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Sat on my lounge floor, having pulled the sofa out into the hall, perhaps the hundredth time through COVID! Gin flavoured lip balm applied. I’m almost ready to film.

The download of yesterday’s class from my iphone is chugging in the background, so I thought I might steal a few moments to write a blog. I am lucky to receive great comments from you about my creativity, “that no classes are ever the same”, questions like… “how do you do it?”

So I thought I might try to answer…

In part, I guess I hate sitting still, I like to evolve and challenge myself and in turn you. My “process” for developing new material comes from a desire to learn and wanting to absorb as much as I can in the field of movement science.

It’s funny that as a teenager my family would have labelled me lazy and outwardly, perhaps that was the case. A little older, with more maturity I recognise my need to go to bed more often than the average person is not because of laziness but my need to reassemble, organise and remember the huge amount information and ideas I try to absorb.

So my process, how do I do it?

I go to bed, I get a good snooze, lie awake in a sort of trance and “wake up” with a new idea or concept. I wish I was ground breaking creative, an inventor but I’m not. I just draw on all the information around me and then interpret it in my own way. Sleep is my ally, my friend. I now accept this and give my body and mind time and permission to take a snooze whenever I need. I am lucky I have sculpted my work in such a way I can do this, except of course when teaching a class!

I wanted to share this, to ask you, are there things you stop yourself from doing that you perceive to be detrimental to you? I challenge you to consider that they may be the very things that are good for you? Which leads me to talking about self care…

Monday meditation and self care

Filming Monday meditation has been fun, an outlet I wish to explore further. But interestingly, the video analytics shows it is the least watched series, I find that astonishing, a conundrum to throw back to you all.

Do you prefer an exercise session? If so, why? Is it a need to improve body image, or what society demands of us? Somewhere a forceful driver maybe pushing us to behave in a certain way. Perhaps meditation has been so banded about these past couple of years, it’s easy to switch off to it. Should I call it Monday Self Care, or is that another predictable phrase? Whatever the reason, I want to put forward the argument that taking time out to be still is as important as exercise.

Modern society places complex stresses on our mind and body. It has been shown that Cortisol (our stress hormone) exists in the bloodstream on a more persistent basis and levels of cortisol is on the rise in society. To understand what this means you need to understand the original role of Cortisol. Our ancestors would have experienced a surge of Cortisol to trigger our fight and flight response, to run away from a woolly mammoth charging at us. Once the danger had passed the levels in the bloodstream drop significantly

Why then are Cortisol levels on the rise?

There are several theories for this.

  1. Living in a world where we overload our frontal cortex (the thinking parts of our brain).
  2. Reduced time spent doing (what we call) “menial tasks”, such as stirring a pot of food or collecting wood, as our ancestors would have done, allowing time to rest the problem solving parts of our brain.
  3. Stress factors in society that cannot be resolved by merely running away from the scary mammoth but are persistent, chronic anxieties may also play a part.

Another hypothesis put forward by Daniel Vladeta, the Oov creator suggests that postures such as looking at mobile phones, sat slumped on sofas, working at the computer mimic our protective posture patterns. Our fight and flight protection posture is to round our back, duck our head to protect our skull and vital organs. He suggests that these protective posture patterns may influence cortisol levels and in turn, drives anxious thoughts in the mind.

We spend so much of our lives believing our minds control our body, we need to recognise our body also can control the mind.

There has been significant evidence to prove that smiling (even if you don’t feel like it) changes our state of mind. The very act of smiling changes our brain patterns and in turn the chemistry in our brain, stimulating endorphins (happy chemicals) which can change our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

What does all this mean?

Take time out to rest your frontal cortex and realign your posture. This may be a way to manage our persistent low levels of cortisol running through our systems. We can’t always change our working habits, we cannot always take away the chronic stressors of modern life…

Maybe Monday Meditation isn’t for you. Everyone of course will have different avenues for stress relief. Maybe exercising hard does help, and there is some evidence for that too (mimic your flight response… run away) burns off some of that Cortisol!

