As a society we are becoming more and more obsessed with how our bodies look but increasingly disassociated from actually inhabiting them. This seems to go one of two ways either trying to bully our bodies into submission in our quest to make our bodies look or perform as we wish them to or conversely we are being so careful with our bodies and moving so little that we are damaging them. Neither approach is healthy we need to stop, take a breath, and find a way to build the confidence to enjoy movement again and still treat our bodies with compassion.
I have been teaching some sort of movement for close to thirty years and am seeing a steady increase in the number of people who are afraid to move without the supervision of an “exercise/movement professional” this coupled with an absolute refusal to take responsibility for their own bodies... especially in the UK where we feel that our meagre (as compared to the insurance contributions made in other developed countries) National Health contributions are seen as buying into a contractual agreement in which the National Health Service is to be held entirely responsible for our health and wellbeing. Even the general aches and pains associated with ageing are seen as a woeful failure on the part of the National Health Service by some. I see people in the class who are sent into a panic if they “feel” anything, people are so scared they are terrified to do anything at home on their own incase they injure themselves. Not even trusting that if it doesn’t feel good don’t do it.... and ideally if it does feel good - DO IT!
This culture also means that once injured we hold onto the injury for life rather than moving on. I so often hear someone my age (50 if your wondering) or older giving me an extensive list of things they cant do as they prolapsed a disk 30 or more years ago. the result being that they tend to brace and hold so much rigidity in their body that it does hurt to move…. because of stiffness, muscle spasm and fear not the slip disc which has long since resolved itself. We need to change the way we teach and the language we use. To encourage our clients to move and play and enjoy their bodies. Give them the confidence and freedom to explore ranges of movement, to play with breathing patterns. To inhabit and feel their bodies and feel what it is to be in their body. I injured my spine when I was seven and was told I must NEVER do a back bend, terrified I made sure I never did any kind of back bend for years, doing my best to hold myself as still and "safe" as possible. Ironically, I find the more I move my spine the better my body feels and the less pain I experience.
“It is better to do a little Pilates badly everyday - than no Pilates at all”
- Romana Kryzanowska
This is the quote I spout most often to clients when they ask me what they should do at home. I don’t think that it someone has to do Pilates per se, just to move every day, and I think thats what Romana meant by this….. just move, explore your kinaesthetic being, have fun with movement... essentially "do what feels good". Find and movement, exercise, realease that feels good and benefits your body and try to repeat it every day.
Not moving, and worse, bracing through fear because you are afraid to do “the wrong thing” will cause more pain and subsequent disfunction. I know when you are in pain this is easier said than done but if there is no mechanical or medical reason not to move then you are actively damaging your body by choosing to stay still. In fact it is probably the lack of movement that is at very least contributing to the pain... possibly even the route cause of your pain and discomfort.
Movement itself has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. So especially if you are in pain you need to make sure you move. Even if its a short 20 to 30 minute walk or some gentle movements to release tension. In this case I find the most helpful thing is to find one exercise/movement that is not too specific and involves as many joints as possible that “feels good” and make sure you do that exercise everyday. If its only one exercise most people can find time for that and often feel so good when they are done they end up doing a second or even a third exercise.
Everyone, even the chronically "time poor" are able to sit up at their desk bring their hands behind their head, yawn and stretch. Take a moment to focus your eyes on something in the distance to release and relax the muscles in your eyes. Better still rather than email the person at the other end of the office get up from your desk and walk over to pass on information or get a half glass of water every hour. Take your sandwiches out and walk to the park in your lunch break rather than eating at your desk..... Its these simple things that can be fitted into the day that will make a huge difference. Any one who I teach knows I always recommend that when you watch TV in the evening, rather sit on the sofa you should roll around on the floor, stretch, move, release your body. You don't have to find more time in your day you just have to add movement into the day.
I also want to say at this point that more and more we all think we should be in a body that is 100% pain free. This is not always possible wether its DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after a tough training session or a niggle from arthritis or any number of reasons we get twinges. While I would alway encourage everyone to get ongoing pain checked out sometimes it is just a part of life. Bette Davies is famously quoted as saying
"Old age ain't no place for sissy's"
Im ashamed to say that I believe the fitness industry is exacerbating the problem of fear of movement by making everything very scientific and bio-mechanical, rather than about movement. This overly technical, scientific bio-mechanical language is putting the fear of God into many of our clients and further alienating them from inhabiting their own bodies. While as teachers we should be continually educating ourselves. Especially as Science is continually discovering more and our understanding of the human body expending. However how we translate that information to our clients is more complicated..... we need to work out how to connect to people in a language that they can understand, that empowers them and gives them confidence.... not using language as a way to inflate our egos and puff up our chests at the expense of our students.
In summary move your body.... find those odd moments when you can add movement. You wont only feel better physically but mentally too.
This Blog is not meant to be used as a treatment programme. While I hope you find the information I have shared interesting it is based on what I have found useful in my teaching over the years. However, you should always seek the guidance of medical professionals in treating any condition. I would also recommend training with a Pilates Teacher who has completed a in depth training in the field. Pilates courses can vary from short online trainings to in-depth full time apprenticeships. don’t be afraid to ask questions about your teachers training and experience.