Pilates = Strength+Flexibility with Control.
This definition was articulated by Romana Krysanowska, ballet dancer and personal student of Joseph Pilates. While Pilates has branched into many forms, this is the fundamental equation upon which it is based.
Key principles include Precision, Core Connection, Centering, Co-ordination, Breathing, Balance, Fluidity, Rhythm and Dynamic Full Body Movement flowing outward from a strong powerhouse.
Working with an excellent pilates teacher guides one to be strong and centered in mind and body. The result is not only powerful athleticism, but vitality, resiliency, and streamlined focus for life.
Join me at Malibu Fitness to feel the power of pilates mat and equipment classes. I am honored to be in a new series of videos with master teacher Niedra Gabriel, and outside of class times at Malibu Fitness, you can find me online at www.PilatesAnytime.com.
A friend recently sent me this inspiring quote...
“Every cell of your body is eavesdropping on your thoughts” The Happiness project.org
Indeed, our thoughts have the power to shift the way we respond to our environments, right down to the cellular level. The placebo effect has exemplified this in scientific experiments time and time again. What we choose to focus on, becomes our reality. Our expectations will create our perceived experience.
To play with this concept, last week I determined to envision myself as aligned and well, (despite feeling some frustrating asymmetries in my body) and began repeating the mantra, "I am aligned". Simple as they are, visualization and intention produce dramatic results. Quite beautifully, my body has responded with small, but consistent shifts towards a new sense of symmetry and fluidity. I am standing with weight more evenly distributed on both feet instead of hanging out on my left leg as I usually do. My hips and spine are more centered in my daily movements because I have planted the intentional seed of being aligned. This consciousness infuses my posture even when I am not thinking about it. This becomes my new model of reference.
As my expectation has shifted, my perceived reality follows suit. Author Todd Hargrove eloquently explains how our expectations influence perception;
“Our internal model of reference shapes how we integrate perceived sensory information and the nervous system's output signals for action.......For example, if you have a good deal of experience where flexing your low back causes pain, you will start to build an internal model of your back that predicts it will hurt with flexion. This will strongly bias you to feel pain each time you bend, even if the back isn't actually producing that much nociception.
You can reduce the contribution of top-down factors to your pain by updating the model of your back. To do this, you need to cause a prediction error by violating your expectation that bending will hurt. A good strategy would be to perform low back flexion in some novel way, perhaps in quadruped or supine, while paying attention to how it feels while bending so that any predictions errors are not disregarded. That sounds like a high percentage of movement therapy in a nutshell.
Either way, good internal models and good predictions are the basis for generating functional perceptions and actions”.
One of the hardest lessons I have learned is not to push through pain. As Hargrove explains in his his book, Better Movement, pain is a danger signal to protect us, an output signal from the brain, in response to a perceived threat (tissue damage, stress, inflammation, body position, etc) in the body. A keen awareness of alignment has become the prevalent focus of my training. While I have previously been frustrated by limitations in my symmetry, I am now discovering a capacity to establish "joint centration"--- aligning the bones of the legs deep in the hip socket. While my new titanium hips are technically centered-- the new femoral (thigh bone) head precisely placed within the new acetabulum (hip socket)--the entire body is in dynamic equilibrium and must adapt and accommodate to the new forces of compression and tension in three dimensions throughout the body. Therefore, the ability to now center my hips creates the opportunity to find new alignment in all the surrounding muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascial lines. I am experiencing adaptations in the muscles of my core, neck, feet and more. Everything is connected.
I discovered the power of visualization and intentionality during high school. I read of flow states described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and the power of visualization to advance the performance of champion athletes. I began to practice this regularly and felt its power to advance my athleticism and dance performance to the astonishment of my teachers. Alongside passion, discipline, and focus, this practice guided me to a professional dance performance career despite my late start in ballet at 17 years old. I have embraced it ever since.
This power lies within each of us and is waiting to be unleashed. I know that if I envision myself as balanced, symmetric, fluid, healthy, whatever optimal state I am seeking, (though it may be in contrast to the state that I am consciously experiencing), and if I prioritize this in my training, I will realize my goals in health and life. It is not a matter of "if", it is simply a matter of "when".
Now eight months after my surgery (bilateral hip replacements), I am feeling more stable, strong and fluid than I have in more than a decade. With discipline, optimism, persistence, and the guidance of insightful teachers, I continue progressing and am happily surprised by new abilities each week. However, this is not without frustration and setbacks. After surgery, I embraced a beginner's mind, knowing that I would need to learn to sit, stand, walk, and move in complex ways all over again. But with a clean slate, (ie. new hip joints), my body would be able to process the information in a more aligned way than I ever possibly could have with bone on bone impingements.
