Wednesday 29 January 2014

Mindfulness - the power of the mind and how to incorporate it into our everyday life.

We live in a world of technological advances so great that we can now do many things at once without thinking about it. We have machines to do our washing, cooking and cleaning; machines that take us where we want and tell us what we want - when we want it!  All of these things only a half century ago would have taken considerable effort - involving both the body and the mind.

However, as the world has become more fast paced, the stress placed upon the average human has increased considerably - we're always attached to a mobile, answering an email and checking social media (I am guilty of all these) while our life passes us by.  So is it any wonder that there is a growing movement of mindfulness?

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a hot topic at the moment - only last week a delegate of the world's top business and political leaders were told how mindfulness could help them cope in a increasingly hectic world, and how in as little as 10 minutes a day they could gain inner peace by sitting down and focusing on their breathing and allowing their minds to wander.

Mindfulness can be found in many Eastern philosophy including yoga, Buddhism and Taoism, it can be described as bringing your mind into the moment and paying complete attention to that moment with openness and acceptance.

Mindfulness is also at the core of Pilates' practise;

Joeseph Pilates said'

"Breathing is the first act of life, and the last.  Our very life depends on it.  Since we cannot live without breathing it is tragically deplorable to contemplate the millions and millions who have never learned to master the art of correct breathing" (Return to Life through Contrology)

What can it do?

Practising mindfulness is said to help with;

* being fully present in the here and now
* becoming more connected to the world and your surroundings
* increasing self awareness
* being more balanced emotionally
* becoming more calm and accepting
* decreasing stress and anxiety

Can mindfulness be good for my waistline?

There was an interesting study carried out by Harvard psychologists Langer and Crum, whereby they took 84 hotel attendants in 7 different hotels  They were cleaning an average of 15 rooms a day, each requiring half an hour of walking, bending, pushing, lifting, and carrying. These women were clearly getting a lot of good exercise, but they didn’t believe it: 66.6% of them reported not exercising regularly, and 36.8% said they didn’t get any exercise at all.  The researchers divided the groups into two, and gave one group an hour long presentation of how much exercise they were actually getting, the other group was told nothing and acted as the control group.

After 4 weeks (of no change in behaviour) - the group that had been given the presentation all showed a decrease in blood pressure, decrease in weight, decrease in body fat ratio and decrease in BMI when compared to the control group.

Weirdly, just by being mindful and thinking about how much exercise you do, seems to have a physiological affect.  The only change in the two groups was that one group was more aware of how much exercise they were actually getting.

How to incorporate mindfulness into everyday life

What the study does show is that the key is engagement (which is one of our key principles in Pilates).  In Pilates we do not randomly move limbs without complete engagement of the mind first targetting the required muscles with control - this needs to have complete concentration from the mind -
'Where the mind goes, the body follows' (Joseph Pilates).

Here are a few things you can do to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routines;

1. When brushing your teeth or having a shower, focus in on the activity - think about the taste, sensation, smells.

2. On a morning just sit for 10 minutes - switch off the tv, don't read, check emails or phone, until after your 'sit' and let your mind wander.

3. Do short bursts of mindfulness throughout the day - rather than one long session.

4. When kept waiting (traffic, call centre's etc), rather than get frustrated, use it as an opportunity to practice mindfulness.

5. Learn to meditate.

So how are you going to be mindful today??

We will be incorporating more mindfulness and meditation within our current Pilates classes.  If you would be interested in longer meditation sessions then please let us know.

Friday 24 January 2014

Why is good Posture important?

I travel alot for work and I see it everywhere - people slouching in chairs or hunched over laptops, particularly on trains! Didn't your mother ever tell you to sit up straight? It drives me mad, I have the overwhelming urge to straighten people up!

Why is posture so important and what can be done to correct bad posture?

The term 'posture' refers to 'the carriage of the spine as a whole, the attitude of the body, or the position of the limbs' (Webster New World Dictionary), it also refers to the body's alignment and position against gravity whether standing, seated or prone so that no one area of the body is over stressed.  The spine naturally has 4 curves, which act like a shock absorber and distribute the vertical pressure on the spine, when all the natural curves of the spine are in place, and the hip bone is on the same plane as the pubic bone, we call this the 'neutral spine' (a term used alot in Pilates).