But like all things in life, our bodies seek for equilibrium, life is about finding balance.

When was the last time you balanced the speed of life with stillness?


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Downward Dog

Traditionally a Yoga posed but commonly seen in Pilates classes because of the crossover between the disciplines.

Did you know?

Joseph Pilates was a Yogi prior to creating his Pilates repertoire. That’s why you see so many similarities!

I get a lot of questions about this pose…

via GIPHY

Why do it?

  1. A deep all in one stretch that builds strength too.
  2. It is an energising stretch, there is scientific evidence for that too!

The shoulders, upper back and our back line into our hamstrings, calves and feet are all placed in a lengthened position ironing out muscles that commonly get tight in our western-style living, too much of our time spent sitting.

Downward dog

Check out the images to notice that your arms (if you stood up) would be over head and your upper back between your shoulder blades would be in a little bit of extension – definitely NOT rounded at all!Downard dog Pilates

Have a go…

Right now…sitting or standing

Take your arms up to the ceiling.

Notice as your arms brush past your ears your upper back (between your shoulder blades) naturally will extend a little so we can reach that little bit more whilst protecting our shoulder joints. It’s what us physios call a COUPLED movement!

Sadly, due to sitting we get tight and stiff in our upper back putting our shoulders at risk of injury when we reach up. If you are stiff between the shoulder blades you might notice you lent back a little and your rib cage lifted instead? If that’s the case do the same exercise again but this time DON’T let the ribs lift. You might find you cant get your hands right up to the ceiling, in which case you have a limitation in your upper body! Maybe in the shoulders, maybe in your thoracic spine…

I want to improve how?

Muscles are connected through fascia – which I like to define as the cling film of our body, tight networks of fascia and/or muscle bulk leads to the challenges you face in perfecting your downward dog.

The art is not to force the pose but work with your own limitations beginning slowly but regularly to stretch out those tight areas, releasing tension and enabling free movement later down the line. Force posture and risk injury!

Work out where you are tight or stiff….

It could be your shoulders and upper back that you are struggling with. If you have had an injury it may be the extension needed in your arms is not feasible, in which case just modify your pose, there are plenty of ways to do that, it’s ok not to look like the perfect upside down V, you can still get the benefits of the stretch at the level that is right for your body!

IDownward dogt could be your hamstrings and calf muscles that are problematic, this is most common and results in your back rounding as you try to straighten your legs. In a desire to have beautifully straight legs most people succumb to allowing the upper back to round, completely defeating the posture.

By rounding in the upper back you offload the stretch in your hamstrings and also off-load the shoulder and upper back muscles too! It’s also a tonne harder to support the pose and creates tension rather than the energising stretch we are aiming to achieve.

Strength

Engaging the shoulder blades down your back and using your deep abdominal and adductor muscles to achieve a downward dog will come with practice!

Check out the series of videos I am developing with top tips and exercises you can do to achieve your perfect Downward Dog, how quickly you will achieve this will depend on the repetitions you are able to do each day! Take a before and after photo, please share with me so I can watch you progress!

Today’s tips

  1. If you have the shoulder flexibility and upper back extension KEEP THIS throughout the pose.
  2. Only then, explore how straight you can get your legs.
  3. DO NOT compromise the extension in the arms and back to accommodate straight legs.
  4. Lift your heels up too offload the back line if you are tight, you can work on stretching them later!

Shoulder injury? Or tight in the upper body? Then try coming onto your forearms on a chair instead.

Follow Phoenix Freedom Pilates Facebook for a series of videos with tips and exercises to help you achieve your best Downward Dog!

Link to FB top of the blog!

Please comment below if you found this helpful, ask questions, engage with me!

It’s the best way for me to produce stuff that I know is valuable to you!

All the best,

Rachel