“Blink!... Blink!” ordered my ophthalmologist. Two ophthalmologists checked my eyes for nearsightedness, complete with the eternal question, “Which is better? One? Or two?” Turns out I needed a daily dose of eye drops, especially working in windy Foster City. Otherwise I could see perfectly fine.
One Friday morning before teaching my Pilates mat class, I saw my very first manager here at the PJCC.
Naomi was the one to hire me at the J. During my interview for a position at the front desk, she asked why I hadn’t worked in a while. I replied, “Because I was an idiot.” I explained that I’d been trying to pursue employment where it just wasn’t my time or my place to do so. At that point I just wanted a job, and usually when employers hear this they run away. But then she heard that I was looking for a place to call home and to stay.
It was the mixture of loyalty, humility, and self-respect that led me here. Having the gift of teaching Pilates was an unexpected reward waiting in the wings.
So of course when I saw her I knew had I to share the love.
“I love Naomi! I’ll surprise her with a big hug,” I thought.
She was looking down at her cell, her honey brown hair covering her cheeks. I gave her a nice warm “It’s mama!” hug and then smiled at her.
Not Naomi. Oh my sweet basil, good goshness, she is NOT Naomi.
“Oh I’m so sorry!” I stammered. “I –“
I had put in two eye drops (per eye!) that morning before work. But in reality my eyeballs hadn’t seen a drop of saline in four weeks. I could feel my cheeks turning red as this nice lady’s face seemed to say, “Why me?” or “Oh dear, did this completely grown woman lose her mommy?”
Looking up, I saw her friend on the bridge looking down at our little exchange, and laughing her head off. Rightly so, I might add.
“Well… I like hugs,” said the woman thoughtfully. “By the way, my name’s Terry, and I have been to your Pilates mat class a few times.”
That’s right, bad to worse. Of course, by this time Terry had been facing me and now I could see it was indeed Terry and not Naomi. We talked and laughed a bit more. I didn’t feel a whole lot smarter after Terry left but she did her best to help ease my embarrassment with her smiles.
Cut to scene at my Pilates mat class fifteen minutes later: “So apparently I’m a hugger…” We all laughed at my happy mishap. Somehow the room felt really warm, almost like everyone was glowing. So I’m feelin’ the love at the PJCC. Second chances, eye drops, surprise hugs, warm vibes, Foster City wind and all.
Monique Molino is a Pilates Instructor and cultural dance aficionado. 2015 marks her 10th year working with the PJCC. Her clients provide her with intelligent, witty perspectives on living in the Bay Area. She provides her clients with the best she can offer in functional training on the Mat, Reformer, Tower, and Jumpboard. It is Monique's personal wellness goal to regularly use her eye drops.
Sneak these three effective moves into every workout for a coveted core. (Original publication in the Peninsula Jewish Community Center's in house magazine, Connections. Issue January 2014.)
Wouldn’t it be nice to have 24/7 access to soothing massage, anytime, anywhere? Now you can, thanks to foam rollers.
The human body is saran-wrapped with a thin film of connective tissues called fascia, which supports, stabilizes, and cushions vessels, bones, internal organs and muscles. Foam rolling is a technique to return this connective tissue, and the muscles encased by it, to its proper length. Fascia is made of elastin (supports and stabilizes), collagen (supports and stabilizes), and ground substance/matrix (transports gelatinous material throughout the tissues and acts like a cushion). Adhesions are scar-like tissue where the fascia sticks together and stiffens, impeding performance, decreasing range of motion, and developing muscular imbalances. With the pressure created by your own body weight, foam rollers can be used on various body parts to iron out painful fascial knots (trigger points) and muscles. These wonderfully versatile tools are also used for therapeutic and balance exercises, physical therapy, and postural alignment.
When you first begin foam rolling you may experience some discomfort because adhesions and tight muscles are being pressed upon. Foam rolling helps the fascia and muscles to relax and return to their normal, healthy elastic modes.
When used safely, foam rollers can provide the following benefits:
• Improve joint range of motion
• Relieve muscle soreness and joint stress
• Encourage appropriate muscle length by decreasing muscle tightness
• Improves neuromuscular efficiency, thereby inspiring initial strength gains
How to Roll
Always stay hydrated. This is a general rule that massage therapists tell clients. Water helps the body flush out the toxins and keeps the tissues supple and receptive to massage instead of stiff and resisting.
