ex-dancer and a mum. 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.

When you need to get strong fast!

When you need to get strong fast it can feel like the only way is to push like hell. Well, the surprise I have for you is that the fastest way to get strong is gently. When you are in a hurry to get strong fast it is usually for a reason.

You may have just had a baby or maybe an illness or injury has laid you low for a while. You may be going through menopause and feel your muscle mass decreasing or maybe your life has become too sedentary. What ever the reason, when you need to build strength fast, here are some tips to help you reach your goals.

In my thirties I had a number of abdominal surgeries. Each one meant I had to let the muscles recover before working them and then it was like starting again to rebuild my strength. I learnt a lot during this time about the downfalls of pushing too far too fast. I want to help you avoid the setbacks so you can get strong fast.

Tip 1 Set activity goals

When setting goals for our physical strength and fitness it is most helpful to have an ‘activity goal’. This means identifying something that you want to be able to do, or do with more ease. Activity goals can be as diverse as running a half marathon to wanting to walk up stairs without discomfort. What is important is that you set your sights on an activity you WANT to achieve. This is different to goals like I want to lose x amount of weight, or I want to have strong arms, or I want to have a toned butt.

Activity goals are different because they are not about how you look, they are about what you can do. Activity goals are easily measurable because they are practical activities you can test yourself on. As soon as you achieve one you can set another one to spur you on. Pilates is amazing for this because there are always more advanced exercises to learn and master.

Tip 2 Get strong fast – set a timeframe

When do you want to achieve your activity goal? Take into account your current level of fitness / wellness and how much work you will need to do to achieve your activity goal. The sooner you want to achieve it the more often you will need to work. To a point, the more often you exercise the more quickly your body will reap the benefits. The great thing about deciding to work gently towards strength is that you are less likely to injure yourself and experience setbacks that interrupt your regular commitment to exercise and towards achieving your activity goals.

Tip 3 Find a teacher who will teach you alignment

Finding a guide is important when you want to get strong gently. The key to building strength effectively is finding your own proper alignment. Most of us need the help of an extra set of eyes to help us when we revert to bad posture or to an old pattern of misalignment in our bodies. A teacher who can explain proper alignment is the best foundation you can have for achieving strength (and your activity goals) through gentle exercise. Building strength is never passive, even when you are working gently. Finding alignment and staying active in your muscles is something your teacher should help you with, every class.

Tip 4 Learn to feel the right challenge for you

Once you are being guided to find the alignment that activates your muscles most effectively you can start to develop a sense of the right challenge for you. This is important because when we overload our muscles, particularly our core muscles, we don’t make them stronger, usually other muscles jump in to compensate for the ones that are overloaded. This reinforces existing weaknesses and can lead to injury. Learning to find your activated alignment and sense just the right load for you today is the pathway to sustainable strength and to reaching your activity goal gently and quickly.

Tip 5 Learn the difference between good sore and bad sore

Finally, how you feel after exercise matters. If you feel some tenderness in your deep abdominals, where your bottom meets your thighs, between your shoulder blades or even in the muscles under your ribs, these are good signs that you are working muscles that need to worked. You are on the way to reaching your activity goal.

If you feel tenderness, tightness or pain in your neck, calves or lower back, these are signs that these areas are compensating due to lack of alignment or overloading. If you continue to push harder, you are likely to experience some kind of injury or the work out will become so unpleasant you won’t maintain it.

My goal is to have as many people reaching their activity goals as quickly as possible. I hope you have found these suggestions helpful.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor, an ex-dancer and a mum. 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.

Get more from your exercise routine

You want to get more from your exercise routine? Or may be you don’t have an exercise routine but you want to get started? I am here to tell you that your attitude matters. Not only for how you stay motivated but also how you measure your progress and what work outs you choose. Our attitude to exercise is most often shaped by our attitude to our own bodies.

What attitude?

How is your attitude towards your own body going? Have you thought about it lately? Do you catch yourself looking at other peoples bodies and just wishing you had theirs? Do you experience frustration from not being able to do things that you love? A while back I had terrible plantar fasciitis (inflammation in muscles in the feet). This stopped me from walking on the beach everyday. I loved walking on the beach but when my feet were tight it was agony. And so I stopped.

