Principles of Pilates – breathing

With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than forcing the body to create a larger movement. Pilates teaches us to bring subconscious control into habitual movement patterns so that we can move with more ease and efficiency.

Following the eight principles of Pilates helps us to get the most from our practice. Last time we looked at centering.

This time we’re going to look at breathing.

“To breathe correctly you must completely exhale & inhale, always trying very hard to ‘squeeze’ every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth” J Pilates

Breathing:

Breathing has 3 key functions:

  • to carry nutrients around the body, bringing energy to every part of the body
  • to carry waste products away from the body and back to the lungs where they can be exhaled
  • to increase stamina

A restricted breathing pattern can create issues such as muscle tightness, restricted joint movements, tiredness and headaches. A more relaxed breathing pattern can help to reverse these issues whilst also reducing stress and creating a sense of well-being.

mat-work pilates

In Pilates, we use breathing as a way of connecting with the deeper core muscles (made up of the transverse abdominals, pelvic floor, diaphragm and multifidus). When the breath is aligned with our movements, we can experience greater control at our centre with reduced tension in peripheral areas of the body.

The goal in Pilates is to breathe fully into the lower rib-cage without unnecessarily using accessory muscles in the neck and shoulders. It is one of the key principles of Pilates but can also one of the hardest to grasp to start with.

What is the best breathing pattern for Pilates?

  • keep the neck and shoulders relaxed to reduce tension in these areas
  • breathe into the lower part of the rib cage, allowing it to widen in all directions
  • allow the belly to relax, soften and expand on each inhale
  • feel the belly gently contract and lift as you exhale
  • allow your breath to flow – don’t hold your breath at any point

Some people advise that it is best to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, but I think it is best to do what feels right for you. However, if you are more comfortable breathing out through your mouth, try to do so with soft lips (not pursed) and make a sound as if you are sighing – think of the sound that waves make as they break on the beach.

When do I inhale/exhale?

When practising Pilates we want to exhale with the movement which requires the most effort. The basic rule is that you exhale as you move away from your starting position, and inhale as you come back to it. There will be some variations to this rule, but it is a good guiding principle to start with.

For example:

  • with a leg slide, exhale as the leg extends; inhale as it comes back to relaxation position
  • with knee rolling, exhale as the legs rotate to the side; inhale as they return to an upright position
  • with a side-lying leg lift, exhale as the leg lifts; inhale as it lowers

Don’t get too hung up on your breathing!

Although there are very sound reasons behind the style of breathing used in Pilates, don’t get too hung up on it. If you’re struggling, simply focus on keeping a relaxed, rhythmic breathing pattern so that your breath is flowing as you move. Gradually as you get more confident with the exercises, you will find the breathing becomes a more natural part of your practice.

If you’d like to know more about breathing, you can find my ‘focus on optimal breathing’ guide here

Do you have tight quadriceps?

Do you have tight quadriceps muscles which won’t seem to stretch? Do you have tightness or pain around the knee? Do the muscles in the front of your thighs feel ‘switched on’ all the time?

There are lots of reasons why we might have more/less dominant muscles in a particular area of the body (posture, lifestyle, occupation, etc) but for most of us the goal is to create a better balance, as that helps to create more even movement patterns. Typically we will have an imbalance which is left- or right-sided or which is noticed in the front or back of the body, but there will often be a combination of both and/or some rotational imbalance as well.

Of course, it is all relevant to the individual. For an elite golfer, an appropriate ‘imbalance’ will actually be required for them to excel at their sport, but most of us do not fall into that category and we are more concerned about improving every-day functional movement and potentially reducing pain.

I often see clients struggling to get into a position where a quad stretch is effective, and setting aside the debate about whether we actually need to stretch or not, I have recorded a short video showing a simple technique using a trigger point release ball. This technique focuses on releasing tight bands within the muscles fibres, which in turn enables the body to move more freely, which in turn reduces the development of tight bands within the muscle fibres…

This video came about because a client was struggling to move her hips backwards while squatting because the tightness in the front of her thighs was creating excessive pressure (and the most extraordinary noise!) over the knee-caps. It goes without saying that individual assessment and soft tissue work is the optimal approach, but this simple technique might be a useful starting point to get you moving more comfortably.