Daily pilates, stabilization and mobilization work, and a spirit of curiosity in the process, have led me to truly amazing discoveries in the power of the body to heal itself and leap forward to meet higher demands. Last weekend, I was thrilled to be flying through space, dancing on walls with Project Bandaloop. Suspended by ropes from the ceiling we learned to do cartwheels, back flips and move together in unison in a horizontal plane...truly dancing on the walls! My mindset is--and has been-- that healing and optimal performance are the only options for me. Guided by wonderful therapists and teachers, I am elated to be moving fluidly and powerfully as a dancer again.
I know the progress will continue and I am driven to share the knowledge with others seeking to move optimally without pain. Visualize your higher self and know it will happen. With focus, determination, discipline, and compassion towards yourself, you will realize your goals. It is just a matter of time, and being ready to receive it.
Please enjoy the inspiring work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his Ted Talk.
Health and Vitality to all,
May health and happiness abound for you and yours. What better gift is there than vitality? This holiday season, present the gift of alignment, strength and power. Through December, purchase a pilates gift certificate for new students at a $25 savings on a private session, or receive one free private session with every series of 10 gifted to a new student. You can also shake up the holiday spirit with the healing powers of the Vyper and Hypershere, myofascial release tools enhancing circulation and elevating recovery to a whole new level. Save $20 on each purchase through December.
Thank you for your devotion to your health and well being through pilates. As a teacher, it is a gift to be witnessing your continued evolution. I wish you a beautiful holiday season, filled with vitality and light.
October 13 marked the six month mark post surgery (bilateral hip replacments) for me. This is a landmark in the healing timeline. At this point, bone has ossified securely about the prosthetic, soft tissue has healed and the entire system has adapted to new demands of compression and tension, co-ordination and organization of movement. In simple terms, things get really good again! Friends and colleagues kindly ask if I am out of the rehab window and back to 100%. I appreciate the kind concern. But it is honestly a difficult question to answer.
Certainly, I am far better than I was before surgery. But I am constantly striving to rebalance my body, optimize function, and surpass where I have been. Thus 100%, representing optimal performance, is always a step higher, outside the window of where I am at any point in time, on this constantly up-spiraling staircase of progress.
Every day I reassess; the laboratory of my own body is a dynamic experiment, responding to the variables I subject it to; new mobilizations, resistance, functional challenges, technical cues. And the movement options expand as I enhance the four prime determinants of movement capacity; tissue quality, joint capsule tension, strength, and nervous system control. After years of compensating for impinged hip joints, within the context of a highly demanding dance performance career, tissue tensions and motor patterns have compensated. For example, overactive hip flexors have taken over for dormant gluteal muscles. The body does an incredible job of meeting the demands we impose upon it, even if it means using inefficient muscles and pulling the system out of alignment. Therefore, a keen focus on movement symmetry, efficiency, and firing of the correct muscles are essential to reprogramming for optimal movement and function. And when dormant muscles do wake up, the reward is phenomenal. Feeling the correct muscles fire is like plugging a cord into the correct socket and seeing the light bulb go on. My entire body feels the difference; a feeling that is so innately “right”, after compensating with misalignment for so long.
Advances in hip replacement surgery are astounding, and returning to a high level of function is a true gift. I hope that my own progress can inspire others who may be hesitating about the surgery, as I did for many years. Hearing the success stories of fellow athletes was the key which unlocked my decision to undergo surgery. Along the way to this six-month mark, I have enjoyed returning to activities I adore. Hiking in Yosemite has been a highlight. Scrambling up the rocks to Yosemite falls and diving in the ice cold pools, climbing the trails and scanning majestic vistas from the top. Returning to ballet class is elating; keeping my legs low and focusing on proper alignment, I am restoring strength and range. Traveling to Paris, navigating metro stations with luggage, walking and climbing stairs for hours, without fear of pain is a newfound freedom I recently enjoyed. Strong functional workouts and pilates training begin each day. Brisk beach walks with my dog are a reward at the end of the day. I now realize how much energy had been lost to my body's struggle with inflammation prior to surgery. Energy and a spirit of play resurge when pain diminishes. The lights are on again!