It was around this time I realised that I didn’t really care about the shape of my bum that much, but I really wanted to walk on the beach without pain. My motivation for exercise shifted from wanting to look a certain way to wanting to do a certain thing (without pain). This shifted my attitude to exercise, I was more willing to go more slowly and work with my body to achieve the outcome rather than override and push my body to achieve a certain shape.

Body image:

In our society most of us carry some body image issues. We are bombarded by images of an ideal body shape achieved by certain work outs that are most relevant to younger bodies. Our body as an object is pushed hard, particularly at girls, from an early age. We learn to focus on what our bodies look like to others, not what they can do for us. This view of our bodies then influences how we sense our own bodies and how we interpret what we feel.

The exercise industry has not sought to help women with body image issues. In general the exercise industry has exploited the view of women’s bodies as objects and continues to perpetuate the promise of buff arms, a firm butt and chiseled thighs as the only goals worthy of pursuing when it comes to exercise.

Think about function over form:

If you are heading into exercise with the view that you want to change your whole body, you basically want a knew one, this is a set up for a pattern that isn’t kind and may make a sustainable path to regular exercise difficult. If you head into exercise appreciating what your body can do now, with a clear idea of what you want your body to be able to do, you have a better chance of reaching these goals.

When setting your exercise goals think about function over form. Think about activities you would like to do with more ease. It may be you would like to get up off the floor more easily or you might like to run a half marathon. These specific goals give you and your movement teacher or trainer something to measure your progress. This gives real information to your teacher or trainer about where to focus and what work outs to develop for you.

Working with a teacher or trainer who helps you set clear, practical goals for your what your body can achieve can be a tremendous help. These goals can then become a way of monitoring your progress.

Achieve your goals

Get more from your exercise routine by checking your motivation and your attitude. Set goals that have real outcomes for your everyday life rather than ideal body shape. Notice as you start to achieve those outcomes in your everyday life, this is you achieving your goals and it is the best motivation for an active life there is.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor, an ex-dancer and a mum. 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.

How to make a new exercise habit with Pilates

Trying to make a new exercise habit now it’s the New Year? It’s a great time to set a new routine and prioritise your health. If you haven’t found exercise that really works for you this can be really difficult. About this time every year I used to sign up for the gym or a bootcamp and brace myself to get fit. I felt lethargic, I didn’t move enough everyday and I thought I needed some high intensity exercise to get strong. I would turn up and do a few work outs, I go very red in the face when I do cardio, so I got very red and hot. I’d do exercises that didn’t feel good just to keep up and afterwards I felt like a wobbly lump of jelly with very little inner connection or control.

After these workouts I would often be very sore for days. Sometimes I couldn’t sit down for the best part of a week. After I had my child I felt like my inside would get all moved around and not in a good way. Then I would have to rely heavily on my willpower to keep turning up. And there were days that it felt better for my body not to turn up and then I would find it very hard to make it a habit. This made me feel frustrated and down on myself and less confident about exercise in general. As a person who loved dancing when I was younger I knew this wasn’t right.

Then I discovered Pilates with a great teacher who wasn’t afraid to take things slowly. I tried Pilates in dance college but didn’t feel the need or have the patience for it at time. When I was ready for it, I knew I needed help to get strong. I had finally given up on the bootcamp vicious cycle and I was ready to BE in my body.

Make a new exercise habit

Healthy habits are how we live healthy lives. When beginning a new habit here are some tips:

  1. Start small. Don’t aim for an hour hard cardio class when you haven’t worked out for 6 months. Find a mindful Pilates class that will challenge you where you need it. ( More about Pilates later).
  2. Find an accountability partner. Either book into a class or find a friend who will meet you to exercise. The power of having someone who is expecting you to show up is very helpful when you are trying to start a new exercise habit.
  3. Connect this activity with something you already do daily. It may be when your feet touch the ground in the morning or when you get home from work in the evening. Choose your time and get organised for it.
  4. Use a prompt. Place a prompt in the location where you will be when it is time to exercise. Put your walking shoes or your movement clothes next to the bed or next to where you put your work bag down so these remind you of your habit and then get ready.
  5. Once you have done the exercise, note how you feel in your body. Do you feel like you have been challenged enough but not so much that you have lingering pain or discomfort. Recognise yourself for showing up and doing the thing! This part is important, give yourself a smile or do a happy dance so your brain knows you have done good. Our brains love that recognition and over time your brain will begin to associate exercise with feeling good.