In the video I am using a dog toy as my trigger point ball – simply because they are affordable, readily available and still effective. If you want to invest in the real deal, I can highly recommend either Yoga Tune-Up balls or YogaBody balls, both of which I have.

Hopefully the video covers everything you need to get you started, but as always:

  • let me know if you have any questions
  • get in touch if you’d like to know more about how I can help you with soft tissue therapy
  • check with your medical professional if you have any doubts about your suitability for trigger point release work

& finally, let me know how you get on…!

massage room hygiene

In light of the current situation, I thought now might be an ideal time to share the hygiene measures that I have in place for the comfort and safety of all clients visiting my massage room.

massage room hygiene

Please find details below of the steps I take to ensure that my massage room operates as a safe and clean space. These measures are not new, but I will continue to review and update to ensure that best practice is followed:

Me:

  • hand washing – I wash my hands before you arrive, and again while you are settling yourself on the table, as well as immediately after your treatment
  • hand sanitiser – I have a bottle of anti-bacterial and anti-viral hand sanitiser in my massage room which I apply to my hands/forearms before and after your treatment. You are welcome to use the hand sanitiser on arrival/before you leave – or bring your own if you prefer
  • massage wax/lotion – the massage medium is removed from the container using a wooden spatula and applied to my arm for use as required; any surplus on my arm at the end of your treatment, is thrown away

Items that you come into contact with:

  • table linens (ie. towels, flannels, table cover, bolster covers, etc) – when you arrive for your massage, the table will have been made up with clean linens; everything that you touch during your treatment is then stripped and replaced at the end of your session. All linens are washed at 60 degrees using a non-bio liquid detergent and an anti-bacterial laundry cleanser; all items are tumble dried. Massage room linens are always washed separately from my household laundry
  • face cradle – disposable face cradle covers are replaced for each client
  • hard surfaces (eg. arm rest, metal parts on the face cradle, side table, door handles, light switch, etc) – all surfaces are wiped with anti-bacterial wipes between clients
  • massage tools – these are cleaned with anti-bacterial wipes between clients and washed in hot soapy water at the end of each day
  • water & drinking glasses – the water carafe & glass are clean for each client; fresh water is provided for each client

My home:

  • massage room – the floor is wiped/swept between clients and hoovered as required (always before the first client each week and then as necessary). I sometimes dust the picture frames!
  • bathroom – the toilet, wash basin, bath & floor are all cleaned before the first client each week; the hand towel is changed before the first client each week and then as required
  • hall, stairs and landing – these areas are also cleaned prior to the first client visit each week

You:

  • illness – if you have any symptoms of illness, please postpone your massage until a later date; this helps to keep my massage room clean and safe for everyone, but it is also better for your body to receive a massage when you are well. If you’re not sure whether you should postpone, please get in touch beforehand
  • hand washing – if you use the bathroom, please wash your hands, and feel free to use the hand gel

Any questions?

Please know that I take massage room hygiene very seriously so that you can enjoy your treatment without any concerns. If you have any questions at all, please let me know.

If you have any questions/concerns specifically about coronavirus (COVID-19) please refer to the CDC website

Find out more about sports and clinical massage

Hypermobile elbows & Pilates

Hypermobile elbows (& other joints of the body) are sometimes really visible in a Pilates class. I wanted to look into the topic in more depth than we can easily cover in a group setting, as information for those affected.

The human body is an incredible thing but sometimes we need to take back a little bit of control for ourselves. Just because we can ‘stretch’ (ie. over-extend) at a certain (or all) joints of the body, doesn’t mean it is helpful to do so. 

The most common examples of hypermobility I see in class are:

  • locked-out knees in a standing position – where the back of the knee is pushed as far backwards as possible – and
  • locked-out elbows in a quadruped (all-fours) position – where the upper arm becomes rotated and the inside of the elbow joint turns forward

Of course, if you are hypermobile (or tend towards it) you will often be hyper-mobile at many joints in the body, but these are the two that are most visible in class.

mat-work pilates

What is joint hypermobility?