Start slowly and gently, in five second increments and work up to a minute. Rushing doesn’t increase effectiveness. Once you find a spot that’s tender, try to relax into that area and stay there for at least several seconds (eventually working up to 20-30 seconds). If rolling is painful even after trying to relax into the tender site, stop and try again another day. And remember to maintain core control, bracing your abdominals when doing a side plank or plank, and lengthening your back. This should not be a bruising activity to the skin or muscles, which impedes healing. Don’t slouch!
Skip the rolling if you:
- Have poor circulation, varicose veins, thrombosis, thyroid problems
- Are in poor condition and/or have excess weight
- Experience difficulty descending to the ground and then standing up
- Feel pain. If rolling hurts no matter what you do, tissues will tighten up in response and take longer to heal. Back off, and slowly ease back into the rolling, if possible.
- Want to foam roll your back or any bony areas like the knee or hipbone. Massage therapists never push on the spine, you shouldn’t either. The vertebrae and discs have a shelf life and if you press on them, you damage them bit by bit.
Rolling should also not be done on abdominals and, for women, the chest. Internal organs and lymph glands do not benefit from this form of massage. Remember too, it’s always a good idea to consult with your physician or physical therapist before starting any new form of exercise or self-massage.
And so, the next time you want to end a stressful day or intense workout with a relaxing massage, but can’t make it to the spa, pull out your foam roller. Relief is literally at your fingertips.
What to Roll:
Kneeling on all fours, rest the foam roller diagonally in front of you on the right side. Place the left forearm face up on the foam roller and sink down. You do not want to arch your back, so keep your abdominals contracted. Repeat on the other side.
Iliotibial Band (ITB)
Side plank position, top leg bent and foot on the ground either in front or behind you, and top hand on the ground in front if you need more support. Start at the base of the outer thigh 2 inches above knee. Roll up to side of hip. Use your foot against the ground to decrease the pressure as necessary.
Gluteal and Hip Rotator
Seated with feet on the floor, on the foam roller lengthwise, hands behind you on the ground. Cross one ankle across the other thigh, leg rotated out. Lean into that turned out leg, with the same hand on the ground. Don’t twist the back. Rock back and forth.
By Monique Molino
Copyright information: All notes and articles are property of Monique Molino.. All photographs and images are the property of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center. You must include the following line of type in small print on the same page where the photograph(s) appear: "PJCC Pilates photography © Peninsula Jewish Community Center."
All notes and articles copyright © Monique Molino 2014. All rights reserved.
All photographs and images copyright © Peninsula Jewish Community Center 2014. All rights reserved.
Closing the Gap on Mummy Tummy
Your post-pregnancy bulge may actually be Diastasis Recti Abdominis
By Monique Molino
Photo credits: Sharon Giordano
As a triathlon athlete and Pilates aficionado, it wasn’t as if Paige was out of shape. But when she performed certain core exercises, her postnatal tummy produced a frustrating little mound that looked like a hot dog under her skin. In Pilates mat class, she periodically experienced back pain and saw that same mysterious bulge pushing through the gap between her six-pack abs. When she finally saw her doctor, Paige learned she had a disorder called Diastasis Rectus Abdominis, also known as “abdominal separation” and more commonly referred to simply as “mummy-tummy.”
Normally, the rectus abdominis muscles are joined at the linea alba, a fibrous structure that runs down the midline of the abdomen. However, with Diastasis Rectus Abdominis (DRA) these abdominal muscles split into left and right halves.
“I was able to run my first 50 mile ultra marathon so I figured I was fit, but I still looked like I was four months pregnant,” said Paige, a mother of three. “I wanted to fix the pooch as much as possible, but also knew that I was going to run into problems, such as back pain, if I didn't strengthen and fix my problem as much as possible.”
Men, women, and children can experience DRA for different reasons, such as genetic predispositions, excess abdominal mass, poor core exercise flexion technique, and heavy lifting. However, the disorder is most common among pregnant or postpartum women, when the abdominal wall is stretched by the growing uterus. Especially susceptible are women over 35 and/or those who have had multiple births and/or C-sections. More than half of all pregnancies may result in DRA. Premature babies may also develop the condition when the rectus abdominis is not fully developed and sealed.
