Tom Myers on exercise & Movement:
“If you can do it slowly, you can do it quickly; but just because you can do it quickly doesn’t mean you can do it slowly.”
Tom Myers on exercise & Movement:
“If you can do it slowly, you can do it quickly; but just because you can do it quickly doesn’t mean you can do it slowly.”
Words are powerful. However – just for the record – lets remember that we make them up, along with all of the stories we then create around these words. But are they an expression of anything authentically our truth?
One of our greatest gifts is our imagination – to make things up. Just watch any child at ‘play’. This capacity was hard-wired for all of us when we arrived, created and creative. The rest is merely conditioning. Anything that removes us from a sense that life is wondrous, though not without the inevitable scrapes and bruises, is simply not our truth – merely inherited knowledge of what life ‘should’ be.
If your life isn’t working for you, check in with yourself and listen closely to the words you are telling yourself – both about yourself as well as about other. Take time to simply be with what is really happening – it takes courage to be vulnerable. But in being openly honest (vulnerability) with ourselves, we gain access to our only true power.
Do you ever wonder? Yes, simply just be with and muse, wonder, get Zen. It is like a cat merely resting languorously in the sun. Can you imagine if you were to establish a practice of ‘no word’ and just listen, without attachment, to the sound of silence? If there is speaking, still listen for the breaks in the flow of words. Like music, the meaning is established or discerned in the ‘no sound’ as much as in ‘the sound’.
Although words are powerful, it is equally true that the space of ‘no words’ or silence, or truly listening is also profound. We are always so busy – not only speaking or listening to others speak – that we too often forget to allow for the space of no words. Just listen.
Why do you make words mean so little or so much?
What might our world be like if we spent more time communing in silence and ‘listening’?
Light has a different quality at the beginning of day in the early winter morning than in summer. Have you noticed? Nature sounds different in spring than in winter – have you noticed? What is the sound of silence to you? There is beauty, magic in this kind of attention – an attention that does not rush in to describe, or worse, ignore altogether.
Words are powerful but so is the sound and healing presence of silence. Have you tried it?
You, darkness, that I come from
I love you more than all the fires
That fence in the world,
For the fire makes a circle of light for everyone
And then no one outside learns of you.
But the darkness pulls in everything-
This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke reminds me also of words, like the fires in this poem – and ‘no words’/silence – being like an enveloping darkness.
I love the melodies of words, ‘tis true. However, I fear that we miss the beauty that waits in silence. This is especially so if we get caught up in a mindless barrage of words, labels, and a need to be the gong or in a throng, absent of silence and listening.
What if we could speak mindfully, listen for the music, making space for, at the risk of being vulnerable, silence.
What if our true power – vulnerability – lays in our willingness to be with the no words, or silence as much as in the spoken words?
Silence sounds like the space between night and day,
The glance of love that needs no words,
The full moon rising over the lake,
The morning dew on the quiet grass,
The first rays of the new day’s sunlight,
A mystery too deep for words.
Forgive me…I believe this is a stanza from a poem by Mary Oliver; I neglected to cite its origin. But it is too beautiful to not close with the beckoning sounds of silence.
Gloria comes into the Studio three times a week for reformer classes and a private session. We love her contagious spirit and curiosity of movement (and breathing!). She always puts her best foot forward, and inspires us to find ways to challenge her in movement.
Though I grew up very active (farm girl) I was never involved in sports (farm girl) and as an adult always felt too busy to exercise (full time work, children, volunteer work). And then in the last decade, there were four seniors who required untold hours of support. All I wanted to do when I had a moment was sit on the couch and watch TV or read. In my early 40’s I joined a woman’s gym. Who was I kidding. I rarely got there and when I did I felt completely discouraged. My peers there were 20 somethings and I had no idea what to do. In my late 40s I took up Kung Fu. I loved the fierceness and the discipline and I learned a lot but it was too much too late and unsustainable. I tried hiring a personal trainer to come to my home and design a weight training program for me to do myself. You know how that went.