Joint hypermobility is often hereditary and cannot be prevented, but it can definitely be managed. It is caused by a weakness in the soft tissues that support the joint, and specifically a difference in the collagen. If you are hypermobile, it may not cause you any problems or it may cause pain in the joint itself or in surrounding areas of the body.  

What happens when we hyper-extend? 

When we go to the end-range of movement in a joint, it gives us a feeling of stability, which is great. However, when the joint hyper-extends, it means that the stability isn’t coming from the supporting muscles but from the joint itself. Over time that is likely to create wear & tear on that structure and other compensations in surrounding areas of the body – eg. if you lock out your elbows, you are very likely to experience associated neck and shoulder pain issues; if you lock out your knees, you are very likely to experience hip and back pain issues. 

Just because you can hyper-extend, doesn’t mean you should!

What can we do about it?

The ideal is to learn to stop short of your end-range point (keeping the affected joint ‘soft’) so that the supporting muscles surrounding the joint can get stronger. To start with it will feel unstable, but your body will gradually adapt and build stability in the muscles, so keep giving it the opportunity to do so.

I will keep reminding you about this in class because even if you feel like I’m nagging, I believe that I would be negligent if I didn’t bring your attention to it. You might not be ready to hear the message yet, and that’s ok because it is your body, but I’m going to keep on mentioning it when I’m teaching, and hopefully that’s ok too.

In the case of hypermobility in your knees, ankles or hips you may also be better avoiding fast-paced or high-impact exercises where the joints will hyper-extend without you having the chance to control the range of movement, and where the added impact will place extra load through the (already compromised) joint structure.

Although you can’t change your physiology, you can work on creating a stronger support system to protect your joints if hypermobility affects you. It may seem frustrating & like a backward step to begin with, but further down the line you will be so glad you made some changes and created a stronger body, especially if it avoids/delays your need for invasive surgery.

If you’d like to know more on this topic, Jeannie di Bon is a Movement Therapist who works extensively in this area. She directed me towards a blog post she wrote a few years ago: 

I think this is a really useful starting point, but Jeannie has plenty more great content on her blog which you can find via her website and she also covers the topic in her latest book

Do your feet cramp when you point your toes?

This is for you if you experience foot cramp when you lie in a prone position (face-down) or when you are in child’s pose. It can happen at any time, but will often be worse when you are doing any exercise that involves these positions.

child's pose

Both of these positions involve lengthening the dorsal surface of the foot (the part where your shoe laces sit) and if there is tension within the tendons running from the front of the ankle to the toes, you may experience cramping when they are held in a lengthened position. Typically if you experience this type of foot cramp, your toes will tend not to lie flat on the floor when standing or they will start to lift as soon as you begin to flex at the ankle. You may also notice that you have ‘hammer toe’ where the toes are bent as if gripping the floor.

How to reduce foot cramp:

In the short term, ie. during your class, a bolster under your ankles can be a really useful preventative measure as it stops the toes making contact with the floor, thereby avoiding the lengthening which is causing the cramp. Your bolster doesn’t need to be fancy – a rolled up bath towel or jumper will do the job just as well.

In the longer term, of course, it is preferable to resolve the issue. Your foot function will improve greatly by reducing restrictions, and improved foot function positively impacts knee and hip function so it is worth investing a little bit of time on a regular basis.

feet

Soft tissue release:

Here’s a short video (starring my right foot!) showing some release work that you can use at home but bear in mind that you will need to address your footwear too! I often find resistance to this one (I’m not sure why?) but clearly if our feet spend long periods of time squeezed into socks and shoes which do not allow sufficient space to move, no amount of release work is going to fully resolve the problem. We need to take a two-pronged approach with any body-work:

  1. resolve the issue using appropriate soft-tissue release and
  2. make changes to any external factors which are contributing to the issue

I’ll leave you to sort out your footwear (hint: you need a far wider toe-box than you might think) but in the meantime you can try this release work. I have tried to give you a few examples of makeshift massage tools that you might find at home but you could also invest in a gua sha tool if you want to get the best results.

(release work for the toe extensors to prevent foot cramp)

The key thing with release work is to give it time. Five minutes will make a difference but it is not going to undo years of wearing potentially restrictive footwear! Be patient, commit to doing it every day for a week and see what you notice…and then carry on doing it every day because your feet will love you for it.