Health risks aren’t normally associated with DRA and in most cases the condition usually heals on its own, although if pain is present, surgery may be needed. While DRA can be considered cosmetic, the disorder can result in lumbar (lower back) pain, weak and often tight abdominals, pelvic floor dysfunction, and postural misalignments. Not to mention that a gap in the muscles makes for a weak core and a weak core makes one more susceptible to injuries. According to an article by Mayo Clinic obstetrician and medical editor-in-chief Dr. Roger W. Harms, DRA can impede simple daily activities, such as lifting heavy objects or other routine activities.
DRA and Exercise
Think of DRA as a broken zipper that has split down the middle. When you hunch, rotate or arch your back, the motion increases pressure and pushes your internal organs forward where they can poke through the “split zipper,” resulting in a bigger abdominal gap. This is why, when exercising with DRA, it’s important to avoid movements that exert pressure on your core, such as crunches and leg lifts. These movements will not help firm your “mummy-tummy” but will actually exacerbate the condition.
“I didn’t know that some exercises can actually make the condition worse for new moms,” said Paige, whose youngest child is three. Her doctor recommended a tummy-tuck, but the Montara resident chose to explore exercise as a corrective measure. “My trainer is helping me tone my stomach so I don’t do additional damage,” she said. “The process has been slow, but I’m seeing huge improvements with my swimming and especially with my running. The surrounding muscles definitely feel stronger.”
Certain exercises, like Pilates and yoga, can help you regain abdominal strength. If your health care provider confirms you have DRA, your next step is to find a physical therapist, personal trainer, or wellness guide who is versed in DRA rehabilitation. A professional can teach you how to gently and safely perform appropriate exercises.
Dealing with DRA: Listen to Your “Gut”
What is your emotional state? Negative emotions are known to slow down or negate physical healing because the body is consumed with anxiety. Alleviate stress with soothing practices like taking a walk, doing Qigong, or meditating. Engage in cardiovascular stress busters such as indoor cycling, but be sure to avoid activities that encourage forward-lateral movements, like tennis or volleyball.
How is your diet? Good nutrition is always important, but never more so than when healing from an injury. Maintain a healthy balanced diet that keeps stools moving and promotes optimal tissue healing. Steer clear of processed foods, stay hydrated, and eat smaller and more frequent meals.
Pull yourself together with a DRA splint. Ask your health care professional about a splint, which will help close your outer muscles and hold them together in the correct position so that connective muscles and tissues may begin healing. However, bypass corsets or compression belts. These items might compress, but won’t reconnect your muscles and tissues.
Strengthen your core. Splinting alone won’t cure DRA but, in tandem with a strong core, will help support your internal organs.
Recovering from DRA varies with each individual. Some might need a combination of resources, including the surgery better known as a tummy-tuck. Being attuned to your changing body’s needs and working with professionals are your starting point from which you can begin to heal.
SIDEBAR (Photos with captions)
Under the guidance of a wellness professional, learn how to perform basic movements that will strengthen your core and help facilitate recovery.
This simple exercise provides little to no pressure on the DRA and also engages the psoas (hip flexor) muscle that helps stabilize the torso. Lying on your back, lift one foot off the ground with knee bent, then control its slow descent and repeat with other leg. Keep abdominals braced and don’t tilt hips.
This exercise helps you feel the connection of your transversus abdominis while engaging the glute of your moving leg. Lying on your back, feet on floor, knees bent, inhale to prepare. Exhale and slide one heel forward along the ground; inhale draw it back again. Keep hips level and steady, so you feel like you are pulling your hipbones towards each other with your abdominals.
This final position is not an exercise, but a reminder of the importance of good posture. A healthy body alignment is essential for keeping your core and internal organs toned while moving. Whether slouching with hips thrust forward or sticking out your ribs in military stance, either position will be exaggerated when you have DRA. Instead, stack your head, shoulders, ribs, hips, and ankles in one straight line, your tailbone neither tucked nor sticking out. Keep your gluteal (rear end) muscles engaged when you walk, brace your abdominals lightly, imagine the front of your ribs lining up with your rectus abdominis, and relax your shoulders. This alignment keeps your abdominals working optimally as you move throughout the day.
