Waveforms Spotlight: Rebecca L. – Benefits of Mind and Body from Pilates Practice

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Waveforms Spotlight: Rebecca L. – Benefits of Mind and Body from Pilates Practice

Contributing Author: Courtney Cerniglia

When you first see Pilates equipment, it can be intimidating. The different shapes and forms don’t allude to what they do for you. It’s easy to look at a set of weights and realize to pick them up. It makes sense to get on a treadmill and run. But what do you do with one of these?

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Rebecca had similar feelings a year ago. New to Pilates, and working out in general, she was apprehensive to try too many new exercises at once. “I was brand new,  I wasn’t even sure if my body was capable of performing the proper moves,” she reflected. This apprehension keeps many students out of the studio, and let’s face it, many people away from exercise. There are so many options, places, and programs to try…where do you start?

 

If you’re beginning your journey in living a healthier lifestyle, may we suggest incorporating Pilates. Rebecca took the leap to join a gym and met Courtney through personal training. Courtney shared a few Pilates exercises to pair with her gym workout and Rebecca liked the variation. Soon, she started taking Courtney’s mat classes and has been doing them ever since.

“Courtney was so great at working with my beginner skill level a year ago and has increased the difficulty over time. She made me feel so welcomed and comfortable right from the start that I have only missed a few classes since I started because I enjoy them so much,” Rebecca exclaimed.

 

Sticking with her mat class routine, Rebecca began to see and feel the effects of pairing Pilates with her diet and exercise. She grew stronger and more flexible, and saw weight loss as a result of her consistency.

The benefits didn’t stop there.  As she explained, “It has also improved my self confidence, not only because of the weight loss I have experienced, but also because I’ve gotten more advanced in techniques I never thought I could do.”

 

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Rebecca continues to work with Courtney in her mat classes at Waveforms Pilates. With the kindness and care she’s found in Courtney, it’s been something for her to look forward to each week as well as an investment in herself.

 

She encourages anyone who is nervous or intimidated by Pilates to try a few sessions with Courtney. “Courtney is dedicated to properly educating her clients and is willing to show adjustments for certain moves that could aggravate problem areas.” No matter what your ability, the classes are accessible and designed for all fitness levels.  And, with the classes capped at seven students you’re sure to get individualized attention each session.

 

In addition to receiving movement education in mat class, Rebecca has taken advantage of Waveforms Pilates free educational workshops throughout the year.  Rebecca attended a special workshop to learn about Foot alignment back in May, as well as a workshop talking about Forward Head Posture and Neck Placement during exercise in October.

 

Two-Feet Forward Workshop

Reflecting she describes, “The workshops have provided me with more in depth information about specific parts of the body.  Use of diagrams and exercises has helped me become more aware of my posture and alignment.”  This information can be applied both inside and outside of class, bringing body awareness beyond the walls of Waveforms Pilates.

 

Different bodies can benefit from different forms of movement. Enrolling in a mat class is a great way to learn more about your body and it’s capabilities. Rebecca has been practicing Pilates for over a year now, and she’s seen both mind and body benefits to taking the leap to practice Pilates.

 

Join Rebecca at Thursday Evening and Saturday morning mat class!  To find our current schedule and more information on the benefits of Pilates mat, visit our webpage.  Not sure if mat it a fit for you?  Contact us to schedule a complimentary introductory class today.

 

We hope to see you on the mat!

Pilates Mat


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Getting Your Head on Straight – Pilates Exercises for Forward-Head Posture

By: Courtney Holcomb, Certified Pilates Instructor, Waveforms Pilates

 

How many text messages have you sent today?  When is the last time you pulled your head back to use your headrest in the car?  How often during the day do you spend on a smartphone, tablet, or at computer?  How many hours a day do you sit?

All of these things share something in common: They put stress on our head, neck, and shoulders.  All this, creates a lifestyle that leads to poor posture, muscular imbalances, and chronic pain.

 

The Physical Effects of Media Culture

In July of 2016, Nielsen Company released a report that the average American spends 10 hours and 39 minutes daily consuming media.  This “included how much time we spend daily using our tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs.”  All this usage doesn’t come without a toll on our bodies.

Two physical effects come of excessive media use: forward posture of our head and a sedentary lifestyle. The sustained forward and downward movement of our head pulls our body out of alignment. Sitting for hours a day or maintaining a mostly sedentary lifestyle weakens the core muscles. Together, misalignment and decreased core strength drags us down a road of pain.

 

Pressure From the Head

The average head weighs 10-12 pounds.  For every one-inch forward our head extends beyond alignment, an additional 10 pounds of pressure is put on the spine.  Our spinal extensors begin to engage in a losing battle with gravity. They pull our whole spinal structure forward with our head.  This (now common) misalignment is known as Forward Head Posture (FHP).

FHP is an excessive anterior (forward) positioning of the head in relation to a vertical reference line.  Our spine is curved, so we are not trying to flatten our neck, but rather bring it back to rest on top of the spine.  When viewed in profile, the head is designed to sit stacked over the spine with the tip of the earlobe aligned with the center of the shoulder.