Bad Posture

The sitting position is where most bad posture is seen, people tend to push their head forward from the spinal column whilst driving or working on a computer.  This then causes the muscles at the back of the neck to have to do the job of the spine by pulling the weight of the head back, the spinal column usually curls forward too and the shoulders become rounded.  This can cause the neck muscles to become fatigued and they will become strained and painful.  The head weighs roughly a stone in weight, as the head is held forward of the spinal column the dead weight upon the body increases (imagine holding a bowling ball straight out in front of you all the time), this can then cause further pain down the spine, headaches, reduced blood and oxygen to the brain, fatigue and decreased range of movement when moving limbs.

The NHS recognises that 90% of all low back pain stems from;

- bending awkwardly
- lifting, carrying or pushing incorrectly
- slouching in chairs
- standing or bending down for long periods
- twisting or over-stretching
- driving in a hunched position

Bad posture has also been proved to influence our mood, a study led by Brian Meier, a psychologist at North Dakota University found that emotions have a highly physical basis, so sad thoughts could lead to a slumped posture with eyes directed down, and happy thoughts to a more upright posture and the eyes looking up.  Therefore by simply looking up could give you a physical boost that leads to better posture and a better mood!

The Good News

Bad posture can, in most cases, be fixed - as it's a habit and habits can be relearned.  Just by becoming more mindful of your body alignment can help ensure that you sit or stand up taller.
Probably just by reading this you've straightened yourself up...?

What to do:

-  When sitting at a desk - roll your shoulders back and down, open up the collar bones and take some  deep breathes - just thinking about your alignment helps - where the mind goes the body follows!

-  Avoid staying in one position for long periods

 - Exercise regularly to promote strong abdominal and back muscles (Pilates is excellent for this)

 - Maintain a healthy body weight

Once you begin to feel the benefits of good posture, you will not want to revert back to old habits - you will be standing taller and straighter, you will have less pain and tension in your neck muscles, you will have less lower back pain, and you will look and feel more confident. So stand up tall and face the world!!

If you have concerns about your posture consider having a 1-2-1 postural analysis - this will assess weaknesses in your body and a program will be devised to correct these.

Get in touch to come along to one of our Pilates classes;

Wednesday 8 January 2014

What to expect at your first Pilates Class.

Well - congratulations, you've finally made the step towards a healthier future.  You may have been considering trying Pilates for a while - but have not been able to find a class to suit, right time, right place - but now the planets have aligned and you're about to attend your first group mat class.

What to expect;

What to bring;

If you are attending a class at a studio or sports centre - then they will probably already have mats available (yoga mats), or if the class is a community class then you may be asked to bring one along.  You may also be asked to bring a towel and a drink. 

What to wear;
Pilates is done bare foot - so no need for special trainers - although there are special socks that you can buy for the winter months.  You will need to wear comfortable clothes - leggings and t-shirt are fine.  You may need a warmer sweatshirt to put on for the stretching part.  You should be able to stretch in your clothes, and the teacher will need to be able to see that your body is correct aligned, so something not too baggy is good.  Long hair will need to be tied back, and long necklaces or bulky bracelets will get in the way - so make sure that these are removed.

I am a glasses wearer and Pilates I can still do Pilates in my glasses (unlike Zumba!!).

Upon Arrival
When you first arrive, try to arrive a bit earlier - so that your instructor can get a chance to have a chat with you about your expectations and any injuries that you may have.  You will be asked to fill out a PAR-Q form (Pre Activity Readiness Questionnaire) which is used to assess if you're able to join the class, or whether you may need to check with a doctor before you're able to go-ahead.  Exercise is suitable for most people, but there are a few people who need to check with their doctor before increasing their levels of activity and this form is designed to assess this.

First Class

All studios/teachers are different but there are a few consistent things that you will learn during your first few sessions;

- Neutral Spine
- Pelvic Floor Engagement
- How to engage your Transverse Abdominus
- Thoracic breathing technique
- Pelvic stability
- Scapula stability
- Ribcage closure
- Segmental control of spine

To name but a few - these are the foundations of great Pilates technique.  A good teacher should take you through these and ensure that all of the subsequent exercises are carried out incorporating the above, as well as introducing you to the Pilates Principles.

So there it is - the benefits of Pilates are numerous and the principles can be taken into everyday life, so enjoy your journey!

Let me know what your first experience was like.
Jill xxx


Saturday 4 January 2014

Do you measure up? How to take your body measurements.


As the festive season draws to a close and reality kicks in again, our thoughts turn to losing some weight.  In my previous post I talked about how important it is to set goals and measure how you're doing against those goals, so that you can see your progress or if you need to adjust your program.