Monique Molino is a Pilates instructor at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center (PJCC) in Foster City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Mills College in Oakland, CA.
Wellness Matters Magazine May/June 2013 Issue www.wellnessmattersmagazine.com
You've Got to Move It, Move It!
Pilates for a Symbiotic Mind and Body
by Monique Molino
These days, life is loaded with demands on your personal time, energy, and space. When you continuously care for others without taking care of yourself, you risk reaching beyond your capacity to function effectively. Like a hard drive filled with too much information, people can crash due to physical and mental imbalances. Pilates helps to recharge your batteries so you can rediscover your mind-body equilibrium.
The Pilates Breath Takes Guts
Deep breathing is an important part of any exercise regime. Pilates breathing techniques help you maximize your physical strength by conditioning your abdominals, pelvic floor, back muscles – and even internal organs. For instance, the Pilates breath uses your diaphragm to tone your bladder by pulling it up and down so it won’t drop into the body part often referred to as the “gut.” The Pilates breath also assists in releasing tension by getting oxygen into the blood, which can stimulate and revitalize a drained brain. This in turn can allow for the complete mental focus needed when faced with the physical demands of any form of exercise, as well as the challenges of daily life, career, and family.
Prepping for the Next Level
“Give me a stronger back and abs, toned buns, defined shoulders, and more flexibility.” This is a frequent request by Pilates students and a goal that aligns with that of a Pilates instructor: to build a balanced body. Pilates is tailored to each student’s abilities, enabling strength and flexibility gains while minimizing the chance for injury. A happy Pilates body and mind can be consistently challenged and healed to reach the next level of fitness and harmony.
Pilates offers a symbiotic relationship between mind and body, evolving your approach toward a more balanced, stronger, and happier you.
Monique Molino is a Pilates Instructor at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Mills College in Oakland.
Today life is crammed with demands on personal time, energy, and space. When you continuously care for others without taking care of yourself, you reach beyond your capacity to function. Like a hard drive with too much information, you essentially crash and burn due to these physical and mental imbalances. At a Pilates class it’s your time to recharge your batteries so you can rediscover your mind-body equilibrium. The Pilates breathing technique will help you to capitalize on your strengths without wearing yourself down.
The Pilates Breath Takes Guts
Say this in one breath: “Breathe in order to achieve toned abdominals and internal organs otherwise your bladder prolapses and your stomach will look like it’s carrying a bowling ball.” Let’s drop this habit and take a breather. The Pilates breath helps condition your abdominals, pelvic floor, back muscles – and even internal organs. For instance, the bladder is toned by being pulled up and down by the diaphragm so it won’t fall down into your gut. The Pilates breath assists in releasing tension, which allows for complete mental focus needed when faced with the physical demands of your Pilates practice.
The Happy Mind and Body
“Give me stronger abs and back, toned buns, defined shoulders, and more flexibility.” As a frequent request by Pilates students, this goal aligns with a Pilates instructor’s functional goal to build a balanced body. Wellness guide Laura Hames Franklin notes we are a series of systems made to heal. Pilates is tailored to a student’s abilities, enabling strength and flexibility gains while minimizing the chance for injury. A happy Pilates body and mind can be consistently challenged and healed to reach the next level of fitness.
Pilates offers a symbiotic relationship between mind and body, evolving your approach towards a more balanced, stronger, and happier you.
A Ferrari F-430 can go from 0-60 mph in about 4 seconds, depending on the year it was made. But it's a machine. You're a series of systems that are made to heal, a point well-made by wellness guide Laura Hames Franklin. Those systems can either break down or build up depending on how we take care of ourselves.
Image source: www.zeroto60times.com/Ferrari-0-60-mph-Times.html
When my sister and I were just little tykes, we used to go to the park with our dad. He noticed that unlike the other little girls that whirred around the horizontal monkey bars in continuous circles, I could only produce a 3/ 4 revolution.
Dad is a man of science, love, and innovation, so at the time he did what any loving father would do: he gave me a little push. This helped me move within my capacity without getting hurt.