Why Pilates? And what type of Pilates?

Pilates is so great for beginning a new exercise habit! And yes there are different types of Pilates. Although rather than being fussy about different styles, what is more important is how it is taught. Is it a packed class in a gym that is really a bootcamp or circuit workout (circling through a range of exercises sometimes using props or machines) with a few Pilates movements thrown in. Or is it in a space that encourages you to relax, connect with your body and learn techniques to deepen the work in each exercise. The latter is a great practice for helping you to develop a new exercise habit.

Pilates that helps you connect with your body will get you strong, because that’s what Pilates exercises do. It will also develop your body awareness (sensing more of what is happening), your proprioception (knowing where you are in space) and improve your balance. I look carefully at students in my classes to observe exactly what challenge they need and I give option for students to try. This helps you learn what the right challenge is for you.

Learning the right challenge for you is so important because this is the key to your progress. When you can feel your comfort zone and what is just beyond that without overloading yourself you build strength quickly. You can challenge yourself safely and once you have learned that connection with your body you can always have it (as long as you use it!).

Where to start?

Book into a Move to Nurture Pilates class in the Ballina / Byron area or online via zoom.Follow the tips above for starting a new habit and click below to receive your free guide to Pilates at home right now!

New Year! New goals – alignment with the same beautiful you!

I am not a fan of New Year resolutions but I do love the reset that a new year brings. A moment to refocus on what is really important. At this time of year I love to clarify my values for the year, set goals that create the life I want for me and my family and start some great new habits.

Bringing in the new year with clear intentions is so FUN. This is not about setting heavy expectations on yourself that you feel you must live up to! It is about uncovering the things that inspire the hell out of you and bringing them front and centre. It’s about finding alignment between your values and how you prioritise everyday. This kind of alignment is just a important as physical alignment of your body.

This might feel hard after the year that 2020 has been. With the scary forecasts it might feel terrifying to start to really go for what you want. But the truth is now is the best time to be clear, to choose your way forward and stay true to yourself.

Here are some ideas about how to bring in the New Year with light intentions that fill you with inspiration:

Journal a day in your new year

Journalling is a great tool to help uncover your values. Journal writing is like looking in a mirror that reflects the things we cannot see any other way. A regular practice of this can be enlightening. It can help to uncover the things you really want in your life that might be hiding behind your fear.

A fun place to start is just writing down what you imagine as your ideal day 12months from now. What time do you wake up? What time do you do first thing? What does family time look like? What does your ideal work look like?

Be on the lookout for your critical voice. You know the one that says ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘that will never work’. Just acknowledge the voice and keep playing the game of imagining your ideal day.

This practice gives us clues about what our goals could be for the year. Once you have gone through your complete imaginary day from waking to going to bed in as much detail as you can, put it down and leave it for a day or two.

Look for the clues in your ideal day

When you go back to your writing about your ideal day look for clues that can build your ideal routine. Notice where you have imagined time for yourself, or what sort of exercise is in your ideal day. Notice your waking time and how you balance you time, work time and family time in your ideal day. Look at what your work looks like. How different is it from what you are doing now?

Now this is the really fun bit! We can use the answers to the questions above to start to understand our own goals. If your ideal day started with you sleeping until 11 and playing in a jazz bar until 2am that tells you a lot about where you need to be focused!

For me, my ideal day starts early with some quiet time before the general day begins. This means earlier nights and teaching my six year old what quiet time means in the morning.

I imagine business collaborations with other people and businesses who support women to love themselves and care for themselves. I see more clients who come to my home studio for movement that is truly tailored to their goals. I see flexibility around my family and a lifestyle that connects us to nature everyday.

Decode to discover your new goals

Sifting through the details of this future imaginary day it’s time to summarise these details into yearly goals. For example my yearly goals look something like this:

  • Create a morning routine that works for me and my family
  • Grow my studio clients
  • Maintain a schedule that balances work with family time
  • Create 2 collaborations with aligned local businesses that share my ideal clients

Then you break it down…

So if you have some goals that feel right then it’s time to get out the calendar. Think about when in the year you want to have achieved these goals. Yes there is work / change involved in getting there so check in with your stress levels here. You want to keep it light, when you write it down you don’t want to feel an impending sense of doom. Butterflies in your belly on the other hand are totally acceptable. You have just written it down and you are committing!! Excitement and fear is A okay. A sense of doom might mean you need more time.