In the video I mention the option of using spacers between the toes and here are two options that I have found helpful, although since switching to barefoot shoes I haven’t used either:

  • correct-toes – this is the main website but you will also find UK suppliers
  • silicone toe separators – for me these are more comfortable because I have very little, little toes which don’t sit so well in the whole-foot type spacers

Please let me know how you get on with this & let me know if you have any questions at all about foot cramp.

If I can help you directly with any soft tissue work, please drop me an email.

Jx

PS even though I don’t have any specific toe extensor issues, I noticed an astonishing difference in the foot I had worked on while filming this…so perhaps you should do it even if you don’t think you have any problems either?!

Pilates-flow sequence

This Pilates-flow sequence is a mat-based session focusing on smooth, flowing movements using core control for stability, combined with a relaxed breathing pattern. Slower is generally better so that you can concentrate on each part of every move rather than rushing ahead without control.

When we did this in class we practiced each move on its own before adding it into our flow sequence – you might like to break it down like that at home or if you are familiar with the moves, you may prefer to go straight into the sequence. All the moves are done in a supine (lying face-up) position. You may like to have a folded towel or a cushion to support the back of the head.

Begin by spending a few minutes grounding and settling into your breath, letting go of your day and connecting with how your body feels in that moment.

I’ve added different sequence options below – sequence 1 has the more basic moves, sequence 2 has a mixture of basic with some options and sequence 3 has all the optional extras.

Here are your 5 basic moves:

  1. alternate knee lifts (starting in relaxation position) > option to progress to alternate knee lifts coming into table top position by lifting and then lowering one foot at a time
  2. abdominal curls (starting in relaxation position) > option to add oblique twist
  3. knee rolling (starting in relaxation position with feet and knees close together) > option to bring top foot off the floor OR start in table top position with both feet off the floor
  4. alternate leg slide (starting in relaxation position) > option to add leg abduction (thigh moves out to side with no rotation)
  5. shoulder bridge (start with feet hip width or wider and close to your bottom) > option to change to single leg shoulder bridge
Pilates-flow sequence

How to create your sequence:

sequence 1: knee lift (single leg) – hold – abdominal curl – oblique twist towards the leg – uncurl – lower leg – repeat on other side – knee rolling with feet on the floor – alternate leg slide  – shoulder bridge – start again

sequence 2: alternate knee lift into table top – hold – abdominal curl – oblique twist x each way– uncurl – lower legs one at a time – knee rolling with feet on the floor – alternate leg slide with abduction – shoulder bridge – start again

sequence 3: alternate knee lift into table top – hold – abdominal curl – oblique twist x each way– uncurl – knee rolling with legs in table top position – alternate leg extension with abduction – lower legs one at a time – single leg shoulder bridge x each side – start again

I haven’t specified number of repetitions so that you can add as many or as few as you want. You can of course also do as many or as few of the different moves as you want – if there’s one that you don’t like, miss it out because life is short!!

You can see me doing each of the three sequences here:

You can print this Pilates-flow sequence as a pdf here

Enjoy Jx

(PS let me know if you’re not sure what any of the moves are & as always, check with your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are suitable for your body right now)

How to start journaling

After a few years without a writing practice, I decided that 2020 was the right time for me to begin journaling again. But I didn’t know where to start!! I posted the question on Instagram and here is a collection of the beautiful advice I received and the approach I have decided to take.

Journaling ideas:

how to start journaling

The simplest advice I had was to use a journal firstly for dumping any feelings that came up whilst writing & secondly for noting down any feelings of gratitude. This is a great place to start as it helps us to observe our thoughts and feelings as well as letting go (or parking) anything that we don’t want to keep carrying around all day, whilst at the same time seeking out some positives from our day.

Someone reminded me that there are no bad feelings, just interesting information so I made a note of that in the front of my journal before I got started.

