Giving Up to Be More

Every year, many of us make a decision to add something to our lives, or change something about who we are. But how are we to add without first making room?

I was at a retreat with my colleagues and friends at Park Meadows Pilates & Physical Therapy a couple of weekends ago. Of the many inspiring discussions, one was focused on what we wanted to do in the coming year. We talked about personal growth and business expansion. At one point, someone stated that in order to add something, you need to make room for it.

So true. Yet I never thought about it like that before.

I never thought about making space for growth. I always just plowed into adding a habit, or changing a quality. But it makes sense. Why not take a look at what makes it so difficult to grow or change? And why not give up something you don’t need, or don’t like? What are you holding on to it for?

In another corner of my heart is a friend who is in the process of de-cluttering her physical space. She is going through everything she owns and asking herself, “does this give me joy?” and choosing whether to keep or discard. What a beautiful process.

I would like to add some quiet to each day. It doesn’t have to be much – just a moment, here and there. I tend to just keep going… all day long. Once I get started, I just stay at this heightened state of activity until the end of the day. And then I crash.

Part of what inhibits my ability to come to rest between projects is the exhilaration of the go go go. I feel a sense of pride of everything I have accomplished when I just keep going all day without coming up for air. But then I completely crash into a state of hypo-arousal when I get home and am incapable of accomplishing anything. This leaves no room for mindfulness.

So, I am going to let go in order to make room for growth. I am going to let go of my addiction to that adrenaline high and allow myself the space to find some quiet in my day to recharge.

The first step is to see myself. The next step is to change myself.

What are you going to give up?

Pondering life in Venezuela, 2007

Pondering life in Venezuela, 2007

Posted in Mental Training, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , ,

Neural Pathways and Your Inner Voice: Can one change the other?

I am the type of person who needs something to base my beliefs on. I need proof, or at least an understanding. I try to have more faith in things without needing to necessarily understand them, but it is hard. Over and over again, I find myself searching for the why and how.

My best friend is the complete opposite. If something feels right, she goes for it. I envy that sometimes. Recently, we were discussing the powers of affirmations. She was saying that it can change you. Especially if you are telling yourself something you don’t believe. She is completely into it, and whole-heartedly believes in its ability to change you.

I am more hesitant. My brain immediately searched for the how. “Maybe it’s one of those things that only works for people who believe in it.” “Maybe you are just deluding yourself into believing something that is not true.” Essentially what I am saying to myself is, “the only way I am going to believe something different about myself is if I prove it to the world and myself.” The sticking point is when you want to believe something that is un-provable, or is a moving target. I’m not talking spirituality here, but rather things like confidence in your abilities. At what point have you proven yourself? Who knows. It’s different for everyone, and sometimes it keeps moving to stay just out of reach.

While I tried to convince myself to not feel ridiculous when reciting, “identifying my emotions is easy for me” repeatedly, I realized that my mind went straight to searching for evidence in my past that would support the claim. After doing this for several days, I actually started to believe! I am not so sure this is the way it is supposed to work, but who cares. It has started to work. Initially, I was only seeing the negatives, but once I got past the initial barrage of my go-to self-criticisms, they moved out of the way to reveal the supporting evidence.

Creating your own pathway

Meanwhile, I have been reading about neuroplasticity and how you can create new pathways in your brain. I started reading about the topic as it relates to making habits for my series on New Year’s Resolutions, but it certainly applies here, too. If you can make new pathways in your brain to create a habit, why can’t that be done for thought patterns as well?

Why is it so easy to berate yourself in your head when you do something dumb? “Why do I always eff up?” “Ugh, what a dumbass.” etc. etc. etc. And yet, we feel silly saying something positive to ourselves. Try saying, “I love myself” or “I rock at …” Part of the unease might be modesty, but believing something good about yourself also doesn’t make you an egomaniac. And I’m not suggesting you say this stuff out loud necessarily (though why not??). But I bet the majority of you say negative things about yourselves all the time, even if it is just an internal rolling of the eyes or sighing.

So how about every time you say something negative about yourself, you add “BUT, you are getting better” or something. Maybe that begins to change the neural pathways of self-doubt. And after adding that on for a while, maybe you’ll eventually be able to stop yourself before you think it. You might even believe the positive so that the negative becomes weird to say. How awesome would that be?! Meditation has recently been found to actually create new grey matter in your brain, so why not affirmations as well? Maybe there is something to all of this.