I want to be trying out my morning routine in January so I have to get busy with that now. But I am giving myself until March to tweak it and try things out. So Jan and Feb there will be a strong focus on my morning routine, what works and what doesn’t.

I want my studio schedule to be full by June so there are a bunch of marketing steps to do for that plus at least one of the collaborations need to happen early in the year.

And so you work through to break down your monthly goals.

And then you schedule it

And now for the most important bit. At the beginning of each week you look at your monthly goals and you schedule time in your schedule to work on them. It sounds easy doesn’t it? And it might be but it also might not be because maybe that monthly goal might scare the pants off you!

Staring down a goal that you really want but your fear is in your face, this is where the magic, I mean the work is.

Above all make it your own

I hope this has given you some ideas about how to think about your own goals. Take any part of this that you like and change it in anyway you feel to make it work for you.

Setting intentions in this way is a remarkable way to grow, give to yourself and give to others. In my view the more of us who know what we want for ourselves and how we get there, the more we all have to share with the world.

Wishing you all the best for 2021 and I can’t wait to see you move towards your dreams and goals.

XBrigid

Stress relief for you this Christmas

Christmas is supposed to be a very happy time of the year but it can also be the most stressful. As everyone tries to get everything done before the holiday shut down the stress levels rise. Stress relief is important for everyone over Christmas. Our usual. supports sometimes aren’t available during the holidays, our routines get interrupted and this year our usual get togethers may have to look quite different

So let’s talk about tricks and tips to manage your stress everyday during this so that we avoid accumulated stress.

Tip 1 Limit multi-tasking

I know, I know it feels amazing to get all the things done. A few months ago I was cooking dinner with one hand, playing with my six year old, texting a client (with the other hand). When my partner came in and grumbled about the washing not being hung out I LOST MY SH*T. When we multi-task we raise our expectations of ourselves, we become more tense in our bodies and our fight or flight system kicks in. We can run like this all day, trouble is it depletes our energy and our ability to cope.

Do one thing at a time, if you can’t get it all done, look at your expectations and re-prioritise. Approaching your day in a calm, mindful present way is essential for managing stress. This can take a lot practice. Every evening I write a list of things for the next day, if it goes on the list I make sure I do it, so I am very mindful about what goes on my list. Is it really important? Does it fill me up or deplete me? Does it have to done on that day? The less items on my list the better and the more the items on my list are connected to my values and long term goals the better.

Tip 2 Get a movement routine for the holidays

The evidence is all there, exercise and movement is a fantastic antidote to stress. This can be tricky during the holidays as your routines are interrupted, but there are opportunities. If you are home with younger kids make some time for physical play, tip in the back yard or lounge room dance parties . A morning or afternoon walk is a great routine you can create for the holidays, either on your own or with older kids.

Choose a time of day to do a pre-recorded Pilates class with me! 2020 has inspired me to teach online and this year I have created a number of pre-recorded holiday classes. Sign up below to get them FOR FREE in your email this holidays!

Tip 3 Practice mindfulness

So, mindfulness is all the rage right now. What does it mean? Being fully mindful with the moment and experience you are having right now. There are lots of different ways to do this, such as:

  • Focus on your breath coming into your body and going out
  • Take a moment to note 3 things you hear, 3 things you see, 3 things you feel
  • Think of one thing that you are grateful for right now and focus on the sensation of being grateful
  • Give your full attention to the task in front of you (Yes this links to Tip 1 and it is a wonderful practice)

Mindfulness helps us to breathe more fully and reduce the stress hormones that trigger the fight or flight system in the body. As a daily practice mindfulness can increase the calm you feel.

Tip 4 Expect less

This is a hard one as our expectations of ourselves tend to get a little out of control at this time of year. It’s worth checking what pressure we are putting on ourselves and why. If something is feeling stressful see if you can lower your expectations of yourself a little, instead of cooking the whole Christmas meal ask guests to bring something to complement the main dish. Lower the bar, as much as you need to.