Other suggestions that I found helpful as ideas for journaling, included:

  • writing down positive affirmations (did you know that even if you don’t actually believe them, writing or saying affirmations has an impact on how we feel; take though because this works if we tell ourselves negative affirmations too!)
  • noting down visualisations for how we want to feel, even if we’re not there yet and not sure how to get there either
  • adding some art – flowers, tickets, photos, doodles… whatever works for you (I really like this idea as I’m quite a visual person)
  • setting intentions for the day/week/month/year/life…

And then someone gave me a brilliant list of suggested questions or prompts that we can use to shape/review our day – these can all be present or past tense depending on where you’re at in your day. There were lots but here are some favourites:

  • what am I struggling with today?
  • am I being true to my values?
  • what do I need to take time with?
  • what brings/brought me joy?
  • what would I do if I wasn’t scared?
  • what makes/made me laugh?

Interestingly, this list brought to mind a fabulous poem by John O’Donohue that I had recently found so I printed off a copy and stuck it in the front of my journal. The poem invites the reader to review their day – you can find it by clicking this link: At The End Of The Day – a mirror of questions

My journaling process:

writing a journal

I started my journal with two words for the year. I had been thinking about them for a few weeks, weighing them up and deciding if they were right for me. Having decided that they were, I wrote them on the second page (the first page was filled with my journaling ideas) as an intentional focal point. A benchmark I could come back to when I needed to.

I chose two words – ‘heart’ and ‘connect’ – and added notes about what they mean & why they matter for me.

My journaling practice so far has been split into two points in the day – when I wake up & when I go to bed. I keep the journal (and a purple pen) on the floor by my bed (because that’s how I roll!!) so it acts as a gentle prompt to connect when I’m in that space.

When I wake up:

I have been starting the day with some intentions and some positive affirmations as I find they give me a focus for the hours ahead. Some of them have a personal focus and some are business-related and I really just observe how I’m feeling about the day and note down things that I feel will guide me through it.

It feels really good to stop for a moment before the day gets going, which sounds a bit mad after doing nothing but sleep for a few hours, but I’m finding it really useful.

Some days I set myself defined goals for the day. Usually there’s a reminder about eating well or going to bed early because those are my weak areas…!

When I go to bed:

I have been ending each day with a review of achievements (checking-in with any goals I set myself that morning), things I’ve loved that day, moments that made me smile and how I’m feeling in myself (mentally and physically)

It is so easy to forget to celebrate ourselves and I find this process really helpful. I probably have a tendency to carry around or pick over things I didn’t do well and a few moments doing the opposite has proved really beneficial so far. I go to bed feeling much more positive about myself which funnily enough results in me waking up much more positive about myself – who knew!!

Some nights I also add in a focus for the next day too. For example, I have got into the habit of spending time on social media when I first wake up, which sometimes steals the time I need for a pre-work walk or a relaxed breakfast.

Last night my final journal entry reads as follows: “NO social media in the morning until I’m up, dressed fed and walked” And because I saw that first thing this morning, I got up and did some work, had a shower, ate my breakfast at the dining table and went to work without looking at social media… Proud moment right there!!

journaling

Thank you to everyone who gave me the inspiration to get started. If you’re new to journaling I hope some of these ideas help you to get started. & if you’re already journaling, I’d love to know what works for you Jx

Read my top five wellness tips here

The principles of Pilates – centering

With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than forcing the body to create a larger movement. Pilates teaches us to bring subconscious control into habitual movement patterns so that we can move with more ease and efficiency.

mat-work pilates

Following the eight principles of Pilates helps us to get the most from our practice. Last time we looked at concentration.

This time we’re going to look at centering.

Centering:

In Pilates the ‘centre’ refers to the neutral position of the lumbar spine (lower back) & pelvis. Joseph Pilates describes ‘the centre’ as the area between the ribs & the hips, at the front & back of the body. Nowadays we have extended that definition to include the sides of the torso.

Your centre is the pivotal point of the body from which all movements start. Movement, balance, force & strength all come from the centre – a weakness in the core will affect the body’s ability to perform any of these functions.

Your core:

It is important to understand that core control is more important than core strength. Abdominal control provides fluidity of movement which is crucial; abdominal strength provides support which is beneficial but secondary.

Your centre is controlled by use of the abdominal muscles, the muscles in the lower back and the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles surround your abdominal cavity and form a central cylinder (see diagram below)

When you activate your core (ie. all the muscles surrounding your central cylinder) you are better able to manage the intra-abdominal pressure which gives stability to each movement.