Proper Posture

We also receive a lot of pressure from the downward tilt of the neck.  Added gravitation pull of 15 degrees of tilt increases of the weight of pressure to 27 pounds. 30 degrees adds 40 pounds of pressure, and once you tilt to 60 degrees (like many of us do while texting), the increase is 60 pounds of pressure on the spinal cord.

This version of FHP is ironically called “Text Neck” by many doctors, and more formally called Tilting Head Posture (THP).

Pair Forward Head Posture, with Tilting Head Posture, and that’s a whole lot of pressure for the body to bear.

 

Physical Effects of Forward Head Posture

With the head forward, our deep cervical flexors (the muscles that pull our head back) become very weak from inactivity, and our cervical extensors become shortened (from being held so long in the forward position).  Because our bodies do their best to compensate for inefficiencies, other superficial muscles take on the job that the neck flexors and extensors were designed to do.  Our sternocleidomastoid, anterior scalenes, and other superficial neck muscles try and take on the job.  This causes overactivity for the muscles and less efficiency in the body.

The overactivity of the cervical extensors can cause neck pain, the most noted symptom of FHP. With the extra pressure on the spine, you could experience nerve pain leading to headaches.

forward-head-posture-5Not only do muscles try and do their part, but the spine also will begin to compensate.  Our body loves to counterbalance; as the head goes forward, the chest begins to go back, the hips respond by rounding forward, and the body perceives balance.  Now, we end up with a tight chest and upper back, and a pinched low back.  This common counterbalance act associated with FHP is called Upper Crossed Syndrome.

 

What’s the Big Deal?     

Just like Newton explained in his Laws of Physics, with every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  We cannot perpetually hold our body in a compromised posture and expect to not experience side effects.  There is a ripple effect throughout the whole body that becomes habit forming, for the better, or for the worse.  This becomes tight, that becomes weak.  This becomes long, that becomes short.

While the effects of our body are easy to visualize, other impacts aren’t obvious. Just as serious, poor posture threats our source of life: our breath.

FHP can result in up to 30% decrease in the lungs capacity. Rene Cailliet M.D., former director of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Southern California explains,  “These breath-related effects are primarily due to the loss of the cervical lordosis which blocks the action of the hyoid muscles, especially the inferior hyoid responsible for helping lift the first rib during inhalation.  Proper rib lifting action by the hyoids and anterior scalenes is essential for complete aeration of the lungs.”  Having a forward head limits the range of motion for the ribcage, causing a decrease in lung capacity.

 

Fixing Your Poor Posture to Prevent FHP

First we want to feel the effects of poor posture on our breathing. This will help us understand how damaging it can be for our well-being. Erik Dalton, PhD a pioneer of Myoskeletal Alignment Therapy, gives these simple instructions.

  1. Place your hand on your chest and breath normally.  Take a few inhales and exhales.  Sense your ability to make the chest rise and fall with each breath.
  2. Gently and carefully reach your head forward in space and take a few more breaths.  Sense the difference in the ability to move the chest.
  3. Pull the chin in and back, as if to make a “double-chin”, repeat a few inhales and exhales.

You should find that the movement of the chest decreases the further forward the head moves in relation to the spine.

 

Why Focus on the Head?

When the spine, muscles, and lungs are all affected, why focus primarily on the head?

I like how Rene Cailliett, M.D. put it:

“Most attempts to correct posture are directed toward the spine, shoulders and pelvis. All are important, but, head position takes precedence over all others. The body follows the head. Therefore, the entire body is best aligned by first restoring proper functional alignment to the head.”

We can begin to combat this by strengthening our deep neck flexors through lengthening and releasing our neck extensors.  A great rule of thumb for any imbalance in the body.  We want to strengthen what is weak and stretch what is tight.

 

How to Strengthen the Deep Neck Flexors

If our neck is already flexed forward, why are we working our neck flexor muscles?

The neck flexor muscles are what bring our head back to our spine.  Our deep neck flexors help pull the head back into alignment.  Here are three exercises I use in Pilates class that work these muscles.  Each exercise has increasing difficulty, so I advise working from top to bottom.

Also, start slowly.  The neck is a sensitive area, so begin with a few repetitions and work up to more.

 

1. Craniocervical Flexor Activation

Sit or stand and hold a loose fist underneath your chin.  Push upwards on your chin, but resist the head from tipping back.

Hold this connection for 5-10 seconds.

Repeat this 10x.

You should feel the muscles on the back of your neck engaged. Be careful not to push too hard, or to clench your first too hard.

 

2. Prone Neck Lift

Lay down on your stomach with your legs resting comfortably behind you.  Place your hands on top of one another and rest your forehead onto your hands.  Press the arms into the ground and lift the head and upper back off of your hands.  Make sure to keep the neck long and the chin tucked, as if you were holding a clementine between your chin and your chest.

Feel the neck flexors pull your head up towards the ceiling, and avoid the tendency to reach your chin forward to lift up.  Hold this for 10 seconds.