We even have proof now.

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5 Ways Pilates Can Help Runners

Pilates for Runners

Pilates can improve your run

Whether you are a casual runner who occasionally does a 5k, or if you are running marathons in Death Valley, Pilates can help. Everyone’s body is different, but people doing similar activities generally have similar needs. Here’s how:

1. Pilates Stabilizes your Ankles.

Pilates on a reformer helps create general stability by strengthening and balancing the muscles in your feet, legs, pelvic floor & core, all of which work together to create balance. Footwork on the reformer also specifically targets the smaller stability muscles in your feet and ankles. The exercise is essentially a series of squats in varying ankle positions performed while lying on your back on the moving carriage of the reformer. When working on the balls of your feet with heels partially raised, your feet and ankle muscles learn to stabilize where you need it most. This is a vital area to strengthen, especially for runners hitting that mid-foot strike or running on uneven trails.

2. Pilates Decreases Neck & Shoulder Tension.

Many Pilates exercises focus on stabilizing and mobilizing your shoulder girdle. When running, most people tend to slightly shrug their shoulders and/or roll them forward to protect their necks from the jarring impact of landing. This creates a lot of tension above their shoulders and in their necks.

Training proper functioning of your shoulders will help stabilize them so you do not need to hold them up as you run. Instead, your shoulder blades can be trained to stay attached to your ribcage in a healthy position allowing your arms to swing freely forward and back without tugging on your neck. Of course, improving the levelness (is that even a word?) of your stride and landing on that mid-foot sweet spot will also help decrease the jarring effect of running (Pilates can help with that, too!).

3. Pilates Enlists the use of the Elusive Hamstrings

As with many body challenges, there is more than one factor contributing to a forward-tilting pelvis (arching your low back). One factor is weak hamstrings. Most of us are quad-dominant, especially runners. This creates a stronger downward pull on the front of our pelvises. Without a counterbalance from our hamstrings, our pelvises tilt, causing low back issues, among other things.

Pilates includes many exercises that target the back line of our bodies, most notably bridging and its many variations. This and other exercises work the hamstrings in both lengthened and shortened positions, teaching them how to behave in concert and in balance with the rest of our bodies.

4. Pilates Decreases or Eliminates Low Back Pain.

By teaching our bodies how to find and maintain a neutral pelvis position (one that allows the natural, but not accentuated, curve of the low back), Pilates can eliminate low back pain caused by a forward-tilted pelvis (one that accentuates the curve of the low back). Many exercises focus on pelvic stability – the ability to move our torso, arms and legs without losing anatomical alignment. You might be surprised at how many people tilt their pelvises unnecessarily when they lift their arms overhead or rotate their torsos. Finding this stability involves improving your deep core muscles, training them to keep your pelvis stable, and balancing the muscles in your legs and hip flexors.

5. Pilates can Lengthen your Hip Flexors.

Pilates recognizes and fully utilizes the knowledge that muscles are built and strengthened by both concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) contractions, and lengthening muscles may even be more effective at strengthening. To that end, mat and reformer Pilates both include exercises that target hip extension. What is hip extension? True extension is when your leg moves behind your pelvis – your femur angles behind your pubic bone. If your pelvis tilts to allow the movement of your leg, you are not actually going into hip extension and are not fully lengthening your hip flexors.

Good running form includes going into extension with every step. If you don’t have this ability, lengthening your hip flexors should be a priority for your cross-training strategy as it will significantly improve your stride and decrease discomfort. As a bonus, lengthening your hip flexors will help you maintain a neutral pelvis and thereby decrease associated low back pain (see above).


If you’ve never given Pilates a try, make an appointment today!

If you would like to learn more, contact me to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.


 

Posted in Balanced Body, Body Mechanics, Cross Training, Feet, Running, Shoulders, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Make your 2015 New Year’s Resolution a Habit, Part IV: Empathy

We are one week into the New Year now. Time to check in on how your resolution(s) are going. It is all too easy to slip back into old habits and either give up or completely forget that we had a resolution in the first place.

In the first post in this series, I talked about the neurology of habit-making and -breaking. This is the place in the journey where that knowledge becomes even more useful. Knowing how hard it is, and that there is a scientific, neurological reason for it being so, is the perfect basis for empathy.

Be kind to yourself. If you haven’t met your goal completely this week, say, “okay, that was hard. But this week will be easier.” Go back to visualizing it in your schedule and seeing yourself do it. Then go do it.