But in January 2017 I sent a letter to my family anticipating the year and in that moment I decided I needed to do something. Spending so much time with seniors struggling with Parkinsons, Alzheimers and bad falls made me think hard about what I was doing to prepare myself for the years ahead. And I wanted to be able to get off the floor fast enough to keep a lively granddaughter safe!
My husband discovered Art of Fitness three years earlier when he needed help to prepare for climbing Kilimanjaro. He loved it. But I don’t’ respond well to people telling me what to do. By the end of 2016 he had finally stopped telling me to try classes. I decided to interview them. If they were pushy, or intimidating … if I did not feel comfortable … I would move on. My first encounter went very well.
I attend two classes and a private session every week. I find it interesting, challenging, and surprising. I know a lot about a lot of things but I did not realize how important the brain is when exercising. I did not know that I carried as much tension in my body as I do. (PJ asked me to take my tongue out of the roof of my mouth in my first session with her. I had no idea.) I did not know it was possible to breathe into my back. I am still learning how to breathe while holding an ab curl.
I love that my only goal is going to class and improving. (Well privately I do hope that the saggy underarm skin improves but I don’t focus on that.) I love that I just need to get to class and that if I do I will get stronger, my balance will improve and I will learn how to do things I could not do a year ago. Somehow these very capable, congenial instructors know exactly how to push me just hard enough to keep me getting stronger AND more confident. I continue to be amused by what I am doing and how enthused I am about it. Amazing.
“The achiever’s shadow is addiction to winning, fuelled by the never-ending desire for more. Underneath, s/he has an even stronger fear of losing.”
P. 121, The Soul of Leadership, Deepak Chopra.
Remember how Stephanie referred to cueing as story? And, remember how, in a previous blog I talked about the malaise of “MORE”? How does our story deliver as relational and not just more noise? And, what is the space you have available for the more? What if there is only so much available space for more and it is being taken up by spam – like an inbox intruder?
A great deal of what runs our lives is constantly running in the background – endless loops of old tapes that have gathered over the years of our growing up/socializing process. These ‘tapes’ include our perceptions, beliefs, fears, expectations, judgments and so much more. Without even realizing, unless we bring them into our conscious awareness, “They” are running the show. So…who or what is in the drivers’ seat of your vehicle – this thing you call your life.
What I mean by this is all those times we are running on autopilot. You know…when you arrive somewhere and don’t know how you got thereJ Granted, this can happen from time to time; but what if this is your norm? I say that if you aren’t taking a few calculated risks, and living on the edge (outside your comfort zone), you are taking up too much space. It is a choice; no judgments…but, there is the question of what do you want your life to be at the mercy of – automatic-itis or committed, conscious choices?
It is a little bit like fitness. If you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish and WHY, are you really getting fit? And what qualifies as a fit life? Perhaps what we really need to do is simply ask more questions and dare to live the questions for a fuller presence inside the choices we make. See Rainer Maria Rilke – Click Here.
Own your body, free your mind! Dare to ask the better questions.
It is our predetermined programming that imposes judgments and ‘should(s)’ (read: absence of true choice), rather than thoughtful reflections and authentic choice. From Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl says:
This is where emotional agility resides. Things become increasingly complicated when we either forget we have a choice, or we don’t believe we have one – life on automatic pilot.
Why it’s important that our muscles can glide their fibres long and short, instead of “clenching”
Human movement is complex.
There are many working parts that come together to help us move – our joints, muscles, nerves and fascia just to name a few.
So, if someone tells you in a movement/Pilates class that you are trying to “isolate” a certain muscle or muscle group – you should be skeptical – or at least you should be, after reading this post.
As Stephanie said in her last blog post: “Generally speaking, if all your attention is on the “one” muscle you think is being isolated the tendency is to “clench and go”. This creates many future problems. “
It’s true, if we try to use one muscle to do a job that is meant for many muscles working in concert, problems can arise:
You mean I’m not supposed to clench my muscles to really feel them working?