I am extremely grateful to all my friends and the professionals that have guided me with expertise, wisdom and compassion. Special thanks to Master surgeon, Dr. Jason Snibbe, and his assistant Jennifer Cabrera, PA-C; my physical therapists at Body Logic, Ethan Ezaki and Tali Duer; Scott Campbell, PT; Dr. Chang Park, LAC; Dr. Corie Tappin, LAC; and Lonnie Galate, director of Malibu Fitness, for allowing me constant access to the pilates equipment…my healing playground!
It is extraordinary to feel how the body heals in response to the correct information; whole foods, clean water, balanced movement, ample rest and recovery, healthy behaviors/relationships and determined mindset. When one has determined that healing is the only option, and commits fully to the path, the hard work is filled with reward. May everyone seeking to enhance their health, experience the joy of committing to this path.
Best to all,
The transformation of seasons is upon us, and provides an opportune time to reflect on change. I am very grateful to be visiting Paris this month, a city where I activated a huge shift in my life, moving from my third year of medical school at UCSF, into an international dance career. Visiting my friends in Paris fills me with excitement, as I remember the transformational times I have experienced there. Reflecting on pivotal times in our lives, when we have risked going against the grain, believed in our own abilities to initiate change, trusted in the process, and expanded our worlds, conjures within us the strength to ignite these systems again. It can propel us forward to take on new risks, expand our worlds, and optimize our lives in new directions. I will be taking classes while abroad, and look forward to sharing ideas with you. Wishing you the courage to take on positive new challenges in your lives. A Bientôt, Jennifer
Happy September to All. As we bid farewell to summer and return to work and school rhythms, it is a prime time to imprint healthy patterns for the season ahead. Committing to whole foods, a revitalizing movement practice, and rest/recovery time are foundations to a thriving life. Take on one new challenge at a time, and commit to it with curiosity. Make it fun, a personal experiment. Observe the difference in your energy, mood, clarity of thought, digestion, and reduction of pain. In my last newsletter, the neurodegenerative changes associated with chronic pain was highlighted, and how a mindful movement practice such as pilates, can offset this. Pain is a danger signal that something is out of balance; the body's intelligence signals us to stop, to protect the system. A favorite book of mine, expaining the physiology of pain is Explain Pain, by David Butler. The key is to listen to the body and address the source of the pain. Stress from all sources, physical, mental, and emoitional, will amplify pain signals. With alignment, rest, efficient movement and nourishing foods, we unleash the healing potential of the body to move out of pain, and into vitality.
May you be enjoying time in the outdoors, hiking, biking, swimming, surfing or whatever your activity of choice may be. Three months after surgery, I have been elated to be back on the hiking trails, diving into the ocean waves, and even starting ballet class again. The journey is one of consistent focus and mindset, and gratitude for each new step. Commitment to efficient movement (with the pilates principles of alignment and whole body integration), nutrition, rest, positive mindset and relationships are the foundation for progress. With these in place, the body propels itself forward into health.
Each day is an experiment in observing the current state of health, applying interventions, observing the outcome, and determining changes to make for optimal results. Of prime importance are sleep and mindfulness. Once a believer that needing more than four hours of sleep was a sign of weakness (yes, I also bought into the perfectionist mentality for a time while in the midst of preparing for a career in medicine and dance performance), I have since learned through scientific analysis, and life experience, that sleep is the key to healing, growing stronger, being more productive, and being happy. A favorite habit of mine is an evening walk in nature and powering down (going tech free) two hours before bed, reducing the stimulating effect of electronic blue light on the brain. Gentle pilates movement and breath work can help the body prepare for sleep and enhance the healing process, shifting out of sympathetic overdrive into the parasympathetic healing state. Arianna Huffington's TED Talk explains how sleep is the pathway to succees. Another great resource is Mark Sisson's Definitive Guide to Sleep. My favorite sound score, setting one's brain waves into healing delta states, is Dr. Andrew Weil's Self Healing with Sound and Music. We all know the world of difference a good night's rest can make. Sleep is powerful medicine. Wishing you all a summer filled with active days, restful nights, and abundant health.
Seven weeks post op and, except for my new four inch long tattoos (scars) on each hip, I am forgetting that I had surgery almost two months ago. It is incredible to feel how the body integrates new parts so rapidly, seamlessly. Unraveling of twisted tissues and bones continues, as my body now learns to trust the stable, mobile efficiency of shiny new hip joints. Patient assertive work is critical. Defining the delicate balance point between aggressive retraining and gentle compassion in allowing the body to heal itself. As I teach my students, I aim to be an assertive and attentive coach, pushing to the edge of efficient movement, stimulating musculoskeletal nervous systems to upregulate and rebalance, without overtraining or compensating or steering the body into an inflamed state. Rest and recovery have become great friends of mine and feel how strongly they are working for me.