So what do you need to do?
Weight - You need to get an accurate set of scales, and make sure that they're on a solid floor (believe it or not, if your scales are on a carpeted floor - the carpet pushes up against the scale causing the reading to be higher than it actually is - aha - so that's the reason!).

Now for your measurements -  you need to strip down to your underwear, stand in front of a mirror take a deep breath, roll your shoulder blades back and down, and stand up straight and tall - and breathe (don't suck in)!
Waist - The waist measurement is one of the most important ones, as it can be used as an indicator of health and is also good to use for determining your dress size. You need to measure around the smallest part of your waist, just above the belly button - make sure that the tape is straight all the way around (the mirror will help you with this).

Bust - Under your arms around the fullest part of your chest (usually the nipple line), careful not to squish too much.

Hips - Measure at the widest point around your bum, you may feel that this is almost at the top of your thighs.

Thighs - Measure at the widest part of your thigh

Knees - Measure right above the knee

Calves - Measure at their widest point

Upper arm - Measure at the widest point above your elbow

Forearm - Measure at the widest point below your elbow

You need to take your weight and your measurements at the same time of day on a regular basis, I usually weigh myself on a Monday morning as soon as I get up every week, and take my measurements on a Saturday morning once a month (when I've got a bit more time).

You will need to keep note of your figures, so I would recommend setting up a table that looks something like this;

Start date Week 1
(Full Set)
Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
(Full Set)
Upper Arm
(Excl Weight)

Remember to add in your start date, and only do you full set of measurements once a month.

From this you will be able to chart how your body shape is changing.  Weight is not a good indicator of health, but body shape is!  So please do not focus on the lbs. but focus on the inches (or centimetres - depending where you're from).

From this you will also be able to work out your 'hip to waist' ratio - but that's a whole different subject! (Maybe for another post?)

So get measuring and remember to let me know your inch loss!


Wednesday 1 January 2014

New Year, New You - but for how long....? 5 Things to Keep the Motivation.

Hi All

Well it's that time of year, after 3 weeks (or years) of overindulgence everyone's thoughts start turning towards their New Year's resolutions, and I can bet the vast majority of those resolutions will have some sort of self-improvement through fitness, health or nutrition element to them.  For me, as a fitness instructor, it's a great time of year - full classes, lots of enquiries, enthusiastic clients - how long does it last for in the vast majority of people?

Well research has shown that for most people, the resolve starts to wear off after....wait for it... 9 days!?! With 60% of people saying that they made the same resolutions last year.  Why do we make promises to ourselves that we cannot keep? 

As a fitness instructor with busy classes (most of the year around), I am well versed in the excuses that people come up with as to why they cannot attend today;

* Bad weather
* Not feeling well
* Too tired
* No babysitter

When you think about it a one hour training session is only 4% of our day - why then, do people feel that they cannot fit this into their lives  - we still find time to play Candy Crush or watch that hour long episode of 'Coronation Street'!  Exercise is so important - we are becoming a nation of couch potatoes and this is now affecting our children with obesity levels rising, we need to get off our butts!!

4% of a day - is that so hard?  Here are 5 things that are proven to prolong that New Year's resolve;

1.  Train with a friend - you're less likely to miss a session if you know that you've got someone relying on you for a lift or they are coming to pick you up.

2. Set clear goals - whether these are weight loss, inch loss, specific event (i.e. marathon, 5km run, swim 5 lengths etc), when you've got a clear plan you're more likely to stick with it.

3. Small Steps make big improvements - when you are setting your goals, make sure that they are attainable.  If you find it hard to walk to the end of the street, it's unlikely that you'll be running a marathon in 3 months time!

4. Measure your performance against your goals - ensure that you have a set time each week, month, whatever, to measure how you're doing against your targets and keep a record of them.  This will enable you to see what you've acheived and make adjustments in your program.

5.  HAVE FUN - this is, in my opinion, the most important element to long term sustainable exercise.  If you find the gym boring but love the outdoors - then don't join a gym...but get outside and climb some hills, or ride a bike!  It seems simple but you'd be surprised how common this is!

So what are you waiting for? 

Those beach butts don't get made by sitting on them!!  :)

Jill x

PS - If you're serious about getting fit - then I would recommend a good coach and have a few 1-2-1 sessions.  This will get you on track and ensure that your progress is correctly monitored.