Moving beyond capacity is easily done when we’re adults. We get impatient with ourselves because we haven’t worked out in years so we go for a bike ride or adrenaline infused workout at the gym. This 0-60 methodology very often is a recipe for injury, or re-injury. And then we’re side-lined away from the activity we were hoping to pursue!
I didn’t remember the push Dad gave me, probably too stuck on myself to remember (or too little?). But I did remember making lots of successful revolutions. Gymnastics and dance classes became the next step, where I proudly performed cartwheels of shame in both classes. The teachers guided me so that I could build up endurance and strength along with coordination and grace. Those cartwheels were practiced long after I refused to take classes because “…these teachers don’t know what they’re doing.” Okay, so I was a LOT stuck on myself.
Today, I wouldn’t dare just flop myself on the horizontal monkey bars and go for a spin, I’d hurt myself. I haven’t built up capacity; I don’t have the endurance to keep good form. And they hurt!
But, want a perfect cartwheel? You got it.
By Monique Molino
Copyright information: All material copyright © Monique Molino 2011-2012. All rights reserved.
...that is the question. Or, those are the questions.
William Shakespeare, asking the tough questions. The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed. National Portrait Gallery, London. Image courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare
The Pelvis: Tuck, Neutral, Arch, oh what, praytell, doth we choose?
Well first of all let's revert to the basic Pilates rule: do the work with zero unnecessary tension. Forcing the pelvis to arch or tuck is unnecessary and creates tension. Enough said? Don't agree? Been to a class where they ask you to tuck? (You don't have to tell me where you took the class, I can take a guess as I've probably been there, too!)
When we tuck the pelvis like an animal tucking his tail between his legs, we are in a submission position. It is both negative emotionally (albeit on the subconscious level, but that is still enough for me to avoid it) and physically to hold such a position. The psoas and iliacus muscles (hip flexors) shorten as a result and the lumbar discs are compressed, especially near the sacrum. For those of us with a tightness in this area, this only exacerbates the problem as we have shortened the distance between ASIS (tops of the hipbones) and ribcage with the abdominal, psoas, and iliacus muscles. For those of us with lumbar tightness it does not resolve the issue. And for those of us who are flexible in the lumbo-pelvic area, it doesn't strengthen the necessary muscles to balance out pelvis and spine.
For ALL of us it causes strain to the lumbar discs. Our discs have a shelf life: we all have a certain number of movements with the spine that it will allow before it breaks down. Some of us are blessed with better genetics in this regard and can get away with bad form and postural habits. But I'm not apt to gamble with the health of my spine, and my guess is neither are you.
The neutral spine provides the opportunity for the entire core to work evenly and with most efficiency. Take a look at some of the strongest athletes and cultures with the least number of back problems and you'll find that the neutral spine is always present. This does not mean being relaxed or allowing the muscles to be lax. It doesn't mean allowing a naturally arched back if the problem stems from tight low back muscles. It means a gently lengthened spine and evenly placed pelvis. For women there tends to be a little more of a tilt forward but it is ever so slight.
The Spine: it can flex, extend, and rotate. The real question is...
...How much should it flex, extend, and rotate? When should it do so? Some health practioners would rather you move your spine like you're doing The Robot-- no spinal movement. No I mean The Robot dance move, think 1980s dance parties with a few fro's, mullets, Jerry curls, and crimped hairdos. Complete the look with parachute pants. For those of you who remember, I'm sorry for the flashback.
Others want you to fold like a weeping willow at Foster City's Ryan Park-- no stability just the most mobility.
Some want super-lengthening abilities to emerge from your spinal erectors, inhibiting your ability to rotate. Others prefer you move more softly to increase your rotational range.
It's enough to make a Pilates student stone cold crazy. What's right and what's wrong? We don't want any spinal problems so a definitive answer would be great.
You know what I'm going to say already. It's going to make sense: think of the Goldilocks and Three Bears children's story. Not too much, not too little. You're going to move with just the right amount of force and that means the least amount of tension. No pain, no feeling of tension.