In short – no. But, let’s take a deeper look into how muscles really work to understand this better…
First of all, muscles don’t act alone. It’s impossible to disregard our nervous system if we are talking about movement:
Our brain sends a message to our nerves, through our spinal cord and on to many more nerves that communicate in a sequence between our brain and each muscle in our body (see picture below). The final nerve in the chain then sends a chemical signal to the muscle itself to tell it to take action. The result, is that the many overlapping muscle fibres within the muscle either contract or relax, to stabilize or move our bones and joints.
Zoom in even further to the muscles fibres themselves and there are millions of tiny protein fibres called sarcomeres that change length as our muscles contract and relax.
As a muscle contracts – these fibres overlap more, shortening the overall length of the muscle. When a muscle relaxes after a contraction, or stretches, these fibres overlap less, expanding and lengthening the larger muscle.
So, when the brain sends a “contract” signal to a muscle, many nerves are sending many messages to many muscle fibres to make the entire muscle contract. Our nervous system is in charge of the whole shebang.
Richfield, David (2014). “Medical gallery of David Richfield”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.009. ISSN 2002-4436. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2264027
If you would like to learn even more information about muscles and their fibres, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcomere
SYNERGIST: The synergist in a movement is the muscle(s) that stabilises a joint around which movement is occurring, which in turn helps the agonist function effectively. Synergist muscles also help to create the movement.
AGONIST and ANTAGONIST muscles often occur in pairs: as the agonst contracts (and shortens), the opposing muscle or antagonist, relaxes (and lengthens). Example: during a bicep curl, the bicep is the agonist and shortens, and the triceps is the antagonist and lengthens.
However, in our day to day lives, our brain rarely sends a “contract glutes” message, instead the brain sends a “walk” or “sit” or “stand” message. When we produce movement in our joints with our muscles, there is never only ONE muscle working alone to produce that movement. Even when we are using muscles to stabilize a joint and producing virtually no movement – ie. the deep synergist muscles around the hip joint when standing on one leg, there is still not only one muscle working to create that stability and stillness. Our joints are 3-dimensional – there will always be muscles working 360 degrees around them, some shortening while the opposing muscles lengthen, or multiple muscles surrounding the joint contracting simultaneously to create stability. AND sometimes – most of the time – all three of these things are happening all at once.
Isolation is indeed a myth.
Now, you may be saying, “but my (insert rehab or movement professional) has given me exercises to isolate my glutes, core, rotator cuff… before”. While this may be true, there is a very specific purpose for exercises like this. When you have an injury or pain, the brain-muscle connection can weaken or become confused, and so a Physiotherapist may give you exercises to try to “wake up” that brain muscle connection again. However, this type of “isolation” exercise should only be done for a short period of time until the brain-muscle connection strengthens enough to get that muscle working properly again during larger functional movements, like the ones we do in Pilates and in life. Keep in mind, if you are moving your leg while doing “glut isolation exercises”, or moving your arm while doing “rotator cuff exercises”, then you are still using many different muscles working together to move.
So, what happens when you try to isolate certain muscles while doing Pilates?
Well, when you focus your attention on contracting one particular muscle, or you try to use only one muscle to perform a complex movement, it is easy to end up clenching that muscle instead of contracting it effectively. Clenching sends too many “contract” signals to the muscle, so that all of the overlapping fibres are held too tightly, or for too long, and the muscle doesn’t have its usual opportunity to relax so that the muscle fibres can move apart again. Over time if you are continuously trying to isolate or clench one particular muscle or muscle group, this can interfere with a muscle’s ability to relax in general, and tender trigger points or taut bands of muscle can develop, which can eventually lead to muscle pain and tension at rest.
When we allow all of the muscles around a joint to work together to produce leg, arm or spine movement, then each muscle gets a more balanced amount of “contract” signals. They work together to share the load, contracting together, or some contracting while others relax as our bones change position. When we allow muscles to work together – synergists, agonist and antagonists – each one doing their part of the work, then each muscle is able to glide short on contraction, and glide long on relaxation, instead of getting stuck in the shortened position during a “clench”.
So, unless you are in the very early stages of working with a Physiotherapist to rehab after an injury, don’t worry about trying to “isolate” your glutes, core, or any other muscle you might want to work on. When you perform skillful Pilates movements and listen to your instructor’s cues, the work will happen, you will still get the burn, and that post-Pilates soreness will be the “hurts so good” type, and not a confused, painful muscle still trying to relax after being clenched.