Tip 5 Practice self compassion

I have spoken of the compassionate hands meditation before because it is one of my favourite. The idea is you take a quiet moment and feel all the love you have for others in your life and notice the way you show that love with your hands. Then put your hands on yourself (usually your belly or heart and imagine the love you pour out to others coming back to you. Hold yourself with the loving compassion that you can hold others with. This might take some practice but it is a wonderful way to learn to be more compassionate towards ourselves.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor, an ex-dancer and a mum. 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.

The ultimate PILATES Christmas GIFT GUIDE

The ultimate guide to gifts that support a healthy you and a healthy planet!

Pilates for Xmas

Honey Hunt Style

These gorgeous leggings are locally made and designed by Jules Hunt. She has a new shop in the Byron Arts and Industry Estate (where the baby shop used to be). Shop local and treat (yourself or) someone to this fantastic active wear.

Pilates gift guide

Pilates Nerd Down Under

Pilates Nerd Down Under is the go to online shop for the coolest Pilates gear in the world. These guys know and love Pilates and their themed tops are so fun. When you want to impress the teacher…

Pilates for Xmas

Makarlu

If you come to my studio you know how much I love the Makarlu. Invented by my dear friend and mentor Carla Mullins, the Makarlu is the best home exercise / muscle release prop you will find. Made from sustainable materials it is a beautiful object that is designed to add layers of depth, release and challenge to your Pilates practice. Use the code MAKMTN to get 10% off.

Pilates for Xmas

Move to Nurture Pilates

Gift Certificates! Gift someone you love a Private Studio Pilates Session with Brigid. Give the gift of nurturing movement and connection to self! Click the link to purchase and receive a beautiful gift certificate.

Pilates for Xmas

Foam roller

Superb for muscle release and adding balance challenge to your at home work out. These foam rollers are soft and firm for comfort and support. Order here by 11th Dec from Move to Nurture Pilates to ensure pick up or delivery before Xmas.

Stay connected through the holidays and sign up to our newsletter to receive free holiday work outs for all levels.

Can I heal my prolapse without surgery?

Are suffering pelvic organ prolapse (POP)? This is a relatively common experience for postpartum women and women as they get older. According to the Continence Foundation of Australia over half of all women who have had a child have some level of POP. In the USA 58% of women who opt to have surgery for POP will experience a recurrence after surgery! (Whiteside and Weber, 2004).

There are many different types and causes of prolapse and this question will always need to be answered on a case by case basis but I am here to say that it is possible to improve a prolapse with breathing techniques and gentle exercise.

What is pelvic organ prolapse?

The pelvic organs, the bladder, uterus, large intestine and rectum are held in place by fascia muscles and ligaments. Without proper support due to weak, tight, torn or damaged fascia, ligaments or muscles, pelvic organs can bulge down into the vagina or rectum. That is a prolapse. For more information on symptoms, risk factors and diagnosis check out this Queensland Health webpage.

Causes of pelvic organ prolapse

There are 2 main causes of pelvic organ prolapse.

  1. Too much pressure in the abdominal cavity (this is why surgery often fails)
  2. Tearing and stretching from delivery

In both instances women can achieve a high resolution of symptoms from specific movement and breathing.

Too much pressure – what does that mean?

I talk a lot in my classes about managing pressure in your torso. Why? Because our breath acts like a pump that creates pressure in our torso. This pressure helps to keep our bones safe from impact. If the muscles in our torso are not strong enough or moving in coordination then either there is not enough pressure in the torso or there is too much pressure being pushed down onto the pelvic floor.

There is a risk that any abdominal workout will increase the pressure down on the pelvic floor too much. This is why a focus on breathing correctly to recruit the abdominal muscles properly and in the right order is so important, to strengthen rather than weaken or damage the pelvic floor muscles.

This picture shows some of the issues of too much pressure down:

Prolapse and Pilates

What to do

  1. See a pelvic floor Physical Therapist or OBGYN who can give you a clear diagnosis and assess the condition of your pelvic floor muscles.
  2. If you have done a lot of kegel exercises your pelvic floor maybe very tight. Check whether you can relax your pelvic floor (this helps the diaphragm and lungs descend)
  3. Pay attention to your posture and alignment
  4. Pay attention to your breath
  5. Work with a Pelvic floor corrective exercise specialist (like me!)