This is an experiment. Experiments don’t fail, they have findings and conclusions. If your findings match your hypothesis (i.e. that they will get you to your goal), great. Keep doing what you’re doing, and use those findings for continuing motivation. If your findings are unclear, then maybe you need to take a breath, reenergize yourself and start next week fresh and refocused. If your findings do not match your hypothesis, or just don’t feel right, then perhaps you need to go back to the previous post and find a new methodology that will work for you… or a new goal.

Regardless of what happens, you will have tried something new and learned something about yourself. Be empathetic. We already know that it is not easy to create and follow a new pathway. Sometimes we veer off course. That’s okay. The important thing is to get yourself back on course, or create a different course that will ultimately get you to your goal.

Be healthy and strong, be you.

~ Amber

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Modifications to help you succeed: The Back & Knees

The back in anything supine like the abdominal series

While lying on your back for Pilates exercises, you want to maintain a neutral spine, meaning that the back of your head, your mid thoracic and the back of your sacrum are all on the floor. Spaces created by the anatomically natural curve of your spine remain at your neck and low back.

If your transversus abdominis is not yet strong enough to support you in neutral while lifting your legs and/or your head (i.e. if your low back is straining or arching, there are a couple of options to help yourself out.

By placing a rolled hand towel or lumbar support under the natural, neutral curve of your spine, you will be able to press against it, providing more support until you are able to hold it on your own. Make sure the support is not thicker than it needs to be. Your pelvis should be flat on the floor, making your hip bones (ASIS) and your pubic bone parallel to the ground.

It is always a good idea to do only as much of an exercise as you can holding a neutral spine, then come out of it when you are about to lose form. Take a breath and go right back into it. Each time you will be able to hold it longer and longer.

Knees in all fours or kneeling

For basic pressure point pain from the floor or reformer, simply fold your mat, or place a pad or towel under your knees.

Some people feel a tugging around their kneecaps, particularly when hinging back at the knee in high kneeling (straight line from head to knee) or sitting back in a low kneeling position (sitting on your heels). If you experience this, try bringing your feet closer together until you find a comfortable position. The issue is a tightness in the tissues (fascia, tendon, and/or ligament) and this position provides a little slack along the knee.

If your feet are all the way together and you still feel a tugging, then try moving your knees wider than hip distance. If this doesn’t work, you probably should not be in kneeling for the time being. Other Pilates exercises can strengthen and balance the tissues surrounding your knees until you are able to perform this safely.

I felt a tugging on the outsides of my knees when I started high kneeling in Pilates, and it only took a few months of practicing a couple of times a week before I was able to be in the position with zero discomfort.

Be healthy and strong, be you.

~ Amber

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Modifications to help you succeed: Side-Lying

Neck & Shoulder

Side-lying can be a tricky position to find for several reasons, one of which is the neck & shoulder area. Your shoulder is, of course, wider than your head. So if you are working in a beginner position with your bottom arm straight up by your ear or folded under your head, it is understandably awkward. And depending on your particular shoulder organization, different positions of the arm will be better or worse.

The first step is to get your shoulders stacked up. If your arm is straight up by your ear, then think about your clavicles remaining straight across your chest. In other words, there should be some space between your bottom shoulder and your ear, with your shoulder sockets stacked vertically. If your arm is folded with your hand/forearm under your head, it is a bit easier to get your shoulder sockets into a vertical alignment. Your shoulder blade should be sliding straight down your back instead of up toward your ear or in toward your spine. This requires some lateral abdominal and back work. Try to keep your shoulder blades wide rather than pinching together.

Side-Lying Neutral spine (image from physioart-uae.com)

Side-Lying Neutral spine (image from physioart-uae.com)

Once you have figured out your shoulder position, you can prop your head up so that your spine is in alignment. This is easily done with a folded towel or pillow. Also pay attention that neither your chin nor your forehead are jutting forward. Your eyes should be looking straight ahead, and the back of your neck should be long and not pinched.

Greater Trochanter

Greater Trochanter (image from cathywatsonphysio.ca)

Greater Trochanter (image from cathywatsonphysio.ca)

The Greater Trochanter is at the top of your femur. You can Feel it on the side of your hip. When you lie on your side, it may feel wobbly or painful if you are directly on this bone. There are a couple of things you can do to avoid this discomfort.