The past two weeks have allowed me to feel a gradual shedding of rigidity in my right hip, but a pain in right psoas…so great that each swing of my leg brought an internal grimace..has been limiting. Stretching exacerbated the pain. My nervous system, seeking to stabilize the hip joints, responded to stretching by bringing back tension back with a vengeance. I turned to strengthening, balance training, pilates, and integrated neuromuscular work. But the key I found last night…the irritation was coming from my lumbar spine and nerve pain was radiating into my right hip, causing my right back and psoas to clamp down. My system was working overtime and acupuncture and cupping (thank you Corie Tappin at Soulspace!) to my spine freed me to move without pain. My stride is becoming more graceful again as my psoas is not clamping down to protect my lumbar discs and nerves. While wobble board squats, banded side walks, lunges and hydrants have been instrumental in building my hip strength and stability, it is working on the reformer today that helped me really tap in to my central strength and alignment, providing key stimulus and feedback to strengthening my center line and rebalancing the systems around my spine. I am working to be attentive to vulnerable areas that I have braced around for years, and now to strengthen these deep core areas that have been dormant, perhaps due to injury, and move from a strong foundation.
It is quite common for the psoas to clamp down and hold on to stabilize after hip replacement. The gluteals and rotators of the hip are stretched during retraction in surgery, and need time to heal. The psoas wants to be a super hero and save the day by supporting everything. My own situation was complicated by ten to twenty years of psoas dysfunction preceding surgery; something I have learned to retrain by standing from my core and reaching through the tube of my legs rather than hanging on my joints. My left side, by comparison, is pain free and soaring forward with no complications.
Breakthrough with the ALT-G Anti Gravity Treadmill
In seeking to hlep me stop compressing my right side and swaying to the right as I stepped on my right leg, my savvy PT at BodyLogic, Ethan, decided to put me in the Alt-G treadmill. With its corseting set up, the treadmill holds the torso in place and lifts weight off the legs (somewhat like a jolly jumper for adults), allowing my hips to feel decompressed. This was revolutionary! By alleviating compression (I was walking at 65% body weight), my pelvis began to feel like it was floating, and my psoas began to lengthen in a way it has not in years. I began to walk with longer strides, my legs actually extending behind me, as I pushed the ground away with a strong toe push off activating my glutes and extending my hip flexors, rather than reaching in front of me with my hip flexors and pulling myself forward. The experience was like rebooting a buggy computer program; my gait had been programmed in a compromised way with impaired hip function; although my hips had been replaced, the mental program kept running until I consciously reprogrammed it with the assistance of the treadmill. This was enhanced by cameras focused on my legs, allowing me to see the action of my own legs as I walked, in this way, I could focus on long strides, extending my legs behind me, pushing off with the ball of my foot, landing with my foot underneath me, and the pattern of heel strike to push off through my foot. I was elated to feel this! It was like my hip flexors were getting a massage while I walked, being allowed to dynamically lengthen for the first time in years. It was an incredibly liberating gift to receive, teaching my brain what it is to walk with a healthy gait pattern. And the truth was seen as I stepped off the machine. The new program was set and I walked across the room with strong, fluid, balanced strides.
Also fascinating is noticing the drop in inflammation in my body. Bone on bone hip joints are ripe with inflammatory factors that elevate stress on the entire body. Upon removing the eroding joints, my body is beginning to thrive again. My acupuncturist, Corie Tappin, noted my pulse and tongue qualities (key determinants of health in Chinisese medicine) have dramatically improved. Swelling in my ankles has disappeared. My energy is better and I am sleeping through the night, a critical player in all of health.
Thank you to all my fantastic team mates on this journey, guiding me to new discoveries and breakthroughs. May I be a better teacher to others, as I continue to learn more with each new step.
Best to all,
Summer is in full swing, and it's great to be back in action with all my students and classes at Malibu Fitness. I wish you all a happy July 4th celebration ahead, and a month full of adventures in the outdoors. Strong, healthy core engagement and postural alignment are the foundations for optimizing our enjoyment in hiking, surfing, swimming, biking, rock climbing, and adventuring of all kinds. Enjoy the strength, flexibility, alignment and control that pilates can add to your sports and your daily experience. In addition to its affect on physical performance, how we hold our bodies in space affects how we feel about ourselves. One of my favorite TED talks by Amy Cuddy highlights how our posture affects how we actually think, and relate to the world. Stand tall and feel more confident, powerful, joyful, and purposeful.
Happy Summer to All!