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.
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!
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!
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.
I just read an article by Gabriel Winant of The New Republic called Mind Control - Barbara Ehrenreich’s radical critique of wellness and self-improvement. I love the idea mentioned at the end about manifesting social solidarity as the ultimate self-care. But in order to participate and contribute to the world in a positive manner, self-care for the individual is needed. Ms Ehrenreich’s critique of the "beat your body into submission" gym culture is spot on, but shouldn't be confused with more humble journeys of wellness, such as cultivating body awareness and the ability to self-regulate.
Your mind and body are in a (hopefully) long term relationship that needs communication, thoughtfulness and mutual respect. To thrive, this relationship will also need varying amounts of assertiveness, flexibility, compromise. Cultivating your body awareness and learning to self-regulate what your body needs on a daily basis helps you manage this ever evolving relationship.
And, just like humans sometimes need a little help navigating relationships with family and spouses, guidance for cultivating your body/mind relationship is sometimes needed too. Far from being selfish, I believe finding the solidarity within is a good first step to manifesting universal solidarity.
New to PIVOT Pilates + Restorative Exercise? Here are a few of our expert tips to help you get the most out of your sessions!
1) Wear clothing that's comfortable but also allows you and your instructor to see the outline of your body.
2) Wear clothing that is also comfortable in different positions, such as bending down or lying on your back with your legs propped up.
3) Wear long hair off your shoulders so your instructor can clearly see your neck and upper back. Soft elastics or clips are recommended as barrettes or combs can be uncomfortable while lying on your back.
4) Go barefoot if you can. All sessions are done without shoes, but going without socks will give you more traction and more spatial awareness.
5) Ditch the chewing gum. Fresh breath is appreciated, but chewing gum can affect your breathing mechanics and how your core muscles work.
6) Communicate with your instructor. Your instructor will ask you questions to help facilitate learning and make programming decisions, especially in the beginning stages.
7) Pay attention to how your body feels for the rest of the day and the following morning, and let your instructor know. This will help guide your next session!
8) Pat yourself on the back for making an investment in yourself!