The spinal discs are very picky about their movements. They need movement somewhat to relubricate themselves via osmosis. But too much movement and they wear down like tires balding from too much friction on the road. The ligaments that hold the vertebral discs in place also have a shelf life. Too much friction from moving the spine with too much range and they get lax. This means danger for the discs and the nerves nearby.
The nerves that radiate from the spine are delicately placed near vertebrae, discs, ligaments, muscles. Stretching any nerve beyond 12% of their ability to lengthen must be avoided to prevent any damage to the body's full function. Actually, they can't really stretch, but they do get irritated!!!
What kind of muscles are used and what should we be thinking about when moving the spine?
- A soft reaching sensation to lengthen the spine fully is appropriate as long as one doesn't use other muscles to get to that goal (neck flexors and upper trapezius, for example).
- Bracing the abdominals to move the spine assists in balancing out the back extensors during extension exercises. (This should be done without scooping the abs in like you're sucking in your stomach or you won't be fully connected and can damage the spine. Remember, brace your abs like you're about to be punched in the stomach.)
- The obliques rotate and side bend the spine and yet can assist in preventing too much general rotation and side bending.
- The multifidus is a rather small lower back extensor for one to three vertebral segments.Therefore it supports only a few joints during extension, very small amounts of twisting and small amounts of side-bending.
- The back extensors lengthen as the rectus abdominus (six pack muscles) flex the spine.
- The quadratus lumborum can stabilize the core, or they can assist in side-bending. The same rules apply to lengthen gently, then apply just enough abdominal bracing.
Fact of the Day: Drink plenty of water to keep the vertebral discs healthy, lubricated, and plump.
By Monique Molino
For more information: www.backfitpro.com
Copyright information: All material property of Monique Molino. You must include the following line of type in small print on the same page where the photograph(s) appear: "Monique Molino photography © Monique Molino."
All material copyright © Monique Molino 2011-2014. All rights reserved.
How should we breathe during a Pilates class? Loud and clear or soft and muted? A little or a lot? In the chest or in the stomach?
Keep these things in mind while executing the Pilates breath:
- Brace your abs during your workouts to protect your spine and to prevent them from expanding or going lax during inhalation.
- The alveoli sacs in the lower chambers of the lungs are more densely packed than those in the upper chambers. Alveoli sacs are responsible for helping diffuse carbon dioxide in the blood. (Alveoli sacs can be seen in the lower left-hand corner of the image seen below.)
- During inhalation the ribcage should move east-west, or to the sides of the body, and feel as if they expand a bit at the back. Feel as if the ribs could open up from the back (even though they do not). It will feel like a gentle massage for the lower back muscles.
- The intercostals, or muscles in between each rib of the ribcage, assist in opening up the ribcage and contracting it during inhalation and exhalation.
- The diaphragm depresses to make room for the lungs during inhalation, and elevates upon exhalation.
- The inhalation gently and mildly extends the spine while the exhalation mildly flexes the spine, albeit in an almost microscopic manner.
- The Pilates breath propels the movement, so keep breathing!
Avoid making these mistakes in a Pilates class:
- Chest breathing is too shallow to properly allow for enough air to enter the lungs. It overemphasizes chest muscles and detracts from proper use of intercostals and diaphragm.
- Stomach breathing does not protect the spine and turns off the efficiency of the abdominals-- mainly the transversus abdominus, which is nicknamed the "corset muscle" as it wraps around the waist and hips like a girdle.
- Holding the breath is the same as bearing down on the pelvic floor. It can lead to lightheadedness, dizziness, tension throughout the body.
In answer to the first two questions: breath in quietly and deeply through the nose, and breath out quietly and deeply through the mouth like you're blowing out a candle. With the use of the Pilates breath, you'll love ditching the sense of feeling frenetic, rushed, and distracted; instead, you'll enjoy feeling calm and focused.
By Monique Molino
Copyright information: All notes and articles are property of Monique Molino and posted to the PJCC Pilates Facebook page with permission by Monique Molino. All photographs and images are the property of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center. You must include the following line of type in small print on the same page where the photograph(s) appear: "PJCC Pilates photography © Peninsula Jewish Community Center."
All notes and articles copyright © Monique Molino 2011-2012. All rights reserved.
All photographs and images copyright © Peninsula Jewish Community Center 2011-2012. All rights reserved.