Reach energy out of the crown of the head (not leading with the chin) to lengthen and lower down.  You may find that you have to move your hands further away from lengthening and strengthening the neck.  Adjust as needed.

Repeat 5-10 times.

 

 

3.Head Hover

Lay on your back with your feet in the hook- line position (feet planted on the ground hip width apart, and knees at a 90-degree angle).

Rest your head and shoulders on the mat. Before you begin, imagine lengthening the back side of the neck to pull the chin slightly downward into a “double chin-like” position.  Take a breath in, and press the head lightly into the ground as if to push an imprint in memory foam, exhale and pick the head up off of the ground, while keeping the head parallel to the ground.

Sustain the hold for another breath or two, then lower back down.  Repeat 5-10 times.

You will feel the neck really work in this position!  You’ll also notice how heavy the head is with gravity working against you.

 

Stretching and Lengthening the Neck and Neck Extensors

After performing neck flexor exercises, it’s great to stretch the neck to help bring the head back into balance.  When stretching the neck, use caution and move slowly.  Use full breaths to support the stretch. I recommend the following stretches, these are also great after extensive time sitting at a desk, at a computer, or using your phone.

 

1. Neck Massage

Using a 4” or 6” diameter foam roller, place it lengthwise behind your neck.  Let the head rest back onto the foam roller.  Keeping the head heavy in gravity, Slowly turn the head from right to left. Nod the head up and down.

Trace small circles with the nose in each direction.  Do each step a few times before moving on to the next stretch.

 

2. Standing Neck Stretches

Stand up with the feet hip-width apart. Take your hands and interlace them at the nape of the neck.  Let the elbows be heavy and nod the chin towards the chest.  Do not pull on the neck, but let the elbows and head be heavy in gravity.

Return the head to upright and press the palms firmly together.  Place your middle fingers underneath the chin and gently press the chin up towards the ceiling.  Repeat each action a few times.

 

Correcting our Head Posture and Simple Habit Changes

As a culture, we have come to a place where many suffer from the effects of FHP and THP.  We need to get our heads on straight, or the pain and poor posture will only increase.

Though these are exercises to help us reverse the effects that have come from these conditions, there are other habits that can help us prevent or lessen it all together.  It all comes down to daily awareness of how we carry our bodies.  Here are a few simple suggestions:

  • Bring your phone to your eye level when using it.  Instead of flexing the neck down, lift your phone up.
  • Use your head rest while driving.
  • Request a standing desk at work, to bring your computer up to your eye level.
  • Take breaks from long periods of sitting down, and stretch out in between.
  • Actively practice the exercises for strengthening the deep neck flexors.
  • Be conscious of the amount of time you spend consuming media and your posture while doing so.
  • Strengthen your core muscles to help support your posture throughout the day.
  • Take Pilates classes to gain body awareness.

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What Brought Me to Pilates – Finding Mobility, my Manifesto

I always knew the I was designed for movement.  Having been a dancer since age three, I loved the feeling of my body traveling through space.   It wasn’t until I was a preteen that I realized that my body was so much tighter that I wanted it to be.  Though I moved, I felt stiff, and when I tried to move more, it felt rigid. Being someone who has always dealt with chronic low back pain as well as stiffness/rigidness throughout my whole spine, I operated in the world for years thinking that this was “simply how I was created” and I would have to learn to endure through the pain my whole life, and then, I found Pilates, at age 15.

Through the consistent practice of Pilates I have been able to create more mobility in my spine than I ever though possible. With all of the movement principles of Pilates working together–breathing, core activation, neutral pelvis, abdominal strengthening, lumbopelvic stability, spinal strength and mobility, scapular strength and mobility, alignment and posture analysis, release work, and stretching–I have felt more length, mobility, and strength in my body and spine than ever before and I have been able release years of chronic tension from my muscles and skeleton. I now feel I have access to more space in my joints and spine and I continue to work towards opening and accessing more of my body each time I practice Pilates and dance.

Re-patterning the body does not happen overnight, but there is a great reward associated with creating new muscle memory that facilitates optimal anatomical efficiency throughout the body, producing a pathway to operate with a sense of ease and availability to movement. Whether it be in a dance class, performance, or just walking around, or standing for a long period of time, Pilates grants me the ability to move properly from the body’s natural design. Joseph Pilates, who created the system in the early 1920’s stated, “It’s not about what you do, but how you do it.” Or as my dad always says, “Train smarter, not harder.” Yes, we have to work with what we have, but this should not be limiting. We DO have the capacity to change and transform our bodies, with time, patience, and proper practice.

Now for myself personally, now have been practicing Pilates for over 11 years and remain as engaged in the practice as when I began. I continue to see and feel changes within my body and make new discoveries with every class I take. Now, as a fully Certified Pilates Instructor, I get to share my passion for movement with the world.  It’s so exciting to share Pilates with others through teaching and sharing in the joy that others experience when they make new discoveries in their own bodies. Transformation is something wonderful to celebrate.

For more information on Pilates practice, or to schedule a free consulation:

e-mail waveforms@yandex.com

I would love to share my work with you!