First of all, most exercises can be done (and maybe should be) with your legs angled in front of you at maybe 45º. This can change the location of the greater trochanter and help greatly. Bending your knees to 90º can also work, but then you will need additional modifications for your exercises. Second, slightly engaging that bottom leg with the floor (pressing down lightly), will contract the muscles around the greater trochanter and provide cushioning.

If those do not alleviate the problem, you can take some sort of padding (perhaps an old exercise mat), and cut a 1″ diameter whole in it. Then place it so the bone sits right in that whole. Ahhh. Much better.

Be healthy and strong, be you.

~ Amber

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Posted in Body Mechanics, neck, Posture, Shoulders Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Make your 2015 New Year’s Resolution a Habit, Part III: Ready, Set, Go

Now that you have acknowledged that succeeding in your New Year’s resolution will be hard and have chosen your methodology or methodologies, it is time to get specific.

First of all, decide on a start date. You might be just coming back from a whirlwind of holiday festivities over the last month. Who is to say your resolution needs to start on January 1st? January 1st is a Thursday this year, so maybe it makes sense to wait for the weekend, or Monday the 5th to get started. Give yourself a fighting chance to get over your hangover vacation. But don’t wait too long, it might work best before you get back into old habits.

Next, begin to visualize yourself going through your day, from just before to just after your new habit. Really think about what it will be like by walking yourself through it, step by step. And don’t stop there, also imagine how it will feel to succeed at it. Focus on why you are doing this. Think about feeling energized after going for a run, or about feeling healthy after eating food you brought from home instead of from the corner deli. Visualizing yourself in specific instances can also reduce any anxiety you might have about it.

While you are visualizing the steps, find out whether you need anything to help yourself succeed, or if you need to get rid of something. If you are trying not to snack on junk food, maybe you should give all the snacks you don’t want to your neighbor. If you want to start running, go buy the sneakers now. Do your laundry so you don’t realize last minute that you don’t have anything to wear to the gym. If your plan is to practice Pilates two times per week, purchase your package now (P.S. find some great holiday discounts right now :-).

And maybe you want to make some checkpoints. Put it in your calendar to check in with yourself after a week, two weeks, and a month.

Maybe even assign yourself a reward. “I get to do __ after __ times of going to the gym.” Or, “I get to sit in the sun and read for fifteen minutes each time I spend 45 minutes exercising.” If rewards help build bad habits, they can certainly help build good ones.

The point – make this as easy on yourself as you can. By visualizing, you are already beginning to wear a new path.

Be healthy and strong, be you.

~ Amber

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Make your 2015 New Year’s Resolution a Habit, Part II: Make a Plan

There are many theories and practices and tricks of how to make something a habit (please excuse the awful example given for #12). Find one that speaks to you and give it a try.

One that makes sense to me says that you need to first take a look at your life and routine and see where your new habit can fit in. For example, I used to frequently forget to take my vitamins. I have to take my Multi and B Complex in the morning because I have to take my iron at night and B vitamins interfere with iron absorption. I would forget to take one or the other, or both. So I started making it a habit to take my vitamins after brushing my teeth, but before using mouthwash. Because I did this routine twice per day, it worked perfectly. Now I hardly ever forget.

This is called creating a “behavior chain.” If-then planning works for many things, and habit-forming is definitely one of them. “If I am brushing my teeth, then I will take my vitamins.” Worked for me!

Part of what lies behind that method is to have small, achievable goals. If you want a big goal, then break it down and see where each element of it fits. If you are trying to lose 50 pounds, think about the small steps that add up to your goal. Make specific times in your routine to work out or cook a giant batch of healthy food at the beginning of the week. Are you better at working out in the mornings or evenings? Do things frequently come up at work causing you to stay late? Then perhaps a morning routine would be better. Be realistic and don’t force yourself into someone else’s box.

The other part of what lies behind creating a behavior chain is to figure out what gets in the way of your success. Like the example above where work often keeps you late causing you to not make it to Pilates. If that is the number one obstacle, then schedule your sessions for a different time. Maybe before work, or during lunch.

This might not be the right method for you. Different methods work for different types of minds. The articles linked to above offer lots of tactics. Take a look at them. Maybe one or two will feel right to you. Or maybe you will want to come up with your own method. Let me know in the comments what you choose.

If you’re interested in the neurological viewpoint, read about how to break bad habits and create new habits.

Stay with me and I’ll keep with you throughout the year to help keep you on track. Maybe your first goal is to sign up for notifications on my blog. 🙂

Be healthy and strong, be you.