Strategies to avoid clenching:
If you find that you are still clenching after this, then speak with your Pilates/movement instructor to help you change how you are doing a certain movement; and if you have excess tension or pain developing in any of your muscles, find a trusted Physiotherapist for further consultation and treatment which would include manual muscle release, focused muscle relaxation techniques and reprogramming of the brain-muscle connection.
Written by Sarah Eby
Physiotherapist and Owner of Root Physiotherapy in Uptown Waterloo
Carolyn comes into the Studio four times a week, taking Reformer, Spin and Yoga classes, as well as private sessions with Pj. She is dedicated to movement and a truly integral piece of our community at KW Art of Fitness.
Tell us a bit about yourself
How long have you been coming to the Studio?
Good question! I started when the studio was at RIM park but can’t remember how many years. 10+ for sure. Time flies when you’re having fun!
I’ve always struggled with commitment to exercise. I’m that person who’s had fitness club memberships and never went. What I noticed about the studio right away was how comfortable it felt to be in smaller, more personal classes with really knowledgeable (and fun!) instructors, who build programs which take into account everyone’s goals and challenges. I come to the studio 4 times a week and am sad when I have to miss a day. All the people I’ve met through classes are what makes the studio extra great!
Isolation is exactly that, a myth.
"The whole body participates in every movement" Irmgard Bartenieff
I made the statement in my last Mind Your Words blog that every energetic expression of movement has to sort through outside force, internal deviations or habits and the complexity of the action.
Part of the complexity of the action is when the brain/body sorts through which muscle(s) will pull(agonist). Which muscle(s) will simultaneously lengthen (antagonist). AND the Movement Instructors favorite place to play; which muscles will act to stabilize the joint around which the movement is happening (synergist).
The complexity the brain/body sorts through also includes what order these actions occur in during movement.
Your brain and body systems know this already. Spend time practicing bringing your ATTENTION to the entire body participation. As opposed to, bringing your attention to the one muscle that happens to be just ONE of the MANY muscle participants.
Every action imposed on the body has three components.
An antagonist muscle, the agonist and the synergist.
For example, during a biceps curl, the triceps is the antagonist muscle. This muscle lengthens as the biceps contracts (agonist).
The synergists stabilize a joint around which movement is occurring and helps to create movement. The nervous system is the conductor of this awesome orchestra.
As a Movement Instructor, we first look for a persons ability to bring their attention to the SYNERGISTS. We then will ask you to challenge the synergists. This challenge occurs via a larger range of motion, more force/tension, or by increasing time within the exercise (endurance of the synergists efforts).
The above request from your instructor results in you feeling the burn or work sensations in a specific area —- for example the ‘glutes.’
Generally speaking, if all your attention is on the “one” muscle you think is being isolated the tendency is to “clench and go”. This creates many future problems.
Sarah Eby, of Roots Physiotherapy, will in a later blog help us understand the importance of muscles that SLIDE their fibers long and short instead of CLENCHING and how our nervous system is an essential piece of the puzzle!
Ever wonder why your Pilates/Movement Instructor sometimes **sighs** or rolls their eyes when you ask in the middle of the action(s) what muscle am I using?
So, NO, you will never spend time at our studio “working your glutes.” You WILL spend time challenging yourself through movements that DO incorporate the ‘glutes’ and all the layers beneath. These challenges will allow the brain/body to orchestrate their action at the correct moment in time. We will help you discover the MAGIC of movement; how to get out of your own way.
We will teach you how to use the power of ATTENTION to get what you need from an exercise INSTEAD of encouraging the myth of isolation to carry on in your mind.
Did you notice that we’re ONLY talking about muscles?
When speaking of exercising our complex living network, we also need to consider and respect many other participators.
Bones, joints, ligaments
Spinal cord fluid
Sensory proprioceptors, etc.
This above list is why our studio instructors collaborate with Physiotherapists so often.
