Many blame their age for loss of balance, coordination, and general ease of movement. But often I find the issue is more about how the brain is telling the body to move, and not the age, strength, or flexibility of the body itself. In other words, it’s more of a software matter, rather than the age of their hardware.
We all have movement programs, aka motor patterns, set aside in the auto-pilot part of our brains. For instance, you probably no longer think to focus while tying your shoe laces.
But very common occurrences can disrupt and subtly change your motor patterns. This can happen multiple times over the course of your life. Even if you workout in a gym everyday, these fragmented and re-organized movement patterns can add up to less coordinated movement, loss of balance, and uneven wear on your joints.
Common Triggers to Movement Pattern Disruption:
Previous Injury or Surgery: Injuries heal. However, bits of the compensations the brain organized to avoid the injury, like limping or using crutches, might remain in your brain’s auto-pilot program for “walk.”
Chronic or Non-Specific Pain: Sometimes pain can be chronic, meaning the pain remains even after the injury itself has healed. Weeding out the compensations that help you avoid pain from those that might create more issues could be beneficial.
Pregnancy: This one isn't so subtle! Mothers know that they were walking differently during the third and the post-birth “fourth trimester.”
Athletic or Dance Training: Most sports have specialized and repetitive motions. When athletes stop or retire, they can hold on to these specialized motions even when they are no longer advantageous.
Former Fashionistas: Your motor patterns change when wearing high heels, and might stick with you when making the switch to flats.
Convalescing or a Sedentary Lifestyle: As everyday movements like walking, stair climbing, and overhead reaching become more foreign and challenging, the brain will deploy compensations to get whatever movement it can.
High levels of Stress, Anxiety, or Depression: Transient moods are reflected in our posture and body language. But crisis can temporarily change our body awareness and proprioception. Those changes can help us get through the crisis, but long periods of stress allow for these changes to become habituated.
The Good News
The good news is you can change and improve your automatic patterns!
Physical bodies are different, and everyone has their personal history of compensations. At PIVOT, we specialize in private sessions to help optimize your personal movement. Whether you workout everyday or shy away from movement due to arthritis or joint replacement, upgrading your movement software can help you restore balance, coordination, and ease of movement to your life.
To book a Restorative Exercise session at our Union Square studio, click here.
As a dog lover and owner, I didn't need to read this recent study demonstrating that dog owners often fulfill the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week just by walking their dog. But this study showed more than just that. The researchers found that the dog owners were also more physically active, even without their dog's company. Possibly another example of movement begets movement, or the flip side of "use it or lose it."
Of course the article does responsibly point out that more than just the need of exercise should be considered before getting a dog. If pet ownership is too much responsibility, you can borrow a friend's dog or volunteer at a shelter. When needing a break from the pilates studio, I often walk to the dog park in Union Square for a little dog entertainment!
Want to exercise even more with your dog? Check out these ideas from the dog experts at www.yourdogadvisor.com.
Yes, it hurts to lose sleep, as this NYT article states.
But sometimes pain can keep you awake or cause a fitful sleep.
If you have chronic pain, doing just the right amount of daily calibrated movement, like Restorative Exercise or Somatics, can lead to a better sleep. Better sleep can lead to decreased pain sensations and a natural analgesic reaction.
Something to think about. Or, better yet, sleep on!
The people of NYC are blessed to have so many movement options available to them, especially in Manhattan. It's a walking city, and even riding the subway entails some walking and stairs. Most of us don't live on the ground floor, and often the workplace is several floors up. Yes, the rent is too damn high, but these are FREE EXERCISE opportunities!
So what's the catch? Getting real with time management. Yes, you might need to make the time to walk and take the stairs. But, in reality, with traffic, train delays, and mid-century elevators, is walking and stair-climbing that much more time consuming?
A few of my clients have joined me in ditching the twice weekly 45 minute cardio session. Instead, they walk to get to destinations instead of riding, and choose the stairs as much as possible. They report positive results. Lower body and back pain is reduced, and they have less tension in their upper body. ( lots of shoulder, neck, and jaw tension can happen on the bike and treadmill ) Their feet are tired at the end of the day, but their ankles are less swollen, digestion is better, and sleep comes more easily. I have yet to hear of anyone's doctor reporting a decline in heart health with this change, but I have heard of improvement!
So take those movement opportunities, Manhattanites. We are blessed to have them!
As this The Globe and Mail article states, people can be find themselves thinking about balance issues and fall prevention surprisingly early in life. Instead of touring the sidewalks and cobblestones of the world in their 50s and 60s, they stay close at home to avoid a trip and fall. And if diagnosed with Osteoporosis, being a "fall risk" is even more scary.
But why are balance issues happening so early in life? Again we can blame sedentary lifestyles. Muscle atrophy can rob you of both strength and proprioception, which is the sense of your body in space. Joint stiffness can keep you from lifting your knee and foot high enough to completely clear different types of ground surfaces. Hip weakness reduces the amount of time you can safely support yourself on one leg. Painful bunions and hammer toes can diminish your ability to stay balanced on your feet.
To keep enjoying life in all of your years, it's important to focus on more than just cardiovascular health. A physical routine that moves your full body in many different planes of motion helps maintain the necessary strength, balance, and coordination to avoid trips and falls.