~ Amber

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Modifications to help you succeed: The Neck

Supine (laying on your back)

Depending on your spine alignment, this position may or may not present a problem for your neck. It is ideal to be able to work in a neutral spine, which would mean your sacrum, thoracic curve and the back of your head would all be touching the floor. But for some people with a more pronounced chin-forward alignment, or an exaggerated thoracic curve (kyphosis), it may be uncomfortable. If your rib cage wants to flare, or you have to tilt your head back to reach the ground, then you probably want to find a modification.

Luckily it is an easy fix. Once again your pillow or folded towel comes to the rescue. Just place it under your head until you aren’t flaring your ribs, arching your back or feeling tension in your neck. Find a position where your chin and brow/forehead (depending on the shape of your face) are on approximately the same plane parallel to the ground, and your eyes look straight up. Use the shortest amount that allows you to find a relaxed position.

Pilates Hundreds/Abdominal series

One of the most deceptively hard skills to learn in Pilates is how to lift, and hold up, your head. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. In Pilates, we are called on to lie on our backs and hold our heads up for minutes on end. To do this without getting tension in the front of your neck is no easy task, and it’s not obvious how to do it, either. The key is to actually lift your head from your abdominals while lengthening the back of the neck. But until you have figured out how to do this (schedule a session if you’re interested in learning), there is a simple modification.

Put your head down. Try keeping it up until you just begin to feel strain in the front of your neck that you can’t get out of, then continue doing the abdominal series with your head down. A pillow or folded towel will assist you in finding the right position. Don’t try pushing through the discomfort because that will just train the ropy muscles along the front of your neck and cause unnecessary tension in your jaw, neck and shoulders. Lift your head as long as you can with proper form, then put it down for a couple of breaths and go back into it.

I hope that helps! I will also discuss the neck in side-lying in a future post. If you have any questions on finding the right position for your body, leave a comment. Or schedule a free consultation.

Be healthy and strong, be you.

~ Amber

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Make your 2015 New Year’s Resolution a Habit, Part I: Why is it so hard?

Are you already thinking about your New Year’s Resolution? Or have you given up on the idea because they never get fulfilled?

To be honest, I’ve gone back and forth. Some years I don’t even try, then other years I get inspired, and try again. I have even maintained some of them, for a while. But then, maybe some became habits along the way without me even realizing it. Maybe that’s the key.

A dear friend who was recently visiting put me on the trail of interesting neurology research about brain pathways and how they simultaneously encourage and inhibit habits. This ability to alter and create new neural pathways is called neuroplasticity.

If you’ll forgive me an extended metaphor…

You are hiking in the beautiful Rocky Mountains just outside of Denver when you come upon a beautiful birch forest with a light underbrush of saplings, bushes and vines. You decide to wander through it. Your way is challenged by the occasional slippery leaves or prickly plant, so you slowly pick your way through to the mountain vista on the other side. The path was challenging but worth it.

This quickly becomes your spot. Each time you come, the path is easier to pick through and after enough times, you no longer have to think, you just instinctually follow the well-worn path, free of prickers and vines.

This is how your brain pathways work. Each time you repeat an action, it is a little bit easier. The path becomes smoother and more obvious until it can be followed on autopilot.

However, one day you get halfway down your path and see that a group of teenagers have inhabited YOUR spot. You need to find a new place. You veer to the left and are met by the challenge of creating a new path again. The next time you come, you start down the original path and once again find those pesky invaders. It takes you a few minutes, but eventually, you find where you veered off the last time and follow the path. Once or twice you realize you’re no longer going in the right direction and have to backtrack.

The next time you come, the teenagers are no longer there, but you’ve come to appreciate your new spot, so you veer to the left despite the ease of the path straight ahead. After a while, the path to the left becomes clearer and the path straight ahead becomes hidden as nature slowly absorbs your footprints.

Old habits are hard to break, and new ones are hard to form. But I find the visualization of the neural pathways in your brain helps me to understand why it is so darn hard to stick with it. And how easily we fall back into old habits.

It also inspires me to persevere for that better spot to call my own. The more often, and more consistently you repeat something, the faster it will become a habit and the neural pathway to the previous habit will become overgrown.

Here’s a great general overview of the brain’s organization and functionality to give you a little more background as to how this all works.

Be healthy and strong, be you.

~ Amber

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