In lieu of going on, let me pause and instead ask:
Are you seeing how ISOLATION becomes a MYTH?
SYNERGIST: a body organ, medicine, etc., that cooperates with another or others to produce or enhance an effect
ISOLATION: an instance of isolating something, especially a compound or microorganism
ATTENTION: the mental faculty of considering or taking notice of someone or something
CLENCH: (of a muscular part of the body) tighten or contract sharply, especially with strong emotion
We are back with some more fun facts about our favourite Studio owner, Steph!
For those of you that are new here…
Stephanie understands that no two clients are the same and believes that taking a fresh, fun customizable approach to fitness is vital to success. She draws on her vast knowledge, years of experience, spirit and tools to develop effective alignment patterns which bring understanding to her clients’ kinesthetic sense.
Stephanie also believes that the classes offered at Art of Fitness care for her clients not only physically, but mentally as well. It’s her goal that through specific mechanics, fitness is able to bring clarity, increase perception and stimulate the mind.
“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”- Joseph Pilates
|Pool or Ocean? Infinity||Pool on a mountain with an oceanview|
|What are your pet peeves?||loud chewing, comments on my food, cigarette butt litterbugs, opinions when not asked for, the sentence “that’s not how you’re supposed to do that”|
|What is your go-to splurge?||art supplies|
|What is the must have item in your closet?||moccasins, scarves|
|Last concert you went to?||Neil Young|
|How do you take your coffee?||every which way|
|What is your theme song?||Break My Stride|
|What is your sign?||Aquarius|
|Which sound instantly puts you in a good mood?||Great music, someone tripping,|
|What’s your favourite thing to eat after class?||Water – Apple – Cheese|
|If you have a free hour you…||Nap|
|Book you can read over and over?||I never have done that|
|What’s your guilty pleasure?||Summer Sausage|
|Where have you always wanted to travel?||Scandinavia|
|Your current healthy obsession is…||keeping it simple|
|Your spirit animal…||Hansy|
|What is your favourite part about being an Instructor?||the people and creativity|
If you missed Steph’s first feature you can find it here.
Even when we use words, it’s not just the words we say that matter – it’s the tone of our voice, facial expressions, or even the shapes we make with our bodies. The body knows and doesn’t lie.
Through learning The Model of Human Behaviour, I learned why my husband would have referred to me as, “excessively happy.” How is this possible!?
Ahhh: the case to be made for personalities, how we process information, and what are the respective needs of the various profiles (Model of Human Behaviour types). There are astonishing distinctions between the four types: D (Dominant type); I (Influence); S (Steadiness); and C (Compliance). Each of these ‘types’ has very unique differences and life-giving needs.
High “D’s” like to be in control, like a challenge, and need autonomy to make decisions & solve problems.
High “I’s” most want others to be friendly, emotionally honest and want to be recognized for their contributions.
High “S’s” most need others to be relaxed, agreeable, cooperative & appreciative.
If/when we fail to perceive and speak to these differing ways of communicating and orienting, we might be down and out before we ever get up and going.
The different profiles (and we all have some of each type in our unique blend) are actually like a different language that includes nuances specific to tempo, details, and the attending emotional needs that go along with our strengths.
Dr. Robert Rohm says we must beware to not tolerate and until we can annihilate but rather learn to celebrate our differences. However, we cannot beware until we are aware. The Model of Human Behaviour is a lot of fun, easy to learn, and mastery of this skill makes life and relationships improve like magic. As a Master Trainer and life skills coach (a “Guide to all things Great” ©), I never leave home without this highly energizing, user-friendly tool.
Remember the adage: it’s not the words we say but the music we play? This learned skill is where the music happens – where words, tempo, and other unique flourishes have the result of everyone feeling like they matter. Isn’t this what we would all like?
Feeling seen and heard supports a sense of worth and respect. All manner of connections begin here – fundamentals in the human dynamic.
What could our world become if there was a little more of “us”/presence, engaging through the art and science of listening, and fewer of our words?