At PIVOT, we combine Pilates, Restorative Exercise, and gait training to keep our clients on their feet and traveling the world!
Just finished the latest The Guardian Long Read: Why Exercise Alone Won't Save Us. If you've worked with me for any length of time, most of it should already sound familiar! For everyone else, here is my TL;DR:
For optimal health, the body needs to be in fairly constant, varying motion. At the cellular level, this provides oxygenated blood flow to all parts of our body, and the “clean-up crew” lymph circulating. However, technology and convenience are robbing us of the movement we evolved with, and our overall health is suffering because of it.
Doing intense exercise 2-3 times a week has benefits, but in itself it doesn't come close to the slow to moderate and varying movement our bodies rely on for optimal health. In addition, intense workouts combined with an otherwise sedentary lifestyle might leave your joints feeling aches and pains too early in life, discouraging you from further movement. So, attempting to squish all the movement you need for optimal health into one or two intense sessions a week isn't the best strategy.
If you want to elongate your life and enjoy the extra years, you have to keep moving. Walking, squatting, stair climbing, pushing and pulling. Take every opportunity you have to walk. Take the stairs. Twist and reach for things. Get down on the floor and get back up. Change sitting positions often. When you need rest you rest, and then move again.
At PIVOT, our expertise is in evaluating your movement patterns, introducing movements you lack, and retraining patterns that no longer serve you. Our aim is to optimize your movement so you can continue moving....freely and independently....for a long time!
We are thrilled to announce Massage Therapist Thomas Robles, formerly of Clay Health Club, will now offers his massage services at PIVOT in Union Square!
A licensed massage professional for 20 years, Thomas specializes in Sports and Deep tissue massage. A few of us here at PIVOT are long time fans of Thomas, so we are not surprised that Yelp reviews say a massage with Thomas is "fantastic," an "hour of bliss," and "life changing."
We are very happy he has chosen PIVOT as his new business home!
Request a 60 or 90 minute with Thomas by using MindBodyOnline or dropping us an email.
Often clients tell me their backs can feel tight, stiff, or achy after walking more than usual, and they want to know what to do about it! My (not so) secret to easing the backache that comes with long walks is the 10 second squat sit.
The squat sit unloads your spine and gives the glute and back muscles a gentle stretch. Upon standing, your glute and core muscles concentrically contract, readying them for another walk about.
And think about it: If you were a hunter/gatherer, you'd probably drop down into a squat once or twice a day when nature called. Now it's NOT always good to look to the past to make health choices for today. (please keep your vaccines up to date!) But our evolutionary history of walking proves to still be a healthful choice for modern humans today, and I believe the 10 second squat sit is another human movement best done daily, even though there are plenty of chairs around.
If you have tight ankles and hips, you might need to hold on to something in front of you. Or, go for the "I'm tying my shoe" squat with one heel down at a time. Those with uneven knee flexion ranges may fair better with a few cat/cows while on all fours.
According to a piece on NPR’s morning edition called Words Matter When Talking About Pain with Your Doctor, physicians are moving away from using the simple zero to ten pain scale to gauge a patient’s current state of pain.
Doctors have found that routinely asking patients to use words to describe both pain levels and their challenges allows for more context and patient engagement, leading to more effective treatment plans and better results.
I believe the same is true when working with your Pilates or movement instructor. That’s why I ask my clients so many questions before, during, and after our sessions!
Your answers help me make programming decisions on what today’s lesson should entail and the best approach.
And, just as importantly, my Q & A helps to increase your “attention muscle.” Your ability to notice and express what you feel and our subsequent conversation can help you to discern and differentiate those sensations. These important body-awareness skills empower you to work with your body, instead of against it.
“Why do I feel tighter following my yoga class, but never after my pilates class?” Twice in the past month I’ve been asked this question! The question came from two clients who had many similarities: experienced female practitioners of yoga and pilates with average range of motion yet often report “feeling tight.”
I haven’t witnessed these clients in their yoga classes, nor do I know anything of the yoga teacher’s style or goals for their class. All I can offer is my expert guess of what is happening for these two ladies.
When I teach Pilates or Restorative Exercise, the focus is on slow and controlled dynamic movements at your end ranges, with special attention on form and joint position. To some this feels more like a slow strength class than a stretch class, but students are pleasantly surprised to see their end ranges increase as the class goes on. Because students use their own strength and control to find their end range, students are safeguarded from overstretching. When doing passive stretching, like when you use your arm, a yoga strap, or gravity to cause a stretching sensation, it’s easier to inadvertently overstretch. At its worst, overstretching can cause a muscle strain or tear. In lesser amounts, overstretching can cause a rebound effect, making your body feel tighter and/or weaker than it did before. That’s what I think was happening to these ladies after their yoga classes.
To avoid overstretching in a group class, I recommend decreasing the amount of stretch sensation when performing passive stretches. So on a scale from 0 to 10, keep the sensation in the 5 or 6 range. The other attributes of yoga - focusing on your breath while performing gentle movements in a calming atmosphere for an hour can collectively regulate your nervous system for positive results…..including relieving your body from the feeling of tightness…. without the rebound effect the following day.