Once the core/centre has been activated, we add arm & leg movements to challenge your stability and develop better muscle tone.

Finding your centre:

One of the keys to success is being aware of when you have ‘lost’ your centre, and making sure that you work within the capabilities of your core control – if you try to progress too soon, or push ahead without maintaining your centre, you will not develop a stronger core. Instead, you will risk overusing the muscles in your lower back or adding downward pressure into the pelvic floor or adding outward pressure into the abdominal wall (or perhaps all three!) potentially leading to less stability than you started with (& maybe some pain too).

There are many ways to find and activate your centre/core and we spend time doing this each time we move into a new position. We find a neutral pelvis, where the core muscles are in the optimum position to ‘fire’, and then we think of drawing gently upwards and inwards with the pelvic floor and deeper core muscles as we exhale (we’ll look at breathing as a separate principle).

Ideally you will keep an awareness of your centre during the class, but if you find you have forgotten about it, simply take a breath and come back to it on the next movement. Outside of your Pilates class, it is useful to keep an awareness of your centre to improve your posture in everyday life.

Finally, remember that we are looking to achieve a light connection with the core muscles – you don’t want to activate them to 100% otherwise movements will not flow and your posture will become unnatural – aim for 30% contraction so that you are just aware of a gentle feeling in the tummy wall.

Next time we’ll look at breathing as the third principle of Pilates – breathing.

Sports massage & me

Introduction:

Vulnerability alert!!! As I walked the dog on Sunday morning, I had some real moments of clarity about the work I do and what I offer. I recorded them on my phone so that I didn’t lose them on the way home! Here are my thoughts on massage and what I offer as a sports massage therapist:

I’ve been thinking about what my massage work is to me and the thing that sticks in my mind is something I’ve heard said to me many times – that we should never trust a massage therapist who doesn’t go for massage themselves. Up until now, I’ve always just believed it and felt a bit pathetic because I don’t go for many massages, but a few things came up for me around this today.

I don’t really feel pain:

Firstly, I don’t really feel pain. I really, really don’t recognise pain in my body. But whatever I do feel, I think I can manage it so my thinking is why would I go for a massage if I’m not in pain? To me massage is very much about having help in managing whatever is happening in your body. In the logical part of my brain, I’m reasoning that I don’t really feel pain so I don’t feel the need to go for a massage. [Of course I know that massage is about more than pain management, but these were just my thoughts as I walked]

Massage is an exchange of trust:

Secondly, and this is the big one for me, massage is a real exchange of trust and I haven’t always felt like my body has been heard or respected when I’ve been on a massage couch. Often that’s because I’m in a learning setting and the person working on me is primarily there to learn something and not there to help me, but these experiences have unsettled me and I have pretty high anxiety when I give myself up on a massage table.

I think lots of it comes from way back in my childhood. I’ve been self-sufficient all my life, for as long as I remember and so it’s really unnatural for me to put my trust in someone else. And, whenever I have done, in lots of different situations, I haven’t always felt that I had a good outcome. I’ve learned to trust myself and support myself and it’s really hard for me to undo that.

Recently on a sports massage course, on the first week, someone asked the question ‘do you ever have someone come to you that doesn’t like massage?’ and I put my hand up and said ‘oh that’s me; I really don’t like having a massage’. I probably didn’t say it right because that isn’t true – it’s not that I don’t like having a massage, it just is a very uncomfortable situation for me.

Anyway, in the room there was one guy and when we had to work together later that day he just looked at me and said ‘oh that’s right, you don’t like to be touched, do you’. He made me feel like nothing. He made me feel that he hadn’t heard me, that he hadn’t bothered to listen or tried to understand. I felt he just dismissed me as some freaky person who doesn’t like to be touched (I accept this is how I felt and probably not what he intended at all, but the end result was the same either way). He straight away made me feel on edge – he hadn’t heard me and I didn’t feel that I could trust him – and that never changed over the whole course.  As a result of that early comment, there was nothing within him that I wanted to connect with, and maybe that was my bad, but that’s how he made me feel with those words.