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor, an ex-dancer and a mum. 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 neck and shoulders? Some quick and slow fixes for you….

Neck pain can really destroy your day. It can start with waking up with a little tightness on one side and through the day can progress to being completely rigid. Or you may feel fine in the morning and after sitting at your computer for a few hours you can feel the tightness creep up. Neck and shoulder tightness can cause headaches, fatigue and shallow breathing leading to anxiety. A vicious cycle can occur where the neck and shoulder tightness lock down the diaphragm and lungs which limits breath capacity, shallow breathing stimulates the ‘fight or flight’ response in the brain and anxiety increases. So what can you do to break this cycle?

Causes of neck pain

Common causes of neck pain include sleeping in as strange position and general posture through the day.

If you wake up with a sore neck it is likely that you pillow is not right for you neck. So ditch your pillow and go and find one that is designed to provide optimal support for you neck, head and shoulders. This can be a game changer so don’t delay.

If you get a sore neck through the day or ‘always have a sore neck’ it is likely this is to do with you general posture, particularly your upper back strength. Below is a great picture of the relationship between the upper back and the head.

Neck pain and Pilates
Neck pain and posture

This image shows the additional weight that is carried by the neck when the head is held forward of the body. And to translate 12 pounds is nearly 6 kilos. So if you have neck pain or shoulder tightness regularly it is likely that your posture is either like the figure in the middle or the one on the right of the picture. So what to do?

Slow fix – big picture

As a movement therapist and Pilates teacher, I look at the whole body from the feet up to help clients change their posture. I program specific exercises to strengthen some things and lengthen others. See the image below:

neck pain and Pilates
Long term plan to improve posture and reduce neck pain

Quick fix – what can I do today?

Well there is no substitute for a long term strategy that looks at the causes but there are some key exercises that can really help to get you on the right track.

Videos coming soon

The head hover

Pilates for neck pain
Head hover

The pec stretch

The upper back release

The scalene stretch

Pilates for neck pain
Scalene stretch

There are many more exercises that you can learn and enjoy in Pilates class with me online or in Byron, Lennox Head or Ballina.

1 Pilates tip for less pain and better posture

Less pain and better posture are great reasons to do Pilates. A regular Pilates practice can work wonders for these issues, depending on the causes of your regular pain. Improving your posture will bring you great benefits like improving the efficiency of your breath, reducing lower back, neck and shoulder pain and even improving the way you feel about yourself and life!

So what is the one thing that is going to make a difference to your pain and improve your posture? Taking movements that you learn in your Pilates class and use them everyday. Find the moments in your day when you can practice the concepts you are learn in your class. That’s how you change the way way you stand and move. Bring the postures and movements into your everyday life.

Here are some examples of regular movements we can use to improve your posture and reduce pain:

  1. Bending to pick something up: whenever you bend down to pick something up get your feet to hip width apart, hips over your ankles. Bring your ribs over your hips and your spine long (including your head and neck). Then fold at your hips, reach your tail bone back and keep your spine long (no bending in your spine).
Two images of a woman bending to pick something up

2. Standing waiting for the kettle to boil: notice your posture. Are your knees locked tight and your hips pushed forward? Are your ribs sinking down and your pelvic tucked? Take the moment to find your neutral spine, shift your hips over your ankles, ribs over your hips, open your shoulders wide and imagine your a string out the top of your head so you lengthen the back of your neck. Use your breath and abdominals to stabilise your spine.

Two images of a woman waiting for a kettle to boil

3. Sitting down in a chair: Feet hip width apart, hips over ankles. Bring your ribs over your hips and your spine long (including your head and neck). Fold at your hips, reach your tail bone back and down to the chair and keep your spine long. Use your exhale to go down as your stabilise your spine with your abdominals.

Two images of woman sitting down to a chair

4. Reaching up to get something: Align your hips over ankles, ribs over hips. As you reach up draw the front of your ribs down (with your exhale) so you are not flaring your ribs and loading into your lower back.

Two images of a woman reaching up

The way we work with the breath in a Move to Nurture mat class will teach you these movements in detail. You can then use and remember the feeling of the moves in your daily life. Practicing these postures in your everyday movements will improve your posture and reduce pain and recurring injuries. It will also help with pelvic floor function and healing diastisis recti.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor, an ex-dancer and a mum. 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.