BTW: listening and responding to others in their preferred style (D, I, S, C) accomplishes connection – that sense of being love, peace, possibility, friendship, better relationships overall – even making better choices for our fitness and training needs. People “light up” when they learn about themselves inside this model.
Question: whose responsibility is it to get your needs met?
For the Pilates participants who may be reading this, the perspective below offers a glimpse into part of what goes on behind the scenes;
the mind of the instructor;
the person who can NOT count to 10 — forwards or backwards 😀
The aim is to clear up just why we, Pilates Movement Instructors, are so darn persnickety, and why we take our storytelling skill so seriously!
Movement Instructors connect words with actions, simultaneously offering relevant reasons to motivate the participants intention and attention to said action. We are fostering intelligent communication for connection between teacher and client; the cues we use are meant to describe and inspire the idea of a movement that has energetic expression. This is our art.
Our underlying quest as instructors in our storytelling skill is for clients to experience success. To feel like the time spent pursuing quality movement was a worthwhile endeavour. Sometimes, this pressure surrounding the self created quest takes our storytelling skills down a notch. We find ourselves relying to heavily on anatomical details or ‘feeling’ the exercise/movements, in a specific area or repeating go-to phrases the industry has latched on to.
There is a danger in being too anatomical or too focused on what or where someone “should be feeling” an exercise. Let’s face it; some of us don’t care what moves who where, some of us feel to much and even more of us don’t have any feelings at all …. AND we’re all snowflakes, each one of us different, with different needs and goals.
When the Movement Instructor and the client can get out of our own way and step cleanly into the moment in front of us, the body systems and the brain know how to move, the story is being told, teaching action is happening, the magic takes place …
The pleasure seeking brain is continually searching out and repeating action that makes life easier. When action results in making life easier the brain categorizes the action as pleasure. The pleasure causes the brain to look for ways to groom and groove excellent movement patterns, this becomes motivation.
Storytelling skill (cueing) aims to borrow that instinctive desire and drive the individual to continually ‘tidy up’ movements, until there is the awesome moment of “effortless effort”.
What?! (Insert eye roll here…)
Pilates is designed to give you the opportunity to work better, THEN harder, while encouraging participants to always avoid working harder then is necessary.
Clean (i.e effortless effort) movement demands efficiency, Pilates teaches that, grooms that, and ultimately what was once your workout becomes your warm up.
Step up, be prepared to explain an action in several different ways. Explore cueing until you see the action being understood or you see the light bulb going off behind the eyes of the client.
Work towards understanding how the client learns. What brought the client through the door in the first place? Why do they keep coming back? We need to learn to adapt our cues and expressions to match the person in front of us.
Be clear. We all have our ‘go to’ expressions. For example: belly button to spine. Let’s make sure we first express what we actually are asking for. Avoid relying on and assuming a phrase will always inspire the correct action.
Address complex action simply. Sometimes the list of cues are LONG, be sure to highlight a priority. In other words, emphasis what shouldn’t be sacrificed in order to accomplish another action further down the list of cues.
One of my favorite teaching moments is between breathing and action. If the effort to create an action causes you to hold your breath, the sacrifice is too great. In other words, if you catch yourself holding your breath, reign it in, work only as hard as you can breath consistently.
Simply means exploring with clients to learn what to say in order to help someone organize and co-ordinate a movement. Look at what happens when the client does what you asked them to do. Then identify and address perhaps TWO of the most important corrections according to their demonstration.
Both the Movement Instructor and the client need to allow for room to grow into the actions. It takes time for the brain to instinctively and confidently adapt movement patterns. Every energetic expression of the teachers cue has to sort through outside force, internal deviations or habits and the complexity of the action.
Your brain and body systems know this and will learn to re-organize itself according to the brain’s pleasure response.
We need you to speak up when what we’re asking for sounds like a foreign language.
Do you keep hearing a phrase that you feel or think is wrong for your body? Ask the instructor to explain themselves or to paraphrase what they are saying.
If you’re given a bony landmark or a muscle or a feeling/sensation as a reference point, speak up if that reference point is even a little bit foggy. There are hundreds of ways to describe an action.
Be patient with yourself, it’s just Pilates. #gregpember