What I offer you:

I think the idea of not putting your trust in someone who doesn’t go for regular massage isn’t really as simple as that. There are a lot of times in my life (nothing to do with massage) when my trust has been betrayed or not reciprocated. I’ve learned to live around that, and some of that means that I don’t always feel safe to make myself vulnerable, but none of that takes away from my skills as a soft tissue therapist.  

I just want to let you know that although I don’t go for regular massage, I do go for massage when I need it and I have some amazing local therapists that I trust implicitly. But I also want you to know that if you come to me for a sports massage, the thing I hope that I always offer is that you can trust me.

I want you to feel safe. I don’t want you to feel vulnerable like I have done. If you are anxious, I hope that I can help you to feel heard, and listened to, and supported, and I hope that you feel that you are definitely in my care while you’re here.

That’s what I offer.

Yes, I can get ‘knots’ out of muscles which are sore; yes I can help you move better; I can help you feel better in your body. But really, truthfully, what I want to offer you is a feeling of being safe and secure, and being listened to and heard.

Massage is about facilitating change in the soft tissues and within the nervous system, and change doesn’t happen when we don’t feel safe.

Please let me know if you would like to discuss how sports massage can help you to move & feel better in your body.

Find out more here

The principles of Pilates – concentration

I am passionate about teaching mat-work Pilates because I believe that it underpins and provides a foundation for all our movement patterns. Of course we can can move without understanding the key principles of that Pilates is based on, but we are able to move more freely once we incorporate them into our everyday lives.

For me, Pilates isn’t about doing the Pilates exercises for the sake of doing them; Pilates is the gateway to developing a better insight into how our body moves, how everything in our body is connected and how our body connects to our environment.

The principles of Pilates

Joseph Pilates created 6 principles of Pilates, but over time these have been added to and there are now deemed to be 8 key principles:

  1. concentration
  2. centering
  3. breathing
  4. control
  5. precision
  6. flowing movement
  7. isolation
  8. routine

Although each one may be simple to grasp, trying to combine all of them into each exercise can be tricky so I suggest that you focus on 1 or 2 to start with and gradually introduce aspects of the others as you progress. Over time, a simple movement can become more challenging simply by focusing on several of the key principles at once.

Why do we need to know the principles of Pilates?

When we understand & learn to apply the principles behind Pilates, we can get the best results from practising the exercises.

With Pilates, the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise with control is often far more complicated than producing a larger movement!

I’m going to cover each of the key principles in separate posts, so that you can pick them up whenever you’re ready. I think the best way to develop your practice of using the principles, is to not to try to master them all at once. Start with what you can do, be patient and remember that with some exercises it may be harder to master a particular principle. Just keep coming back and revisiting these posts as you need to.

Our first Pilates principle is concentration:

Concentration:

‘Concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value’ J Pilates

With some forms of exercise the mind can switch off but in Pilates it will ideally remain focused to ensure that the body stays in alignment and that the breathing is controlled. This ‘mind/body’ connection not only enhances the physical execution of the exercises but also distracts a busy mind, thereby promoting relaxation and a feeling of well-being.

The first part of concentration is becoming aware that the position of every part of the body is important and that all movements and positions are interconnected. In order to walk, many different interactions take place in the joints and muscles of the body so that for example, the position of your foot influences the position of your knee, hip, spine, shoulder & head. In order to achieve optimal alignment throughout the body (and thus an efficient movement pattern) we need to first become aware of these interactions through concentrating on how we are holding ourselves and how we are moving.

Obviously it is hard to stay aware of every part of the body at once, but the more you practice the more you will be able to ‘tune in’ to what is happening in different places at the same time. Over time you will also get better at tuning-in when a specific area of the body is not in alignment or is holding unnecessary tension.

'wherever you are, be all there' Jim Elliot

Improved concentration not only leads to an improved physical performance but also offers wide-ranging mental benefits:

  • clarity of thought
  • increased mental energy
  • mental calmness in stressful situations
  • enhanced ability to tackle problems in a fresh way

Think of your Pilates practice as time for yourself, time to leave behind what you have come from and where you are going to. Focus on each exercise in turn and pay attention to how your body feels as you move.

In the next post I’ll be talking about ‘centering‘ but until then have fun bringing concentration to your posture and movement patterns.

(Here’s another article I wrote about a classic Pilates exercise – ‘The Hundred‘)